March 25, 2019

Jesus Feeds the Multitudes



During His mortal ministry, one of the more significant miracles Jesus performed was the feeding of the multitudes. Understanding this miraculous story can help us gain a greater appreciation of the power of the atonement as the Savior daily nourishes and strengthens us in our own mortal journey.

After hearing of the tragic news of the death of John the Baptist, the scriptures record that Jesus went into a mountain to be alone (Matthew 14:12-13). The emotions Jesus felt for the loss of his beloved relative and knowing that He Himself would also soon face a similar fate, must have been overwhelming. As He sought solitude, we are told that a large multitude followed Jesus. Remarkably the scriptures record that in this moment of great sadness, Jesus was “moved with compassion towards them” (Matthew 14:14). Instead of turning them away when He Himself was mourning, Jesus healed the sick and ministered to them.

As the day became evening, Jesus turned to His disciples and asked them to feed the large multitude. With 5000 men present, in all reality, the multitude was more likely around 10,000 to 20,000 when you include women and children. As the disciples exclaim that it would be nearly impossible to feed such a large multitude, Jesus simply asks them to bring all that they have. A young lad was found among the multitude who had five loaves and two small fishes (John 6:9). This young boy was willing to give his all, even though it would equate to nearly nothing compared to such a huge multitude. Yet Jesus teaches us that He can transform any willing offering into something far more than enough. As Jesus gives gratitude to God for the small meager offering, He first distributes the food to His disciples and then to the multitude. Miraculously, the entire multitude is fed from the small gift of this young boy.

In all four accounts of the feeding of the 5000 and also the two accounts of the feeding of the 4000, the Gospels state that the multitude was “filled” physically (see Matthew 14:20, Luke 9:17, and John 6:12 for example). This simple wording might be glossed over by many readers, but when compared to the story of Jesus feeding the multitude after He appeared to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon, a powerful connection can be made.

According to 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, after His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, Jesus Christ showed himself unto the inhabitants of the American continent. On the first day of His three-day ministry to the Nephites, the record states: “And it came to pass that Jesus commanded his disciples that they should bring forth some bread and wine unto him” (3 Nephi 18:1). Jesus then took the bread and wine, blessed it, and gave it to the multitude, instituting the sacrament. The scriptures state that the multitude again was “filled” physically by both the bread and the wine (see 3 Nephi 18:4-5 and 18:9).

On the second day of His ministry to the Nephites, Jesus again distributed to them the emblems of the sacrament, however with one major difference. On the first day, the disciples provided the bread and wine, whereas on the second day the Lord miraculously provided the bread and wine. 3 Nephi states “Now when the multitude had all eaten and drunk, behold they were filled with the spirit and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus whom they both saw and heard” (3 Nephi 20:9). Notice again that the multitude was filled, but this time they were filled with the Spirit!

So what does connecting these two stories of feeding the 5000 and feeding the Nephites in the new world teach us about the Savior and His atonement? First, the Savior teaches us that He will always minister to us, even when He Himself might be mourning or suffering. We can always turn to the Lord and know that He will heal us, minister to us, and feed us. Second, when we bring our gifts to the Lord, He has the power to make it not only enough, but more than enough. Third, Jesus likely fed the multitudes to foreshadow the significance of the sacrament and how the atonement can strengthen us and nourish us physically and most importantly spiritually. Each week as we partake of the sacrament, though only a small piece of bread and a small cup of water, we are physically nourished and strengthened. But more importantly, as we repent of our sins, and turn to the Savior, just as the ancient Nephites, we too can be spiritually fed and nourished. Just as the small piece of bread will become part of our very body as we digest it, so too the atonement of Christ should become a very part of our being, giving us life eternal. As Jesus stated in John 6 just after feeding the multitude, “I am the bread of life, he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). As we come to the Savior each Sabbath day, we are given this same powerful promise, to be filled with the Spirit of the Lord! (see Moroni 4:3).

This post was originally published for Book of Mormon Central

March 7, 2019

The Healing Touch and the Woman with an Issue of Blood



In the synoptic gospels, we read of the story of Jesus healing the woman who had an issue of blood. The woman had tried unsuccessfully for 12 long years to be healed by numerous physicians (see Luke 8:43). According to the Law of Moses, because she constantly was bleeding, she was considered ritually unclean, and thus should not touch anyone else, as they would also become unclean. This also meant that she was unable to worship at the Temple, as she was always in a state of ritual impurity.

Matthew records that the woman, upon finding Jesus in a crowd of people “came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.” (Matthew 9:20-22 ESV).

We also learn of other similar accounts when the sick and afflicted were healed by touching Jesus’ garments. In Mark we read, “And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.” (Mark 6:56 ESV).

Blue tzitzit attached to the tallit katan
Most scholars agree that the “hem” or “fringe” of his garment refers to the tzitzit or tassels worn by observant Jews. The tzitzit are “specially knotted ritual fringes ... attached to the four corners of the tallit ([or] prayer shawl) and tallit katan ([or] everyday undergarment)”[1].  The four fringes were designed to help Israel remember their covenants with God.

In the book of Numbers, the Lord said unto Moses, “Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them” (Numbers 15:38-41).

