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.

September 18, 2020

Understanding Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah

 

We live in a time when as the Savior prophesied in Matthew, there are wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. These perilous times can cause us to fear an uncertain future. But as followers of Christ, if we are prepared, we have nothing to fear, for these are signs that the Savior will come again bringing peace to the land. The Lord taught ancient Israel about his first and second coming through the celebration of the Feasts, including the Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah. Understanding these feasts, and in particular the fall feasts, can help us prepare for the glorious return of Christ our King.

Israel has two major harvest seasons. The early or spring harvest, and the later or fall harvest. Each of the various holy days and feasts coincide with these two harvest seasons.

The Passover Supper by Brian Call

Let’s first look at the feasts that occur during the early harvest. In the spring, the Feast of Passover reminds Israel when the lamb’s blood on the doorposts spared them from the destroying angel. It also commemorates the crossing of the Red Sea as they escaped bondage in Egypt. During the Passover season is when the Savior died and rose from the dead, redeeming all who believe on his name, just as ancient Israel was redeemed from bondage by the blood of the lamb. 

Fifty days later, Israel celebrated what was known as the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, reminding them of the receiving of the 10 commandments and the law of Moses on Mount Sinai. It also commemorated the harvest of wheat. It was during this feast, 50 days after the resurrection of Christ, on the Day of Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and the first harvest for souls began.

The high priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement

The high holy days in the fall begin with the Feast of Trumpets, followed by the Day of Atonement, and finally the Feast of Tabernacles. These feasts were to remind Israel of the 40 years spent wandering in the wilderness before arriving in the promised land. This later or final harvest has yet to be fully fulfilled and points to the time we now live in, when scattered Israel will be gathered in preparation for the Lord's second coming.

With this in mind, let’s now focus on how the fall or later harvest begins, with the Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah. This feast begins on the first day of the seventh month. The number seven can symbolize fullness or completion, and can point to the completion of the end of the yearly harvest cycle. This month is the sabbatical month of the year. Just as God rested on the seventh day after the creation, and the seventh day of the week is to be a day of rest, so too is this month meant to be a holy month. 

The month officially began when two or more witnesses observed the new moon and testified to the Jewish leadership of what they saw. Once the leadership verified their testimony, the announcement was heralded around Jerusalem, then to Israel, and beyond. Messengers were sent to all the land. Large torches were lit from mountaintop to mountaintop to proclaim the start of this most holy season.

In addition to light, sound was also used to spread the word. Trumpets were used to declare to the people in villages and cities that the high holy days or “days of awe” had begun. Throughout the scriptures we learn that the sounding of trumpets symbolized several events. Trumpets were used to announce the beginning of the sabbath, and all feasts. Trumpets were used as a battle cry. The sound of a shofar horn was used to symbolize the gathering of Israel. Trumpets were used to call forth a solemn assembly, the anointing of a king, and were even used as sounds of praise. 

This particular sounding of the trumpets was to warn Israel that the time to enter the Lord’s presence was at hand. For ten days, Israel was to remember the Lord, repent, and prepare for the most high and holy day, the Day of Atonement also known as Yom Kippur. On this day, and only on this day, the high priest entered the most sacred room of the Tabernacle or Temple called the Holy of Holies. He did this on behalf of all Israel, symbolically taking them into the presence of the Lord. There he would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice seven times on the mercy seat. This symbolized that because of the shedding of blood, Israel was now forgiven and prepared for the holiest of the feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles. Starting on the fifteenth day, Israel then would dwell in booths, or tabernacles, for seven days. Families would wave palm branches, and feast together celebrating this most joyous of seasons, the end of the final harvest.

The sounding of the shofar during the Feast of Trumpets also could remind the people of when Israel was gathered at Mount Sinai. The Lord wanted all of Israel to enter into his presence, and told Moses that “...when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.” (Exodus 19:13) It was the sound of the trumpet that was to signal that they could come to the mountain of the Lord into his presence.

Interestingly, for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this day is also very significant. On September 22, 1827, on the very day of the Feast of Trumpets, the angel, and ancient prophet Moroni delivered the golden plates to the young Joseph Smith. These records are known today as the Book of Mormon and are a second witness of Christ’s words to the people in the ancient Americas. Moroni today is often depicted on Latter-day Saint temples with a trumpet in hand symbolically signalling the final gathering of Israel, and perhaps reminiscent of this connection to the Feast of Trumpets.

In a world filled with a cacophony of noise, have we heard the trumpets sounded by messengers warning us that the Lord will soon come to dwell among us? Signs are all around us that the second coming of Jesus Christ is near. Are we preparing spiritually for this glorious day? We are living in our own days of penitence. Are we striving to repent of our sins and live his gospel by studying the scriptures, drawing close to God in prayer, and loving and serving those around us? Just as the light shone on the mountain tops announcing the beginning of the fall festival season, so too can we shine our light on a hill for others to see and hear the good news of the gospel. 

Let us heed the trumpet’s warning that now is the time to spiritually prepare for Jesus Christ’s second coming. The trumpet’s battle cry is calling us to gather Israel in a solemn assembly. The trumpets are announcing that soon we will attend the marriage supper of the Lamb (see Revelation 19:9). Let us join in the trumpet’s song of praise to the anointed King, our great high priest, who by the shedding of his own blood has enabled us to be clean that we may enter into the presence of our Father in heaven.

September 6, 2020

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria


A Samaritan woman living in adultery approaches Jacob’s well to draw her daily supply of water. She comes at noon in the heat of the day, unlike other women who typically come in the cool morning and evening hours. As she approaches, she sees a man sitting at the well. He’s a Jew, those who despise Samaritans. She will soon learn this is no ordinary Jew. He is the Messiah, and what he has to offer will change her life forever.

Gathering water was primarily a woman’s responsibility. Most women chose to come to the well at the same time to socialize and share the latest news. Weighing at least 40 pounds, a family’s daily supply of water required great strength to carry. Such an arduous task would be avoided at noon when the sun is high. As someone who had previously had five husbands and was now living with a man unmarried, she chooses this unpopular time most likely because she has been ostracized by others and the subject of their gossip. At the hottest time of the day, she can gather her daily supply of water alone and unnoticed.

