New Testament 05 – Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

prepare
Scheduled to be studied Jan. 28-Feb 3, 2019. As an Elias, John the Baptist’s responsibility was to prepare the way for something/someone greater to follow. We are also tasked with the responsibility to prepare the way for the Savior’s return. This week’s lesson talks about several doctrines, all of which help us understand the Savior and our own responsibilities better.

Day 1

You will read the whole week’s assignment in the next four days. But I suggest you at least skim this week’s assignment today, with the intention of deeper rereading starting tomorrow. The assignment for the week is Matthew 3; Mark 1; and Luke 3.

Record your impressions in your journal or notebook. If you read through all of this week’s material before doing your journaling, the questions asked in this day’s material might give you more to write about.

To be an Elias, which is one who prepares for something or someone greater that is to come, we need to have the Spirit to direct us in our lives. Since we have all been reserved for the latter days, we have all been given the responsibility to prepare ourselves and the world for the Savior’s coming. President Russell M. Nelson has taught that the process of the Restoration, which is the preparations for the Savior’s second coming, is still ongoing. It has not been completed, but will continue until He comes again.

Just as the Prophet has to receive constant revelation about how to organize the Church and how to teach us to prepare for the Savior’s coming, so too do we need the Spirit in our efforts to conduct our private lives in a Christlike way and to be obedient to the commandments. The whole point of journaling our feelings and thoughts as we read the scriptures is to make a record of what we are learning about ourselves and about the scriptures we read each day. Over time, being able to refer back to what we have written of our own learning will show us that we are making progress. The record of our thoughts and feelings will also remind us of the spiritual insights we have picked up along the way. These insights are often quickly lost if not recorded.

The manual makes several good points about this process of recording our impressions.

  • Help in learning spiritual knowledge comes only through the Spirit. The carnal/mortal mind cannot comprehend spiritual things without them being revealed by the Spirit. This protects us from being held responsible for knowledge that will damn us if we are not ready to receive and act on that information. This is why we cannot be saved in ignorance. We must learn to listen to the Spirit in order to be taught about spiritual things, and salvation comes from learning about the things of eternity. And all eternal things must be revealed to us to understand them. This is why the manual tells us in the introduction to this lesson that, “As you pray for the Holy Ghost to help you understand these chapters, He will give you insights that are especially for you.”
  • All insights from the Holy Ghost are personal. They are all designed to fill in the gaps in our personal knowledge, to give us the encouragement we specifically need, to guide us in what the Lord wants us to do individually, and to confirm our personal faith. Just as all covenants are universally the same for everyone, but are always administered and judged on a person-by-person basis, so too is inspiration. What you need for inspiration is not what your neighbor needs today. This is why we pray for the Spirit to teach us what we each need to learn from the same scriptures being read this day.
  • The final idea is that we need to make plans to act on what we learn. Learning spiritual truths provides us with no benefits if we don’t learn how to apply them in our lives. Without application knowledge is just academic and intellectual. The whole point of the gospel of Christ is to change us from what we are into what we want to become so we can happily live with God for eternity. Change is mandatory, but only comes from action on our part. No amount of knowledge, without action, can produce the necessary changes in our thinking and attitudes. Knowledge must be applied in our lives, with action, so we learn from experience how to be better people. As you journal your thoughts and feelings, keep this idea in the back of your mind.

How are you going to change your daily prayers and behaviors to make this knowledge increase your faith and create within you Christlike attitudes?

After reading this week’s scriptures, even if it was a cursory read, what do you think you need to consider so that these scriptures have a chance of changing your perspective or attitudes about your life as a latter-day saint?

How can you use what you learn from this week’s lessons to better minister to those around you, whether they be your family, your friends, or strangers?

Day 2

Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:2-18 – Repentance is a mighty change of mind and heart.

Record your impressions in your journal or notebook. If you read through all of today’s material before doing your journaling, the questions asked in this day’s material might give you more to write about.

In Matthew 3 John the Baptist teaches the people that repentance is all about change. He says they need to “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.” In other words, he taught them that in order to repent they had to change how they lived their lives. The “fruits” of our behavior is the resulting good or evil we create with every decision we make. John wanted the people to produce good works meet for, or worthy of repentance. These good choices are the fruits of repentance, the evidences that a change for the better has taken place in their life.

