April 2, 2021

The Women at the Cross of Jesus

As Jesus hung in agony, many women stood by as witnesses to the very last moment as their Savior and friend suffered at Calvary’s cross. Among these women experiencing heartbreaking pain were Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and other women. While most of the other disciples fled, these women stood by as witnesses of the Savior’s death, and then helped cared for his body, [1] and became the first witnesses to his resurrection. 

The devotion to the Savior these women showed, when he suffered the most, cannot be overstated. They not only had to witness one of the most gruesome forms of execution, but they were risking their own lives to support Christ at the cross. Accomplices to a criminal, including women, could be crucified as well. [2] Think of the courage they had to remain knowing this, even as others mocked the Savior. These women show us how we can stand with Christ, even when others do not.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus 

Perhaps the most significant woman standing by is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary is a unique witness of Jesus Christ. She saw the Savior open his eyes for the first time and close them for the last time as a mortal on earth. Perhaps in that heart-wrenching moment, she reflected back on when as a youth an angel told her she would be the mother of the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:26-38). At such a tender age, could she have fully comprehended what that actually meant? Or she may have thought back to when Jesus was still an infant of just a few weeks old and she and Joseph brought him to be presented at the Temple in Jerusalem. As they entered the Court of the Women, Simeon, a devout and righteous man, prophesied that “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34 NKJV). And then to Mary he said, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35 NIV).

The Earthquake by James Tissot

As her tiny infant slept in her arms, or as the young child followed in her steps, could she have anticipated the moment when she would watch him crucified on the cross? How desperately she must have wanted to soothe his pain, and yet she stood by his side, watching him die, so that through his death we all might live. What a debt of gratitude we owe to this woman who raised Jesus as a child. 

In our own lives, we might be asked to do the unthinkable and watch a loved one suffer as we stand by helplessly. However, we can follow the example of Mary and keep our eyes focused on Christ. With no power to change the situation, we can find the strength to endure by looking to the Savior and encouraging those around us to do the same.

Mary Magdalene

Another woman named Mary who stood at the feet of Jesus was Mary Magdalene. Earlier in her life, she had been possessed by seven devils and had been healed by the Savior (see Luke 8:2). As a devout disciple of Christ, she remained at the cross after other disciples fled. Perhaps she did not want to leave him alone to suffer, for he had come to her in one of her moments of greatest suffering. 

Mary Magdalene by Heinrich Matvejevich Maniser

Although the Sabbath was quickly approaching, Mary did not leave Christ’s side, even after he had died. We know that she was one of those who stood by as Jesus’ lifeless body was lowered from the cross. Mary, with other women, then tenderly helped to prepare his corpse for burial. Additionally, she returned in the early morning hours that day after the Sabbath to finish preparing his body. To her surprise, she sees the Savior risen from the dead and becomes the first witness of his resurrection. Her intense sorrow has been replaced with pure joy. (John 20:1-18).

Mary Magdalene’s life teaches us that no struggle we face excludes us from having momentous spiritual experiences. We can choose to stay close to the Savior no matter what trials we may face or what our past may have been. And like Mary, we can find the sweet joy found on that Easter morn and run to invite others to come and see. 

Other Women at the Cross

Scripture records that most of the male disciples fled, [3] except for the “Beloved Disciple” (John 19:26), often assumed to be John, yet several women are mentioned as being present at the cross. Though the Gospels don’t agree on the names and number of these women, in addition to Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, it appears that among the many other women standing at the cross were the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother (John 19:25), Mary the mother of James and Joseph, an unnamed woman who was the mother of James and John (Matthew 27:55–56), Mary of Clopas (John 19:25), and Salome.

Throughout his mortal ministry, many women traveled with the Savior and were among his closest associates. Significantly, many of these women provided financial assistance that helped to move the work forward (see Luke 8:1-3). They showed an unwavering commitment and love for Jesus. Just before his death, these women traveled with the Savior more than 100 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem to attend the Passover. As Christ was welcomed to the city with waving palm branches and shouts of praise, could any of these women imagine that just a few days later they would stand at his feet in his final hours and watch him die? And yet, despite the extreme turn of events, they did not flee or turn away as other disciples had done. Together, as a unified sisterhood, they not only stood with the Savior in his last moments, but they stood together. How beautiful that among these women was Mary’s own sister, who supported the mother of the Savior, helping to bear the burden she had to carry. 

Like Mary Magdalene, these women came to the tomb and helped to prepare the body of the Savior for his burial. Despite what appeared to be the complete collapse of all their hopes, Jesus’s followers stayed near the tomb. They could have left town, but even though they did not understand what had or would happen, they remained close to where Jesus was. These women then returned after the Sabbath, to finish the burial process, only to find the tomb empty. As they left the tomb, the Savior appeared to these women. They clasped the feet of Jesus, touching his risen body, and then ran to tell the glorious news to the other disciples. (Matthew 28:9-10).

Jesus Appears to Women by James Tissot

As we contemplate the feelings of these women at the cross, we gain a powerful window into our own experiences. If you have ever felt fear and anguish as a result of unexpected events, these women can relate. They show us that we can hold steady even when nothing is turning out how we had planned. If you have ever felt the devastation of watching your loved ones suffer, these women can relate. They teach us of the importance of standing together as family and friends, and that just our presence can be a comfort to others. 

Because of Christ’s Atonement, we too can look forward to a time when the Savior “will swallow up death forever . . . [and] wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). We can find hope and strength in the faith of these women who endured this painful experience at the cross of our Lord and Savior. On that Easter morning, their sorrow turned to joy. Because the Resurrected Savior lives, so too can our tears dry, our sorrows can be swallowed up, and we can feel the joy that only Jesus Christ can bring.

Script written by John Hilton III adapted from Considering the Cross.

March 17, 2021

The Seven Last Words of Jesus on the Cross

Bruised and bleeding, the Savior’s final hours were spent crucified on a cross. Although racked with excruciating pain, he made seven significant statements as the last words of his mortal ministry. As we look more closely at these final statements, Christ shows us how he is a healing, human, and divine Savior to each of us.

A Healing Savior 

Though in desperate need of comfort himself, Jesus Christ’s first three statements show his compassion and desire to heal others.

First Statement 

The first statement was spoken as the soldiers crucified him. The Savior said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Amazingly, the Savior generously pleaded for mercy for those who were in the very act of crucifying him. He is showing by example what he taught during the Sermon on the Mount that we should love our enemies and “pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” (Matthew 5:44). Christ is teaching us how we should be willing to extend forgiveness and mercy, even when it is not merited, asked for, or acknowledged.

Second Statement 

The Savior’s second statement also displays tender compassion for others even while he himself suffers. As Christ hung between two thieves, one of them taunted him by saying, “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.” (Luke 23:39) But the other man rebuked him, by saying that they both were getting what they deserved (see Luke 23:41).

