Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Notes on Matthew 6-7, CFM lesson for Feb 25-March3

This week's lessons finishes out the account of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. 

Quiet Works, Quiet Worship

  • In Matthew 6:1-8, we are instructed about how we should serve.  The word translated "alms" can also be translated "good acts," and it is in my Wayment translation.  We should do our acts quietly, to be seen of God not so that others will think how great we are.
  • We should also pray to God in our secret places and not to be seen of others.  vs. 5-8.  We shouldn't use "vain repetitions."  This seems like an injunction about using empty platitudes and words with no feeling behind them than it is about repeating the same pleas or the same petitions.
  • After the Lord's prayer (see below), verses 16-18 echo similar wording about fasting.  Instead of broadcasting to the world how sad and pained we are because we are fasting, we should fast "that thou appear not unto men to fast but unto thy Father."
  • In all three of these instructions, about good acts, secret prayers, and fasting, the Lord appears to be concerned about not just what we do but our desires and motives for doing it.  He wants our hearts and souls, not our outward obedience.  As Elder Dale G. Renlund said, 
"Our Heavenly Father’s goal in parenting is not to have His children do what is right; it is to have His children choose to do what is right and ultimately become like Him. If He simply wanted us to be obedient, He would use immediate rewards and punishments to influence our behaviors.

But God is not interested in His children just becoming trained and obedient “pets” who will not chew on His slippers in the celestial living room.3 No, God wants His children to grow up spiritually and join Him in the family business.

God established a plan whereby we can become heirs in His kingdom, a covenant path that leads us to become like Him, have the kind of life He has, and live forever as families in His presence.4 Personal choice was—and is—vital to this plan, which we learned about in our premortal existence. We accepted the plan and chose to come to earth."
  • It occurs to me that never before in the history of the world has it been so easy to break these commandments.  With social media, it is possible to broadcast everything one does, from how we pray to how we parent.  We all know a friend or two who seems to do things just to look good on Pinterest or Facebook and who tries to project the image of perfection through carefully cultivated social media pictures.  Sharing positive things on social media isn't bad, but we could probably all benefit from examining our motives in regards to our social media habits.  Are we trying to elevate ourselves?  Are we seeking "likes," praise or acceptance?  Or are we trying to do good and lead others to do good?  We are to let our lights so shine, as last week's reading reminded us, so there's definitely a balance here.

The Lord's Prayer

  • Thomas Wayment points out in his translation that while most translators elevate the language of the Lord's prayer "into elegant and flowing English prose," the original "wording of the prayer uses everyday language that intentionally rhymes some of the line endings."
  • I love that Christ teaches us to ask for "our daily bread," or "Give us enough bread for today," as Wayment translates it.  We are taught to ask for our basic needs each day, not to 
  • Elder D. Todd Christofferson says, "Included in the Lord’s Prayer is the petition “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) or “Give us day by day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3). I believe that we would all readily acknowledge that we have needs each day that we want our Heavenly Father’s help in dealing with. For some, on some days, it is quite literally bread—that is, the food needed to sustain life that day. It could also be spiritual and physical strength to deal with one more day of chronic illness or a painfully slow rehabilitation. In other cases it may be less tangible needs, such as things related to one’s obligations or activities in that day—teaching a lesson or taking a test, for example."  Later, he adds, "Asking God for our daily bread, rather than our weekly, monthly, or yearly bread, is also a way to focus us on the smaller, more manageable bits of a problem. To deal with something very big, we may need to work at it in small, daily bites. Sometimes all we can handle is one day (or even just part of one day) at a time."
  • The KJV of Matthew 6:14-15 says, " For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."  Wayment translate that passage as "If you forgive others of their misdeeds, your Father in heaven will forgive you," and notes that "the word translated misdeeds is not the same word that is used elsewhere for sins.  Jesus may have intended to refer to common infractions against others and not specifically to the idea of sin against God."  I like that expanded view of what we are to forgive.  If we want God to forgive us our sins, we need to forgive the everyday blunders of our fellowmen -- the dumb things they say and the thoughtless things they might do -- as well as the larger trespasses against us.  

Becoming Wholeheartedly Holy and Trusting in His Provision

  • Matthew 6:19-21: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."  When reading this, I realized how connected this is to the injunctions to do good quietly, to pray in secret, and to fast before the Lord instead of our fellowmen.  Doing those things in that way with pure motives is HOW we lay up our treasures in heaven.  
  • In verse 22, it talks about having an eye that is single so our whole bodies can be full of light.  Wayment translates single as "healthy," and the footnote says the Greek means, "healthy, sincere, without guile.which helps me understand the analogy a bit more.  I think of this like a lens in photography.  If you take pictures through a dirty lens or a dirty window, you get reduced clarity and blurred parts of your photos.  If your lens is filthy, the light inside the camera will be distorted and clear photos are impossible.  We are to be pure and focused on Christ, and then our body can be full of light.
  • "No man can serve two masters."  As D. Todd Christofferson said, "To come to Zion, it is not enough for you or me to be somewhat less wicked than others. We are to become not only good but holy men and women. Recalling Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s phrase, let us once and for all establish our residence in Zion and give up the summer cottage in Babylon"  
  • Most of us hold onto ideas or philosophies incompatible with the gospel without really recognizing it.  When inevitably, the ideas we absorb from our culture and the world around us clash with the gospel of Jesus Christ, what do we do?  Are we willing to change to be more in align with the gospel?  Or are we too committed to our other master?   I've seen individuals get so caught up in a certain political philosophy or movement that when the clash comes, they abandon the gospel rather than their movement. 
  • The second master that is condemned by Christ is "mammon," or the pursuit of riches or worldliness, and the next section expands on that thought by discussing God's great provision for his children.  
  • The next part is, according to the JST, directed at the Apostles as they embark in full-time missionary service, but has application for all of us.  
  • "Behold the fowls of the air,"  "Consider the lilies of the field"  God takes care of these, won't he also care for you?  Especially if you are asking each day for "enough bread for today?"
  • I went to a presentation once about the geography of the Holy Land and how that can help us better understand the scriptures.  The speaker addressed this scripture "if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" He showed the fields of the Holy Land, covered in green grass and wildflowers, then showed another picture of the same field a short time later, brown and dry and desolate.  His point was that the climate of the place is such that the grass of the fields just don't last.  And yet God clothes those grasses beautifully.  He will also care for us.
  • I read the last verse as, "Don't borrow worry from the future; today has enough for you to do without fighting tomorrow's battles too."

