Monday, January 26, 2015

A Look at Faith

Yesterday I spoke at Church. This happens sometimes. I don't normally share my religious side on here, but in the spirit of this new year, here is what I wrote (and then read) at church on Sunday:

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Last week a friend of mine told me this story. Back when he used to work at a book store, he asked a female coworker who she thought was the most influential fictional character is on American society. Without giving any time for thought, she responded: “The Jesus, of course.”
At first, I laughed when I heard this story, because I’d never even consider Jesus being a fictional character before. He has been a part of the history I’ve grown up with since I can remember. But since hearing that story, I’ve wondered how someone could believe He is merely a piece of fiction. A figure that is well known by most of the modern world as a good person and moral teacher, and although He may not be accepted as Lord and Savior, He is at least accepted as real. The more I thought about a fictitious nativity for Jesus, the more I started to see from this woman’s point of view; there is so little we really know about Jesus and His life. For a man who is supposed to be the Savior, almost nothing is known about Him. 
So to get at the heart of Jesus’ life, I went to James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ, since that seems to be the ultimate source of everything Jesus in the entire Mormon canon. I had yet to read it, only having been told it’s amazing. But, turns out that book’s over 700 pages long, so there was no way I was going to read it. I figured I could go with the next best thing: the Bible Dictionary. This is what is says about CHRIST:

Jesus, who is called Christ, is the firstborn of the Father in the spirit and the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. He is Jehovah and was foreordained to His great calling in the Grand Councils before the world was. He was born of Mary at Bethlehem, lived a sinless life, and wrought out a perfect atonement for all mankind by the shedding of His blood and His death on the cross. He rose from the grave and brought to pass the bodily resurrection of every living thing and the salvation and exaltation of the faithful. He is the greatest Being to be born on this earth—the perfect example—and all religious things should be done in His name. He will come again in power and glory to dwell on the earth and will stand as Judge of all mankind at the last day.

That’s it. Along with a list of other monikers He is known by. Although it eliminates a lot of the minutiae, this entirely summarizes all that we know from scripture about Jesus and His life. Include the modern revelations of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, still what I know about Jesus is limited to the three years of His ministry, and most of that is limited to second hand accounts of lessons He taught recorded by the apostles. I know nothing about the first 30 years of His life after His birth.
To be honest, I know more about the lives of Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, and Luke Skywalker than I know about the life of Jesus. I know more about most fictional characters in books and movies than I do about Jesus. I even know more about the characters that I write than I do about Jesus sometimes. And I’m willing to bet most of you know more about fictional characters than you do about Jesus. I think most people do. It’s easy, really, there is so much information in this world about that which is not real, that which is untrue; it’s easy to know all about Emma Swan or Sherlock or Hobbits, because it’s everywhere. But Jesus, there is so little known about Him. The only record we have of His life is the New Testament and a few chapters in the Book of Mormon, and those are only biographical sources. We have nothing recorded by Jesus during his 33 years of mortality. With so little information, it makes since why someone might think Jesus is a fictional character, why someone wouldn’t believe in Him as Lord and Savior, why they would not have Faith in Jesus Christ.
But what if we lived during Jesus’ time, or He lived out His mortal ministry during our time, would we believe in Him, would we have faith in Him? Would having his physical body in front of us convince us of His divinity? Would that woman change her view of Jesus as a fictional character? Would the rest of the world believe in Him and have faith?

Near the beginning of the book of John, Jesus discusses baptism with Nicodemus, but the concept of being born again, being born of water and of the spirit proves to be too difficult for Nicodemus to understand. Jesus says (John 3: 7-12):

7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

Nicodemus stood face to face with Jesus, was able to ask him direct questions, but when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of eternity, of the power of the spirit, Nicodemus could not understand, leading him not to believe the words spoken to him, and to not believe in Jesus. Although Nicodemus could not deny the physical tangibility of Jesus standing in front of him, he could deny everything else about Jesus and His teachings.
Do we ever choose not believe in an aspect of the Gospel because we do not understand it? Do we choose to ignore the words of the Lord’s prophets because they are confusing or outdated? Do we, like Nicodemus, choose at times to not believe in Jesus?

On one of the occasions when Jesus was outside the temple, a group of Jews surrounded Him and asked (John 10: 24-39):

24 How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.
25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.
26 But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.
30 I and my Father are one.
31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.
32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
37 If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.
38 But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.
39 Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand.

I have no doubt the Jews who questioned Jesus didn’t want to know any truth about Him, nor did they believe Him to be the Messiah. Their question was a means by which to trap Jesus in what they considered blasphemy, so they might rid Israel of the man who denounced their wicked ways. But like Nicodemus, even with solid evidence given to these Jews by Jesus of His divine nature and calling, they still refused to believe in Him. Though He be a tangible creature of flesh and blood, they believed nothing else about Him. They even denied their own scripture when quoted by Him. Like Nicodemus, they did not understand, and chose not to believe.  

After Jesus performed the Atonement and was betrayed by Judas, the following morning the Sanhedran and chief priests of the church questioned Him (Luke 22: 67):

67 Art thou the Christ? tell us. And he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe.

With Jesus standing in front of them, and the elders of the church asking him directly if he was the Christ, although mocking, they still would not believe Him. No matter what He did as proof of His divine nature and calling, the Jews would not believe. While Jesus hung on the cross, even then the people who watched his suffering did not believe in Him (Matthew 27: 39-42):

39 And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,
40 And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
41 Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,
42 He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.

But Jesus did no such thing. And even if He had, they still would not have believed in Him, or His word. His flesh alone was not even enough for them.
Lastly, after Jesus was crucified, lay in the tomb for three days, and then rose again on the third, still some did not believe, even those closest to Him (John 20: 24-29).

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Thomas, who was an apostle, knew the other apostles, who walked with them, taught with them, watched Jesus perform miracles, when they told him that Jesus had risen, he did not believe. Even though Jesus prophesied to the apostles about his death and resurrection, even though Thomas knew that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, even though he knew Jesus on a personal level, he still did not believe.

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

That is what it means to have Faith in Jesus Christ. Thomas would not believe that Jesus had risen from the tomb until he saw Jesus and touched the prints in His hands and the wound in His side. Only when Thomas received that physical manifestation that Jesus had in fact risen from the grave, only then did he believe. And how easy it must have been for him to believe. To have Jesus standing before him, clothed in white, perfected and whole. It would have been impossible for Thomas to doubt then and there that Jesus was the Son of God.
We, unfortunately, do not have that luxury. At least I know I don’t. I have not seen Jesus, nor do I expect to in this life. But I believe that Jesus lived. I believe that He was born of the Virgin Mary, that He performed the miracles recorded in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. I believe that he performed the Atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane, died on the cross on Golgotha, and rose out of Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb after three days. I believe that Jesus is not a fictional character, but the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh. That is what faith in Jesus Christ is. It is believing that He actually lived, that He is real, and that He still lives.

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