It doesn’t really matter if we talk about wheat or some other kind of grain or whether we talk in terms of fruit. Both of these examples demonstrate that we have to go out and create something that demonstrates that a change has taken place in our life. That is the only way to demonstrate that repentance has occurred.

How can we say we have repented if there is no change in our behavior?

As a side note, when John told the people that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand” he was telling them that the kingdom of heaven is here, now. The phrase “at hand” is usually thought of as something that is coming very soon, but it actually translates to “is here.” John was sent to set up the foundations of the kingdom of God on earth. He was sent with the priesthood power to baptize people into the kingdom. He brought the kingdom with him. When Jesus followed a few months later the people would need to be baptized again, but this time it was to join the official Church and organization of the kingdom of God. The same thing happened at the beginning of the Restoration in Joseph Smith’s day. All those who were baptized before the organization of the Church were rebaptized as members of the Church and kingdom of God.

John’s mission was a preparatory work. His purpose was to testify of the Christ who would follow him. His mission was to testify that Jesus was the Messiah, the Redeemer of the world. He was an Elias, a forerunner, someone who prepared and testified that someone greater than himself was coming, and that everyone needed to listen to and heed his words. For if they would not heed the words of John the Baptist they would not listen to the Savior either. Likewise we have been commissioned by the covenants we have made both at baptism and in the Temple to testify of Christ and prepare the world for his coming. In that regard the entire Church fills the role of Elias, as we are all forerunners and testifiers of Christ who is to come. The responsibility of this generation is to cry repentance to the world and prepare for Christ’s second coming. That takes place in the mission field, as well as in the temples, and in our neighborhoods.

If the word “repent” means to turn around, how does repenting accurately describe what happens to us when we accept Christ’s offer of forgiveness?

How does being baptized – being buried in the water and coming up in a newness of life – fit with what repentance is all about?

Day 3

Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7 – Who were the Pharisees and Sadducees?

Record your impressions in your journal or notebook. If you read through all of today’s material before doing your journaling, the questions asked in this day’s material might give you more to write about.

Shortly after Lehi left Jerusalem the Babylonians destroyed the city and the temple then took most of the inhabitants into Babylon. The destruction of the temple ended what is known as the first temple period. This ended the ruling of the royal line of David, opening the way for an elite class of priests to gain influence among the Jews in captivity. This influential group was known as the Sadducees. They were comprised of the wealthy and the priests of Jewish society. Their focus was on a strict interpretation of the written law the Jews lived by.

When the Jews returned from captivity and rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple, another sect arose who were more focused on an oral tradition of interpreting the laws Moses had given them. This began the second temple period. These new masters of the Jewish law were in favor of keeping themselves separate from others. It is not entirely clear as to whether that meant separate from the gentiles or separate from other sects, or some other interpretation. They were the Pharisees. There were other sects as well, but the two main rivals for the following of the people were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees were more popular among the common people, while the wealthy tended to favor the Sadducees. My mother always taught me that the way to tell the difference between a Pharisee and a Sadducee is that Pharisees believed in the resurrection, but the Sadducees didn’t, so they were “sad, you see?”

Here is a quote from Wikipedia.com about the development of the Pharisees and how they turned into what the Jews later had as the Rabbi.

Sadducees rejected the Pharisaic tenet of an Oral Torah. In their personal lives this often meant an excessively stringent lifestyle from a Jewish perspective, as they did away with the oral tradition, and in turn the Pharisaic understanding of the Torah, creating two Jewish understandings of the Torah. An example of this differing approach is the interpretation of, “an eye in place of an eye”. The Pharisaic understanding was that the value of an eye was to be paid by the perpetrator.[19] In the Sadducees’ view the words were given a more literal interpretation, in which the offender’s eye would be removed.[20] From the point of view of the Pharisees, the Sadducees wished to change the Jewish understanding of the Torah, to a Greek understanding of the Torah. The Pharisees preserved the Pharisaical oral law in the form of the Talmud. They would become the foundation of Rabbinic Judaism.

The sages of the Talmud see a direct link between themselves and the Pharisees, and historians generally consider Pharisaic Judaism to be the progenitor of Rabbinic Judaism, that is normative, mainstream Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple. All mainstream forms of Judaism today consider themselves heirs of Rabbinic Judaism and, ultimately, the Pharisees.

