In my estimation, today I am writing about some of the most tender passages found within all of the scriptures. Why are they so tender? Because as you read them, you can can’t help but feel the love of the Lord Jesus Christ as he ministered to the Nephites. Then, as we feel that love, and the Holy Ghost witnesses to us that Christ has that same love for you and me, we will immediately have a greater desire to exercise faith in Christ and follow him.
Let’s recap what we have learned so far about what happened on the day the Savior appeared to the Nephites at the temple in Bountiful.
First, they had heard the voice of God the Father introduce His Beloved Son to them and were commanded to listen to Him. Then, Christ descended out of heaven and stood among them. He announced that he was the promised Messiah and had atoned for their sins.
Next, one-by-one, all 2500 Nephites approached him and received the token of the atonement by thrusting their hands into his side and feeling the prints of the nails in his hands and feet and thereby gained a perfect knowledge that he was who he said he was. If each person took 10 seconds to do this, it would have taken 7 hours. Then, they all fell down and worshiped him.
He then called twelve disciples and appointed Nephi to be their leader, he then gave them authority to baptize and teach the Law of the Gospel. He then explained that he fulfilled the Law of Sacrifice which ended the obligation under the Law of Moses to offer up animal sacrifices.
He then gave the people new laws, higher laws, which if dutifully followed, would consecrate and sanctify the saints until they became perfected like Christ. This blueprint of perfection was recorded in the New Testament as The Sermon on the Mount. In the Book of Mormon it is known as the Sermon at the Temple Mount in Bountiful. And it is wholly appropriate that it was given at the temple, as we shall see.
The Lord then taught the people how to pray and how to be charitable. He commanded the twelve disciples how to go out and teach others what they had seen and heard. He commands the people not to judge, to always ask of God, and how to beware of false prophets.
Finally, he wraps up by telling the people how they are some of the sheep that he shepherds, but that there are still other sheep that he also needs to visit, so he will now need to leave and return to Heavenly Father and report on his mission to the Nephites and await further instructions.
But then something changes his plans. And that is where we will start today’s reading. Let’s look at chapter 17 of Third Nephi.
3 Nephi 17
1 Behold, now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked round about again on the multitude, and he said unto them: Behold, my time is at hand.
2 I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.
3 Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.
Notice the pattern? If we are spiritually weak, or if we can’t understand the teachings of the Lord in the scriptures, or the teaching of his representatives from conference, or the teachings in the temple, then we are commanded to go home with your families, ponder, meditate, and consider the things we were taught, pray for understanding, and prepare our hearts and minds for further instructions, because the Lord will always come back and teach those who are willing to listen. But we have to make some real effort to process the information and then return over and over again to learn some more.
4 But now I go unto the Father, and also to show myself unto the lost tribes of Israel, for they are not lost unto the Father, for he knoweth whither he hath taken them.
5 And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.
6 And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.
Notice that this wasn’t on the agenda. Jesus thought that he needed to leave, but he looked in the faces of the people, he saw their tears, he saw their physical and spiritual condition, and because of his great love for them, he changed his plans. And this is what he said:
7 Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.
8 For I perceive that ye desire that I should show unto you what I have done unto your brethren at Jerusalem, for I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you.
For centuries, the Nephites had been taught about the future role of the Messiah. They knew that he would satisfy the demands of justice by paying the price of sin for others so that they could return to the presence of God. They knew that he make it possible so could receive the priesthood ordinance that would reunited our bodies with our spirits after death so that we could become like God. But they also knew that while he was on earth, he would have so much love for those who exercised even the tiniest amount of faith in him that he would heal them in ways that appeared miraculous.
9 And it came to pass that when he had thus spoken, all the multitude, with one accord, did go forth with their sick and their afflicted, and their lame, and with their blind, and with their dumb, and with all them that were afflicted in any manner; and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him.
10 And they did all, both they who had been healed and they who were whole, bow down at his feet, and did worship him; and as many as could come for the multitude did kiss his feet, insomuch that they did bathe his feet with their tears.
Now, healed of their infirmities and physical limitations, they were now able to behold something with eyes that were once blind and ears that were once deaf, and witness yet something so sacred and so miraculous that they could scarcely describe it.
