Lesson 42: This Is My Gospel
3 Nephi 27-29
4 Nephi 1
Doctrine and Covenants 39:1-6
Purpose: To help class members understand the fundamental doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ and to teach them that living the gospel is the only way to true and eternal happiness.
SCRIPTURE DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. The Savior commands His Nephite disciples to call the Church after His name. He expounds His gospel.
2. The Savior grants the desires of His twelve disciples. Three of the disciples choose to remain on the earth until His Second Coming.
3. After many years of peace, the majority of the people dwindle in unbelief and reject the gospel.
We’re no doubt all familiar with the tale of two young lovers named Romeo and Juliet. Their love was doomed, Shakespeare tells us, because Juliet was a member of the Capulet family, while Romeo was a Montague. The two families were involved in a bitter feud, so their very names meant they could not have a normal, peaceful life together. At one point, Juliet supposes that if Romeo merely changed his name, all would be well:
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Romeo and Juliet could not escape their names, though, and all that they meant, and their story ended in tragedy.
When God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in his First Vision, what is the very first word addressed to Joseph? (“… spake unto me, calling me by name” Joseph Smith–History 1:17)
What did he use Joseph’s name? Or, what do you suppose it meant to Joseph that he did?
In the Book of Mormon, Helaman tells his sons Nephi and Lehi about their names: “I have given unto you the names of our first parents [so] that when you remember your names ye may remember them; … that they were good” (Helaman 5:6).
What is in a name? What does your name mean to you?
Let’s turn now to 3 Nephi. Our lesson today is based on the end of 3 Nephi, and the first chapter of 4 Nephi. We’ll start with the last verses of Chapter 26 to get an overview of conditions in the church after the disciples had been taught by Jesus Christ.
3 Nephi 26:17-21
17 And it came to pass that the disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them; and as many as were baptized in the name of Jesus were filled with the Holy Ghost.
18 And many of them saw and heard unspeakable things, which are not lawful to be written.
19 And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another.
20 And it came to pass that they did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them.
21 And they who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ.
These lines foreshadow what the life of the Nephite civilization will be for the next two hundred years. I have a few questions about what life was like during this period, and our assumptions of what it might mean to live in a Zion-like society.
First of all, was everyone in the society a member of the Church at that time? What does that say about our own hopes for living in a Zion society? Must everyone be a tithe-paying, temple-going member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before we can have a just and peaceful society?
What about the Millennium, the thousand years of peace under Christ’s reign? We know that the saints of God will be teaching and baptizing during this era, implying that at the beginning, at least, there will be many people, even other churches, who have not yet accepted the fulness of the gospel, yet whom the Lord deemed worthy to live during that time.
What does that say about the possibility of living in peace and righteousness today with neighbors who are not members of the Church – maybe even those whose politics as well as religion are not identical to ours? If we are not living peacefully and cooperatively with such people, where does the fault lie?
Sometimes we joke about having a day-by-day account of the Nephite-Lamanite wars, while knowing nothing of the many generations of peace after the coming of the Savior. Yet the Book of Mormon does tell us of some events during this time. Let’s read Chapter 27, verses 1-2:
1 And it came to pass that as the disciples of Jesus were journeying and were preaching the things which they had both heard and seen, and were baptizing in the name of Jesus, it came to pass that the disciples were gathered together and were united in mighty prayer and fasting.
2 And Jesus again showed himself unto them, fort hey were praying unto the Father in his name; and Jesus came and stood in the midst of them, and said unto them: What will ye that I shall give unto you?
We began the lesson by talking about the importance of names. What do you note in these verses about the power of Jesus’s name?
We pray in Jesus’s name, and most of us end our lessons and talks by invoking the name of Jesus. We do it routine, casually. Should it be a routine, casual reference? Does – or should – every use of the Lord’s name have the power of this instance in Nephite history, so that every time we used his name there was the possibility of his “coming and standing in the midst of us”? Should that be a consideration when we close our prayers and talks that way?
The Lord asked the people, “What will ye that I shall give unto you?” We know from our familiarity with the Book of Mormon what the Nephites are going to ask. Does that strike you as what you would ask, given the same opportunity?
3 Nephi 27:3:
And they said unto him: Lord, we will that thou wouldst tell us the name whereby we shall call this church; for there are disputations among the people concerning this matter.
Isn’t that interesting? We have just read that “they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another,” and yet when the Savior comes to them in answer to prayer, we learn that the Saints have been disputing among themselves, over a matter of doctrine.
