I was in Sunday School recently, and we were studying Jacob 5. The conversation began with how intimidating Jacob 5 – the Allegory of the Olive Tree/Vineyard – can be.
Obviously, I’ve been there, too. I’m not going to pretend like I got it right away. Jacob 5 is a story. A long story. Perhaps the most intimidating part of it is that the chapter is 77 verses long. Maybe we’d be less frightened if Jacob 5 was 15 verses.
No matter the reason, it seems like a lot of people feel a bit of anxiety when reading this chapter. What is it about? Why does Jacob include this chapter – this gigantic chapter – in his record? We know that it was difficult for them to etch into the plates, so why did Jacob make the effort to include this in his record? Why is it so important for us to know this allegory? What is an allegory?!
The questions are endless.
Today, I was reading in 1 Nephi 15 when I noticed some familiar complaints and a big clue…
And they said: Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken concerning the natural branches of the olive tree, and also concerning the Gentiles.
And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.
Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?
Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.
Behold, I say unto you, that the house of Israel was compared unto an olive tree, by the Spirit of the Lord which was in our father; and behold are we not broken off from the house of Israel, and are we not a branch of the house of Israel?” – 1 Nephi 15:7-12
Here, in 1 Nephi 15, Nephi returned to the tent (after having a vision that taught the meaning of his fathers dream) of his father where his brothers were all disputing one with another.
Nephi was feeling weighed down and overcome by what he had seen in vision. And then, he goes to his father’s tent – most likely for some kind of support, and there his brothers are arguing.
Nephi asks them what’s up, and they say that they can’t understand what their father meant when he spoke about the olive tree. (See 1 Nephi 10:2-15, especially 14.)
Hmmm….an olive tree.
We know that Lehi had been studying the Brass Plates ever since Nephi and his brothers had obtained them and brought them to Lehi. I’m guessing that this study must have influenced what he spoke to his children about the House of Israel being compared to an Olive tree.
The Confusion of Nephi’s Brothers
So, Nephi’s brothers are confused and debating because they say that they can’t understand their father’s words: “concerning the natural branches of the olive tree, and also concerning the Gentiles.”
In other words, they don’t understand. They don’t get this analogy, this metaphor. And what does it matter?
This kind of sounds familiar. I’ve heard, and maybe have even been guilty of skipping Jacob 5. I’m not familiar with olive trees or olive groves. I don’t know how to dung or prune or graft new branches in a tree. I haven’t really disputed with others concerning Jacob 5, but I’ve been tempted to skip over it, and I know that I’m not the only one.
It seems so hard to understand.
The Clues to Understanding – Nephi’s Response to His Brothers (and Maybe to Us, too)
Clue One – Inquire of the Lord In response to his brother’s complaint, Nephi asks, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?”
Good question. And maybe we ought to ask ourselves that, when we say that Jacob 5 (or Isaiah, or anything spoken by the prophets anciently or currently) is “hard to understand,” – have we inquired of the Lord? Instead of complaining about it, are we opening our minds and hearts to understand by asking the Lord for guidance and help?
The brethren of Nephi answer that they haven’t asked because the Lord won’t tell them.
(This is crazy to me! How did they know what the Lord would or wouldn’t tell them? They haven’t even asked!!!!)
(And yet – as crazy as it sounds, I think that sometimes we might be guilty of this, too. We don’t ask, and then we still put the blame on God – because He hasn’t told us…Silly. But good to recognize.)
Clue Two – Be humble, Have a Soft Heart!
After hearing his brothers’ excuse on why they haven’t inquired of the Lord, Nephi asks a question that seems to be rhetorical in nature, but is worth considering:
“How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?” – 1 Nephi 15:10
Now, I don’t want to make assumptions about anyone, but these are good questions to ask, especially when we might be saying that some concept being taught by a prophet is “hard to understand,” and when we have followed this thought up with the admission that we haven’t prayed to understand it.
Having a soft heart is crucial to understanding. A soft heart is the fertile ground needed for a seed of faith. As we soften our hearts, then we will be able to understand. Nephi had this experience himself:
“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.” – 1 Nephi 2:16
When we allow our hearts to be softened, then we are able to believe the words of the prophets. This is what enables us to understand. (For more insight on this idea, see Mosiah 2:9.)
