Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Christ

The following is a talk I gave a few years ago about the Book of Mormon, my most favorite book of all time. It is a true book. If you have questions about this talk or about the Book of Mormon, please let me know.

For most of us who have grown up in the Church, the Book of Mormon has become a symbol for all of us–for our lives, the way we live, the things that we do in the real world. Joseph Smith was more succinct: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other book” (Introduction to the Book of Mormon. History of the Church).

For some of us, the Book of Mormon lends itself to fascinating pages of wars and rumors of wars, techniques of building fortresses and other buildings; treks across the ocean to new lands; the intrigue of family relationships and kingdoms transferring from one son to the next; the names of animals that inhabited the American continent at the time Lehi’s family stepped onto this land blessed; the many poetic devises, including Chiasmus, used by the prophets in their writings and another testament that Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Mormon...But the most important truth–yes, even testimony–that we should capture from reading, studying, and pondering the Book of Mormon is this: That Jesus is the Christ (See Elder Russell M. Nelson, Ensign, “A Testimony of the Book of Mormon,” November 1999) and that the Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”

President Benson said, “A second powerful testimony to the importance of the Book of Mormon is to note where the Lord placed its comings forth in the timetable of the unfolding Restoration. The only thing that preceded it was the First Vision. In that marvelous manifestation, the Prophet Joseph Smith learned the true nature of God and that God had a work for him to do. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon was the next thing to follow” (A Witness and a Warning, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988, pp. 15–22).

What other spiritual concepts can we learn from reading the Book of Mormon. Let me discuss a mere few.

The Book of Mormon converts people. It changes lives. It propels people to do things differently than they had been doing them. It instills in them the feelings of peace and happiness. And most, importantly, it allows them to “come unto Christ.” One family whose life the Book of Mormon changed was the Portales family in La Unión, Chile. Sister Portales was a single mother with six children and housekeeper/nanny to the branch president. He asked us to teach her so we did. One of Sister Portales’ biggest challenges was that she could not read, and her children could barely read because they did not go to school often because they were poor. But read they did, slowly but surely. Often, we would stop by to read with them and to help them with certain passages of the Book of Mormon. Her young boys plodded along in the Book of Mormon, word by word, sentence by sentence, verse by verse, and concept by concept. Soon, the entire Portales family knew the gospel was true and testified of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. They had heard the words. The words had penetrated their hearts. They wanted to “come unto Christ.” Thus, they were baptized and confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And happy were they.

With the consistent daily reading and studying the Book of Mormon, we as members of the Church will increase our spirituality and ultimately understand and accept Jesus as the Christ, the savior of the world, the God through whom we must come in order to inherit eternal life. The ancient Prophet Moroni came to understand this and issued an invigorating challenge to his posterity and to all who read his final poignant verses before he ended his work: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ....then are ye sanctified in Christ....that ye become holy, without spot” (Moroni 10:31-33).

Amulek of the Book of Mormon is a perfect example of one who would not hear and “come unto Christ” until an angel of the Lord appeared unto him and requested his help. Then he took the prophet Alma in and learned about the gospel of Jesus Christ. When speaking to the people of Ammonihah, Amulek told them that he was "a man of no small reputation... among them" (Alma 10:4). Then he confesses how he chose not to hear even though he had witnessed much of the mysteries of God:

"Nevertheless, after all this, I never have known much of the ways of the Lord, and his mysteries and marvelous power. I said I never had known much of these things; but behold, I mistake, for I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power; yea, even in the preservation of the lives of this people.

"Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know; therefore I went on rebelling against God, in the wickedness of my heart..." (Alma 10:5-6).

Through the Book of Mormon we become intimately acquainted with the Savior. Because of the prophet Nephi’s words, we are there when He visits the Nephites. Through Mormon, we see Jesus descend from Heaven. “...behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe; and he came down and stood in the midst of them; and the eyes of the whole multitude were turned upon him, and they durst not open their mouths, even one to another, and wist not what it meant, for they thought it was an angel that had appeared unto them” (3 Nephi 11:8-11).

We hear His voice speak to the people of the Book of Mormon:

“And it came to pass that he stretched forth his hand and spake unto the people, saying:

“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.

“And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father
in all things from the beginning. (3 Nephi 11:8-11)

“Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.”

And we feel of the power and majesty of the Savior and the emotional connection the Nephites had with Him and ultimately a testimony that would last two centuries:

“And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.

