Tuesday, April 23, 2019

“What Shall I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?”, Notes on Matthew 18; Luke 10, CFM study for April 22–28

Become as a Child, Matthew 18:1-6

The Parable of the Lost Sheep, Matthew 18:10-14, see also Luke 15:1-7

  • Christ says that any of His hearers who had a hundred sheep and lost one would go after it.  I've been thinking about that.  There are a lot of things that I could have one hundred of and not care if I lost one.  In a lot of things, 99% is more than good enough.  If I had one hundred dollars and couldn't find one of them, I wouldn't worry about it.  But a good shepherd loves his sheep and knows them.  It's not just another dollar bill to the shepherd; it's a valued and known member of his flock.
  • Why do sheep get lost?  John and Jeannie Welch say this about sheep:  "Of all the animals in God’s kingdom, sheep rank among the most vulnerable. They are largely defenseless, lacking claws or most other means of warding off an attack from predators. They cannot even run quickly for very long. And not only can a lamb become lost, but because it lacks any homing instinct, it is quite helpless in finding is way back to the flock or the pasture. And once lost, it will frequently simply sit down and wait, not even bleating in distress. The best protection for sheep is to stay together in a group. Even then, the slightest noise can send them into a panic or cause a whole herd to stampede, sometimes to their death. The presence of their shepherd exerts an immediate calming effect on the sheep."  
  • I found that information fascinating, so I looked up more information about sheep. I learned from sheep101.info that "Sheep are best known for their strong flocking (herding) and following instinct. They will run from what frightens them and band together in large groups for protection. This is the only protection they have from predators. There is safety in numbers. It is harder for a predator to pick a sheep out of a group than to go after a few strays. Flocking instinct varies by breed, with the fine wool breeds being the most gregarious. It is this strong flocking instinct that allows one person to look after so many sheep . . .When one sheep moves, the rest will follow, even if it does not seem to be a good idea. The flocking and following instinct of sheep is so strong that it caused the death of 400 sheep in 2006 in eastern Turkey. The sheep plunged to their death after one of the sheep tried to cross a 15-meter deep ravine, and the rest of the flock followed.  Even from birth, lambs learn to follow the older members of the flock."

Resolving Conflicts and Extending Forgiveness, Matthew 18:15-22

  • It's interesting that Christ says the person who has been offended is the one who should approach the offender, instead of the other way around.  
  • James E. Talmage says "The rule of the rabbis was that the offender must make the first advance; but Jesus taught that the injured one should not wait for his brother to come to him, but go himself, and seek to adjust the difficulty; by so doing he might be the means of saving his brother’s soul. If the offender proved to be obdurate, the brother who had suffered the trespass was to take two or three others with him, and again try to bring the transgressor to repentant acknowledgment of his offense; such a course provided for witnesses, by whose presence later misrepresentation would be guarded against.

    Extreme measures were to be adopted only after all gentler means had failed. Should the man persist in his obstinacy, the case was to be brought before the Church, and in the event of his neglect or refusal to heed the decision of the Church, he was to be deprived of fellowship, thereby becoming in his relationship to his former associates “as an heathen man and a publican.” In such state of nonmembership he would be a fit subject for missionary effort; but, until he became repentant and manifested willingness to make amends, he could claim no rights or privileges of communion in the Church."
  • Verse 19 and 20 are interesting when put in context.  Usually, we talk about two or three gathered in Christ's name as a promise to those gathered to be together in worship.  And that is so very true.  I've been in Primary classes with just a few little children and have felt the Spirit so powerfully.  But it's clear here that the promise is given specifically to those who are gathered together with the authority to deal with an unrepentant brother or sister in the Church.  Those who are "loosed" from the Church on earth by those with the keys will also be "loosed" in heaven.  I'm sure such a responsibility was heavy on those in the early Church as it is heavy today.  The promise that God would be in their midst as they made these hard decisions is comforting.
  • It reminds me of this chapter in Mosiah where Alma was so troubled by the wickedness of some Church members and prayed to know what to do, "for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God."  And his prayers were answered in abundance.  