We need to have a soft heart. And why not? Really, what’s the risk? We run a much bigger risk when we have hard hearts? As Nephi asks, Why perish because of the hardness of our hearts? Again, it’s kind of silly. Just have a soft heart. Be believing. Ask the Lord. And perish not.
Clue Three – Ask in Faith
As you can see, these three clues are very closely related. We need to ask; we need to be humble enough to ask; and we need to ask!
Nephi reminds himself of the pattern that the Lord so often beckons each of us to follow:
Harden not Your Hearts
Ask God in Faith
Believe that Ye Shall Receive
Diligently Keep the Commandments
Surely these things will be made known unto you.
Had Nephi’s brothers followed this pattern, then they wouldn’t have been disputing in their father’s tent. They would have had peace and understanding. They would have known what was important for them to know. They would have been able to be taught by the Spirit.
The Meaning of The Olive Tree Comparison
In 1 Nephi 15:12-20 Nephi briefly explains the comparison between the Olive Tree and the House of Israel. I actually won’t get into it here because you can read it yourself.
The important things to note are:
Nephi understood this comparison
We can also understand this comparison.
Jacob 5 doesn’t have to be “hard” to understand. None of the scriptures have to be “hard” to understand. Sure, we may not understand everything inside and out, but when we follow the clues that Nephi teaches here, we will understand exactly what we need to know. We will be filled with peace. We won’t be tempted to dispute with others or complain in Sunday School about how long or difficult a passage seems. We won’t be tempted to gloss them over. Instead, we will be able to have a positive experience with the scriptures, with God’s Spirit, and with a way to apply these things in our lives.
What helps you to understand the scriptures, especially “difficult” ones like Jacob 5 or Isaiah?
This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)
The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ – Assignment for Matthew 5
“1. Christ has officially begun His ministry here. His ministry is a part of His purpose, His goals, and is the set up to His eventual Atonement. Keep this in mind as we study His teachings. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings fit into the Atonement, plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.
2. Each thing Christ has taught in this chapter, He has modeled Himself. He is the Exemplar. You may consider studying some of these qualities and finding instances where Christ exemplifies them. For example: poor in spirit. Find a time when Christ was poor in spirit. How can you follow His behavior in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
This is the final of the beatitudes that we’ll be studying. I feel like I’ve learned so much! I hope that you have, too.
This last beatitude is actually a little longer than the others. We can quote it in one verse, but the Savior actually continues on:
” Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12
Before I began to really study this beatitude, I wondered, why did Christ tell this one last of all? and Why did Christ explain this one more than He did the others? I’m not completely sure of the answers. (Besides, they would only be speculation, anyways). But I’m keeping them in mind. In a way, I suppose it implies importance to this beatitude. In any case, think about this while we study the beatitude.
As with the other beatitudes, we will first discover what this beatitude means. We will then see how Christ exemplified it during His great work of the Atonement.
The Meaning of the Parable
Persecuted for righteousness’ sake
You don’t have to think very long or hard to find examples of people who have either persecuted the righteous or have been persecuted because they were righteous. A few quick examples include: The people in Lehi’s Dream (1 Nephi 8), Joseph Smith (See here), The Savior (Luke 23), Abinadi (Mosiah 17), and Alma both persecuted others (Mosiah 27 and then after his conversion was persecuted (Alma 14). There are even modern-day accounts of people who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. (Jeffrey R. Holland shares a few examples in this talk).
The point of this list is to say that people have always been persecuted for righteousness’ sake. The short list above is not even the tip of the iceberg. So many of the people I listed here who were persecuted for righteousness’ sake were martyred. What dedication! Yet the beatitude says that “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…” how could persecution unto death be considered a blessing?
Jacob, the son of Lehi, was reminded about his suffering:
“Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” – 2 Nephi 2:2
Trusting that we’ll be blessed for enduring persecution requires us to trust in God and His perspective. It can be difficult to see how such endurance could be a blessing. I’m often guilty of thinking, “Oh, things will be alright. If I’m righteous, then the Lord will spare me of my suffering.” Sometimes, this is true. Because of righteous decisions, there is a great deal of suffering that I’m spared of – self-inflicted problems such as addiction.