Blue and white tzitzit (or fringes) attached to the tallit katan 
This specific color of blue is mentioned 49 times in the Old Testament [2]  and was associated with the same blue colored thread and cloth of the high priest garments, the veils and coverings of the Tabernacle, and of nobility (see Esther 8:15). Most Jews at the time of Jesus only had enough money to buy clothing of simple colors, such as grey, brown, or off-white, so these blue threads would stand out in contrast with the rest of their clothing. Jews saw that by wearing this special color of blue, it connected them to the high priest and the Temple, helping them to remember that no matter their status in life, they were ultimately a kingdom of priests and of royalty. [3].

Because the Bible is not clear on how to make the specific color of blue, many modern Jews will only wear white tzitzit attached to their clothing and prayer shawl. In addition, the modern tzitzit is tied in a specific way to create 613 knots, symbolizing the 613 commandments in the Torah, a constant reminder to always remember the commandments of God [4].

Why the woman decided to touch this specific part of Jesus’ garments is unknown. Was it simply because it was easily accessible to her touch, being low on his robe, or was it because she possibly knew that there is power in remembrance, power in the commandments, and power in the priesthood? Perhaps she thought that of all places to touch on his clothing, these tassels, with their priestly temple-blue threads, would be the closest thing to touching heaven. How fitting that after being unclean to worship at the temple for twelve long years that this faithful woman would find healing power by touching these tassels, connecting remembrance, priesthood and the temple with the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ.


[1] Tallit - Wikipedia
[2] Tekhelet - Wikipedia
[3] Tekhelet: The Mystery of the Long-Lost Biblical Blue Thread and The Mystery Of Tekhelet - Part I of III - YouTube
[4] Tzitzit - Wikipedia

March 6, 2019

What is Lent?



Every year, millions of Christians around the world begin the Easter season by celebrating Lent. Lent is a period of forty days, not including Sundays, that runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. The forty days of Lent are to commemorate the forty days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness before beginning his earthly ministry, and is meant to help Christians spiritually prepare for Easter.

Christians start the Lenten season by celebrating Ash Wednesday, where during evening services they receive the mark of the cross on their forehead. The cross is created from ashes made from the burned palms used from the previous year for Palm Sunday, and combined with olive oil. The ashes are to remind us of the passage in Genesis 3:19 which states that "for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." It also reminds us that we are nothing without the Lord, and that we are to look to the cross of Jesus to live.

During this forty day period, Christians will often abstain from things such as meat, sugar, alcohol or tobacco. They will also seek to do things that will help bring them closer to Christ, such as serving others, giving alms, seeking to pray more fervently, or reading more from the scriptures. One my favorite activities is to take up a study of the events of Holy Week in preparation for Easter. This helps me spiritually prepare and to focus more on the true meaning of Easter, and less on Easter eggs and candy.

Over the next 40 days I will produce several videos about the significant events of Holy Week. Within these videos I will show you some of the traditional Holy Week sites in Israel, and will also use an incredible new app designed by BYU to help bring first century Jerusalem to life. The app is one of the first of its kind, in that it allows you to actually wander around the ancient temple of Jerusalem, and to visualize significant locations of the New Testament.

I hope you will join me this year in celebrating Lent, by not only taking up a study of the events of Holy Week, but also by seeking for opportunities to serve others as you prepare for Easter this year.

February 25, 2019

Learning from the Lord’s Prayers



During the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior gave what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). This beautiful prayer has been offered by billions of people around the world and is a wonderful template for teaching us how to pray. In addition to this prayer, we have several other recorded prayers that the Savior offered during His mortal ministry. Studying and learning from each of the Lord’s prayers can better help us in our own personal worship to the Father.

As the Lord sat teaching the Sermon on the Mount, he taught the multitude to pray by beginning with, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10). Here the Savior begins with addressing the Father in a personal, yet reverential way. The expression, “Hallowed be thy name” is a form of praise and is more than just gratitude, but recognition of the character and attributes of God. We do not just thank God for how He has blessed us, but we praise Him for who He is.

The Lord next teaches that we are to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:11-12). In ancient times women spent a significant portion of each day grinding, mixing and cooking the daily bread for their family. Bread was the main staple of every meal and was considered sacred because of its importance for sustaining life. Thus, we are taught that God wants us to pray for our daily support. Daily bread can also remind us of the manna that the Lord gave Israel while in the wilderness, and of our own need to daily partake of the true bread of life, the Savior Jesus Christ (see John 6:35).

Jesus concludes the Lord’s Prayer with “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:13). The Savior here teaches that we are to pray for strength to overcome sin, teaching us that we should not think that we can do it alone. Even the Savior prayed for fortitude while in Gethsemane, showing us by His example how to overcome our greatest trials.

Another recorded prayer of the Savior relates to when He fed the multitude of 5000. According to the Gospel of John “Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed [them] to the disciples” (John 6:11). Notice that according to John, the Savior did not actually bless the bread, but instead offered thanks. This can also be seen in both Matthew and Mark during the feeding of the 4000 when Jesus likewise only offered thanks (see Matthew 15:36 and Mark 8:6). Similarly, the prayer offered by the Savior when raising Lazarus from the dead, is a prayer of gratitude, not of requesting a miracle. “And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always … And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.” (John 11:41-43). This does not mean that Jesus did not pray for miracles, but perhaps the Savior is teaching us here that expressing gratitude has far more power than asking for miracles.