At this point, this penitent thief then pleads with the Savior, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” (Luke 23:42). These words, spoken by a convicted criminal, are the final recorded words addressed to the Savior before his death. His plea captures a special intimacy as he is the only person recorded in the Gospels as asking Christ to remember him. 

Christ and the Good Theif by Titian

Others might easily see this thief as worthless or beyond redemption. Yet, in his response to the man hanging beside him, Jesus shows us what he truly thinks of the human race. The Savior makes the second statement by saying, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). Can you imagine the reunion when Jesus and this man see each other after they have died? Christ would personally minister to him and teach him that very day. 

According to Luke, Jesus began his public ministry at a synagogue in Nazareth stating that he would “proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;” (Isaiah 61:1). How appropriate that he ends his mortal ministry by proclaiming freedom to one who is physically bound on a cross and spiritually bound by sin. Like this thief who hung beside Christ, we too can be freed from our own bondage and sins because of a healing and merciful Savior.

Third Statement 

When Jesus saw his mother Mary and the disciple whom Christ loved watching him as he suffered on the cross, he said the third statement. First to Mary, “Woman, behold thy son!” Then, directing his words to the beloved disciple (often assumed to be John), “Behold thy mother!” (John 19:26-27). Even in his greatest agony, the Savior focuses on the needs of his mother. He is showing by example how to obey the commandment he gave to “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Matthew 19:19). In John, the first miracle Christ performed was at the request of his mother by turning water into wine. Here, again, Christ lovingly attends to her needs even in his moment of greatest need. He inspires us to look outward, even when we are suffering.

Jesus Hangs on the Cross by Gebhard Fugel

The Savior demonstrated his healing power by forgiving the soldiers, comforting the thief and honoring his mother. Just as Jesus met them where they were, he will also meet us where we are—even those who make serious mistakes. No one is beyond the reach of the Savior’s healing love. 

A Human Savior 

In the next two statements we are reminded that though his Father was our Immortal God, Jesus was born of a mortal woman. In agony on the cross, he shows us his humanity through his suffering.

Fourth Statement 

As Christ experiences the effects of shock due to the loss of blood, with parched and shriveled lips, he cries out his fourth statement., “I thirst!” (John 19:28). During his ministry, Christ said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). What a powerful testament that he truly bears all of our pains as our Savior. Christ thirsted so that we can drink the cool, refreshing, water that he himself so desperately needed. As the Living Water, he strengthens us in our own challenges.

Fifth Statement

As the time of his death approached, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, ... My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, see also Psalm 22:1) making his fifth statement. In his moment of greatest distress, Christ is left to bear the full brunt of the sins of the world without the accompanying help of his Father. [1]

During his ministry he told those who loved him, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18). Even in his final painful hours he has sought to forgive, comfort, and honor those around him. And now he is the one in need of comfort, for even his Father has left him to suffer these pains alone. In this statement, we more fully see a human Savior who is suffering. In our pain, we can connect with Christ, for he knows how to heal our pain perfectly.

Jesus on the Cross by Jean Francois Portaels

A Divine Savior

As the end of the Savior’s life nears, we become acquainted with his divinity in his final two statements. Despite intense suffering, as the Son of God, he retains power over all things and completes his atoning sacrifice. 

Sixth Statement

In great agony, Christ makes his sixth statement, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Earlier in his ministry, Jesus taught that his purpose was “to obey the will of the one who sent me and to finish the work he gave me to do.” (John 4:34, GNT). In spite of earth and hell combining against him, thirsty, forsaken, and in agonizing pain, Christ has indeed completed the work his Father had sent him to accomplish. We can be confident that even when our lives spin out of control, Christ is completely in control. He is always at the helm. 

Seventh Statement 

Finally, moments before Jesus ended his mortal ministry on earth, he cried, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). [2] Perhaps the keyword in this seventh and final statement is I—indicating the Savior’s personal agency—he willingly gave up his life (see John 10:17–18). Note also the Savior intimately addresses God as “Father.” In the Gospel of Luke, Christ’s first recorded words at a young age of just 12 years are when he asks Mary and Joseph “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49, NKJV)—and now Mary’s witness provides the heart-wrenching answer. He had finished the work his Father sent him to do. Christ gave himself completely to God. Do we do the same? Are we willing to allow our will to be completely swallowed up in the will of the Father? 

Reflecting on these seven statements Jesus said from the cross, we see Christ as a healing Savior who extends mercy and comfort even in his own agony. We see Christ as a human Savior who can relate to our anguish and our suffering. He is a divine Savior, able to help us in every circumstance because he is all-powerful. In these seven simple yet poignant statements made in Christ’s final moments when he suffered the most, we see that Jesus Christ is the Messiah who has come to save us all. 

Script written by John Hilton III adapted from Considering the Cross: How Calvary Connects Us with Christ (Deseret Book, 2021).

February 28, 2021

Understanding the Parable of the Sower

Early in his ministry, Jesus stood in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and gave his first major parable, the Parable of the Sower. This powerful parable teaches us the importance of being prepared to receive the word and to be fruitful to the Lord.

The setting of the story is quite remarkable. Jesus had just left Capernaum, located north of the Sea of Galilee. As he began teaching, a large group of people gathered on the shore. Because of the growing crowd, Jesus climbed into a boat and began to teach so everyone would be able to hear. Though we don’t know the exact location, the traditional site is called the Cove of the Sower and has been identified because of the naturally created acoustics. Still to this day, if one stands on the edge of the shore, one’s voice can be carried to great distances.

Cove of the Sower by Ferrell Jenkins

In this parable, Jesus describes a sower who casts his seeds, which fall in four main areas. The first seeds fell on the path, where they were trampled on and eaten by birds. Next, some seeds fell on rocky ground where they could not grow roots deep into the soil and thus whithered in the hot sun. Other seeds fell among thorns which eventually choked out the young tender plants. Finally, some of the seeds were planted in fertile, moist soil, where they could take root and produce a crop.

To the Savior’s audience at the time, this parable of a sower planting seeds would have been a familiar story. Most of his listeners would have personally planted and harvested crops for their entire life. However, for a modern audience, the parable at times can be difficult to understand. Planting and harvesting techniques have changed significantly over the past two thousand years, which can lead to misinterpretations. With this in mind, let’s get our hands a little dirty so to speak and learn about ancient farming.

The four types of soil

Many farmers in ancient Israel did not own their own land. Rather, they would receive an annual stewardship of a plot assigned to them by the local leadership. Each individual farmer would mark their plot of land, not with a fence as is common today, but rather by some sort of a landmarker, such as a tree, a pile of rocks, or other notable feature. Without fencing, little paths would be used so farmers could access their pieces of land. This is likely what Jesus refers to as the first type of soil where the seeds fall on the paths and are eaten by the birds. Jesus tells us that this represents those who hear the word, but because they don’t understand, the evil one takes away the seeds that had been planted in their heart.

