Christs Sermon at Bountiful Part 3

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

This is a series of posts about the teachings of Jesus Christ to the Nephites after His resurrection at the temple in Bountiful. It is the western hemisphere version of the Sermon on the Mount in Jerusalem to the Jews. The commentary is from “The Desk of Denver Snuffer” blog and his book “Remembering the Covenant Vol 3”. I have not included all his commentary. To view that commentary in its entirety visit http://denversnuffer.com/blog/

It seems to me that even though so many profess the gospel of Jesus Christ, few seem to really understand or know what it really is. Here is a beginning of posts trying to establish a foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it was taught by Himself.

Part ThreeThe Beatitudes” (III Nephi 12:31 through 12:48)

(Scripture commentary from “Remembering the Covenant” Vol. 3)

 III Nephi 12:31-32

“It hath been written, that whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whoso shall marry her who is divorced committeth adultery.”

First and foremost, this is a verse dealing with male conduct. The verse is masculine in orientation and word usage, and deals with a male’s prerogative under the law that existed then. So applying this new, higher law, beyond that is not warranted, as will be more clearly seen in the discussion below.

The ease with which a divorce could be granted made the serious nature of the act unappreciated. Today it is still unappreciated. Divorce rates among Latter-day Saints have risen to practically mirror the population at large. We follow all the surrounding social trends, but are a little slower in getting there. We are not “peculiar” any longer. We are just slower.

Christ was re-enshrining the significance of marriage. It should not be easy to end a marriage. But, then again, perhaps the kind of marriage Christ is speaking of is one of a higher order and rarely exists here.

Although there are reasons for every marriage to be treated as sacred and worth preserving, it was always intended for there to be a higher purpose in marriage. It was intended to be an eternal union, inside of which sacred acts mirroring heaven itself take place. Bringing into this world new life by the loving union of two partners is a mirror of heaven. Such things are, or ought to be, most sacred.

But a higher kind of union, where love is the prevailing rule, is not often established here. More often than not, the marriages of this world are corrupted, just as society itself is corrupted.

No union that has not been sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise will endure beyond the grave. (See D&C 132: 718, among other places.) The reason for sealing such a marriage by the promise of the Spirit is because it replicates the kind of holy union found in heaven. It is like unto the unions between gods and goddesses. It is worthy of preservation because it is eternal. It is enduring. It is worth preserving into all eternity. It is sealed because the gods recognize on the earth a mirror of what is found in heaven itself. Therefore heaven ratifies and approves the relationship. They do not create such relations in heaven, but instead recognize them here, and approve them for eternal duration. Without such a relationship, the parties are worthy of continuation as angels, but not as spouses, as Christ would put it elsewhere. (Matt. 22: 30; see also D&C 132: 17.)

It is true enough that the restored Gospel allows everyone the opportunity to come to the Temple and receive ordinances which hold the promise of an eternal union. But those are relationships where the parties are on probation. They are given as an opportunity to work out your salvation before God. They are given so that if you are true and faithful, the time may come when you are called up and chosen by the Holy Spirit of Promise to be kings and queens, priests and priestesses, whereas now you are only given opportunity to prove yourself worthy to become such.

These words of Christ are speaking of a higher way to conduct our lives. To read into them exclusively outward behavior, when the whole import of the sermon addresses the inner-man, is out of context. I think we hardly understand the Lord’s meaning. But, then again, perhaps it is best if we do not understand His full meaning until we are ready to see for ourselves what great things the Lord has in store for those who love Him. (D&C 76: 114-117.) Perhaps it is best that man is not capable of making them known.

Now, as to the woman, there is another standard. He does not articulate it here, but can be found throughout scripture. A woman’s love of and fidelity to her husband is more often than not a product of her nature. It takes quite a fool to turn a wife’s natural affection for him into distrust and bitterness.

III Nephi 12:33-37

“And again it is written, thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths;  But verily, verily, I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne;  Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair black or white;  But let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever cometh of more than these is evil.”

 This revokes the oath making of the earlier Dispensation. When an oath was taken it was to be performed without fail. (See, e.g., Numbers 30: 2.) It was binding. Ancient Israel relied on vows to govern their conduct. (See, e.g., 1 Nephi 4: 33-37.) Oaths were relied on because they bound your conduct before God.

