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Easter

Tomorrow is Easter, April 8th. The Lord rose from the borrowed tomb while it was dark on that morning approximately two millennia ago.

The assortment of thoughts that run through my mind wanders from past to present to the future. He  dominates the landscape no matter where the thoughts run on this approaching Easter:

What are these wounds on your hands and feet?

“Those I suffered in the house of my friends.”

How is it possible?

“By the power given unto me from the Father I have overcome all things.”

Did not our hearts burn within us?

He is dressed in red, coming in judgment, to reward those who waited on Him and to punish and remove the wicked.

The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The Lion of Judah. The Son of David. The Scepter of Judah. The Slain. The Risen. The Redeemer.

So we might understand who He is and have faith in Him, He declared in meekness: “I am greater than them all,” and “I am more intelligent than them all.”  And again, I am the light and the life of the world. I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.”

“What I call ‘clean’ call thou not ‘unclean.'”

“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.”

Why is it “preparations” Lord?

“It is given unto you to choose. I can prepare, but you must choose to repent. I call upon all men to repent and come unto Me.”

Seeing, they do not understand, hearing, they do not listen. They have lost the desire for knowledge and they have fallen away. Isaiah said we would change the ordinances, break the covenant, but Christ tells us to pray continually: Thy will be done, thy kingdom come…

To rescue a broken and fallen people, we have His light and the life He gave for us. Look unto Him and live. We have hope in Christ Jesus.

The Glorious One. The Father of the saved. The Firstborn. The Son of God. Jehovah.

Jacob 5: 48-51

The vineyard fails continually because of “the loftiness of the vineyard.” (5: 48.) That is, the pride and arrogance of Israel itself is the cause of continual failure. They run faster then they are able, reaching what they cannot attain, claiming to have what they do not have, and relying on their conceit rather than the Lord. As a result, the branches overcome the roots. They grew faster than could be accommodated, and took strength to themselves, which always defeats fruit production. (Id.)
The Lord’s exasperation with this complete failure results in the announcement that He was going to return to the vineyard, “hew down the trees” and then “cast them into the fire” so they no longer cumbered the land. (5: 49.) It was time to return and destroy everything. Or, to use a phrase from Malachi, to “smite the whole earth with a curse.” (Mal. 4: 6.) We see in this that the Lord does actually consider smiting the entire earth. The allegory reveals it. It is indeed possible for the Lord to consider that as an option.
The only way to prevent it is for the “vineyard” to again bring forth fruit worth laying up against the season of the harvest. It failed. There was a universal apostasy. The Lord announced it was His intention to destroy all the people of the earth. (5: 49.) But it was the “servant” who pleaded for the Lord to “spare it a little longer.” (Id.) In Zenos’ allegory, the Lord is the one wanting to destroy the vineyard. When He was in His mortal ministry, the Lord reversed these roles. He had the angels wanting to destroy, and the Lord being patient. (See, Matt. 13: 28-30.) In both, the judgment is postponed until something worthy of preserving can be brought into the harvest. The Lord agrees to spare the vineyard despite the universal failure to bring about “fruit” because it “grieveth” Him to see such a loss, so great a waste. (5: 51.)
Now all of this is about history. It has already happened. Zenos wrote in the unified kingdom, before the division into the Northern Kingdom, or Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, or Kingdom of Judah. He wrote before Isaiah, and before Jeremiah. His prophecy became a benchmark from which other, later prophets would draw in fashioning their own prophecies.
Using these allegorical themes and images (tree, branches, transplanting, grafting, laboring, gathering, burning, trimming, pruning, etc.), we can see what happened historically with the scattering of Israel. Now, however, we have reached a point in the allegory where the events are either current or future. They are underway. This part of the allegory relates to us. It is meant to warn us about the time we live.
We think we’ve gotten the benefit of the Lord’s hand in the effort now underway. However, there is nothing going on at this time in the vineyard that should make us think we can relax. There is more pruning, gathering and yet more labor, before we yield fruit.
As we continue from this point forward, we must pay more attention. It is a blueprint for how the Lord is dealing with us. We should take every opportunity to consider how the prophecy may be intended to warn us against our own “loftiness” and ultimate failure.