Judging Righteously, Good Gifts, and False Prophets

  • "Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged:"  This scripture is often quoted and taken out of context.  Taken to its extreme meaning, it tells us not to ever judge anything or anyone.  Yet just a few verses later, we are told to beware of false prophets and that we can know, or judge, them by their fruits.  
  • Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke on this subject at a BYU devotional:  "I have been puzzled that some scriptures command us not to judge and others instruct us that we should judge and even tell us how to do it. I am convinced that these seemingly contradictory directions are consistent when we view them with the perspective of eternity. The key is to understand that there are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make; and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles. Today I will speak about gospel judging."
  • There's a great article in the February Ensign about the subject of judging.  "Immediately following these higher-law teachings, Jesus commanded, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Jesus understood that as disciples strive to live the principles and commandments taught in Matthew 5 and 6, it is easy to fall into the trap of noticing where others may be falling short of those ideals. Jesus continued, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged” (Matthew 7:2). To drive this point further, Jesus clarified, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). He was clearly teaching that our ability to judge imperfections in others is nearly impossible because of the large construction-sized beams of imperfection blinding our own vision. Additionally, we do not understand all the surrounding issues, struggles, and circumstances that result in motes and beams in others’ eyes."
  • One of my favorite videos about judging is this one:
  • I love that we are reminded that God gives bread and fish, not stones and serpents, to those who ask, seek, and knock.  The Creator of the Universe, who created more stars than there are sands on the beaches of the earth, is interested in us.  He listens and cares about us.  As Elder Uchtdorf put it, 
And while we may look at the vast expanse of the universe and say, “What is man in comparison to the glory of creation?” God Himself said we are the reason He created the universe! His work and glory—the purpose for this magnificent universe—is to save and exalt mankind.8 In other words, the vast expanse of eternity, the glories and mysteries of infinite space and time are all built for the benefit of ordinary mortals like you and me. Our Heavenly Father created the universe that we might reach our potential as His sons and daughters.
This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God. While against the backdrop of infinite creation we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast. We have the incomprehensible promise of exaltation—worlds without end—within our grasp. And it is God’s great desire to help us reach it.
  • It is worth noting that the word "strait" in verse 13 does not mean the same as "straight."  Instead, the term means something like constricted or tight.  
  • In verses 15-20, Christ warns of false prophets who come in sheep's clothing but are really ravening wolves. 
  • I think of the older people I know who are so full of love and kindness from a life full of living gospel truths.  They don't see others as people to use or exploit.  They see them as brothers and sisters and friends.  They seem to glow with peace and charity.  That's the kind of person I want to be, that people can't help but feel encouraged by being around.
  • This devotional talks about the fruits Elder Corbridge has experienced in his experiences with those who fight against faith.  It is well worth a read or a listen.

Building on Bedrock

  • In the final part of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ reminds us that just because we have called on his name and done works supposedly in his name doesn't mean that we are necessarily going to enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Instead, the kingdom is reserved for "he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."  Are we actively seeking out the Lord's will for us and working to do it?  Or do we consider that it's good enough to be nominally Christian and do good things once in a while?
  • The JST renders the passage as "ye never knew me" rather than "I never knew you."  How do we better come to know Christ?  Are we asking, seeking, and knocking?  Are we working to overcome our weakness?  
  • This passage is similar to the parable of the ten virgins.  Just being invited to the marriage supper isn't enough.  We need to be ready for it and prepare ourselves.
  • To reinforce the point is the parable of the wise man and the foolish man. I love that in my Wayment translation, he uses the word "bedrock" for the man who built his house on the rock.  This isn't any ordinary rock, it is something stable and strong and able to withstand the elements.  
  • Here's a cute little video illustration I might use for my little ones (probably less disturbing than showing them the videos I found of buildings collapsing during earthquakes!)  

Friday, February 22, 2019

Notes on Matthew 5 and Luke 6; Come Follow Me Lesson, Feb. 18-24

I feel a bit intimidated by posting about the Sermon the Mount, often called the greatest sermon ever given.  I watched one impressive video where Jack Welch spoke about the temple themes and contexts that permeate the Sermon and I'm still working to grasp some of what he presented.  He memorized the Sermon in German as a young missionary and has been studying it in depth for forty years, culminating in many articles and books.  There is a lot of depth, breadth, and meaning in every verse in these chapters.

Sermon on the Mount, Sermon on the Plains, and the Sermon at the Temple

  • The more I have studied these chapters and the three different accounts we have of similar sermons, as well as the many other echoes of the Sermon recorded in later scriptures, the more I am convinced of Jack Welch's main theme, that this was no ordinary Sermon.  It was likely given in different places as part of the preparation for further covenants, as happens in 3 Nephi.  Some have pointed out differences between Matthew and Luke's accounts that make it seem as though Matthew's account was given to disciples on an actual mountain, while Luke's smaller portion could have been given to a wider audience who was not as faithful and prepared for the full address.  The Sermon, which is the essence of the gospel, could have been given with variations depending on the audience.  For one thing, Luke's account of the beatitudes includes a corresponding "woe" for every "blessed" given.
  • Matthew's account shows Christ as the Moses-like prophet that the Old Testament promised would come.  There are many echoes between the exodus account and Matthew's.  This sermon has many important parallels.  Just as Moses tried to bring the people up to the mountain to see the face of God, so Christ brought his faithful disciples to a mountain to teach them.  The Sermon itself has further parallels, with Christ giving his higher law to the people, not to destroy but to fulfill. Matthew 5:17  "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."  
  • The Bible Project says it this way:  "the first words of Matthew’s prologue to the sermon also recall Mosaic imagery. The words “he went up on the mountain” are a verbatim quotation of Exodus 19:3. In Exodus 19:3 the description is of Moses ascending Sinai to receive the law. As others have noted, this particular phrase occurs only three times in the Greek Old Testament. Each of the three times it is in reference to Moses’ ascent to Sinai (Ex 19:3, 24:18, 34:4).

    Third, Matthew describes the mountain as “the mountain.” Matthew usually does not use a definite article when referring to a mountain unless a mountain is mentioned in the preceding context (Matt 8:1, 17:9). This would be called the anaphoric use of the article. But in Matthew 5:1, there is no immediately preceding mountain mentioned. This indicates it might point to a par excellence use of the article. Matthew is inviting a comparison with the most prominent mount in the Old Testament.

    Finally, Matthew describes Jesus as sitting down to teach. This recalls Moses’ stance when he received God’s law on Mount Sinai. Although the verb in the Hebrew is debated, references in the Talmud show that Jewish interpreters regarded Deuteronomy 9:9 as meaning Moses sat down on the mountain. All three of these details place the sermon under the lens of Sinai. Unfortunately, many note these opening Mosaic parallels and then stop. But the parallels continue throughout the sermon. Matthew’s point seems to be to connect law of the Torah with the law of the new covenant. Jesus delivers the new covenant teaching as the new Moses.
  • Luke's account of the sermon on the plain, besides differing in location, also omits a good part of the longer Sermon contained in Matthew 5-7.  