After the previous crops were harvested, the fields were then burned. This put the ash and other minerals back into the soil. Animals would then be allowed to roam the land rummaging for food leaving behind manure and thus fertilizing the soil. In such an arid climate, the hot sun would bake the ground and manure leaving behind hard, cracked soil.

While Israel is dry throughout much of the year, with almost no rain from May to October, when it does rain, it pours. In fact, Jerusalem receives about the same amount of rain as London, but in less than half (40%) the number of days. This rain falls predominantly during two seasons known as the “former” or “early” rains and the “latter” rains. The early rains begin in November and December, softening the soil so that seeds can be planted and the land can be tilled. The “latter rains” come in March and early April nourishing the planted crops, with the harvest of barley coming at Passover around March or April, and the harvest of wheat at the Feast of Weeks in May or June.

Unlike modern farming when crops are watered using ditches, flood irrigation, or sprinklers, anciently most farmers in Israel practiced what is known as dry farming, with rain as the only source of moisture. This means that it was crucial to plant crops during the rainy season. It also meant that to preserve as much water as possible in the soil, rocks were often left on the ground providing both shade and places where the water could pool. This is very different from early American and European farming where rocks were removed from the fields and used to build the fences around the property. This would likely be what Jesus was referring to for the second type of soil, the rocky ground. It represents those who initially receive the word with joy, but because they have no root, when times of trouble come, their joy proves to be short-lived and they fall away.

The Sower by O.A. Stemler

Once the soil was softened by rain, the farmer first cast the seeds on the ground. Next, animals were used to pull a plow to till the land and mix the seeds into the soil. Because the seeds are sown before the land is plowed, they might fall upon thorny ground, or where weeds and thistles grow. These unwelcome plants choke out the growing seeds by taking the light and water. The thorny ground represents those who hear the word but let the cares of the world and the deceit of wealth choke out the word, and thus never become fruitful.

And finally we learn of the seeds that fall in moist, fertile soil. The good soil represents those who hear and embrace the word. It is they who can produce a crop which yields many more seeds than used to sow, yielding as much as 30, 60, or even 100 times the original number of seeds planted. 

This powerful parable, as one can imagine, can have multiple meanings or interpretations. The sower can represent God or those authorized to act on his behalf. The seed, Jesus tells us, is the word. This could be the gospel of Jesus Christ or even the Savior himself for he tells us “I am the Word” (see John 1:1). 

As we read the Parable of the Sower, we might ask, where do the words of Christ fall in our lives? Do they fall on trampled paths, rocky soil, thorny ground, or good soil? In Ephesians we are encouraged to let the word of Christ take root in the fertile ground of our hearts. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may … know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17,19).

For those of us who have Jesus Christ deeply rooted in our hearts, what are we doing with it? Are we seeking to multiply the Savior’s love by sharing it with others? Are we constantly working and tending the soil of our hearts so that the planted seeds can continue to flourish? As we find joy in studying the words of Christ, we will find strength to withstand the thorns, rocks, birds, and even the harsh rays of the sun beating down upon us. As we do so, the refreshing living waters that comes from the Savior will provide the life-giving nourishment we need to grow and flourish.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

January 31, 2021

Healing Peter's Mother-in-Law

While in Capernaum, Jesus healed the mother of Peter’s wife who was severely ill with a fever. Once healed, she immediately began to serve Jesus and those who were with him. This story shows the great redeeming love of the Savior for this faithful woman, Peter, his family, and all of mankind. 

To better understand the significance of this miracle, let’s first look at the life of Peter and his household. Peter’s family lived in the small fishing village of Capernaum near the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Peter was a fisherman by trade who owned possibly at least two boats and worked with his brother Andrew and several partners (Luke 5:1-7). The family lived in the center of town only a short distance from the synagogue. In 1968, archeologists believed they found Peter’s dwelling when they discovered the remains of a first-century home. Because two ancient Christian churches were later built over the site, there is a strong likelihood this is the very home where this miracle took place. The home was typical for Capernaum with multiple dwellings clustered around an L-shaped courtyard. Here in this home lived Peter, his wife, his wife’s mother, his brother Andrew and likely others (see Mark 1:29-31). As it was customary for a son to care for his own parents, the fact that Peter is caring for his wife’s mother shows an added measure of devotion by Peter for this woman.

3D model of Peter's home in Capernaum by Ethan Fullmer

The story takes place shortly after Jesus begins his ministry. According to Luke, the healing happens even before Peter was asked to leave his family to be a disciple of Christ. Previously, Jesus had been in Nazareth where he declared to those in the synagogue that he was the Messiah. This angered the elders and Jesus was run out of his hometown where they wanted to throw him off of a cliff. Because he was rejected, Jesus left the angry crowd and traveled to Capernaum to teach the people there. On the Sabbath day, Jesus teaches at the synagogue near Peter’s home where the people are astonished by his words and his power. A man who is possessed with a demon begins to shout. Jesus casts out the evil spirit without harming the man. Word quickly spreads of the Master’s miraculous power. 

According to the oral law prescribed by Jewish leaders, healing was not to be done on the Sabbath if the person’s life was not in immediate danger. The leadership saw Jesus as breaking this “tradition” by healing this man; however, Jesus had not broken any of the commandments.

It is at this point that Peter and Andrew let Jesus know that the mother of Peter’s wife is sick with a fever. Luke, who is likely a physician, describes her as being oppressed and greatly suffering from her condition (Luke 4:38). In short, she is very ill indeed. 

Jesus, James, and John enter Peter’s home. Jesus approaches Peter’s mother-in-law “And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up” (Mark 1:31). 

Jesus takes Peter's mother-in-law by the hand by James Johnson

By holding her hand and raising her from her sickbed, Jesus is breaking a cultural norm. According to the Jewish leadership, touching a woman to whom he is not related could make a man ritually unclean. Jesus, however, is not concerned about the traditions of man. With the Savior’s touch, the woman is instantly healed, “and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them” (Matthew 8:15).

Like Jesus, this faithful woman, now healed, breaks tradition by preparing a meal on the Sabbath. To avoid cooking on the Sabbath, Jewish women would often use what is known as a Sabbath warmer. They would prepare the food on the previous day and stoke the fire before sunset. The prepared food would then be placed on a shelf above the fire keeping it warm on the Sabbath. Additionally, guests were not normally entertained in one’s home on the Sabbath. However, this woman’s first thought, once free from her illness, is to show her gratitude and devotion to the Lord by serving Jesus and others.

Jesus has done much more than just heal this sick woman. He has now provided a way for her to help take care of her daughter and the household. This loving act ensures that these women will be cared for in Peter and Andrew’s absence when they leave their fishing nets and families to become disciples of Christ. 

Jesus Heals Peter's Mother-in-Law by John Bridges

At the close of the Sabbath day, which would be at dusk, Mark records that the people “brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door.” (Mark 1:32-33). It is interesting to note that the home that was discovered in 1968 has an open area on the street entrance to the courtyard, allowing for a large group to congregate outside the home just as Mark describes. They appear to wait till sunset, the end of the Sabbath, to be healed so as to not break the cultural norms surrounding the Sabbath day. The Savior has compassion on them and blesses each one.

