Tag Archives: Gospel

The Charted Course of the Church in Education

25 Jun

President J. Reuben Clark’s “The Charted Course of the Church in Education

Address to seminary and institute of religion leaders at the Brigham Young University summer school in Aspen Grove, Utah, on 8 August 1938

The Charted Course of the Church in EducationIt would be well for every teacher of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to study, understand, and apply President J. Reuben Clark’s summation of the responsibilities teachers have to the Church, its mission, and to students. How well are you implementing the principle’s defined in “The Charted Course“?

Those who wish to fully understand the “content” of this seminal sermon should seek to understand also the “context” in which it was given. “The Chicago Experiment: Finding the Voice and Charting the Course of Religious Education in the Church” is a wonderful resource for understanding the great need for this message when it was originally given. Today one only need be “quick to observe” to understand it’s current relevance in church education.

CLICK HERE for a full reenactment of this talk

President J. Reuben ClarkAs a school boy I was thrilled with the great debate between those two giants, Webster and Hayne. The beauty of their oratory, the sublimity of Webster’s lofty expression of patriotism, the forecast of the civil struggle to come for the mastery of freedom over slavery, all stirred me to the very depths. The debate began over the Foot Resolution concerning the public lands. It developed into consideration of great fundamental problems of constitutional law. I have never forgotten the opening paragraph of Webster’s reply, by which he brought back to its place of beginning this debate that had drifted so far from its course. That paragraph reads:

Mr. President: When the mariner has been tossed for many days in thick weather, and on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun, to take his latitude, and ascertain how far the elements have driven him from his true course. Let us imitate this prudence, and, before we float farther on the waves of this debate, refer to the point from which we departed, that we may at least be able to conjecture where we now are. I ask for the reading of the resolution.

Now I hasten to express the hope that you will not think that I think this is a Webster-Hayne occasion or that I think I am a Daniel Webster. If you were to think those things—either of them—you would make a grievous mistake. I admit I am old, but I am not that old. But Webster seemed to invoke so sensible a procedure for occasions where, after wandering on the high seas or in the wilderness, effort is to be made to get back to the place of starting, that I thought you would excuse me if I invoked and in a way used this same procedure to restate some of the more outstanding and essential fundamentals underlying our Church school education.

The following are to me those fundamentals:

The Church is the organized priesthood of God. The priesthood can exist without the Church, but the Church cannot exist without the priesthood. The mission of the Church is first, to teach, encourage, assist, and protect the individual member in his striving to live the perfect life, temporally and spiritually, as laid down in the Gospels, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” by the Master (Matthew 5:48). Secondly, the Church is to maintain, teach, encourage, and protect, temporally and spiritually, the membership as a group in its living of the gospel. Thirdly, the Church is militantly to proclaim the truth, calling upon all men to repent, and to live in obedience to the gospel, for every knee must bow and every tongue confess (see Mosiah 27:31).

In all this there are for the Church, and for each and all of its members, two prime things which may not be overlooked, forgotten, shaded, or discarded:

First—that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, the Creator of the world, the Lamb of God, the Sacrifice for the sins of the world, the Atoner for Adam’s transgression; that He was crucified; that His spirit left His body; that He died; that He was laid away in the tomb; that on the third day His spirit was reunited with His body, which again became a living being; that He was raised from the tomb a resurrected being, a perfect Being, the First Fruits of the Resurrection; that He later ascended to the Father; and that because of His death and by and through His resurrection every man born into the world since the beginning will be likewise literally resurrected. This doctrine is as old as the world. Job declared:

And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:26–27).

The resurrected body is a body of flesh and bones and spirit, and Job was uttering a great and everlasting truth. These positive facts, and all other facts necessarily implied therein, must all be honestly believed, in full faith, by every member of the Church.

The second of the two things to which we must all give full faith is that the Father and the Son actually and in truth and very deed appeared to the Prophet Joseph in a vision in the woods; that other heavenly visions followed to Joseph and to others; that the gospel and the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God were in truth and fact restored to the earth from which they were lost by the apostasy of the primitive Church; that the Lord again set up His Church, through the agency of Joseph Smith; that the Book of Mormon is just what it professes to be; that to the Prophet came numerous revelations for the guidance, upbuilding, organization, and encouragement of the Church and its members; that the Prophet’s successors, likewise called of God, have received revelations as the needs of the Church have required, and that they will continue to receive revelations as the Church and its members, living the truth they already have, shall stand in need of more; that this is in truth The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and that its foundation beliefs are the laws and principles laid down in the Articles of Faith. These facts also, and each of them, together with all things necessarily implied therein or flowing therefrom, must stand, unchanged, unmodified, without dilution, excuse, apology, or avoidance; they may not be explained away or submerged. Without these two great beliefs the Church would cease to be the Church.