However, this beatitude reminds us that there are times when, even though we’re righteous, we will suffer. Some people, like many mentioned above, suffer to the death. There are times when we won’t be delivered from the difficulty and affliction we’re in until we die. We must maintain an eternal perspective while going through this life, otherwise it is impossible to endure persecution.
There is another aspect to being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. I can’t help but think about the people who are doing the persecuting. What on earth is their motive? An unnamed high priest wonders the same thing when Korihor is about persecuting the people of God and preaching against the gospel:
“And it came to pass that the high priest said unto him [Korihor]: Why do ye go about perverting the ways of the Lord? Why do ye teach this people that there shall be no Christ, to interrupt their rejoicings? Why do ye speak against all the prophecies of the holy prophets?” – Alma 30:22
In other words, this high priest is asking Korihor, “What’s your deal? Why are you changing God’s ways and laws? Why are you trying to frustrate our happiness? There are so many more witnesses than you of God and His divinity. What gives???”
Why do people persecute others? What motivated the Pharisees to hate the Savior so much? Why did Korihor, Sherem, and Nehor seek to destroy the church in the Book of Mormon. Why did mobs of people attack and then kill Joseph Smith? What motivates those who persected in the past and those who persecute others now?
In the Book of Mormon is recorded Lehi’s dream. He had a vision where he saw many people walking along a path and an iron rod to the tree of life. This path was arduous and difficult. The people needed to endure trials, mists of darkness, and even scoffing and mocking in order to finally partake of the fruit of this tree. Along this path were people in a “great and spacious building” who mocked the people who were faithfully holding tight to the rod of iron and making their way to the tree of life.
Why did they mock? What was it to them? We find out more about these people from Nephi:
“And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record, from the beginning of the world until this time, and from this time henceforth and forever.” – 1 Nephi 12:18
The people in the great and spacious building were motivated by the “vain imaginations” and pride.
Other helpful examples are the excuses given by three prominent “anti-Christs” in the book of Mormon.
Why did Sherem persecute the people and preach against God? He tells here:
And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment. – Jacob 7:18
Sherem preached against righteousness because he had been deceived.
Why did Nehor preach against the church and then even kill Gideon, a righteous man? We learn in Alma:
“And it came to pass that he did teach these things so much that many did believe on his words, even so many that they began to support him and give him money.” – Alma 1:5
Nehor preached against righteousness because he was able to get power and money for his self-promotion and teaching. Nehor later killed a righteous man, and was consequently put to death. At his execution, Nehor admits that what he had taught people was “contrary to the word of God,” (Alma 1:15).
Why did Korihor persecute the righteous? He explains it himself:
“But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.” – Alma 30:53
From these four examples, I can only surmise that people persecute the righteous because they are proud, they are deceived, they want power and prestige over others, and because righteousness is not really pleasing to our carnal, natural minds.
I think it is important to remember the motives of those who persecute against righteousness. Sometimes the reason is pathetic- the people are confused or deceived. Other times, the reasons are insidious – they want power over people. Understanding these motives can help us to fight them off. Those who preach against the gospel and persecute righteousness can be very convincing.
Kingdom of Heaven
Next, the Lord teaches that those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Before investigating this further, the first thing that strikes me is that Christ doesn’t say, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for they will be blessed with monetary riches.” He doesn’t say that they “…will experience great health throughout their lives.” He doesn’t promise friends, an easy life, or many of the things that we consider blessings.
Instead, Christ offers something that no one or thing else can offer: the kingdom of Heaven. I think that if we remember that this is the blessing, then we will also better be able to keep perspective of our current trials and tribulations. In other words, this beatitude demands us to have an eternal perspective.
Now, what is the kingdom of Heaven?
