Easter

We remember Easter foremost for the resurrection. The Lord remembers it foremost for the suffering in Gethsemane. In 1829, the Lord shared His reflection in a revelation to Joseph:

Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. 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. Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit. (D&C 19:15-20.)

It was important for the Lord to attain the resurrection, for it completed the process that frees mankind from death. But it was more important for the Lord to free us from sin. Because of what He accomplished in Gethsemane, we are able to be reconciled to God. It was “sore… exquisite… hard to bear…” and caused Him to “tremble because of pain,” and ask His Father that He might not drink the bitter cup. It caused the “greatest of all” to “shrink” away from the abyss of suffering.

By partaking anyway, and despite His desire to be spared, He “finished [His] preparations unto the children of men.” It was only “preparation” of an atonement because we are required in turn to receive its benefit through baptism and repentance. If we are unwilling to do this then it is as if no atonement were made for our sins, and we then are called upon to likewise suffer. The Lord has explained that if we refuse to repent then “our sufferings shall be sore.” Almost incomprehensibly difficult for us to bear.

The greatest response to the Easter celebration would be repentance and baptism.

Mosiah 3: 25

Mosiah 3:25


“And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.”

The angel now transitions the message to King Benjamin forward to the time of the final judgment. In that setting he suggests a scene to the unrepentant. Before looking at the words, however, why do you suppose the description is from the vantage point of the damned? Why not from the vantage point of the saved? The final three verses of the message are all viewed from failure, rather than from success. Why?

Is this “negative?”

Does this make you think the angel is offensive? He doesn’t “have the Spirit” with him? That you “don’t get a good feeling” when you listen to his words?

Do you think the angel should be ignored because he makes you “feel bad” by the things he speaks? Would you prefer to hear a “more positive message” Things like this just “can’t be from God” because of how they make you “feel?”

If this is an angel from God speaking, and the above questions reflect your attitude about a message warning you to repent, then perhaps it is your attitude that is wrong – not the angel or his message. Perhaps the annoyance of being awakened from your deep sleep is worth the angel telling you in unmistakable and harsh terms that you are about to be lost if you do not repent. Perhaps the angel would prefer to deliver a hopeful, even lighthearted message, but the words orignate from God. God’s efforts are to bring you to immortality and eternal life. (Moses 1: 39.) Maybe God has a better view of our awful state than do we.

The angel speaks in terms of:
-“consigned to an awful view”
What does this suggest? What would be “awful” about failing to repent? Why is it a “view?” What will we “see” in that day?

-“own guilt and abominations”
Why guilt? What “abominations” attach to every soul who does not repent? Why is religious error, pride in believing falsehoods, and failure to repent always an “abomination?”

-“doth cause them to shrink”
Isn’t this the same agony Christ experience in Gethsemane? (D&C 19: 18.) Why would you “shrink” from the presence of God? What does “shrink” mean?

-“into a state of misery”
Why would you want to withdraw into a state of misery? What is it about failing to repent that causes you to behave this way when judged by God?

-“endless torment from which there can be no return”
Why is this the formula to describe the reaction? (D&C 19: 6-12.) What is it about this experience that will last forever in the mind of anyone who suffers it? (D&C 19: 15-18.) Why would this haunt the person forevermore? Even if it came to an end at some point, why are you “unable to return” from that experience? What trauma is caused by this that can be avoided by repenting?

-“drunk damnation to their souls”
Why this graphic description? What is it about this experience that makes the very soul be damned by the ordeal?

Is the angel overreacting? Is this terrible assortment of adjectives necesssary? Why would God send an angel with this message to King Benjamin (and to us)?

Mosiah 3: 7, continued

The suffering of Christ in atoning for mankind was not limited to spiritual torment, but was physical as well. The angel explained He would suffer “pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue” as part of His great ordeal. (Mosiah 3: 7.)

Alma explained this would include “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind.” It would extend into “the sicknesses of his people.”  (Alma 7: 11.) All disease, even death were overcome by Him.

This was so the Lord could rise again, and with healing in His wings (2 Ne. 25: 13; Malachi 4: 2) be able to succor all our ills. (Alma 7: 12.) Because He has felt all of our “infirmities,” whether they are spiritual or physical, there is no limit to His ability to understand our plight and give to us His compassionate aid. (Alma 7: 12.)

This does not remove our own cup of suffering. Even the Lord’s most favored servants endure suffering, sometimes in perplexing magnitude that seems beyond our ability to endure. (D&C 121: 3-4.) Sometimes the way He consoles the suffering servant is to remind them the Master has endured more. (D&C 121: 8.)

He knows our limits, even if we do not. He protects us by limiting what the faithful endure to only that which we can handle. (1 Cor. 10: 13.)

