My study of the scriptures has had a profound effect on my life. As I have studied, I have grown closer to God and found answers to real challenges in my life. This blog is a scripture journal that records insights I have discovered in the past and continue to gain as I search, ponder, and pray.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Matthew 3 Baptism by Fire

Last time I taught Sunday School we discussed the Savior's baptism and John's message that he was sent to baptize with water but that the Savior would come and baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire.

After the class, I was asked a question about the meaning of baptism by fire. It seemed to this person that there was the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, and Fire. While they knew that wasn't correct, they didn't understand what baptism of fire is.

I've been pondering that question a lot. I plan on working it into my next lesson. I've done some preliminary research and found some interesting things. For me, baptism by fire means the sanctifying process of the Holy Ghost.

Two things happen when we repent. We become justified and we become sanctified. Justification is the payment of the debts incurred when we sinned. If we don't repent and change our hearts to God, we will have to pay for our sins ourselves (D&C 19). Sanctification, on the other hand is the process of changing our hearts during the repentance process. It is what makes us more like God. I believe the Holy Ghost both justifies and sanctifies us. Paying for our sins alone does not make us holy.

That is what the baptism of fire is. I didn't understand why the concept of baptism by fire wouldn't be clear.

Then I looked up "Baptism by Fire" in Wikipedia. Wikipedia indicated that baptism by fire is known as the punishment of fire that comes to those who reject Christ. The article further stated that it was different then baptism by the spirit. Baptism by the spirit was what happened to Christ's followers on the Day of Pentecost. I was shocked! That's not my understanding. In fact, the Wikipedia article went on to talk about how Mormon's view Baptism of Fire and how it differs from the rest of the Protestant world. It certainly does if that is their viewpoint! (By the way, I don't completely agree with all that was said, but that is irrelevant to my point right now.)

I found a Conference talk by Elder Bednar, Clean Hands and a Pure Heart.

We are commanded and instructed to so live that our fallen nature is changed through the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost. President Marion G. Romney taught that the baptism of fire by the Holy Ghost "converts [us] from carnality to spirituality. It cleanses, heals, and purifies the soul. ... Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, and water baptism are all preliminary and prerequisite to it but [the baptism of fire] is the consummation. To receive [this baptism of fire] is to have one's garments washed in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ"

Hence, as we are born again and strive to always have His Spirit to be with us, the Holy Ghost sanctifies and refines our souls as if by fire (see 2 Nephi 31:13-14, 17). Ultimately, we are to stand spotless before God.

Baptism of Fire is a slow process. Sometimes I fear that we don't recognize it is happening because we don't have a remarkable experience. I love a quote that I carry in my scriptures by Ezra Taft Benson

For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, services, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said "were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not" (3 Nephi 9:20).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Matthew 3 Covenant of Baptism

Recently I taught Sunday School about the baptism of Christ. The lesson included Matthew 4, which discussed Christ's temptations. I never got to that point in the lesson.

We spent a lot of time talking about baptism and why it was important for Christ to be baptized and why it is important for us. We spent a lot of time in 2 Nephi 31. I tried to emphasize that baptism is the gate that puts us on the straight and narrow path.

Too often, I believe, in our Church we put too much emphasis on the living a life of good works to take us back home. We're almost afraid that if we talk too much about being saved by grace we'll somehow start slacking off. When in reality, those who are truly converted do not slack off. They become more and more like God. They desire to do his will, not revel in sin. In our zeal to realize the "after all we can do" part, we often tend to deny the atonement! We are too busy trying to save ourselves and being upset because we're not perfect.

We turned to Moroni 10:32-33 and read about perfection. We need to come to Christ and be perfected in him--not in ourselves, but in him! And when we make that covenant with him through baptism, his grace is sufficient for us. All we need to do as we read in 2 Nephi 31 is to stay faithful. We just need to stay in the covenant. Then we can become baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost. What a beautiful, merciful plan!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

2 Nephi 5 Skin of Darkness

The Lord caused a skin of darkness to come upon the Lamanites. I've thought for a long time that this meant more of a countenance change than a pigment change. I know people who have forsaken the Gospel and their countenance literally becomes darker. I've also know people, my uncle included, who embraced the Gospel, and very literally they become lighter.