Any individual who does not accept the fulness of these doctrines as to Jesus of Nazareth or as to the restoration of the gospel and holy priesthood is not a Latter-day Saint; the hundreds of thousands of faithful, God-fearing men and women who compose the great body of the Church membership do believe these things fully and completely, and they support the Church and its institutions because of this belief.

I have set out these matters because they are the latitude and longitude of the actual location and position of the Church, both in this world and in eternity. Knowing our true position, we can change our bearings if they need changing; we can lay down anew our true course. And here we may wisely recall that Paul said:

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:8).

Returning to the Webster-Hayne precedent, I have now finished reading the original resolution.

As I have already said, I am to say something about the religious education of the youth of the Church. I shall bring together what I have to say under two general headings—the student and the teacher. I shall speak very frankly, for we have passed the place where we may wisely talk in ambiguous words and veiled phrases. We must say plainly what we mean, because the future of our youth, both here on earth and in the hereafter, as also the welfare of the whole Church, are at stake.

The youth of the Church, your students, are in great majority sound in thought and in spirit. The problem primarily is to keep them sound, not to convert them.

The youth of the Church are hungry for things of the Spirit; they are eager to learn the gospel, and they want it straight, undiluted. They want to know about the fundamentals I have just set out—about our beliefs; they want to gain testimonies of their truth. They are not now doubters but inquirers, seekers after truth. Doubt must not be planted in their hearts. Great is the burden and the condemnation of any teacher who sows doubt in a trusting soul.

These students crave the faith their fathers and mothers have; they want it in its simplicity and purity. There are few indeed who have not seen the manifestations of its divine power. They wish to be not only the beneficiaries of this faith, but they want to be themselves able to call it forth to work.

They want to believe in the ordinances of the gospel; they wish to understand them so far as they may.

They are prepared to understand the truth, which is as old as the gospel and which was expressed thus by Paul (a master of logic and metaphysics unapproached by the modern critics who decry all religion):

For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God (1 Corinthians 2:11–12).

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5).

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law (Galatians 5:16–18).

Our youth understand, too, the principle declared in modern revelation:

Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation (D&C 58:3).

By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God …

And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about.

And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness;

And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever.

And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—

That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God …

And while we were yet in the Spirit, the Lord commanded us that we should write the vision (D&C 76:12, 19–24, 28).

These students are prepared, too, to understand what Moses meant when he declared:

But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him (Moses 1:11).

These students are prepared to believe and understand that all these things are matters of faith, not to be explained or understood by any process of human reason, and probably not by any experiment of known physical science.

These students (to put the matter shortly) are prepared to understand and to believe that there is a natural world and there is a spiritual world; that the things of the natural world will not explain the things of the spiritual world; that the things of the spiritual world cannot be understood or comprehended by the things of the natural world; that you cannot rationalize the things of the Spirit, because first, the things of the Spirit are not sufficiently known and comprehended, and secondly, because finite mind and reason cannot comprehend nor explain infinite wisdom and ultimate truth.

These students already know that they must be “honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and [do] good to all men” and that “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things” (Articles of Faith 1:13)—these things they have been taught from very birth. They should be encouraged in all proper ways to do these things which they know to be true, but they do not need to have a year’s course of instruction to make them believe and know them.

These students fully sense the hollowness of teachings that would make the gospel plan a mere system of ethics. They know that Christ’s teachings are in the highest degree ethical, but they also know they are more than this. They will see that ethics relate primarily to the doings of this life, and that to make of the gospel a mere system of ethics is to confess a lack of faith, if not a disbelief, in the hereafter. They know that the gospel teachings not only touch this life, but the life that is to come, with its salvation and exaltation as the final goal.

These students hunger and thirst, as did their fathers before them, for a testimony of the things of the Spirit and of the hereafter, and knowing that you cannot rationalize eternity, they seek faith and the knowledge which follows faith. They sense, by the Spirit they have, that the testimony they seek is engendered and nurtured by the testimony of others, and that to gain this testimony which they seek for, one living, burning, honest testimony of a righteous God-fearing man that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph was God’s prophet, is worth a thousand books and lectures aimed at debasing the gospel to a system of ethics or seeking to rationalize infinity.

Two thousand years ago the Master said:

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? (Matthew 7:9–10).

These students, born under the covenant, can understand that age and maturity and intellectual training are not in any way or to any degree necessary to communion with the Lord and His Spirit. They know the story of the youth Samuel in the temple, of Jesus at twelve years confounding the doctors in the temple, of Joseph at fourteen seeing God the Father and the Son in one of the most glorious visions ever beheld by man. They are not as were the Corinthians, of whom Paul said:

I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able (1 Corinthians 3:2).

They are rather as was Paul himself when he declared to the same Corinthians:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11).

These students as they come to you are spiritually working on toward a maturity which they will early reach if you but feed them the right food. They come to you possessing spiritual knowledge and experience the world does not know.

