good shepherd
Scheduled for study April 29-May 5, 2019. This week’s lessons describe for us how Jesus is our good shepherd. We will learn about how his truths set us free, his mercy, and how the trials we face in life are actually our best friends because of the lessons they teach us.

Day 1

John 7-10 – How can we learn to see truth wherever it can be found? Also, we should be looking for inspiring words or phrases as we search for truth.

Record your impressions in your journal or notebook. As you read John 7-10, you may receive impressions from the Holy Ghost about the doctrinal principles in these chapters. Recording your impressions can help you make a plan to act on them.

Today’s topic covers both the introductory paragraphs and the section on personal study.

Think for a moment about who Jesus was addressing when he went to Jerusalem and taught the people. If we use our current vocabulary, they were all members of the Church. All of them were Israelites. All of them made and lived by the covenants given to them through Moses. But there were factions among the people. The Sadducees taught doctrine refuted by and argued against by the Pharisees. There were the Essenes who lived off in the desert by themselves. The religion was fractured with factions claiming their form of orthodoxy was correct. Yet all of them claimed Moses and his law as the basis for their beliefs.

When Jesus taught the truth the people were filtering his truth through their own perceptions of what real truth was. Most of them were not willing to accept his truth as an absolute reality. This is why there was so much dissension among the people when he taught them. Most of them were not scriptorians in their own right, so they relied on the “experts”, the self-proclaimed experts, the Pharisees, to teach them. For a couple of hundred years the Pharisees had been gaining power over the people and had established themselves as the interpretive voice of Moses and his law.

You may have noticed that the common people had common sense. When they heard truth they said, “Sounds good to me.” But when the Pharisees heard the same truths taught by Jesus they held them up to the established teachings of the Pharisees, which were wrong. So they were constantly at war with anyone who tried to argue for Jesus and his doctrines. You see a prime example of this in the story of the man born blind whom Jesus healed.

My point to mentioning all of this is that in the Church today we have people at different stages of spiritual understanding. Some are just unlearned, but have good hearts. Others in the Church are more worldly, and have adopted some of the world’s beliefs and have integrated them into their own teachings in the gospel, so when the Prophets come knocking and teach something that differs with what the world teaches, we have this same kind of split among our members. Those with simple, humble hearts recognize the truth for what it is, while those who have embraced teachings from elsewhere chafe at the principles and truths taught by the prophets of the Lord. This means we need to learn to recognize truth when we find it, no matter where we find it.

Sources of truth

Truth may come from direct statements from the servants of the Lord. You might find truth in a textbook or in a play, a poem, a story, or even in the natural wisdom of a friend. There is truth everywhere. The trick is to identify it and learn to recognize unvarnished truth from pretense of truth. And these days there seems to be a lot more pretense of truth than the unvarnished, raw variety.

There are three main sources for eternal truth that can absolutely be relied upon.

  1. Scriptures – Even the prophets rely upon the scriptures as their mainstay of spiritual truth
  2. Prophets – Our prophets are receiving new revelation all the time. Their words clarify and expand our knowledge we can receive from the scriptures. We have been promised by the Lord that we will always be blessed if we follow the teachings of the prophets, for He will never allow them to lead us astray.
  3. Personal revelation – I am not talking about seeing visions and hosting angelic visitors – I wish. I am talking about receiving basic answers to our prayers. This is something all of us should be receiving on a regular basis. Are we fasting for answers to questions in our lives? Are we searching the scriptures and the writings of the prophets for those answers at the same time we are asking the Lord for answers? We need to be.

When we have spent years searching and studying the scriptures, which means we are doing our best to come to understand what they are trying to teach us, and are staying close to the teachings of the prophets, something happens to us. Truth begins to adopt a familiar ring to it. Even when we haven’t heard a particular truth before, if it is in line with what is already taught by the prophets and the scriptures, it will have a familiar ring to it.

This is what the common people heard when Jesus spoke. His words just made sense. They weren’t the intellectual garble they were receiving from the Pharisees and others. The words of Jesus just felt good. His words were like emotionally coming home.

This brings us to the second half of today’s lesson, Improving Personal Study. Taking into account everything above, as you read the scriptures this week, especially if you pray for understanding before you read, certain phrases, words, verses, or stories will leap off the page for you. These are the ones you need to focus on, for these are the ones you have been lead to by the Spirit.

When we focus on those words, phrases, etc. we have been impressed with, we will usually have other thoughts come into our minds that will give us instructions  For example, I know we are all different, but one of the words that jumped off the page for me this week is in John 7:17 – “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine …” The word “do” kept drawing my attention. I wrote underneath that verse – “The proof is in the doing.” This reminded me of a sentence the Patriarch said in my blessing that those who want God’s blessings must learn to do what is right. It isn’t enough to know what is right.

