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.

September 23, 2018

The Tabernacle Gate and the Messiah

Upon arriving at the Tabernacle, the first thing that an Israelite worshiper would notice is the white linen fence that blocked their view from seeing inside, and the beautiful colorful woven gate. The outer fence, made from white linen, like the clothing of the priests, represented purity and separation from the world. In ancient times the color white in fabric was very difficult to produce, having to go through a laborious process of bleaching or fulling. This meant that not only would it be uncommon to see white fabrics, but also that the white would stand in stark contrast to the thousands of black goat hair tents and dry desert sand. The white linen creates beautiful symbolism of a sacred space that is set apart from the contrasting surroundings.

The Tabernacle was entered from the east side by a gate made of blue, purple, and scarlet fabric woven into white linen. The colorful gate was surprisingly wide at about 35 feet, perhaps symbolically showing how despite the fact that there is only one way to enter God’s presence, it is wide and beautiful, allowing all who desire to enter. The Psalms gives a hint at perhaps the requirement for entering by saying: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” (Psalms 24:3-4).

Beautiful symbolism can be found in both the outer fence and gate of the Tabernacle that point us to the Lord Jesus Christ. As we draw closer to the Savior, one of the first things that often will catch our eye, is His purity and perfection (symbolized by the white linen fence). In many ways, we may want to turn away because of our own lack of cleanliness, but the Lord beckons us forward, showing us how we can become pure like He is pure. The colors of the outer gate can likewise symbolize the perfection and attributes of the Savior. The color blue in ancient times often symbolizing heaven, the color purple royalty, and the color red death, blood, mortality and sacrifice. These same colors will be replicated throughout the Tabernacle, in the beautiful garments of the High Priest (himself a type of Christ), and the veils of the Tabernacle.

While teaching in the Temple at Jerusalem, Jesus taught: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 14:6 NIV), teaching us that to return to God, the very first thing we must do is pass through the Savior. Through our faith in Christ, and because of the Lord’s purity, perfection, heavenliness, royalty and sacrifice (represented by the colors) we are allowed to begin our journey back to God. To return to His presence, we just need to approach with clean hands and a pure heart and enter through the Savior, the Great High Priest, who ever stands beckoning us to enter through Him, the gate, the way, the truth and the light (see John 14:6).

July 19, 2018

Solomon's Temple Explained

Solomon's temple stood in Jerusalem for almost 400 years. It was the crown jewel of Jerusalem, and the center of worship to the Lord. Almost half of the Old Testament writings took place during the time when Solomon's temple was still standing. Understanding the significance of its location, history, and design can greatly add to one's reverence for one of the most holy places in the world.

Historical Background
The city of Jerusalem is located in an area of three major valleys, the Hinnom, the central or Tyropoeon, and the Kidron valley. The mountain range between the Central and Kidron valley is called Mount Moriah. The peak of the mountain is a large protruding flat rock, which is now located under the Dome of the Rock. According to Genesis 22:2 Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac in the "region of Moriah" connecting the temple mount with this significant event.

At the time of king David, the area of Jerusalem was controlled by the Jebusites, the city only occupying the southern part of the central ridge. When David captured the city in about 1000 BC, he made Jerusalem his capital. David then moved the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem and began preparations for building a permanent structure to replace the portable Tabernacle of Moses that had been used for over 400 years. With the ancient city of Jerusalem being fairly small, David purchased the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite so he could expand the size of the city. Being higher than the city of David, the hill top would make a beautiful place to build the Temple of the Lord. Under the reign of David’s son, King Solomon the Temple construction began. After seven years of construction, in about 960 BC, Solomon finished building the temple, most likely built over this same protruding rock of mount Moriah. Solomon also built himself a new palace just south of the temple and expanded the walls and the city up towards the peak of mount Moriah.