As this woman is making her way to the well, Jesus and his disciples have left the well-travelled path to take a shortcut through Samaria. Jews typically would use a longer route between Galilee and Jerusalem. They did this to avoid Samaritans whom they considered to be unclean and of mixed blood. According to the Pharisees, touching a Samaritan, someone living with another unmarried to them, or even just a woman, could render a Jew unclean. The woman who finds Jesus alone at the well is all three.

As the woman quietly prepares to fill her waterpot with her daily supply of water, Jesus makes a simple request. “Give me to drink” (John 4:7). This must have surprised her for she responds, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” (John 4:9)

Jesus and the Woman at the Well by Anton Robert Leinweber
If Jesus were to touch even the cup the adulteress Samaritan woman used to get him a drink, he would then be considered by some to be ritually unclean. This would require a need to become ritually clean once more.

In Biblical times, water was not just considered essential for one’s physical sustenance but for spiritual survival as well. In order to become ritually clean, one would wash in what is known as a mikvah filled with living water. Living water came from a natural source of moving water such as a spring, rainwater, or a stream. If even just a small amount of living water was added to water that was stagnant or not moving, all of it would then be considered living water and thus able to be used for purification.

Mikvah from the time of Christ next to the Temple Mount
When Jesus mentions living water to the Samaritan woman, she seems to understand the spiritual significance of Christ’s words. Samaritans still had many of the truths of the law of Moses and practiced them during the time of Christ. As a woman living in sin, she would want to experience the purification that living water could provide. However, she is confused by his offering. The well is deep and Christ does not have a way to access this living water. He then offers a profound promise: “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst;” (John 4:13-14)

After being taught from the Savior, she is then offered a rare gift, one that few have received up to this point, including Christ’s own disciples. She receives a clear witness that Jesus is in fact the Messiah she seeks. He simply states, “I Am the Messiah!” (John 4:26 NLT). As we read the story in John, we see that the Samaritan woman has progressed towards a deeper understanding of the man she initially met at Jacob’s well. First, she calls him a Jew (v. 9), then Sir (v. 11), then prophet (v. 19) and finally Christ (v. 29).

Samaritan Woman at the Well by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller
 The purification received from grace now begins to work within her. She realizes she has met her Savior. She leaves behind the waterpot she had brought to collect her daily water and runs to testify to the very ones she had hoped to avoid by coming to the well at noon. She proclaims to them, “Come, see… is not this the Christ?” (John 4:29) Because many people believed her testimony, Jesus was welcomed into her village. There he stayed for two days as people came to see the man she has witnessed is the Christ.

While this story stands alone as a witness to the divinity of the Savior, it has an even more powerful message when one considers that John has placed it next to the story of Nicodemus (see John 3). John frequently used this technique to allow readers to gain poignant insights with a side-by-side comparison of opposite characters.

Nicodemus was a Jew and a ruler in the Sanhedrin, she was a Samaritan and an adulterer. Nicodemus would have studied the law, as a woman she would not have been formally taught the law. Nicodemus comes to Christ when it is fully dark, the woman comes to the well in full light. He does not ask to be spiritually born, she asks for the living water. Nicodemus does not appear to tell others immediately what he has learned, this woman runs to tell others what she now knows.

Even today Nicodemus would seem like the one Christ would select as a witness. His wealth, education, and powerful influence should make him the obvious choice. Yet Jesus chooses the one who is none of these. He chooses the adulteress Samaritan woman. God knows best who will be his most effective servants. We should not doubt God’s ability to give us through grace the power we need, even when we feel weak.

As we contemplate the events that occurred with Jesus and the woman at the well, both men and women alike can see themselves in this powerful story. In the modern world, we do not socialize at wells, but we do find places to gather to connect with others. At times we may not feel worthy or accepted by others, and thus withdraw or exclude ourselves from the group. Fortunately, Christ is willing to leave the well-worn path and come to where we are.

Just as the woman was surprised that Christ would ask her for something to drink, we too may feel that what we have to offer is not acceptable. Christ is willing to receive whatever we freely give no matter how meager it might be.

Each of us comes to our own Jacob’s well. We seek to quench our thirst only to have to return later. We try to be fulfilled by what the world has to offer, and yet it always leaves us wanting for more. When we come to Christ, he offers us the refreshing, purifying living water. It washes over us leaving us clean and whole. It nourishes and strengthens us so that we can leave behind our earthly cares and rush to testify of Jesus the Christ.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

August 9, 2020

Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery



Early in the morning while Jesus was teaching at the temple, the scribes and Pharisees presented a woman they claimed to have committed adultery. Attempting to trap the Savior, they ask what should happen to the woman. (John 8:1-11). The Master’s response teaches us a powerful lesson of both justice and mercy.

According to the Law of Moses, the act of adultery was punishable by death by stoning (Leviticus 20:10). The death penalty was also prescribed for several other types of sins including persistent disobedience to parents (Deuteronomy 21:18–21), breaking the Sabbath day (Exodus 31:14), and blasphemy (Leviticus 24:10–16), among others. Today, the severity of the punishment might seem archaic and overly harsh. However, a better understanding of the law reveals that it actually provided for both justice and mercy in a masterful way unmatched by even our modern legal system.

Before anyone was punished, the accused would be tried before the Jewish leadership where at least two witnesses must testify of the wrongdoing. If the verdict was guilty, the witnesses who accused the person had two options. First, while still being guilty of the crime, the person could be forgiven by the witnesses, thus receiving mercy. Their life is spared. If the witnesses refused to forgive, they were required to cast the first stone. The punishment of death would be required at the hands of the witnesses. They could not just stand by and watch. (Deuteronomy 17:6–7). If the accusation was later discovered to be false, the witnesses could also be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 19:15–21).