There were other stories and passages that caught my attention and taught me different lessons, but this is how it happens, at least for me. Expect it to happen for you. Look for it and be prepared to think more deeply when something does stand out for you. This is the same instruction we receive from the prophets for General Conference. They tell us to come fasting and praying for instructions, and be ready to take notes about the phrases and thoughts that capture our attention. Many times these thoughts will have nothing to do with the actual talk being given, but will have everything to do with your own progression in the gospel of Christ. Be sure to write them down and follow up on them.

Day 2

John 7:14–17 – As I live the truths taught by Jesus Christ, I will come to know they are true.

Record your impressions in your journal or notebook. As you read John 7-10, you may receive impressions from the Holy Ghost about the doctrinal principles in these chapters. Recording your impressions can help you make a plan to act on them.

Even though this topic of learning seems pretty straight forward, it can be a sensitive issue for some members and for those investigating the Church. It is true that book learning helps you learn how to learn better and faster. Book learning teaches you how to reason through problems and assess them more accurately. Book learning is delving into the knowledge of the world. The prophets teach us that we need to gain as much of this knowledge as we can, and it doesn’t matter what branch of knowledge either. We are supposed to learn languages, sciences, arts, everything. Book learning really does help us think more clearly in many ways.

So what happens when we walk into the scriptures without any of that worldly knowledge? How are we supposed to gain all that spiritual knowledge the scriptures and the prophets promise us? The wonderful thing about spiritual knowledge is that you don’t have to go to school to have access to the knowledge of eternity. What you do have to possess is the willingness to experiment on whatever it is you learn.

When Jesus says in verse 17 that “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine …” he is saying the same thing Moroni promised those who read the Book of Mormon. In Moroni 10:4 he gives us the first half of the promise.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Asking with sincerity of heart is step one. But just asking is never enough. The gospel is not designed to be a book exercise where we learn something then recite it when needed. What makes spiritual knowledge useful to us is that it changes our attitudes, our character, our heart. But to do that we have to take what has been revealed to us by the Spirit and act on it. This is the doing part Jesus speaks of in John.

It is only when we live what we learn that the promises made by the prophets, living or dead, materialize in our life. For example, the prophets tell us to pay an honest tithe. We can have book learning about what that means, but we cannot gain a testimony of tithing until we actually live the law and are tested in our faithfulness to that law. Once we have witnessed for ourselves the power of that law it is then we become converted to it. The principle is the same for all parts of the gospel. It is in the living of the gospel that we become converted or changed.

No one needs worldly book learning to become converted to the gospel. Even if you can’t read, living what you are taught, if it is based on truth, will affect a change in your life. But the more you have of book learning, combined with a willingness to experiment on the word of God, the better your life will be.

Can you think of a time or instance where you lived a principle of the gospel and received a witness of its truthfulness?

How did that change your life, your feelings, your habits, your thoughts?

Day 3

John 8:2–11 – The Savior’s mercy is available to all.

Record your impressions in your journal or notebook. As you read John 7-10, you may receive impressions from the Holy Ghost about the doctrinal principles in these chapters. Recording your impressions can help you make a plan to act on them.

In other articles I’ve written about the changing roles of Jesus as the Messiah, or as the anointed one. He was the creator, Jehovah, Redeemer, and will be King, and finally Judge. His defining characteristic in his role as Redeemer is his mercy and grace. During his mortal ministry he forgave everyone all the awful things they did to him. There were times when he gave stern warnings to the wicked, like his rebuke to the Pharisees and lawyers, but even in cut and dried cases, like the woman taken in the act of adultery, he did not condemn, but forgave.

For some reason this story, for me, took on a broader implication this time than it ever has before. Adultery has always been considered one of the worst of the sins, right up there next to murder. Yet Jesus forgave this woman her sin and told her to go and sin no more. What does this very pointed story have to do with me and my loved ones in mortality?

It suddenly occurred to me that this pattern of extending mercy in this mortal experience is not just for those few who publicly received Christ’s attention in the scriptures. His mercy, his willingness to forgive ALL sin is extended to every one of us. This mercy is extended to us right up to the day of judgment when the ability to repent is no longer available to us. It doesn’t matter who we are or where we are raised, his mercy is ours for the claiming. His only injunction for each of us is to “go and sin no more.”

It truly doesn’t matter what we have done in this life, how badly we have messed up. If we are prepared to accept the Savior’s invitation to “go and sin no more” he will forgive our sins. For the vast majority of the human family it is not possible to sin beyond his ability to forgive us. And none of us can sin beyond his desire to forgive us. At no point does he ever become hateful, vengeful, or spiteful. For us he is always loving, kind, patient, and full of offered forgiveness.

While it is true that there will come a day of judgment, until that day arrives his arms are stretched out in love and tender mercy to us with the plea to repent and come to him and be made whole so he can heal us. In this way we are all the woman taken in adultery. He sees all of our sins for what they are, and he loves us anyway.

Day 4

John 8:58–59 – Why were the Jews offended when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am”?