Summary

So you don’t think I am trying to get you to read a textbook, I would like to summarize the quote above. The Sadducees were very literal people. The Pharisees were a little less literal. So if someone poked your eye out, and you were a Sadducee, you would have to poke out the eye of the person who hurt you. If you are a Pharisee the other person only had to repay you the value of what you had lost. No maiming involved.

The Pharisees and Sadducees debated a lot over the meaning of the Law of Moses. These teachers of the law were recorded in the book called the Talmud (The Torah was their actual book of scripture). Many different viewpoints on each part of the law were written in the Talmud, and this was studied by those who became Pharisees and Sadducees, but the Sadducees wanted to approach the traditions of their forefathers like the Greek philosophers. This is what separated the two groups. Today’s Jews are descendants of the tradition of the Pharisees. This is the group that eventually became the Rabbis the Jews have today. End of Summary

As pronounced a presence as the Pharisees and Sadducees appear to have in the New Testament, it is the writers of the Gospels who are the first historical record keepers to openly talk about these two groups. Pharisees had only been around for roughly 150 years by the time Jesus was born. The Sadducees had been around for many hundreds of years.

Think about how these two groups of interpreters of the law of Moses came about. Where were the prophets during the development of these interpreters of the Law?

What happens to followers of God’s word when the prophets are silenced due to apostasy?

Day 4

Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22 – Jesus Christ was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness.”

Record your impressions in your journal or notebook. If you read through all of today’s material before doing your journaling, the questions asked in this day’s material might give you more to write about.

The most important version of these three accounts of the baptism of Jesus is the one in Matthew. Why? Because Joseph Smith translated/corrected this version of the account to read as you see below. In the KVJ this is Matthew 3:13-17. In the JST this is Matthew 3:43-46.

43 And Jesus, answering, said unto him, Suffer me to be baptized of thee, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

44 And John went down into the water and baptized him.

45 And Jesus when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water; and John saw, and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Jesus.

46 And lo, he heard a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye him.

Here is an important piece we all need to understand. In verse 45 it says, “the heavens were opened unto him.” Who is the “him” being referenced? It is John the Baptist. This was a personal revelation given to John that he had just baptized the Son of God. It also confirms the pattern of communication of God the Father to his children in mortality. The Father has given to Jesus the responsibility of teaching us and doing all things necessary to bring us back into his presence, so the only time he directly addresses his children is to introduce Christ and tell us to listen to him – Jesus.

The point of including this section in the Sunday School manual is to compare our baptism with His baptism, meaning the baptism of Jesus. Excluding the revelation given to the one baptizing Jesus, what is the same and what is different about how Jesus was baptized and how all of us are baptized today? If you look at the manual’s comparison chart you will see that we are baptized in the same way in which Jesus was baptized. We go down into the water, are submerged, and baptized by one having the authority from God to perform this ordinance. We have witnesses just as Jesus had witnesses. We don’t know if anyone else was around when John baptized the Savior, but God made it known to John that He and the Holy Ghost were witnesses to Christ’s baptism.

When you think about the covenants you make at baptism, does it seem like a really hard thing to do to qualify for basic entrance into the Celestial kingdom?

What are some of the requirements we must meet in order to fulfill our baptismal covenant?

Fulfilling all righteousness

For years I mistakenly thought that the phrase “to fulfill all righteousness” was somehow to be taken literally. Somehow that phrase meant that Jesus and John were completing some cosmic requirement that helped to complete God’s overall plan for our happiness. I was WAY over thinking it.

Christ and John fulfilled the requirements God had set for the Plan of Salvation that enables us to enter into His presence. That requirement is the most basic of all covenants, baptism. Baptism is our official declaration that we have a true desire to return to live again in our heavenly home. It is our statement to our Father and to his Son that we are willing to submit to their requirements to obey the commandments so we can be blessed with life in the Celestial kingdom. By being baptized Jesus demonstrated that no one is too good for this ordinance. All of us are required to submit to this gateway ordinance if we want to return to our Father in Heaven. Even if we never go to the temple, if we are obedient and faithful after baptism, we can still go to the Celestial kingdom. We might not be in the highest level of that kingdom, but we can enter into the kingdom with baptism.

Day 5

Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22 – Does the Bible teach that the members of the Godhead are three separate beings?

Record your impressions in your journal or notebook. If you read through all of today’s material before doing your journaling, the questions asked in this day’s material might give you more to write about.