The timing and circumstances of when Jesus offered prayer is also highly significant. Though we only have the recorded words of a handful of the Savior’s prayers, we are told that Jesus prayed often. These times of prayer include when Jesus was baptized (Luke 3:21), after healing people (Mark 1:35), before walking on the water (Matthew 14:23), before choosing and calling his disciples (Luke 6:12), at the transfiguration (Luke 9:29), at the Last Supper (Luke 22:19), in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36), and on the cross of Calvary (Luke 23:34). [1] Each of these prayers were offered before and or after significant events of the life of Christ—moments when the Savior knew He needed added strength and inspiration from His Father. In many of these situations, the scriptures also tell us that these prayers were offered early in the morning, or lasted all through the night, showing that Jesus did not just offer short simple prayers. [2]

He also often prayed for others, praying for Peter’s faith, for His disciples and all of humanity while offering the great intercessory prayer in Gethsemane, and for his enemies while on the cross. The scriptures also teach us that Jesus often prayed on mountain tops, in quiet wilderness areas, in gardens, and also at the beautiful temple of Jerusalem.

Though this is only a small sampling of the many prayers and lessons we can learn from the Savior, the study of how, when, and why the Lord prayed can greatly add to our own personal worship. Truly, the Savior did not just preach about how to pray, but time and time again, He showed by example. Prayer was an integral part of His life. He praised the Father for His greatness. He prayed for daily strength to have the power and inspiration of God. He offered gratitude instead of just asking. He prayed in those moments when He most needed strength. And perhaps most important, He used prayer to bless our lives as He atoned, suffered and died for us, that we might have our prayers answered by our Heavenly Father.


[1] Prayers of Jesus, Wikipedia
[2] How to Pray by Reuben Archer Torrey

February 18, 2019

Understanding the Sermon on the Mount


The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the most significant discourse ever given. It was and still is revolutionary in its teachings and message. Perhaps no other sermon of Jesus can compare in helping us to better understand the attributes and characteristics of the Savior.

The gospel of Matthew records that after Jesus’ baptism and fasting for forty days, he went about Galilee healing the sick and the afflicted. As Jesus’ fame spread around the countryside, throngs of people began following Him, desiring to learn more about this miracle worker. As Jesus saw the multitudes following, he went up into a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee. With this backdrop, the Savior began to teach.

The scriptures often associate mountains with places for worship and receiving revelation from God. The Lord commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac atop Mount Moriah, and here Abraham was taught of the interceding power of the Messiah. On Mount Sinai, Moses received the Ten Commandments and instructions and ordinances relating to the Tabernacle. While on Mount Carmel, Elijah showed forth the power of God by calling down fire from heaven. Each of these mountains acted as a bridge, so to speak, bringing the heavens closer to earth. Here on this mount overlooking the beautiful Sea of Galilee, the Savior once again would bring heaven down to earth.

Jesus’ sermon began with what is now known as the Beatitudes. The word beatitude means to be blessed, prosperous or abundant. [1] In giving this list of eight beatitudes, Jesus differs significantly from the Ten Commandments. Instead of giving a list of “thou shalt nots,” he instead gives a list of things that we are to become. He uses phrases like, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:7-9). Notice that each of these speak to who the person is, and not just an easy list of dos and don’ts. For example, how does one become merciful? Is this a one-time event that you can check off once completed? The answer is no, and that is perhaps one reason why the teachings of Jesus within the Sermon on the Mount are so revolutionary.

Jesus, in essence, breaks every perceived concept of what it means to be truly blessed or prosperous. He teaches that it is not through obtaining wealth or power, as most Romans would have seen. It is not even through strict obedience to the Law, as the Scribes and Pharisees would have seen. It is through becoming meek, lowly, hungering after righteousness, being merciful, and a peacemaker. In short, the state of being blessed is about who we really are, not just what we do. [2]

The Savior next instructs that as we work towards becoming blessed, we then are commissioned to bless the lives of others. He shows this by giving two parable-type teachings of salt and light. Salt in ancient times was extremely significant. Salt was not only used to bring out other flavors and spices, but even more importantly, was also used as a preservative. In a world without modern refrigeration, meats could only be preserved for later seasons by salting them. Additionally, salt was a part of every sacrifice offered at the altar of sacrifice, symbolizing the lasting nature of the covenant.

Jesus next teaches that we are to be a light unto the world. He instructs “Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house” (Matthew 5:15). The original word for candle in Greek actually means an oil lamp, and the word for bushel “designates a vessel that could be used to extinguish an oil lamp.” [3] Thus, not only are we to bring light into the lives of others, but also, we should not smother or put out our own light for any reason. Both of these parables show us how true disciples can and should have a great impact on the lives of others bringing savor and preservation and giving light to those who are lost in darkness.

Jesus then teaches “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets … but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). The word fulfill does not mean to do away with, but instead means to complete or bring to fulness. Jesus fulfills the law, at least in part, by showing through his teachings and his own example the true purpose behind the law. In essence, he helps his listeners to understand that obedience is not the ultimate purpose; it is in becoming like God. Jesus demonstrates this by giving five examples from the law each beginning with “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old…” (see Matthew 5:21 for example) and then quoting portions of the law to which Jesus gives them new meaning. For example, when teaching about killing and committing adultery, Jesus does not say that these laws have been done away with, but instead He intensifies them. He teaches that even to think evil thoughts is the same as actually committing the acts. Why is this the case? Well, again the ultimate purpose is not just obedience, but in becoming like our Heavenly Father.