I can’t help but think of the many parables that Christ gives in Matthew 13. In this chapter alone, we learn that the kingdom of Heaven is:
“Mysterious” – it is not understood by the natural mind, but by the Spirit. (Verse 11)
Will be purged of the tares. (Verse 24)
Like a mustard seed – the least of all seeds, but greatest of all herbs: growing into a tree. (Verse 31)
Like leaven – a small amount will leaven the whole loaf. (Verse 33)
A treasure in a field and when a man finds it will sell all he has to buy that field. (Verse 44)
A pearl of great price. (Verse 45)
A net that is cast into the sea and gathers of every kind. All of the bad is discarded, then all truth and goodness is included. (Verse 47)
As I look through this list, I’m struck by a few things: the kingdom of Heaven is, of course, God’s kingdom. It is perfectly cleaned. In fact, it has been cleansed by Him. The tares were cast out. The garbage caught in the net was discarded. Only the pure remains.
Additionally, I’m formulating another idea of the kingdom of heaven. It is abundantly rich. Like the mustard tree, it is large and strong even though it had humble beginnings. It is a pearl of great price. It is everything in the earth that is good and true. I really love understanding this concept. I have recently gotten into yoga and meditation. There are so many good practices from eastern religions. As I’ve learned more about them, I remember to keep the Savior at the center of everything that I’m learning, but that the gospel is all truth circumscribed into one great whole.
This is the kingdom of Heaven: all that is good, just, and true. It is all that is beautiful and joyous. It is every pure and good thing. It isn’t just this ethereal idea of people floating around in clouds and blowing trumpets (although there may be some of that…who knows). My point is it is more than that. The kingdom of Heaven is substantive. It is all of everything – truth, goodness, purity. I need to remember that God isn’t just offering us a life of hanging out in the sky. He offers us the abundant life. To those who are righteous to the point where they will endure persecution because of their righteousness Christ offers everything in His kingdom.
Understanding this makes martyrdom, even, seem like a small price to pay for everlasting joy and abundance.
Jesus Christ – His Atonement and Persecution
Now that we understand more about this beatitude, we will look at how it can possibly relate to Christ’s Atonement.
Persecution for Righteousness’ sake
Well, at first glance, I think that it is really easy to see the relationship between this beatitude and the Atonement. The entire Atonement is fraught with persecution and suffering. Here are a few thoughts on the matter:
Christ was righteous, and I mean Righteous. He is the essence of all righteousness. His example is perfect. He was pure. The Atonement – which was taking on our sins and imperfections and paying the price that justice demanded of them so that we could receive mercy – could only be performed by Him. Because of His purity, only He could offer Himself up as a sacrifice for our sins.
It is interesting to me, too, that Christ – immediately after paying the price of our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane – would be betrayed, falsely accused, and arrested.
After being arrested, he is taken before Pilate and questioned. He then is taken to Herod where he is treated like some kind of circus freak. (Herod wants him to “perform”). This is all before the real persecution starts. But it’s bad enough already. Can you imagine being falsely accused and then taken before local judges/magistrates where they treated you like some kind of freak show? How horribly humiliating.
But Christ’s persecution – all because He was righteous – doesn’t end there.
Christ is sentenced to death, primarily because a mob chanting, “Crucify Him!” refused to release a known robber. The Pharisees and wicked people that condemned Christ were largely offended by who He was – the son of God – one who healed, served, and performed miracles. Instead of seeing that Christ was their promised Messiah, because they had been so far removed from righteousness, they persecuted it.
As Christ endured His sentence, He also endured a great deal of persecution.
Nephi describes Christ’s experience succinctly:
“And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.” – 1 Nephi 19:9
AFTER Christ had already suffered the pains of every sin and infirmity of every person in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ then suffered the humiliation of false accusation, arrest and judgement. Then, He continued to suffer mocking, scourging, and smiting.
Matthew relates what happened to the Savior as He hung on the Christ but before He gave up the ghost:
And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,
And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,
He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.
He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.
The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.” – Matthew 27:39-43
I find this to be one of the most bitterly ironic passages, or paradoxical, maybe hypocritical? I don’t know. But this passage is annoying, at best, and I shake my head in amazement. These unbelieving Jews, the people of the covenant, didn’t understand their own religion or their God. And what they persecute Christ for demonstrates their ignorance and pride.
They walk by Him, wagging their heads. This implies a sense of persecution and mockery, for sure.
Then, they tempt Christ, saying, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” They claim that because He can’t save Himself, then He’s obviously not capable of saving anyone else. But they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand their own laws and ordinances. They didn’t understand the symbolism of the blood sacrifice that they offered – as a type of the sacrifice that He would offer.