When we read this story in the Bible, we may ask how it applies to our own lives. How can we follow Peter’s mother-in-law’s example? Do we accept the healing touch of our Savior? Are we willing to show our gratitude for him by serving the Lord and others? Even if it means shedding cultural traditions? Do we look for opportunities, especially on the Sabbath day, to minister to and lift those around us? 

The story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law shows us how she and her daughter have become witnesses of Christ as the Messiah. In a single day, they have seen him heal someone in their congregation, their own family, and those in their community. While they don’t leave with Peter and Andrew to preach the gospel, they too have answered the call to follow Christ and make great sacrifices as the men in their family leave. They too now stand as a witness that Christ has come to save all the world. 

Just as Christ healed this faithful woman, he can heal us. He will comfort us. He will mourn with us. He will free us. All we need to do is heed his call, “Come, follow me.”

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

December 24, 2020

What was the birth of Jesus like?

Ask almost anyone about the setting of the birth of Christ, and you will likely be told about a stable, a wooden manger filled with hay, animals surrounding the baby Jesus, and snow falling outside as the shepherds enter the stable to worship the king of Kings. The problem is that this depiction, though we've heard it many times, is likely far from what actually took place on this night of nights.

To better understand the more probable setting of the Nativity, it's first helpful to understand a little about the natural landscape of Israel, and in particular Bethlehem. The land of Israel is covered with stones, hills and caves. In fact there is so much stone that most ancient homes would have been built almost exclusively of stonework, only using lumber for building aspects like the roof, ceilings, and doors. Trees were a limited, valuable resource, so they choose to build from the more abundant supply of stones. Caves were also commonly used, and it is probable that the "stable" which is not even mentioned in scripture, was located in one of the caves surrounding the hills of Bethlehem. These caves were a perfect place to keep animals, as it was cool during the hot days, and warmer during the cooler nights. [1] It also was a naturally built fortification, so little work would be required to build it, except for adding a fence and gate at the entrance.

Also, that wooden manger filled with hay, well, it actually would be made of stone as well. Many ancient stone mangers have been found in Israel of different sizes, shorter ones for animals like sheep and goats, and taller mangers for animals like horses and donkeys. The mangers were generally block-like in shape, and were only about six to eight inches deep. In addition, mangers were not used for hay, but instead for watering animals, as cutting and storing grass for feed was not necessary because of the warmer climate. Because Israel really only has a rainy season and a dry season, with little to no snow, grass is available all throughout the year. [2]

Stone manger found in Tel Megiddo in Israel
So why do we so often see a wooden stable and a manger filled with hay? Well, because most early Christian artists who depicted the Nativity, lived in Europe, where trees were readily accessible, winters were cold so that you had to store hay, and mangers were made of wood, and used to feed the animals.

Oh, and what about all those animals, especially the sheep, donkey and the ox that are in virtually every Nativity scene? Well, once again, the birth accounts of Jesus never mentions other animals being present, it only mentions that there was a manger, implying that there would be animals. So where do the animals come from? The sheep are there, most likely because of the shepherds. The ox and donkey however, come from, interestingly enough, a prophecy of Isaiah. The verse states: "The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand" (Isaiah 1:3). In other words, an ox and a donkey can recognize who feeds and waters them, but Israel could not recognize God's hand in their lives. Because this verse refers to a manger, or a crib as translated in the King James Bible, later Christians decided to incorporate an ox and a donkey into the story. [3]

Understanding the setting of the birth of Jesus, not only gives us a more realistic picture of this significant event, but also it seems to foreshadow the mission and death of Christ. At his birth, Jesus was likely born in a stone cave because there was no room in the inn, wrapped in linen swaddling bands, and laid in a stone manger. At his death, Jesus was buried in a borrowed stone tomb, wrapped in white linen, and laid on a slab of limestone. In addition, how appropriate that the great Messiah, the one who provides eternal living water (see John 4:14), was laid as an infant in a watering trough. It seems that even from the very beginning, the events of the life of Christ, were meant to point to and foreshadow the most important part of His life, that of His atonement, death and resurrection.

[1] Stone Manger, by Jeffrey R. Chadwick - location 788 of 2025
[2] Stone Manger, location 189 of 2025
[2] The Origins of Christmas, by Joseph F. Kelly, page 36-37

December 20, 2020

Who Were the Shepherds

The shepherds who came to worship the Christ child have been revered and honored by Christians for centuries. They are seen as symbols of humility, honor, and devotion. However, at the time of Christ, the people would likely have seen shepherds in a far less positive light. Yet, the Lord chose them to be one of the first witnesses of his birth. From this story we can learn that the Savior often calls the weak things of the world to testify of him.

During the first century, sheep were a critical part of ancient life. They provided wool for clothing and milk and meat for food. Perhaps most significant, sheep were used as part of the temple sacrifices. Every morning and evening a lamb was offered on the altar of sacrifice as a symbol of Israel’s constant daily need for a remission of their sins.

Even though caring for these important sheep was a critical occupation, shepherds were not typically held in high esteem. They generally didn’t own their own property. They travelled from place to place, and lived in tents like vagabonds. Their sheep grazed on land not owned by the shepherd. Unlike the educated Scribes or Pharisees, who were respected in society, shepherds held very little social or religious status. Yet, throughout the scriptures we read of several prophets and kings who were shepherds including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. Even though not valued by society, God clearly loved shepherds. 

Let us now look more closely at these particular shepherds who were chosen by God to be special witnesses of Christ. Luke tells us that they were watching their flocks in the fields near Bethlehem, a small village just outside of Jerusalem. Because of Bethlehem’s close proximity to the Temple and the large number of sheep that would be needed for the daily sacrifices, many scholars believe these shepherds were actually temple shepherds. If this is the case, then most of these sheep would eventually be offered as sacrifices to the Lord.

Luke also gives us an indication as to the time of year this miraculous event occured. He states that the shepherds were “abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8). During lambing season, shepherds stayed with their flocks both day and night. They lived among the sheep or “abided in the fields” so they could attend the birth of a new lamb. Because ewes were known to have potentially two or even three lambs born at once, it was necessary for the shepherd to watch for the firstborn of a new mother. As part of the law of Moses, the firstborn lambs were to be offered to the Lord as a special sacrifice. This would mean that the shepherd would need to mark the firstborn, possibly with a red ribbon, to set it apart from the other newborn lambs.

As these shepherds watched over their flock, suddenly an angel appeared unto them in the dark of night and said “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” One can only imagine the fear that filled their hearts, which was quickly changed to great joy! The long awaited Messiah had been born! For centuries Israel had waited for the great deliverer to come, and he was now here!

The angel then gives the shepherds a sign so that they will be able to recognize the child. “Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12). While finding a newborn wrapped in swaddling clothes would not have been unusual, to find him lying in a manger, a stone trough used to hold water for animals, would have been highly unusual. 

