Lesson 38: Old Things Are Done Away, and All Things Have Become New
3 Nephi 12-15
[Manual purpose: To encourage class members to be true disciples of Jesus Christ by following His example and by living the higher law that He taught to the Nephites.]
Modified purpose: To encourage class members to live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ by recognizing that those teachings have universal application and universal reward.
[Personal story: Tell about the picture of the Ra– family and why it is important to me. End with:]
Today we’ll be talking about some of the principles Jesus taught to the Nephites when he visited them following his death and resurrection. One of those teachings was
3 Nephi 15:21
21 And verily I say unto you, that ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
Sometimes the “other sheep” don’t wait to be brought. They hear the Master calling, and they come on their own to join the fold … and some of us are blessed to hold the gate open while they come in.
SCRIPTURE DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. Jesus teaches the Beatitudes to the Nephites.
2. Jesus declares that His followers are to be the salt of the earth and a light to other people.
3. Jesus declares that He has fulfilled the law of Moses. He teaches the people a higher law.
4. Jesus teaches the Nephites how they must live to be His true disciples.
1. Jesus’ teaching about divorce
2. “Ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have”
Last week’s lesson brought us to the appearance of Jesus Christ to the people in the New World. This week we’ll be talking about some of the things he taught during that visit.
These teachings are all familiar to us, and would have been familiar to the new Christians in the Old World. Not only does Christ teach the same gospel in both hemispheres; he used much the same language with both peoples – the material we’ll be discussing today is given in essentially the same form as in the New Testament’s “Sermon on the Mount.” Something I found fascinating as I studied this lesson is that while the wording is virtually identical, the Christians in the Old World and those in the New may have heard those words with somewhat different understanding because of differences in their two cultures – and yet the key point – the eternal gospel doctrine – was the same. That made me consider how we might be reading those words today, understanding them slightly differently from how either the Jews or the Nephites understood them, and yet share with them the key spiritual doctrine, the eternal teaching, that is common to all followers of Christ, no matter their culture.
I’ll try to show you what I mean.
In both the Old and New Worlds, Jesus began this sermon with what we know as the Beatitudes: a list of human conditions – humility, grieving, hunger, mercifulness, and so on – which he pairs with a related blessing – see the opening verses of 3 Nephi 12. We’re all so familiar with the paired conditions and blessings that they seem perfectly natural to us – we’ve heard them so many times. But try to look at the Beatitudes as though you were reading them for the first time. Are the blessings what you would expect in the natural course of how the world works? I mean, would you expect a mourner to be comforted, or to remain sad? Would you expect a meek, mild person to inherit the earth, or to remain in a powerless, humble position?
What is it that brings about this unexpected change, from mourning to comfort, from giving mercy to obtaining mercy, from being persecuted to gaining the kingdom of God?
I see in the Beatitudes a sermon on the full range of the Atonement. So often when we discuss the Atonement, we focus on the redemption from sin – and of course that is the key point: the sinless Christ was willing to pay the debt for our sin, and make us eligible to enter again into the presence of God. But sin has so many aspects: Because we live in a fallen world due to sin, then we are subject to death and the mourning that follows it. Because we live in a fallen world and are cut off from the presence of God, we long for righteousness – we hunger and thirst for it. It is the Atonement that removes the sting of death, because the Atonement makes resurrection possible, and we can be comforted in knowing that someday we will know and live again with those we love who have died.
Please look down the list of Beatitudes in the beginning of 3 Nephi 12. How is sin, and living in a fallen world, responsible for the condition in the first part of each statement? What role does the Atonement have in making the second half of the statement possible?
3 Nephi 12:1-2:
1 And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.
2 And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.
3 Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 And again, blessed are all they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 And blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.
7 And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
8 And blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
10 And blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 And blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake;
12 For ye shall have great joy and be exceedingly glad, for great shall be your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.
How do we qualify ourselves to be worthy of the blessings listed here? Take a closer look at verse 2:
2 … Blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and will receive a remission of their sins.
Humility and repentance, followed by baptism, are universally required of those who have come to this earth, or at least those who have the maturity and capability of accountability. The blessings promised by Jesus Christ are likewise universally available to all who make and keep that covenant with him.
