24 March 2008

Easter: A Youth Talk

Easter is a special time of year when we think about the life and mission of the Savior; but in order to fully appreciate His life and mission, we must begin with the Old Testament, and the time before He came to earth.

I want to begin with a story in Joshua 4 of the twelve stones. The Israelites were following Joshua into the Promised Land, and Ark of the Covenant had just been taken through the waters of the Jordan River on foot.
5 And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the Lord your God
into the midst of Jordan, and take ye up every man of you a stone upon his
shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel:

6 That this may be a sign among you, that when
your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these
stones?

7 Then ye shall answer them, That the
waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when
it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall
be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.
Think of the fear the Israelites must have felt. These were the people that Moses had led out of Egypt, and Moses had just died. Joshua was their leader now, and his people were no doubt feeling grief and uncertainty—similar to how some of us might have felt when Gordon B. Hinckley died. And to get to the Promised Land—the reason their fathers and grandfathers had been wandering in the desert for forty years—they had to take the Ark of the Covenant over the Jordan River. The Ark was the most important thing any of them possessed; without it, the children of Israel would not be able to repent of their sins. But God gave them the Ark in order to be forgiven of their sins, and He did not take that away from them. He provided a way for the Ark to cross the river. The Lord wanted His people to teach the miracle of the Jordan River to their children, and instructed them to take 12 stones that they might remember the story.

Similarly, in the Book of Mormon, we read of Nephi and his two brothers Laman and Lemuel who were told by their father to retrieve the brass plates from Laban because it contained a history of their ancestors. They asked for the plates, and even offered to pay for them, and Laban bested them each time. Finally they knew they had to break in and take them—which looks an awful lot like stealing, and I’m sure that bothered Nephi because he wants to do what’s right. But the Lord has always taught his people to remember their history because it’s more than names engraved on metal plates, and Lehi’s family could not leave for the American continent without taking their history with them. Nephi and his brothers were able to retrieve their history that they might have their story to teach to their children in a new world.

To be a servant of Heavenly Father, and a follower of Christ, you have to care a lot about stories. And it has been that way for longer than we may realize. Think of David, Jacob, Ruth, Deborah, and all of the Old Testament and Book of Mormon figureheads that relied on stories and traditions to learn about their God. But these traditions and stories also served the generations of others who were never mentioned by name; the people who were never swallowed by a whale, crossed an ocean, or conquered a giant. Instead, they were every-day people who made their faith out of the stories they were taught by their families and tribes. These were the people that lived on promises from Heavenly Father, but died before they ever had a chance to receive them. A few examples include:

In Isaiah 9, the Prophet Isaiah prophesies of the Savior’s birth; and in Isaiah 29, he tells his people about the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the Gospel through Joseph Smith. These are perhaps the most important prophecies to Christendom today, and the people who received the actual promise never got to see them fulfilled in their lives.

In that respect, are they really so different from us today? As Latter-day Saints, we believe in Jesus Christ’s entire ministry, including the time He preached on the American continent—even though we’ve never seen Him with our own eyes. We are preparing for His Second Coming because our prophets have told us that we are in the last dispensation. We are preparing ourselves to be worthy of our full inheritance of Our Father’s kingdom. Like the people of the pre-Christian world, we endure in good faith on a promise. And while that may be our only certainty, our scriptures testify to us again and again that enduring on a promise is not a waste.

We can know this because we have something the peoples of the pre-Christian world never had: access to their stories, plus so many others; including four gospels of the Savior’s life. Do we ever stop to think about how blessed we are for those four books alone? How many people spoken of in the Old Testament would have paid any price to have the words of the Messiah? And when we do not read them, we are not taking advantage of the knowledge that is supposed to help us with our task in this life: the task of writing stories of our own.

In Doctrine and Covenants 76, we read of how those who inherit a Celestial glory, the highest degree of Heaven; “These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all.”

We have been taught by our prophets that our lives—our thoughts and actions—are all being recorded in Heaven, and by those books, our own books of scripture with our names on them, shall our Father judge us, and our Savior redeem us. And in Doctrine & Covenants 127, we learn that these books are bound to us and “whatsoever you bind on earth, may be bound in heaven; whatsoever you loose on earth, may be loosed in heaven.”

Personally, that idea is really daunting for me. There are aspects of my past I don’t WANT bound to me. And then of course, there’s my family—the people I love as much as I can for as long as possible, but we are just too different from each other. We’re lucky if we can go to the movies without being thrown out. What if I just can’t see us being bound to together for eternity?

Our Savior is always there to guide us through even the most private struggles. If we look to those Old Testament promises again, this time in Jeremiah 29, we read the promises God makes the Jews before they’re taken into captivity:
10 For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.
11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
14 And I will be found of you, saith the Lord
If we pray for His help, He will guide us towards the ending of happiness and hope He has helped to prepare for us. He helped the Jews endure their captivity, and He will help us now as we write our own life story. And while we may not always control everything that happens to us, we do have the responsibility to write the parts of the story we do control. We choose the dialogue and actions that develop our character. We choose our friends and the people we trust to influence us in their own ways. But most important of all, we choose whether or not we will include Christ in our lives.

When Christ taught the parable of the ten virgins, He didn’t just tell a cute story about a wedding. He gave us the most chilling admonition—in my opinion—in all of the scriptures. The virgins who do not prepare for the Bridegroom—the coming of Christ—He tells us He is prepared to look them in the eye on that Day of Judgment and say, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not.”

But by studying His life and His ministry, we will learn what we must do to seek Him out. One of my favorite stories about him is in John 8:1-11. Jesus was teaching in the temple, and the Pharisees arrived with a woman who was caught committing adultery.
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
I find it interesting that John would include details like the fact that the Savior continued to write in the sand, even though He knew what the Pharisees were trying to do. Similarly, we will be judged by men and women of the world as we write our stories in the sand. The story continues:
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them,
He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by
their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto
the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but
the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man
condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto
her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
We must have confidence in ourselves and our potential. Have confidence in what the Savior saw in you when He atoned for your sins.
That’s why, in 1 John, we read, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”

We may wonder about our divine potential, and what makes our lives and stories so valuable?

When the Savior atoned for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane, each drop of blood atoned for each and every sin we will ever commit. In each drop are the stories of us all—the sins we will commit as we learn to write our life stories, the mistakes we all inadvertently will make in order to endure through this life. On this occasion, this Easter morning, I invite all of you to remember the promise that was bound to us in His blood. In Isaiah 49, He promised:

Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.

As the author and finisher of faith, Christ has already written His story. Now, He desires more than anything else to help and teach us as we write ours too. Only then do we take upon ourselves the task of Jacob in the Book of Mormon when he said, “Nephi gave me a commandment… that I should write upon these plates a few of the things which I considered to be most precious.”

I pray that we will always include our Savior in all that we write, in all that we live, in all that we are. In this is eternal salvation, but I also testify that His presence blesses us with salvation every day in all the ways we feel His love.

In this I am confident, in His holy name—Jesus Christ. AMEN

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