Valleys of Jerusalem at the time of Solomon
The Tabernacle and the Temple
The Temple of Solomon was modeled after the Tabernacle of Moses. Because of the many similarities between the Tabernacle and the Garden of Eden, many scholars believe that the Garden of Eden was the prototype for the Tabernacle, and thus later temples. [1] According to Jewish tradition, Eden was located on a hill, with the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil at the center of the hill. The Bible teaches that when Adam and Eve transgressed and partook of the forbidden fruit, they were cast out towards the east. Cherubim and a flaming sword were then placed at the east entrance to prevent them from partaking of the tree of life, as they would then live forever in their sin. In order to return back into the presence of God, Israel had to symbolically retrace the steps of Adam and Eve, passing the cherubim and reentering the garden in a westward direction.

Tabernacle of Moses replica
The Tabernacle was set up in this same east to west progression, seeming to replicate the Garden of Eden. The Tabernacle was divided into three main courts, the outer court, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies. The outer court represented the fallen world, while the inner courts represented a more sacred and holier way of life. In essence, as the high priest, who represented all of Israel, progressed through the Tabernacle, or temple, he left the world to enter a more holy state, and then was enabled to reenter the presence of the Lord, passing the angels or cherubim who were embroidered on the veil. Solomon's temple replicated this same three level progression, doubling the floor plan size of the Tabernacle sanctuary for the temple structure.

Design and Layout
As one approached the Temple of Solomon, the first thing noticed was the brazen altar of sacrifice. The altar was 20 cubits long and wide, and 10 cubits high, a cubit being the length from the elbow to the tip of the longest finger, or about one and a half feet. On the four corners of the altar were four horns, horns often repressing power. This is where the sacrificial animals were burned, representing the future sacrifice of the Savior Jesus Christ. On the southeast side of the temple was the molten or brazen sea, which rested on the backs of 12 oxen, three pointing in each of the cardinal directions. In ancient times, oxen represented strength, and the number 12 often represented the 12 tribes of Israel. Water from the larger brazen sea was poured into ten bronze water basins on both sides of the temple, which could then be wheeled around the outer court for various washing and cleaning rituals by the priests.

Altar of Sacrifice, 3D model by Brian Olson
Around the south, west and north sides of the temple were three floors of chambers or storage rooms. The inside wall of the chambers was stepped, so as to create a ledge where the timbers of the floors could rest. The storage rooms were accessed by a door on the south side of the temple, with wooden ladders going up into each of the floors.

At the front of the temple were two large bronze pillars that flanked the porch. The pillar on the left was named Boaz and the pillar on the right was named Jachin. The tops were decorated with lily flower petals and pomegranates. Pomegranates were a sign of prosperity and posterity, because of their many seeds, and were also found on the bottom hem of the clothing of the high priest.

The main temple doors were made of two large bi-folding doors covered in gold with cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. The Bible describes the doorframe as being a "fourth part of the wall" which most scholars believe means that the door had four stepped frames. The interior doorway of the Holy of Holies was similar, except having five frames instead of four. The priests, who represented Israel, were the only ones allowed into the inner temple. This means that Israel only could enter through being represented by the priests.

Once you entered the main doors you entered the Holy Place, a large room, 40 cubits long, 20 cubits wide, and 30 cubits tall. The room was overlaid with gold, and decorated with cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers, possibly alluded to the beauty of the Garden of Eden. The room was lit by the ten large menorahs, five on each side of the room, that were constantly burning, and narrow windows on each side of the top of the room.

Holy Place of Solomon's temple, 3D model by Brian Olson
On the right side of the room was located the table of showbread which had twelve large flat pita like loaves. The priests ate and then replaced the showbread every Sabbath, similar to our weekly partaking of the communion or sacramental bread. Breaking bread and sharing a meal with someone in ancient times represented that you were at peace with them and was a sign of brotherhood, love and forgiveness.