Another law Jesus quotes is about requiring “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Matthew 5:38). In our modern world we assume this to be interpreted literally, meaning that you would actually cut someone’s eye out if they had blinded you, but in ancient times it was interpreted far differently. In fact, several ancient Jewish sources discuss this as being a form of recompense, not vengeance. For example, if out of rage you injured a carpenter, causing him to lose his eyesight, you would be required to help support his family because of the lost revenue in his trade. This “eye for an eye” actually was far more just and merciful then even our own justice system today. Jesus next teaches that instead of seeking recompense of an eye for an eye, we instead are to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. Roman soldiers were allowed to force a Jew to carry their equipment for a mile. Thus, Jesus teaches that even when our enemies compel us to do something against our will, we are to show true service by giving them more than they even asked.

The Savior concludes the five statements with perhaps the most significant teaching, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you” (Matthew 5:43-44). Perhaps no other statement more fully demonstrates the true character of Christ. When betrayed by Judas and arrested by the temple priests in Gethsemane, Jesus turns and heals the very soldier who came to arrest him. When on the cross, suffering beyond comprehension, the Savior forgives those who caused him so much pain. And perhaps most significant of all, as we each constantly sin and fall away from the perfection that Jesus directed, He quickly forgives, embracing us and helping us to once again begin our path of discipleship.

The journey towards perfection, as Jesus commands in Matthew chapter 5, can seem impossible to achieve. We must remember though, that the word perfection in the last verse (see Matthew 5:48) actually means to become complete or whole. This perfection is more of a final destination, not a representation of our current state. It is the movement in the right direction that is most important.

As Jesus taught from this mount by the Sea of Galilee, he truly bridged heaven and earth, giving us a glimpse into the eternities. Through his message, he taught that we should not become distracted with just mere obedience, but instead focus on becoming by lifting, serving, and being a light to those around us. As we rely on the Savior, repent of our sins, and trust in the grace of Christ, it is His perfection that will ultimately make us complete and whole.


[1] The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ, Andrew C. Skinner, Volume 1, page 336
[2] Part One: Blessedness and Happiness, Michael Austin
[3] The New Testament, A Translation for Latter-day Saints, Thomas A. Wayment, page 12, footnote 5:15

February 11, 2019

Living Waters and the Woman at the Well



In ancient times, living water played a significant role in Jewish religion and culture. As modern westerns, we often oversimplify “living water” to merely mean that water is life sustaining. Yet, if you were to ask an ancient or even modern Jew to define “living water” they all would say the same thing, it is water from a natural source, such as from a spring, rainwater, or a moving stream [1]. In other words, “living water” is not stagnant it must be moving.

They also would have known that “living water” is specifically used for purification purposes in a mikvah for someone that has become defiled (such as from touching a dead body). A mikvah was also used for all new converts to Judaism, and used prior to entering the Temple in Jerusalem. Many mikvahs have been discovered around the perimeter of the temple mount, and would have been used by Jesus and all Jews prior to entering the temple.

Mikvah diagram showing "living water" being added to normal water
A mikvah was created by filling a reservoir with water, and then adding “living water” from rainwater, a spring, or a river, to the other water, making all of the water “living.” The person desiring to become clean would then enter the mikvah, completely immersing themselves under the water, and then exit from the font becoming clean. Many mikvahs also had a short wall that divided the pool from the unclean and the clean side, the person entering one side and coming out of the other. [2]

In Jeremiah, we find a reference to this “living water” and how Israel had rejected the true source of its purify power. “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). Thus, the Lord himself declares here in the Old Testament that he is the “fountain” of these living waters that purify and bring life to all.

Woman at the well by Anton Dorph 
It is significant then that during his mortal ministry the Lord proclaimed to the Samaritan woman at the well that he can give living water, for only Jehovah could do this. “Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water” (John 4:10).

Assuming this woman understood what living waters were (as the Samaritans still had many of the truths of the Law of Moses and were practicing them during the time of Christ); she must have had at least some understanding that this was a messianic declaration. It does seem that the woman upon hearing this statement is confused and asks the Savior “Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?” (4:11). The Lord then teaches how those who drink of this well dug by Jacob, the great patriarch, will thirst again, but he (Jesus Christ) will give water that will provide a “well of water springing up into everlasting life” (4:14).

Therefore, when Jesus says to the woman at the well that he can produce “living water,” he in essence is saying that he has the power to produce life-giving, purifying water that can cleanse the soul. Simply stated, it is he, Jesus Christ, who is the source for true purification. Jesus, seeking to be clearly understood, and sensing that she may not fully understand that he is the Messiah, simply states “I that speak unto thee am he” (4:26). In other words, he says I AM he, the great I AM. [3]

[1] The Old Testament Ritual Immersion
[2] Mikvah, Ritual Baths
[3] See footnote 26a in LDS Scriptures which reads: "The term I Am used here in the Greek is identical with the Septuagint usage in Ex. 3:14 which identifies Jehovah."

February 6, 2019

The Temptations of Jesus



Overcoming temptations is a lifelong pursuit and can often seem more than we can handle. Understanding the story of the temptation of Jesus and how the Savior overcame Satan can be a powerful formula for our own daily struggle against evil.

After Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, the Savior knew His mission was about to begin and that He would need His Father’s guidance more than ever. Anticipating the difficulties that lay ahead, He went into the barren wilderness near the Jordan River and fasted for forty days. Here in the desolate mountains, with no concern of his own daily physical sustenance, the Savior focused instead on His spiritual need to be nurtured and strengthened by God.

