This week’s lesson demonstrates the same kind of change in the Lord’s church as individuals have in their own personal conversion. We often take this development so much for granted that we don’t appreciate the amount of change that took place in the religious life of the Nephites when the people of Limhi and the people of Alma returned to Zarahemla.
Mosiah 25-28; Alma 36.
Synagogues to churches
The Nephites were Jews. They went to Synagogue each week, and practiced their religion just like all the Jews before them had for more than a thousand years. But when Abinadi preached repentance and Christ before he was burned alive, his teachings resonated with Alma. Alma wrote down Abinadi’s teachings and began to teach faith in Christ and the need for continual repentance. This is the same kind of teaching the Apostles would teach in the days of Jesus, but that was almost another 150 years in the future.
When Alma and his people returned to Zarahemla and were joined with the rest of the Nephite people, Mosiah, the prophet, gave Alma the responsibility of setting up the organization of the religion of the people into churches (congregations). They still observed Law of Moses, but in their preaching and teaching they had left the law behind and were living the same basic law the Jesus would teach more than a century later.
Jesus brought the higher law to the Jews in Jerusalem in his lifetime, but the Nephites were given this law in the days of Mosiah. It was their personal willingness to accept responsibility for their own actions and their belief in Christ who was to come that led to this change in the administration of the Lord’s church among the Nephites. From this time forward they never returned to living just the Law of Moses. They now lived and taught the gospel as though Christ had already come.
If you recall, as king Benjamin was concluding his reign and Mosiah was beginning his reign, king Benjamin gave his people a great discourse that ended in their being converted. They experienced the great change of heart that left them with no more desire to do evil, but to do good continually. They made a covenant with God to keep the commandments always. The only people alive then who did not make this covenant were the little children who couldn’t understand king Benjamin’s words.
In Mosiah 26:1-4 we get an accounting of these children. It is a wonder to me that as great as the conversion their parents experienced, many in this generation grew up refusing to believe in the teachings of their parents.
1 Now it came to pass that there were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of king Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers.
2 They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ.
3 And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.
4 And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.
Wow! Talk about your stiffnecked generation. They were not half so numerous as the people of God, but because of their flattery and their worldly influence, they were able to lead many in the church away from the teachings of God and convinced them to participate in many forms of wickedness that caused real trouble for the church.
Until recently, I had always wondered why Alma was not aware of this problem. In Mosiah 26:9 it says:
9 And it came to pass that Alma did not know concerning them; but there were many witnesses against them; yea, the people stood and testified of their iniquity in abundance.
It finally occurred to me that the reason Alma was ignorant of this generation of non-believers was because he wasn’t there when Benjamin and his people had their great conversion. He was probably a young priest in the new reign of king Noah at the time. This was a completely new development in the church. It was the first time many people were being accused of great sin. Something had to be done about it. It was causing great disruption in the church.
He took the problem to Mosiah, the prophet, but Mosiah correctly deferred the problem back to Alma, whose priesthood responsibility it was to govern the church. So Alma took the problem to the Lord. For Alma’s faithfulness the Lord promised him eternal life then told him how to justly judge those who committed sin in the church. This is much how these matters are handled today.
Alma the Younger and his companions
It should be noted that Alma’s son, Alma was not a child at this time. He was a family man with children of his own. Alma the younger was in full-fledged rebellion against everything his father taught. And Alma’s companions in their spiritual crimes included the company of no less than four of the king’s sons. They deliberately sought to destroy the church their fathers had worked so hard to establish and promote. They went about seeking to destroy the people’s testimonies however they could. The scriptures rightly describe Alma the younger as a very wicked man (Mosiah 27:8-9).
8 Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.
9 And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.
The conversion of Alma and the sons of Mosiah illustrate the power of faith in the prayer process. When Alma and the sons of Mosiah were visited by the angel and told the reason for his visit he included this bit of information (Mosiah 27:14):
14 And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.
Most often in the church when I have heard someone talk about why the angel appeared to these men it is taught that it was because of the faith of Alma’s father. But that is not what the verse says. The angel specifically says that there were many people in addition to Alma who were praying with faith that the Lord would set Alma and the sons of the king straight. The angel came because of the faith of all these people. We should never discount the power of combining our faith in groups for the welfare of one or more people. There is power in unity. That is the very reason the Lord keeps trying to teach us to become unified as a people.
The results of conversion
We’ll cover the process of conversion in another couple of lessons, so for now we will talk about the result of the conversion of these five men. In Mosiah 27:32-33 we get just a glimpse into what their conversion meant in their lives.
32 And now it came to pass that Alma began from this time forward to teach the people, and those who were with Alma at the time the angel appeared unto them, traveling round about through all the land, publishing to all the people the things which they had heard and seen, and preaching the word of God in much tribulation, being greatly persecuted by those who were unbelievers, being smitten by many of them.
33 But notwithstanding all this, they did impart much consolation to the church, confirming their faith, and exhorting them with long-suffering and much travail to keep the commandments of God.
Sometimes conversion requires restitution for past sins. In this case it required a great amount of restitution. Remember that restitution has to be equal to or greater than the damage done. The wickedness of these men affected the whole church, so their restitution required that they go and suffer the humiliation of confession and restitution to the whole church.
Many whom they tried to reclaim, after having led them astray in the first place, resented their about face. They were smitten, meaning struck or hit by many of them. Can you even imagine having to go face whole congregations to confess your crimes against them and try to get them to listen to you preach the truth to them? They had to win the trust of all those whom they had deceived and hurt. They had to go face all those whom they had led away from the church and try to convince them that they were wrong and that it was important for them to repent and receive forgiveness for their sins.
It was their willingness to bear the shame of their behavior, no matter how publicly they were humiliated that showed the true depths of their repentance. Instead of being a great burden to the church they became a great strength to the church. Their conversion became a great example for all to follow in the church and in teaching the youth of the church.
The need to share
The Spirit worked upon these brethren, convincing them that if they could also convert their mortal enemies, the Lamanites, then there would be no more contention in the land, and all would find joy in the service of the Lord. Many probably thought they were crazy. After all, the people of Limhi and the people of Alma had only returned from complete captivity by those very Lamanites just a few years before. Alma the younger had been with his father in captivity. He new full well the disposition of the Lamanites.
Alma and the sons of Mosiah petitioned the king to go on a mission to the Lamanites, but the king didn’t want to give his permission. They continued to pester him about it until he finally took it to the Lord and the Lord told Mosiah to let his sons go. They would be a great blessing in the lives of thousands of the Lamanites, and Mosiah was promised that his sons would return home safely. That was enough for Mosiah.
As it turned out, Alma was called to become the new head of the church, since his father was getting too old. The sons of Mosiah took some companions with them and thus began their 14 year mission among the Lamanites. Their faithful service among their Lamanite brethren not only saved the souls of thousands of them, but in the end became a great support to the Nephite nation when their were in the middle of serious wars with the Lamanites. We’ll talk of that in future lessons.
Conversion isn’t just about a change of beliefs. True conversion changes our soul. We cannot experience the kind of generosity from God that comes with true conversion and not have a desire to share what we have been given with others. The greater the conversion, the greater the gratitude, and the greater the desire to share it with others.