Directly in front of the Holy of Holies was the altar of incense. The altar was similar to the altar of sacrifice in that it had a square footprint, and also had four horns, one on each of the corners. However, on the altar of sacrifice was burned the flesh of animals, while upon the altar of incense burned a sweet combination of incenses. The incense burning before the veil of the temple represented the prayers of the saints ascending to God before the veil. A reminder that before we can enter God's presence, our lives, prayers, and actions must become a sweet savor unto the Lord.

Only the High Priest was able to enter the Holy of Holies, and only on one day a year, the Day of Atonement. Before entering, the High Priest passed through a beautifully embroidered veil woven from purple, red, blue, and white threads. The colors were the same as used in the ephod and breastplate of the clothing of the high priest, minus the gold thread. Embroidered on the veil were cherubim, who symbolically guarded the dwelling place of God. As the High Priest passed through the veil he had to pass these angels, who like in the Garden of Eden, guarded the way back to the presence of Lord.

Holy of Holies of Solomon's Temple, 3D model by Brian Olson
Upon entering the Holy of Holies, you would find that the room is the shape of a perfect cube, being 20 cubits wide, long and tall. The walls were likewise overlaid with gold and decorated with cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. Two large cherubim flanked the ark of the covenant, which was in the center of the room, with their wings stretching from one side of the room to the other. This room is where the presence of the Lord would dwell and represented the final goal and destiny of all Israel.

Solomon's Temple was not only a landmark for the city of Jerusalem, but more importantly, the dwelling place of the Lord. The layout represented Israel’s progression back into God’s presence and was designed to teach Israel that it was only through the infinite sacrifice of the sinless Messiah, that they could once again enjoy the presence of the Lord. A sacrifice that would be performed on a cross only a short distance from this holy mount.

[1] Garden of Eden: Prototype Sanctuary, by Donald Parry, Understanding the Holy Temple of the Old Testament,  by Leen & Kathleen Ritmeyer, pages 7-8

May 3, 2018

Aprons of Fig Leaves and Coats of Skins

After Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, they made aprons of fig leaves to hide their nakedness and hid from the Lord because of the shame they felt for disobeying Him (see Genesis 3:6-8). Of course the Lord knows all things, so when He called to them asking why they hid, He already knew the answer. The Lord was simply allowing them to acknowledge their mistakes, helping them to begin the process of repentance.

Because of their transgression, Adam and Eve could no longer dwell in the presence of God. Adam and Eve had attempted to cover themselves with fig leaves because of their shame, but the Lord had a better way. Thus, before sending His children out into the lone and dreary world, the Lord first made "coats of skins, and clothed them," (Genesis 3:21) giving them comfort, warmth, and helping to cover the shame they felt.

Though we don't know for sure what the "coats of skins" are, it would only make sense that this was the skins of the first animal that had been killed in the Garden of Eden. Perhaps, even here is where Adam and Eve first learned how to offer sacrifices prior to being expelled from the Garden. If these skins were from the first animal to die in the Garden, it must have been a powerful reminder to Adam and Eve of the consequences of sin. It also would be a constant reminder to them, as they went throughout their lives, of the Father's love for them.

High Priest dabbing or covering horn of altar of incense
In Hebrew the word atonement, or kafar, means to cover. For example, on the Day of Atonement, the most solemn day in the Jewish year, blood was used to cover various parts of the Tabernacle, including the altar of sacrifice, the altar of incense, and the Ark of the Covenant. This is why it is called the Day of Atonement, because it was a day in which symbolically and literally, sin was covered over, or atonement was made, by the blood of the sacrifice. Adam and Eve received a powerful and meaningful message. An innocent animal died so that they could be covered.

Anciently, clothing someone often symbolized giving them power and authority. [1] This is still true today, think of a police officer, the robes of a judge, the graduation gown, or the robes of a priest. The robes and clothing represent their title, authority, and power that have been given to them. Likewise, the fact that the Lord not only made the "coats of skins" for Adam and Eve, but He also actually dressed them, seems to imply that the Lord is now endowing them, or giving them power as they enter the lonely world.

