Saturday, December 26, 2009

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given..."

Prophets had long foretold the advent of the Savior of the World. There may be people who read this who question, and very rightfully so, the need for a Savior. From what exactly do you or I or anyone need to be saved? And if it is assumed that we must be saved, why or how does a certain person save us? These are very valid questions.

It is possible that if you are someone who has these questions and if you ask these questions to others, especially to other Christians, you may find a negative reaction. You may even find that people look at you as though you are uttering blasphemies, or showing irreverent behavior toward anything held sacred. As if to say to you, "How could you possibly question the need for a Savior?"

No one should be made to feel evil for trying to understand one of the most important ideas in all of Christianity. There are answers to these questions. In this post I will touch on them briefly and will engage in a more thorough discussion of them in a future posting. My intent is not to belittle people's questions or ideas, but to hopefully help provide answers to questions that at some point in our lives should stir within all of our hearts and minds.

On December 25th of each year a special event in the history of humankind is remembered, honored, and celebrated. The event is the birth of a baby, a special baby, a baby unlike any other before or since. It is the birth of the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ.

As I mentioned, the coming of a Savior was foretold from the foundation of the world and ever since by prophets. God the Father spoke of this in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:14-15). Jacob prophesied to his sons of the coming of one whose right it is and that He would come through Jacob's lineage (Genesis 49:10, 24). Moses prophesied to the Israelites of a future Prophet to whom they should listen (Deuteronomy 18:15). The psalmist speaks of the future crucifixion of the Savior (Psalms 22:16; 34:20). Micah prophesied that the birth place of the Savior would be in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

The prophet Isaiah most notably prophesied of the birth of the Savior.
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14
Immanuel is translated in Hebrew to mean "With us is God" (See also Matthew 1:23). Isaiah continued his prophesy.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. Isaiah 25:9
Later Isaiah gave a description of both the Savior's outward appearance to the world and the inward spiritual power and authority He would possess.
For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:2-5
So why all the prophesies? Why was it so important that this little baby Jesus be born? What was His purpose? Why is it said that we need to be saved? My response is that these answers are not simple, but they are plain. What I mean by this is the answers are easy enough for a child to understand, but the details behind them are so beautiful, lofty, and inspiring that only through the Holy Ghost could one learn them all. As I said, I will briefly touch on these subjects here, and in future postings go into further details.

To understand why we as human race need a Savior and what the purpose was of the Savior, we must understand the nature of our relationship to God. There is a reason why we call God "Father." God is literally the Father of all human beings (Malachi 2:10, Acts 17:28-29, Romans 8:16). Our lives existed before we were born into this world through our earthly parents (Job 38: 4, 7; Jeremiah 1:5). We lived with God, our Father, in heaven. He wanted to give us, His children, the opportunity to become like Him.

God's plan involved sending His sons and daughters, you and I, to earth so that we could obtain a body and be proven to see if we would keep God's commandments (Genesis 1:26-27; John 15:10; Revelation 22:14; Romans 8:16-17). Lucifer or Satan was not always the devil. Lucifer was also a spirit son of God. He rebelled against God and His plan. There followed a war in heaven, which resulted in Satan being cast out of the presence of God along with 1/3 of the spirit sons and daughters of heaven who followed Satan and rebelled against God. They were cast down to earth without receiving bodies of their own to tempt us and try to prevent us from keeping the commandments of God (Isaiah 14:12-20; Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:4-13).

The most important part of God's plan revolved around how to be able to bring us back into His presence. God knew that when we came to earth we would be tempted and that at times we would not obey the commandments of God perfectly (Romans 3:23). When we disobey God's commandments we commit sin (1 John 5:17). The problem is that once we have committed a sin, we are no longer clean or worthy to return to God's presence (Psalms 140:13; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46). In essence as soon as we sin in this life, we are doomed. Knowing this, God prepared a way to overcome the effects of sin by providing a Savior, His son Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, free of sin. He obeyed all of the Father's commandments perfectly (Hebrews 5:8-9). The law of justice demands that if a law is broken, a punishment must be paid. If someone who committed no crimes and broke no laws of God paid the punishments of all broken laws and commandments for everyone then that person would then have fulfilled all the demands of justice. In essence, that person could then determine what requirements would need to be met for the person who had originally broken the commandment or law. This is also called extending mercy.

Let me use an example with which you might be able to relate. Let's say that one of your children broke a neighbor's window. Justice will demand at the very least that the window be replaced and perhaps a punishment of an extra amount of money be paid to the neighbor for the inconvenience that was created. You know that there is no way that your child will be able to fulfill all that is now demanded because of the requirements of justice. So in place of your child replacing the window and paying the extra penalty for the inconvenience, you have the ability to fulfill these demands for your child but with the understanding of your child that you will then set the terms of what your child will need to do as a consequence of their actions. It is agreed upon and you fulfill to your neighbor what is required, they can demand nothing more. You then outline to your child certain rules that he or she must follow that will help prevent the child from breaking another window and that the child will have to go without an allowance for a period of time. While this will not be easy for the child, it will be possible. You have set a standard that is achievable by your child and have been able to extend mercy without robbing justice.