Just for curiosity, what do you suppose the choices for names might have been? [Note that 3 Nephi 26:21 refers to baptizing “in the name of Jesus” into what was called “the church of Christ,” for examples of possibilities.] Are these possibilities so very, very different, so significant that they seem worthy of “disputation”?
One commentator notes that “in the context of calling on [Jesus’s] name and with the ancient mindset [concerning the power of a name – which has just been demonstrated by Jesus’s appearance when the disciples prayed in his name],the question was critical, going straight to the essential identity” of the church.” [Brant Gardner, Second Witness, 5:575] Unlike our day, where we need to name church organizations in part to distinguish them from many other church organizations, in the days we’re speaking of here, there was only one church. The Nephites wanted a name, not to distinguish their church among many, but to clarify the very meaning of the church itself.
The Lord’s response is found in 3 Nephi 27:4-6:
4 And the Lord said unto them: Verily, verily, I say unto you, why is it that the people should murmur and dispute because of this thing?
5 Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day;
6 And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.
Usually when we quote these verses, or similar ones in the Doctrine and Covenants, we’re merely proof-texting – we’re “proving” that we are the true church, and sometimes we’re congratulating ourselves that our church is named after the Lord himself, making us better than Lutherans or Baptists or Catholics who don’t call their churches by the name of the Savior. There are two other points I think we need to make, though.
First, in answering the Nephites’ question, does the Lord give them a revelation, something new that he hasn’t told them before? No, he asks why they have not found their answer in the scriptures, in teachings that he has already revealed to them through prophets and his own direct word.
What might that suggest about the way the Lord expects us to handle many of our own questions?
In my work with church history documents, I’ve read many letters sent by members of the church to church leaders, asking questions about how to govern their families, or how to organize their wards, or how to behave in their daily lives. Almost without exception, the answers to their questions were spelled out in the scriptures, or even more explicitly in the talks and written directives of church leaders. If that sort of thing happened in the 19th century, I’m sure it goes on in the 21st century.
I hope nobody thinks I’m swinging the pendulum so far to one side that I’m advocating scripture reading in place of prayer. What is the proper balance between praying for understanding and studying the scriptures for what has already been taught?
The second point I think we need to emphasize is this: The Lord answered the Nephites’ question not by merely telling them what name should be given to the church, but what name they should take upon themselves: “Ye must take upon you the name of Christ.”
Jesus came when the twelve “called” him in prayer; similarly, when he “calls us by our name at the last day, his believers will come. The name is the key to our entry into the kingdom, a point of particular significance to temple-endowed modern Saints. The essential issue is not just the naming of the church, but also the naming of the person: “And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.” [Gardner,5:576]
Jesus goes on in the rest of this chapter to teach the disciples what it means to take upon them his name, and what that name will mean to them when it comes time to enter into the kingdom of God.
Then, at the beginning of Chapter 28, he asks them again, as he had done a little earlier, what they wanted of him.
3 Nephi 28: 1
1 And it came to pass when Jesus had said these words, he spake unto his disciples, one by one, saying unto them: What is it that ye desire of me, after that I am gone to the Father?
This is the second time Jesus has asked this question during this presumably short visit. Is it just a formulaic question, away to invite questions, or does he sincerely want these twelve men to express their feelings? What makes you think so?
This may be too personal to answer in a classroom setting, but how, generally, do you think you might have responded? What are some of the things you might “desire of the Lord”?
3 Nephi 28:2
2 And they all spake, save it were three, saying: We desire that after we have lived unto the age of man, that our ministry, where in thou hast called us, may have an end, that we may speedily come unto thee in thy kingdom.
What are they really asking for here? (I’m not sure.) Are they concerned about their lives in mortality – either the length of their lives, or the usefulness of their lives – or are they more concerned about what happens at death – that they will be received into the kingdom?
Jesus answers them in verse 3:
3 And he said unto them: Blessed are ye because ye desired this thing of me; therefore, after that ye are seventy and two years old ye shall come unto me in my kingdom; and with me ye shall find rest.
Scholars have attempted several different explanations about why the number 72 was used, none of which feel especially persuasive to me. In any case, though, it seems that the Lord is granting them a sufficiently long life to accomplish their assignments, after which, he promises them, they shall be received into the kingdom of God.
Why do you think the disciples are “blessed” for this desire? Do you think the Lord is merely saying, “I bless you with the fulfillment of your desire,” or is their desire a more righteous one than some of the other things they might have asked for?
The disciples’ wish does not seem to have been unanimous, though. Standing apart from the first nine are the remaining three. Jesus turns to them now.
3 Nephi 28:4-5
4 And when he had spoken unto them, he turned himself unto the three, and said unto them: What will ye that I should do unto you, when I am gone unto the Father?