After the spiritual outpouring that He must have had as He communed with His Father, Satan came desiring to tempt Him in His moment of greatest physical weakness. Each of the three temptations teach us about some of the most powerful tactics of Satan, but more importantly, how we can overcome evil by following the Savior’s example.

The first temptation of Satan was asking the Savior to turn stones into bread that He might eat, satisfying his own personal hunger and appetite. The Savior in turn, to combat the tempter, quoted scripture stating, “It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4 quoting Deuteronomy 8:3) In other words, the first thing that Jesus does to fight Satan is quote scripture, and not just any scripture, He quotes from Deuteronomy, part of the Law of Moses. This passage refers to the Lord’s message to the people just before they entered the Promised Land. For forty years they had feasted on manna from heaven, but now they would need to labor for their own food. The Lord, desiring to teach them a spiritual lesson, taught that though they did live on bread in the wilderness, ultimately eternal life comes by obeying and feasting on the word of God (see 2 Nephi 32:3).

It was not that Jesus would not eat, or that Jesus could not perform the miracle, it was that He came into the wilderness to hear the word of God and commune with His Father, not to give in to an easy way to appease His appetites. Ironically, at a later time Jesus would actually miraculously produce bread, feeding the multitudes on several occasions, but these later miracles were to bless others, not to satisfy his own desires.

Satan next took Jesus to a high mountain where He showed the Savior the kingdoms of the earth and promised Him power and glory over the nations, if He would just worship him. Once again, the Lord quotes from the Law, in the book of Deuteronomy stating: “it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Luke 4:8 quoting Deuteronomy 6:13). Satan here seems to be appealing to the human desire to have power and dominion, but in an easy, simple way. A shortcut so to speak. Again, the Savior would at some point have all glory and power, but not through a simple act of worship, but through great adversity, pain and suffering.

Satan, seeing that He had not succeeded up to this point, finally takes the Savior to the beautiful city of Jerusalem, to the pinnacle of the temple, tempting him to cast himself down to be miraculously saved. As part of this last temptation, Satan, apparently wanting to imitate the Savior, likewise quoted from scripture. Interestingly though, Satan only quotes from Psalms (see Psalms 91:11-12), seeming to show his lack of understanding of the far greater power of the books of the Law. [1]

The pinnacle of the temple, where Satan takes the Savior, most likely refers to the south western side of the temple mount. From this location the temple priests would blow the shofar to announce the coming of the Sabbath and the beginning of the Jewish Festivals. It also overlooked a very busy intersection with many shops almost 140 feet below. This was a place to announce things, and in particular, religious announcements. Thus, Jesus casting himself down to the busy street below and then being carried up by the angels would be a fitting location to easily announce His Messiahship. Again the focus is on the easy way out for receiving glory. Interestingly, the actual stone from which the temple priests would blow their trumpets, was found in 1969 just below the pinnacle where it had fallen. Also several shops from the time period of Jesus and the street below have likewise been excavated, giving us a glimpse into the view the people would have had if the Savior had given in to this temptation. [2]

To once again overcome Satan, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy for a third time stating, “It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Luke 4:12 quoting Deuteronomy 6:16). After seeing that he could not tempt the Savior, Satan left the Lord.

From these three temptations we learn that Satan will often come to us after powerful spiritual experiences and in our moments of greatest weakness. He also seeks to allure us by appealing to our physical appetites and our desire to easily gain power and glory. Each of these things in and of themselves are not necessarily evil, but when we are not willing to go through trials and hard work, we will never truly gain the blessing of life eternal.

We also learn that the main key for Jesus to oppose Satan was by quoting scripture. This not only implies that from a young age Jesus studied and knew the scriptures, but He had internalized them making them a part of His daily life. He knew them well enough to know exactly what verse He needed in the very moment of testing!

Perhaps the most powerful lesson is that in the end Jesus does do each of these three things, not for His own selfish purposes, but instead to bless the lives of others. Jesus does miraculously produce bread and is called the true bread of life, which if we partake of, we will gain eternal life. At His Second Coming the Savior will gain all power and glory over all the kingdoms of the earth but only after great tribulation and struggle, and then to give it all to us allowing us to inherit all things that the Father hath. And lastly, as we all experience our own daily and lifelong struggles, the Savior through ministering angels and the power of His atonement will lift us up as on eagle’s wings (see Isaiah 40:31) taking us to the heavens above. In the end, all that the Savior ever did and still does today, is to bless each one of us showing us that true power and glory comes through serving others.


[1] The Testimony of Luke, S. Kent Brown, page 229
[2] Trumpeting on the Temple Mount, Leen Ritmeyer

January 28, 2019

The Baptism of Jesus



This video was written and produced in collaboration with Book of Mormon Central.

The baptism of the Savior in the New Testament is an immensely important part of Jesus Christ’s life. His baptism marks the beginning of his mortal ministry and the Father’s voice on that occasion was a heavenly sign to many of Jesus’s followers that Jesus is the Father’s “beloved son.” But the reason Jesus needed to be baptized and the purpose of baptism itself is left somewhat vague in the New Testament. The Book of Mormon beautifully clarifies some of the gaps, and can help followers of Christ understand why it’s so important to be baptized.