Jacob 5: 48-51

The vineyard fails continually because of “the loftiness of the vineyard.” (5: 48.) That is, the pride and arrogance of Israel itself is the cause of continual failure. They run faster then they are able, reaching what they cannot attain, claiming to have what they do not have, and relying on their conceit rather than the Lord. As a result, the branches overcome the roots. They grew faster than could be accommodated, and took strength to themselves, which always defeats fruit production. (Id.)
The Lord’s exasperation with this complete failure results in the announcement that He was going to return to the vineyard, “hew down the trees” and then “cast them into the fire” so they no longer cumbered the land. (5: 49.) It was time to return and destroy everything. Or, to use a phrase from Malachi, to “smite the whole earth with a curse.” (Mal. 4: 6.) We see in this that the Lord does actually consider smiting the entire earth. The allegory reveals it. It is indeed possible for the Lord to consider that as an option.
The only way to prevent it is for the “vineyard” to again bring forth fruit worth laying up against the season of the harvest. It failed. There was a universal apostasy. The Lord announced it was His intention to destroy all the people of the earth. (5: 49.) But it was the “servant” who pleaded for the Lord to “spare it a little longer.” (Id.) In Zenos’ allegory, the Lord is the one wanting to destroy the vineyard. When He was in His mortal ministry, the Lord reversed these roles. He had the angels wanting to destroy, and the Lord being patient. (See, Matt. 13: 28-30.) In both, the judgment is postponed until something worthy of preserving can be brought into the harvest. The Lord agrees to spare the vineyard despite the universal failure to bring about “fruit” because it “grieveth” Him to see such a loss, so great a waste. (5: 51.)
Now all of this is about history. It has already happened. Zenos wrote in the unified kingdom, before the division into the Northern Kingdom, or Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, or Kingdom of Judah. He wrote before Isaiah, and before Jeremiah. His prophecy became a benchmark from which other, later prophets would draw in fashioning their own prophecies.
Using these allegorical themes and images (tree, branches, transplanting, grafting, laboring, gathering, burning, trimming, pruning, etc.), we can see what happened historically with the scattering of Israel. Now, however, we have reached a point in the allegory where the events are either current or future. They are underway. This part of the allegory relates to us. It is meant to warn us about the time we live.
We think we’ve gotten the benefit of the Lord’s hand in the effort now underway. However, there is nothing going on at this time in the vineyard that should make us think we can relax. There is more pruning, gathering and yet more labor, before we yield fruit.
As we continue from this point forward, we must pay more attention. It is a blueprint for how the Lord is dealing with us. We should take every opportunity to consider how the prophecy may be intended to warn us against our own “loftiness” and ultimate failure.

Jacob 5: 42-47

There was no fruit being produced anywhere in the vineyard. The Lord recognized that. The separated branches that He had visited were able to produce covenant sons and daughters of God, only to fail to keep the covenant alive. “[N]ow all the trees of [the] vineyard are good for nothing save it be to be hewn down and cast into the fire.” (5: 42.) That does not mean they aren’t going to be preserved. They will, but they will suffer the wrath of God. Then they will come forth at the end of the season, and be placed in a position of Telestial Glory to dwell in the same condition as this fallen world. (D&C 76: 81-85.) From the Lord’s perspective, that is undesireable. It is failure. It is tragic. This is the native condition this vineyard repeatedly lapses into, even with the Lord and His servant’s continuing care. What more could He do, indeed! How often would He have gathered us, but we refuse. (3 Ne. 10: 5.)

Even when the Lord bestows peculiar advantages on the branches of His vineyard, the results are not dissimilar to what goes on elsewhere. Highly favored and greatly blessed people seem as indifferent to their salvation as those who inherit challenges and difficulties. (5: 43.) The Lord “cut down that which cumbered this spot of ground, that I might plant this tree in the stead thereof.” (5: 44; see also, Ether 13: 1.) He provided the best spot in the vineyard by destroying the people inhabiting it. Then, as we shall see, He destroys the branches brought there once they also fail to produce suitable fruit.

The good spot was cleansed of the bad branches, yet the bad still overcame the good. (5: 45.) The Nephite civilization was, in the end, entirely overcome and destroyed because it failed to produce any more sons and daughters of God.

As the Lord surveyed the entire vineyard, He saw nothing but universal failure. There was no fruit able to be preserved against the coming season of judgment. The whole earth was worthy of destruction, because there were none whose hearts were sealed to the fathers in heaven, members of the Family of God, who could endure His presence at His return. In other words, there was no righteous branch living on the earth. All manner of fruit claimed to be good. All kinds of pretenders were claiming they were of God. They clammored “lo here!” and “lo, there!” and claimed they could deliver souls from hell. Yet no one was able to bring the living into contact with God, which was required in order for them to receive the “testimony of Jesus” promising them eternal life. (D&C 76: 51-55.) The Lord needed to begin over again. The vineyard was void of fruit-bearing trees. Despite this, the Lord reflected “it grieveth me that I should lose them.” (5: 46.) The Lord takes the salvation of mankind seriously. It is His work. And when they fail, He grieves.