The stoning of Stephen by Robert Leinweber
In the Old Testament, mercy was the outcome in almost all instances where the law required capital punishment. For example, King David’s son Absalom was allowed to live even though he had tried to overthrow his own father’s kingdom and take the throne (2 Samuel 14:33). If stoning had been chosen every time a child disobeyed a parent or an Israelite failed to keep the Sabbath day holy, very few, if any, Israelites would have remained. The law, in essence, teaches the severity of disobeying the Lord, while also teaching the importance of being merciful—fulfilling both justice and mercy.

Now let’s focus on the Pharisee’s accusation of this woman. Typically, when adultery occurred, both parties were tried before the Jewish leadership. The woman’s husband would then decide whether to forgive the immoral act or cast the first stone. In this instance, no mention is made of either the man the woman was supposedly with or of her husband. This means one of the following three scenarios are possible: first the woman had committed adultery, second the woman had been raped, or third the woman was actually innocent and thus falsely accused. Whatever the case may be, this woman is not receiving a fair trial according to the law.

In order to trap Jesus, the Pharisees say, “Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” (John 8:5). Silently, Jesus bends down and uses his finger to draw on the ground, the same finger who had written the law on the stone tablets on Mt. Sinai. This serves as a powerful reminder that he who wrote the law knows best how to interpret the law. In silence, the Master teaches a poignant lesson. He does not accuse the woman nor even ask her to defend herself.

Jesus and the woman taken in adultery by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri
The Pharisees continue to press for an answer. Jesus finally stands up and says this powerful statement, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7).

The Master is exposing the Pharisees’ attempt to trick him. In essence, Jesus is saying, “If you think she is guilty and you are innocent, then stand as her accusers and cast the first stone causing her death.” Christ fully understands the true meaning behind the law, and he sees that these wicked Pharisees only seek to use the law to entrap him. In their minds, they could care less about if this woman is guilty or not. Christ again bends down and writes on the ground as the crowd contemplates their decision. One by one they leave. No one is willing to execute the punishment and the woman is left there alone. (See John 8:9–10).

Alone with her Savior who is without sin and could justifiably cast the first stone. He who knows whether she is indeed guilty of this crime. And yet, he does not condemn her.

We often are quick to think of this story, like the title, as the “woman caught in adultery” yet, notice Jesus never actually accuses her of the crime. He simply states, “go, and sin no more” (John 8:11) which could be said to any of us. Though we don’t know if this woman has simply been falsely accused in order to frame Jesus, perhaps the Pharisees, knowing the truth, held an unfair trial to trick Jesus into accusing an innocent person. In the end, we don’t know if she is guilty or not, but it would be wise to follow the example of the Savior and leave judgment to him.

As we read this story, it can be helpful to look for ourselves in the text of these events. Sometimes we might be like the Pharisees—quick to make an accusation or attempt to entrap others. Or maybe we might be like the members of the crowd—embarrassed and withdrawn when we recognize our own sins. Or there may be times when we feel like the woman—alone, unsupported, treated unfairly, and in desperate need of mercy. But among those who stood on the steps of the temple that early morning, no one stands as a greater example than the Savior. If Christ, being without sin, is unwilling to accuse the woman and cast the first stone, should not we, in our sinful state, do likewise? Should not we, like our Savior, lift each other up and offer a hand of mercy?

This will not be the last time these same Pharisees will seek condemnation without a fair trial. Eventually, they will accuse the very One they had previously sought to entrap, even Jesus Christ. Unlike the woman accused of adultery, he will not receive mercy. The Pharisees will chant, “Crucify him!” Christ willingly submits and dies on the cross—innocent of all crimes the Pharisees falsely testified he has committed. He does this so that we, who are sinners, can receive the very same mercy he had deserved. And just like the woman who possibly had been caught in adultery, we too can go free, thanks to the loving sacrifice of our Savior.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

July 26, 2020

Mary and Martha, Disciples of Christ



The stories of the two sisters Mary and Martha are some of the most remembered in the Bible. We learn of their many interactions with Jesus Christ. They fed him. They housed him. They learned from him. They wept with him. They were loved by him. As we look more closely at the lives of these two incredible women, we discover how the Savior’s love for them extends to all of us. We too can be disciples of Christ like Mary and Martha.

In ancient times, women’s responsibilities were primarily to prepare, cook, and serve meals while also caring for the children and other household duties. Men worked the land and various trades such as carpentry, pottery, and fishing. From a young age, boys were generally given a religious education at the synagogue. During the week and on the Sabbath, the men and boys would gather at the synagogue and learn and study the scriptures. Women were not generally afforded these same privileges; it was always men who were trained in the law.

Additionally, women normally would not socialize or mingle with men, except for their own family. According to Jewish law one who touched a dead body or anyone with open sores or blood became ritually unclean. Because it was difficult to know whether a woman was menstruating or flowing with blood, men generally avoided women. Consequently, women were not to disturb the men but serve them behind the scenes as they discussed matters of God.

Now let’s look more closely at Mary’s and Martha’s personal circumstances. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were siblings living in Bethany, a village just outside of Jerusalem. Apparently, Martha was quite well off as she was the householder. As an itinerant rabbi, Jesus relied on the support of others to feed and house both him and his disciples. Martha appeared to have the means to be able to do this for the Master.

Let’s consider the story found in Luke chapter 10 with this background in mind. Jesus arrives at Bethany with his disciples. This most likely would have been more than just the 12 who had been asked to follow, but others as well. Martha opens her home to Jesus and these travel-weary individuals. This monumental task, of caring for her guests, would have fallen on Martha and Mary, not Lazarus.

Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha by Robert Leinweber
What Mary chooses to do instead of helping Martha is of significant importance. She is not only mingling with Jesus and the other men, but also sitting at the Savior’s feet. This place is reserved only for the chief disciple. Mary is seen by Jesus as deserving not only of a religious education, but also of the seat for a chief disciple. Martha expresses frustration that she has been left alone to care for so many guests. “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.” (Luke 10:40).

Jesus answers by saying her name not once but twice, possibly to reflect his great love for ‘her, “Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answers, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:41-42 NIV).