The shepherds leave immediately leaving everything behind and with great haste search for their Messiah. This would have been no easy task. Ancient homes would have no street addresses. People would need to ask villagers for help to find the home of their acquaintance. These shepherds most likely would have done this in the middle of the night, eager to find their Savior, Christ the Lord. 

The shepherds’ errand is reminiscent of when the prophet Samuel went searching for a king. It is in Bethlehem he finds a young boy tending the flocks in the field. Samuel anoints the young David to be the King of Israel. For this reason, Bethlehem is known as the city of David, the birthplace of the king who united Israel and prepared the way for the building of the temple. These shepherds are now searching in this same city for King David’s heir who is to be the King of Kings.

Adoration of the Shepherds by Jan Hoff

Upon finding the Christ child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, just as the angel described, the shepherds worshipped him and then made this wonderful news known abroad. As ones whose occupation was to witness the birth of the firstborn, shepherds were the perfect witnesses of the firstborn of God who had come to earth as the Savior and Messiah. Despite being on the lowest rung in society, the shepherds’ message caused others to marvel in wonder at the glorious news. 

We may often feel like the shepherds: unworthy, uneducated, unnoticed by the world. Yet the Lord most often calls the humble and weak of the world to stand as witnesses of him. He knows of the powerful testimony we each can share. We too can go in haste and find the Savior in this world of darkness and despair. While we may feel unqualified to spread the good news of the gospel, no matter our status, our wealth, our occupation, or our qualifications, we too can be like the shepherds. We can spread the news abroad to all who will hear. For unto us a child is born, even Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. 

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack and Daniel Smith

November 29, 2020

What the Genealogy of Jesus Teaches Us About the Messiah

The story of the birth of Jesus Christ has been told for centuries. The account usually begins with the annunciation to Mary or the appearance of the angel to the shepherds, yet Matthew begins his Nativity story with the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17). The long list of names intermingled with almost 40 "begats" can cause us to skim or even skip this portion completely. But Matthew appears to be teaching us a powerful message about the Messiah by recording His lineage. Let’s see if we can discover some of these lessons.

Matthew divides the genealogy into three main sections of fourteen names each. The first section lists the patriarchs, the second lists kings, and the third lists names of people mostly unknown to us (Matthew 1:17).

First Section
The genealogy begins with Matthew stating, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1). This first section recounts the names of the great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These were each men of great faith who with their wives left us great examples of righteousness. Right from the start, Matthew appears to be giving us a key to understanding his message, that of the promises made to Abraham, the great Patriarchal prophet. Each of these men were promised that through their seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed, a blessing that would be fully realized only through the birth and coming of the Messiah.

Second Section
The second section includes a list of Judah’s kings from David to the Babylonian captivity, emphasizing the importance of the dynasty of King David. David was seen by the Jews as one of their greatest kings. Through him the nation of Israel was united. Under his command, the temple was built by his son Solomon. Through his seed the nation was ruled by the line of the kings. Only two of the fourteen kings mentioned though were considered righteous—very few of the kings actually sought to guide their people to the Lord. [1] The true King of Kings in David’s royal line would only be fulfilled through Christ, the anointed one (see 2 Samuel 7:11-16).

Third Section
The last section lists names of those that are otherwise mostly unknown in the Bible. Matthew shows us the critical role these unknown helpers played in the birth of our Savior. We can easily view ourselves as nothing special when compared to great spiritual and political leaders like the prophets and kings in the previous two sections. But just like the unnamed widow who offered her two mites, our contribution—no matter how small—is acceptable before the Lord (Luke 21:1-4).

From these divisions we can see that God is able to work through the spiritually powerful, the politically powerful, and the commoners that appear to be powerless. It teaches us that each of us can play a critical role in helping to build the kingdom of God. [2]

Another intriguing aspect of Matthew’s genealogy is the inclusion of five particular women. Women are rarely mentioned in genealogies in the Bible (or anciently) except to teach a message or connect a name to a particular story. Thus, it would again seem that Matthew is trying to teach us something by including their names. Four of these women could be considered to have questionable or suspect backgrounds: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.

The first woman, Tamar, dressed as a harlot so that Judah, her father-in-law, would give her a descendent because of the Levirate law of marriage, which was her legal right (Genesis 38:13-30). Rahab, often called a harlot, though possibly just an innkeeper, was a Canaanite woman who lived in Jericho and helped hide the Israelite spies before they prepared to conquer the city (Joshua 2). Ruth, though a faithful and incredible woman, was a Moabite and not of Israel making her a foreigner (see Ruth 1:1-18). Bathsheba, perhaps a Hittite like her husband, was seduced by David and likely always seen as tainted by this act committed against her (2 Samuel 11:1-5).

Because of their backgrounds, each of these women were likely looked down upon at some point in their lives. Yet Matthew reminds us of their great contribution as heroes of the Bible. The last woman mentioned is Mary. Like the other four women, she too had a suspect background because of the miraculous yet misunderstood way she conceived the Christ child. Perhaps Matthew was trying to teach his audience that if you question Mary’s story, remember that many of the greatest prophets and rulers came from women who might have been questioned by society. [3]

As we read the genealogy of Jesus Christ and consider the people mentioned in His lineage, we learn from this long list that different types of people were used so that God’s Beloved Son could come to earth. Whether a righteous prophet, an imperfect leader, an unknown helper, or someone with a questionable background or reputation, all are known to the Lord. No matter our status, background, or station in life, we too can have our name added to the long beautiful list of those who play a critical role in gathering Israel in preparation for Christ’s second coming to earth.

Special thanks to Heather Pack who helped write the script for this video.

[1] A Coming Christ in Advent by Raymond E. Brown, pg. 21
[2] See Advent of the Savior by Stephen J. Binz, pg. 15-16 for commentary on the three sections
[3] A Coming Christ in Advent, pg. 23-24

November 22, 2020

Jesus and the Sinful Woman

The story of Jesus with the sinful woman found in Luke 7 teaches us a powerful lesson in love and service. As Jesus dined at the home of Simon the Pharisee, a woman entered uninvited and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and anointed his feet with fragrant oil. After Simon criticized Jesus for allowing her to do so, the Savior taught him and all of us of the importance of accepting others. 

Anciently, to invite a guest into one’s home was seen as a great gesture of friendship and even a way to make a covenant with another. Breaking bread together was often used as a sign or a token to show that two enemies once at war were now at peace. Welcoming one into the home served as a symbol that the guest was a trusted individual. 

Once a guest arrived, a host would do a series of acts in order for their visitor to feel welcomed and comfortable. It was common for a guest to be greeted with a kiss by the host, similar to shaking hands today. Because the roads were dusty and most wore sandals, feet were washed as a sign of generosity as this would have been the dirtiest part of the body. Lying sideways on cushions around the table, the feet would be extended making it easy for servants or a slave to perform the lowly task. 

