Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
New Testament Conference
8 August 2000
Brigham Young University
I love the Church Educational System with all my heart, and I want you to know that I have the greatest respect for you—for the teachers, administrators, and associates in the great religious education system. I was one of you once, and in my own way, I hope I can still be considered to be your friend and your colleague.
Virtually every day—I think this is a literal statement—in my calling as a General Authority, I find myself drawing upon some experience I had when I was in the classroom, when I was with you: a scriptural passage that I had taught or otherwise particularly enjoyed and kept for a rainy day, some doctrine that I was forced to study and restudy and try to understand better so I could explain it to a group of students, issues and elements of Church government that I thought would help young people understand the way the kingdom worked. These and a legion of other experiences I had as a CES teacher and administrator have been and are such a blessing to me now. Be grateful for the privilege of studying and teaching the gospel. I am.
And on behalf of the leadership of the Church, while I’m on the subject, may I take this opportunity to thank you for what you do so faithfully and so well. Whether you are a full-time teacher—and I realize that percentage-wise that would be relatively few—but whether you are full-time, part-time, or one of those “volunteers” Brother Stan Peterson just described, which is most of you, we salute you and thank you. Thank you for all that you are contributing to this work.
I think it is safe to say that religious education—seminary, institute, religious education courses in our college and university system—these classes that you teach are bringing us the most substantial help we have ever had with the edification of our high school and college-age youth. It is help we dearly need. In the presiding councils of the Church we regularly wonder aloud, we say, “What would we do without religious education for our youth?” You are bringing a great return to this Church, and we are indebted to you. We are indebted for daily, even hourly, contributions that you make. And there aren’t very many ways or times to tell you that, so I want to say it to you today. Thank you. Thank you from all of us.
In that spirit may I also thank the spouses who may be in attendance. I see many who are here. Thank you for the support you give and the sacrifice you make that husbands or wives can devote their time and talent to this work. In my own life I could never have done what we chose to do in CES if it had not been for Sister Holland’s absolute willingness, wholehearted support to stand with me in that very early professional decision. Please know that we do appreciate the attitude virtually every one of you has—husbands, wives, families, children who support—from full-time instruction here at BYU to early-morning seminaries in the most distant ward of the Church. You are blessing our people.
Now let me say a word about your students. (I am going to get to the New Testament eventually, but there are a number of things that I feel to say. I apologize in advance if this is an unusual mix, but all this is in my heart to say.) I suppose it’s proverbial in every generation to quote Charles Dickens and mutter, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (A Tale of Two Cities , 1). As a general observation, I think our high school and college-age students are wonderful, that they’re striving collectively, I think, to be as fine a generation of young people as we have ever had in this Church. But even as I say that, I am quick to acknowledge—and I don’t want to minimize that compliment, but I am quick to acknowledge what you already know—that exceptions to that rule are too many and often far too serious. When our youth sin now, they can do so in such flagrantly offensive ways with ever more serious consequences in their lives. That is the world we are in and it is, by scriptural definition, a world that is getting progressively more wicked.
So over time we will continue to see a steady deterioration of what is acceptable in movies, on television, in pop music (which, in the case of rap lyrics, isn’t even music at all), and, perhaps in our most dangerous contemporary foe, abuse of the Internet. I have learned what you have learned—that the door to permissiveness, the door to promiscuity and lewdness, swings only one way. It only opens farther and farther; it never swings back. Individuals can choose to close it, but it is quite certain, historically speaking, that public appetite and public policy will never close it.
The Word of God
That is where you and the Church come in. Don’t count on laws or legislatures or courts or civil authorities or anyone else to provide our defense. Our defense is a burning conviction of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a keeping of those commandments. Our defense is in prayer and faith, in study and fasting, in the gifts of the Spirit, the ministration of angels, the power of the priesthood. And, for today’s purpose in this conference, our defense is you.
Now what is your arsenal in this battle? With what will you conquer? As CES teachers, it is primarily one thing, not exclusively, but primarily one thing that’s obvious. Your weapon is the holy word of God, the scriptures. In this fight, and it is a fight, we all come to stand with Alma eventually. We too realize sooner or later that “the preaching [or, in your case, the teaching] of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5).
