Lesson 24: Give Us Strength According to Our Faith in Christ
Purpose: To help class members recognize the importance of honoring their foreordained roles, callings, and priesthood responsibilities and to help them understand that following the counsel of prophets helps us enter into the rest of the Lord.
Psychologists tell us that one of the fundamental human drives is the desire to leave a legacy behind when our lives are through. Poets have expressed that desire in words like this: “The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” [William James] The scriptures put it terms like this: “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” [Daniel 12:3]
*What are some of the elements of the legacy you are leaving, or hope to leave?
*These are legacies that we hope to leave behind us. Of course, others have come before us and have left legacies that benefit us. What are some of those legacies we enjoy?
Our discussion today comes from Alma, chapters 13-16. The aspects of these chapters that we will focus on might be summarized as “legacy” – both our legacy from a distant past that should be a guide to our lives now, and the legacy for the future that our present lives are leading us toward.
SCRIPTURE DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. Alma gives a powerful discourse on the priesthood and foreordination.
2. Alma, Amulek, and other believers are persecuted for their righteousness.
3. Zeezrom is healed and baptized.
4. The words of Alma are fulfilled as the Lamanites destroy Ammonihah.
These chapters are part of the teachings of Alma, the great missionary who has gone to the city of Ammonihah to preach to his fellow Nephites whose belief in the gospel and standing in the church is, at best, shaky. A little earlier in his work there he had met Amulek, a native of that city, who had become converted and joined Alma in his missionary work.
We’re joining Alma with Chapter 13, in the middle of a sermon he has been preaching. He has been teaching the people about the plan of redemption. Now he asks the people to think back to the time when God taught his gospel and gave his commandments to mortal men. At the same time he gave those commandments, he ordained priests to teach his word and preach his commandments to the people. Let’s begin with Alma 13:3-4:
3 And this is the manner after which they were ordained – being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
These verses have some complex grammar, and it may be worth taking some study time at home to untangle all that they are saying – but even in a quick reading like ours, some things may jump out at us. For instance, remember that in the part of sermon that was discussed last week, Alma had taught the people about the role of Adam and Eve. What part of verse 3 should call to mind Adam and Eve?
So Alma is linking his priesthood, and the priesthood of other righteous men, to “the foundation of the world.” But Alma and all others who bear the priesthood were not literally present in the Garden of Eden – so what point is Alma referring to as “the foundation of the world”?
Alma suggests that priests were prepared for their priesthood callings in mortality before they were even born into this world. Did God prepare all men to be priests? [Perhaps not; perhaps through “the foreknowledge of God” only those whom God knew would fill that role were prepared.]
But even those whom God did call to be priests from the foundation of the world were not guaranteed to receive that blessing in mortality. What does this verse say about that? [Men first had to choose good over evil, and exercise “exceedingly great faith” to actually receive they callings for which they had been prepared.]
If this sermon had been taught to the Jews in the Old World, how might they have reacted to this characterization of the priesthood? [Under the Mosaic Law, priesthood eligibility was by lineage; the priesthood Alma describes is a blessing to those who choose righteousness and faith, regardless of lineage.]
From time to time you probably hear someone say something like, “I’d make a better bishop than so-and-so.” I’ve seen references in the papers of church leaders to letters from Latter-day Saints outlining their accomplishments and offering themselves as mission presidents. And it may well be true that someone would serve competently in a role he has not been called to fill, or that someone called to a position may not fill it worthily. But in general, how should Alma’s teachings here affect how we sustain those who are called to positions in the Church?
Alma teaches here about a calling to the priesthood, which in our time refers specifically to the callings of men, plus whatever share of priesthood a woman may lay claim to under certain circumstances. But we know from the teachings of latter-day prophets that righteous women were also called and prepared for callings in premortality. Here is one such teaching from Spencer W. Kimball:
Remember, in the world before we came here, faithful women were given certain assignments while faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood tasks. While we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to. You are accountable for those things which long ago were expected of you just as are those we sustain as prophets and apostles! …
I stress again the deep need each woman has to study the scriptures. We want our homes to be blessed with sister scriptorians – whether you are single or married, young or old, widowed or living in a family.
Regardless of your particular circumstances, as you become more and more familiar with the truths of the scriptures, you will be more and more effective in keeping the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. … Seek excellence in all your righteous endeavors, and in all aspects of your lives. [Spencer W. Kimball, “The Role of Righteous Women,” Ensign, Nov. 1979]
We have all been taught to respect the role and authority of the priesthood, and especially to respect and sustain those who lead the Church and our wards by virtue of their priesthood callings. With the relatively few exceptions of formal Church callings, most women fill the assignments given to us “in the world before we came here” without official recognition of any kind.
** We’ve discussed how we should sustain priesthood holders who are filling their callings; how ought we to sustain righteous women who are fulfilling the assignments they were prepared for?
I mentioned at the beginning of the lesson that we would be talking today about legacies. How are our earthly callings a legacy of our progress in the premortal world? How does the righteous fulfilling of our obligations here create a legacy for the future?
Alma went on to teach many more things about the priesthood than we can cover in our lesson today. Some of the people in Ammonihah were touched by their teachings.
1 And it came to pass after he had made an end of speaking unto the people many of them did believe on his words, and began to repent, and to search the scriptures.
Others did not accept Alma’s testimony.