So much for your students and what they are and what they expect and what they are capable of. I am telling you the things that some of you teachers have told me, and that many of your youth have told me.

May I now say a few words to you teachers? In the first place, there is neither reason nor is there excuse for our Church religious teaching and training facilities and institutions unless the youth are to be taught and trained in the principles of the gospel, embracing therein the two great elements that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph was God’s prophet. The teaching of a system of ethics to the students is not a sufficient reason for running our seminaries and institutes. The great public school system teaches ethics. The students of seminaries and institutes should of course be taught the ordinary canons of good and righteous living, for these are part, and an essential part, of the gospel. But there are the great principles involved in eternal life, the priesthood, the Resurrection, and many like other things, that go way beyond these canons of good living. These great fundamental principles also must be taught to the youth; they are the things the youth wish first to know about.

The first requisite of a teacher for teaching these principles is a personal testimony of their truth. No amount of learning, no amount of study, and no number of scholastic degrees can take the place of this testimony, which is the sine qua non of the teacher in our Church school system. No teacher who does not have a real testimony of the truth of the gospel as revealed to and believed by the Latter-day Saints, and a testimony of the Sonship and Messiahship of Jesus, and of the divine mission of Joseph Smith—including, in all its reality, the First Vision—has any place in the Church school system. If there be any such, and I hope and pray there are none, he should at once resign; if the Commissioner knows of any such and he does not resign, the Commissioner should request his resignation. The First Presidency expect this pruning to be made.

This does not mean that we would cast out such teachers from the Church—not at all. We shall take up with them a labor of love, in all patience and long-suffering, to win them to the knowledge to which as God-fearing men and women they are entitled. But this does mean that our Church schools cannot be manned by unconverted, untestimonied teachers.

But for you teachers the mere possession of a testimony is not enough. You must have, besides this, one of the rarest and most precious of all the many elements of human character—moral courage. For in the absence of moral courage to declare your testimony, it will reach the students only after such dilution as will make it difficult if not impossible for them to detect it; and the spiritual and psychological effect of a weak and vacillating testimony may well be actually harmful instead of helpful.

The successful seminary or institute teacher must also possess another of the rare and valuable elements of character, a twin brother of moral courage and often mistaken for it. I mean intellectual courage—the courage to affirm principles, beliefs, and faith that may not always be considered as harmonizing with such knowledge, scientific or otherwise, as the teacher or his educational colleagues may believe they possess.

Not unknown are cases where men of presumed faith, holding responsible positions, have felt that, since by affirming their full faith they might call down upon themselves the ridicule of their unbelieving colleagues, they must either modify or explain away their faith, or destructively dilute it, or even pretend to cast it away. Such are hypocrites to their colleagues and to their co-religionists.

An object of pity (not of scorn, as some would have it) is that man or woman who, having the truth and knowing it, finds it necessary either to repudiate the truth or to compromise with error in order that he may live with or among unbelievers without subjecting himself to their disfavor or derision as he supposes. Tragic indeed is his place, for the real fact is that all such discardings and shadings in the end bring the very punishments that the weak-willed one sought to avoid. For there is nothing the world so values and reveres as the man who, having righteous convictions, stands for them in any and all circumstances; there is nothing toward which the world turns more contempt than the man who, having righteous convictions, either slips away from them, abandons them, or repudiates them. For any Latter-day Saint psychologist, chemist, physicist, geologist, archeologist, or any other scientist, to explain away, or misinterpret, or evade or elude, or most of all, to repudiate or to deny the great fundamental doctrines of the Church in which he professes to believe, is to give the lie to his intellect, to lose his self-respect, to bring sorrow to his friends, to break the hearts and bring shame to his parents, to besmirch the Church and its members, and to forfeit the respect and honor of those whom he has sought, by his course, to win as friends and helpers.

I prayerfully hope there may not be any such among the teachers of the Church school system, but if there are any such, high or low, they must travel the same route as the teacher without the testimony. Sham and pretext and evasion and hypocrisy have, and can have, no place in the Church school system or in the character building and spiritual growth of our youth.

Another thing that must be watched in our Church institutions is this: It must not be possible for men to keep positions of spiritual trust who, not being converted themselves, being really unbelievers, seek to turn aside the beliefs, education, and activities of our youth, and our aged also, from the ways they should follow into other paths of education, beliefs, and activities which (though leading where the unbeliever would go) do not bring us to places where the gospel would take us. That this works as a conscience-balm to the unbeliever who directs it is of no importance. This is the grossest betrayal of trust; and there is too much reason to think it has happened.

I wish to mention another thing that has happened in other lines, as a caution against the same thing happening in the Church Educational System. On more than one occasion our Church members have gone to other places for special training in particular lines. They have had the training which was supposedly the last word, the most modern view, the ne plus ultra of up-to-dateness; then they have brought it back and dosed it upon us without any thought as to whether we needed it or not. I refrain from mentioning well-known and, I believe, well-recognized instances of this sort of thing. I do not wish to wound any feelings.