Record your impressions in your journal or notebook. As you read John 7-10, you may receive impressions from the Holy Ghost about the doctrinal principles in these chapters. Recording your impressions can help you make a plan to act on them.

It is interesting that those looking for an excuse to kill Jesus asked him time and time again to declare plainly who he was. He told them over and over again he was the Son of God, that he came down from heaven, and that when he died he would go back to heaven, where, incidentally they would not be able to find him, because they were all going to die in their sins. For some reason this wasn’t enough. They kept pursuing the issue until he finally told them another aspect of himself they could not mistake, no matter how hard they might try. He declared himself to be the God of the Old Testament, the great Jehovah.

That declaration they plainly understood. It was Jehovah who gave the covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was Jehovah who spoke to Moses from the burning bush and later delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. There was no mistaking this reference. “I Am” is what God called himself to Moses. For a mortal to make the claim to be the great I Am was blasphemy, and was worthy of instant death.

Note that the only ones offended by this title were those who did not believe Jesus and his claims to divinity. Those who accepted him as the Messiah accepted him as the Son of God. This claim made scriptural sense, but only if he really was the Son of God.

Do you see this pattern in today’s society?

Who are most likely to become offended with the words of the Prophets, the believers or the nonbelievers?

Think about the arguments nonbelievers make against Joseph Smith. Are their arguments based on faith or disbelief?

Day 5

John 9 – Through our challenges, God can manifest Himself in our lives.

Record your impressions in your journal or notebook. As you read John 7-10, you may receive impressions from the Holy Ghost about the doctrinal principles in these chapters. Recording your impressions can help you make a plan to act on them.

The manual talks about John 9:2 referring to the premortal existence, yet those words are never used. I had to sit and look at it for a few minutes before I got where they were coming from. Here is the verse.

And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

The verse asks if the man sinned and if that sin caused him to be born blind. When could he have sinned in mortality to cause himself to be born blind? He couldn’t have, obviously, because any sins in mortality would have been after his birth. They had to be referring to a time before birth, a premortal time. Evidently, they had knowledge of premortality, but that doctrine was lost over time. The belief that sin caused most physical ailments at birth has been prevalent for many, many centuries. This doctrine is false.

We know that trials in mortality are part of the package we signed up for before we came here. Each person has their own set of difficulties. For some, their trial is ease and comfort. Ease and comfort create two of the greatest barriers to humility and a desire to seek God, so as much as the rest of us would like to switch places with those who seem to have mortality easy, those trials might just prove to be our downfall. God has given to each of us the trials we each need in order to give us the best opportunities to learn the lessons needed in this life. And we all have different lessons we need to learn.

My mother used to say that some are sent to be tried, and some are sent to try. She claimed that I was sent to try her, but I know better, because I was the perfect child. <wink>

So given that we all have trials and challenges in mortality, whether they be financial, physical, emotional, intellectual, or social, how does the Lord use our trials to teach us?

Think about a trial you have been given in this life. Can you identify any lessons you have learned from that trial?

Are there other ways you might have been able to learn those same lessons as well as you did through your trial?

It has been my experience that the lessons learned from trials are more deeply and intimately learned than they could have been from reading about them in a book. When I was homeless with four children for several months I learned a lot more about empathy and compassion needed for those in like circumstances than I had ever thought about before. And when I had to rely on the Bishop’s Storehouse for food for my family I learned what it meant to be grateful for Church members who were willing to treat me with dignity when I felt like a complete loser. To this day I cannot talk about the blessings of the Bishop’s Storehouse without beginning to weep. I honestly cannot think of a way for me to have learned these lessons without having to experience the trials that gave me firsthand knowledge. I think this is why the Savior wanted to experience for himself the sufferings of his people so he could know how to succor us in our individual trials.

Scripture Study and Home Evening

John 8:31–36 – Becoming a servant to sin

This passage talks about truth being able to set us free. The people to whom Jesus was speaking couldn’t grasp the concept that truth could set one free. They figured the only way to be trapped or held captive was physically. Hence, when he told them the truth could set them free, they rejoined that they were children of Abraham and were captives of no one. Jesus replied with the following statements.

34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.

35 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.

36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

Let’s look at each verse. In verse 34 Jesus says that “whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” This means that we have but two masters available to us in this life, God or Satan. If we do not serve God then by default we serve Satan. There is no one else to serve besides these two. When we commit sin we serve the author of all sin.

Verse 35 refers to a house. Which house is Jesus referring to? On a spiritual level I think he is referring to his Father’s mansion in heaven. But I think in this case he is referring to something a little closer to home. Rich people had slaves/servants that were bound to them. They could be sold to others. Spiritually speaking, Jesus is saying that if he, the Son of God sets us free then there is no one else who can claim us theirs – we are free indeed. It is his truth that frees us from our bondage to sin so we become truly free to act for ourselves.

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

New Testament 18