May 6, 2019

Raising of Lazarus from the Dead



One of the most powerful examples of the Savior's love is the raising of Lazarus from the grave. The event took place just before the triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus and His disciples were traveling to Jerusalem for the last time when a messenger was sent with word that Lazarus was sick; however, the Savior tarried for several days instead of rushing to heal Lazarus. When Jesus and the disciples finally arrived, Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb for four days (see John 11:1-45).

One of the first questions often asked is why would the Lord wait to heal Lazarus? Why would He prolong His coming when He knew that the hearts of Mary and Martha would both be broken? Though we do not know for sure why Jesus delayed His coming, there are several likely answers, each which teach of the love and compassion of the Savior.

First, by raising Lazarus from the dead after four days, Jesus demonstrated His true power over even the worst of enemies, that of death. Previously, the Savior had likewise raised two people from the dead, the young daughter of Jairus, and the only son of the widow of Nain. However, in each of these cases they had only been dead but a few hours. Dissenters could easily claim that those who had been raised, had only been sleeping. Yet in the case of Lazarus, there was no question as to the magnitude of Jesus' power.

Second, the miracle teaches of the Savior’s pure love for others, despite His all-knowing omniscience. The shortest verse found in scripture simply states "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). Volumes could be written about these simple, yet two powerful words. The Savior knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead. He also knew that in just a few moments the two sisters, Mary and Martha would again be embracing their brother. Yet Jesus was in the moment, and felt their pain, even though He knew the power of the future.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Jesus performed this miracle to help prepare His followers for His own death—an even more tragic death than Lazarus. One of the reasons Jesus may have wept is because He knew of the sorrow that His disciples soon would feel when they saw their Lord and Savior nailed to the cross. Just as the Savior knew that Lazarus would live again, Jesus also knew that He Himself would be resurrected. Yet for a short time, His followers would weep and not fully understand why their Savior had died. It seems that the Lord allowed Lazarus to die, to instill in His disciples a belief beforehand that truly nothing is impossible for the Lord. Through this miracle, the Savior gave His disciples hope for the future. Hope for the seemingly impossible. Hope when all would be lost.

Often in our own lives we might ask why the Lord has not answered our prayers despite having sought Him in faith and devotion. We may wonder why the Lord tarries instead of providing promised blessings. The story of Lazarus teaches us that the Savior’s timing is always perfect. Even though there are many moments when we think our prayers have gone unanswered, we can be assured that the Lord will come to us, weep with us, and embrace us until the miracle comes.

April 29, 2019

The Healing of the Blind Man at the Pool of Siloam



The account of the blind man who is healed by Jesus at the Pool of Siloam is a beautiful story that can teach us of the power of the Savior to likewise give us light and healing in our own daily struggles.

According to the Gospel of John, we are told that the blind man was healed following the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot (see John 7:2). The Feast of Tabernacles was the third of the three major Jewish Feasts: Passover, Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23). Each feast was designed by the Lord to help teach and remind the people of the redemption of ancient Israel from bondage.

Tabernacles or Sukkot was celebrated for seven days from the 15th through the 21st of the seventh month (see Deuteronomy 16:13). During the Feast, Jews built small booths, or in Hebrew sukkot, and lived in them for seven days. Families slept and ate in the temporary booths made of branches to commemorate the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years (Leviticus 23:42-43). [1]

In addition, each morning of the seven days a procession of priests came from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam. With a golden pitcher, a priest drew water from the large pool. This water came from the Gihon spring and ran through Hezekiah’s tunnel, a tunnel hand bored through rock for almost 1,800 feet. The water was considered “living water” because it came from a spring. Living water was used for ritual purposes. The priests then took the pitcher of “living water” from the Pool of Siloam and climbed the hundreds of steps that went up to the beautiful Temple Mount. As they arrived at the court of the priests, they circled the altar once and then the priest poured the water out onto the altar of sacrifice. They did this each morning for the first six days. On the seventh day, called the “great day of the feast” the same ritual took place, except the priests circled the altar seven times instead of only once. [2]

With most of Israel being extremely dry, the rainy season after the Feast of Tabernacles was critical for the coming year of planting and harvest. Though developed hundreds of years after Moses received the Law, this ceremony at the temple symbolized the people’s need for the blessing of rain from God. In addition, on the first of the seven days the people would gather in the large Court of the Women and at dusk light four huge lamp stands located in the court. Later Jewish writings described the light as being so bright it illuminated much of the city. [3]

Jesus being fully aware of the events that were taking place specifically used the various rituals of Sukkot to teach of His Messiahship. According to the Gospel of John, we are told that midway through the festival Jesus began to teach the people in the temple (see John 7:14). Then on the “last day, that great day of the feast” Jesus stood and cried “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38). The people were shocked! Here, only a few yards away, they had just witnessed the significant ritual of the pouring out of the water. By Jesus proclaiming that he was the ultimate source for “living water,” He was giving a clear and direct declaration of His divinity.