As I was preparing this lesson, though, I wondered about that universality. How can God make the same covenant with people in all times and places? How can that covenant mean the same thing to all God’s children, regardless of their background and experience and culture? I don’t know – maybe those questions came because I have been thinking about the Ra– family and others I know from distant parts of the world, or maybe it’s because in my work of writing the history of the Church I’ve seen that these covenants apply not just to different geographic areas but to different periods of time.
Let’s look, for instance, at how the Jews in the Old World in Jesus’s day might have thought about the Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Set aside the phrase “in spirit” for a moment – we have many years behind of discussing what that means, but it might have been more difficult to understand by someone hearing it for the first time. What would “being poor” have meant to someone in Palestine in the meridian of time?
One of the sources I studied this week (Gardner, Second Witness, 5:399, quoting others) explained that the condition of poverty had spread rapidly and become dramatically more significant under the rule of Herod during Jesus’s lifetime. Peasant families, who not only had to grow enough food on their modestly fertile lots to feed themselves, but also had to raise enough extra to pay for increasing taxes, found themselves in the position of mortgaging their future by pledging next year’s crop to pay this year’s expenses. That made it impossible next year to pay all they owed, so they went ever deeper and deeper into debt, until they lost the very land that they had inherited from their ancestors.
Why might losing their ancestral land have had an emotional and spiritual effect on the peasants of Jesus’s day, beyond their economic poverty? [Their land was the Promised Land, given to them by God, and becoming alienated from it was, in effect, becoming alienated from God.]
In that case, what might the promise of the Beatitude – that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – have meant to them?
Now let’s jump to the New World, during Christ’s visit there. Lehi and his descendants saw the New World as their promised land, to which they were led by God, but their relationship to the land may have been somewhat different than the Jews in Palestine. Nowhere in the Book of Mormon do we get any sense of private ownership of land – lands seem to have belonged to the people as a whole, with one group conquering the lands of another, or moving en masse to give lands and a city to newcomers who needed a place to dwell. Apart from land, we do know that the Nephites were aware of wealth – of gold, and cattle, and fine clothing.
What did being poor mean to the Nephites? [The distinction seems to have been one of social class, of farmer vs. city dweller, or differences in social hierarchy. Consider the Zoramites, who were cast out of their synagogue :because of “the coarseness of their apparel” – see Alma 32. That isn’t a difference of having clothes vs. not having clothes, but of having the “right” clothes– a social distinction.]
If that kind of social distinction persisted until the era we’re talking about, what might “poverty” have meant to the Nephites listening to Jesus, and what might “the kingdom of heaven” have meant as a future blessing?
Now jump ahead to Salt Lake City in October 2012. There are undoubtedly people in our city who are poor in every sense of the word – some who went to bed hungry last night, and were cold as they slept. In what other ways might people in our own community – in our own ward or stake – be considered poor, even without being cold and hungry? What might “the kingdom of heaven” mean as a promise to the poor in our own midst?
Now let’s go back to that phrase we set side earlier – “poor in spirit.” Poverty, whatever it meant in Palestine, among the Nephites, or in our own day, is just a metaphor, a concrete embodiment to help Jesus’s listeners understand the almost intangible concept of “poor in spirit.” What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?
How is receiving “the kingdom of heaven” a fitting reward, a consequence of the Atonement, for being “poor in spirit”?
If we had time, we could examine each of the Beatitudes and consider what each might mean to people in different places at different times – does being a peacemaker mean the same to a diplomat in wartime as it does to a grandfather with squabbling grandchildren? Does hungering and thirsting after righteousness mean the same thing to a Latter-day Saint in downtown Salt Lake City who needs quiet time to study the scriptures, as it does to someone in a far-off land who has only heard hints of the Restoration and must go to extraordinary lengths to hear more?
The same could be done with every other bit of the sermon in 3 Nephi, 12-15. What did those words mean to the Nephites? Did they mean the same thing when the Old World Jews heard them? What do they mean to us in our circumstances? And how do these principles, taught by the Savior to people with different histories, different cultures, different world views, still manage to speak to us all, bringing us all to the same place, making one people out of us, worshiping one God, making the same covenants, anticipating the same eternal rewards?
[Testimony, centering on the concept of “other sheep”]