The Lord lists all He does to try to provoke His “tree” to bear fruit. He does not “slacken his hand” nor does he fail to “nourish” it. (5: 47.) He “digged,” and He “pruned,” and He “dunged” the tree. These efforts include sending the Light of Christ, the Holy Ghost, scriptures, prophets, angels, visions, dreams and signs in the heavens above and the earth beneath. He has done this continually for His vineyard. But these many gifts from God, and the great work He has done have failed to produce fruit. At last He poses the question to His servant: “Who is it that has corrupted my vineyard?” (Id.) A worthy question, indeed. The answer is surprising, because it does not require a devil to be involved.

Jacob 5: 38-41

The Lord’s inspection of the vineyard was global. Even the “nethermost parts of the vineyard” were examined for fruit. (5: 38.) Despite the opportunities given to the vineyard, “the fruit of the natural branches” which belonged to the original root and should have been able to bear fruit “had become corrupt also.” (5: 39.) No matter where you looked, “the first and the second and also the last; …they had all become corrupt.” (Id.) The apostasy was now universal. It was not possible for the Lord to find fruit worth preserving anywhere in His vineyard. The ordinances were changed. The covenant was broken. (Isa. 24: 5.)

Apostasy is always marked by a change of ordinances and breaking of the covenant. Then everything can continue to mimic the truth, but there can be no fruit. The apostates can keep the vocabulary, claim to have the truth and worship the God of Israel, use the same scriptures as were written by those who were in and kept the covenant, and assume they are either in or headed toward Zion and that “all is well” even as they are covered in chains and bound for hell. (2 Ne. 28: 23-25.) Then the apostasy can rule from the rivers to the ends of the earth, but no-one is capable of telling them to be afraid. While in Satan’s power, they think themselves blessed.

The “fruit” to be “laid up against the season” is highly specific. It is God’s own family. Those who are bound to Him directly, in an unbroken covenant of adoption, where He recognizes them as His “sons and daughters” and has told them so in an unbreakable bond. (Mosiah 27: 25.) Those who receive Him receive this oath from Him. And through it, He covenants with them, in a bond which He cannot break, that they are His sons and His daughters and heirs to all the Father has. (D&C 84: 35-40.) It will not be an imitation, which does not create “fruit” but it will be Him and His covenant. For “all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord.” (D&C 88: 35.) He will come to and “comfort” those with this covenant. (John 14: 18.) This is not by proxy, or through an appearance “in the heart” through some feeling, but is an actual appearance leading to an actual bond that cannot be broken, and therefore comforts the sojourner in this lone and dreary world. (John 14: 23; D&C 130: 3.)

Because there were no longer any who remained in the vineyard with this covenant, or who were adopted into the Family of God, or who were suitable to be preserved through the burning of the vineyard, the entire vineyard, from the first to the last, “had all become corrupt.” (5: 39.) Even in the best spot in the vineyard, “the wild fruit of the last had overcome that part of the tree which brought forth good fruit, even that the branch had withered away and died.” (5: 40.) The Nephite fall was complete. Nothing remained. All was wild and unsuitable, entirely corrupt.

At this terrible state of man “the Lord of the vineyard wept.” (5: 41.) The Lord’s work and glory is to produce fruit from His vineyard. (Moses 1: 39.) The Lord of the vineyard is not able to withhold His tears at our dreadful plight. He is moved with compassion for us. (Heb. 4: 15, see also Matt. 14: 14.)

As the Lord looked at the complete failure of the entire vineyard, He reflected with sorrow: “What could I have done more for my vineyard?” (5: 41.) The Lord does not fault us. He examines Himself. He begins His inventory of what went wrong with His own actions, not ours. We who rebel against Him are not faulted by Him. But He wonders how He might have been the better Lord. It ought to cause us to weep to realize who He really is, and what He really thinks.

Jacob 5: 34-37

The servant observes that the original group of people have been preserved by the efforts of the Lord. There is still a “root” which “have not perished” (5: 34.) The bloodline remains. The covenant can be renewed with them. While it would require work, the potential for reviving the failed family remains possible.

Despite the potential, the Lord of the vineyard has a more practical objective in mind. There must be actual saved souls, part of the Family of God, for the work of preserving souls to matter. “The tree profiteth me nothing, and the roots thereof profit me nothing so long as it shall bring forth evil fruit.” (5: 35.)