Another common act of hospitality would be the anointing with oil. Ancient people did not bathe frequently and often worked long hours in the sun. Consequently, guests would appreciate when a host poured sweet-smelling fragrant oil on their parched, dry skin. While just a drop is used today for many religious services, a generous amount would have been poured on the head. As oils were expensive, particularly when enhanced with spices, flowers, and other fragrances, such an act would be considered a generous gift by the host.

Jesus anointed by a sinful woman by Jan van 't Hoff

With this context in mind, let’s now consider the events that occurred in Luke Chapter 7. Simon, a Pharisee, was a man of prominence and most likely invited Jesus into his home due to the Savior’s reputation and popularity. Despite his status, Simon does not provide any of the common acts of hospitality. However, an uninvited woman with a reputation for being sinful, does offer true generosity. She must have heard that Jesus was in the home and came seeking the Savior. She makes her way into Simon’s home uninvited. Uncovering her hair, she kneels at the feet of Jesus. With all the guests looking on most likely with shock, she washes Jesus’ feet with her tears. Now clean from the dust of the road, his feet are then dried with her hair. One can only imagine the tense feeling in the room. Next, she anointed his feet with the precious oil that she has brought in an alabaster flask or jar. 

This woman’s washing of Jesus’ feet does not go unnoticed by Simon. Anciently, unlike today, men normally would not touch women they were not related to fearing it could potentially make them ritually unclean. Because of this, Simon criticizes Jesus for allowing himself to be touched by this woman, one whom this Pharisee calls a sinner.

Jesus responds to this criticism with a parable of two debtors. One debtor owed 500 pence or what a common laborer made in about 8 years. The second owed 50 pence or about 10 months of wages. Jesus then says that both debts were frankly forgiven by the creditor. [1] He asks Simon, “Now which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:42 NIV

The pharisee answers by selecting the one who owed ten times as much. Jesus confirms that Simon has judged correctly. He then points out that Simon has made little effort to show hospitality, yet this woman has shown the Lord an abundance of love and generosity. 

The Master then turns to the woman and offers her a gift of far greater value than the precious oil she has used to anoint his feet. Jesus tells her, “Your sins are forgiven...Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:48, 50 NIV).

Christ and the sinner by Andrei Mironov

The Savior teaches us here that he is willing to forgive everyone, even those who others may not be willing to accept or forgive. All have a path towards redemption. As a woman of poor reputation in her community, she was willing to risk the possibility of being ridiculed by seeking diligently for the Savior. She did this to show her great love and devotion for the Lord. This woman is an example of faith to all of us. As we seek the Savior, we should not fear what others may think of us. What only matters is what the Lord thinks of us. It is remarkable that Christ never calls her the sinful woman. Instead, he sees her for her true character and gives her a much more appropriate description, he says, “for she loved much” (Luke 7:47).

As we think of this beautiful story, do we ever find ourselves treating others how Simon treated Jesus and the woman—with a lack of hospitality, patience, or acceptance? Will we graciously welcome the Savior as a guest into our home? Can we make space for those who want to be with the Lord and seek him out? Or do we choose to socialize only with those who look or think like us. The Savior clearly teaches us that we must love and be accepting of everyone, including those of different beliefs or ideas. We all are children of our loving Heavenly Father, and like this faithful woman, we all have a seat at the Lord’s table.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

November 1, 2020

Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman

The story of Jesus healing the crippled woman teaches us a powerful lesson about freedom from bondage. Just as the woman’s deformed back was healed after long suffering, so too can we be lifted up and freed from our own captivity by the healing touch of our loving Savior. 

As Jesus is teaching on the Sabbath in a synagogue, a woman, who is severely hunched over catches his eye. She has suffered for 18 long years in this debilitating state (see Luke 13:10-17). As one who is bent over and unable to lift herself up, she not only would have been literally looked down upon by others but most likely figuratively as well. Anciently people often saw infirmities “as a result of God’s disapproval” because of sin or unworthiness. [1] Luke states that the woman suffered from “a spirit of infirmity” which could point to some sort of mental or spiritual struggle as well. Perhaps this also meant she felt shame or depression because of her imperfect body. (see Luke 13:11).

Fortunately, there is One in the crowded synagogue who does not look down upon this woman. Jesus sees her among the people and calls her to him. Bravely, she pushes past those who stand straight and tall, and with her imperfect body, comes to Christ. He then reaches out his hand to touch her. Jewish men did not customarily touch women whom they were not related to. They feared it could make them ritually unclean. [2] Nevertheless, he lays his hand upon her and says, “Woman, thou are loosed from thine infirmity” (Luke 13:12). The original Greek word here for “loosed” means to be released or liberated. Immediately, for the first time in almost two decades, she is able to rise and stand straight.

The Jews created a "fence" around the law (created by Ethan Fullmer)

The Jewish leaders were not impressed. They immediately began to criticize Jesus for performing this miracle on the Sabbath. While Jesus had not broken the law, he had broken down what was known as the “oral law.” For years, the leadership had built a barrier or a fence, so to speak, around the laws of God with a series of cultural traditions or rules in an attempt to prevent one from breaking any commandments. As these barriers became more and more restrictive, it distanced the people from the true purpose of the law, hiding it from their view. 

Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of these supposed laws by pointing out that the true purpose of the Sabbath has been lost. He teaches that this holy day is set aside for the Lord’s work. It is a day to commemorate the creation, for remembering the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, and to praise God. [3] 

The woman has come to be refreshed spiritually, as have all the others. What better day to be healed than on the Sabbath day! How fitting that once made whole, she glorifies the Lord, for it is especially on this day we are to pay our devotions unto the Most High (see D&C 59:10).

Jesus declares, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?” (Luke 13:15 NIV). If even the Jews can give water to their animals on the Sabbath, when better for this woman to drink of the living water? 

The Crippled Woman by Jan van 't Hoff

When studying the scriptures, we gain a better understanding of this account by looking at its context. With this in mind, let’s consider what Jesus taught immediately before and after his miraculous healing of this woman as it will add greater insights to these events.

Before the story of the healing, Jesus was telling the people at the synagogue the story of when the tower of Siloam had collapsed, crushing 18 people (the same number of years this woman had suffered). (Luke 13:4-5). Just as these people were killed through no fault of their own, so too had this woman done nothing wrong to suffer this infirmity. By connecting these two stories, we can learn that even bad things can happen to good people. 

After the woman is healed and able to stand straight once again, Jesus does something remarkable. He calls her by a name that only appears once in the Bible—Daughter of Abraham (Luke 13:16). The Jews saw Abraham as the greatest of the patriarchs, and that the promised blessings came through him because of his and Sarah’s faithfulness. Jesus makes sure that those at the synagogue that day understand that despite how they might see her, the Lord sees her true worth and divinity. 

