Lesson 28: The Word Is in Christ unto Salvation
Purpose: To help class members understand that the word of God will lead them to Jesus Christ and to encourage them to “nourish the word” in their hearts.
Introduction: Coincidental to preparing this lesson this week, I was searching English newspapers of the 1850s, looking for clues to the lives of Latter-day Saints in Great Britain. I discovered that in 1851, the Church of England was having a great debate over revising their rules for providing free seats to the poor – in order to attend church, most people had to pay a yearly rent for a pew, with higher rents being charged for seats in more desirable parts of the building. The church provided a few seats free of charge for those who could not afford to pay for them, but in 1851 they proposed cutting back on the number of those free seats. One man protested this by writing a letter to his London newspaper, saying:
Where will those whom you have thus driven from Church … retire to …? To the … ‘Independent’ or ‘Baptist Chapel’? No, but to the fanatical teaching of … the ‘Primitive Methodist,’ or the ‘Calvinistic Baptist meeting;; or, as may be most probable now, to the delusions of the new Mahomet, Joseph Smith, whose followers – ‘Latter-day Saints’ as they term themselves – were able to fill Freemasons’ Hall the other day … this is the ‘precipice’ to whose ‘verge’ you drive the poor of the Christian Church by Church exclusion. [Morning Chronicle (London), 9 July 1851]
If you’ve done your reading for this week, you will certainly guess what Book of Mormon incident this reminded me of. [Call on class member to tell briefly the story of the Zoramites]
Scripture Discussion and Application
1. Alma teaches the humble Zoramites to exercise faith and give place in their hearts for the word of God.
2. Alma teaches the people to nourish the word of God in their hearts.
3. Alma cites prophets’ testimonies of Jesus Christ and exhorts the people to plant the word of God in their hearts.
4. Amulek testifies of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He commands the people to pray and exercise faith unto repentance.
5 And they came unto Alma; and the one who was the foremost among them said unto him: Behold, what shall these my brethren do, for they are despised of all men because of their poverty, yea, and more especially by our priests; for they have cast us out of our synagogues which we have labored abundantly to build with our own hands; and they have cast us out because of our exceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do?
The Zoramites tell Alma they have been treated unjustly. When they came to Alma, they could have been seeking advice on several issues. They could have been concerned about the economics of it – we built the synagogue with our labor; it belongs to us. They could have come with political or even military concerns – it was our synagogue; help us take it back. Instead, what was their concern? [It was a religious one – concern for worshiping God.] I think this is an important point to recognize – because Mormon makes so many references to economic poverty in these verses, we sometimes discuss them as though the Zoramite story were entirely a conflict between the rich and the poor. We could talk now, as we often do, about why it may or may not be easier for a poor man than for a rich man to be humble and spiritually receptive – but instead, let’s focus on the spiritual humility that Alma teaches, that is expected of us all, regardless of life circumstances.
16 Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.
17 Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe.
One of the discoveries I made in those English newspapers of the 1850s was how often the missionary elders talked about the signs and miracles that had ceased in the general Christian world but could be found in the lives of Latter-day Saints:
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Almost as often as the elders cited these verses in their preaching, someone was sure to ask the elders to step into a nearby chemist’s shop and drink some prussic acid or other deadly poison, then heal himself, which always seemed to draw a round of laughter from other skeptical listeners.
These were literal cases of people asking for signs and demonstrating what Alma calls “stubbornness of heart.” In our world, what might be other examples of people asking for signs before they will believe, either literally or figuratively? [In this discussion, try to elicit examples that apply to Church members – perhaps requests from the Brethren that members sustain them in some policy – and don’t focus completely on what “people out there” do that keeps them from accepting the gospel]
Not every question we might ask of the Lord or the bishop or the First Presidency is equivalent to asking for a sign. When is questioning the right thing to do?
At what point does questioning stop being a search for understanding, and become a stubborn defense of our own position?
[Don’t read this entire selection; it may, however, be helpful to read parts of it to respond to or stimulate discussion:]
President Uchtdorf’s 1 November 2009 broadcast to young adults, “The Reflection in the Water”:
Now the next issue: What about doubts and questions? How do you find out that the gospel is true? Is it all right to have questions about the Church or its doctrine? My dear young friends, we are a question-asking people because we know that inquiry leads to truth. That is the way the Church got its start—from a young man who had questions. In fact, I’m not sure how one can discover truth without asking questions. In the scriptures you will rarely discover a revelation that didn’t come in response to a question. Whenever a question arose and Joseph Smith wasn’t sure of the answer, he approached the Lord, and the results are the wonderful revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. Often the knowledge Joseph received extended far beyond the original question. That is because not only can the Lord answer the questions we ask but, even more importantly, He can give us answers to questions we should have asked. Let us listen to those answers.