2 But the more part of them were desirous that they might destroy Alma and Amulek; for they were angry with Alma, because of the plainness of his words unto Zeezrom; and they also said that Amulek had lied unto them, and had reviled against their law and also against their lawyers and judges.
This reference is a carry-over from the chapters that were part of last week’s lesson, when Alma spoke to the lawyer Zeezrom and pointed out how he pretended to teach the law but instead twisted it beyond recognition. (And in case we have any lawyers in the room, let me defend them by noting that a “lawyer” in Nephite society doesn’t seem to correspond to lawyers in our culture today. Just as the Nephite judges were supposed to judge according to the law of God, the lawyers were those who – like the scribes in Jerusalem at this same time – studied scriptures and interpreted and taught them – sometimes righteously, and sometimes wickedly.)
3 And they were also angry with Alma and Amulek; and because they had testified so plainly against their wickedness, they sought to put them away privily.
4 But it came to pass that they did not; but they took them and bound them with strong cords, and took them before the chief judge of the land.
5 And the people went forth and witnessed against them – testifying that they had reviled against the law, and their lawyers and judges of the land, and also of all the people that were in the land; and also testified that there was but one God, and that he should send his Son among the people, but he should not save them; and many such things did the people testify against Alma and Amulek. Now this was done before the chief judge of the land.
When Zeezrom disputed with Alma and Amulek, he was unconverted, and held to his own corrupt teachings. A strange thing happened, though, when he saw his own legacy of corrupt religion.
6 And it came to pass that Zeezrom was astonished at the words which had been spoken; and he also knew concerning the blindness of the minds, which he had caused among the people by his lying words; and his soul began to be harrowed up under a consciousness of his own guilt; yea, he began to be encircled about by the pains of hell.
7 And it came to pass that he began to cry unto the people, saying: Behold, I am guilty, and these men are spotless before God. And he began to plead for them from that time forth; but they reviled him, saying: Art thou also possessed with the devil? And they spit upon him, and cast him out from among them, and also all those who believed in the words which had been spoken by alma and Amulek; and they cast them out, and sent men to cast stones at them.
That, of course, was not the worst aspect of the legacy Zeezrom and those like him had built:
8 And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.
This destruction didn’t involve all of the believers – Alma, Amulek, and even Zeezrom were not burned, and later we’ll see Alma and Amulek meeting with the believing men who had been cast out – but it did inflict a terrible death on the most innocent of the believers – children, and women who had been left unprotected when their men were driven out of Ammonihah.
The chief judge seems determined to be sure Alma and Amulek recognize that these horrible suffering is the legacy of the preaching they have been doing. He has Alma and Amulek brought to watch the suffering of the innocents. Then:
14 Now it came to pass that when the bodies of those who had been cast into the fire were consumed, and also the records which were cast in with them, the chief judge of the land came and stood before Alma and Amulek, as they were bound; and he smote them with his hand upon their cheeks, and said unto them: After what ye have seen, will ye preach again unto this people, that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone?
Alma, though, has different thoughts about the fate of these innocents. Look at verse 11, and pick out the phrase that tells us what Alma said was the future of these innocent people.
Alma 14:11: … for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself …
Alma and Amulek are imprisoned for many days, beaten, taunted by the unbelieving Ammonihahites, and eventually escape in a dramatic fashion when an earthquake shatters their prison, releasing the missionaries and killing all those who had come to torment them that day. They fled to the land of Sidom, where they met the believers whose families had been killed, and told them what had happened.
One of those hiding in Sidom is Zeezrom.
3 And also Zeezrom lay sick at Sidom, with a burning fever, which was caused by the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness, for he supposed that Alma and Amulek were no more; and he supposed that they had been slain because of his iniquity. And this great sin, and his many other sins, did harrow up his mind until it did become exceedingly sore, having no deliverance; therefore he began to be scorched with a burning heat.
Often when we talk about having been foreordained to fill a certain calling in mortality, we make the explicit point that being foreordained is not at all the same as being predestined to a given role. What, briefly, is the difference between the two ideas?
It seems to me that Zeezrom, as well as Alma and Amulek, are poster boys for this difference: All of them started out their adult lives as wicked men – more wicked than the average, because they actively persecuted the righteous and did all they could to destroy the work of God. They sound like those we read about in Alma 13:4
4 … while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
Yet Zeezrom, like Alma and Amulek, underwent a tremendous conversion. Zeezrom was taught by Alma, and forgiven of the sins he had so bitterly repented of, and was healed from the effects of his sin.
12 And Alma baptized Zeezrom unto the Lord; and he began from that time forth to preach unto the people.
13 And Alma established a church in the land of Sidom, and consecrated priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized.
14 And it came to pass that they were many; for they did flock in from all the region round about Sidom, and were baptized.
Reading of his actions leads us inescapably to the conclusion that Zeezrom was one of those “called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God,” who was “called with a holy calling.” He was late in qualifying himself to carry out that calling, but he made the most of the time he had left in playing his role in God’s plan.
Like Zeezrom, none of us came into this world with fates written in stone. No matter when we accepted the gospel, or what we might have done that is out of harmony with “a holy calling,” through repentance we can choose to fit ourselves for filling at least a part of the good we were foreordained to accomplish. We can claim the legacy of our premortal callings, and our actions in this life can fit us for the legacy of having “the Lord [receive us] up unto himself.”