The gospel of Matthew records that, when asked by John the Baptist why He needed to be baptized, Jesus responded, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15)

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi, the son of Lehi clarifies what it meant for Jesus to “fulfill all righteousness.” Nephi explained that even though Jesus was perfect, by being baptized He “showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.” (2 Nephi 31:7).

Jesus did not need a remission of his sins because he was without sin, but by being baptized, he showed his humility, and willingly made a sacred covenant to do the will of His Father. In this way, He showed us what our Heavenly Father wants all of us to do.

In addition to teaching us why Jesus needed to be baptized, The Book of Mormon also plainly and distinctively teaches that baptism is a sacred witness and covenant that we make with God, that we are willing to trust in our Savior, and keep his commandments. Being submerged symbolizes the burial of our old selves. Coming up out of the water represents our being raised up into a new stage of life as we promise to follow our Savior.

Baptism puts believers on the covenant path and is an outward sign of our commitment to Heavenly Father. This unique doctrine is taught many times throughout the Book of Mormon. For example, Alma taught at the Waters of Mormon that baptism serves “as a witness before [God] that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments” (Mosiah 18:10). Nephi, son of Nephi, also confirmed that baptism acts “as a witness and a testimony before God” (3 Nephi 7:25). Because of the covenantal nature of baptism, the Book of Mormon also strongly states that little children are not to be baptized.

Another detail included in the Book of Mormon is the name of the place where Jesus was baptized. Lehi identifies it as “Bethabara, beyond Jordan” which agrees with the KJV reading of the Gospel of John.

Some of the early manuscripts of the Gospel of John, however, say that the place was called Bethany, not Bethabara. But some equally early Christian fathers claimed that Bethabara was the correct name, and thus several modern scholars have suggested that perhaps Bethany and Bethabara are two names for the same location. Bethany means “House of Palms,” and there were many palm trees in the Jordan Valley. Bethabara means “House of the Crossing,” and there were several places where the Jordan River could be forded.

Though the exact location and name of the site of the baptism of Jesus may never fully be resolved, several significant and symbolic lessons may be conveyed by the location of Bethabara.

The Jordan river, as recorded in the Old Testament, was crossed by Joshua and the Israelites when entering the promised land. The word Jesus is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew name Joshua. By being baptized at the place where Joshua (his name sake) had crossed, Jesus was also crossing from the ways of the world into the life of promise through his baptismal covenant to keep all the laws of God.

In addition, a few centuries after Joshua, the prophet Elijah went to the Jordan River, near Jericho, and there he crossed from this mortal life and was taken up into heaven. The Dead Sea, near that place, was also the lowest place on earth, and there, Jesus symbolically descended below all things, symbolically taking his followers into the promised land by beginning his ministry with his baptism. That place, where John the Baptist was baptizing, was filled with ancient meanings and of important prophetic significance. As Russell M. Nelson taught in 1989, it might be that Christ “chose this location for His baptism in the River Jordan as a silent commemoration of the crossing of those faithful Israelites under Joshua’s direction so many years before, as well as a symbol that baptism is a spiritual crossing into the kingdom of God.” [1]

Many important insights about baptism come from the Book of Mormon. As Nephi, son of Lehi, beautifully taught: “And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!” What a wonderful blessing it is, to go down into the waters of baptism, following the Savior, covenanting to obey his commandments, and taking upon us His name, so “that we may always have his spirit to be with us” (2 Nephi 31:5).


[1] Why This Holy Land? by Elder Russel M. Nelson, 1989 Ensign.

January 14, 2019

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh



According to the second chapter of Matthew, wise men brought the Christ child gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because there were three gifts, we often assume there must have been three wise men, but the Bible does not actually tell us the number. These three gifts were extremely valuable in ancient times and were likely the main financial source for enabling Joseph and Mary to flee from Bethlehem to Egypt. In addition to their great value, each of these gifts are highly significant in their symbolism and relationship to various titles of Jesus Christ and to ancient temple worship.

Gold was often seen as a symbol of wealth, worldly power, and kingship. Gold was also extensively used throughout the ancient structures of worship to the Lord, becoming a symbol of divinity or the presence of God. [1] Within the Tabernacle of Moses, the walls were covered in gold, as well as each of the pieces of furniture within the Holy Place and Holy of Holies. The beautifully carved walls of Solomon’s temple were likewise overlaid with gold, as well as the floors and inside furniture. Herod’s temple, the temple at the time of Jesus, also used gold throughout including large golden plates that adorned the interior walls. Gold was also woven into the fabric of the clothing of the high priest, as well as on the crown, the settings for the twelve stones, and the bells on the hem of the blue robe. The fact that the wise men brought gold, a symbol of kingship, temple worship and divinity, can point to the titles of the Savior as the King of kings and the Great High Priest who intercedes on our behalf.

Frankincense and myrrh are both tree resins from two types of trees that grow mostly in the Arabian Peninsula. Both incenses were very valuable and were known for their healing powers and were often combined with oil and other spices to create healing balms. Both incenses are harvested by wounding the tree by cutting and removing a small portion of the bark. The tree resin then drips or bleeds out, after which it is allowed to harden before it is removed.