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Matthew 18:23-35

  • One man owes an enormous debt and is forgiven the debt, then he turns around and refuses to forgive a smaller debt owed to him.  The numbers here are deliberately exaggerated.  The first man owed the equivalent of a billion dollars.  How many even have that much to lend?  The deliberate use of such an exaggerated number points us to our overwhelming debt to God, who is all-powerful and has lent to us more than we ever can comprehend.
  • Of course, Elder Holland says it better than I could:  
There is some difference of opinion among scholars regarding the monetary values mentioned here—and forgive the U.S. monetary reference—but to make the math easy, if the smaller, unforgiven 100-pence debt were, say, $100 in current times, then the 10,000-talent debt so freely forgiven would have approached $1 billion—or more! 
As a personal debt, that is an astronomical number—totally beyond our comprehension. (Nobody can shop that much!) Well, for the purposes of this parable, it is supposed to be incomprehensible; it is supposed to be beyond our ability to grasp, to say nothing of beyond our ability to repay. That is because this isn’t a story about two servants arguing in the New Testament. It is a story about us, the fallen human family—mortal debtors, transgressors, and prisoners all. Every one of us is a debtor, and the verdict was imprisonment for every one of us. And there we would all have remained were it not for the grace of a King who sets us free because He loves us and is “moved with compassion toward us." 
Jesus uses an unfathomable measurement here because His Atonement is an unfathomable gift given at an incomprehensible cost. That, it seems to me, is at least part of the meaning behind Jesus’s charge to be perfect. We may not be able to demonstrate yet the 10,000-talent perfection the Father and the Son have achieved, but it is not too much for Them to ask us to be a little more godlike in little things, that we speak and act, love and forgive, repent and improve at least at the 100-pence level of perfection, which it is clearly within our ability to do.
  • The parable also teaches what Christ says in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, that the judgment we give to others will be returned to us again.  The man who had been forgiven his enormous debt is called to account for his own lack of forgiveness and then is "delivered to the tormentors."  I don't know what that means exactly -- were the tormentors the slave traders he was sold to?  Or like overlords in a debtor's prison?  If anyone has an idea of what that means, I'd love to hear it.  In any case, we are told that the same will happen to us if we are unforgiving.  

Sending Out the Seventy, Luke 10:1-12

  • I love that Christ sends the seventy out two by two "before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come."  I had always pictured them just going out to the world at large, but they instead went ahead to prepare the people's hearts to accept Jesus when He would arrive.  That's the same thing that our missionaries do today.  They go out proclaiming Christ and His restored Church and then Christ comes to those people who are open to accepting and learning of Him.
  • "The labourers are few."  There is such a need for those who are willing to come and serve!  When we were living in a student ward, we had a stake president, Wes Burr, leave on a mission with his wife.  He told us all that he had noticed something consistently. Those that planned to go on missions as seniors went and those who waited to decide until later usually didn't go.  So he encouraged us all to plan to serve missions later in our lives (in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, married couples can serve full-time missions when they have no dependents living at home).  This counsel is one reason I've been studying Portuguese daily for the past two and a half years.  I decided that I would be of more use to God if I knew another language.  I currently have an 810-day streak on Duolingo that I'm pretty proud of.  I have a lot more to learn, but I'm happy with the small progress I've made in just a few minutes a day.  
  • The seventy are to accept and depend upon the hospitality of generous hosts.  They should eat what they are served and heal the sick.  

The Return of the Seventy, Luke 10:17-24

  • Luke doesn't leave us in much suspense.  He goes right from sending them out to telling of their return.  If only it happened that fast in real life!  My daughter is halfway finished with her 18-month mission in Brazil, and while the time has flown, we miss her immensely.  
  • Luke tells us the seventy returned "with joy" and then a few verses later, "Jesus rejoiced in spirit."  It seems that the joy of the seventy brought Christ joy.  I certainly have felt great joy at the miracles and growth that I see in my daughter as she serves, and I know that God also rejoices with her as she watches people change when they accept the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • The seventy are amazed and exult over the fact that "even the devils are subject unto us through thy name."  Christ's response is interesting.  He tells them that He saw Satan fall as lightning from heaven and confirmed that He has given them power "over all the power of the enemy."  But he also tells them that they shouldn't rejoice over having power over the fallen devils that followed Satan.  I get the sense that He encourages them to feel pity instead for the miserable creatures.  Instead, he tells them to rejoice that their own names are written in heaven.  
  • I love that Luke records a prayer of gratitude that Jesus gives, thanking the Father for revealing these things "unto babes."  We aren't required to be the most experienced, educated, or talented to be of service in the kingdom.  We simply need to be willing and to begin, and miracles will follow.

The Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37

  • One thing I've thought about the story in the past is that it shows that what Christ wants is for us to do what we can.  The Samaritan did so much but he didn't stay with the man; he had to be on his way so he left the innkeeper to care for him.  He didn't stay until the man was all better, but he did more than anyone would have expected a stranger to do.  But as I've thought about it more, there are clear indicators that there is much more to this story than that.
  • The Institute manual says, "In the written law of Moses, priests and Levites were assigned to serve God and their fellowmen, both in the temple and as teachers and exemplars of God’s law. These priesthood bearers were fully aware of the commandment to “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). In fact, Levites were specifically charged with helping travelers economically and in other ways (see Leviticus 25:35–36). In the Savior’s parable, however, the priest and the Levite violated these commandments—both noticed the wounded man yet “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31–32). The priest and Levite were following the oral law or tradition of the rabbis, which stated that Jews were not bound to deliver non-Jews or those of unknown ethnicity from death, for such a person was not a neighbor. The priest and Levite were within the bounds of oral law or tradition, but they were not within the pure law of Moses.  Ironically, the Samaritan filled the roles of the priest and the Levite as outlined in the written Mosaic law, whereas the oral law or tradition excused the behavior of the priest and the Levite."
  • I loved the insights of Jack Welch about how the parable was understood by the early Christians as an allegory of the Fall and Redemption.  My study Bible has an impressive chart showing the different symbols in Welch's reading of it.  Welch had noticed that in many churches, the parable of the good Samaritan was portrayed right next to the Fall of Adam and Eve and their redemption.  The article is well worth the read!  My New Testament Study Bible had a great chart summarizing Welch's parallels:

  • Reading this as the medieval church did, as an allegory of the fall and redemption of mankind, brings some powerful insights.  
  • If Christ is represented by the Samaritan, there is great power in his promise to the innkeeper (the inn is believed to represent the Church) in giving him money and promising that he would come again and make up any difference between what it cost to care for the man and the money he left.  This foreshadows the time when Christ will come again and wipe all tears from our eyes.  He will make up the difference because He is the difference.  It also shows us that Christ needs us to do our part in His great redemptive work.  He leaves the man to be cared for by others.  
  • "Go, and Do Thou Likewise."  The Savior's abundant care is manifest in the actions of the Good Samaritan, and we are to do the same.  President Spencer W. Kimball said, "The Lord does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other. The righteous life is achieved as we magnify our view of life, and expand our view of others and of our own possibilities. Thus, the more we follow the teachings of the Master, the more enlarged our perspective becomes. We see many more possibilities for service than we would have seen without this magnification. There is great security in spirituality, and we cannot have spirituality without service!

    The abundant life noted in the scriptures is the spiritual sum that is arrived at by the multiplying of our service to others and by investing our talents in service to God and to man. Jesus said, you will recall, that on the first two commandments hang all the law and the prophets, and those two commandments involve developing our love of God, of self, of our neighbors, and of all men. There can be no real abundance in life that is not connected with the keeping and the carrying out of those two great commandments."

Mary and Martha, Luke 10:38-42

  • I have always loved this story and its traditional explanation -- that Martha was so busy worried about the details of everything that she didn't take time for the "one needful thing" that her sister Mary was doing by sitting at Jesus' feet.  It has been common for many to write about this story in a way that tries to "rehabilitate" Martha in a sense, from our one-dimensional view of her as someone too busy to listen to the Savior, and I appreciate those perspectives and even agree with most of them.  I don't think it's fair to turn Mary into the good sister and Martha in to the bad.  But I also think that Martha was a strong enough disciple to handle a rebuke from the Savior.  If Peter and the Apostles can handle being taken to task for their "little faith" and their misunderstandings of the Savior's teachings, I'm sure Martha, too, can accept and learn from what Christ is saying to her.  And it is clear from her other stories in the New Testament that she did exactly that.  
  • Luke is the only one who tells this story.  He is known for including many, many stories of women in his record, from Elizabeth and Mary to these special women who served Jesus.  He says at the beginning of his record that he talked to many eyewitnesses to compile it.  I think the most likely explanation for the origin of this story is that Martha herself told it to him, as well as what she learned from this experience.  If that is true, I love her for her willingness to share her moments of weakness.
  • I, too, can and do learn often from seeing through my study of the scriptures and through the whisperings of the Spirit, ways I can improve and change my life.  I think it's common now to want to always tell each other, "You are enough," and "You are amazing just as you are and if anyone tells you differently, don't listen," and while there might be times for that message, I think we all crave improvement and the greater happiness that results from working to develop a better character.  
  • I remember a time when I was dealing with depression and was overwhelmingly discouraged.  In the midst of that trial, I was given a blessing of comfort that also included a gentle rebuke.  I was told that I could do more than I was doing to help overcome the challenges I was experiencing.  It wasn't what I'd wanted to hear, but it was just what I needed.  With that encouragement, I looked more closely at my life and habits and what I could change.  With God's help, medical attention, and my own improved efforts, I saw great improvement in the course of time.  
  • What Martha was doing was so important.  At the beginning of this chapter, the seventy were sent out and told to depend on the hospitality of those who would take them in.  Martha was one that was offering that hospitality to Jesus and his disciples, and I am sure she was stretched and stressed about her overwhelming workload.
  • It is interesting to note that Christ didn't rebuke Martha until she started to criticize Mary.  It seems like her anger and resentment were what deserved attention from the Lord, not the fact that she was busy serving.
  • I love that in his response to Martha, Christ tells her He sees her concerns and worries.  She really was "cumbered about with much serving." I picture these words spoken with great love and understanding, "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things," just before the reminder of what was most important, "But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."  He knew and understood what Martha was experiencing and why it was she was so frustrated with her sister.  
  • This beautiful talk by Bonnie D. Parkin is so worth a read.  In it, she says,
The Savior’s response strikingly clarified what mattered most. On that evening in Martha’s home, the good part was not in the kitchen; it was at the Lord’s feet. Dinner could wait.