All of us, like Adam and Eve, have each sinned and sought to cover our sins with feeble attempts of symbolic fig leaves. But just as the Lord clothed Adam and Eve with beautiful coats of skins, so too each of us can be covered through the atonement of the Savior. A covering, that like the coats of skins, provides warmth, protection, and blots out or covers over our sins. The Lord, knowing our need to be forgiven and to have confidence to stand again in His presence, shed His blood and died for us, so that we can feel assurance that we never need to hide from the Lord.

[1] The Lost Language of Symbolism, by Alonzo Gaskill, pages 61-62.

April 11, 2018

The Tabernacle and the Messiah

Throughout history, the Lord has commanded His people to build temples. A temple is a place where holy ceremonies and ordinances are performed. It is a place where the Lord has revealed Himself and instruction is given to help the sons and daughters of God gain eternal life. It is literally a House of the Lord.

At the time of Jesus Christ, the Temple of Herod at Jerusalem was the center of religious life and learning for the Jews. A thousand years before the Savior, Solomon's Temple was the crown jewel of Israel's greatest age. But even Solomon's Temple was modeled after another. By going further back in time to the days of Moses, we can see a type of portable temple used by the children of Israel in the wilderness: the Tabernacle.

The Tabernacle, like the temples that followed it, was the place where the children of Israel learned the way to eternal life. Let's take a tour of the Tabernacle and see what we can learn. This gate in the east wall is the only entrance and leads to the outer courtyard. This courtyard might represent the telestial world we live in. Within the outer courtyard and in front of the tent of the Tabernacle are the Altar of Sacrifice and the Laver.

The Altar of Sacrifice is where burnt offerings were made to the Lord, symbolizing the suffering and death of the Savior on the cross. Here at the altar, Israelites made offerings that represented their faith in Jesus Christ. Through repentance, symbolized by their offering the animal to God, and their life and obedience, they would prepare for the cleaning power of the Holy Spirit.

The Laver is made of brass and contains water. Officiating priests were required to ritually wash here before entering the tent of the Tabernacle. The Laver represents the need for washing and cleansing of souls from sin, and could represent the waters of baptism.

The tent of the Tabernacle is made up of two rooms. The first room, called the Holy Place, contains the candlestick or Menorah, the Altar of Incense, and the Table of Showbread. This Holy Place might be seen as the terrestrial world, and taught Israel how to be in the world but not of the world. The Menorah provided light for the Holy Place and was kept constantly burning. It symbolizes the Holy Ghost and emphasizes the need to live by the light of the Spirit in this life.

On the Table of Showbread was kept 12 loaves of unleavened bread, which were eaten by the priests every Sabbath. Jewish tradition holds that a pitcher of wine was also kept on the table. The bread and wine on the Table of Showbread reminds us of the bread and water of the Sacrament. It suggests the Savior's sacrifice for us as well as the need to be spiritually nourished by Him.

The Altar of Incense sits in front of the entrance to the Holy of Holies. Each morning and evening, the High Priest burned incense here. Incense is a symbol of prayer, just as the smoke from the altar rose before the veil every morning and evening, so Israel was expected to raise their prayers regularly before the Lord. The altar's position before the Holy of Holies also shows the importance of prayer in preparing to enter the Lord's presence. The linen veil separates the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Embroidered on the veil are figures called cherubim, which symbolically guard the presence of God.

We now enter the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies represented our ultimate goal of living in the very presence of the Lord in the celestial world. The High Priest entered this room only once a year on the Day of Atonement. In the center is the Ark of the Covenant, the most sacred object in the Tabernacle. Inside the Ark are kept other sacred objects, including Aaron's rod, a bowl of manna, and the stone tablets of the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The tablets reminded Israel that their return to the presence of God was based on their obedience to His laws and ordinances.