“And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying:

“Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him (3 Nephi 11:14-17).

We, too, can feel of His love for all of us, especially the little children. We, too, can feel the "prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet”—all through the Atonement of Christ.

We learn of the attributes of God—In 2 Nephi, chapter 9, Jacob, Nephi’s brother, discusses with us the attributes of God. We learn that God is wise. We also learn that he is just, merciful, and good. Additionally, we learn…”How great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.

“And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam” (2 Nephi 9:20-21).

We learn of the atonement of Christ: Because of His love for us, He provided a way for all of us to return to Him and the Father. We know that “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” 2 Nephi 2:25). Jacob teaches “And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given” (2 Nephi 2:25-26).

We learn why we need to come unto Christ. At the very beginning of the Book of Mormon, Nephi is extremely succinct in telling us why he is writing on the plates: “For the fullness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved” (1 Nephi 6:4 (bold mine). Then at the end, in verse 32 of Chapter 10, the third to the last verse, Moroni reiterates the plea: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God” (Moroni 10:32).

I have always found intriguing to look at the last of what any of the prophets write. To me, they know of the limited space, and perhaps, the limited time they have to help us understand. Moroni uses his last words to plead with us, to help us understand that we must come unto Christ. His last words are as significant: “And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead. Amen” (Moroni 10:34). He wants to meet you and me at the “pleasing bar of the great Jehovah.” What an invitation he gives to us! I can see his genuine smile when he does see us.

We learn of the Plan of Happiness—This plan of happiness or the plan of salvation allows us—if we are obedient to the laws and commandments of God—to return to our Father in Heaven as families. But we also know that the path toward the Plan of Happiness is strewn with obstacles. Lehi’s dream shows us of the mists of darkness and the great and spacious building wherein people mock us at every turn. Yet, Nephi says, “And we heeded them not…” We also know that the path is narrow. Consider Jacob’s words: “Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name” (2 Nephi 9:41). The fact that the “Holy One of Israel” is the one at the gate is consoling. I know He loves me enough to be there to help me understand the true Plan of Happiness, but I must be obedient to His teachings.

We learn what kind of people we ought to be—It has been obvious from the beginning. When asked what manner of men ought you to be, the answer was very simple, yet profound: “Yea, even as I.” Throughout His ministry, He taught about being kind to the poor, helping those who need help, lifting the burdens of others, and willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; “Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—(Mosiah 18:8-9).

Part of the Plan of Happiness is our ability to know good from evil. In fact, Lehi in speaking to his son Jacob says “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11).

Once again, trough divine inspiration, Mormon helps us understand the succinct differences between good and evil:

“Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.

“But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God”

“Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil” (Moroni 7:12-14).

“For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil” (Moroni 7:16).

We learn of His love for us and of the blessings that come to us because of our obedience to the commandments of God. I know all of you have felt the love of our Heavenly Father and His Son, yes even their “tender mercies.” When we are obedient, happiness tends to extend to our very soul. It is when we do things not conducive to the spirit is when we feel overwhelmed or not worthy. This is the time when we need to repent and “come unto Christ” and bask in the spiritual awareness that will come. Moroni tells us that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ must be our foundation: “I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6). Thus, we must be faithful and obedient. Then the blessings will come forth in great abundance.

All of the modern-day prophets, from the Prophet Joseph to our latter-day prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley have urged and challenged us to read the Book of Mormon. Just in the last couple of months, President Hinckley has given the entire Church a challenge: to read entire Book of Mormon by year’s end. I know you can do this task. Mormon and Moroni knew you could, too.

To me, Mormon is the great editor of this world. His compilation of 1000 years of history and prophecies ultimately became 531 pages. One of the Harry Potter books, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, has 652 pages, and many of you read it in less than 48 hours. The last volume of the Work and the Glory has 521 pages; and the Fire and the Covenant, 730 pages. So…if we take a 1000 years of information and compress it into 531 pages, then each page, each chapter, each verse, each word will have enormous significance. Thus, that is why prophets have urged—yes, even commanded us—to read the sacred pages—for that is what they are—sacred writings, sacred words, written by prophets of old to you and to me. Thus, I reiterate President Hinckley and the First Presidency’s challenge to all of us to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year.

Like many prophets of old, and recently President Boyd K. Packer, I, too, bear witness that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book upon the face of the earth. Like you, I have read the Book of Mormon promise:

“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:3- 6)….of this I testify….

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