But before trying on the newest fangled ideas in any line of thought, education, activity, or what not, experts should just stop and consider that however backward they think we are, and however backward we may actually be in some things, in other things we are far out in the lead, and therefore these new methods may be old, if not worn out, with us.

In whatever relates to community life and activity in general, to clean group social amusement and entertainment, to closely knit and carefully directed religious worship and activity, to a positive, clear-cut, faith-promoting spirituality, to a real, everyday, practical religion, to a firm-fixed desire and acutely sensed need for faith in God, we are far in the van of on-marching humanity. Before effort is made to inoculate us with new ideas, experts should kindly consider whether the methods used to spur community spirit or build religious activities among groups that are decadent and maybe dead to these things are quite applicable to us, and whether their effort to impose these upon us is not a rather crude, even gross anachronism.

For example, to apply to our spiritually minded and religiously alert youth a plan evolved to teach religion to youth having no interest or concern in matters of the Spirit would not only fail in meeting our actual religious needs, but would tend to destroy the best qualities which our youth now possess.

I have already indicated that our youth are not children spiritually; they are well on toward the normal spiritual maturity of the world. To treat them as children spiritually, as the world might treat the same age group, is therefore and likewise an anachronism. I say once more, there is scarcely a youth that comes through your seminary or institute door who has not been the conscious beneficiary of spiritual blessings, or who has not seen the efficacy of prayer, or who has not witnessed the power of faith to heal the sick, or who has not beheld spiritual outpourings of which the world at large is today ignorant. You do not have to sneak up behind this spiritually experienced youth and whisper religion in his ears; you can come right out, face to face, and talk with him. You do not need to disguise religious truths with a cloak of worldly things; you can bring these truths to him openly, in their natural guise. Youth may prove to be not more fearful of them than you are. There is no need for gradual approaches, for “bedtime” stories, for coddling, for patronizing, or for any of the other childish devices used in efforts to reach those spiritually inexperienced and all but spiritually dead.

You teachers have a great mission. As teachers you stand upon the highest peak in education, for what teaching can compare in priceless value and in far-reaching effect with that which deals with man as he was in the eternity of yesterday, as he is in the mortality of today, and as he will be in the forever of tomorrow. Not only time but eternity is your field. Salvation of yourself not only, but of those who come within the purlieus of your temple is the blessing you seek, and which, doing your duty, you will gain. How brilliant will be your crown of glory, with each soul saved an encrusted jewel thereon.

But to get this blessing and to be so crowned, you must, I say once more, you must teach the gospel. You have no other function and no other reason for your presence in a Church school system.

You do have an interest in matters purely cultural and in matters of purely secular knowledge, but, I repeat again for emphasis, your chief interest, your essential and all but sole duty, is to teach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ as that has been revealed in these latter days. You are to teach this gospel, using as your sources and authorities the standard works of the Church and the words of those whom God has called to lead His people in these last days. You are not, whether high or low, to intrude into your work your own peculiar philosophy, no matter what its source or how pleasing or rational it seems to you to be. To do so would be to have as many different churches as we have seminaries—and that is chaos.

You are not, whether high or low, to change the doctrines of the Church or to modify them as they are declared by and in the standard works of the Church and by those whose authority it is to declare the mind and will of the Lord to the Church. The Lord has declared that he is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (2 Nephi 27:23).

I urge you not to fall into that childish error, so common now, of believing that merely because man has gone so far in harnessing the forces of nature and turning them to his own use that therefore the truths of the Spirit have been changed or transformed. It is a vital and significant fact that man’s conquest of the things of the Spirit has not marched side by side with his conquest of things material. The opposite sometimes seems to be true. Man’s power to reason has not matched his power to figure. Remember always and cherish the great truth of the Intercessory Prayer:

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3).

This is an ultimate truth; so are all spiritual truths. They are not changed by the discovery of a new element, a new ethereal wave, nor by clipping off a few seconds, minutes, or hours of a speed record.

You are not to teach the philosophies of the world, ancient or modern, pagan or Christian, for this is the field of the public schools. Your sole field is the gospel, and that is boundless in its own sphere.

We pay taxes to support those state institutions whose function and work it is to teach the arts, the sciences, literature, history, the languages, and so on through the whole secular curriculum. These institutions are to do this work. But we use the tithes of the Church to carry on the Church school system, and these are impressed with a holy trust. The Church seminaries and institutes are to teach the gospel.

In thus stating this function time and time again, and with such continued insistence as I have done, it is fully appreciated that carrying out the function may involve the matter of “released time” for our seminaries and institutes. But our course is clear. If we cannot teach the gospel, the doctrines of the Church, and the standard works of the Church, all of them, on “released time” in our seminaries and institutes, then we must face giving up “released time” and try to work out some other plan of carrying on the gospel work in those institutions. If to work out some other plan be impossible, we shall face the abandonment of the seminaries and institutes and the return to Church colleges and academies. We are not now sure, in the light of developments, that these should ever have been given up.