We are then told that Jesus left the city and returned on the following day, again to teach in the temple (see John 8:2). Standing in the same court where only seven nights previous the people had lit the four huge lamp stands, Jesus then proclaims “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). So significant were the words of Jesus during this feast alone that we are told that the Jewish leaders either desired to or even tried to kill Jesus three separate times (John 7:30, 44; 8:59).

After having testified of His Messiahship, Jesus then left the temple and found a blind man. As the disciples gathered around this man, they asked the Lord why he was blind. Jesus simply answered “that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:3). He then spit on the ground, and making a small amount of mud, anointed the eyes of the man and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam, the exact same pool where the priests had drawn water for seven days. In simple, yet profound faith, the blind man then found his way to the pool and washed, after which he was healed and received his sight! The remarkable part of the story in many ways is not the actual healing of the man, but of his fervent faith and devotion to Jesus—a man he had never seen before. When later he was brought before the council questioning how he was healed, the once blind man gave powerful witness to the divinity of the Savior. As the trial continued the man even challenged the Jewish leaders “will ye also be his disciples?” (John 9:27). So enraged were the leaders that they cast him out of their presence.

When Jesus heard that the man had been cast out, the Savior found him and asked “Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.” Having never seen Jesus before, but having heard his voice and having felt of His power and love the now healed man fell at Jesus’ feet and proclaimed “Lord, I believe!” (John 9:35-37).

Each of us, like the blind man, have had moments of darkness and despair. We too have not personally seen the Lord, but have only heard or read of His powerful words of healing. As we seek Jesus, by sincerely repenting and being washed of our sins, we too can be given the true light of the world, even the light of Christ that will illuminate our paths. As we find ourselves in darkness and feel cast out, rejected by those around us, we can know that the Savior will embrace us, welcoming us back into His eternal presence!


[1] The Temple, Its Ministry and Services, Alfred Edersheim, pp. 216-217
[2] The Gospel According to John I-XII, Raymond E. Brown, pp. 326-329; Edersheim, pp. 220-222
[3] John and the Feast of Tabernacles, Bruce K. Satterfield pp. 249-259; Edersheim, pp. 224-225; Brown, pp. 343-344

April 14, 2019

Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb



The events of the last week of the life of the Savior, Jesus Christ are the most significant in all of history. These eight days, from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday change everything. They give us hope. They show us that sin and death will never prevail. These eight days begin with Jesus coming to the beautiful city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover festivals. As we better understand Passover and the spring Jewish Feasts, we can gain powerful insights into Holy Week, the atonement, and the ultimate triumph over all things by Christ, our Passover Lamb.

Passover was first celebrated by the ancient Israelites as they were freed from Egypt after living in bondage for over 400 years (see Exodus 12). As part of this deliverance, the Lord commanded that on the 10th day of the first month, the people were to select a lamb without blemish and to bring it into their homes for the next four days (Exodus 12:3-5). During this period the family would examine the lamb for impurities and would likely become very attached to this young innocent lamb. The family also cleansed their home of all leaven products, leaven often symbolizing impurity because it can quickly spoil and mold (see Luke 12:1). On the 14th day of the month towards the evening, the people then killed the lamb without breaking any of the bones (Exodus 12:6). Using a branch of hyssop, they covered their door post with the blood of the lamb (Exodus 12:22). This was to be a sign for the destroying angel to pass by and spare the firstborn of that home. The Lord then commanded the family to gather that evening and share a meal of the slain lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8). The unleavened bread represented the haste in leaving Egypt, the Israelites not having enough time to allow their bread to rise (Exodus 12:33-34). The bitter herbs represented the bitterness of bondage and slavery. According to later Jewish tradition, wine was also part of the feast as a symbol of joy and redemption. [1]

Once freed from slavery, Israel was commanded to celebrate the Passover every year thereafter, to commemorate and help them remember the powerful hand of God in delivering them from bondage. In addition to Passover, each spring the children of Israel were also to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the observance of the First Fruits. The Feast of Unleavened bread started the day after Passover and ran for seven days from the 15th through the 21st of the month (Leviticus 23:6-8). During this period no leaven was to be consumed, again commemorating the haste with which the children of Israel fled Egypt. The offering of the First Fruits was celebrated the day following the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened bread (Leviticus 23:10-14). On the evening of the Sabbath, the priests would cut the best sheaf of barley and bring it to the temple to be threshed and ground. In the morning the flour would then be combined with oil and frankincense and a handful would be burned on the altar. The offering of the First Fruits symbolized the gratitude of the people by first giving to God an offering before enjoying for themselves the harvest of that season. [2]

With this understanding of the Passover celebrations, let us now examine the powerful significance of the timing of the events of Holy Week. According to the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus entered Jerusalem on the 10th day of the month, the same day when all the people would be selecting their Passover lambs preparatory for the coming feast. [3] At this same time, on the day we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus was welcomed with shouts of praise and acclamation (Matthew 21:7-9). Jesus, the true Passover Lamb, then entered His Father’s home, the temple of Jerusalem, just as the lambs were being brought into the home of all Jews to live for the next four days. Upon entering the temple courts, Jesus cleansed His Father’s house of impurity, driving the money changers from this sacred space (Matthew 21:12-13). At the same time all Jews would be cleansing their own homes of all leaven products.