11 And it came to pass that he commanded that their little children should be brought.
12 So they brought their little children and set them down upon the ground round about him, and Jesus stood in the midst; and the multitude gave way till they had all been brought unto him.
13 And it came to pass that when they had all been brought, and Jesus stood in the midst, he commanded the multitude that they should kneel down upon the ground.
14 And it came to pass that when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel.
What is going on here? They are forming a prayer circle, where the seated children, with their pure hearts and minds, are encircling the Savior with front-row seats. Kneeling behind the children are their families. In this manner, the people are prepared to witness their Savior pray for them and bless them—even though they are part of the wicked house of Israel that is presently troubling the Savior.
Why is he troubled? Because the house of Israel should know better. They know of the covenants. They have received the ordinances. And yet they continually forget their divine potential. They forget they are celestial beings having a telestial experience. They slip and they slide and they foul things up time and time again. So the Savior is going to show us a contrast. He wants to show the people what can happen, what does happen, when we are as pure and as loving as little children. He wants to give us a glimpse of what true joy is really all about.
15 And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him.
16 And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father;
17 And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.
18 And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying unto the Father, he arose; but so great was the joy of the multitude that they were overcome.
19 And it came to pass that Jesus spake unto them, and bade them arise.
20 And they arose from the earth, and he said unto them: Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full.
What brought the Savior joy? The demonstration of faith. As we show our faith, it always brings him joy.
21 And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.
22 And when he had done this he wept again;
23 And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.
24 And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.
25 And the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they know that their record is true for they all of them did see and hear, every man for himself; and they were in number about two thousand and five hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women, and children.
This would make a great stopping point. But the Savor was not yet done for the day. There was still one more ordinance that he wanted to introduce, because this new ordinance would help these people remember the Savior even when he wasn’t in their presence. Because if they participate in this ordinance, and always remember him, and keep his commandments, they would always have the Holy Spirit, the third member of the godhead, to be their constant companion. And we find this ordinance in chapter 19.
3 Nephi 18
If we look carefully, with eyes to see and ears to hear, we will see all sorts things in these beautiful Third Nephi chapters. If they are not actually a temple text, they are certainly a type and shadow of one. For instance, in this chapter, he gives the people a new name—and that name is the name of Christ, which they take upon themselves by way of covenant. And it is associated with an ordinance. At that ordinance is the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, an ordinance that renews whatever covenant we have ever made with God.
In this chapter, after having the 12 disciples fetch bread and wine, he then has the multitude sit down, and he brake it, then blessed it, and gave to his 12 disciples. Then, he had his disciples give it to the multitude. He then repeated this process with the cup of wine down in verse 8 and 9.
Did you notice that we follow this same pattern today? Ever wonder why the presiding authority partakes first? And then his assistants, the Aaronic priesthood, distribute the sacrament to the congregation, except for the organist who sometimes gets left out.
In verses 10 through 16,
10 And when the disciples had done this, Jesus said unto them: Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you.
11 And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name; and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.
12 And I give unto you a commandment that ye shall do these things. And if ye shall always do these things blessed are ye, for ye are built upon my rock.
13 But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them.
14 Therefore blessed are ye if ye shall keep my commandments, which the Father hath commanded me that I should give unto you.
After he finished instituting the ordinance of the sacrament, and has given his leaders instructions on how to perform it in the future, Jesus then turns his attention back to the multitude and teaches them about the protective power of prayer.
18 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.
Notice that it isn’t enough to pray for protection, we also have to be diligent in watching out for temptation. Satan doesn’t want to figuratively destroy us, he wants to literally destroy us. Therefore we must always be on guard and spiritually awake. Remember, this earth is not just inhabited by physical beings. It is also inhabited by a third part of the host of heaven who were cast out of father’s presence for rebellion. These miserable, unembodied minions—maybe I should call them minions because they aren’t yellow, cute, and talk gibberish—these devils hate us, are envious of us, and will try to make us do anything and everything that is not right. If we let them, they can even possess our bodies. Therefore we must pray always so we don’t enter into temptation.
19 Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
It isn’t sufficient to pray to God—even if we call him Buddah, Allah, or Jehovah. We must pray in the name of Jesus Christ. He is our intermediary. He is our advocate, and it is only through him that we may access the Father.