A few days ago Martin and I were talking about baptism by fire. I think that as the Holy Ghost purifies our lives through our daily (hopefully) processes, we begin to change physically. We become purified. We become changed and begin to look and be more like God.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Matthew 3, John the Baptist's Mission

John the Baptist's message was repentance to prepare for the Kingdom of God (verse 2). The Greek for repent means change of heart of mind. The Hebrew meaning for repent is to return.

The Kingdom of God as John was referring to means God's Church on the earth (Bible Dictionary). In other instances it means the Celestial Kingdom.

So, to me, the whole meaning of verse 2 is this: Return to the Covenant with your whole heart because the Church--complete with all of God's covenants to take us home to him--is about to be established.

Prepare for the way of the Lord.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Matthew 2, Following without Complete Understanding

In verse 12 it says the wise men were warned in a dream to depart a different way. I wonder how much they understood about the reason why. My guess is that they didn't understand a lot. They followed anyway. That is my quest, which is difficult: follow the Lord's instructions and promptings without always knowing why.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Matthew 2, Interesting New Story About Wise Men

I have long thought that the story of the wise men is not exactly like it is depicted at Christmas time.

For example, Matthew records that they found Jesus in a house and not the stable. Therefore, some time had elapsed since the Savior's birth. Another thing I have wondered about is the number of three. When my kids asked this year, I told them that we really don't know how many wise men there were. Three is the traditional number because they brought three gifts.

I recently read a couple of articles about an ancient text detailing the story of the wise men. It's very interesting. The text fits into the category of apocryphal writings. Still, as Joseph Smith said, you can learn a lot from the apocryphal writings. And that much of what is written is true, but not all. We need to rely on the Holy Ghost to discern what is.

Deseret News, January 8, 2011

ABC News, December 23, 2010

USA Today, December 6, 2010

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Luke 2 Several Witnesses

Luke 2 is full of witnesses of the Savior's divinity. The Shepherds came and told Mary and Joseph of their witness. The proclaimed that Jesus really is who they knew him to be.

It is interesting to me that the angel proclaiming Christ's birth used a saying common among the Bedouins to announce the birth of a child. Those helping the mother give birth would come and say "We bring yo good news of a great joy, for to you is born this day..." (Black, 20). I like how the angel used a greeting familiar to the people of the time.

Of course, the greeting of the angel was different. It proclaimed that the birth was not just to the father, but to all people. The angel added that it was not just a son, but "a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

Mary and Joseph also received two more witnesses of Christ's divinity and mission. Anna and Simeon both testified to them. The scriptures say that Mary pondered these things in her heart. I like to think that our Heavenly Father was showing Mary some mercy by these witnesses. Perhaps their testimonies helped sustain her through the difficult culmination of Christ's life when she witnessed his death.

I know that when I am going through difficult times, I often like to reflect upon the witnesses I received at the outset. For example, no matter what happens in my life, I know that Martin and I were right for each other. When trials come, as they do in all lives, I am grateful that I know I made the right choice. It strengthens me to continue with faith in the Lord and his plan.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Matthew 1, Luke 1; Living the Unexpected Life to Glorify God

We received some devastating news this past week. May brother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. Not just cancer, but liver cancer! His wife had cancer about 7 1/2 years ago and went through aggressive chemotherapy for over two years. She survived, but has never fully recovered physically from the devastating effects of the poison in her body. Now their family has to face this again! This was not how they expected their lives to turn out.

All this was on my mind as I prepared and then taught my Sunday School lesson today. As I thought about Zacharias, Elizabeth, Joseph, and Mary, I couldn't help but think about how most likely their lives turned out not to be not what they expected them to be.

Certainly Elizabeth and Zacharias planned on having children when they were first married. As the years passed, I can only imagine the loneliness and struggle. For a woman not to have children was actually shameful in the eyes of the community. As if it was her choice to begin with? Then to have an angel appear to Zacharias, a minor priest of the temple. Wow. I think I can say for certain that was not expected!

Mary didn't expect the angel Gabriel to visit her. She was awe-struck at the angel's message. She wasn't expecting her common life to become one where people praised her for generations to come. At the same time, all of her hopes for raising a family were changed when she realized that she was going to raise the Messiah.

And can you imagine what Joseph felt? We know from the account in Matthew that he definitely was not expecting his betrothed to bear a child by someone else! Then can you imagine the weight of responsibility in raising and teaching the Messiah!