Now over the years you and I have taught Paul’s marvelous injunction to “put on the whole armour of God” (Ephesians 6:11), a commandment reiterated in our day in section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants (see v. 15). In that description of preparing for spiritual battle, I have been impressed that most of the protection the Lord outlines for us there is somewhat defensive. The revelation speaks of breastplates and shields and helmets, all of which are important and protective but which leave us, in a sense, without an actual weapon yet. Are we only to be on the defensive? Are we simply to ward off blows and see it through and never be able, spiritually speaking, to strike a blow? No. We are supposed to advance in this and win a battle that started in heaven long ago. So we need some kind of even chance on the offense, and we are given it. You are given it. The weapon that is mentioned, the thing that allows us to actually do battle with the “darkness of this world,” to use Paul’s phrase, is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:12, 17; italics added). May I repeat that? “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” I love that marriage of spiritual concepts.
Coupled with prayer and the power of the priesthood that ought to be in all of our lives, I believe the greatest source of spirituality available to our youth (and everyone else) is the word of God, the scriptures, the revelations. Martin Luther and the Reformers were closer to the truth than they knew when they taught that the scriptures are a means of grace. They didn’t have it entirely right, but they knew they were onto something—that the scriptures had a great central role in the church of God, that hearing the word of God, and later when they could, reading the word of God, was a privilege every lay member of the church was to enjoy. Every man or woman or even child was to have a direct relationship with Deity through the study of the scriptures. That is a principle within the Reformation, which set the stage for scriptures in the Restoration.
It is little wonder that as times get tougher and the going gets rockier, the Brethren have focused our curriculum at every level, every level in the Church and every level in CES, on the scriptures. Please immerse yourself in them and immerse your students in them. Don’t stray off into forbidden paths and get lost in mists of darkness. You know what happened to those folks! Stay with the rod of iron, which is the word of God. Use what teaching techniques you need to assist with your lesson, but keep war stories and strange doctrines and near-death experiences to a minimum. Stay in the heart of the mine where the real gold is. And what gold there is in the New Testament!
Always try to give your students the “big picture” there. I know you have specific lessons to teach and that there is a terribly limited time in which to get those lessons completed. I know that. I’ve been with you. But even as I acknowledge that you can’t teach everything, nevertheless I invite you to occasionally give your students the benefit of a broader view, a view that isn’t going to be contained in any specific lesson or any given verse. Teach them how to read the scriptures with some sense of wholeness and perspective in mind.
Teaching, Preaching, Healing
Let me give you an example, an example that I’ve chosen because it also lets me say something about desired outcomes in the classroom. (I’m trying to get as much mileage out of scriptural concepts this afternoon as I can.)
We quickly and readily think of Christ as a teacher. I always have and always will. The greatest teacher who ever lived or ever will live. The New Testament is full of His teachings, His sayings, His sermons, His parables. One way or another He is a teacher on every page of that book. But even as He taught, He was consciously doing something in addition to that, something that put teaching in perspective.
After the account of His nativity and His childhood, about which we know relatively little, we are told of Christ’s baptism at the hands of John. Then He is led up into the wilderness “to be with God,” not the devil. “To be with God,” the Joseph Smith Translation tells us (JST, Matthew 4:1).
I pause here parenthetically and ask you and your students to be sure to pay attention to those wonderful footnotes and study aids we have in our LDS editions of the standard works. Our LDS products, the scriptures—in today’s case the King James Bible for the New Testament—makes these LDS publications the best “teaching scriptures” ever produced in the history of the world. Enjoy these study aids and footnotes like the one I just cited. Now back to the story.
Following the temptations that were presented by the adversary and the Savior’s successful triumph over them, Christ makes His initial call to those first disciples (not yet Apostles), and the work begins.
This is what Matthew says:
“And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people” (Matthew 4:23; italics added).
Now the teaching and the preaching we know and would expect. Furthermore, we know there were miracles of every kind, healings of many of the afflicted. But I remember the first time I realized that from this earliest beginning, from the first hour, healing is mentioned as if it were a synonym for teaching and preaching. In fact, the passage being cited goes on to say more about the healing than the teaching.
“And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them” (v. 24).
What then follows is the masterful Sermon on the Mount, six and a half pages that would take six and a half years to teach properly, I suppose. But the moment that sermon is over, He comes down from the mountain and is healing again. In rapid succession He heals a leper, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, then a group described only as “many that were possessed with devils” (Matthew 8:16). In short, it says, He “healed all that were sick” (v. 16).