It is important to remember that the doctrine that God is a three-being entity, without shape or form, is and never was taught in the Bible. The doctrine of the Trinity is a man-made doctrine that was introduced about 300 years after Christ (325 CE to be exact). It was accepted by the council at Nicaea in Turkey, and is known as the Nicene creed.

Why was the Nicene creed needed? After the Apostles died, and the gift of the Holy Ghost faded from the Lord’s Church, what was left was a clergy who had to answer questions, understand and interpret scripture, and teach others about their faith, but without the Holy Ghost or the priesthood power to help them do it. The church was comprised of former Jews, and many, many new Christians who had come from every conceivable pagan faith. Those who governed the church were heavily influenced by the Greek philosophers and their way of reasoning through problems.

As people tried to understand the early writings of the church, the nature of God, of his Son, and how the Holy Ghost fit into it all, many different schools of thought arose to explain how they all worked. After all, how could they worship only one God? It was clear that even Jesus declared he was the Son of God. If they were to worship only one God, which were they to worship, Jesus or his Father? The only answer they could come up with was that Jesus was somehow of the same substance as his Father. They used a beam of light as their comparison. God was like the sun, and Jesus was the beams of light that came from that sun. The Holy Ghost was also a product of the Father and the Son. In this way they were three separate beings, yet of the same substance.

(This is incorrect doctrine. But to silence the opponents to what was currently being taught by most of the Christian Church, the Council at Nicaea had to accept a definition of God that was incomprehensible. This took the simple truth we accept that the three members of the Godhead were united in all things, and turned it into a divine mystery that was supposed to be incomprehensible to man.)

The notion that these three distinct people were one in that they were completely united in all that they do was rejected by the early Christian philosophers. Under the orders of the emperor Constantine, a council was convened and tasked with coming up with a definition of God that would become taught universally throughout the church. This would stop all the arguing over who and what the relationship of the members of the Godhead was. So even though this doctrine was never taught in the Bible, this creed – this declaration of faith – was used to unite all the factions that had developed in Christianity up to that point in time.

I suggest you look up the various scriptures listed at the end of this section of the reading for this week. The manual gives a number of scriptures that clearly demonstrate the separateness of the members of the Godhead. Take special note of John 17:20-23, the prayer Christ offered to his Father for his followers.

20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

21 That they all may be one; as thou, Fatherart in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

This great prayer demonstrates for us the unity our Father in Heaven and Christ want us to experience for ourselves. Christ specifically prays that we can experience being one as he and his Father are one. This is what the scriptures teach as the definition of being a Zion society – people who are of one heart and one mind, who seek the welfare of all people without any selfish motives. This is the whole goal of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is the purpose of implementing the ministering program of the Church. Its purpose is to help us learn to draw closer together, to be more giving, more kind, more holy in our feelings toward our fellowman.

How does serving others help us to understand others’ pain and sorrows?

When we give selflessly to another person, what are some of the changes that take place in our own heart?

Why do you think it is so important to our Father in Heaven that we learn to live the kind of life he has?

Ideas for Scripture Study and Family Home Evening

Time and time again you will read about the baptism of water and the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire. The following questions are not designed for children. You know your children, so as you contemplate the following questions, think about what you have already taught your family about baptism and the Holy Ghost, and think of simple questions your children should be able to answer about this subject.

The baptism of water represents the death of the old you and the rebirth of the new you. What is this new you supposed to be like?

How does our repentance affect the transformation into this new person in Christ?

Why do you think the baptism of the Holy Ghost is called a baptism of fire?

A baptism is an immersive experience where we are completely surrounded above and below. What is the significance of being baptized with the Holy Ghost?

What are we supposed to become after being baptized by the Holy Ghost?

Fire can be a destructive force, but in spiritual terms it is referred to as a purifying agent. What does the Holy Ghost burn out of us?

How does the Holy Ghost use light, truth, and intelligence to purify us?

Here is a PDF of this week’s study material.
Print it out for greater convenience in your studies.

New Testament Lesson 05

About the Author:

Kelly is retired and living in Rexburg, Idaho, USA. He currently writes for gospelstudy.us. You can find articles by Kelly on ldsblogs.com, ldsliving.com, and moronichannel.org as well. He has also published multiple works, including Premortal Promises, and Contributions to the Kingdom, both available on Amazon.com.

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