Christ is putting an end to the practice. No further vow-making was to take place. In its place say “yea” or say “nay,” but nothing further to bind your soul before God.

Swearing by men who possess nothing is foolish and prideful. Particularly when they swear by heaven, because it is not theirs to promise.

The comment regarding the inability to make a single hair “black or white” is emphasizing how little control we really have over things. Even our own bodies will take a course assigned it by God. They will age, and eventually die. We have our body as a stewardship. It is ours for a season, then we will lay it down. Until then, we serve a probation in which we are given power over these elements we occupy. But that stewardship is one designed to “prove” us, and show what we really are. When we gratify the body at the expense of others, or destroy our bodily temple housing our spirits by indulging uncontrolled appetites, we are unwise. We will lose these bodies before long and then, left with the same spiritual emptiness which caused the cravings in the first place, will find ourselves suffering. Whereas, if you discipline the body, keep it under control and subject to your spirit, then death can bring a release and freedom from suffering. It will be an odd reversal. One known only to those who go through it; at which point it is too late to change the outcome.

Speak simply. Speak out of an abundance of humility. Mean what you say, and do not obligate yourself to do what you cannot do.

Live simply, prepare to deal honestly with one another. And leave the heavens out of your promises if you cannot control them.

Do not commit yourself to do anything by swearing to God it shall be done. You have no control over when you will die, whether you will have another day of health to accomplish what you have vowed, or even if the thing about which you committed yourself will continue to be possible. Be humble about what you are given. Be grateful.

 II Nephi 12:38-39

“And behold, it is written, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;  But I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also;”

This is reforming the law of retaliation or lex talionis. When first adopted, the law of retaliation was designed to limit retribution. It was merciful in the context of the time. It prevented taking a life for an eye. The scope of the injury suffered put a limit on the scope of the retaliation permitted. I taught a class on this ancient law in the BYU Education Week some years ago. It is too much to cover in this post in order to fully understand the ramifications of this law.

In practice the eye was not taken. The value of the eye was agreed upon between victim and perpetrator. They sealed the agreement before two witnesses in the gate of the city. Then the debtor was obligated to pay the agreed sum (called “satisfaction”). If he defaulted the elders could take the eye as penalty for the default in payment, which stood as collateral for the debt. Payment of “satisfaction” was permitted and given for offenses under the lex talionis except in the case of a limited class of offenses, including murder.  (Numbers 35: 31-32.) In such cases it was considered too dangerous to allow satisfaction, and therefore the penalty needed to be carried out. Here, Christ is replacing that entire body of law by substituting forgiveness and mercy for justice and recompense. The victim is being urged to seek nothing in return for his injury. Instead, the victim is to bear the injury and allow evil against themselves without retaliation for the offense.

The book by C. Terry Warner titled The Bonds That Make Us Free: Healing Our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves explains how the actions of those who forgive are able to break the hearts of those who are forgiven. There is not merely freedom in forgiving others, there is power in it as well. Terry Warner’s book is an examination of the principles of sin and forgiveness, and worth reading if you have not done so before.  We gain power by what things we suffer for the Lord’s sake. Christ who loved the most, sacrificed the most. Those two things are linked together. This teaching was not only given by Christ, but it was lived by Him also. In this statement, as in no other, He is defining who He is and revealing what His conduct invariably will be. This is the Lord’s standard. This is the Lord’s manner. The choice of turning the other cheek is taken from the Messianic standard described by Isaiah. (Isa. 50: 6; also 53: 5.) We can also heal others by the things we willingly suffer. We can endure and forgive. As we do righteousness increases on the earth.

I have little doubt that the Lord’s teachings are impractical in this world. But, then again, we are not called to live for this world, are we? The reason Zion always flees from this world is precisely because the Lord will not permit the world to overwhelm those who would surely be overthrown if not for His grace and protection. He will fight their battles to spare those in Zion from the necessity of becoming warlike. (D&C 105: 14.) I am amused by the martial inclinations of the Latter-day Saints. When the lamb and lion lie down together I suppose many of the Latter-day Saints expect to be able to hunt them both.

III Nephi 12:40-42

“And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also; and whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.  Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away.”