The thing that is ironic here is that because Christ didn’t save Himself in that moment, he saved Himself and all mankind. Had Christ not endured persecution for righteousness sake, and He had the power not to, then He would not have been able to finish His work. By staying on that cross,and by dying, He was saving Himself and others!
Thankfully, we have the advantage of hindsight when thinking of Christ and His Atonement. We know that three days after being crucified, He was not in the garden tomb. He was risen. And He lives.
Sometimes it is easy to think that we could endure the persecution that those who lived in the past endured, but we forget that they didn’t have the advantage of hindsight.
When I think of Christ’s experience being persecuted, I am reminded of the fact that sometimes the wicked do have the power to hurt us to the point where we may die. Sometimes the wicked do obtain material wealth and power over others. We see this with war criminals. We see this with the Pharisees that condemned Christ.
But we must maintain perspective. The devil had power to bruise Christ’s Heel, but with that very heel that had been bruised, Christ was able to crush the devil’s head.
Righteous will prevail. It’s worth enduring persecution for.
The Kingdom of Heaven
Because of all that Christ suffered – even unto death; because He chose to descend below all, He was able ascend above all and inherit the kingdom of God.
And, because Christ has suffered our sins, we can covenant with Him and also become joint heirs and inherit the kingdom of Heaven.
Last week, I went to the Mesa Easter Pageant with my kids. When Christ was being crucified, T-Rex was perplexed, “Why didn’t he fight?” He asked. It was cute, and it was a good question.
That’s the thing, though. Christ didn’t fight the immediate problem. He could have He could have escaped and destroyed His executioners. He could have avoided all persecution. He could have silenced the Pharisees or He could have given into their traps. Of course, Had he done that, then the Atonement would not have been performed, Salvation for all would have been thwarted and niehter the Savior nor anyone else would have been able to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
And, as I write this, maybe the right answer to my little boy is, “Oh, but He did fight. He fought the true fight of agency and mastery over sin and temptation. He performed His work. He was resurrected. He lives. He didn’t get diverted by a little difficulty (okay, crucifixion is more than a “little” difficulty). Instead, He stayed focused on His real battle, and He conquered.
What have you learned about being persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Have you experienced this in some way? How did you endure?
It has been a little over a year since I shared my last two Scripture Study Companions. (Matthew and Mark) Today, I release my third – LUKE!!! (I’m hoping that John, the last installment, will be out next month).
This book takes you chapter by chapter through Luke with questions and exercises/ideas for in-depth study. You can get this book a few different ways.
This book is designed to help you study the book of Luke. It is like the scripture study series–in that you will read a block of text, and I have included many questions that will help you to ponder the scriptures you read.
Additionally, each chapter includes several exercises that will help you to find patterns, themes, concepts, scripture chains, cross-refernences, etc. These exercises will help you to study each chapter in-depth. I hope that each time you use this study companion, you will be edified and excited about scripture study.
Okay…so check it out. Let me know what you think. You can also find The Scripture Study Companion for Matthew and Mark. Be on the look-out for John!
Oh…and HUUUUUUUGE shout out to my very talented friend Stephanie Clawson. She has created the art for all of these scripture study guides. You can check out her blog here. It is both beautiful and inspiring. She truly lives the gospel. She also has an Etsy shop here.
Well, this is a little late, but it’s finally here!!!
Introducing a new Scripture Study guide, program, series…whatever you want to call it. This scripture study program is divided into 8 parts. You can complete them at your own pace.
Even though I’m not serving in the Youth program anymore, Tiger is a young woman. I wanted to create another scripture study series that would help me to understand more about the youth theme for the year so that I could reinforce it in the home.
The scripture study program is broken up in the following assignments/categories:
Introduction to the Series – This includes a quick overview of the scripture and we study supplemental material from the General Young Men’s and General Young Women’s presidencies.
The Invitation Part One – This assignment will explore the first part of Moroni’s invitation – to come unto Christ.
The Invitation Part Two – This assignment will explore the second part of Moroni’s invitation – to be perfected in Him.