This is the role that Jesus Christ took upon himself. He paid the price of our sins, something we could not do on our own and still hope to be able to live with God again, and gave us His requirements to follow, which makes it possible to return to God's presence. This is known as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The central doctrine of the gospel is what is known as the atonement (Romans 5:11). This means the reconciliation of God and humankind as accomplished through the life, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ. In some way that is incomprehensible to us, Jesus paid the price of our sins while in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42) and during his crucifixion at Golgotha (Matthew 27; Mark 15; John 19).

The world needs a Savior because we all fall short of holiness due to our sins. This prevents us from being able to return to God's presence and live with Him forever. Jesus Christ is the Savior because he paid the price of our sins and gave us His gospel which if followed will allow us to live with God forever. This is the reason why prophets had long foretold of the coming of the Savior. This is the reason why we reverence and remember His birth still today.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:16-17
I am so thankful for the Savior of the World, my personal Savior, even the Lord Jesus Christ. I love Him and seek to keep His commandments. The price He has paid for my sins is unimaginable. I echo the words of Isaiah and reverently marvel, for truly unto us a Son was given.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The First Vision

In the previous posts I have attempted to explain the circumstances and condition of the human family as a whole that led to the need for a restoration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. I have referenced the restoration as a singular thing, indeed as the knowledge of God being returned to the earth. However, the fact is that the restoration is not a singular event, but a collection of countless revelations, visions, visitations and teachings that when combined restore the true gospel of Jesus Christ. We are in actuality still in the midst of the restoration.

What I will write about in this post is not the restoration, but merely the first part in the myriad important truths that had long been lost but were beginning to be restored. This post will help explain how the restoration began and that there was much, much more to come. The fact that not all things were restored at once and that it has been a process accords with the scriptures. Isaiah and later Paul each spoke of the necessity to have the appropriate amount of truth be revealed at the proper time.
Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breast. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little. Isaiah 28:9-10

But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned...And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 1 Corinthians 2:10-14, 3:1-2
The principle or nugget of divine knowledge taught in these scriptures is that God will teach us a little more and a little more as we are prepared to understand. The analogy used is of a baby being fed milk for a time and being weaned to more complex foods like meat. Everyone can understand this. It's not that God couldn't give us everything at once, He is the Almighty. But in His wisdom and love He gives us what we can handle before He gives us more. You can't understand algebra and calculus before you understand basic numbers.

It is my hope that you have understood that God's knowledge comes from Him directly through revelation to authorized servants called prophets. I hope that you have recognized that due to wickedness periods of apostasy have occurred throughout time. And I hope that you have seen that new periods of time when prophets have been authorized and revelation has been given have constituted a dispensation, or a restoration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ being taught again on the earth. And it is my hope to share with you today knowledge of a new dispensation and a restoration of the true gospel that has and is occurring in our modern day.

On December 23, 1805 in the state of Vermont in the United States of America an ordinary boy was born to ordinary parents Joseph Smith Senior and Lucy Mack Smith. The boy was Joseph Smith Junior, their third son and third of nine total children. There is nothing especially noteworthy of this family or this boy as he was growing up. The Smiths were a hard-working, honest and God-fearing family. The Smiths, like most people of that day, made their living through farming. After successive crop failures in Vermont, the Smiths moved to Palmyra in upstate New York. After four years in the Palmyra Village, the Smiths saved enough to move to their own farm on the outskirts of Palmyra, in the township of Manchester. It is at this point that I will quote from the history written by Joseph Smith Jr.
Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.

For, notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.

I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia.

During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. Joseph Smith History 1:5-8
Joseph writes that the denominations, from Presbyterian to Baptist to Methodist, were decidedly against one another. He said that each church sought to point out the errors of the other and with zeal try to establish their own tenets as correct. Joseph continued as follows:
In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.

At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture. Joseph Smith History 1:10-13
As I said before, what follows is but the first of countless revelations and miracles that have been poured out upon the human family since the early 1800's. As you read, I would encourage you to pay attention to the feelings of your heart. As Paul admonished, the things of God cannot be understood through the words that man speaks, but only through the Holy Ghost. It is the Holy Ghost's function to testify or confirm to us of the truthfulness of things, primarily and especially the things of God. The Holy Ghost does this through the feelings that we feel. These feelings are positive and uplifting. Paul described some of the fruits of the Spirit or Holy Ghost to the Galatians.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance...Galatians 5:22-23
If, as you continue reading, you feel these types of positive feelings or if you have been feeling them as you have been reading these posts, know that it is the Holy Ghost teaching you that these things are true. I have felt the Holy Ghost while reading these words from Joseph Smith. I have felt unspeakable joy and peace. It is through these feelings that I can write and say without hesitation that I know, not just believe, but know what you are about to read really happened. Remarkable as it will sound, and as seemingly unbelievable it may be to imagine, because of the Holy Ghost and the testimony it has borne within me I can only picture the things you are about to read unfolding exactly as Joseph Smith describes. Here are his words.
So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.