The law allowed a Roman soldier to compel a civilian to bear a load for a mile. Christ said submit, and go a second mile to demonstrate you have not been compelled at all. You have chosen to give the service.

When asked, give. When someone needs to borrow, let them.

What a markedly different world this would be.

The results of an entire society behaving in this manner would be Zion itself. There would be no poor.  Those with the means would share, those in need would ask. The resulting cooperation and mutual assistance would solve many social ills. But such a society would necessarily be voluntary. To attempt to level the economic circumstances of society by force would be an imprisonment, not a liberation. Government cannot impose it, but men can voluntarily implement it.

The question is what happens when a society continues to suffer from all the ills of our own, but a single individual chooses to live these principles. What then? Can a person really live like this when he or she alone is guided by these principles?

Common agreement is that this sermon’s admonitions are impractical. They won’t work. They can’t be lived by a single person acting alone, or a small group acting together, because a larger corrupt society will overwhelm and exploit them. Therefore, Christ is teaching what cannot be done. At least cannot be done by anyone who is unwilling to try it. Occasionally we get a Mother Teresa or a Saint Francis, but they’re Catholic. Surely it can’t work with Latter-day Saints who are busy studying Steven Covey’s books, polishing their resumes and looking to find a secure middle-management position from which to launch their successful careers. Maybe a handful of good, believing Catholics will found Zion. Then we can come in and help manage the results after it becomes well enough established. After all, we have the true franchise from which Zion will be built. We even own a bank already named for the venture.

It makes you wonder why Christ would preach something which only a handful of Catholics have successfully accomplished in an individual setting.

III Nephi 12:43-45

“And behold it is written also, that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy;  But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.”

This is the only way to become like Him. He is an intercessor. As I’ve explained in The Second Comforter , becoming an intercessor for others is part of development, through grace, to become as He is.  It is through this that charity becomes a part of your character. (Moro. 7: 46.) And charity is a necessary attribute in character. (2 Nephi 26: 30; Moro. 7:47.)

This treatment of enemies is how you prove your inner self. Only by suffering, do we learn if we are converted. If you receive only praise and adulation,    authority and wealth, prestige and acceptance as a result of following Christ, then you’ve never been proven. It is through the sacrifice of your good name, reputation, position, wealth and social standing that you learn if you truly trust in Christ.

When you actually do sacrifice all earthly things for Him, you will have knowledge that the course of your life is pleasing to Him. Anything less than this will leave your mind in doubt.

Abinadi was a hinge character around whom the story of the Nephites would pivot from his life onward. But he had little success, and was killed by those to whom he ministered.

In some respects, dying for the cause of Christ is easier than living it. This teaching, however, shows how you can begin to live it.

It is not designed to be easy. As I discussed in Beloved Enos , sometimes it takes quite a bit of effort to come to terms with what the Lord requires of us.  But that does not alter in the least the importance of doing it, or lessen the quality of the results obtained.

Keep in mind the Lord’s admonition: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14: 15.)

Remember also the Lord’s statement that the things He is teaching “at this time” are necessary to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. (3 Nephi 12: 20.) These are not just sayings. They are meant to be acted on. It is in the doing of them you will meet Him. When you descend below where you are at present, you will find the Lord. For He is condescending whenever He is seen.

Finally, Christ reminds us that the Lord blesses all with the sun, light, life and abundance. Both good and evil are blessed by Him. Therefore, the petty differences between the good and the bad are so insignificant when compared against an absolute standard of perfection that the relative goodness and relative badness is inconsequential. So inconsequential that for any of us to be redeemed will require the atonement. Therefore, we all owe everything to Him. Only the redeemed come to realize and accept that while here. Everyone will eventually grasp that reality.

Accepting Him is the means for healing us. His open invitation to all can be seen in the sun shining on “both the evil and on the good.” Everyone is bidden to come to the throne and receive healing, grace and forgiveness. To merit it, you must first give it. To obtain forgiveness you must give forgiveness. To have Him suffer for your sins, you must first suffer and forgive others of their sins committed against you.

Every balanced life surrenders claims for justice and shows mercy, thereby making a claim for themselves upon mercy.

III Nephi 12:46-47

Therefore those things which were of old time, which were under the law, in me are all fulfilled. Old things are done away, and all things have become new.”

Christ will elaborate on this later as the audience puzzles over what is removed and what remains. But here Christ introduces the concept that the Law of Moses is now “fulfilled.” Importantly, He says: “in me are all fulfilled.”

When He says, “Old things are done away” it is not because they are terminated. It is because they were fulfilled. He completed the circle. He lived and died under the Law, fulfilling every jot and tittle of its requirements.

Now it was time to push the meaning of the earlier Law deeper into the souls of His audience. “All things have become new.” It is a new beginning, a new Dispensation, a new message. This message was delivered by the author of the Law of Moses not through an intermediary. This message comes from the Author in person.

Dispensations have their bounds. Beforehand, the prophets give, through prophecy, a limit on the things which are to come. When the prophesied events have unfolded and the measure has been met, then one Dispensation comes to an end while another opens. John the Baptist closed the Dispensation of Moses. Christ opened the Dispensation of the Meridian of Time. He recognizes the transition in this statement.

III Nephi 12:48

“Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.”

In the Matthew text Christ unequivocally limited this to His Father. (Matt. 5: 48.) Here “perfection” is achieved by both Christ and His Father.

Assuming the Matthew text is correct, the difference is significant. It is another confirmation that anyone who is mortal, including the Lord, stands in jeopardy every hour. (See 1 Cor. 15: 30.) He simply could not claim perfection while in mortality because mortality is a time of change, challenge and temptation. After all, He was tempted while mortal just as every human soul is tempted. (Heb. 4: 15.) Though He chose to give no heed to it, He was nevertheless tempted. (D&C 20: 22.)

While mortal He looked to the Father in all things. (John 5: 30.) After concluding His time in mortality, achieving the resurrection of the dead, He was given all power in heaven and on earth. (Matt. 28: 18.)

Therefore, if the Matthew text is correct, and the differences are accounted for in what we have just reviewed, then the admonition of Christ for our own perfection is not just an earthly endeavor. It is an invitation to follow Him and His Father into a loftier state, as well. (Abr. 3: 26.) One where the final realization will come only as we are able to endure greater glory than a mortal may possess. (Moses 1: 5.)

It is good we know this commandment is possible to accomplish. (1 Nephi 3: 7.) It is hard to conceive of following the Son in this way. Yet it is He who pronounced it, and He who has promised to share the throne of His Father with all who will come to Him. (Rev. 3: 21.)

I am not perfect, nor anything like it. I have seen Perfection, know what it is, and can confirm I am nothing like it.

A harmonious symmetry of light, majesty, holiness, glory and power are all around Him who is perfection. When I read the admonition to “be ye therefore perfect, even as I or your Father who is in Heaven is perfect” I can hardly grasp how that gulf between us could be bridged. I understand about the Lord’s atonement. I have certainly been the beneficiary of it and will continue to be so. When I consider the infinite gulf between His and His Father’s perfection, and my own imperfection, I am left completely stupefied at the idea it is even possible. Nevertheless, He gives no command which He does not provide means to obey. Therefore the means do exist.

When I hear from the casual observer of the LDS faith the stupidity about how we are going to “get exalted,” I wonder at what the reaction will be when they finally realize how great the gulf separating us from that result is. I have some appreciation for what will be required, and know it will be eons before that end can be attained by any of us. It will not be magic. It will be through incremental improvement, being added upon, growing in light and truth, and perfectly natural in the process. Joseph Smith put it in these words in the King Follett Funeral Sermon: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel — you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”

We are not left without warning about how great the gulf is we are to cover in this bridge we are to cross. Even now it seems the best use of our time would be to meditate on the things of God day and night. The revelations inform us that “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” (D&C 130: 18-19.) Yet we seem collectively often pedestrians in a crowd milling aimlessly about presuming Christ will furnish us an easy time of it. His atonement removes from us all guilt and shame. But for perfection, we must acquire it bit by bit, grace for grace, line upon line, growing by accepting more until at last we have obtained what is needed. That will be our own doing. He provides the means, and His Father ordained the laws by which it can be done, and they provide us with free will and the capacity to choose, but we must choose. We must accept. We must press forward holding Their hands in order to arrive at last, after an infinitely long journey, in the courts of Heaven itself, fit to reside there.

Be ye therefore perfect. And start on that this moment. For you haven’t another moment to spare.

End Part Three

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