Driven to cross the Sea of Galilee by the crowds that now swarmed around Him, He cast devils out of two who were dwelling in the Gadarene tombs, and then sailed back to “his own city” (Matthew 9:1) where He healed a man confined to bed with palsy, healed a woman with a twelve-year issue of blood (in what I think is one of the sweetest and most remarkable moments in all of the New Testament), and then raised the ruler’s daughter from the dead—only, by the way, after dismissing the sideshow-seeking audience from the room. (I wish I had the time to comment on what that New Testament lesson has come to mean to me in my present ministry, but that is for another day.) Then He restored the sight of two blind men, followed by the casting out of a devil which had robbed a man of the ability to speak. That is a quick summary of the first five chapters in the New Testament devoted to Christ’s ministry. Then this verse. See if it has an echo for you:
“And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matthew 9:35; italics added).
That is, of course, except for a few words, exactly the verse we read five chapters earlier. And He needs help.
“But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.
“Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;
“Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (vv. 36–38).
With that He calls the Twelve and charges them with this directive. “Go,” He says, “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
“And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
“Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:6–8; italics added).
Now, after taking much too much time to make this point, let me make it. We think of the Savior, we know the Savior to be, the Master Teacher. He is that and more. And when He says the bulk of the harvest yet lies before us and that there are far too few laborers, we immediately think of missionaries and others, like you, who need to teach. But the call is for a certain kind of teacher, a teacher who in the process heals.
Now let me make myself absolutely clear. It will save you a stamp on your letter to President Hinckley or a phone call. By “healing,” as I have been speaking of it, as it applies to your role in the classroom, I am not talking about formal use of the priesthood, or administration of the sick, or any such thing as that. That is conspicuously not your role as CES instructors and administrators. Are we clear on that? Indeed, one of the few ways, and they really have been only a few, that I have seen CES people get in trouble over the years is because some have not understood the distinction between your role as teachers and the role one has as a priesthood bearer holding ecclesiastical office. Now, if you promise not to be confused on that, we will go on.
I believe Christ wants our teaching to lead to healing of the spiritual kind. I cannot believe that the ten chapters we have just referenced, of only twenty-eight that Matthew wrote, could be focused so much on the context of the Savior’s ministry to distressed people, troubled people, distraught people if it were for no purpose. As with the Master, wouldn’t it be wonderful to measure the success of your teaching by the healing that takes place in the lives of your students?
Let me be a little more specific. Rather than just giving a lesson, please try a little harder to help that blind basketball star really see, or the deaf homecoming queen really hear, or the privately lame student body president really walk. Try a little harder to fortify someone so powerfully that whatever temptations the devils of hell throw at her or him, these students will be able to withstand and thus truly in that moment be free from evil. Can you try a little harder to teach so powerfully and so spiritually that you can take that student—that boy or girl who walks alone to school and from school, who sits alone in the lunchroom, who has never had a date, who is the brunt of every joke, who weeps in the dark of the night—can you unleash the power in the scriptures and the power in the gospel and “cleanse” that leper, a leper not of his or her making, a leper made by those on our right and on our left and sometimes by us?
Perhaps a lesson from contemporary life in the Quorum of the Twelve will help me say what I want to say on this point and avoid any confusion on your part. I have suggested reading for a broad view, a “big picture,” to see teachings in context. I have just used one example, not the best example, just an example. Now I want to turn that into an outcome, a teacher’s assessment.
President Boyd K. Packer, himself a master teacher and long-time administrator in the Church Educational System, has a question he often asks when we have made a presentation or given some sort of exhortation to one another in the Twelve. He looks up as if to say, “Are you through?” And then says to the speaker (and, by implication, to the rest of the group), “Therefore, what?”
“Therefore, what?” I think that is what the Savior answered day in and day out as an inseparable element of His teaching and preaching. I’ve tried to suggest that. These sermons and exhortations were to no avail if the actual lives of His disciples did not change.