We are clear upon this point, namely, that we shall not feel justified in appropriating one further tithing dollar to the upkeep of our seminaries and institutes of religion unless they can be used to teach the gospel in the manner prescribed. The tithing represents too much toil, too much self-denial, too much sacrifice, too much faith, to be used for the colorless instruction of the youth of the Church in elementary ethics. This decision and situation must be faced when the next budget is considered. In saying this, I am speaking for the First Presidency.

All that has been said regarding the character of religious teaching, and the results which in the very nature of things must follow a failure properly to teach the gospel, applies with full and equal force to seminaries, to institutes, and to any and every other educational institution belonging to the Church school system.

The First Presidency earnestly solicit the wholehearted help and cooperation of all you men and women who, from your work on the firing line, know so well the greatness of the problem that faces us and which so vitally and intimately affects the spiritual health and the salvation of our youth, as also the future welfare of the whole Church. We need you; the Church needs you; the Lord needs you. Restrain not yourselves, nor withhold your helping hand.

In closing, I wish to pay a humble but sincere tribute to teachers. Having worked my own way through school—high school, college, and professional school—I know something of the hardship and sacrifice this demands; but I know also the growth and satisfaction that come as we reach the end. So I stand here with a knowledge of how many, perhaps most of you, have come to your present place. Furthermore, for a time I tried, without much success, to teach school, so I know also the feelings of those of us teachers who do not make the first grade and must rest in the lower ones.

I know the present amount of actual compensation you get and how very sparse it is—far, far too sparse. I wish from the bottom of my heart we could make it greater; but the drain on the Church income is already so great for education that I must in honesty say there is no immediate prospect for betterment. Our budget for this school year is $860,000, or almost 17 percent of the estimated total cost of running the whole Church, including general administration, stakes, wards, branches, and mission expenses, for all purposes, including welfare and charities. Indeed, I wish I felt sure that the prosperity of the people would be so ample that they could and would certainly pay tithes enough to keep us going as we are.

So I pay my tribute to your industry, your loyalty, your sacrifice, your willing eagerness for service in the cause of truth, your faith in God and in His work, and your earnest desire to do the things that our ordained leader and prophet would have you do. And I entreat you not to make the mistake of thrusting aside your leader’s counsel, or of failing to carry out his wish, or of refusing to follow his direction. David of old, privily cutting off only the skirt of Saul’s robe, uttered the cry of a smitten heart:

The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord (1 Samuel 24:6).

May God bless you always in all your righteous endeavors. May He quicken your understanding, increase your wisdom, enlighten you by experience, bestow upon you patience, charity, and, as among your most precious gifts, endow you with the discernment of spirits that you may certainly know the spirit of righteousness and its opposite as they come to you. May He give you entrance to the hearts of those you teach and then make you know that as you enter there you stand in holy places that must be neither polluted nor defiled, either by false or corrupting doctrine or by sinful misdeed. May He enrich your knowledge with the skill and power to teach righteousness. May your faith and your testimonies increase, and your ability to encourage and foster them in others grow greater every day—all that the youth of Zion may be taught, built up, encouraged, heartened, that they may not fall by the wayside, but go on to eternal life, that these blessings coming to them, you through them may be blessed also. And I pray all this in the name of Him who died that we might live, the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, Jesus Christ, amen.

Easter with Peter

31 Mar

My name is Simon, the son of Jonah. My brother is Andrew. He and I were fishermen from Galilee turned fishers of men by Jesus of Nazareth. You probably know me better as Peter (Cephas). The Savior gave me this name as we stood before the idol-encrusted banks of Caesarea Philippi. I had just born witness of His divinity as the Christ—our promised Messiah, the long-awaited Savior of the world—the Son of God. The Holy Spirit had testified to me of His divinity on many occasions, and within the week He bestowed the Keys of the Kingdom upon me. He gently tutored me and prepared me to become His Chief Apostle. The scriptures recount some of my mortal weaknesses, but they also tell of how I overcame them and was made strong by my faith in Jesus Christ.

Today I want to share with you my experience with Jesus the Christ during “The Greatest Week in History”, His final week in mortality. Without the events of that week, particularly those which took place in the Garden of Gethsemane and at the time of the resurrection, everything else is virtually meaningless.

Unfortunately, much of the world has created an Easter season that is meaningless. A bunny has replaced a God and eggs have replaced the “good news” of the gospel. The world has taken the Savior’s Holy Day and created a holiday. In the English language there is only a one-letter difference between the words Holy Day and holiday. That one letter, an “I” in “holiday” and a “Y” in Holy Day, make all the difference when commemorating Easter. Those who make it a “holiday” will focus on the “I”, the “me”—a selfish season. The one who makes it a “Holy Day” will focus on the “Y”, the “W-H-Y” of this season—a Savior-centered reason for the season. My purpose in sharing the Easter story with you is to inspire you to preserve it a Holy Day.