Matthew gives us 8 qualities to strive for to receive God's blessings:
  1. The poor in spirit.  Lynn Wilson says that the New Testament "uses “ptochos/poor(adj.)” 34 times to mean: reduced to beggary, asking alms; destitute of wealth, influence, position, honor; lowly, afflicted; destitute of the Christian virtues and eternal riches; helpless, powerless to accomplish an end; lacking in anything that respects their spirit.."  One comment I heard reduced that down to basically being dependant on God spiritually the way a beggar is dependent.  Both the poor in spirit and they who are persecuted are promised the kingdom of heaven.
  2. They that mourn, for they shall be comforted.  What a beautiful promise!  
  3. The meek.  From Elder Bednar comes this great definition: "Meekness is a defining attribute of the Redeemer and is distinguished by righteous responsiveness, willing submissiveness, and strong self-restraint . . . The Christlike quality of meekness often is misunderstood in our contemporary world. Meekness is strong, not weak; active, not passive; courageous, not timid; restrained, not excessive; modest, not self-aggrandizing; and gracious, not brash. A meek person is not easily provoked, pretentious, or overbearing and readily acknowledges the accomplishments of others.  Whereas humility generally denotes dependence upon God and the constant need for His guidance and support, a distinguishing characteristic of meekness is a particular spiritual receptivity to learning both from the Holy Ghost and from people who may seem less capable, experienced, or educated, who may not hold important positions, or who otherwise may not appear to have much to contribute."
  4. They which do hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.  We need that sustenance daily in the same way we need food.  This fireside has always been one of my favorites and this short video explains the same concepts.           
  5. The merciful for they shall obtain mercy.  This concept, that we receive the same kind of mercy that we give, is echoed many times in the scriptures as well as in later in the Sermon -- Matthew 7:1-2, "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." and in 6:14, "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you"
  6. The pure in heart for they shall see God.  Many of the concepts in this sermon have deep ties to the Psalms.  This one hearkens to Psalm 24:3-4: "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?  He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart" I see this as a temple text, as we are promised that like Moses, who ascended to his Mountain, removed the slippers from his feet in that holy place, and spoke to God face to face, we who are pure and faithful to our covenants will be prepared to behold the face of God. (See D&C 84:17-26)
  7. The peacemakers. As a mother, I am deeply grateful for the peacemakers in my home.  I hope to cultivate and inspire more of it!
  8. They which are persecuted for righteousness' sake.  I love this quote by C. S. Lewis, which helps me understand why enduring persecution without abandoning the other 7 "be's" is so important:  “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. ”  It's great to be meek, merciful, and a peacemaker, but are we willing to keep doing it while someone sneers at us for doing it?  

Salt and Light

  • "Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men."
  • This short article has excellent background information about salt in the time of Christ.  Was it valuable and important?  Yes.  It was used to preserve food, enhance flavor, and as part of each sacrifice in the temple.  It was not as rare as some have said, however.  "Anciently, salt was not scarce in the Holy Land. There was a large mine near the Dead Sea and shallow evaporation pools along the Mediterranean coast."
  • I thought this was interesting as well:  "For a time, the Roman Empire gave its soldiers a ration of salt but eventually replaced it with a fixed sum of money for purchasing salt. This is where the word salary comes from (Latin for “salt money”)."
  • I'm thinking a great object lesson is to have two bowls of popcorn for my family to sample, one with and one without salt.  
  • How can salt lose its savor?  
"When the Savior talked about salt that has “lost his savour” (Matthew 5:13), He was talking about what happens when salt is mixed with other substances: it becomes corrupted and therefore cannot be used in the accustomed ways. So we must keep ourselves pure and unstained by sin and worldly things. The Lord has also said that when we disobey and do not fulfill our duty to be “saviors of men,” we “are as salt that has lost its savor” (D&C 103:10; see also verses 8–9)."
  • In thinking about how salt loses its savor, I was reminded of this powerful devotional.  In it, Kerry Muhlestein discusses some of the ways ancient Israel was "halting between two opinions."  They weren't so much trying to decide which way to follow -- God and his laws, or the gods of those around them -- as they were trying to do both.  And we have the same problems today, sometimes without even knowing it:
"We cannot imagine why they would stop worshipping Jehovah and instead worship things carved from wood or stone or molded from metal. We ask ourselves, “What were they thinking? What is wrong with them?” Yet I have found that we should never ask ourselves, “What is wrong with them?” Instead we should ask, “What is wrong with them and me?” If ancient Israel struggled with something, surely we struggle with it as well. We should not ask ourselves if we struggle with the things that tempted them; rather, we should ask how we do the same thing. 
I have also found that we can more easily answer this question when we come to a more accurate view of exactly what ancient Israel was struggling with. I believe we are wrong when we think they stopped worshipping Jehovah and started worshipping other gods. While some did stop worshipping God, most kept worshipping Him—they just added the worship of other gods. They worshipped Jehovah and Asherah or Jehovah and Anat, Ba’al, Chemosh, Molech, and so on. 
The problem is that everyone around them was doing this. Their neighbors had gods that they focused on, but they were also willing to adopt new gods as they encountered them. As Israel drank in the culture around them, it seemed only natural to keep worshipping Jehovah but also to worship the things their neighbors worshipped. Most likely many of them felt just fine about doing this because they continued to feel quite devout toward Jehovah. It is this attempt to worship more than one god at the same time that Elijah addressed on Mount Carmel when he challenged the priests of Ba’al. During that contest he thundered out to Israel: “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). 
The word halt here does not mean “stop,” as we usually think it does. It is used in this scripture in the same way that it is used in the New Testament: to mean that someone is lame or unable to walk. Perhaps a better translation would be “How long limp ye between two opinions?” Elijah was not asking them why they couldn’t choose which god to worship but rather was pointing out that they could not really go anywhere as long as they were trying to worship both gods. . . Now that we know ancient Israel was worshipping both the true God and false gods at the same time, our task is, as I said earlier, not to ask ourselves if but instead how we do the same thing. I believe there is no doubt that we all worship more than one god. For some of us, instead of worshipping both Jehovah and Ba’al, we worship Jehovah and footba’al. For others it is video games, material possessions, or a whole host of other things. Yet over the last twenty years, as I have tried to observe the ways in which we struggle with idolatry, I have become convinced that on the whole we struggle with one kind of false god more than any other. We tend to worship the ideas of the world, and, like those who pull on the waterski rope, we don’t even realize we are doing it.
The problem is that the world has been shouting its ideas at us loudly and incessantly from the time we were very small. We encounter these ideas in our schools, from kindergarten through college. We are inundated with them as we read newspapers, watch TV and movies, or listen to the radio—and in a hundred other ways. Many of the concepts we encounter are harmless enough, but most of the time we are not very careful in sifting through the ideas we hear, and I am certain we have all swallowed a lot of fallacious and dangerous ideas without even realizing it. As President Thomas S. Monson said at the rededication of the Boise Idaho Temple, you “walk in a world saturated with the sophistries of Satan”  
Sadly, Satan’s ideas are so prevalent and often so subtly, consistently, and insidiously conveyed that we usually are not aware we have adopted them. We drink so heavily from the well of the world’s influence that such influence can become part of the fabric of who we are without our even realizing it."
  • With this in mind, it is easy for me to see how we can lose our own saltiness and uniqueness by allowing ourselves to hold back from full commitment, being unwilling to be too different from the world, or by refusing to examine our habits and eliminate those that are not good enough for one trying to follow Christ.  Are our media choices just like those around us?  Or do we refuse to watch things that are crude, objectify women, belittle faith, and glorify violence? 
  • At a recent regional meeting in Arizona, President Nelson said, "To be faithful to our temple covenants means we are willing to be different — much different — from men and women of the world.  As covenant keepers, our thoughts, behavior, language, entertainment, fashion, grooming and time on the internet — to name a few things — are to be distinct from patterns and habits considered as normal by the world." 
  • What corrupting influences do I allow into my life?  What changes should I be making to the way I use my time?
  • Christ's injunction not to hide light under a bushel connects to the ideas above but also to that last beatitude about enduring persecution.  If someone is inclined to mock or belittle us for our faith, are we willing to stand as a city on a hill or do we look around for a basket to hide under?  