When we ponder Jesus’ answer, we see that Martha was not necessarily being scolded, but rather lovingly taught an important principle. Jesus was not concerned with the societal norms at the time, but rather that both men and women learn of Christ and his teachings. Mary has chosen the better part—what is most essential for her at that moment—to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Luke ends the story here. We do not know what was said next or how Martha reacted to the Lord’s chastening. However, Martha’s story does not end here. She does not let this single moment define her as one who criticizes her sister or doesn’t understand what is most needful. In the book of John, we discover quite the opposite.

When Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus becomes sick, they send word for Jesus to come and heal him. In their moment of grief, they think to turn to Christ for help and healing. After Lazarus dies and is placed in the tomb, Martha receives word that Christ has finally come, she leaves her home and even the village to rush to meet him. In this moment, she expresses her deep testimony of the Savior.
“Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.” (John 11:21-22). What Martha says next is rarely said by those who knew Jesus, even by his closest disciples. She testifies that he is the Messiah. “I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” (John 11:27).

Clearly, Martha holds no animosity or resentment to the One who previously had censured her. She shows us that she too has learned how to choose the better part by rushing to his side and declaring him to be the Savior of the world. And because of her faith, Mary and Martha can once again enjoy the companionship of their dear brother Lazarus. This is the moment that defines Martha, one who knows what is truly needful, Jesus the Christ.

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead by Léon Bonnat
While Jesus’ interactions with Mary and Martha offer us several lessons, let us look at just a few.
First, Jesus shows us that both men and women alike can receive a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Jesus Christ. No one is exempt from sitting at his feet and learning from him. While social norms might dictate otherwise, no one should feel excluded from both receiving and sharing God’s word. All women and men can be scholars of Christ just like Mary.

Second, it is interesting to note that Jesus did not criticize Martha for preparing the meal for him and his disciples. Just as Mary had done nothing wrong by sitting at the feet of Jesus, Martha has done nothing wrong by running her household and serving her guests. Where Martha needed correction was by wrongfully assuming what another’s role should be. Whether it is as a wife, mother, divorcee, widow, never married, homemaker, working professional, or caregiver, women’s roles are unique and endless. When we look past our own lives and decide what others should be doing with their own, we too could be told, “…you are worried and upset about many things…” Instead of judging another’s choices, we can strive to help each other fulfill one another’s unique roles on this earth.

Third, we all have moments when we mistakenly misread a situation and make the wrong judgment. These moments do not have to define who we are. Like Martha, we can humbly acknowledge our misstep and commit to improve by learning from the teachings of Jesus.

And finally, we see that Jesus loves whom he chastens. (see Hebrews 12:6) John tells us that “Jesus loved Martha.” (John 11:5) We should not feel that God does not love us when we are chastened by him. Rather we can be like Martha and continue to have a loving relationship with our Savior even if at times we might feel censured by him. Likewise, we can do the same for others. If at times we need to offer correction or guidance to another, we should show an increase not a decrease of love towards them.

In a world where we are worried and troubled about many things, we can follow Mary’s and Martha’s examples by sitting at Jesus’ feet to learn his gospel and by proclaiming to all those who will hear that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world.”

Script by Heather Ruth Pack

July 13, 2020

The Widow of Nain



In the New Testament, we read of the miracle Jesus performed in Nain—raising a widow’s son from the dead. As we study this story’s historical context, we’ll discover she had stood to lose far more than just her beloved son. She would lose her financial security, her property and inheritance, and even her legacy and name. Christ’s miracle of restoring the son also restored her. Like the widow of Nain, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, we too can be restored to all that the Father has promised us.

The story begins just following the miracle of the Savior healing a centurion’s servant while at Capernaum (Luke 7:1-10). Nain is located about 20 miles south of Capernaum and well off the main road. The village was just a small farming community with probably no more than a few hundred people. As Jesus arrives with a large group, he sees the procession of mourners carrying the dead body of a widow’s only son. According to Jewish custom, if someone died, the body was to be prepared and buried on the same day. The fact that this woman had already lost her husband, and now her only son, would have significant implications on her future life.

Bearing many children today is often almost seen as a novelty in many societies. However, in ancient times, raising a large family, especially sons, was critical for a prosperous life. A bride and groom would marry while still in their teens and begin having as many children as soon as possible. Adult sons were seen as a form of Social Security so to speak. They would care for their parents and support them as they aged and became unable to farm and care for their land. Typically, only about half of a woman’s offspring would make it to adulthood. As a result, a couple would need to start young to bear as many children as possible ensuring financial security in their old age. Losing her only son meant this woman has lost hope for future prosperity.

In addition, women were not allowed to own property, meaning if a woman lost her husband, the property could only be transferred to a male descendant. Because of this, the law of Moses provided a way to ensure seed to the deceased husband through what is called the Levirate Law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). In essence, if a man’s widow has no children, it is the duty of the deceased’s brother or nearest kin to marry her so that she might bear a child who would then belong to her first husband. The Levirate Law would thus preserve her claim on her inheritance of her husband’s land. Luke describes the dead son as a young man, which the original Greek word implies that he is probably in his mid-twenties. Unfortunately, this means that even if she took advantage of the Levirate law, the widow is now most likely too old to bear more children. Having lost her husband and now her only son, this woman has lost hope for posterity and thus any right to property.

With no sons to inherit her husband’s estate, her situation is desperate. She will now most likely become homeless and forced to live in poverty. Begging for her very survival, she will be at the mercy of the tiny town of Nain. In Deuteronomy, we read that widows are to be cared for according to the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 27:19). While those living in Nain would have been well aware of this obligation, it is not a given such a small community could adequately provide for her needs. But even if they could, they may still not choose to come to her aid. The widow has now lost all hope for a financially secure future.

Many of her townspeople also likely saw such a devastating loss of both husband and son as a curse from God for having sinned in some way. Due to the judgment of others, her reputation potentially would now be sullied as well. Even more tragic, with no one to carry on the family’s name, she will not be remembered in future generations; her story is now cut off from the story of Israel. The widow has lost hope for a legacy.

Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain by Anton Robert Leinweber
It is at this very moment—in her time of greatest sorrow—Jesus comes to her. He has left the main road, traveling off the beaten path precisely when the widow needed him most (Luke 7:11-12). Jesus had to have known precisely when the son would die in order to arrive at the exact time of his burial, occurring the same day as his death. With great compassion, Jesus walks up to the grieving widow and says simply “Weep not.” (Luke 7:13). What he does next most likely would have surprised all who witnessed the loving act. He touches the funeral bier, what the dead son was resting on. By touching the bier, Jesus becomes ritually unclean. He then says to the dead son, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” (Luke 7:14). The son’s life, once lost, is now restored, and so too is restored everything the widow had lost. She can now once more enjoy the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, her future is secure, her name will be known for generations.

This miracle occurred just on the other side of the mountain where another miracle was performed long ago by Elisha, known as one of the great prophets (2 Kings 4:32-37). He too had raised a widow’s son from the dead. This similarity may have been recognized by the people in Nain, for they say, “…a great prophet is risen up among us.” (Luke 7:16).

Elisha raising the son of the Shunamite by Frederic Leighton
But an even greater similarity is yet to come. For Christ, the only begotten Son, whose mother is also likely a widow, will die and yet live again. Just as the widow’s son’s raising of the dead restored her inheritance, Jesus Christ’s resurrection restores our inheritance. The Savior comes not just to the widows and the orphans, the sick and the lame, and the homeless and the oppressed but to each of us. He comes despite our uncleanliness because of our sins. He says compassionately the same words spoken in the widow’s ear, “Weep not” lifting us up from our despair and sorrow. Through him, we can enjoy all the blessings our Heavenly Father has promised.

Likewise, we can follow the Savior’s example and do the same for others who need our help. Just as Jesus knew precisely when the widow needed him most, we can be in tune with the needs of those around us and rush to their aid. We can serve others not just with kind words, but with action. We can sacrifice comfort, or even reputation, for the safety and healing of others. Sometimes those who need our help are not easily seen from the main road. We too may need to travel off the beaten path to find those who are suffering.

The story of the widow of Nain teaches us a powerful lesson about restoration. The loving Master compassionately restored the widow’s financial security, inheritance, and her name and legacy. Because of our sins, we each have lost our inheritance in the kingdom of God. In our fallen state, we too have a need of restoration—a redemption from our sins. Thankfully, just as the Savior was able to restore all that the widow had lost, the Savior can restore us to our rightful place as heirs of the kingdom. Just as he did for the widow, Jesus is eager to come to us in our moment of greatest despair. Not because we are deserving, but because of his great love for us. All that is asked of us is to accept him, repent, and strive to follow his example.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

June 19, 2020

What Would Jesus Do?



Throughout the New Testament, we read accounts of Jesus interacting with those who were labeled and despised by others: the slaves, the masters, the foreigners, the unbelievers, the sinners, the accusers, the sick, the lame, the oppressed, the traitor, or the believer. We also live in a time of great division. Many seek to label us as black or white, male or female, bond or free. They want to know which group to place us in—whether we are a friend or an enemy. When we ask the oft-repeated question, “What would Jesus do?” we see the Savior’s example of healing, listening, and compassion. He did not seek to divide but rather to unify for all are alike unto God.

Similar to our day, the people at the time of Jesus classified others into groups established by society. As we explore who these groups were, and how Jesus looked past their labels, we learn how we too can break down the barriers that society has placed upon us and seek for true unity among all people.

Probably the most significant division was that of Jew and Gentile. A Jew was anyone who was born from any of the twelve tribes of Israel, though predominately from the tribe of Judah. A Gentile was anyone who was not of Israel, and thus considered not part of the covenant race. As outsiders, they were considered to be unclean, and so many Jews would not even enter a Gentile’s homes out of fear of becoming ritually unclean themselves.

Included among the Gentiles would be the Roman soldiers. These men might have been seen similar to our police force today. They controlled peace and order in the providences of Rome, including Israel. The Jews however saw the Romans as invaders who just sought to control them. Roman soldiers could compel a Jew to carry his gear for a mile. Jesus taught the people to carry the gear for a second mile, or as more commonly said today, to “go the extra mile.”

Another group was neither Gentile nor Jew but rather a mixed blood. Centuries earlier when the Assyrians took captive the Israelites of the northern kingdom, they left behind the poorest of the poor to work the land and to intermarry with Gentiles who had been captured from other nations. Known as Samaritans, they were a people of intermingled cultural and religious traditions—and whom Jews often despised most of all. Many Jews would take the longer route from Galilee to Jerusalem just to avoid crossing Samaria’s borders and risk having to interact with a "less pure" Samaritan.

Women were another group looked down upon. They were often seen just as property, had no legal right to own land, and were not considered a credible witness in a court of law. Many Jewish men, especially the priests, avoided women since their monthly cycles released blood, and touching blood made one ritually unclean. Women even had their own court at the temple so as to prevent them from contaminating the priests. Men could enter the Court of the Women, but women could not enter further into the temple.

Another group of people who were shunned by the Jews, were the lepers. According to the Law of Moses anyone with any sort of skin disorder was considered ritually unclean. Known as lepers, they were not allowed to live within the confines of the city but instead dwell outside the city walls. If anyone came in contact with a leper, they too were ritually unclean and had to go through a process to once again be considered clean.

Jesus healing the ten lepers by James Tissot
While Jews would often go to great lengths to avoid even coming near these and other groups of people, Jesus appeared to do the exact opposite—seeking opportunities in order to interact with them. Throughout the scriptures we can find many examples of how Jesus “looked past the label” and saw just the person. We will share just three examples.