All four of these people didn't expect their lives to be what they were, yet they fulfilled their callings. Their whole efforts were one of glorifying God and living a life dedicated to fulfilling his plan. It kind of reminds me of the man born blind whom Jesus healed. Christ said he was born blind not because of sin but so that the glory of God might be made manifest.

How I live my life; what I do with the unexpected events; how I turn to God and use these event to build his king --that is the great quest.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Between the Testaments--Key Changes in Leadership

Because of the historical events that took place during the inter-tastemental period, there were some key changes that took place in the culture of Israel, especially a new class of Jewish leaders.

Governor: The governor, or prefect, was a political appointee of Rome over a smaller Roman province. The governor was directly accountable to Rome, yet he could rule his province without interference from Rome. The prefect was appointed from the class of Romans that would be compared to medieval knights. Their army was formed by the gentiles who lived in the area under their rule. For major uprisings, they could call up Caesar for extra military help. Pontius Pilate was one of these governors.

Client-King: Herod was a client-king. He was king of Israel, but he was not independent. He was given ruling authority and could basically do whatever he wanted, as long as he kept good relations with Rome.

High Priest: Formerly was a descendant of Aaron and the religious leader. This was the person who was basically the "president of the church." When Christ was born, the high priest was now appointed by Roman leaders. He still held the highest religious position.

Sadducees: This group of leaders most likely came from the old families of the high priests who came to power during the Maccabean period. They were the aristocracy of the Jews. Because they were both priests and wealthy, they had a lot of power.

Pharisees: This group of leaders came from the common people. They disliked the Romans and gentiles. Their emphasis was on the law, which they followed strictly. The oral law was derived from the Pharisees.

Scribes: In the Old Testament, scribes were a political position in court. After Ezra, scribes became teachers of the law. But not only were they teachers, they were also the interpreters of the law. This gave them a lot of power over the people. Most scribes were Pharisees.

Sources: Bible Dictionary; Black, 2010; Brown, 2002

Monday, January 3, 2011

Between the Testaments--Part 2, Rest of Historical Timeline

After Ezra, the Bible doesn't record much of what happened until the birth of Christ. It is this period between the testaments that major political and cultural changes occur. These changes have profound impact on the Israel that Christ lived in.

No longer did they have the problem of the Old Testament: the Israelites kept incorporating the traditions, worship practices, and beliefs of the Pagan nations causing them to forsake their own God. On the other hand, in the New Testament, the problem was the opposite. They finally got the message that foreign Gods and religions were bad. Therefore, they closed themselves off and became a people who were regimented and overly structured in the Law.

As mentioned in the last post, these changes started with Ezra and his reforms. The succeeding 400 years also had great impact on the Jews.

330 BC Alexander the Great conquered the Middle East, including Palestine. His rule began the Hellenization of Israel. During this time, many Jews migrated to Alexandria, Egypt. The Jews living there formed a large community and were highly respected. As they lived in Alexandria, though, they lost their proficiency in Hebrew. They transcribed their records into Greek. Actually, the earliest record we have of our canonized Bible is the Septuagint, which is the record of these Jews written in Greek.

330-175 BC Many different Roman rulers came and went. Some were more tolerant than others of the Jews and their religious traditions.

175 BC Antiochus Epiphanes ruled. He acted like he was Diety and was a strong believer in the Greek religious worship. He made the Jews abandon their own religious traditions and forced them to participate in the Greek traditions. There were alters built to Zeus on the temple mount, conducted pagan sacrifices, and the Jews were even forced to eat Pork, which if they didn't, they were killed.

163-142 BC It was at this time that the Maccabean Wars began. Mattathias Maccabee was the father of five sons. He refused to participate in a Pagan sacrifice and revolted. His sons followed and they set up a war cry for the Jews to follow. Over time, many did. Matthathias died and his sons took over. They continued fighting against the Greeks until in 142 BC they had finally won political independence for the first time in decades.

It was during these wars that festival Hannukkah was established. The leaders wanted to burn the traditional candles sticks at the temple. However, there was only enough holy oil left to burn for one day. The oil burned for eight! Thus, the eight days of Hannukkah were established.