The missionary effort of the Church is founded upon honest investigators asking heartfelt questions. Inquiry is the birthplace of testimony. Some might feel embarrassed or unworthy because they have searching questions regarding the gospel, but they needn’t feel that way. Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a precursor of growth.
God commands us to seek answers to our questions (see James 1:5–6) and asks only that we seek “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ” (Moroni 10:4). When we do so, the truth of all things can be manifested to us “by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:5).
Fear not; ask questions. Be curious, but doubt not! Always hold fast to faith and to the light you have already received. Because we see imperfectly in mortality, not everything is going to make sense right now. In fact, I should think that if everything did make sense to us, it would be evidence that it had all been made up by a mortal mind. Remember that God has said:
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. …
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9).
While teaching the Zoramites about belief in the word of God, Alma gives his masterful analogy of the growth of faith being like the growth of a seed, beginning as a small, tender sprout and being nurtured, element by element, into something more powerful and enduring.
41 But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.
42 And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.
Alma is obviously referring to something we are familiar with from earlier in the Book of Mormon – what is that? [The dreams of Lehi and Nephi] We would no doubt describe the church that cast the Zoramites out as being an apostate one – yet the Zoramites are obviously familiar, to some extent, with the scriptures, or this allusion would have made no sense to them. Yet consider the question they asked of Alma in the first part of Alma 33:1:
1 Now after Alma had spoken these words, they sent forth unto him desiring to know whether they should believe in one God, that they might obtain this fruit of which he had spoken …
Isn’t that a strange question to ask, if you are familiar with the Hebrew/Nephite scriptures? What does that suggest to us about the religion of the Zoramites? [In my opinion, that they either believe in multiple gods, or at least allow for that possibility – and they apparently know that Alma does not.] Do you see any parallel between this state of religious thinking and the religious thought of the world around us today?
In response, Alma begins to teach them more explicitly about the God in whom they must have faith. He first quotes the prophet Zenos, an Israelite prophet whose teachings have been lost from the Bible.
4 For he said: Thou art merciful, O God, for thou hast heard my prayer, even when I was in the wilderness; yea, thou wast merciful when I prayed concerning those who were mine enemies, and thou didst turn them to me.
5 Yea, O God, and thou wast merciful unto me when I did cry unto thee in my field; when I did cry unto thee in my prayer, and thou didst hear me.
6 And again, O God, when I did turn to my house thou didst hear me in my prayer.
7 And when I did turn unto my closet, O Lord, and prayed unto thee, thou didst hear me.
[As these verses are read, write: “wilderness – field – house – closet” on board.]
Why is this scripture, with its indications of place, an especially appropriate way to begin to teach the Zoramites about God? [They have thought they had no place to worship, after having lost admission to their synagogue. They need to learn that God can be worshiped anywhere, and that he is the God of all, not of one place only.]
Alma then quotes from Zenock, another otherwise unknown prophet, and from Moses. At this point, Alma’s companion Amulek takes over and summarizes what Alma has taught.
5 And we have beheld that the great question which is in your minds is whether the word be in the Son of God, or whether there shall be no Christ.
6 And ye also beheld that my brother has proved unto you, in many instances, that the word is in Christ unto salvation.
7 My brother has called upon the words of Zenos, that redemption cometh through the Son of God, and also upon the words of Zenock; and also he has appealed unto Moses, to prove that these things are true.
8 And now, behold, I will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it.
Alma and Amulek apparently know much more about the religion of the Zoramites than Mormon has passed along to us. The Zoramites came asking whether they should believe in one God, which Amulek here interprets as a question about whether there should be a Christ – perhaps the Zoramites were confused about the nature of the Godhead, or the relationship between God the Father and his Son, or how “one God” could be two divine beings. In any case, Amulek responds to their questions by teaching them about the Atonement:
9 For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.
10 For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.
Amulek teaches that the Atonement will not be a sacrifice of animals or birds, as the Zoramites might have been familiar with through the law of Moses. Nor would it be a human sacrifice, as perhaps they were familiar with through the general culture in which they lived. He explicitly teaches that the Messiah would not be a man pretending to be a god, but would be “God himself … come down among the children of men” (Mosiah 15:1).
In order to bring the power of the Atonement into their own lives, Amulek teaches many things that the Zoramites must do: be humble, seek mercy, pray, be charitable, repent continually, endure affliction.
To return for a moment to Alma’s allegory of faith being like a seed to be nurtured: Why does anyone plant a seed in the first place? [to enjoy the benefits of the mature plant: fruit, flowers, shade, whatever] When we plant the seed of faith in our own lives, what is the mature fruit we are expecting to enjoy?
14 And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.
15 And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.
16 And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.
Faith leads to repentance, which leads to a reliance on the Savior and his Atonement, which leads to a claim on mercy overriding justice, which leads to redemption and eternal life.