The first is with a centurion, a Roman officer in charge of 100 men. A centurion generally had served a significant amount of time and had proven their leadership. The Jews, however, would have viewed them as oppressors who did not belong in their land. When the centurion comes to Jesus seeking to have his servant healed, it is remarkable that Jesus does not avoid him but instead listens to his story. Considering that this centurion is a Gentile, what Christ says next is poignant. “And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.” (Matthew 8:7). Remember, some Jews would not even enter into a home of a Gentile to avoid even the possibility of becoming ritually unclean. The centurion seems to understand this for he answered “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.” (Matthew 8:8). Christ does not see this Roman soldier as other Jews see him, an unclean Gentile, an oppressor, who can inflict force on the citizens of Israel. He sees him as a man of great faith who is in desperate need of the healing power of the Savior.

The woman of Samaria by Angelika Kauffmann
The second example is of the woman of Samaria. Jesus and his disciples had been traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee. Instead of avoiding the Samaritan city of Sychar, like many Jews did, he left Israel and crossed the border into Samaria. While there he stops to rest at Jacob’s well, Jacob being an ancestor common to both Jew and Samaritan alike. A woman approaches and is surprised to see a Jew. He first asks for help. “Jesus saith unto her, give me to drink.” (John 4:7). We can only imagine how confusing this must have been for this Samaritan. Not only is he asking for her help, but he is willing to drink from a cup that she, a woman, has touched. He teaches her that he is the Living Water, and that all who drink of his water will never thirst again. He then says something that up to this point he appears to not have said before, he tells her that he is the Messiah. Christ does not see her as other Jews see her, an unclean Samaritan woman not worthy of his time or attention. He sees her as one who can stand as a witness that he has come to save the world.

The last example is of a leper who sought Jesus to be healed. As Jesus came down from the mountain with great multitudes following him, he is approached by one who wants to be made clean. What Jesus does next is significant for leprosy was considered to be a curse from God. Those afflicted with it were of the most profound impurity. For fear of them being contagious, lepers were left to fend for themselves with little support from anyone including friends or family. Christ does not see this leper as other Jews see him: unclean, unworthy, unfavored by God. He sees a man riddled with pain seeking healing from the One he knows can heal him. “And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean.” (Matthew 8:3).

Beyond these three examples, we have the greatest example of healing, and compassion. In a time when even his closest friends were not willing to stand up for him, he was willing to kneel, pray, and suffer for them. Christ showed that he does not view any of us as others may or even how we might perceive ourselves. He was willing to give his life for all of us who have been made unclean through sin. No matter how others may see us, black, white, male, female, sinner, saint, captive, free, native, foreign, atheist, or believer, the Savior just sees us. He knows our name, he knows our story, he knows our pain, he knows of our desire to love and be loved.

He invites all of us to do the same. Just as Christ stood silently before his accusers during his trial, there may be times when we too must choose silence over contention. Or just as Christ cleaned his Father’s house, we too may need to stand up boldly for what is right. But no matter what situation we may find ourselves in, we can always shed the labels that society places upon us and kneel with our brothers and sisters, praying for them, and serving them in unity and love. That is what Jesus would do.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

May 30, 2020

Understanding Pentecost and the Feast of Weeks



Fifty days after the Savior had been resurrected, the disciples gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. This important feast commemorated when Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai. As the disciples celebrated with tens of thousands of other Jews from around the world, the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples as flames of fire. Today this is known as the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). As we better understand the historical background of the feasts, we can gain greater insight into the importance of Pentecost and our own worship of the Lord.

The Feast of Weeks was the second of the three major Jewish Feasts of Passover, Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23). Each of these Feasts were interconnected and designed to help ancient Israel remember their exodus from Egypt and ultimately teach them of true deliverance through the Messiah. These three feasts were also connected with the spring, summer, and fall harvests.

A woman offering the first fruits of the harvest for the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot
To better understand Pentecost, it will be helpful to first understand the story and timing of the exodus. For hundreds of years, Israel was in bondage in Egypt. The Lord sent Moses to free his people from slavery by sending plagues down upon the land. As part of the last plague, Israel was commanded to kill a lamb and place the blood on the doorposts. This was to be a token for the destroying angel to spare, or pass over, the first born of that home. (See Exodus 12). With this significant event of the Passover, Israel crossed through the Red Sea and began their journey to the promised land (see Exodus 14).

As God’s chosen people, Israel had been promised that they would receive many blessings, including the Promised Land. With these blessings also came great responsibilities. The Lord expected Israel to follow his commandments and to bless the nations of the earth. As Israel traveled for the next several weeks after leaving Egypt, they again were shown many miracles from the Lord including being fed by manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16) and receiving water from a rock that Moses had struck (Exodus 17:1-7). These miracles were to help prepare Israel to become the Lord’s people by showing them the power and majesty of their God.

Though we don’t know the exact timing of when they arrived at Mount Sinai, the scriptures indicate that it was only about a month and a half later (see Exodus 19:1). After climbing to the top of Mount Sinai, the Lord spoke unto Moses. “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then … ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Exodus 19:4-6). Having heard the voice of God, Moses came down to the people to ask if they would obey and they all proclaimed: “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8).

Moses again climbed the mount and was told by the Lord: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” (Exodus 19:10-11 NKJV). Though we don’t know what this process of consecration entailed for Israel by Moses, we do know what the consecration process involved for the priests, who represented Israel. As part of the ritual, Moses was to take Aaron and his sons to the door of the Tabernacle and anoint them with oil and then place blood on their right ear, right thumb, and right toe (see Exodus 40:12-13 and Leviticus 8:23-24). The priests were also dressed in sacred priestly clothing. This ritual prepared the priests to act on behalf of Israel.

Moses anointing Aaron with a horn of oil as the high priest
After the Israelites had covenanted with the Lord and had been washed and changed their clothing, Moses again went up to Mt. Sinai. The scriptures state “that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.” (Exodus 19:16). The smoke and fire that came down from heaven to the mountain is called the Shekinah in Hebrew. It symbolizes that God’s presence was there among the people. The Lord then spoke the Law from the mountain, and according to Jewish tradition, each was able to hear God’s words in their own tongue.