Living the Full and Higher Law of Christ

  • In the next section, verses 17-48, Christ outlines a higher way of living.  Instead of simply not killing your brother, you must also not even be angry.  Instead of simply avoiding adultery (or all forms of sexual sin, which the original meaning indicates), you shouldn't even think about committing it.  Cut off the part of you that offends, Turn the other cheek, and love and bless your enemies.  Easy doctrine, this is not. 
  • Elder Holland says this about Christ's doctrine: 
  • Sadly enough, my young friends, it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds.11 
    Talk about man creating God in his own image! Sometimes—and this seems the greatest irony of all—these folks invoke the name of Jesus as one who was this kind of “comfortable” God. Really? He who said not only should we not break commandments, but we should not even think about breaking them. And if we do think about breaking them, we have already broken them in our heart. Does that sound like “comfortable” doctrine, easy on the ear and popular down at the village love-in? 
    And what of those who just want to look at sin or touch it from a distance? Jesus said with a flash, if your eye offends you, pluck it out. If your hand offends you, cut it off.12 “I came not to [bring] peace, but a sword,”13 He warned those who thought He spoke only soothing platitudes. No wonder that, sermon after sermon, the local communities “pray[ed] him to depart out of their coasts.”14 No wonder, miracle after miracle, His power was attributed not to God but to the devil.15 It is obvious that the bumper sticker question “What would Jesus do?” will not always bring a popular response.
  • The word meaning "lust" here is the same word used for covet in the Old Testament.  It also means desire and can be used in passages that refer to good desires too.  We need to train our thoughts and our desires so that we desire what God does.  
  • From Elder Neal A. Maxwell:  Each assertion of a righteous desire, each act of service, and each act of worship, however small and incremental, adds to our spiritual momentum. Like Newton’s Second Law, there is a transmitting of acceleration as well as a contagiousness associated with even the small acts of goodness.

    Fortunately for us, our loving Lord will work with us, “even if [we] can [do] no more than desire to believe,” providing we will “let this desire work in [us]” (Alma 32:27). Therefore, declared President Joseph F. Smith, “the education then of our desires is one of far-reaching importance to our happiness in life” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 297). Such education can lead to sanctification until, said President Brigham Young, “holy desires produce corresponding outward works” (in Journal of Discourses, 6:170). Only by educating and training our desires can they become our allies instead of our enemies!

    Some of our present desires, therefore, need to be diminished and then finally dissolved. For instance, the biblical counsel “let not thine heart envy sinners” is directed squarely at those with a sad unsettlement of soul (Prov. 23:17). Once again, we must be honest with ourselves about the consequences of our desires, which follow as the night, the day. Similarly faced with life’s so-called “bad breaks,” the natural man desires to wallow in self-pity; therefore this desire must go too.

    But dissolution of wrong desires is only part of it. For instance, what is now only a weak desire to be a better spouse, father, or mother needs to become a stronger desire, just as Abraham experienced divine discontent and desired greater happiness and knowledge (see Abr. 1:2).
  • What are my desires?  How do I better train them so they are my allies instead of enemies?  
  • In regards to Christ's prohibition of divorce, Elder Oaks quoted these verses and then said, "The kind of marriage required for exaltation—eternal in duration and godlike in quality—does not contemplate divorce. In the temples of the Lord, couples are married for all eternity. But some marriages do not progress toward that ideal. Because “of the hardness of [our] hearts,” the Lord does not currently enforce the consequences of the celestial standard. He permits divorced persons to marry again without the stain of immorality specified in the higher law. Unless a divorced member has committed serious transgressions, he or she can become eligible for a temple recommend under the same worthiness standards that apply to other members."  

Becoming Perfect . . . Eventually

  • Matthew says, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."  Elder Nelson explained the meaning of this injunction in this address:
In Matt. 5:48, the term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios, which means “complete.” Teleios is an adjective derived from the noun telos, which means “end.”10 The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means “to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.”11 Please note that the word does not imply “freedom from error”; it implies “achieving a distant objective.” In fact, when writers of the Greek New Testament wished to describe perfection of behavior—precision or excellence of human effort—they did not employ a form of teleios; instead, they chose different words.12

Teleios is not a total stranger to us. From it comes the prefix tele- that we use every day. Telephone literally means “distant talk.” Television means “to see distantly.” Telephoto means “distant light,” and so on.

With that background in mind, let us consider another highly significant statement made by the Lord. Just prior to his crucifixion, he said that on “the third day I shall be perfected.”13 Think of that! The sinless, errorless Lord—already perfect by our mortal standards—proclaimed his own state of perfection yet to be in the future.14 His eternal perfection would follow his resurrection and receipt of “all power … in heaven and in earth.”15
The perfection that the Savior envisions for us is much more than errorless performance. It is the eternal expectation as expressed by the Lord in his great intercessory prayer to his Father—that we might be made perfect and be able to dwell with them in the eternities ahead.16

  • He finished the address with this encouraging thought:  We need not be dismayed if our earnest efforts toward perfection now seem so arduous and endless. Perfection is pending. It can come in full only after the Resurrection and only through the Lord. It awaits all who love him and keep his commandments. It includes thrones, kingdoms, principalities, powers, and dominions.41 It is the end for which we are to endure.42 It is the eternal perfection that God has in store for each of us. I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 Christ's Miracles and Ministry in Luke 6

  • While the lesson manual focuses mainly on the Sermon on the Mount and on the plain, there are also several beautiful passages in Luke 6 about Christ's ministry.  Luke outlines some controversy over Christ's and his disciple's use of the Sabbath.  He heals a withered hand on the Sabbath after asking the scribes and Pharisees, "Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?"  They were so focused on how they might catch Christ in error.  It's hard for me to fathom how such a thing could fill them with "madness."  Why fight so hard against One who is doing good?  Is it fear of their loss of power?  A true belief in their distorted view of righteousness and the law? 
  • In verse 12, we see that Christ " went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God."  If Christ himself needs to set aside time to pray, how much more do I need that in my life?
  • In verse 18-19, he heals a whole multitude with his power, all who "sought to touch him."  When you compare the fruits of the scribes and Pharisees (worrying more about Sabbath observance than someone's pain, anger, madness, seeking to destroy Christ), with the fruits of Christ, the difference is clear.  "For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes."  (Luke 6:44)
What did you learn as you studied this week?  

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Notes on John 2-4, Come Follow Me lesson for February 11-17

Notes on the Gospel of John's Chronology

I love how John teaches using a series of vignettes from the life of Christ, illustrating seven miracles and seven signs.  For a great overview of how John writes, see the videos below.  While we modern audiences expect a story to be told in a linear fashion, it wasn't really the practice back then.  None of the gospels seems to be organized exactly chronologically.  As Lynn Wilson puts it, "John’s Gospel mentions three Passovers during Jesus’ adult ministry—thus providing evidence for a three-year mortal ministry. On the other hand, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) are organized geographically rather than chronologically. After Jesus’ baptism, the setting moves to Galilee and everything happening in Galilee is placed together. At the end of Jesus’ life, the setting moves to Jerusalem and telescopes everything together into Jesus’ last week. This is helpful as we look at Jesus cleansing the temple. No Gospel mentions it happened twice. It only happened once, and John’s timing is probably more accurate."  