The first thing that you need to know is that Jesus Christ lives! And because He lives, we shall live again also. “Death is conqueredMan is free. Christ hath won the victory!” The events of Jesus’ final week comprise 33% of the four Gospels and 15% of the entire New Testament. During the next few minutes, I will share with you some of these events in an attempt to center your attention to the true meaning of Easter, increase your testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ, and deepen your conversion to His gospel.

That significant week began as none other I had ever experienced. We had spent three years together, but I had never before seen such a reception for the Master. It was during Pesach—the Passover season as you refer to it in English. Jerusalem was filled with the faithful who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the holy feasts. On this particular Sunday, the first day of the greatest week in history, the Savior left the small village of Bethany, where he had spent Saturday, the Sabbath, with our friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. We ascended the slopes leading toward Jerusalem, less than three miles away. Near the village of Bethphage, the Lord stopped and had us bring a colt that was prepared for His Triumphal Entry to the Holy City—just as the prophet Zechariah had foretold. “A very great multitude” had come out to greet the Master, spreading their garments and branches of trees before Him and crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” All of these acts were symbols of reverence, and the use of the title “Son of David” indicated that the multitude accepted Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah, for this was the sacred title reserved for the Savior. Their shouts of “Hosanna” (“Save now”) were misdirected as they thought more on their temporal deliverance than on their spiritual salvation. He was indeed their King and Savior, but not the king they had expected—Jesus was never what we expected Him to be, but He was always what His Father expected Him to be. The tragic mistake made by the believing Jews at that time was that they expected the Savior to do at His first coming some of the things that He was to do at His Second Coming. They almost certainly expected Him to ride on His royal colt toward the Antonia Fortress or Herod’s Palace and assume His rightful place as ruler of Israel. Instead, He went directly to the Holy Temple and took note of what He saw.

It was not until later in the week, after the Savior had made such statements as “Render … unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” and “My kingdom is not of this world” that the people were to change their cries from “Hosanna to the Son of David” to “Crucify him!” It was not until later in the week that the believers among the common people felt He had betrayed them; therefore they agreed to betray Him.

Early the next morning we returned with Jesus to the Holy Temple.  This time He made a decisive drive calculated to challenge the Jewish religious leadership. He drove from the outer court of the temple those who were trading and making money exchange from foreign currency. The money exchange was sanctioned by the Jewish leaders; and by preventing the merchandising, Jesus was in effect challenging their leadership. The issue was clear: Was the temple to be a place to worship God or to pursue gain? As he cleared the temple courts, he said, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves”.  It was three years to the week from the first time the Savior had driven the money changers from the temple. On that occasion, he had accused them of making his “Father’s house an house of merchandise.” On this occasion, now that he has openly avowed himself to be the Messiah, the Savior refers to the temple as “my house” when he quotes the scriptures. Before the week was over, the Master said to the rebellious residents of Jerusalem concerning the temple, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” His shift in the words showing possession is noteworthy. As He taught us in the temple, the blind and the lame came unto Him and He healed them. That evening we returned again to Bethany.

Jesus’ actions and teachings in the temple raised the issue of authority, and both the secular and religious leaders felt threatened. They determined they would challenge Him and discredit Him in the eyes of the people. They spent their time devising taunting questions with which they desired to disgrace Him. The priests challenged him: “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?”. Jesus responded by relating a series of parables that offended them. The scribes and Pharisees challenged him with similarly snide subjects. The Savior turned questioner and asked them: “What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?” Their prompt reply was, “The Son of David.” He responded, “How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord. … If David then call Him Lord, how is He his son? And no man was able to answer Him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask Him any more questions.” The Savior then turned to us, in the hearing of the multitude, and told us of the false teachings and practices of the scribes and the Pharisees. He frequently used the word hypocrite— a word meaning “actor on a stage”—in referring to the self-assumed teachers, and he concluded His condemnation by referring to them as “serpents” and a “generation of vipers.” The Savior then lamented over the great city of Jerusalem, reminding the people of the many prophets who had been sent to this area, and how frequently the people had rejected these prophets. He also pronounced the destruction that was yet to come upon the people and upon the temple, stating “there shall not be left here one stone upon another.” Perceiving that Jesus had gained the upper hand, the Jewish leaders consulted again how they might bring about His death. They would have to move quickly before the Passover to avoid a riot, however, since Jesus had become very popular with the Jewish people. How to bring about an arrest without provoking crowd reaction was the problem. An unexpected turn of events that took place supported their plot—one of Jesus’ own Apostles offered to betray Him. Next, the Savior went to the Mount of Olives where we met with Him privately and asked Him to explain His prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the ensuing events that were to follow until the end of the world. After answering our questions, the Savior concluded His teachings with three parables intended to help us prepare for His Second Coming. We then returned with the Savior to Bethany and He prepared for His trying ordeal ahead.