The lid is called the mercy seat, or seat of Atonement. It is made from pure gold and features two cherubim. On the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, he sprinkled blood from the Sacrifice on the mercy seat as part of the ceremony, symbolizing that through the blood of the Lamb of God, Israel obtained mercy and the opportunity to once again live in God's presence.

The Tabernacle and its furnishings showed Israel the path that leads back to our Father in Heaven. The outer courtyard represents coming to the Savior from out of the world. The Holy Place represents living by the Spirit in this fallen world. The Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant remind us that, through the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to His covenants, we can return to the very presence of our Father in Heaven.

Text modified from the video The Tabernacle.

March 28, 2018

The Last Supper and the Passover Feast

Each year, Christians throughout the world celebrate Holy Week, the most significant period in the Christian calendar. Holy Week commemorates the last week of the life of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and his resurrection from the tomb.

During this same time each year, Jews around the world celebrate Passover, the most significant festival in the Jewish calendar. The Jewish holiday of Passover commemorates the redemption of the ancient Israelites from bondage in Egypt after being slaves for 300 years.

The Bible records the Lord’s command to celebrate the first Passover: "And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb...without blemish, a male of the first year…and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it....For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt." (see Exodus 12:1-13)

For 3,500 years Jews have celebrated Passover, and have used the symbolism of the meal to remember the captivity and redemption of their fathers, and to look forward to the Messianic age and their own final redemption.

The Betrayal by Marilyn Todd-Daniels
Jesus, himself a Jew, likewise used the symbolism of the Passover meal to teach His disciples about His mission, as He prepared them to understand the spiritual redemption that would come from his suffering and death. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of the homes of faithful Israelites had saved them from the power of the destroying angel, so the blood of the lamb of God, shed for all on Calvary’s cross, would save all who would come unto Christ from the power of sin and death.

Though it is difficult to know exactly how the Last Supper took place, the gospel writers refer to several Passover symbols during the meal and discourse that followed. Understanding this sacred holiday in its Jewish context will help us appreciate the Last Supper and the Savior's redemption on this Passover night.

Tradition tells us that the day was Thursday, the first day of the Passover feast. As the evening approached, Jesus and His disciples gathered in a large upper room on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. His disciples had made preparations beforehand and the table was set with all of the necessary elements for the Passover.

According to Jewish tradition, a roasted lamb would be served as the main dish, in remembrance of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the homes, which protected their ancestors from the destroying angel. Alongside it, bitter herbs, representing the bitterness of slavery, and a mixture of chopped apples and nuts, called haroset, representing the mortar used by slaves to build the wonders of Egypt. Salt water was used to recall the salty tears shed by the Israelites in slavery. Into the salt water they dipped greens, such as parsley, representing springtime, the season of Passover, the season of hope.

Passover symbols: haroset, salt water, parsley, wine, and bitter herbs
Central to the Passover feast was the unleavened bread, or matza, which reminded the disciples of the haste with which Israel left Egypt--their ancestors not having even enough time to allow their bread to rise. This was the bread which Christ blessed and broke and gave to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you, this do in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).

“After the same manner also he took the cup...saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do...in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25). In instituting this sacramental emblem, Jesus used one of the four cups of wine which was consumed during each Passover meal, each cup representing a unique aspect of God’s promise to redeem Israel.

During the meal, the question was asked by the youngest member: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Whereupon, the story of the redemption of Israel from captivity was told. Passover is different from all other nights, but this Passover night was truly different, for on this night, Christ would redeem all His children from the slavery of sin, and the bondage of death.

After completing this symbolic meal “And when they had sung a hymn, [Jesus and his disciples] went out into the mount of Olives” into a garden called Gethsemane (Matthew 26:30). Jesus’ atoning journey had begun. The true Passover Lamb had come.

The text of this script comes from a  youtube video I produced back in 2011 with the help of Amy Grigg. With over 8,000 views I decided to update the video to HD and widescreen.