5 And they sorrowed in their hearts, for they durst not speak unto him the thing which they desired.
Have you ever been afraid to ask the Lord for something you wanted? Why? Why might these three disciples have hesitated? Was their wish unworthy, or did they think the Lord was incapable of granting it, or – what? Jesus didn’t think it was an unworthy desire, though, and he didn’t make the three disciples find the words to ask by themselves:
3 Nephi 28:6-7
6 And he said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.
7 Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.
Jesus then outlines the mission of these three disciples. In a class period as short as we have today, I ordinarily would not take the time to read these verses, because they are of intellectual, not practical, value to us – knowing the ins and outs of life as a translated being is not something that will likely affect any of us. But let’s do it anyway – and as we read, please pay close attention to the mission of these three disciples:
3 Nephi 28:8-10, 17-18, 23
8 And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.
9And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world; and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand.
10And for this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one.
17 And now, whether they were mortal or immortal, from the day of their transfiguration, I know not;
18 But this much I know, according to the record which hath been given – they did go forth upon the face of the land, and did minister unto all the people, uniting as many to the church as would believe in their preaching; baptizing them, and as many as were baptized did receive the Holy Ghost.
23 And it came to pass that thus they did go forth among all the people of Nephi, and did preach the gospel of Christ unto all people upon the face of the land; and they were converted unto the Lord, and were united unto the church of Christ, and thus the people of that generation were blessed, according to the word of Jesus.
This, with some similar verses in other books of scripture, is basically all we know of the mission of these translated beings. Do you see anything in these verses that supports the idea that the calling of the Three Nephites is to appear out of nowhere, deliver cryptic warnings of personal danger, then vanish as mysteriously as they appeared? I do not wish to ridicule people and their faith – my own great-grandmother was a wonderful, faithful, servant of the Lord who was convinced that one of the Three Nephites had come to her – but I do think it is time we stopped repeating Three Nephite stories as if they were sacred experiences instead of folklore. According to these verses, what is the mission of these Nephite disciples? [Allow discussion if wanted, but interrupt kindly anyone who wants to tell his own Three Nephites story.]
The book of 4 Nephi is a continuation of 3 Nephi. The first part of Chapter 1 describes a civilization that has been transformed by the people’s acceptance of the teachings and the name of Jesus Christ. In many ways it is the high point of Nephi civilization. I’d like to end our class today with a simple reading of what life was like in this gospel-centered civilization.
4 Nephi 1:1-18
1 And it came to pass that the thirty and fourth year passed away, and also the thirty and fifth, and behold the disciples of Jesus had formed a church of Christ in all the lands round about. And as many as did come unto them, and did truly repent of their sins, were baptized in the name of Jesus; and they did also receive the Holy Ghost.
2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
4 And it came to pass that the thirty and seventh year passed away also, and there still continued to be peace in the land.
5 And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.
6 And thus did the thirty and eighth year pass away, and also the thirty and ninth, and forty and first, and the forty and second, yea, even until forty and nine years had passed away, and also the fifty and first, and the fifty and second; yea, and even until fifty and nine years had passed away.
7 And the Lord did prosper them exceedingly in the land; yea, insomuch that they did build cities again where there had been cities burned.
8 Yea, even that great city Zarahemla did they cause to be built again.
9 But there were many cities which had been sunk, and waters came up in the stead thereof; therefore these cities could not be renewed.
10 And now, behold, it came to pass that the people of Nephi did wax strong, and did multiply exceedingly fast, and became an exceedingly fair and delightsome people.
11 And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them.
12 And they did not walk any more after the performances and ordinances of the law of Moses; but they did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord and their God, continuing in fasting and prayer, and in meeting together oft both to pray and to hear the word of the Lord.
13 And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people, in all the land; but there were mighty miracles wrought among the disciples of Jesus.
14 And it came to pass that the seventy and first year passed away, and also the seventy and second year, yea, and in fine, till the seventy and ninth year had passed away; yea, even an hundred years had passed away, and the disciples of Jesus, whom he had chosen, had all gone to the paradise of God, save it were the three who should tarry; and there were other disciples ordained in their stead; and also many of that generation had passed away.
15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
18 And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered until an hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there was no contention in all the land.
Brothers and sisters, what we have read here is just about the last peaceful, hopeful, joyful entry in the Book of Mormon. Verse 24 begins with the ominous note: “And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride.” And that begins the 200-year slide into the destruction that caused every prophet since Lehi to mourn for the people. We’ll begin our discussion of that last era with next week’s lesson.