Putting the timing of the cleansing of the temple aside (it is also possible that it did happen twice), it has been helpful for me to ask why John puts certain stories next to each other.  The story of Nicodemus is followed by the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and I believe placing the two stories together is meant to help us learn by the contrast between them.

The Marriage in Cana

From the New Testament Student Manual

This is an interesting event that is placed by John as the first sign of Christ's power.  A few things I learned about this wedding:

  • When Christ addresses his mother as "woman" is unusual as a form of address from a son, but it was in no way disrespectful.  It really meant something more like "lady."  Christ also uses it to address her on the cross in John 19:26, "Woman, behold thy son!"
  • I'm still trying to understand why Christ says, "mine hour is not yet come."  I wish we had more context to understand exactly what he means.  Was this before he was ready for his public ministry?  Perhaps this took place before his baptism.
  • I love that the simple needs of guests received Christ's attention.  Homemaking today is often discounted and looked down on, and yet the first miracle Christ did in John's record was to help his mother in her hosting duties (presumably the marriage was for a relative).  
  • I've been trying to teach my kids lately about how to be a second miler.  "Why don't you try to see how much you can get done instead of how little?"  I will ask as they start their five minutes in the kitchen for example.  I love that Christ's turning of the water into wine was not a "bare minimum" job.  Lynn Wilson says that "A firkin holds 10.8 gallons of water, so each pot held 22 to 33 gallons. All six pots could hold 132–198 gallons of water—enough for the wedding, plus a year’s supply gift for the couple!"  
  • Also from Wilson, " John brings our attention to the fact that the stone pots were
    specifically used in Jewish purification for ceremonial washings. (Leviticus 11:29–38, explains that purification required
    stone pots, rather than clay pots which were unclean.) John emphasized the number six, too. In contrast to seven, John uses six to represent incomplete or not perfect (i.e. Rev 13:18). The symbolism points to the Mosaic ritual cleaning as incomplete, or not whole/perfect. Later Jesus taught that lasting purification comes through His blood, which He connects symbolically with wine at the Last Supper (John 6:54; Matt 26:27–28)"
  • It seems that Christ was foreshadowing the abundance of His grace and His love, as well as showing his power over creation.
  • The ruler of the feast says "Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now." (John 2:10).  I love that we worship a God who makes the end better than the beginning.  He saves the best for last, and those who hold on will one day see him "dry all the tears from our eyes."  
  • It reminds me of this beautiful devotional by Michael Wilcox (you can also read it).  In an interview, Wilcox says, 
"The phrase “the fourth watch” comes from the account in Mark, and others in the New Testament, where the Savior during the day has fed the 5,000 and He sends the Apostles down to the Sea of a Galilee while He’s going to dismiss the multitude. Then He will pray, and the Savior will often pray a long time. So it’s late afternoon, early evening, when the Savior sends the Apostles down to the ship and they get in it and a storm comes up. 
The phrase that Mark uses is “the wind was contrary to them and they toiled in rowing against the wind.” That expression is so fit for so many of us in our lives, I know in my own life, and I look at my children’s lives; we toil in rowing against the wind. There’s blessing we want but don’t have, there’s a trial we want over that isn’t over yet. In John’s account they row for about the equivalent for 75 football fields against the wind, and they’re discouraged, they’re tired. Hope is starting to wane. In Mark’s account I think one of the first things that really gives me comfort is that he says He saw them toil in rowing, He saw them. I’ve been to the Sea of Galilee a number of times and you can see the hills around the lake. I picture Him up there looking down on them, but they don’t know He’s looking down on them. Sometimes in our own lives He’s looking, He’s watching, He sees us toiling and rowing–we may not always realize that He sees us. And then it says that in the fourth watch of the night He came to them walking on the water. 
The Hebrew day is roughly divided into 12 hours; six in the morning, roughly, was the first hour, so the sixth hour is noon, the ninth hour is about three in the afternoon. The night was divided into four watches; roughly six at night to nine at night, nine to midnight, midnight to three, the fourth watch–three in the morning to sunrise. And it’s in the fourth watch that He comes. 
So I often say to myself and to others, we worship a Fourth-Watch God. In many areas of our lives He seems to allow us to toil in rowing against the wind. There must be something good in developing spiritual muscle. The problem is that I’m usually a first-watch person, or a second-watch person. And when the third watch starts, and He’s not come and my trial is not over and my blessing is not arrived, we may begin to make some assumptions that are dangerous. We may begin to assume that He’s not there, or that He’s there but doesn’t care, or He’s not listening, or maybe the most dangerous assumption ‘I’m not worthy.’ And I think the correct assumption I try to make–in my own fourth-watch times or with my children or friends–He’s there, He listens, He cares, we’re as worthy as we can be. We’ve not yet reached the fourth watch, and when we reach the fourth watch, He will come.

The Cleansing of the Temple

  • There is some question as to when this cleansing took place.  Was it at Christ's first Passover, as John seems to imply?  Or at his last?  Or were there two cleansings?  
  • Verse 17 says, "And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up."  I'm not quite sure what that means, but the student manual says it refers to Psalm 69:9.  In reading that Psalm, it is about David's lament over his "foolishness" and "sins."  He laments that he is crying, that he is feeling shame, and has "become a stranger unto my brethren and an alien unto my mother's children." (verse 8)  I am not sure how this connects in the disciples' minds immediately to the cleansing of the temple, but I do see some parallels in that just as King David did not live up to his Anointing as king, so those that turned the temple into a marketplace were desecrating what should have been most sacred.  They both failed in their faithfulness and fell far short of their sacred responsibility.
  • The student manual says, "This scripture teaches that Jesus’s “zeal”—meaning His fervent love—for His Father and His Father’s house had aroused in Him a righteous indignation that the temple was being used as a house of merchandise."
  • This event reminds me that I need to take seriously my own temple attendance.  When I go, do I prepare myself for the experience of being close to God?  Do I turn my thoughts to sacred things and try to touch heaven? Or do I let my thoughts dwell on lesser things, like my to-do list?
  • I love how President Eyring and Elder Holland approach a question about prayer in the video below (the entire event can be viewed here).  It is not a casual thing to approach the throne of God in prayer.  We don't have "chats" or "conversations" with the Father of us all.  I love how Elder Holland says, "not every prayer is going to be able to be so carefully focused, but some prayers should be if you want this depth.  And it won't be casual.  It won't be overly familiar." and President Eyring says that he approaches God as if he is approaching a throne.  "The way you do that is different than if you just say, 'I'd like a chat,' or 'I'd like a conversation.'"
  • I've studied a lot about the ancient temple and its symbolism.  Understanding what it represented for the high priest to approach the throne of God in the Holy of Holies just once in a year to make atonement for all the people gives me so much more reverence for the temple today and for the fact that Christ felt a need to cleanse it during his ministry.