“Therefore, what?” You and I know that we still have young people, and too many older ones as well, who have not made the connection between what they say they believe and how they actually live their lives. Some, certainly not all and certainly not most, but some seem to be able to come from good homes, with the boys being graded up in the priesthood, and both the girls and boys advancing through the various Church programs, sometimes getting (and here I wish to be very careful) even to the temple for missions and marriage and those sacred covenants, only to discover that almost none of what they had been taught earlier—or at least not enough of it—had been translated into true repentance and gospel living.
Again I stress that I am speaking of exceptions. But some days it seems that there are more exceptions than either you or I or our Father in Heaven would like. So I reissue the call of the Master to have more laborers in the vineyard, not only declaring the gospel of the kingdom, but teaching in such a way that heals all manner of sickness among the people.
Pray that your teaching will bring change. Pray that, like the lyrics of a now-forgotten song, your lessons will literally cause a student to “straighten up and fly right” (Nat King Cole, “Straighten Up, Fly Right”, 1943). We want them straight and we want them right. We want them happy, happy in this life and saved in the world to come.
Acts through Revelation
May I refer in quick succession to another “big picture” idea, shifting significantly. I think it too has meaning for teachers. Often in a New Testament conference of this kind, we are all so overwhelmed by the message and majesty of the Savior’s earthly ministry, we forget that roughly 60 percent of the New Testament story comes after the Savior’s death and Resurrection. I agree with you that, page for page, nothing in the rest of the book compares with those wonderful, powerful episodes in the Savior’s personal life, but there must be some reason for including Acts through Revelation, and we need to make sure our students gain an appreciation for that in our New Testament course.
I don’t have the time today to develop any one of these scriptural contributions in detail, but let me just continue to make a series of points.
God Is in Charge
The book of Acts, which introduces the post-Resurrection portion of the New Testament, is technically called “The Acts of the Apostles.” That is an important ecclesiastical idea in the book, namely that the Apostles were ordained representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ and were thus authorized to lead the Church.
But consider what they faced. Consider the plight, the fear, the absolute confusion, the devastation of the members of the new little Christian Church after Christ was crucified. They may have understood something of what was happening, but they couldn’t have understood it all. The people must have been very fearful and very confused, and the Brethren had their hands full trying to provide leadership.
The only contemporary example I can think of—and please do not misunderstand the comparison—might be the confusion and fear that reigned in our day after the Martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith. No one had had to face such a thought before. No one had even considered the Church without Joseph as its prophet. And now this. It was a moment of almost spiritual bedlam in Nauvoo.
But God did something that taught a great lesson to the people. To counter Sidney Rigdon and a few others vying for the prophetic office, the Lord made His will and power manifest in the matter as Brigham Young was transformed in visage and countenance before the people. You know the story very well. By momentarily giving Brigham Young Joseph’s appearance and very manner of speech—quite literally his mantle—God said to the people, “The keys of the kingdom are with the Twelve. Brigham is Joseph’s rightful successor in leading the Church.”
That is the obvious and very important declaration about Church governance that the Lord was making. But an even more important declaration was the manifestation of heavenly power itself. God’s might and direct involvement in this issue was the truly important thing that was conveyed here—not that Brigham Young was to be in charge or even that Joseph Smith had been in charge. The message was: God is in charge.
Now that is exactly the point being made in the book of Acts. Your students will not find that if you do not help them look for it. It is called “The Acts of the Apostles,” and understandably so. It leads us to great respect for Peter, Paul, John, and the others. But not surprisingly, from the outset, from the first verse, the declaration is that the Church will continue to be divinely led, not mortally led. And that was important for them to hear in that hour of terrible confusion and fear. Indeed, a more complete title for the book of Acts could appropriately be something like “The Acts of the Resurrected Christ Working through the Holy Spirit in the Lives and Ministries of His Ordained Apostles.” Now, having said that, you can see why someone voted for the shorter title—but my suggested title is more accurate! Listen to Luke’s opening lines. That is exactly what he said. These are lines you all know:
“The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
“Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:1–2; italics added).
The direction of the Church is the same. The location of the Savior has been altered, but the direction and leadership of the Church is exactly the same. Then, having made that point, as if to prove in this most remarkable string of spiritual experiences all the way through the book, we get manifestations of the Lord’s power through the Holy Ghost at every turn. It is, so to speak, the transformation of Brigham Young again and again, so to speak. The first teaching in the book of Acts from the resurrected Christ to the Twelve is that they “shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5), and that “ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (v. 8; italics added).