Mustard seeds, via Wikimedia

Later in the chapter, Jesus shares two short parables, one of the mustard seed and one of the leavened bread (Luke 13:18-21). He explains that even the tiniest of seeds can grow into a tree. Even a little bit of leaven, or yeast, when added to flour will permeate the dough producing large loaves of bread. He possibly shares these parables to help the people see the great importance of this woman, and each of us, as a child of God. Perhaps after years of seeing her bent over, others could not imagine the good this woman could do. However in her is a seed, albeit small, that contains what Peter calls her “divine nature” (see 2 Peter 1:4). No one should discount the divine potential of this small woman. 

This woman had spent 18 years looking down. Her myopic, or limited view, would have been focused on the rocks, dirt, and the ground below her feet. Now her field of vision has broadened and she can look directly into another’s eyes. Now others can see the light of Christ in her eyes and that she has always had the ability to bless those around her.

In the challenging world we live in today, we can feel like we are in bondage. Crippled with feelings of unworthiness, grief, depression, and anxiety, we might not see our own self-worth or feel we can lift ourselves up. We might compare our bodies given to us by God to what the world tells us perfection should look like. It can be easy to just focus on the ground below us failing to see the blue majestic skies above. 

We might wonder if we are somehow unworthy or unloved by God when our own towers of Siloam fall down crushing us and holding us captive. But like this crippled woman, we too have the potential to be magnificent. We can stand tall knowing we are children of our Heavenly Father and partakers of the covenant of Abraham. 

Jesus always sees our true divinity, no matter where we may be focusing our gaze. With so much demanding our time and attention, God has given us one day each week, the Sabbath day, to focus on Him and do His work. He is beckoning us to come to Him so that our spirits can be lifted up and we can be refreshed and made whole. He wants us to be free from what binds us. And then, like this woman healed by the Master’s touch, we too can praise and glorify the name of our Lord and Savior, even Jesus Christ.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

October 3, 2020

Understanding Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot

It is prophesied when Christ comes again we will gather at the wedding feast of the Lamb celebrating the triumph of the Savior over all things. To be taught of this significant event and other teachings, Israel was given the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. Understanding this feast not only teaches us of the last days leading up to the Second Coming, but also of the Savior’s role as the light of the world, the living waters, and the King of Kings. 

In addition to daily, weekly, and monthly worship, Israel was commanded to participate in three major feasts: The Feast of Passover, The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot (Leviticus 23). Occurring during fixed times at the spring, summer, and fall harvests, these feasts were meant to both remind Israel of past events and teach them of future events.

Let’s now look more closely at the third feast, the Feast of Tabernacles, which Josephus called the “most holy and most eminent” of the feasts. [1] 

On the first day of the seventh month, is the Feast of Trumpets also known as Rosh Hashanah (Leviticus 23:23-25) ushering in a period of ten days of penitence for the people to prepare for the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur (Leviticus 23:26-32). As the holiest of days, it is the only day when the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, symbolically taking Israel into the presence of the Lord. Israel is now forgiven of their past sins and prepared for the holiest of the feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles which begins five days later (Leviticus 23:33-43). The feast’s connection to the final harvest of the year foreshadows the final harvest of souls at the coming of the Messiah. 

According to the Law, Israel was to build booths or temporary shelters to dwell in for seven days from the 15th through the 21st day. (Leviticus 23:42) These booths, also known as Sukkot in Hebrew, were generally moderate in size with at least three walls and a roof made of branches. [2] This likely was a fun time for children as the families ate and slept in their temporary tabernacle or sukkah, almost like “camping” in the backyard. The purpose of living in the booth was to remind the people that Israel dwelt in booths after the Lord brought them out of Egypt. (Leviticus 23:43).

A young boy holds an oil lamp during the Feast of Tabernacles

It also could remind Israel that the Lord dwelt among his people in the Tabernacle which stood in the center of the camp of Israel. John taught of when the Savior came to earth that “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” (John 1:14 TLV). Just as the Lord was with the people as they escaped bondage and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, so too is our Savior with us as we seek out shelter from our worldly cares and troubles. He will always dwell with us, if we let him, as we journey toward our own Promised Land.

In addition, the Lord commanded the people to celebrate by taking “the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook” and rejoice during the feast before the Lord (Leviticus 23:40 NKJV). Despite it being during Passover when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem riding on a donkey, the people greeted him by waving palm branches (John 12:12-19). This was likely due to them understanding the connection of Jesus triumphantly entering Jerusalem and the coming of the Messiah during Sukkot. By waving palm leaves and shouting hosanna to the Lord, they were obeying what was commanded in the law! [3]

A priest draws water from the Pool of Siloam for Sukkot

During the second temple period, additional celebrations were added to Sukkot. Each morning during the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles, a procession of priests came from the Temple down to the Pool of Siloam whose water came from the Gihon spring and was the principal supply of water for Jerusalem. With a golden pitcher, a priest drew water from the large pool. Because it came from a spring, the water was considered “living water” and used for ritual purification. The priests then took the pitcher of “living water” and returned to the temple. As they arrived at the court of the priests, they circled the altar once and then the priest poured the water out onto the altar of sacrifice. They did this each morning for the first six days. On the seventh day, called the “great day of the feast” (John 7:37) the same ritual took place, except the priests circled the altar seven times instead of only once. This ritual symbolized Israel’s request that the Lord bless them with rain for the next harvest season. [4]

Water from the pool of Siloam is poured out at the altar for Sukkot

On this very day, when Israel was praying for rain, Jesus proclaimed, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38). By Jesus proclaiming that he was the ultimate source for “living water,” he was giving a clear and direct declaration of His divinity. The day following the feast Jesus found a blind man and spit on the ground making a small amount of mud. He anointed the blind man’s eyes and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam, the exact same pool where the priests had drawn living water for seven days. The blind man obeys and is healed. (John 9:1-38) Eventually, he is able to see the One who gave him sight. Like the blind man, we too have the opportunity to see with our spiritual eyes and be purified with the Living Water, even Jesus Christ. 

On the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, in addition to the water-drawing ceremony, the people gathered at the temple in the Court of the Women. Young Levite boys climbed up to four massive candelabras lighting their large bowls filled with oil. This light was so bright that it is said that every courtyard in Jerusalem was lit. It is in this same area of the temple just days later, that Christ proclaims “I am the light of the world...” (John 8:12). Just as the light from the candelabras shone over the entire city, so too does the light of Christ shine throughout the world for all to see. [5]

In scripture, the fall feasts were also connected with several significant events. This was when traditionally kings were often anointed with oil as king of Israel. Solomon’s temple was also dedicated during the Feast of Sukkot, and the presence of the Lord came down to accept his Temple. Significantly, it is during this season of Tabernacles that we look forward to the coming of Christ as the King of Kings, coming to his temples or places of worship. The prophet Zechariah declares that all nations will celebrate Sukkot when Christ returns. “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.” (Zechariah 14:16).