142-63 BC During the succeeding years, the house of the Maccabees, known as the Hasmoneans, ruled Israel. They also became the High Priests, the first time the high priests were not in the family of Eleazar, who was Aaron's son. During the reign of the Maccabees, the high priests were also the political rulers of Israel. The high priests were from the Hasmonean family until the Roman rule where they high priest then appointed by Roman leaders.

63 BC During the Maccabean rule, the leaders had often sought alliances with Rome. In 63 AD, there were two members of the Hasmonean family who both vied to be the succeeding ruler of Israel. During the civil war that ensued, they both ended up seeking alliance from Rome. This opened the way for the invasion of Pompey, which ended the independent status of the nation of Israel and put them under Roman rule.

Sources: Bible Dictionary; Black, 2010; Brown, 2002

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Between the Testaments--Beginning with Return to Jerusalem

I was assigned to teach the first lesson this year on the New Testament. The lesson manual started with John 1 and Isaiah 61:1-3. This material excited me! But as I started to study, I couldn't quite pull it together. As I studied, I began to feel the need to devote about half of my lesson relating what happened between Malachi and Matthew.

Understanding this bit of history is critical to understanding the New Testament. The Old Testament and New Testament are two very different books with completely different styles, messages, narratives. For example, the Old Testament talks about a jealous God full of vengeance, while the God of the New Testament is full of love, mercy and compassion.

I pulled out a book I have written by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel called Between the Testaments. I was fascinated. (Later I found a great Ensign article called "Judah Between the Testaments that would be worth reading.)

The End of Captivity

The intertestamental period actually started before the Old Testament ended with the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon.

586 BC: Jews taken captive to Babylon. the temple destroyed and many sacred artifacts carried away to Babylon.

537 BC: Cyrus decrees the return of the Jews. He also sends back many sacred artifacts for the temple.

536-516 BC: Temple is rebuilt and many Jews return. Efforts are led by two individuals named Jerubbabel (which means from Babylon) and Jeshua (which means the Lord saveth). Jeshua happens to be the same name of Jesus. I find it symbolic that the restoration was led by two with those names.

The Samaritans were excluded from building the temple because they had inter-married with those of the pagan nations. They had broken their covenants with the Lord. They resented the exclusion. This was the beginning, as near as I can tell, of the contention between the Jews and Samaritans that was prevalent during the life of the Savior.

444 BC: Nehemiah is the governor of Israel. Under his direction the walls of the city are rebuilt. The Samaritans were again excluded; hence, they strove to stop the work of rebuilding the walls.

Reforms of Ezra

428 BC: Ezra was in Jerusalem. He was a scribe in the Babylonian king's court. A scribe was a court official, kind of like a secretary of state. When Ezra came to Jerusalem, he introduced religion reforms. Ezra read the scriptures to the people in their own language. At this time they spoke Aramaic, so Ezra had to translate the scriptures for them. Most of the Jews at this time had never had the scriptures read to them before because they spent their days in captivity.

Not only did Ezra read the scriptures and interpret them for the people, he also led the way in living the reforms. One of the problems the Jews had was marrying "foreign" wives, or wives outside of the covenant. Ezra encouraged the people to separate themselves from their foreign wives and leave them. Ezra led by example and was the first to perform this act and comply with the Law.

It was at this time that the position of scribe began to change. Ezra was a scribe, and he was the leader in interpreting the scriptures for the Jews. Thus, scribes became teachers of the law. In addition, because of Ezra and these reformation efforts, the people's hearts were turned to the Law as never before. They began to focus more on keeping the Law than on the covenant that the law led them to. Great implications for the New Testament times!

In addition, one of the reforms that came about during this time dealt with taxes. The Jews despised paying taxes to a "foreign" government--one that was not of their faith. Those who were privileged to work at the temple, the priests, became exempt from paying foreign taxes while the rest of the Jews still had to. This set the stage for the priests to become rich.

Sources: Bible Dictionary; Black, 2010; Brown, 2002

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Blog, An Attempt to Share the Gospel

A few years ago, Elder Ballard wrote an article for the Ensign encouraging the members to start using the internet to spread the Gospel by doing things such as writing blogs about the Church, etc.

In an effort to follow that council, I decided to create a scripture study blog. I would love for you to follow this blog and make comments if you would like. In addition please feel free to share it with others who may find it edifying and help to strengthen their love of the Savior.