After He ascends to heaven before their very eyes, Peter gets the Church together—all one hundred and twenty of them. Can you see what an impact the troubles and the Crucifixion and the opposition had had on them? One hundred and twenty people gather and Peter says, “Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas” (v. 16; italics added). In filling Judas’s vacancy in the Twelve, they prayed exactly the way the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency pray today: “Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these . . . thou hast chosen” (v. 24; italics added). “Shew whether of these . . . thou hast chosen.” And Matthias was called.
But that first chapter of turning heavenward, so clearly marking the divine guidance that would continue to direct the Church, is only a warm-up to chapter 2. In those passages, the very name Pentecost comes into the Christian vocabulary as synonymous with breathtaking spiritual manifestations and a divine outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon all the people. Revelation came from heaven with the sound “as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house” (Acts 2:2), and it filled the brethren. “There appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire. . . . And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak . . . as the Spirit gave them utterance” (vv. 3–4; italics added).
Peter, as Chief Apostle and President of the Church, stood and acknowledged this outpouring. He quoted Joel, whom Moroni would also quote later, saying that God would in the last days “pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
“And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (vv. 17–18; italics added).
Peter continued: “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you. . . .
“This Jesus hath God raised up . . . by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (vv. 22, 32–33; italics added).
It is a magnificent passage. Those not yet baptized that day, moved by this Spirit, asked what they should do. Peter told them to be baptized for the remission of sin and to “receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (v. 38; italics added), and three thousand of them did so. Later when the lame man is raised to health on the steps of the temple and the crowd thinks Peter and John have done something wonderful, Peter chides them, chastises them, says it was not their mortal power or any holiness from them that made the man to walk, but rather that of Jesus, whom they had “delivered up” and “killed” (Acts 3:13, 15)—that’s his phrase. He said this same Jesus was still leading the Church through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit and would continue to do so until He came again in “the times of restitution of all things” (v. 21).
When this time five thousand people joined the Church, the local Pharisees and Sadducees were stunned. These Jewish leaders demanded to know how all of this was being done. Peter gives the classic answer you must always give your students. “Filled with the Holy Ghost,” it says, he declared that it was done in and “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 4:8, 10). Christ directing His Apostles through the Holy Spirit—a near perfect vignette, repeated again and again, of that eternal principle. Your students will not see these things if you do not point them out to them. They will not read with that imagination and insight without a teacher’s help. It is a great lesson about the modern governance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In leaving this point, and we don’t have time to do more, just let these phrases run through your mind and see if we get the picture. I’m quoting now, lines and phrases:
“They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
“Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?” (Acts 5:3).
“We are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost” (v. 32).
“They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 6:5).
“He, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven” (Acts 7:55).
“Peter and John . . . prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost. . . .
“Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:14–15, 17).
“Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near. . . .
“And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip” (vv. 29, 39).
Well, we could go on. In any case we have scarcely made it to Acts 8, with all the revelation and spiritual manifestation of Paul’s conversion and ministry, the larger part of the story, yet to come. Read it. Note that everything makes this affirmation—that the Father and the Son direct this work still, largely having Their impact upon individuals, Church leaders, and CES teachers through the means of the Holy Ghost. And it is through that same instrumentality that we must have our impact upon the students.
Teach by the Spirit
Please teach by the Holy Spirit. If we do not teach that way, then by scriptural definition we are teaching “some other way” (D&C 50:17). And any other way “is not of God” (v. 20). Give your students a spiritual experience in every way that you can. That is what the New Testament is trying to do for you. That is the message of the Gospels. It is the message of the book of Acts. It is the message of all scripture. Those spiritual experiences from those sacred records will keep your students on track and in the Church in our day just as it did in the early days of those members in New Testament times, and just as it is done in every other dispensation of time.
“The Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). Not just that you won’t teach or that you can’t teach or that it will be pretty shoddy teaching. No, it is stronger than that. It is the imperative form of the verb. “Ye shall not teach.” Put a thou in there for ye and you have Mt. Sinai language. This is a commandment. These are God’s students, not yours, just like it was God’s Church, not Peter or Paul or Joseph or Brigham’s.