Jesus knew of the plot that was unfolding in Jerusalem and we spent the next day away from the city.

Sometime during the following day (we assume) Judas Iscariot plotted with the chief priests and the Pharisees to betray the Master and deliver Him into their hands. Jesus had arranged to commemorate the Passover meal in a home privately reserved for us. Here Jesus prophesied of His death. Here it was revealed that Judas Iscariot should be the one who was to betray Him. Here the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was instituted. Here the Savior washed our feet and asked us to continue to perform this ordinance. The Savior reminded us that He was soon to leave us, yet He would not leave us comfortless but would send us the “other Comforter,” the Holy Ghost. Leaving the upper room with the eleven (Judas had already left) Jesus led us outside the walls of Jerusalem to a familiar spot on the Mount of Olives—Gethsemane, the olive press—one of God’s great gardens. This is where one of the most important and transcendent events in the history of the world occurred. It was here that He atoned for the original transgressions of “Father Adam, the Ancient of Days and father of us all, and our glorious Mother Eve”, and it was here that He took upon Himself the sins of all mankind upon the condition of repentance. The events in the Garden of Gethsemane that evening and what happened in the next three days were so significant that the Savior exclaimed, “… for this cause came I unto this hour.” After some instructions, Jesus offered His great intercessory prayer on our behalf. Then taking me, James, and John, He went further into the Garden where He then left the three of us and went off by Himself to pray. There He pled with His Father, “let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” The cup did not pass and Jesus suffered “the pain of all men”, an agony so excruciating that it caused Him to bleed at every pore. It was during His time of great suffering that I and my brethren succumbed to weariness and were not able to wait, and pray, and watch with Him in His time of need. Some time later Jesus returned to us and indicated that His betrayer was at hand. While He spoke, the Savior was met by Judas and “the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders” who had come to take Him to trial. I tried to deliver Him from their hands, but the Savior rebuked me and faced His future with faithfulness. I followed from a distance as I witnessed the awful events of that night which included an illegal trial before the high priest (Caiaphas) and the Jewish high council (the Sanhedrin), where He was first charged with sedition (a disturber of the peace) and then accused of blasphemy (falsely assuming the power of God), which was the most serious charge in Jewish law. When He was asked directly, “Tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God”, His answer was clear, “I am.” The apostate high priest cried out, “He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? … He is guilty of death.” Thus, one of the greatest ironies in history occurred, for Jesus, the divine Son of God, the one person who could not have been guilty of falsely assuming the power of God, was found guilty of blasphemy! And the only person since the fall of Adam who had power over physical death was condemned to die! However, the power to pronounce capital punishment had been taken away from the Jewish council by Roman decree; thus the leaders of the Sanhedrin had Him delivered to Pilate so an official decree of death could be issued. It was during this time that I suffered one of the most difficult moments of my life. I “wept bitterly” when the Lord looked upon me as His prophecy that I would deny Him thrice before the cock crowed was fulfilled.