Frankincense is known for its sweet and pleasant smell when burned or used in perfumes. In ancient times few bathed on a regular basis or had multiple pairs of clothing to change and wash. This means that any pleasant smells, such as frankincense, that could mask the many unpleasant smells, had great value. In temple worship, frankincense was placed on the Table of Showbread and burned by the priests every Sabbath. In addition, it was combined with other incenses and burned every morning and evening on the altar of incense. According to Psalms, burning incense represented the prayers of Israel ascending to the Lord before the veil of the temple (see Psalm 141:2 and Revelation 5:8). It was here at this altar where Zacharias had the vision of the angel Gabriel, foretelling the birth of his son John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for the Messiah.

Myrrh was used as an incense, medicine, and perfume. In temple worship, myrrh was added to the anointing oil by heating it and then combining it with olive oil. This sacred anointing oil was used to anoint the priests at the Tabernacle and later Jerusalem temples. Myrrh was also often used in the burial process, wrapping it within the folds of the bound, deceased body, helping to mask the smell of the decaying flesh. According to the Gospel of John, Nicodemus brought 100 pounds of myrrh and other aloes to wrap the body of Jesus, a massive amount fit for the King of kings. On the cross, Jesus was also offered wine mixed with myrrh, probably to help decrease the excruciating pain. However Jesus refused the mixture, likely preferring to bear the full weight of suffering.

Just as the frankincense and myrrh trees are cut and bruised so that they can bleed out precious resin used for healing, incense and anointing, so too the suffering and blood of Jesus brings forth power of healing and redemption. It is through His suffering that comes healing to our souls, anointing power and answers to prayer through personal and temple worship. It is because of his blood, shed in Gethsemane that allows us to mask the sting of death through His triumphal resurrection. The title of Jesus Christ as the Tree of Life truly gives beautiful meaning to the words of Isaiah that “through his stripes we are healed.”

It is remarkable that each of these three gifts of the wise men—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—have so much symbolic significance, teaching us that all things point to and testify of the ultimate mission of Jesus Christ, His suffering, atonement, and resurrection from the dead.


[1] The Lost Language of Symbolism by Alonzo Gaskill, page 91-93

January 7, 2019

The Annunciations - The Nativity



Luke begins his Nativity narrative with the annunciations of the angel Gabriel to Mary and Zacharias. It seems that Luke purposefully places these two stories next to each other to not only contrast Mary and Zacharias, but also to compare the two miraculous birth stories of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.

The first annunciation of Gabriel occurs in Jerusalem at the temple to Zacharias, a priest of the course of Abia. The courses of the priests were established during the reign of King David, when there were too many priests to serve in the temple at one given time. Because of their large numbers, King David divided the priests into twenty-four courses, Abia being one of these courses. Each of these courses would serve for one week twice throughout the year, meaning that Zacharias would only have the chance to actually serve in the temple for two weeks during each year.

Temple assignments for the priests, ranging from performing sacrifices to lighting the menorah, were chosen by casting lots. The most honorable assignment was to burn the incense before the veil of the temple. This burning incense was offered every morning and evening in the Holy Place and represented the prayers of Israel ascending to heaven before the veil. This was the closest that Zacharias would ever come to the Holy of Holies, and it appears to be an assignment that he had never previously received.

As part of the ritual, Zacharias, while praying, was to burn a combination of incenses on the golden altar, including interestingly enough, frankincense, one of the gifts of the wise men. Outside, the people would be praying and waiting until Zacharias had finished. After which he would come to the door of the temple to pronounce a blessing upon them. Of course, Zacharias would never be able to pronounce this blessing, because he had been cursed by the angel, adding to the awe and wonder of the people.

The second annunciation of Gabriel occurs in the small village of Nazareth, to an obscure young girl named Mary, who was probably around 12 or 13 at the time. The contrasts between these two annunciation stories is remarkable, and it seems that Luke hopes that we will notice the differences. One occurs to a notable and respected elderly man and temple priest, the other to an unknown young girl. One occurs in Jerusalem, and at the temple, the most holy place in Israel, the other in an obscure village of Galilee, likely in a meager and simple home.

Luke also contrasts the very words of the vision of Gabriel, perhaps to teach us of how we should respond to inspiration from God. Both Zacharias and Mary are visited by the angel Gabriel. Both are told to fear not, and that they would be blessed with a child. Both Zacharias and Mary ask for a sign or for understanding. The angel then gives both of them a sign; in the case of Zacharias he is made dumb and possibly even deaf, and Mary is given the sign that her relative Elizabeth, who has been without child, will conceive a son.

It is interesting to note that while these two visions are very similar, there are also some striking differences, that perhaps help teach us why Zacharias was cursed, while Mary was blessed. One of the differences seems to be in one simple word. When responding to Gabriel, Zacharias asks, "Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years." Yet, Mary responds, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" Zacharias is seeking for a sign to know if the angel is really speaking the truth, while Mary simple believes, and only asks how this miracle will actually happen. One other difference is how Mary responds when she says with faith: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." Mary not only believed without doubting, she immediately was willing to follow.

It is remarkable to think of the consequences of these annunciations for both Zacharias and Mary. For Zacharias, having a son would be one of the greatest blessing he could receive. Yet for Mary, being unmarried, and pregnant, would likely mean that she would tried before the local synagogue, and be mocked and scorned for years possibly her entire life. Yet Zacharias, a man, a priest, and a respected individual, is the one who seeks a sign, and waivers in believing. While Mary, a young girl, and really a nobody in society, simply believed and trusted that she would be blessed for following God. What remarkable faith and determination Mary had. No wonder, the Father of us all, chose her to be the mother of the Son of God.