Facilitate that manifestation in the hearts of your young people, which lets them know where power, safety, and salvation really are, through the instrumentality of these our Church leaders and the blessings of Church life. Have them look to heaven for their guidance just as the eleven did that day Christ ascended from the Mount of Olives before their very eyes, just as Peter did that day when he led them in prayer to fill the vacancy in the Twelve, just as the early Saints did in seeing Brigham Young transformed before their eyes.
Let me close. I remember almost dreading (I think that’s not too strong a word) the responsibility to teach the Crucifixion, Atonement, and Resurrection in my classes because I never felt I could rise to the level of worthiness that I knew the subject deserved. I wanted so much for it to matter in the hearts of the students and I knew if there was a weak link in the experience, it wouldn’t be the student and it surely wouldn’t be the Lord—it would be me.
Although I love the Savior even more now and have been called to be a witness of His name in all the world, still I feel overwhelmed and inadequate on this topic. I say that to encourage you. You as teachers will feel that some days, and often it will be the days when you want to be your best.
Take heart. Let the Spirit work in you in ways that you may not be privileged to see or even to recognize. More will go on than you think if you are honest in your heart and trying to live as purely as you can. When you get to those supreme and nearly impossible-to-teach moments of Gethsemane and Calvary and the Ascension, I would ask that you remember, among many things, two of the many applications that I would hope you would make with your students.
Christ Remained True
Remind the students, and there is so much else to say, but remind the students that in this unspeakably wrenching and nature-shattering pain, Christ remained true.
Matthew said He was “sorrowful and very heavy . . . exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matthew 26:37–38). He went alone into the garden, intentionally left the Brethren outside to wait. He had to do this alone. He dropped to His knees and then, the Apostle says, He “fell on his face” (v. 39). Luke says He was “in an agony” and prayed so earnestly His sweat became “great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Mark says He fell and cried, “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36). Papa, we would say, or Daddy. This is not abstract theology now. This is a Boy pleading with His Dad. “Abba [Daddy, Papa] . . . all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me.”
Who could resist that? God in His heavens—in His righteousness, for this, His only perfect child—who could resist? “You can do anything. I know you can do anything. Take this cup from me.” 8 © 2000 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in the USA. English approval: 9/00. 20090
That whole prayer, Mark noted, had been that if it were possible, this hour would be stricken from the plan. He says, in effect, “If there is another path, I would rather walk it. If there is any other way—any other way—I will gladly embrace it.” “Let this cup pass from me,” Matthew says (Matthew 26:39). “Remove this cup from me,” says Luke (Luke 22:42). But in the end the cup does not pass.
Then He said and did that which most characterizes His life in time and in eternity, the words and the act that made Jesus the Son of God, according to the great Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi. He said and did what He had to do to become the Son (with a capital S) of God. He yielded to the will of His Father and said, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (v. 42). That is, for all intents and purposes, the last moment in the divine conversation between Father and Son in Jesus’ mortal ministry. From there on the die has been cast. He will see it through no matter what.
And from that last declaration in the Old World we get this first declaration in the New. To the Nephites gathered at the temple, He would say, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, . . . the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and . . . I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning” (3 Nephi 11:11). That is His own introduction of Himself, the declaration He feels best tells us who He is.
If you can leave your students one element of commitment in response to the Savior’s incomparable sacrifice for them, His payment for their transgressions, His sorrow for their sins, try to help them see the necessity to obey—to, in their own difficult domain and hours of decision, yield, to suffer “the will of the Father” (v. 11), whatever the cost. They won’t always do that, any better than you and I have been able to do it, but that ought to be their goal; that ought to be their aim. The thing Christ seems most anxious to stress about His mission—beyond the personal virtues and beyond the magnificent sermons and even beyond the healing, is that He submitted His will to the will of the Father.
We are all willful people, maybe too much of the time. Certainly your students can be willful as they test the water, test the limits, test their faith and the Church, and often enough, your faith. But the message for every one of us and every one of them is that our offering, in similitude of His offering, is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. We must break out of our petty selves and weep for our sins and for the sins of the world. Plead with your students to yield to the Father, to yield to the Son, to yield to the Holy Spirit. There is no other way. Without likening ourselves to Him too much, because that would be sacrilegious to do, nevertheless that symbol of the cup that cannot pass is a cup that comes in our life as well as in His. It is in a much lesser way, to a much lesser degree, but it comes often enough to teach us that we have to obey.