Like Mary, I hunger to feast at the Savior’s feet, while, like Martha, I need to somehow find the laundry room floor, empty my in-box, and serve my husband something other than cold pizza. I have 15 grandchildren whose tender little spirits and daily challenges I want to better understand, yet I also have a slightly demanding Church calling! I don’t have lots of time. Like all of you, I have to choose. We all are trying to choose the good part which cannot be taken from us, to balance the spiritual and the temporal in our lives. Wouldn’t it be easy if we were choosing between visiting teaching or robbing a bank? Instead, our choices are often more subtle. We must choose between many worthy options. 
Mary and Martha are you and me; they are every sister in Relief Society. These two loved the Lord and wanted to show that love. On this occasion, it seems to me that Mary expressed her love by hearing His word, while Martha expressed hers by serving Him.
Martha thought she was doing right and that her sister should be helping her. 
I don’t believe the Lord was saying there are Marthas and there are Marys. Jesus did not dismiss Martha’s concern, but instead redirected her focus by saying choose “that good part.” And what is that? The prophet Lehi taught that we “should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit.”9 
The one thing that is needful is to choose eternal life. We choose daily. As we seek, listen, and follow the Lord, we are encircled in the arms of His love—a love that is pure.

  •  One of the things I have learned as a mother is how important it is to unencumber yourself by examining all that you are doing and to put aside things of lesser importance.  It can be painful, and I've had to give up some wonderful opportunities, put aside some personal pursuits, and to say "no" to very good things in order to focus on what matters most.  Someone asked me last week how I do it with eleven kids.  I said, "Well, I do it the same as many other moms.  I think we all fill up our time with good things.  If I didn't have eleven kids, I'd probably be doing other things, like being PTO president or volunteering somewhere.  The difference in my life is that if that other woman gets stressed or overwhelmed, she can always choose not to be PTO president or to quit her volunteer work.  In my case, when I get stressed, there's not as much that I can put aside.  I can't exactly give away one of my kids!"  With that being the case, I've had to be more careful than many others about how I spend my time.  Everything has an opportunity cost.  If I'm at one child's orthodontist appointment after school, that means I'm not at home teaching another child how to cook.  If I'm organizing my books alphabetically by size and color, then I'm not keeping up on my laundry and it's only a matter of time before my toddler finds my mascara and paints the bathroom with it.  Life is a constant juggling of priorities.  That's one reason why my daily prayers always include a plea to be in tune with the needs of my children and to know where I should put my efforts.  

Videos From the Week:

Book of Mormon Central does a terrific job of collecting relevant and interesting videos about each week's lesson.  I've created a playlist of some of them to watch this week with my family.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Come Follow Me study for Easter and Holy Week

For our study this week, we are taking time each day to read about some the events of the last week of Christ's life.  For our Sunday study, we will watch the videos below.

If you are looking for an in-depth guide to what to study for each day and have time for more than what is in the manualthis resource is impressive!

Here are the videos we are watching this week:
This one is SO powerful!

I created this playlist of the Bible videos about Christ's last week:

Then these explanatory videos are very interesting, too!  Here's a link to 12 about the last week of his life.

Happy Easter!  He is Risen!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Notes on Matthew 16-17, Mark 9, and Luke 9, Come Follow Me lesson for April 1-14

"Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees" Matthew 16:1-12

  • In these verses, Jesus condemns the Pharisees for asking for a sign.  They should know the scriptures and the law and should be able to see all the signs that Jesus is the Christ, and yet they demand more signs from Christ.  
  • Over and over in the scriptures, the pattern is that people believe, and then signs follow.  Signs confirm our faith, not cause it in the first place.  
  • I wonder what it is about an adulterous people that makes them seek for signs?  Is it that they are so consumed by their own appetites that they are unable to feel the whisperings of the Spirit?  Or is there something about giving into physical lusts that makes people unable to develop faith?  Elder Neal A. Maxwell says this, "Why does this generation seek a sign? queried Jesus with a deep sigh. (See Mark 8:12.) The more wicked and adulterous the people of a particular period, the more they demand signs as a condition of belief. Sensual individuals crave and live by sensations. Disciples, instead, walk and ‘overcome by faith’ (D&C 76:53), accepting gratefully the evidence of things not seen which are true (see Heb. 11:1; Alma 32:21)”"
  • Christ tells his disciples to "take heed and beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees"  At first they don't understand, and think he is talking about physical bread and rebuking them for not bringing some along, but then He explains that they shouldn't worry about bread -- don't they remember the loaves and fishes from last week?  Instead, they need to worry about the doctrine of those who want to influence them.
  • Just as the people of Christ's time need to be careful what voices and ideas they listen to, so we need to beware of the many voices today who would destroy our faith.  I read a comment online recently that said something like "other people can simply believe with their naivete, but I am more enlightened and fair-minded than that; I consider all sides of an issue."  The problem with that is that you can study and study and never get to the truth.  There are always going to be more opinions and more voices to listen to.  The internet has given a platform to the most cunning liars as well as the brightest and most educated.  Some people online have your best interests at heart but others would love to cheat you and deceive you.  If one really believes in a God, then why would you give equal time to those who oppose Him and the good He stands for?  
  • In last week's General ConferenceElder Neil L. Andersen addressed the issue of the "information overload" that we experience today and how to find truth in the midst of constantly shifting opinions.
    In today’s world, the question “What is truth?” can be painfully complex to the secular mind.
    A Google search for “What is truth?” brings more than a million responses. We have more available information on our cell phones than in all the books of a brick and mortar library. We live with information and opinion overload. Enticing and alluring voices pursue us at every turn.
    Caught in today’s confusion, it is no wonder that so many consign themselves to the words spoken 2,500 years ago by Protagoras to the young Socrates: “What is true for you,” he said, “is true for you, and what is true for me, is true for me.”2
    Blessed with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we humbly declare that there are some things that are completely and absolutely true. These eternal truths are the same for every son and daughter of God.

Peter's testimony, the keys of the kingdom, and Christ's death foretold ~ Matthew 16:13-23

  • I love the two questions asked here.  First, what do the people think of me?  And second, who do you think I am?  I wonder how I would respond to the question today.  Probably to the first question, "Some say that you are an outdated, old-fashioned idea.  Some say you are a fable.  Others that you were a good moral teacher but nothing more. Others believe in some of your teachings but ignore the ones that are unpopular today.  Still others believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God and our Savior."  To the second, I would echo Peter and then add my own witness.  He is the Son of God, the Savior of the World, who descended below all things because He loves us.
  • I can't help but contrast Peter's sure witness with the many who left Christ after things got a bit hard.  Peter was there through thick and thin and even had the faith to walk on water.  His faith and sure testimony was followed by the great experience on the Mount just a week later.
  • Christ says to Peter, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.  And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."  
  • There are several interesting things going on in this passage.  One is that Christ is showing that the way to gain a witness isn't through signs or through "flesh and blood," but through the witness that comes from God. 
  • In my study, I heard two explanations of the "rock" passages.  The first pointed out the difference between the two Greek words used.  "As the Savior taught Peter about revelation, He used a wordplay on Peter’s name, declaring to Simon, “Thou art Peter [Petros], and upon this rock [petra] I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). The Greek word petros means an isolated small rock or stone. The Greek word petra can also mean “a stone,” but in addition it can refer to stony soil, bedrock, or a large mass of rock. From these words we learn that it was not upon Peter as a man that the Church would be built, but upon the bedrock of revelation. (New Testament Student Manual).  Just as Peter learned of Christ's true mission through revelation from God, that same revelation would form the foundation for His Church.  Peter also would be the "little rock" that helped build the Church after Christ's death, exercising the keys and authority given to Him.  The second explanation of the rock passage pointed out that while the two words are necessarily different in Greek, they would have been the same word in Aramaic.  According to this explanation, the passage intended to make it clear that Peter would have the responsibility to build up the Church after Christ's death.  In my own opinion, I think both are true.  
  • The imagery of keys is interesting.  Today, keys are everywhere and everyone owns multiple copies of their most important ones.  We even have keys to unlock things we don't even own anymore.  In contrast, to have a key in ancient times was a serious responsibility.    The New Testament Student Manual says, "In the first century A.D., keys were typically made of iron and were bulkier, more expensive, and less common than modern house keys. To hold the keys of a house was a position of great trust. Thus, keys were a fitting symbol of special authority, responsibility, and purpose. Ancient scriptures make repeated use of the symbol of keys, which represents the power to lock and unlock, open and shut, and permit or prevent entrance (see Isaiah 22:22; Matthew 16:19; 18:18; Revelation 1:18; 3:7; 9:1; 20:1).

Drawings of Roman-era keys found in Israel

  • The keys would give Peter the authority to act in God's name, to bind, and loose, and to seal.  Thomas Wayment's notes say that "the idea of binding on the earth is built on the Greek word deo, a word that can mean to tie, fasten, or be married to."  We in the modern restored Church of Jesus Christ believe that the keys of the priesthood have been once again restored to the earth.  We believe that the keys of the priesthood were lost due to apostasy in the early Church and that they had to be brought again to the earth.  We realize that this is a bold statement, but we don't expect people to take our word for it.  We invite others to read, study, and pray to receive their own witness of it (which is one reason we send out missionaries, like my daughter in Brazil.  We believe that the binding power given to Peter is the same power we use in sacred temple ordinances like marriages that we believe will last not just until "death do ye part" but throughout eternity for those who are faithful to Christ and to their covenants.

  • Christ, at this point about six months before his crucifixion, begins to tell his disciples that he is going to be killed and raised again the third day.  Peter is shocked and doesn't accept this.  "This shall not be unto thee," he says, and I imagine him crying it out vehemently.  I wonder how much of this statement was because of Peter's preconceived notion of a conquering Savior and not one who came to suffer and how much was because of his horror that such a fate might befall One who had shown power over all things.  
  • Christ rebukes Peter.  Don't you love how often Peter, the highest Apostle and the one destined to lead the Church after the crucifixion, is corrected by the Savior?  It makes me feel that there must be hope even for me.  It also shows that the gospel is one of growth, correction, repentance, and improvement.  "With divine imperatives of love and faith, repentance and compassion, honesty and forgiveness, there is room in this choir for all who wish to be there.12 “Come as you are,” a loving Father says to each of us, but He adds, “Don’t plan to stay as you are.” We smile and remember that God is determined to make of us more than we thought we could be."  says Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Take up your cross ~ Matthew 16:24-28, Luke 9:23-27

  • I'm fascinated by the concept of Christ, six months before His crucifixion, telling his disciples to take up their cross and follow Him.  While it is easy for us to assign meaning to the concept of "taking up the cross," after Christ's resurrection, I wonder what the disciples who heard this thought of it.  
    Wasn't carrying a cross a shameful thing, as crucifixion was considered humiliating? Was that a common phrase used at that time? Or was it one of those statements from Christ that the disciples didn't really understand the full meaning of until later?  I had hoped to find the answer in my study this week but I didn't find anything conclusive.  I asked in a study group and there were several possibilities mentioned:
  1. Christ said something like this, but not this exact thing.  But since the narratives weren't written down until later, this was the phrase they used when the gospels were written.  So it's anachronistic.  
  2. People still understood what a cross was and what it meant to carry one -- it meant a willingness to defy the worldly authorities and be willing to endure persecution for the sake of something higher.  It is very possible that the people who heard this saw this as a call to be willing to put Christ first, come what may and even if the Romans crucified them. This statement might have been meant to shock the audience and cause them to question how committed they were.  
  3. This could have been one of those sayings, like in the other verses in the chapter where Christ foretells His death, that the audience heard but didn't comprehend until after He had died.
  4. One comment from Mark Thomas said this:  Remarkably, the picking up one's cross has multiple attestation: in Mark, Thomas and Q. (See Mt 16:24, MK 8: 34, Luke 9:23, Matt 10:38, Luke 14:27, Thomas 55:2) Multiple attestation is one way to determine what goes back to the historical Jesus. A near contemporary stoic philosopher, Epictetus ( c. 55 – 135 AD) spoke in his second book of discourses: "If you want to be crucified, just wait. The cross will come." See Crossan "The Historical Jesus" page 353. Some of these sayings in the NT use "cross" as a metaphor for fate in a stoic fashion, not as a prophecy of literal crucifixion.
  • I love that in Luke, it says to take up your cross "daily," showing that our commitment is not just a "one and done" thing but is needed throughout our lives. "Give us this day our daily bread."  And help us bear whatever cross is put on us today and then tomorrow and then the next day.  I constantly go back to this devotional address by Elder D. Todd Christofferson.  In it, he says, "In the 1950s my mother survived radical cancer surgery, but difficult as that was, the surgery was followed with dozens of painful radiation treatments in what would now be considered rather primitive medical conditions. She recalls that her mother taught her something during that time that has helped her ever since: “I was so sick and weak, and I said to her one day, ‘Oh, Mother, I can’t stand having 16 more of those treatments.’ She said, ‘Can you go today?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, honey, that’s all you have to do today.’ It has helped me many times when I remember to take one day or one thing at a time.”

    The Spirit can guide us when to look ahead and when we should just deal with this one day, with this one moment." 
    I've had times when that has been all I can do -- just deal with the tasks and challenges of today and not worry about the many tomorrows.  
  • Christ goes on to explain that "whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:25-26).  Sometimes we talk about this verse as if Christ is talking about losing yourself in service to others, but in context, it is clear that Christ is saying that if we aren't willing to go all in -- even if it might end with losing our lives -- then we have traded our life for a secondary reward.  We need to be willing to sacrifice all that we have for the gospel, even if that includes martyrdom, as it did for many brave and committed Christians through the years.  What a sobering thought.

The Mount of Transfiguration ~ Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36

  • It is meaningful to reflect that without Peter, James, and John's earlier commitment and faith, this experience would likely not have happened.  Because they believed, they were given further witness.  They saw Christ as Who he truly was.  They were visited by the prophets Moses and Elias (the Greek translation of Elijah).  Multiple scriptures teach that if we are willing to receive the truth from God and act in faith, that light will only grow.  
  • This experience occupies just a few scant verses, but it has echoes of other important experiences prophets have had with God -- Moses on the mount, for example, who came back with a face shining so bright that he had to cover his face with a veil.  There are beautiful patterns in the Old and New Testament as well as the Book of Mormon of prophets who were able to ascend to the unity and "At-One-Ment" represented by the Holy of Holies in the ancient temple and represented symbolically in modern temples by the Celestial room.
  • If you haven't watched this brief video that gives a tour of the Rome Italy temple and teaches about what we believe and experience in the temple, it is well worth a view:

"Help Thou My Unbelief" ~ Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29, Luke 9:37-43

  • This story is told in three gospels, with basically the same elements.  A desperate man approaches Christ on behalf of his son.  He had brought his son to the disciples but they had failed to heal him.  Now, he brought him to Christ hoping for a miracle.  I love the example of the man's faith -- that even after the disciples failed, he didn't give up in despair.  He kept seeking until he found Christ.
  • In contrast to the rebuke Christ gave the Pharisees who came to him seeking for a sign or a miracle so that they might believe, Christ tells the man that "all things are possible to him that believes."  And in Mark, the man replies, "Lord, I believe.  Help thou my unbelief."  I love that sincere, beautiful, humble message.  I have found that when I pray and approach God with no pretense, He listens and He answers me.  "Heavenly Father, you know how tired I am," I will all too often begin my prayers, or "I am feeling so overwhelmed to day.  Help me to do the most important things.  Help me to be in tune with the needs of my children.  Help me get enough rest.  Help me to push through and be patient."  It ain't lofty, but it's all I've got some days, and He meets me where I am.
  • I would be remiss if I didn't post the best talk ever given on this passage of scripture.  You can watch it below.  It is well worth watching!

  • And in looking for a video I know exists of the father's encounter with Christ (anyone know what one I'm talking about?), I found this beautiful song about this scripture passage:

Paying the Temple Tax ~ Matthew 17:24-27

  • When the tax collectors came asking for Christ to pay the temple tax, Jesus says to Peter, "What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free."  Matthew 17:25-26
  • I picture Christ saying this with a twinkle in his eye at the irony of asking the King to pay the tax for His own house.  He was the One for whom the temple had been built, and the One it taught of and pointed to.  He would give his life to make Atonement for all and allow us the privilege of entering into the presence of God, and yet they come asking Him to pay the tribute.
  • Christ does pay the tribute, with Peter casting in a line, bringing up a fish, and finding the money inside.  I love the principle that Christ uses as reasoning to pay the tribute, "lest we should offend them."  Sometimes we do things not because they are right but because they are polite.  It isn't necessary to make an issue out of things that don't need to be an issue. 
  • Interesting that this story is only in Matthew's account, him being a former tax collector.  