December 21, 2018

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 9, 2018

Swaddling Bands and a Manger



On the night of the Savior's birth, an angel of the Lord proclaimed to the shepherds that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. The angel then told the shepherds to go and find the babe, and that they would recognize him because he would be "wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12). This phrase, at least in part, is repeated three times in the Nativity story (Luke 2:7, 12, 16), so what is the significance of swaddling bands and a manger and why would this be a sign unto the shepherds?

Swaddling an infant in ancient times was a common practice, showing a child was properly cared for. Ezekiel 16 symbolically describes the birth of Israel, and how because of her wickedness was not properly cared for, or swaddled. It reads: "And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all" (Ezekiel 16:4).

From this verse we learn several things about birth in ancient times. First, the umbilical cord was cut, then the infant would be washed with water. This washing was to cleanse the child of the amniotic fluid and blood present during birth. The baby was then rubbed with a small amount of salt, combined likely with olive oil, [1] to help clean and disinfect the child. Salt was also added to every offering at the altar of sacrifice in the Tabernacle and at the temple, and it is likely that Israelite mothers saw the salting of their infant as a way to symbolically offer their child to the service of the Lord.

After being washed and salted, the infant was then wrapped with long strips of linen or cotton swaddling bands. These bands helped to provide comfort to the child, the tight bands replicating the feeling of the womb. "It [also] is possible that swaddling bands were, at least on some occasions, marked in some way … in order to identify whose baby it was." [2] Some writers, because of later Jewish traditions, have also suggested that these bands were embroidered with symbols of the infant's ancestry, such as a lion, or a branch or stem, for those of the lineage of David. [3]

The second part of the sign unto the shepherds is that the infant would be found lying in a manger. Since most cared for infants would be swaddled, this actual sign would help the shepherds recognize the baby, as he would be lying in a manger. Despite what we have seen in almost every Nativity scene, mangers in ancient Israel were actually built of stone instead of wood. Because of the abundance of stone in Israel, most construction used stonework, reserving the scarcer resource of wood for items such as roof timbers and doors. These mangers were of various sizes and generally were about six to eight inches deep. The scriptures tell us that once the shepherds found the infant lying in a manger, they knew, because of the uniqueness of the situation, that they had found the promised Messiah.

It is remarkable that water, salt, oil, and linen were all likely present at the birth of Christ. Each of these items point to ancient sacrifice and temple worship. Water was used both for the purification of the priests and for washing the sacrifices. Salt, as mentioned, was added to all sacrifices, symbolizing "the lasting nature of the covenant." [4] Olive oil was used in some sacrificial offerings such as for the grain offering, for the anointing of priests, and for lighting the menorah in the temple. White linen was used to clothe and dress the priests. In addition, the Savior laying in a feeding manger may have been a type and shadow for how we each must symbolically partake of His sacrificed flesh and blood. How appropriate that the true lamb of God, the infinite and eternal sacrifice, was salted, anointed, wrapped in cloth, and laid in a manger symbolically pointing to his sacrifice, of which if we partake, we will have eternal life!


[1] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia pg. 670
[2] What on Earth are Swaddling Clothes? by John W. Welch
[3] Beloved Bridegroom by Donna B. Nielsen pgs. 35-36
[4] CES Law of Moses slideshow

December 1, 2018

Christmas Study Resources


One of the things that has helped me better prepare for Christmas each year is to take up a study of the story of the Nativity about a month before the actual holiday. Advent (the four Sundays before Christmas) is a great time to begin, and gives you plenty of time to read at least one book, and the two accounts of the birth of Jesus Christ as found in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Adding this to my study during the weeks before Christmas makes this special day become all the more holy. Below are a few of the books I have enjoyed reading to prepare for Christmas:

Good Tidings of Great Joy by Eric D. Huntsman

An excellent resource for Advent. The book is divided into five main sections, which are designed to be read during the four weeks before Christmas, with the last chapter studied on Christmas eve or day. The book includes commentary, music, and activities that can be added to Advent to help increase the overall feel of this special season.


Advent of the Savior by Stephen J. Binz

Short (only 69 pages), yet concise and powerful. This has become one of my new favorites for the study of the birth of Christ. A verse-by-verse commentary on the Nativity story, yet it does not have the feel of most commentaries. Excellent insights and highly recommended!



The Nativity by Alonzo L. Gaskill

A simple, short, yet very interesting study of the Nativity story. The book is divided into sections that discuss the account of Matthew and Luke, with other supplemental material (including a short quiz to see how well you know the Nativity story). If you want a simple quick read, this is the best book to read.


Mary and Elisabeth by S. Kent Brown

BYU professor, Kent Brown, examines the lives of two of the most important women in scripture (the two mothers of the Messiah and the greatest prophet ever). As we so often gloss over the lives of Mary and Elizabeth, and focus on the birth of Jesus (who is of course the reason for the story), this is an excellent study of the lives of these two women. There is much we can learn from their examples of faith and devotion.

A Coming Christ in Advent and
An Adult Christ at Christmas by Raymond E. Brown

Short, yet very detailed and doctrine heavy booklets on the story of Christmas by Raymond Brown, one of the greatest American Catholic scholars of our day. The first booklet covers Matthew 1 and Luke 1, the second booklet covers Matthew 2 and Luke 2. This is the very condensed version of his 750 page Birth of the Messiah.