The angel was sent to inform King Benjamin of this (and in turn his people and those who read the Book of Mormon) so we may understand the Lord’s purchase of us from death, hell, and torment. He wants us all to understand this so we can take advantage of it by repenting.

If we look upon His suffering and remain unrepentant, then we are left to endure the just punishment for our unrepented sins. According to Christ, who suffered those pains of sin, this is beyond our comprehension.

In pleading for us to repent and turn from our sins, the Lord could only inform us: “how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. 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 of the bitter cup, and shrink–” (D&C 19: 16-18.) Any who have looked upon the suffering of our Lord are moved beyond words at what He endured.

In Come, Let Us Adore Him there is a chapter on Gethsemene. The Lord’s sufferings came in waves, and included all that mankind has done to one another, all mankind did to Him. This suffering gave Him the right to claim each of us through His victory. It was a hard won victory. It means nothing if we do not repent. How foolish it is to believe you can escape the claim of justice on your own failings. You cannot. The only way to escape is through the mercy provided by Christ through the price He paid. (Alma 34: 15.) As explained by Alma, the redemption which comes from faith in Christ empowers our repentance, so we can take advantage of His atonement by forsaking our sins. (Id.) This is a difficult process, involving constant attention to His mercy which redeems you. (Alma 34: 18-27.)

The angel who visisted King Benjamin taught the same truths about our Lord as Isaiah: “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.” (Isa. 53: 5.)

So why would we reject the invitation to repent? Why in our pride would we talk of God’s great favor and blessing of us all? Why would we claim to be chosen, royal and better than others around us? Why would we ever trust for one moment that all is well and we are Zion? Why would we refuse the mercy offered to us by Christ? Why do we prefer pride and self-sufficiency? Why would we claim some man with “keys” can relieve us of our suffering for sins when the Lord has taught us otherwise? What difference does any ordinance, or ordination, or blessing or promise make if we fail to satisfy the demands of repentance in order to lay claim upon them? The realization of all blessings depends upon your faithfulness. It is only if you are true and faithful that you may later be called up and given more than an invitation through a man. Why do you also harden your hearts so that you also cannot enter into God’s presence? (D&C 84: 23-24.)

The sermon from the angel to King Benjamin encompasses the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because it seeks to teach us how to be redeemed from our sins and enter into the rest of the Lord.

3 Nephi 11: 40

 
“And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.”
 
Here is Christ’s explanation of why we must focus on these doctrines to be saved. I’ve heard more words of caution about speaking “more” than I’ve ever heard cautioning about “less.” Both are a problem. It is more fashionable today to speak less about Christ’s doctrine, or to circumscribe it into so narrow a meaning as to render it powerless in effect.
 
First, as to “more.” When we “declare more” we are getting ahead of the process. We aren’t to worship the “hosts of heaven,” nor a heavenly mother. Despite all we may know about Her, that knowledge won’t save. Other personages or ministers cannot save either. Gabriel will not. Enoch will not. Michael will not. Only the Son will save; and the Father will bear testimony of Him. Interesting stories about individual spiritual encounters or experiences will not save. They are evidence that heaven is still attending to us, but the details are for the individual. The experiences that will save have already been recorded in scripture for our general instruction. Outside of scripture those individual experiences are only useful to the extent they shed light upon scriptural accounts. If a person can help you understand Daniel’s visionary encounters by what they have been shown, then their personal experiences are not as important as the light they may shed upon Daniel’s prophecy. Similarly what I’ve written is helpful only to understand scripture, and not otherwise. Even the account of Gethsemane is anchored in scripture and useful only to the extent it sheds light upon what has been given to us in the New Testament Gospels, Nephi’s prophecy, Alma’s testimony and D&C 19. I do think my account goes further to explain what occurred than any other writing which has come to my attention. Nevertheless the scriptures are needed as the primary tool for understanding our Lord’s atonement. So the definition of “more” would include such things that supplant scripture or suggest anything is more important than the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; but things as may shed additional light on the meaning of scripture. 
 
Interestingly enough, when we “declare less” we are also condemned.  It works both ways. It’s a two-edged sword. Not “more nor less” is permitted. We sometimes greet preaching “less” with applause, because we want less. But that is no better than missing the mark while preaching “more.” Perhaps it is worse, because it represents a rejection of truth. It is active suppression of what needs to be proclaimed.
 
All of us must be concerned about declaring less. Deleting or omitting is as serious a matter as adding. Either will allow the gates of hell to prevail.
 
When you adopt creedal Historic Christianity and amalgamate the Father, Son and Holy Ghost into a single cosmic siamese-triplet construct, you are declaring them as less. The disembodiment of God the Father was a lie to supplant and replace Him by another disembodied pretender claiming to be the god of this world.