Filled with fear, the people requested that instead Moses go into the presence of the Lord on their behalf, refusing the opportunity to enter themselves (Exodus 20:18-21). Because of their rejection of God, the Lord revealed what we now call the Law of Moses. The Law was a preparatory gospel to teach them and prepare them for the eventual higher law. (See D&C 84:17-27). The Law prescribed many rituals, including sacrifices of animals, that would point them to the coming Messiah who would provide true ultimate deliverance.

The high priest and priest hold the first harvested sheaf of wheat
With this understanding, let’s now study the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. The Lord commanded Israel to celebrate Shavuot, the Hebrew word for weeks, seven weeks or 50 days after Passover (see Deuteronomy 16:9-12). The word Pentecost means fiftieth. Many of the rituals of Shavuot are progressive in nature, seeming to connect Passover and the Feast of Weeks. For example, during Passover the people were to eat unleavened bread, a symbol of their haste in leaving slavery in Egypt, and offer the first fruits of the barley harvest, barley being a lesser quality of grain. In contrast, seven weeks later during Shavuot, Israel was now to offer two large leavened loaves of bread made from the first fruits of the wheat harvest, wheat being the far superior grain to barley (Leviticus 23:15-21).

The high priest holds the two loaves offered for Feast of Weeks or Shavuot
This offering of the leavened bread is unique since yeast is prohibited in all other temple rituals. No wheat from that year’s harvest can be eaten by Israel until these two loaves have been offered to the Lord. When the priest receives the two loaves of bread, he waves them in four directions representing north, south, east and west. He also waves them down and up signifying earth and heaven. The people were also to offer other first fruits of their harvest likewise waving them before the Lord and then placing the offering before God (Deuteronomy 26:1-11).

Offering the first fruits during the Feast of Weeks
Because Shavuot was celebrated seven weeks after Passover, the same time period Israel received the Law at Sinai, the feast later also became a celebration for this significant event. Even with this we can see a progression between Passover and the Feast of Weeks with Israel progressing from slaves in Egypt, going through the waters of the Red Sea, then proceeding until they arrive at Mount Sinai approximately seven weeks later. Here they are washed and clothed and then “go up to the mountain of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:3) to covenant with him and to receive his law.

Understanding this background let’s now examine the events leading up to the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2). During the ministry of the Savior, a small number of disciples believed in the Lord. They revered Jesus for his teachings and the miracles he performed, but they did not understand the true purpose of his mission. As Passover came and they witnessed the tragic events of the crucifixion of the Savior, many of the disciples fled and even denied knowing the Lord. After the Savior rose from the dead, he ministered to them, teaching for the next 40 days (Acts 1:3). This time became a period of preparation for the disciples, helping them to learn of the ultimate purpose of the Messiah.

As the Apostles gathered for the Feast of Weeks, fifty days after the Lord’s resurrection, they like ancient Israel, had now been prepared to receive the fulness of the law. The events that occurred on the day of Pentecost are reminiscent of the events commemorated on Shavuot. Like the Israelites gathering at Mt. Sinai, the people gathered in Jerusalem at the temple built atop Mt. Moriah to be instructed of the Lord. When the Jews saw the cloven tongues of fire, they must have wondered if the Shekinah had returned, except instead of the fire resting upon Mt. Sinai, the fire is now resting on the apostles (see Acts 2:3-4).

After hearing the fervent testimony of Peter of the risen Savior, the gathered Jews asked what they must do (see Acts 2:37). Peter told them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). With this, 3000 Jews requested to be baptized on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:41). With the nearest body of water, the Jordan river, about 20 miles away, the baptisms of such a large group very likely took place at the Pool of Bethesda, or the Pool of Siloam. Both of these pools were used for ritual washings, which would make perfect sense for their use for baptisms. On this day, set aside to commemorate the event of ancient Israel established as a covenant people, it is Christ’s church that is established through the covenant of baptism. By also receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead, they can now spiritually enter into God’s presence.

Like the children of Israel and the Jews during the time of Christ, we too can each have our own exodus and day of Pentecost. Christ’s death and resurrection made it possible for us to escape the bondage of sin and death. Like the Red Sea, we enter into our own waters, the waters of baptism. Like the manna that came from heaven, we too can be nourished by the Bread of Life. Like the water that flowed from the rock, we can drink of the Living Water. Just as the Lord’s words from Mt. Sinai could be understood in every language, each of us can likewise understand the universal language of the Holy Ghost. We all have the opportunity to come to the “mountain of the Lord” and receive the Law and feel the presence of the Lord dwell upon us. It is there that we can become a kingdom of priests and an holy nation.

May 9, 2020

Mary the Mother of Jesus



In the first chapter of Matthew, we read of the genealogy of Jesus Christ including five mothers who each played a critical role in continuing the bloodline of the Savior, but most significant is the literal mother of the Savior, Mary. We are introduced to her before Christ is born, learn of her tender experiences with Him during His life and ministry, and discover she was a witness of His death and a disciple after His ascension to the Father. Only Mary, the mother of Jesus, can claim to be such a unique witness of the Messiah.

Her lifelong example of faith has been revered and respected by Christians and Muslims alike. Mary is mentioned in the New Testament, the Quran (19:16-35), the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 11:14-20; Mosiah 3:8; Alma 7:10), and many other writings. As we study her story and consider the historical background of life in Israel, we can gain insights into the mother who gave birth to the One who gave all of us life.

The genealogy of Jesus given in the New Testament tells us that Joseph, the one betrothed to Mary, descended from King David within the tribe of Judah (see Matthew 1:17). Since it was common to marry within the family line, Mary most likely shared this lineage as well. Additionally, her relative Elizabeth descended from Aaron (see Luke 1:5), the first Levite high priest—possibly making Jesus’ lineage from both a priest and a king.

Mary was probably born in Nazareth, a small village west of the Sea of Galilee. According to ancient Jewish tradition, young women were usually betrothed by the time they were about 12 or 13. When Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, she likely would have been near that same age. [1] The heavenly messenger tells Mary she is highly favored and blessed among women. He tells her she will conceive a son.