Encounter with Nicodemus at Night


  • Much is made of Nicodemus, "a ruler of the Jews," and whether or not he was sincere in approaching Christ.  There are three times Nicodemus is mentioned in John's gospel.  The second time, in John 7:45-53, he defends Christ among the chief priests and Pharisees.  The last time is when he brings spices for Christ's burial, "about a hundred pound weight" (not stingy at all).  This third time, it says of him, "which at the first came to Jesus by night," which may imply that he grew in understanding over time and was no longer in the darkness as he was "at the first."  I love that we are dealing with complex human beings who may have been a mixture of both sincere and hesitant.
  • This article does an excellent job in laying out the case both ways:
"These overviews constitute the two major approaches to understanding Nicodemus. For those who favor a committed convert the following is significant:

1. Nicodemus is a powerful “ruler” but he still comes. (3:1)
2. He comes at night to receive quality, uninterrupted instruction. (3:2)
3. Nighttime was a traditional time for deep study. (3:2)
4. Nicodemus’ reference to Christ is very close to a “prophet.” (3:2)
5. Nicodemus boldly and publicly defends Jesus before the Sanhedrin. (7:51)
6. He shows symbolic respect by anointing Jesus with a regal portion of spices. (19:39)
7. Nicodemus makes his discipleship public as he assists Joseph of Arimathea with the burial. (19:39) 
On the other hand, there are some persuasive arguments for Nicodemus as a hesitant, non-committal type:
1. Nicodemus comes after dark to protect his social/political position. (3:2)
2. His use of the title Rabbi shows respect but stops short of worship. (3:2)
3. He refuses full responsibility for his question by addressing Jesus with a plural subject. (3:2)
4. His questions to the Savior are blunt, defensive, and resistive. (3:4, 9)
5. Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus is terse and condemns him for a lack of faith. (3:11)
6. Nicodemus questions the Sanhedrin in a bold move, but then he backs down even after they give a flimsy answer. (7:52)
7. He teams with Joseph of Arimathea in a secretive manner to give the body of Jesus a proper burial. (19:38–39)" 

  • The same article then goes on to outline the fact that since John emphasizes the fact he came in darkness every time Nicodemus is mentioned and that since he links Nicodemus to Joseph of Arimathea, who comes secretly "for fear of the Jews" (John 19:38), it is more likely that Nicodemus was a hesitant convert who wasn't able to move fully into the light during Christ's life.  
  • I think the placement of this episode followed by the one with the woman of Samaria is done deliberately to highlight the differences.  Nicodemus came at night while the woman at the well happened around noon.  We don't hear anything of Nicodemus calling others to follow Christ or of being awed by Christ, as we do the woman.  She proclaims him openly and invites others to follow him, while Nicodemus just kind of drops quietly out of view in the chapter.  It reminds me of the contrasts Luke uses with Zacharias versus Mary and their responses to the visions they experience.  One is powerful and experienced and should recognize and believe right away but hesitates, while the other is inexperienced and yet follows wholeheartedly.  Which one do we most resemble?  
  • It is certainly understandable why Nicodemus would hesitate to follow Christ openly, and yet he still does some good in keeping Christ from being condemned (John 7) and in providing abundantly for his burial (John 19).  It reminds me that God allows people to do what good they will, even if they are less than fully committed.
  • I love this talk by Elder Maxwell along those lines:  "A second group of members are “honorable” but not “valiant.” They are not really aware of the gap nor of the importance of closing it. These “honorable” individuals are certainly not miserable nor wicked, nor are they unrighteous and unhappy. It is not what they have done but what they have left undone that is amiss. For example, if valiant, they could touch others deeply instead of merely being remembered pleasantly."
  • This more recent address by Elder Cook  outlines several stumbling blocks that can keep us from that committed discipleship:  the philosophies of men, refusing to see sin in its true light, and looking beyond the mark.

Christ's Words and Testimony

  • In Greek, there is a double meaning in three parts of Christ's address. 
  • The first, as Lynn Wilson explains, "the phrase, “born again” has a double meaning in Greek: “anew” as well as, “down from above,” or “from the top.” The KJV translators missed the original Greek meaning by following the later the Latin translation by Jerome, giving the reader the understanding from Nicodemus’s flippant answer rather than what Jesus refuted. To say “a man must be born from on high” or from heaven is the higher law in comparison to the lower Law. The symbolism of a rebirth is clear and powerful. Being "born again" also means being "born from above.""
  • The second is in the word wind.  From Wilson again:   "Nicodemus did not understand, so Jesus gave him an example from nature—which again has a double meaning in Greek. Wind/pneuma also means “spirit” (both God’s Spirit and the spirit of man). The KJV 89 | P a g e translates pneuma 111 times as “spirit,” 89 times as “Holy Ghost,” and 26 times as “Spirit of” God. Every other time the word wind is used in the KJV Gospels, it is the word anemos, or physical tempest. Here the KJV chose the double meaning of spirit/wind because Jesus used the double image for the Spirit—something felt and only indirectly seen. Interestingly, the Hebrew word ruach, also shares the same multiple meanings, “breath, wind, spirit.” Ezekiel 36:25- 26 taught that in Messianic times God would cleanse His people and give them a new spirit."
  • I love how Christ describes the spirit as being like the wind.  We can feel and sense it, but not see it, except by its effects.  Likewise with spiritual things -- they are felt and known and experienced, but not always seen.  
  • The third is in verses 14-15:  "“Lifted up” refers to on the cross and into heaven (He uses “Son of Man being lifted up” three times). Jesus alluded to the familiar story when the children of Israel looked at the brazen serpent on the staff to be saved from the poisonous serpents. The stories from the Exodus cycle and Moses’ prophetic life foreshadow Christ’s mission. Paul uses the same themes in 1 Corinthians10:1–6 and Hebrews 8:14–15)" (Wilson again)
  • I love the imagery of birth and rebirth.  Birth itself involves great sacrifice and pain on the part of the mother, and leads her through the shadow of death.  Many times, especially anciently, it even brought death to the mother.  It involves water, blood, and the birth of a new creature into the world.  So many times people lament how few women are referred to in scripture, but I see womanly symbolism often in the most fundamental of ways.  We must be "born again from above" in order to enter Christ's kingdom.  Christ, like a mother, suffers and sheds his blood on our behalf in order to create a new creature. 
  • It's hard to add much more to the beautiful words of Christ in John 3:16-17, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."

John the Baptist's Sermon and Testimony

  • I love that we have one final testimony from John.  "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Christ's Encounter with the Samaritan Woman at the Well