They have been preserved to allow for the possibility for a return of covenant Israel. (5: 36.) However, it must result in an actual return, the living tree bringing forth good fruit, children of promise, raised in righteousness, schooled by parents who will raise them to keep the ways of God as His people, for the effort to have been worthwhile. (Id.)

The root, and all the various manner of fruit which sprang from it, have “overrun the roots thereof” and only “evil fruit” was left. (5: 37.) Not just evil fruit, but “much evil fruit” was the result of this long apostasy from the original. (Id.) The overwhelming production of this vile product has overtaken the “root” so that the entire tree appears to “perish” and “it will soon become ripened, that it may be cast into the fire, unless” the Lord does something to alter the course it was following. (Id.)

Christianity failed in its original purpose. No one was being saved when the Lord considered His vineyard. Left to its own, the result would be universal destruction at His coming. He would burn the vineyard and remove all the various Christian offshoots claiming to have originated in the New Testament stock.

This allegory shows the need to separate ourselves from Historic Christianity. If we are part of it, then we are nothing worthy of being preserved. Like them, we should be gathered into bundles and cast into the fire.

When the Lord declared that “they were all wrong” and “that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight” and “that those professors were all corrupt” (JS-H 1: 19) He was confirming the allegory of Zenos and the prophecy of Jacob. This was the condition of the vineyard.

We should view the ambition of being considered part of that “abomination” and “wrong” “corruption” as an unworthy ambition. We are NOT (or at least should not) be part of the Historic Christian tradition. It is riddled with “much evil fruit” and the people who profess their creeds are “all corrupt.” Not in the sense that their hearts are vile, but in the sense that they do not comprehend what it means to be part of the Family of God, much less even occupy that association with Him. They are orphans, unconnected with the “living vine.” (John 15: 4-6.) Unless they occupy a family relationship with God, they are not His and will be gathered and burned at His coming.

Jacob 5: 27-33

The servant agreed with the pruning done by the Lord, but wanted to take the remaining branches after the pruning and to “nourish it a little longer, that perhaps it may bring forth good fruit.” (5: 27.) The Lord then  visited with the remaining tree branches, established His covenant with them, and made it possible for them to reconnect with covenant Israel and the Family of God. (3 Ne. 11: 8-17.)

This ministry succeeded in establishing fruit-bearing in that and several succeeding generations. [I gave a talk on the Nephite years of fruit-bearing which someone recorded and still distributes. I am not involved with that, having only given consent to allow it to happen. The CD’s are sold for a modest amount, and the proceeds are used for supporting missionaries (I don’t even handle any of the money). It is the “Zion” CD (I don’t recall the actual title used) and I think you can get it from Confetti Bookstore in Spanish Fork. I won’t repeat that information again, but mention it because it is relevant to the subject of the Nephite people producing fruit for the Lord of the vineyard.]

In each of the places the Lord put the scattered branches, the Lord and His servants visited and labored. (5: 28.) This was a global post-resurrection ministry. He told the Nephites (3 Ne. 16: 1-3) and Jacob’s older brother, Nephi about it. (2 Ne. 29: 12-13). All of these places in the vineyard began to bear fruit.

Another “long time had passed away” in the vineyard. The end was drawing near, and so it was necessary to recheck the vineyard. The momentum of the Lord’s prior ministry needed to be checked again. When the natural tree root, with its grafted branches was checked, there was “all sorts of fruit” that “did cumber the tree.” (5: 30.) There were Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Campbellites, and an hundred other sorts of fruit on the tree root’s branches. But when the Lord “tasted the fruit” (5: 31) He found that “none of it was good.” (5: 32.)

There was nothing left of the Family of Israel in the original root and its associated branches: “they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.'” (JS-H 1: 19.)

The Lord’s reaction is telling. He immediately wondered “What shall we do unto the tree, that I may preserve again good fruit thereof unto my own self?” (5: 33.) The Lord is neither an optimist nor a pessimist. He is a pragmatic laborer. It is not about blame, only about taking the required next step to rehabilitate the cumbered and unprofitable tree. God’s ways are indeed higher. (Isa. 55: 9.)

An Interruption of Jacob

The Jacob 5 discussion will resume Monday. This is a current-events comment:

The City Creek multi-billion dollar project has excited a lot of criticism. The result has been dismay by many faithful Latter-day Saints. Their anxiety over the project has become the subject of many conversations on the Internet.