The Invitation Part Three – This assignment will explore the third part of Moroni’s invitation – to deny yourselves of all ungodliness.
Logic Statement – If… – In this assignment, we will study what it means to deny yourself of all ungodliness, and why that’s important.
Logic Statement – If… – In this assignment, we will continue studying the “if” portion of Moroni’s logic statement – to love God will all your might, mind, and strength.
Logic Statement – Then… – In this assignment, we will study the next portion of the Logic statement – which is receiving grace.
Second Logic Statement–If, then – Moroni concludes this verse with a second logic statement. This assignment will explore an practical example of this logic statement. We will see how this whole scripture comes together in this assignment.
You can download this entire scripture study series here:
By the way – this would be a great value project!!!
So, download the scripture study program and complete it. Let me know how it goes. Also, if you notice any mistakes, please email me or leave a comment below!!! Also, be on the lookout. I hope to make this scripture study series into an App soon. 🙂
The scriptures, like any form of literature, is rife with symbolism. One symbol used often is the tree of life and it’s fruit. Studying this symbol will help us to learn more about joy and how to obtain it.
Before I really talk about Lehi’s dream, I want to discuss the end result: Lehi and others partake of the fruit of the tree of life. Nephi teaches us about this fruit:
“Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.
And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.” – 1 Nephi 11:22-23
So, not only does Lehi partake of the fruit of the tree of life, but this fruit is amazing. It tastes great and fills him with joy. He desires to share it, and many other people partake of the fruit.
Now, as this dream opens, Lehi is suffering in a dark and dreary waste. He suffers in this state for many hours until finally, he decides to pray. I wonder, is there a point that the Lord would have just shown him the tree of life, even if Lehi didn’t pray? I doubt it. I think that Lehi only progressed because He prayed, and the Lord answered His prayer.
Additionally, the Lord didn’t simply hand Lehi a piece of fruit after Lehi uttered his prayer, instead, Lehi had to embark on a journey. But the path was laid out before Him, and he was taken from the dark and dreary waste thanks to the mercy of God.
After going to the tree, Lehi was able to experience the opposite of what he suffered before. He partook of the fruit of the tree of life which was sweet, desirable, and better than anything he had ever tasted. It filled his soul with joy.
I love this example because it is a reminder to me that we must struggle a little bit before we are able to partake of the fruit of the tree. And when I struggle, I know where I can turn: the Lord.
We learn a little bit more about obtaining the fruit that Lehi ate. There are a few struggles that must be endured before partaking of the fruit. The Mist of Darkness
Before partaking of the fruit of the tree of life, we must pass through the “mists of darkness.” In my life, I guess I could say that there have been mists of darkness that I have passed through–depression, difficulty, the death of loved ones, divorce, loneliness, sickness, etc. These are dark times, and it can be easy to feel lost as trial seems to choke your ability to see even the next step ahead of you.
The Great and Spacious Building
Not only do we pass through tribulations as we press forward to the Tree of life, but we must also endure the temptations of the world. This seems especially hard these days. We are bombarded with images and ideas that tell us if we just buy x then we’ll be happy.
An interesting thing to note, even when we partake of the fruit of the tree of life, we have the agency to accept it. Some of those who partook of the fruit then chose to feel embarrassment and shame as they allowed the voices of those in the great and spacious building to interrupt the joy of partaking of the sought-after fruit. As a result of this distraction, they left the fruit of the tree of life, then wandered off into strange paths and were lost.
The Lord won’t force us to choose happiness. It is always our choice.
Later on in the Book of Mormon, Alma taught the people about faith. He compared faith to a seed. Often, we think of this story solely as a story of faith, but it is so much more than that!
The seed of faith will eventually sprout, and if we nourish it, it will turn into a tree that produces fruit. Alma describes the fruit:
“the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.” – Alma 32:42
Does this fruit sound familiar???
The sermon given by Alma is basically amazing. There is one part that especially struck me this time:
“And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life.” – Alma 32:40, emphasis added
Looking forward with an eye of faith is the real way to one day partake of the fruit of the tree of life. This is the way that we will be able to make it through the mists of darkness. Having an eye of faith will help us to discern that the taunts of those in the great and spacious building are nothing but lies. We won’t be overwhelmed or distracted when we keep our eye on the prize: the fruit of the tree of life.