Mary’s response to this incredible news shows great humility. Unlike Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist, who expressed doubt when told that his wife was with child (see Luke 1:18), she inquires sincerely, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34). She is not asking for proof, but simply for understanding. Gabriel answers her question and then responds by saying, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

What happens next can serve as a foreshadowing of what would happen years later on the cross—ultimate submission to the will of the Father. “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38). And like her son, her willingness to do what is required by her Father in Heaven is not without painful consequences.

When a man is betrothed to a woman, if at any time before the wedding feast the bride is discovered to be pregnant, the groom has two options. First, according to the law, he can divorce her publicly bringing charges against her. If found guilty she would then be stoned. Or he can divorce her privately. For the remainder of her life she would then be known as a mother who conceived out of wedlock. Either of these fates is what seemingly awaits young Mary. Amazingly, she humbly agrees to carry the Son of God.

When Joseph learns that Mary is with child, he considers divorcing her privately. He too is visited by an angel and told to take Mary as his wife.

The story of Jesus’ birth is known as one of the greatest stories ever told. However from Mary’s perspective, the story could be described as anything but great. She was a young recently wed bride far from home giving birth in what most likely was a cave. Despite these humble circumstances, she knew the significance of these events and “pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

To obey the law, 40 days after Christ’s birth, Joseph and Mary went to the temple to make their humble sacrifice of two turtle doves as they did not have enough money for a lamb. It is there they meet Simeon, a devout, faithful man who has waited his entire life to see the Messiah. He takes this newborn baby in his arms and gives a heart wrenching prophecy to the new mother. “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,)” (Luke 2:35). Looking at her precious baby not even two months old, how could she imagine what pain awaited both Him and her as His mother?

When Jesus is 12 years old, we read an account that must have been terrifying for Mary. In a heavily crowded Jerusalem during Passover, she experiences one of the greatest fears for every mother, even today. She can’t find her son. Joseph and Mary have traveled an entire day before she realizes that Jesus is not with the group as she had supposed. For what must have been three harrowing days, she frantically searches to find the One whom the Father has trusted to her care. Finally she discovers that He had lingered at the temple teaching the learned. Mothers know the mixed emotions that can arise when a lost child is finally found, both anger and relief bubble to the surface. “…and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:48-49). And even though she did not understand His words, she kept His “sayings in her heart” (Luke 2:51).

Sadly, this would not be the only loss Mary would experience, for this is the last time Joseph appears in the scriptures. At some point Mary becomes a widow, left to raise her family as a single mother.

While we don’t know much about Jesus’ upbringing, we do know Mary had more children, at least four sons, James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, and at least two daughters. Apparently, these brothers did not see Jesus as the Messiah for they mocked Him. It wasn’t until His death and resurrection that they too became followers of Christ. How difficult it must have been for Mary to have such discord in the family, yet she was able to keep her own faith while raising non-believers in her own home.

Before Jesus officially begins His ministry, along with Mary, He attended a wedding in Cana of Galilee. When the host of the wedding feast has need of wine, Mary asks her son to perform a miracle. In today’s world, what Jesus calls his mother might seem odd or even derogatory when translated from Greek into English. He calls her Woman. This is the same word translated from Hebrew when referring to Eve. Just as Eve is the mother of all living, Mary is the mother of He who has made a way for eternal life. After Jesus agrees to perform the miracle, Mary gives the servants counsel that we would be wise to follow, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” (see John 2:5).

When Christ is crucified, Mary stands at His feet. She is a witness to the painful prophecy given over 30 years earlier by Simeon—now proven to be true. As she sees the piercing of her son, she must have felt as if a sword was also piercing her very own soul. Again we see Christ’s devotion to Mary, even while in the midst of great agony. He calls her by the same name He had before his ministry began, “Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold they mother!” (John 19:26-27). Though Christ is suffering, He wants to ensure that His mother will be cared for, just as she had cared for Him from the very beginning of His life.

The life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, serves as a poignant example for all of us today.

Mary humbly submitted believing that with God nothing shall be impossible. At times we too must choose to do what the Lord would have us do, despite what consequences might follow. Mary did not give birth to the Savior in ideal circumstances. We experience disappointment whenever we find ourselves in our own “caves.” Yet we can stay focused on the miracles around us and ponder them in our hearts.

Mary continued pressing forward with courage, hope, and faith despite a perilous future before her. We too can rise to whatever hardships await us. When Mary experienced a frightful loss, she listened to the words of the Savior. All of us have likewise experienced pain and fear, whether through our own fault or the actions of others, but we can keep the words of the Savior in our heart. Mary’s faith that Christ can perform miracles served as an example to the servants. We can encourage those around us to follow Christ and listen to his words.

Even as a single mother, Mary strived to keep her family together. We may find ourselves in a family whose faith is not the same as ours. This does not mean we reject them, even though they may have rejected us. Mary was asked to do the unthinkable—witness the crucifixion of her own son. We are also sometimes asked to experience the unimaginable, but as we keep our eyes focused on Christ, we will find the strength to endure.

Mary saw Christ open His eyes for the first time and close them for the last time as a mortal on earth. Her faith and desire to do the will of the Father never wavered throughout her life. How blessed we are that a young Mary, chosen to be the mother of the Messiah said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.”

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

[1] As there always is a debate on the age of Mary, here are a few notes regarding the age of betrothal for women in the Bible. The Midrash and Talmud both state that young men were married by the age of eighteen and girls by the time they were thirteen (Midrash, Aboth 5:21 and Talmud, Pesachim 113). "For the other parameter, age at marriage, no real statistics exist for ancient Israel.... In Egypt, girls were married between twelve and fourteen; boys, between fourteen and twenty." (Life in Biblical Israel, page 37). "The consent (betrothal), usually entered into when the girl was between twelve and thirteen years old" (The Birth of the Messiah by Raymond E. Brown, page 123). "The earliest age for marriage, which typically follows betrothal by a year, is twelve years and a day [meaning betrothal could be at the age of 11]." (BYU New Testament Commentary, The Testimony of Luke by S. Kent Brown, page 107). "According to ancient Jewish custom, Mary could have been betrothed at about 12." (Wikipedia, Mary, mother of Jesus)