After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was. I replied, “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” I then said to my mother, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.” It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the opposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy? Joseph Smith History 1:14-20
Joseph Smith saw and spoke with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. It wasn't through this experience that Joseph suddenly became a prophet. This experience is known as the First Vision because it was just that, the first of several experiences that followed. It was through this and the experiences that followed that Joseph became a prophet. Although it wasn't through this experience alone that Joseph became a prophet, nevertheless Joseph Smith did become a prophet. And the only reason why that is even important is because all Joseph Smith and any other prophet of God ever did was teach people of Jesus Christ and His gospel. That's what prophets do. They testify of Jesus Christ and His divinity.

Finally, at long last, after over a thousand years of darkness once again a chosen prophet of God has been called to teach the human family of the divine plan of salvation through the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Prelude to The Restoration

"Restitution" and "Restoration", two words commonly found in today's vernacular. We typically connote restitution with the obligation to repay someone after something of value has been taken away, particularly in a criminal sense. For example, if a thief has been found guilty, a typical sentence might include not only time in prison but the thief must also pay restitution, or the return of that which was taken or the return of something equivalent.

Restoration lends itself to a more positive connotation. Its meaning is to bring back to an original state. Unlike restitution, the use of restoration is more commonly used in a positive frame of reference. Restorative dentistry, for example, is repairing a lost tooth or a cavity with dentures, crowns or fillings. Or perhaps the restoration of an old home or an old painting. Careful work is done to try to bring the old home or painting back to its original glory.

The following is not an exhaustive list, but note the interchangeability in the following definitions:
RESTITUTION: Restoration to the former or original state or position. Source

RESTORATION: A return of something to a former, original, normal, or unimpaired condition. Restitution of something taken away or lost. Source
As outlined in previous posts, Jesus Christ has established His gospel throughout time. And each time after its establishment, it has been taken away through the disobedience of the inhabitants of earth, also known as apostasy. Each period of apostasy has been followed by a restitution or a restoration of the gospel; a period of time when the true, original gospel of Jesus Christ is reestablished through revelation to prophets. Each period of time when the true gospel is found on the earth and an authorized servant called of God to teach these truths is found on earth it is known as a dispensation.

We have already examined the prophecies concerning the Great Apostasy that occurred after the death of the apostles at the time of Christ. (November 16, 2009 post) But what the apostles and prophets also knew was that there would one day come another restitution of the gospel. In fact, a final restoration of the gospel and a final, or last, dispensation of the gospel.

Peter, the chief apostle, prophet, and leader of the church on the earth after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, admonished the people of Israel to look forward to a future time when Christ would come again and to be converted before that time comes.
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. Acts 3:19-21
The "times of refreshing" and the "times of restitution of all things" is referring to a future and new gospel dispensation. A time when the true gospel of Jesus Christ would be found on the earth following the Great Apostasy. The apostle Paul also declared to the church members, or saints, in Ephesus that there would be a future dispensation of the gospel. By a careful reading of these verses and chapter it is clear that Paul declares these things only after there was revelation to him.
Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him. Ephesians 1:8-10
After reading this verse, I would ask if all things have been gathered together in one? Have all things both in heaven and on earth been gathered together in one, even in Christ? One needs only turn on the local news to discover that the answer to these questions is a resounding "No." So we know that this "dispensation of the fulness of times" did not occur in the past. At the time of Paul it was a future period of time.

There will come a time when all things will be gathered together in Christ, and that will be at His Second Coming. What we then learn from this passage of scripture is that the Second Coming of Christ will occur during the dispensation of the fulness of times.

Not only New Testament prophets and apostles knew of this future dispensation of the fulness of times. A dispensation that would not fall into apostasy. The ancient prophet Daniel interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar's dream through revelation.
Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven...Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king; But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these...This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king...And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. Daniel 2:19, 27-28, 36, 44-45
If the Great Apostasy happened, and I testify that it did, when then did God set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed? In other words, when was there a time when Jesus Christ's gospel and His church were never again taken away from the earth or when has the church never fallen into apostasy? This passage of scripture states that these things will come to pass in the "latter days." Or in other words, the period of time right before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

In order for the human family to be in the latter days, we must also be in the dispensation of the fulness of times. In order for the human family to be in a dispensation, we must have emerged from the great apostasy through the restoration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to have had a restoration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ, there must have been an authorized servant called of God put here on the earth to reveal God's will. It's my conviction and witness that all of these things either have happened or are happening today. The Restoration will be our next topic.