Christ’s teaching here is preliminary to the Sermon that follows. In the coming Sermon we will read a better preserved version of the Sermon on the Mount from Jerusalem, called here the Sermon at Bountiful. But this explanation of doctrine is given by Christ first. The foundation of doctrine of the oneness of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the conferral of power to baptize, and manner of baptism come before the great Sermon. First we receive the instruction to avoid disputes. These disputes lead to contention that lays the foundation for anger between men. This doctrine is so foundational that Christ covers it before any other teaching. Therefore, you should realize its importance.

We will be captured by hell if we do not understand and follow these teachings. Though they are Christ’s very first instructions, we almost never discuss them. You may want to re-read these verses again, and realize their fundamental importance.

Christ is saying it is “evil” to do more or less with His doctrine. It surely is, for ignoring, altering, omitting or enlarging leads to evil.

What can they share?

I was asked: “For those among us who have had a personal visit with the Lord… what can they share with us that have not ? Can they share what our Lord looked like? His eye color? hair? height? how was he dressed? Is he among us now? How did he sound? Is this too sacred to be discussed openly?”
From the beginning, mankind was told not to make idols and displace their reverence for God by a physical image or talisman.  It has been enshrined in the Ten Commandments (“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them:” (Ex. 20: 4-5.)  The commandment extends to the “likeness of anything that is in heaven” and would include the Lord.

The images I have seen of Him are for the most part inaccurate. The reason we don’t have accurate pictures is in all likelihood related to the fact that those who come to see Him would understand the importance of avoiding idols and would question the wisdom of recreating an image of Him that might be used by others to displace their attention and worship.

What is appropriate is to affirm that He is real, that He lives, that He has been resurrected from the dead, and that He came, sacrificed and rose because of His role as the Savior and Redeemer of mankind.  I’ve written as much as I’ve been asked to write about Him by way of testimony in the Appendix to Eighteen Verses, in Come, Let Us Adore Him, and a brief physical description in Nephi’s Isaiah.  However, the brief physical description is not enough from which to reconstruct an image.  It merely refers to some of His physical attributes and then tie them to the scriptural accounts to show why the narrative in the New Testament would read as it does.

The most important understanding of Christ is tied to what He suffered in Gethsemene.  D&C 19: 16-20 and my testimony about Gethsemene are both useful in understanding what He went through and what role our own actions will play in obtaining the benefits of His Atonement.

Why not the cross?

I was asked about the cross as a religious symbol and why I thought it inappropriate.  Here’s my response:
 
When Christ described what He accomplished for us in His Atonement, He referred exclusively to the suffering in Gethsemane.  (D&C 19: 15-19.)  Therefore, in the Lord’s own explanation, He used the suffering of Gethsemane as the exclusively to let us know the price He paid.
 
I know that among others, James Talmage and Bruce R. McConkie, have said that the suffering in Gethsemane was renewed on the cross.  I have a different view, and I explain that in Come, Let Us Adore Him.  I will not repeat that here.  I expect that since this is my personal view, there will be many who do not share it with me.  However, it is my view that the cross was the means of death; and His death became possible by what He went through in Gethsemane.  Had He not been weakened through the ordeal in Gethsemane, He could not have died on the cross.  But when He arrived at the cross, all that was left to accomplish was His death, while fulfilling the inspired, prophetic foretelling of the event in conformity with the 22nd Psalm.
 
The original Saints who belonged to the Primitive Church (New Testament Church) regarded the great symbol of Christ as the fish.  That symbol was used in the first centuries following Christ.  It was supplanted by Constantine.  Constantine adopted the cross as a symbol for the new, Roman state religion which changed the Primitive Church into the new, Historic Christianity.  It would undergo a name change to the Catholic Church (meaning Universal Church), then the Roman Catholic Church as it was entrenched as the state religion of the Roman Empire.  It has also been referred to as the Holy Roman Empire.  All those names are suitably descriptive.  The adoption of the cross as a religious symbol for this new Historic Christianity, supplanting the earlier fish symbol, is one of the reasons I think it not appropriate.  It symbolizes the change of Primitive Christianity into a new religious form significantly different from what it was when it began.
 
The cross symbolizes the newer form of the faith, which adopted many of the earlier Roman state myths and simply gave Christian names and references to them.  The celebration of Sol Invictus mid-winter became the celebration of Christmas.  Spring fertility rites, including use of the egg and rabbit symbols of fertility were converted into a “Christian” holiday of Easter.  Local deities no longer hailed from Olympus, but semi-deified “Saints” could be prayed to just as the earlier veneration of local deities.  The full panoply of changes would require books to explain, but for me these changes are symbolized by the adoption of the cross as the great symbol of the new Historic Christian movement.  Hence the reason I think it inappropriate as a symbol for a restoration of Primitive Christianity.