  • We know that the Samaritans and Jews weren't exactly allies.  The history of why that is is important to know so that this encounter makes more sense.  From the Bible dictionary: 
"The title is used to describe the people who inhabited Samaria after the captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel. They were the descendants of (1) foreign colonists placed there by kings of Assyria and Babylonia (2 Kgs. 17:24; Ezra 4:2, 10); (2) Israelites who escaped at the time of the captivity. The population was therefore partly Israelite and partly gentile. Their religion was also of a mixed character (see 2 Kgs. 17:24–41), though they claimed, as worshippers of Jehovah, to have a share in the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem (Ezra 4:1–3). This claim not being allowed, they became, as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah show, bitter opponents of the Jews, and started a rival temple of their own on Mount Gerizim. When Nehemiah ejected from Jerusalem a grandson of the high priest Eliashib on account of his marriage with a heathen woman (Neh. 13:28), he took refuge with the Samaritans, taking with him a copy of the Pentateuch, and according to Josephus became high priest at Gerizim. There are several references in the New Testament to the antagonism between the Jews and Samaritans (see Matt. 10:5; Luke 9:52–53; 10:33; 17:16; John 4:9, 39; 8:48); but the people of Samaria were included among those to whom the Apostles were directed to preach the gospel (Acts 1:8), and a very successful work was done there by Philip (Acts 8:4–25).
  • Some additional information about the interactions between the Samaritans and the Jews can be found in the Student Manual:  
"Toward the end of the sixth century B.C., the Jews rejected the Samaritans’ offer to help rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (see Ezra 4:1–10). Shortly thereafter, Manasseh, a priest from Jerusalem who had married the daughter of Sanballat, the Gentile governor of Samaria, was expelled from the priesthood. He then built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim in Samaria. This was the mountain referred to by the woman at the well (see Bible Dictionary, “Gerizim and Ebal”). During the Hasmonean (Jewish) revolt against the Seleucids in the late second century B.C., the Samaritans refused to aid the Jewish cause. Perhaps as retaliation for this lack of solidarity, John Hyrcanus, a leader of the Hasmonean Jews, destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim, and it was never rebuilt. The destruction of this temple added to the animosity that already existed between the Samaritans and Jews." 
When the Samaritan woman came to understand that Jesus was indeed a prophet, she desired to know how she could worship. The Samaritan temple had been destroyed, Samaritans were not welcome in the temple in Jerusalem, and she did not know where she could worship (see John 4:19–20). The Savior taught her that true worship is not limited to a certain place; rather, it is a matter of knowing the truth about who to worship and of having one’s heart devoted to the true God. 

  • Not only is the woman a Samaritan, but she is also probably a social outcast, given that she has had five "husbands" and is now living with one she is not married to.  I read that Jews were limited to three marriages, so her multiple spouses were probably both frowned upon in society and likely symbolic of the corruption of the Samaritan religion.
  • The fact that the woman comes alone to the well at about noon could indicate that she is not welcome to come with the women who would likely come together during the mornings or evenings.
  • Given the above, no wonder Christ's disciples "marvelled that he talked with the woman."  I love that the scripture goes on to say, "yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her."  It makes me smile to think of these disciples feeling a little horrified at Christ's social faux pas, but being hesitant to bring it up to him.
  • Christ's response to the woman's question about the proper place to worship is to teach her that yes, the religion she has been taught is not quite right by saying, "ye worship ye know not what:  we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews,"  But he also tells her that there will come a day when there won't be worship at the mountain or at Jerusalem but that "true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and in truth."  
  • I love that he adds "for the Father seeketh such to worship him."  It is both a nod to how he sought her out to declare himself to her and teach her of living water, and also a reminder that God will seek us out, if we are willing to worship him truly.  I love the image of a God who reaches out to us in our fallen state.  The Samaritan woman was certainly one who was fallen but she was not beyond the reach of Christ and His Father.
  • Christ not only speaks lovingly and compassionately to this Samaritan woman, he also proclaims himself to be the Christ.
  • The woman calls to the town and testifies of Christ, unlike Nicodemus in the preceding chapter.  Then I love that the people come to him and then say, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world."  They came to believe and know for themselves, as we all must.
  • The Savior spent two days with the people of Samaria and had success.
  • The chapter speaks of both water and food, with Christ proclaiming himself the source of living water and then later saying"my meat is to the will of him that sent me."  This shows both Christ's willingness to teach using everyday symbols and of him being our own source of water and daily bread.  We need constant nourishment from spiritual sources as much as we need physical nourishment.

Healing of the Nobleman's Son

  • Interesting that Christ condemns those who wait to see signs and wonders before they believe, perhaps to foreshadow that this was a miracle that would be done at a distance, with only the man's word as to the cause of his son's healing.  
  • I love that all Christ says is "Go thy way; thy son liveth" and the man believed.  It wasn't what he was asking for, which was for Christ to come down and physically heal his son, but it was what he wanted.  It reminds me that God answers us in His way and in His time, and that sometimes He gives us what we didn't even consider possible.  The man probably thought at first that the only way for his son to be healed was for Christ to come to his home, but he was able to believe Christ's word even without any way of verifying it.  That is faith.
  • See above map for the locations of Cana and Capernaum.  They seem close enough that it wouldn't have been a huge problem for Christ to come down, but in this case, He chooses not to go in person.
  • John likes to put in references to what hour and what day things take place.  I wonder if he sees some symbolism in meeting the woman of Samaria in the sixth hour, or of this son being healed in the seventh?  Or of the wedding of Cana being on the third day of the week?  Something to think about. 
  • John says this is Christ's second miracle.  His first was the changing of the water pots at the wedding at Cana. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Notes on Matthew 4 and Luke 4-5: CFM lesson for Feb 4-10

We were in California last week with our six youngest kids.  I was able to still study the week's lesson but I didn't have a chance to write down any thoughts.  So even though the week is over, I hope you all don't mind my belated musings.

* Christ was tempted and resisted, just as we have to.  But unlike us, Christ never yeilded.  I love this quote by C. S. Lewis:
No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”
* Christ's temptations had much to do with doing the right things at the right time and for the right reasons.  He would one day turn stones into bread by feeding thousands with a few loaves and fishes, but it was not right this day nor for these purposes.  As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland notes,
The temptation is not in the eating. He has eaten before, he will soon eat again, and he must eat for the rest of his mortal life. The temptation, at least the part I wish to focus on, is to do it this way, to get his bread—his physical satisfaction, relief for his human appetite—the easy way, by abuse of power and without a willingness to wait for the right time and the right way. It is the temptation to be the convenient Messiah. Why do things the hard way? Why walk to the shop—or bakery? Why travel all the way home? Why deny yourself satisfaction when with ever such a slight compromise you might enjoy this much-needed nourishment? But Christ will not ask selfishly for unearned bread. He will postpone gratification, indefinitely if necessary, rather than appease appetite—even ravenous appetite—with what is not his.
* The second temptation is to cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple and test God's promises to watch over him.  Once again, someday he would be cast down in death and would rise again with the power of God, but this was not the right time nor the right way to do such things. Again from Elder Holland:

"The temptation here is even more subtle than the first. It is a temptation of the spirit, of a private hunger more real than the need for bread. Would God save him? Would he? Is Jesus to have divine companionship in this awesome ministry he now begins? He knows that among the children of men only suffering, denunciation, betrayal, and rejection lie ahead. But what about heaven? How alone does a Messiah have to be? Perhaps before venturing forth he ought to get final reassurance. And shouldn’t Satan be silenced with his insidious “If, if, if”? Why not get spiritual confirmation, a loyal congregation, and an answer to this imp who heckles—all with one appeal to God’s power? Right now. The easy way. Off the temple spire."
* The final temptation is the offer from Satan to give him all the kingdoms of the world.  Elder Holland notes:
Now in some frustration Satan moves right to the point. If he cannot tempt physically and cannot tempt spiritually, he will simply make an outright proposition. From a high mountain where they might overlook the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, Satan says, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” 
Satan makes up for lack of subtlety here with the grandeur of his offer. Never mind that these kingdoms are not ultimately his to give. He simply asks of the great Jehovah, God of heaven and earth, “What is your price? Cheap bread you resist. Tawdry messianic drama you resist, but no man can resist this world’s wealth. Name your price.” Satan is proceeding under his first article of faithlessness—the unequivocal belief that you can buy anything in this world for money.