I struggle with this at times. I’m not the best at visualizing or imagining my success. I just think, “geez, I hope…” and then proceed with naivete. But the thing is, I realize that won’t be enough to get me to the tree of life. I want to partake of this fruit. It is the most difficult thing that any of us will ever do. It requires constant attention and effort. And, at this point in my life, I can see how we get burned out. I can see how, if we don’t have this vision in our hearts, then we can be overcome by the constant barrage of Satan’s temptations and distractions. We have to be able to envision this fruit if we want to someday experience it.
*** What have you learned about Joy through the symbol of the fruit of the tree of life?
I’ve been thinking about both joy and thanksgiving a lot lately. Of course, this is the season to think of gratitude and giving thanks. (I love this time of year). Additionally, joy and happiness have felt elusive to me lately. I feel snatches of happiness, then there are times when I feel a bit depressed. It is the perfect time for me to remember that happiness is a choice and that through the scriptures I can be instructed on how to choose joy and gratitude.
So, I’m going to complete this scripture study series again. You can download all of the assignments here:
This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, (Luke, and John coming soon).
The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ–Assignment for Matthew 4
What does Christ overcoming Satan while in the wilderness have to do with the Atonement?
How does it make you feel to know that Christ has been tempted? How does it make you feel to know that He also overcame? How does understanding Christ’s experiences with Satan help you to know that Jesus truly can relate to you as you endure the temptations you face?
When Christ begins His ministry, does He do it alone? Why did He call Peter, Andrew, James and John (and eventually others) to help Him? Though the disciples of Christ do not atone for our sins, what is their role in Christ’s Atonement? How can listening to the prophets help us to access the power of the Atonement? How can accepting callings help us to access the power of the Atonement?
There are two parts to this assignment. I will spend time only focusing on the second part of this assignment (question 3)–mainly because it’s less than a week away from my favorite Sunday (and Saturday) of the year… 🙂
As I’ve been studying the New Testament, I’ve been trying to apply as much as possible to the Atonement. I feel like everything in the scriptures can teach us something, and in this chapter, Christ calls Peter, James, and John. We read the account as follows:
“And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.
And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.
And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.” – Matthew 4:18-22
Upon reading this, I wonder why would Jesus need to call Prophets, Apostles, and other Servants in order to perform His work. I mean, think about it. Christ is all powerful. He is all knowing. Goodness knows that He doesn’t need our help. So, why, then does He call Prophets and Apostles, and how do they help Him fulfill His Mission: the Atonement?
Why Christ calls Prophets, Apostles, and Other Servants
This question is a good one to ask because it is obvious that God doesn’t need “helpers.” We learn:
From the Old Testament: “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” – Genesis 18:14
From the New Testament: “And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” – Luke 18:27
From the Book of Mormon: “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” – Mosiah 4:9
From the Doctrine and Covenants: “And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.” – Doctrine and Covenants 93:17
The Lord doesn’t need our help. Yet He calls men and women to serve in His church. Just as we know that Christ is all-powerful, we also know He is wise, and that everything He does has a wise purpose, even if we don’t always understand it. (See Isaiah 55:8-9.)
So, it is with this understanding that I still ask myself why does the Lord call apostles, prophets, and other leaders.
One – In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established, (Doctrine and Covenants 128:3). When it comes to the Atonement and our Savior, and knowing if He truly atoned for our Sins, we have received many witnesses. Of course, Heavenly Father has witnessed of His son–he did so when Christ was baptized, when the Lord appeared to the Nephites, and also when both the Father and Son appeared to Joseph Smith.
We have the witness of the Savior himself. The New Testament records His life. Throughout this time He did works that manifest His divinity. He also bore record of whom he was–and this was the reason He was put to death. Christ testified of Himself to his other sheep including those who lived in the Americas. Christ has also been a witness of Himself in these latter-days.
So, we have two witnesses, but I think that Heavenly Father knows what kind of people we are. We need more than that. We are skeptical and doubting. So, he has sent us prophets, apostles and other servants. They act as additional witnesses. He sends us servants that speak to us during our lifetimes, in our languages–people we can relate to. We also have the words of ancient prophets, and we can see that the message all of these prophets and apostles give are timeless: That Jesus is the Christ, that He lives, that He has atoned for our sins.