Christ Knows the Way
The second lesson of the Atonement that I would ask you to remember for and with your students is related. If your students feel that they have somehow made too many mistakes already, if they feel they have turned their back on the principle of obedience one too many times, if they feel that they work and live and labor lower than the light of Christ can shine, teach them, as the Prophet Joseph shared with the Saints, that God has “a forgiving disposition,” that Christ is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering and full of goodness” (Lectures on Faith , 42). Mercy, with its sister virtues of repentance and forgiveness, is at the very heart of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Everything in the gospel teaches us that we can change if we really want to, that we can be helped if we truly ask for it, that we can be made whole, whatever the problems of the past.
In spite of life’s tribulations and as fearful as some of their prospects are, there is help for your students on this journey. When Christ bids them to yield, to submit, to obey the Father, He knows how to help us do that. He has walked that way, asking them to do what He has done. He has made it safer. He has made it very much easier for their travel and ours. He knows where the sharp stones and the stumbling blocks lie and where the thorns and the thistles are the most severe. He knows where the path is perilous, and He knows which way to go when the road forks and nightfall comes. He knows this because He has suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind . . . that he may know . . . how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12). To succor means “to run to.” Testify to your students that Christ will run to them, and is running even now, if they will but receive the extended arm of His mercy.
To those who stagger or stumble, He is there to steady and strengthen us. In the end He is there to save us, and for all this He gave His life. However dim our days or your students’ days may seem, they have been a lot darker for the Savior of the world. As a reminder of those days, Jesus has chosen, even in a resurrected, otherwise perfected body, to retain for the benefit of His disciples the wounds in His hands and in His feet and in His side—signs, if you will, that painful things happen even to the pure and the perfect; signs, if you will, that pain in this world is not evidence that God doesn’t love you; signs, if you will, that problems pass and happiness can be ours. Remind your students that it is the wounded Christ who is the Captain of our souls, He who yet bears the scars of our forgiveness, the lesions of His love and humility, the torn flesh of obedience and sacrifice.
These wounds are the principal way we are to recognize Him when He comes. He may invite us forward, as He has invited others, to see and to feel those marks. If not before, then surely at that time, we will remember with Isaiah that it was for us that a God was “despised and rejected . . . ; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” that “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3, 5).
I testify that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I testify that He is perfect, one with His Father in every thought, every virtue, every deed, every desire. I testify that His is the greatest life ever lived and that in His name only is salvation. I testify that Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son as he was carried through the veil by the Holy Spirit. I testify that these divine beings, the Godhead, lead and direct this Church still, and that President Gordon B. Hinckley is their prophet in word and in deed in every way in the current hour.
I love you and I love this work. I love your students, and I envy your opportunity to immerse yourselves this year in the majestic New Testament and in the life of Him of whom it testifies.
May I close my apostolic witness with an apostolic blessing on every single one of you—here in the Marriott Center and by extension out across the world to the satellite audience, all the teachers everywhere and all the students in every class, and every child of God who wants to do better and is trying.
I bless you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose Church this is and of whom we testify in these courses. I bless you that you will be healthy and happy and strong, and that as dark days come for you or your students, that you will receive and embrace the Light and the Life of the world. I bless you that you will have the companionship this year of the Holy Spirit manifesting to you the reality of the life of the Son of God and that in this way it may be among the most sacred years of your life. I bless you that you will learn more and feel more, believe more and testify more of such goodness from the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.
I bless you for those you may be worried about: your children, your grandchildren, your students, perhaps neighbors and friends who are struggling. I bless you regarding private, personal things that are known only to you in the dark of the night. I promise you that because of your faithfulness, God is already hearing and answering your prayers. And what you have asked privately, almost hesitantly, He will reward openly, broadly, publicly tenfold, a hundredfold, a thousand-fold. Whether that is soon or whether it is later or whether it is in heaven, I testify that it will happen. I bless you that you will know as I know that this is God’s truth. It is the absolute truth of the living God. This is His Church, and we are engaged in a great work with a magnificent privilege to love the scriptures and learn from them, to bear witness to one another that they are true, as I do to you in the sacred, holy, and redeeming name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.