To grapple with this outpouring of criticism and in some cases disgust, the church has paid employees and volunteers who post on-line responses using personas, or anonymous identities to beat back those who express concern. Many of the multiple personas are put up by the same church employee.

The arguments advanced by those who are concerned about the investment in the City Creek shopping center most often cite scripture. Their observations are based on sincere belief, supported by positions taken from scripture study, and reflect honest concern. The defense is based on the concept of supporting the leadership, sustaining the church’s prophet, and uses comments taken from church talks, sermons, etc.

The gulf between these two positions is one of the great divisions in the church today. The numbers of those holding these two positions are not equal, however. The one is held by sincere, believing members of the church who honestly disagree with the use of these funds for this elaborate, costly project. The other is advanced for the most part by paid employees or volunteers who are doing so using multiple personas to justify the church’s conduct.

In the realm of political debate, the production of artificial arguments by personas has been termed “astroturf” because it is not real. The artificial “astroturf” is in contrast to the grassroots movement of people. When enough “astroturf” has been sent out by the political machines, the grassroots will often respond. What began as fiction, or hope, turns into actual public opinion. The political parties and big business employ these techniques all the time now.

Interestingly, there are those inside the church’s organized effort who do not believe the arguments they are advancing. Some of them have been persuaded the church’s position is in fact wrong. They continue to make the arguments. It is their job. But they do not believe in the position they advance.

It is a fascinating moment to watch. It will be equally interesting to see if conference visitors from around the United States and the world visit the City Creek project and return dismayed, or return home gratified to see this expensive investment by the church.

I’d like readers to note I’ve not taken a position in this post. It does not deal with anything other than the events unfolding and how the reactions are being advanced and defended. Nothing more.

Jacob 5: 19-26

After establishing good fruit in the original root, the Lord of the vineyard visited the scattered branches in “the nethermost part of the vineyard.” (5: 19-20; see also 3 Ne. 16: 1-3.) The Lord of the vineyard was satisfied that in each of the places where the natural branches were scattered, good fruit had returned. (5: 20, see also 2 Ne. 29: 12.)

Whether it was the “poorest spot in all the land of the vineyard” or another place “poorer than the first” it did not matter. The result was good fruit. (5: 20-21; 23.) The servant was dismayed at the locations to which the Lord had taken the scattered branches. In perplexity he inquired: “How comest thou hither to plant this tree, or this branch of the tree? For behold, it was the poorest spot…?” (5: 21.) The servant was surprised to know the Lord of the vineyard would go to visit these poor places. It seemed beneath the Lord to have ministered in such humble, far flung lands, among such woebegotten peoples. But the Lord has “descended below them all” (D&C 122: 7-8) and found no indignity in visiting with such humble people in diminished circumstances. It may well have been because of the difficulty of the circumstances that fruit was produced. (Alma 32: 12-13.)

As if to confirm that difficulties are a blessing to His vine, when they get to the “good spot of ground,” the transplanted branches have produced conflicting fruit. In this most chosen land of all, the brothers were divided, and fought in continual ethnic-cultural-religious warfare for generations between themselves. Part of these branches produced good fruit, but part was corrupt and wild. (5: 25.) Although this was the best spot in the vineyard, and although the Lord of the vineyard had “nourished this tree like unto the others” it was still half corrupt. (Id.) This tree required pruning.

The Lord decided to “Pluck off the branches that have not brought forth good fruit, and cast them into the fire.” (5: 26.) Accordingly, nature itself removed the branches: “And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth. And behold, the rocks were rent in twain; they were broken up upon the face of the whole earth, insomuch that they were found in broken fragments, and in seams and in cracks, upon all the face of the land. And it came to pass that when the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the storm, and the tempest, and the quakings of the earth did cease—for behold, they did last for about the space of three hours; and it was said by some that the time was greater; nevertheless, all these great and terrible things were done in about the space of three hours—and then behold, there was darkness upon the face of the land.” (3 Ne. 8: 17-19.)

The pruning then, like the Lord of the vineyard’s pruning at any time, was targeted and specific. It is designed to remove only the branches worthy of destruction. The righteous do not need to fear. Those who reject the prophets sent to them, reject the prophets’ message, and give no heed to the prophets, need to fear. (3 Ne. 10: 12-14.) The message of Jacob comes full circle. He returns to his earlier theme, when he promised the righteous they would be spared. (See 2 Ne. 6: 18, and the prior post Nephi’s Brother Jacob, Part 7.) He is consistent.