The ensuing morning, the Savior was brought to trial before Pontius Pilate, the procurator of Judea who lived in Caesarea but who happened to be in Jerusalem for the Jewish feasts of Passover. Pilate came outside to hear their charges. The charge was now changed from blasphemy to high treason, the most serious offense in the Roman law. To back their charge of treason against the Savior, the members of the Sanhedrin falsely claimed the Master had forbidden the people to give tribute to Caesar (His actual words were, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”), and they also accused Him of making Himself a king. When Pilate asked the Savior directly, “Art thou the king of the Jews?” the Savior answered, “My kingdom is not of this world”. Thus finding “no fault” in Him, Pilate was about to let Him go free when one of the priests claimed that Jesus had been teaching treason “beginning from Galilee to this place.” As soon as Pilate was reminded that Jesus was a Galilean, he sent the Savior to be tried by Herod, the vassal ruler of the province of Galilee, who was also in Jerusalem for the Pesach season. However, the Savior refused to answer any of the questions put to Him by Herod—He would not put on the show that Herod desired. So Jesus was taken again before Pilate by the members of the Sanhedrin, who were determined to have a death sentence pronounced against Him. Pilate could still find no fault in the Master and so declared, “I will … chastise him, and release him.” Pilate also reminded the Jews that it was the custom during the Passover season to release one of the prisoners from prison and that he was willing to release the innocent Jesus. However, the people cried, “Release … Barabbas” (whose name, Bar Abbas, means, “son of God”); thus a murderer and one guilty of sedition was released, while the innocent and literal Son of God was retained. When finally Pilate asked the people what they wanted him to do with Jesus, their awful cry was, “Crucify him!” Pilate’s reply was that he found “no fault” in the man, and he washed his hands of Jesus’ blood (Pilate’s freshly washed hands could not have been more unclean). Then came the self-condemning cry from the crowd, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” Even then, Pilate was about to let the Savior go with a scourging and chastisement, when a person cried out the taunt, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend; whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.” This push proved to be too much for Pilate, who had received what power he had from Caesar. Thus Pilate finally agreed to the crucifixion and turned Jesus over to his soldiers to be scourged and crucified. Then followed the torturous walk to Golgotha, where the tired, physical body of the Savior was given the assistance of another Simon, that of Cyrene, in carrying the cross. Pilate had earlier ordered that the words “JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS” should be inscribed on the cross in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. When the Jewish leaders tried to get him to change the inscription from “The King of the Jews” to “he said, I am King of the Jews,” Pilate replied: “What I have written I have written.” It was about 9:00 A.M. when the Savior was nailed to the cross. Despite the piercing pain of the nailing, the Savior could still look upon the Roman soldiers and say, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” About noon a great earthquake occurred, which among other things tore the veil of the temple. The light of the sun was also hidden, and there was darkness until 3:00 P.M. It was then that the Savior cried out, “It is finished”. And so Jesus was executed by the brutal Roman practice of crucifixion through which He voluntarily gave up His spirit. Thus, the one who had been given power over death by His Father voluntarily gave up His life so that physical death could be conquered and all of us might live eternally. According to religious tradition, it was not lawful to leave a body unburied on the Sabbath. And the Sabbath, which began at sundown, was the Passover, and the Jewish leaders despised the idea that a man should remain on a cross on the Sabbath, particularly the Paschal Sabbath. Thus, as sundown approached, we took His body from the cross and promptly and partially prepared it for burial. The body was laid in the tomb offered by one of His disciples, Joseph of Arimathaea. Thus ended the sixth day—the darkest day in the history of the world.

It was now the Jewish Sabbath. Jesus’ body remained in the tomb, but in spirit He ministered in the realm of departed spirits. I have written about this in the book of 1 Peter, chapters 3 & 4. The Lord also revealed to Joseph F. Smith, the sixth president of the Church in this dispensation, what actually occurred on that momentous day, which in eternity promises to be one of the most important days of all time. The Book of Mormon also tells us of some of the activities of Jesus on this seventh day when His body lay in the tomb. It was on this day that the Savior spoke out of the darkness to the survivors on the American continent. He did not appear to them on that occasion, but He spoke to them. Among many people on the earth the seventh day was a day of physical darkness, but it was only the brief darkness that was to herald the most glorious dawn in history.

“It was yet dark” on “the first day of the week” when Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” came to the tomb of the Savior with their sweet spices to anoint His body. However, they found the tomb empty, and an angel soon explained to them why the body of the Savior was not therein: “Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead. …” And so the darkness and despair of His death were changed into the light and joy of His resurrection, breaking forever the bands of physical death and guaranteeing to all life after death.

What event in all history is there to compare with this? I am one of the Lord’s Special Witnesses of the His resurrection! Before the day had ended, many witnesses could testify of the reality of the resurrection, not only because of the appearances of the resurrected Christ but also because “many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the Holy City, and appeared unto many.” The people of the Book of Mormon also had additional witnesses, for just as Samuel the Lamanite had prophesied, after the resurrection of the Savior on the eastern continent many bodies of the saints in the Americas also “did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them.” Within the next few weeks, the resurrected Christ appeared several times, including appearances to Mary Magdalene, to the other women, to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, to Me, to ten of the Apostles on the day of His resurrection, to the eleven Apostles (including Thomas) a week after His resurrection, to seven of the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, to the eleven Apostles on a mountain in Galilee, to more than 500 brethren at one time, and to His Apostles at the time of his ascension into heaven. The Book of Mormon tells of additional appearances of the resurrected Christ, including one appearance to 2500 persons and later appearances to even larger groups. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most carefully documented events in history, as it should rightfully be, for it was the crowning event in the most important week in the history of the world.

Had the gospel ended with Jesus’ burial, there would be no gospel story, no “good news”—no Easter “Holy Day”. The great message of these testators is that Jesus is resurrected and was seen by many, many witnesses. On the most memorable Sunday in history, Easter, Jesus Christ emerged alive from the tomb. My witness, and the testimony of these many witnesses, constitutes the gospel story, the “good news”. My fellow Apostle John listed the following reason for including in his writings the major events of the last week in the earthly life of the Savior: “… these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”—and we will! God be thanked for the matchless gift of His Beloved Son this Easter “Holy Day”!

The Savior's Atonement and Resurrection are remembered on Easter

The Savior’s Atonement and Resurrection are remembered on Easter

Sources: www.scriptures.lds.org, Daniel H. Ludlow, “The Greatest Week in History”, Ensign April 1972

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