The next few days of Holy Week, Monday through Wednesday, were days in which Jesus taught the people, spending much of His time again at the temple, in His Father’s house. During this same period of when the priests and people would be examining the lambs for impurities, Jesus was interrogated by the Sadducees and Pharisees asking Him of His authority and power.

According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, on the eve of the 14th day of the month, the Savior celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples (Matthew 26:19-30). As Jesus sat with His disciples during His Last Supper, he took the symbols of the Passover feast and converted them into symbols of His own deliverance that He would soon bring. He took the unleavened bread and broke it and taught His disciples that this represented His broken body, which the following day would be torn and bruised for their sakes. He then took the wine, a symbol of joy and redemption, and taught that it signified His blood which would be shed for them that evening in Gethsemane. These two symbols became what is now known as communion or the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It is interesting to note that Jesus did not incorporate the bitter herbs into the symbols of the sacrament, perhaps symbolizing that Christ in our stead would consume the bitter cup so that we can instead partake of the sweet cup of joy and redemption.

That evening Jesus entered a beautiful garden just outside the city of Jerusalem, and atoned and suffered for our sins (Matthew 26:36-46). As hundreds of thousands of Jewish families celebrated the ancient redemption of Israel, Jesus was suffering in Gethsemane providing true deliverance. Just as the blood on the doorpost protected ancient Israel from the destroying angel, so too the blood of Christ, shed in Gethsemane and on the cross, can protect us from the effects of sin and death.

In the dead of night, Jesus was arrested and taken and tried before Caiaphas the High Priest (Matthew 26:57-68). The remarkable fact is that, as the leading priest for the temple, Caiaphas had the ultimate responsibility for all Temple offerings. Here Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God, was condemned to death by the very man who oversaw all temple sacrifices. Jesus was then taken to the palace of Pilate in the upper city, then Herod, and then Pilate again where He was condemned to death.

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was crucified at noon and hung on the cross in pain for several hours (John 19:14-16). As he hung, a branch of hyssop, the same kind of branch used to cover the doorposts with blood, was raised up to Jesus (John 19:29-30). On the end of the branch was a sponge soaked in vinegar, or cheap wine to help with the excruciating pain. Then at 3pm Matthew tells us that Jesus died, breathing His last breath of mortal life (Matthew 27:46-50).

Concerning the events of Holy Week, there are some discrepancies in the timing among the four gospels, and one of the most significant differences is that John places the Passover on the following day, not the night of the Last Supper (John 19:14). This means that according to John, at the exact same time that the Passover lambs would be slain in the temple, which was from about 3-5pm, Jesus died on the cross for all of God’s children. [4] The symbolism is extraordinary! Jesus Christ, who was sinless, without blemish, is killed the same hour as the Passover lambs. John also notes that while the other two condemned men had their legs broken, Jesus instead only had a spear driven into His side, fulfilling the requirement that the Passover Lamb was to be killed without breaking any bones.

The body of Jesus was then laid in a borrowed tomb where on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, Jesus’ mortal body rested from all labors. The following day, on Sunday, the first day of the week, Jesus rose from the dead, overcoming all things. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus rose from the dead at the same time when the first fruits were being offered at the temple, thus fulfilling this aspect of the law, and as Paul stated becoming the first fruits of them that slept. (1 Corinthians 15:20)

The powerful symbolism is undeniable. Jesus seems to use every aspect of the spring feasts to help the Jews understand His ultimate redemptive power. He is chosen by the people on the same day as the Passover lambs. Jesus cleanses His Father’s home when the people are cleansing their own homes of all leaven. He teaches in the Temple and is examined and tried by the very priests who are responsible for all Temple sacrifices. He suffers and dies as the Passover lambs are slaughtered at the Temple. He then rises from the dead when the first fruits of the harvest are offered before the Lord. Jesus Christ is our true Passover Lamb. Because of Him we are redeemed from bondage and slavery. Because of His blood we are protected from the destroying angel and allowed once again to enter the presence of the Father. Truly as John the Baptist stated, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).


[1] The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, by Alfred Edersheim, p. 185.
[2] Edersheim, pg. 203-205.
[3] There is a lot of debate on the exact timing of the events of Holy Week, but I will attempt to do my best to show likely connections between Passover and the last week of the Savior's life.
[4]

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.