A family celebrates the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot

The Feast of Tabernacles is a wonderful time of joyous celebration. As we are now living in the last days anxiously awaiting the joyful return of our Savior, we can see that this feast teaches us of the glorious celebration that awaits us. The scriptures teach that at the sounding of the trumpet at Christ’s coming, that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Lord (see Romans 14:11; Mosiah 27:31; D&C 88:103-104). Are we willing to confess now before the final harvest that Jesus is our Anointed King and Savior? Are we spiritually prepared to greet him when he comes again to the Temple Mount as the light of the world? Every day we can drink of the living water of Christ as we study the scriptures, pray to the Father, and serve others as God loves them. How magnificent will be the day when those from all nations gather together and feast with our Lord, even Jesus Christ.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

September 27, 2020

Understanding the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur

The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is the most holy and solemn day of the Jewish calendar. It is the only day when the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place within the Tabernacle and ancient temples. It was the only day when the high priest reconciled Israel with God and symbolically brought them back into the presence of the Lord. No other day and no other ancient ritual comes closer to the full meaning and purpose of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The fall season of festivals begins with Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashana marks the start of a ten-day period of repentance and preparation for the Day of Atonement. During these ten days, Israelites would seek to draw closer to God in preparation for these sacred rituals. On the Day of Atonement, all of Israel would be forgiven for their sins of the previous year, thus allowing them to be cleansed and prepared for the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot to occur five days later. Feast of Tabernacles was the final and most joyous of the three major Jewish feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

The Day of Atonement followed a complex, yet beautiful ritual, symbolizing that all of Israel now had been forgiven and was able to re-enter the presence of the Lord through the high priest (see Leviticus 16).

The ritual began with the high priest, dressed in his normal colorful golden garments, offering the daily morning ritual of sacrifices and burning of incense on the altar of incense. He then would wash his flesh and change into simple white robes. The act of washing and changing clothes would actually occur five separate times throughout the ritual. The wearing of just the white robes could symbolize the Savior who leaving His heavenly throne, “laid aside all the glory … [and] put upon Himself the plain robe of humanity … becoming like one of us.” [1] The color of white is also a powerful symbol of purity, representing the absolute purity of the true Great High Priest, even Jesus Christ.

The high priest selecting lots for the goat for the Lord and for the scapegoat
Next, the high priest would bring two goats into the Tabernacle or temple and cast lots for each of them. One lot was for Azazel, or the scapegoat, and the other was for the Lord (Leviticus 16:7-10). A red ribbon was tied around the horns of the scapegoat to distinguish it from the other goat.

The high priest would then take a bullock, or young bull and place his hands on its head, symbolically transferring his own sins and the sins of his fellow priests to the bull. He would then slit the throat of the bull and catch the blood in a dish to be saved for later services. (Leviticus 16:11)

The high priest entering the Holy of Holies with incense on the Day of Atonement
He then would bring a burning coal from the altar of sacrifice and incense into the Holy of Holies through the veil for the first time. Here dressed in all white, the high priest would burn the incense before the Lord. The room would fill with smoke, the cloud of smoke often being a symbol of the presence of God. (Leviticus 16:12-13).

The high priest then would exit the Holy of Holies, wash again, and take the blood of the bull and re-enter the Holy of Holies for a second time. He would then sprinkle seven times the blood of the bull on the Ark of the Covenant. (Leviticus 16:14). The shedding of the blood of the young bull represented that the high priest was forgiven and reconciled to enter into the presence of the Lord.

The high priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement
The high priest would then kill the goat that was chosen for the Lord, again saving the blood in a dish. He then would enter the Holy of Holies with this blood for the third and final time. As he did before, he would sprinkle the blood of the goat seven times before the ark. (Leviticus 16:15-16). As the goat was the offering for the people, this act of bringing its blood into the Holy of Holies represented that all of Israel was symbolically able to enter the presence of the Lord, through the high priest and because of the shedding of the blood of the sacrifice. Just as the high priest could only enter by blood, so too it is only by the shed blood of Jesus Christ that we can enter God’s presence.

As the high priest exited the Holy of Holies, he would then sprinkle the combined blood of the bull and the goat before the veil of the Tabernacle. He would also use the blood to cover the four horns of the altar of incense. The remaining blood was poured out at the base of the altar of sacrifice in the outer court. (Leviticus 16:18-20).

High priest laying his hands on the scapegoat for the Day of Atonement
The high priest would then return to the scapegoat and place his hands upon its head symbolically transferring the sins of all the people to the goat. He then would utter the sacred name of the Lord, which was never to be said except on this holy day, “Oh, Jehovah! I intreat Thee! Your people, the House of Israel, has been iniquitous, sinned, and erred before you. Oh, then Jehovah! Cover over, I intreat Thee, upon their iniquities, their transgressions, and their sins!” [2] The goat was then taken outside of the Tabernacle and led into the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:20-21). The guiltless goat, dependent upon its owner for its care and protection, would become lost and die in the desert. Perhaps no symbol of the Savior is more powerful than the scapegoat. Innocent of any wrongdoing, just like this goat, the Savior has had laid upon Him the sins of the world. As Isaiah so beautifully stated, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6).

The scapegoat being led into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement
Modern readers often gloss over the significance of the Day of Atonement as simply an outdated, archaic ritual of death and covering of blood. However, as one better understands each of the aspects, it teaches a powerful message of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The word atonement, or kaphar in Hebrew, actually means to cover. Thus, as the high priest literally covers with blood the ark, the veil, and the altars of the Tabernacle, he symbolically shows that atonement has been made, and that the way is now open to progress back through the Tabernacle because of the shedding of blood.

From the scriptures we learn that when the Savior went to pray and suffer in Gethsemane, He first left eight disciples at the entrance, then took Peter, James, and John further into the garden, and then by Himself, went further in to pray. Though it is impossible to know the exact reason for this three-level progression the Savior creates within the garden, it has a strong correlation to the three levels of the Tabernacle with the outer courtyard, the holy place, and the holy of holies. It is as if the Savior desired to recreate these three levels, to show that He was officiating as our Great High Priest and interceding on our behalf.

How beautifully the symbolism of the Day of Atonement teaches us that it is only through the shed blood of the Lamb of God, even Jesus Christ, that we can once again enter the presence of the Lord. It is only because He took upon Himself our sins and iniquities, that we can be forgiven and our burdens made light. Because of Him, we can have our sins covered over, blotted out, or atoned for. The book of Hebrews teaches, “But Christ being come an high priest … Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). How wonderful it is that unlike ancient Israel, who only could be forgiven once a year, we can daily come to the Lord, lay our sins and guilt upon Him, and continually be forgiven and cleansed because of His atonement!

[1] Thus Shalt Thou Serve, The Feasts and Offerings of Ancient Israel, C.W. Slemming, pg. 151.
[2] Paraphrased from: The Temple, Its Ministry and Services by Aldred Edersheim, pg. 253-254 and Carta's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by Israel Ariel, pg. 146-147.