Jesus will one day rule the world. He will govern every principality and power in it. He will be King of kings and Lord of lords. But not this way. Indeed to arrive at the point at all, he has to follow a most inconvenient course. Nothing so simple as worshiping Satan or for that matter nothing so simple as worshiping God. At least not in the way some of us think worshiping is simple. His arrival at the throne of grace is to lead through travail and sorrow and sacrifice. Some seven centuries earlier Isaiah had prophesied of him,
* I loved how Christ responded to the adversary's temptations by saying, "It is written . . ." and then quoting scripture.  I reminded my kids that we can use our own study and knowledge of the scriptures to respond to our own temptations.  A friend of mine had her family each choose a scripture they could recite when tempted.  I love that idea.

In line with that, I am reminded of this counsel by Elder Boyd K. Packer:
"I want to tell you young people about one way you can learn to control your thoughts, and it has to do with music. 
The mind is like a stage. Except when we are asleep the curtain is always up. There is always some act being performed on that stage. It may be a comedy, a tragedy, interesting or dull, good or bad; but always there is some act playing on the stage of the mind. 
Have you noticed that without any real intent on your part, in the middle of almost any performance, a shady little thought may creep in from the wings and attract your attention? These delinquent thoughts will try to upstage everybody. 
If you permit them to go on, all thoughts of any virtue will leave the stage. You will be left, because you consented to it, to the influence of unrighteous thoughts. 
If you yield to them, they will enact for you on the stage of your mind anything to the limits of your toleration. They may enact a theme of bitterness, jealousy, or hatred. It may be vulgar, immoral, even depraved. 
When they have the stage, if you let them, they will devise the most clever persuasions to hold your attention. They can make it interesting all right, even convince you that it is innocent—for they are but thoughts. 
What do you do at a time like that, when the stage of your mind is commandeered by the imps of unclean thinking?—whether they be the gray ones that seem almost clean or the filthy ones which leave no room for doubt. 
If you can control your thoughts, you can overcome habits, even degrading personal habits. If you can learn to master them you will have a happy life. 
This is what I would teach you. Choose from among the sacred music of the Church a favorite hymn, one with words that are uplifting and music that is reverent, one that makes you feel something akin to inspiration. Remember President Lee’s counsel; perhaps “I Am A Child of God” would do. Go over it in your mind carefully. Memorize it. Even though you have had no musical training, you can think through a hymn."

* In keeping with Matthew's pattern of referring to Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled in Christ, he says,
13 And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:
14 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,
15 The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;
16 The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
I found the map below in the New Testament Student Manual.  It gave this explanation:  "During Old Testament times this area was the inheritance of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. Over the centuries, numerous battles were waged to secure control over this strategic region. Some have suggested that because so many people lost their lives in battle here, Isaiah referred to the people of this region as “them which sat in the region and shadow of death” (Matthew 4:16). Isaiah prophesied that in this death-stricken land a “great light” would spring up (Isaiah 9:2). That light is Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Matthew wanted his readers to know that the Savior’s ministry in the land of Galilee was a fulfillment of this messianic prophecy."

* The ancient apostles "straightway left their nets" to follow Jesus.  I have been reading this biography of the life of Russell M. Nelson.  When he was at the very top of his profession and in the prime of his life, he left it all to follow the call of the Apostleship.  And he is only one of many who have done the same.  How can I make sure that I have my priorities in order?  Are there things I need to abandon in order to more fully follow Christ? 

* I'm still thinking about the fact that all Judea was following Christ and hanging on his every word -- not even giving him the chance to have time alone in the wilderness -- and yet his own town rejects him. (Luke 4:28-30).  How am I tempted to reject the good things I am too familiar with?  Am I too close to the daily happiness of family life to see it for the joy and delight it is?  Am I more interested in finding amazing and visible ways to serve than I am in tending my own responsibilities that lie right in front of me?  Am I willing to see the miracles and inspiration that come to my neighbor as he or she serves in their own quiet way?  Or am I looking beyond the mark for something more dramatic than just "Joseph the carpenter's son?"

* I love that Simon's mother-in-law is healed and then immediately gets to work being a hostess and ministering unto them.  Last year, when I was paralyzed with a ruptured disc for eleven days, I realized what a privilege it is to simply walk around and clean my house.  I longed for nothing more than to be the one up doing the dishes and picking up the toys and sweeping the floors.  It was so hard to let others help and serve me.  So I relate to her joy in jumping up and getting right to the tasks at hand.

* It is clear that Jesus achieves a great following, at least at first.  In Matthew 4:25, it says that "And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and fromJud├Ža, and from beyond Jordan."  Then Luke chapter 4 echoes this by saying in verse 15, "But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities."  Luke 5:15 says something similar.  Were these early followers sincere and committed?  Or did they just want to be healed outwardly without being fully changed?  Later, some would begin to reject him and dislike some of his harder sayings.  Am I fully committed?  Or am I simply looking for relief from my day to day pressures without wanting to change myself and commit to being fully consecrated?  It reminds me of the lyrics to his song:

"Help me want the healer more than the healing
Help me want the savior more than the saving
Help me want the giver more than the giving
Oh help me want you Jesus more than anything"

* Luke 4:42 is yet another instance of Christ seeking a solitary place and being thronged by the demands of his followers -- as I said before, that's so familiar to me as a mother!  "And when it was day, he departed and went into a desert place: and the people sought him, and came unto him, and stayed him, that he should not depart from them"

* I like the way this conference talk envisions the story of the man sick with the palsy as it might happen in our day.  We all need to help each other.

* Luke 4:36-39 talks about new wine in new bottles and then says, "No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better."  It is human nature to resist change when what we have is comfortable.  I think about how long it took some of the older generation to adapt to email, for example.  But old or young, I think we are all subject to becoming set in our ways of doing things and resistant to the changes that need to happen, whether it be changes in our viewpoint, in our prejudices, in our culture, or in our hearts.  Last October, when President Nelson asked us all to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year, I was a little resistent at first.  I'd been studying the Book in Portuguese all year long and I also had a good habit of listening to general conference talks and scholarly podcasts about the scriptures.  I was tempted to say that was enough.  But I determined to do what was asked and it really did enliven my scripture study.  It gave me a deeper desire to study more and has helped me be ready for the New Testament study this year.  

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

One a Day 2018 ~ October through December

Love this picture!

Joey wanted me to bring Gideon to his choir concert.

General Conference Saturday

General Conference Sunday

One year old!

And a bonus from the same day

Joey requested German Chocolate Cake for his birthday

Day of the Dead dance

Happy Twelfth Birthday Eliza!

Sending off a package for Lilian's Christmas


Shoshone Falls

Coloring with Cousins at Grandma's house

Bread-making crew

What happens when you start backing out of the garage before the door is full open

Sleep-overs are rare at our house, so it was a treat for Harmony to have her friend stay with us for a few days

Sarah wrote these names on little scripture bags we gave to the Primary kids in our ward for Christmas

I miss the leaves, but without them, sometimes we can watch stunning sunrises like this one.

Last day of school before Christmas break

Allison defrosted and organized our freezer.

Happy New Year!


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