Two – And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. (Mosiah 2:17).
This might seem strange, but follow me for a second. When we serve others, we serve God. When we serve others, not only are those whom we serve edified, but we are also blessed and strengthened in the process. Heavenly Father knows that the best way for us to gain testimonies is through obedience to the law. He knows that the best way for us to strengthen our testimonies in His Atonement and Love for us is by helping others.
Think of the young missionaries. They are only 18 and 19 years old. They have testimonies, but not necessarily a ton of experience. Yet the Lord has them doing the work of salvation. Not only do we feel the spirit strongly through such humble servants, but the missionary who serves changes through this work.
What I’m saying is: I think that a big part of callings and service is because Heavenly Father is such an efficient being. He knows that when we serve others both parties are edified both parties get stronger testimonies. Both parties are blessed.
How does the calling of the apostles relate to the Atonement?
Now, I know that none of Christ’s prophets or apostles atone for our sins. No matter how amazing the prophet or servant of God is (or was) they cannot save us. They are in the same predicament as we are: lost and fallen without Christ.
Yet, I really think that the calling of the Apostles had to do with the Atonement, and I think that it is because they help us to come unto Christ. They guide us to Him. They testify of Him. They speak in His name. Prophets are special witnesses of Christ. They have a role in Christ’s Atonement by bringing us to the Savior.
I have experienced this for myself. I’m so grateful to live in a time when we are led by living Prophets and Apostles. I have been inspired by their words. I know that they speak for the Lord. I know that the Savior is directing them, personally, and that if I listen and do what they teach, I will be able to find Christ more in my life.
Last Saturday I was able to watch the Relief Society Broadcast where we hear messages from the women who lead the Women’s Organization called the Relief Society. We were also blessed to hear from the Prophet: Thomas S. Monson.
As I sat, listening to the Prophet’s message, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of peace and love. His message was a reminder that Heavenly Father loves me. There are times when I struggle, and recently I have been going through one of those times. I have a difficulty remembering my worth. I also struggle feeling as close to the Lord as I’d like to. I often feel very lonely. I know that there are many women who go through the same kinds of trials. When I went to the Relief Society broadcast, I was looking forward to a message of hope and guidance. My prayers were answered–better than I could even expect.
Thomas S. Monson, gave a talk titled, We Never Walk Alone and during the broadcast, he stated:
“As we seek our Heavenly Father through fervent, sincere prayer and earnest, dedicated scripture study, our testimonies will become strong and deeply rooted. We will know of God’s love for us. We will understand that we do not ever walk alone. I promise you that you will one day stand aside and look at your difficult times, and you will realize that He was always there beside you.” – Thomas S. Monson
I felt overwhelmed with the Love that the Savior has for me. I felt hopeful: I know that if I want to feel more companionship with the Lord, if I want to feel a stronger sense of the Atonement and His love in my life, then I can seek Him through fervent, sincere prayer. I was reminded and felt assured that through prayer, I would find the peace that I seek. Through prayer, my trust in God will increase, and I will be able to become the woman that I desire to be. President Monson’s words and stories touched my heart in a way that I left feeling inspired and hopeful.
I especially loved what he said near the closing of His talk–that we would one day look at our difficult times and know He was always there with us. My soul was warmed, and I realized that although I don’t feel as close to the Savior as I’d like to, the Savior knows this, and He hasn’t left me alone. He is teaching me something, He is there, and He wants to help me through my difficult times.
The point of sharing this experience is not to talk about my difficult times, but to testify that our prophets and apostles are truly called of God, and that if we heed their counsel and testimonies, then we will be brought to the Savior, where we can partake of His Atonement, His happiness, His liberty, and His life–if we will.
What does the calling of the apostles as taught in Matthew 4 relate to the Atonement? What do you learn about the Savior through this scripture? How does this understanding help to strengthen your relationship with the Savior?
By the way…we live in a time when we are led by living Prophets and Apostles. Like Peter, James, and John, they have been called by the Savior to be “fishers of men.” You can hear them speak this weekend! Check it out: