Monday, April 5, 2010

But Whom Say Ye That I Am?

During His ministry in Galilee, Jesus asked His Twelve Apostles two questions that distinguish a true disciple from a casual admirer. After feeding four thousand people with loaves and fishes, Jesus departed with his disciples by boat from Magdala on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida, and then continued northward close to 30 miles on foot toward Caesarea Philippi. When they were alone, by the wayside, Jesus asked his disciples, “Whom do men say that I am?” There were many, including Herod, who believed that Jesus was John the Baptist, Elias, Jeremias, or one of the older prophets who had returned from the dead. Whether they believed in Jesus or not, it would have been hard to dispute the reputation that was spreading about His miracles.

Jesus then asked His disciples, “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter responded, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” It wasn’t because of the miracles that Peter believed. It was from the witness in his heart that only the Holy Ghost can deliver from the Father. Peter had obtained his knowledge from God through faith. (Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30, Luke 9:18-22)

I don’t believe Jesus was concerned with miracles. It was the faith of His people that He wanted. Eating the loaves and fishes that He multiplied for them would satisfy them for a moment, but it wasn’t nearly enough to develop their faith. For that they had to take something else inside of them.

Just before his death, Jesus gathered with the Apostles to observe the Passover. There He instituted the sacrament by breaking bread and giving it to them in remembrance of His body. He then gave them wine, in remembrance of His blood. These emblems are a significant reminder, not only of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, but also of the sacrifice that we should be willing to make for Him, that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. (3 Nephi 9:20)

As we take the emblems of the flesh and blood of Jesus into our own bodies, we covenant to remember Him and witness that we are willing to do certain things. First, we witness that we are willing to take upon ourselves His name. As we repent and are redeemed from the fall through His sacrifice, we are spiritually reborn and we become His children. This is what Jesus taught the brother of Jared when He said that all who believe on His name should have eternal life, “and they shall become my sons and my daughters.” (Ether 3:14) As we partake of the sacrament, we also witness that we are willing to keep His commandments that we may always have His Spirit, even the Holy Ghost, to be with us. This affords us the same gift given to Peter, a witness that Jesus is the Christ, and not just a man who performed miracles.

Regarding this willingness, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Twelve Apostles said, “It is significant that when we partake of the sacrament we do not witness that we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We witness that we are willing to do so. (See D&C 20:77) The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the most important sense.” (Ensign, May 1985) It isn’t just loaves and fishes that we must eat, nor is it merely the sacrament that we must take into our bodies. It is what we take into our hearts. It is the covenants we make with God that we must internalize. Until we do this, we cannot receive a witness like Peter’s. Instead of becoming true disciples, we remain casual admirers.

What then does it mean to have faith in Christ? What is the difference between being a casual admirer and a true disciple? The answers are tied together. It is in the moment that we move past being willing to follow Jesus and actually follow him that we become a disciple. It is then that we become eligible to receive our own witness from the Holy Ghost. Through our actions we demonstrate our faith. As we sacrifice our own hearts, our desires, our wants, and our will, we become like Him.

The pathway of faith may be examined in several steps, each of which is important. Because we all learn line upon line, grace for grace, we should not discount any of them. Rather we should acknowledge them and look for our next step in following the Savior. Jesus said, “I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:19-20)

Believe that Jesus lived
Our first step of faith is to believe that Jesus actually lived. When we acknowledge that He was born in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph, that He grew up in Nazareth, that He taught in Galilee, Perea, and Judea, we can turn to the accounts recorded in Holy Scripture to learn more.

During His life on earth, Jesus loved, healed, and ministered to the people. According to their faith He performed many miracles. Jesus taught the gospel and His Father’s plan to all who would listen. His exemplary life was flawless and without sin. He is the only person ever to live who has been perfectly obedient to the commandments of God.

Jesus said, “Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. I am Jesus Christ; I came by the will of the Father, and I do his will.” (Doctrine & Covenants 19:23-24)

Believe that Jesus lived before His birth
Jesus was in the beginning with the Father. In the world of spirits, He was the firstborn of our Father’s children. In that place, Jesus offered to champion Father’s plan for our happiness. He was willing to be our Savior. In the war in heaven against Lucifer, He prevailed and gave the glory to God.

At the direction of Father, Jesus created the earth, the heavens, and all things that in them are. After mankind was created on the earth, Jesus directed His servants the prophets. He was the God of the Old Testament who spoke to Adam, Noah, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and others. He made promises to His covenant people and fulfilled those covenants when the children of our Father were obedient.

Believe that Jesus did only the will of the Father
Jesus said, “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.” (John 8:28-29) He subjected His will to God and set an example for us to do the same.

Because of His love for us, Jesus was born into mortality and subjected Himself to the same temptations, pains, anguish, and suffering that we would endure. He did this so that He would know how to succor us and help us in our afflictions. Jesus did all things that He was asked to do by our Father. Because He was willing to give everything, Father gave Him power to do all things, even the power to overcome death and hell.

Believe that Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer
Knowing that all of His children save One would fall prey to temptation in their attempt to be obedient, our Father in Heaven provided a Savior and Redeemer who would save us from our sins. Jesus is that Savior. He was able to make that payment because He was without sin.

On the Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prepared to offer Himself as a ransom and sacrifice for all. From the eleven remaining Apostles, He took with Him Peter, James, and John, and told them to stay and watch with him. Jesus was “sorrowful, even unto death,” because of the severity of what he was about to do. As He knelt in prayer, Jesus plead with the Father, saying, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:38-39)

In the moment of deepest need, His three most trusted Apostles slept and could not watch or console Him. Father sent an angel from heaven to comfort Him. “And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:43-44)

Much later, Jesus revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink – Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” (Doctrine & Covenants 19:16-19)

All believing saints prior to that time observed and kept the Law of Sacrifice in similitude of the one true sacrifice that would be made by the Lamb of God. They placed their hope in a Savior that could take away the guilt and remorse from their sins. They had faith in the words of the prophets that a Savior would be born. They were able to repent of their sins and benefit from His infinite atonement, even though their faith was in a sacrifice that was yet to be made. And then it was finished. Jesus did what He said he would do in the grand councils of heaven. He overcame the claim of hell on the imperfect through their faith and repentance. He ended the lies of the great deceiver who led away a third of Father’s children. Jesus paid the price for our sins as He trod the winepress alone.

As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:4-7)

Following this eternal moment of triumph over sin, when Jesus answered the prayers of all faithful who had gone before, He was immediately betrayed with a kiss by his own Apostle, Judas. After He had given His blood to pay the price of atonement, He was then bound and given to the hands of murderers who would not reverence His magnificent gift.

Just as the price of sin was made alone by the Holy One, there was little that anyone could do to assist Jesus in his final task. His disciples forsook him, and fled. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Jesus was tried before Annas and Caiaphas. He was beaten, spit upon, and ridiculed. Jesus was then questioned by Herod and Pilot. As the King of the Jews, He was stripped, scourged, crowned with thorns, and given a robe of purple. Then with very little strength remaining, Jesus was given a cross to bear for His own crucifixion.

After being nailed securely to His cross, Jesus was lifted up before the world. This act represented the shame of the Jews in two ways. Truly, many were ashamed of Him, because they thought Him guilty of unforgiveable blasphemies. Sadly, they were also shamed by their own pride and hardhearted state, because no other people in creation would kill their own God.

There at the end, few were left to mourn with Jesus. Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “Thus, of divine necessity, the supporting circle around Jesus gets smaller and smaller and smaller…. John stood at the foot of the cross with Jesus’s mother. Especially and always the blessed women in the Savior’s life stayed as close to Him as they could. But essentially His lonely journey back to His Father continued without comfort or companionship.” (Ensign, May 2009)

Darkness covered the land and Jesus felt the spirit withdraw, sufficient for Him to complete His sacrifice completely alone. In anguish He exclaimed, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) Having faith in the Father He knew was there but could not feel, Jesus exclaimed, “It is finished….” Jesus had done His Father’s will in every respect. (John 19:30) Then He continued, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit….” With that last effort, Jesus gave up the ghost and surrendered His body. Just as His spirit and His body were separated, the veil of the temple, that light separation between us and the Holy One of Israel, was rent in two.

Jesus Christ freely gave to us gifts that can never be repaid. He subjected Himself to the same conditions that we all must pass through and then did that which we could not do for ourselves. Through His incomprehensible gift of love that permitted Him to feel and carry the sins of all mankind, and by the ultimate gift of laying down His life for each of us, Jesus overcame both death and hell. It was with His own blood that the price of eternity was paid.

Believe that Jesus arose from the dead
On the morning of the third day following his death, Mary Magdalene and other women returned to the tomb where they had laid Jesus so they could anoint his body with spices. As they approached, they found the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. Two angels met them and declared to them that Jesus was no longer there, for he had risen from the dead. Likewise, when Peter and John returned to the tomb, they also found it empty and returned home

Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb after the others had left and she wept. It was there that the risen Jesus appeared to her. He comforted her and told her that He had not yet ascended to His Father, but would soon appear to His disciples. Shortly afterward, Jesus appeared to two men on the road to Emmaus. He also appeared to eleven of the Apostles. Many witnessed that Jesus became the firstfruits of them that slept. Being the Son of the Eternal Father, power was given to Him to take up His body again and live immortally with eternal life.

Believe enough to change
There are many points upon which we can base our faith in Jesus Christ. It is one thing to merely believe that Jesus lived on the earth. Believing that He was the literal Son of God is another step forward. If we believe that He truly performed miracles, healed the sick, raised the dead, and was Himself resurrected, then we have no reason to doubt that He truly is our Savior and Redeemer. If Jesus did the will of the Father, and the Father cannot lie, then we have every reason to believe that what Jesus said is true. This is especially applicable to his doctrine and teachings.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)

“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7)

“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (John 14:18)

Before the death of Jesus Christ, when the Apostle Thomas asked Jesus how we might know the way to the Father, Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” (John 14:6)

If we believe in Jesus enough to believe that what He said is true, then should we not believe that He will keep all of His promises? Will He not give us rest, answer our prayers, and show us the way? The only correct answer is yes. He will do all this and more if we are faithful disciples and not just admirers.

The proof of our discipleship is not in our willingness to take upon us His name, it is in the doing of it. This is the only way to lasting happiness. If you are a disciple then you likely already know this. If you are only a casual admirer, you may never know. Discipleship comes one action at a time. The decision to move past being willing to follow Jesus and actually following him is as thin as a veil. It is a veil of unbelief, and yet a veil that can be lifted. We learn by trying. Like Peter, we can obtain this knowledge from God through faith.

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