Who is the greatest?  ~ Mark 9:1-5, Luke 9:46-48, see also Matthew 18:1-5

  • Who is the best?  This is a question that is ever-present in our world today.  Is it the person with the most likes on Youtube?  The best jump-shot?  The one with the coolest bucket list?  The one who does something never done before, like free-soloing El Capitan?  Is it better to be the fastest man at a marathon or the one who can do fifty marathons in fifty days?  Or hey, why not someone who did fifty ultra-marathons in fifty days in fifty states?  (I've actually heard this guy speak in person.  He has a great story!)   Or is the person the greatest who is the most well-known, the richest, or the most powerful?  There's constant competition, insecurity, and even ruthlessness to this question.  We have awards for everything, endless ways to measure success, and plenty of gurus who guarantee it.
  • So it's no surprise that this question arose among Christ's disciples.  In Mark, we get a little more background and what I picture as a rather amusing scene.  The disciples had been "disputing by the way," it says, and Christ asks them what it was they were arguing about.  Chagrined, I picture them all looking at their feet and fidgeting, as it says, "but they held their peace."  They didn't quite want to share what they probably realized was a pretty self-centered dispute.
  • It is interesting to me that Mark and Luke don't say to become as a little child like Matthew does.  Matthew says, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." All three accounts, however, contain the second part of Matthew in one form or another: "And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me."  
  • It is interesting that it isn't just a little, humble child that Christ calls the greatest in the kingdom of God, but those who receive those little children.  And who is it that throughout centuries have received a child, along with the responsibility to raise, love, and teach that child about God?  Righteous, dedicated mothers and fathers.  
  • Who is the greatest?  A small, humble child.  Those who become like them in humility and submission to God.  And those who receive and care for children in Christ's name.  These are very different, unexpected priorities!  

The Road to Jerusalem ~ Luke 9:51-62

  • In Luke, it says that from that time forward, Christ "steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem."  I enjoyed reading this overview of what that road to Jerusalem entailed in Luke.  It's nice to get a bigger picture of things sometimes.
  • Given that Christ knew what was coming in Jerusalem, this statement is powerful.  He knew in advance what the end of the journey would mean and He was bold and determined to see it through.
  • Along the way, messengers are sent ahead to Samaria so He can go there.  It says the Samaritans "did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem." (Luke 9:53).  I'm not sure exactly all that entailed, but it could have been because of their rivalry with Jerusalem (see my notes here for some background on that) and their unwillingness to accept someone who had embraced their perceived enemies or who accepted the temple at Jerusalem as legitimate.  Or it could have been that the people of Samaria didn't want to anger the Romans by harboring someone who might seem to be an enemy of the regime.
  • In any case, the disciples James and John get their turn for a rebuke from Christ in this story because they wanted Christ to call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans.  Christ condemns their warring spirits and reminds them that He is sent to save men, not to destroy them.  

Millstones and Hard Sacrifices ~ Mark 9:42-50, Luke 9:57-62, see also Matthew 18:6-9

  • Once again, Christ asks for total and complete commitment. "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62)
  • In Mark, Christ discusses leadership principles and how if someone should offend one of the little ones, it would be better for that man to have a millstone around his neck and be cast into the sea.  Pretty hard words!  
  • Christ goes on to say that if a hand, or foot, or eye, offend thee, you should cut it off.  That's pretty bold imagery, and it seems to apply both to individuals and to the Church.  Given the context of talking about someone leading the innocent astray, Dallin H. Oaks said, "the foot and the eye seem to refer to leaders.  They are held to a higher standard.  Because of their visible and influential position, they should be cut off for transgression . . . To cut off a leader or a member means to sever that person's membership, fellowship, or some of the person's privileges.  In context, then, these scriptures direct the application of what we now call church discipline, and they call for more rigorous discipline for leaders." (as quoted in Thomas Valleta et. al., The New Testament Study Guide, p. 170).  
  • As to how this applies to individuals when we have a part of us that is so offensive and weak, it is better to cut it off figuratively.  I think of alcoholics and recovering drug addicts who have to develop a whole new way of life and new friends because the old patterns are so easy to go back into.  I think of someone who may need to choose new friends if the old lead them into sin.  I think of the people of Ammon in the Book of Mormon.  They were a warring and blood-thirsty people who were converted to the gospel.  Because they never wanted to go back to their old ways and risk losing their souls, they took the drastic step of burying their weapons of war and making a covenant not to ever take them up again.  They died rather than using weapons.  That's the kind of commitment and putting away of sin that the gospel requires.
  • I'm not guilty of any great wickedness, but I wonder if there are things that I, too, need to cut off from my life in order to be more centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Am I spending too much time on my phone?  On social media?  In the past, there have been small things that I've had to cut out of my life.  People I've unfollowed on Facebook because they constantly stir up contention, for example.  I've also had the experience of enjoying a popular show right up to the moment it starts to show scenes that are offensive.  Sometimes it's been hard to turn those shows off because by then I'm invested in seeing how the story turns out.  But I have pretty high media standards for my family so out they go.  What have you found that you have needed to cut out of your life?


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