20 And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.
Elder Bruce McConkie wrote:
Proper petitions are always granted. The Lord never rejects a prayer uttered by the power of the Spirit, or denies a petition sought in the name of Christ, that accords with the divine will. (Bruce R. McConkie, New Witness, p. 384; see also D&C 50:29-30.)
And now, one more thing about prayer, Jesus says we need to:
21 Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed.
This is the only place in our scriptures that directly talks about the commandment and blessing of family prayer. And brethren, notice that we should do this so that our wives and our children may be blessed.
Then he commands us to meet together oft—which we have down pat. But he also says we should not forbid anyone from meeting with us, even if they smell of smoke and alcohol and immorality, but pray for them as Jesus prayed for us.
24 Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.
25 And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see; even so shall ye do unto the world; and whosoever breaketh this commandment suffereth himself to be led into temptation.
Then he turns his attention back to his twelve, and gives them one final commandment for the day, which is that they should not allow anyone to unworthily partake of the sacrament if they know they are unworthy to do so. Instead, they should minister to them and pray for them and help them repent and be baptized. If they choose not to repent and be baptized, we still continue to minister and pray for them even though they are not worthy to partake of the sacrament, lest they “drinketh damnation” to their souls.
36 And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of these sayings, he touched with his hand the disciples whom he had chosen, one by one, even until he had touched them all, and spake unto them as he touched them.
37 And the multitude heard not the words which he spake, therefore they did not bear record; but the disciples bare record that he gave them power to give the Holy Ghost. And I will show unto you hereafter that this record is true.
38 And it came to pass that when Jesus had touched them all, there came a cloud and overshadowed the multitude that they could not see Jesus.
39 And while they were overshadowed he departed from them, and ascended into heaven. And the disciples saw and did bear record that he ascended again into heaven.
This was the end of the first day. And what better way to end it then to give the twelve the power to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost. Earlier that day, he gave the twelve the power to baptize with water, which is an Aaronic or Levitical priesthood ordinance. But now, after all they had seen and heard, they are prepared to receive the Melchizedek priesthood and administer the blessed confirmation ordinance—the baptism of fire. Something they would be use tomorrow.
3 Nephi 19
For many, however, this wasn’t the end of the first day. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the people returned to their homes and many families pondered and prayed over what they had seen and experienced. No doubt they were emotionally and physically exhausted. But that didn’t stop an exceedingly great number from spreading the news. Remember, not all of the righteous Nephites were there on the temple grounds that day. So throughout the night, the news of the Lord’s visit was spread across the entire land, and people flocked to Bountiful.
In verse 3 we read:
3 Yea, and even all the night it was noised abroad concerning Jesus; and insomuch did they send forth unto the people that there were many, yea, an exceedingly great number, did labor exceedingly all that night, that they might be on the morrow in the place where Jesus should show himself unto the multitude.
Because of the sheer number of people, perhaps more people than could even fill our 21,000 seat Conference Center, the multitude was divided into twelve bodies, each being led by one of the disciples. There they began teaching was they had been taught. During this meeting, the multitude prayed twice. They then went down to the water’s edge. Nephi went into the water and was baptized. He then baptized each of the twelve.
13 And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
14 And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them.
15 And it came to pass that while the angels were ministering unto the disciples, behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst and ministered unto them.
Jesus asked the multitude to kneel and then commanded the Twelve that they should pray. He then went apart from the rest and began to pray and he prayed that all who believe would receive the Holy Ghost. He returned to the Twelve who continued to pray, then he went apart from the crowd once again and bowed himself in prayer and prayed for the believers. He returned to the Twelve and found them continuing in prayer. Jesus returned to prayer a third time.
Can you imagine how the Savior must have felt about these people? Just a few days ago, over in Jerusalem, Jesus had asked his twelve—with whom he had spent over three years with—to watch and pray with him as he performed the Atonement. But they slept while he prayed. He went back and asked them again. But they couldn’t keep their eyes open. He went back a third time, saw his disciples asleep, and let them sleep on even as his betrayer was approaching Gethsemane.
But now, things were different. These people, these wonderful people, couldn’t sleep at all. They just wanted to spread the good news so that all could come and worship the Savior. Then, once there, they prayed, and listened, and prayed, and listened. And then, they heard the words of the Great Jehovah pray for them.
32 And tongue cannot speak the words which he prayed, neither can be written by man the words which he prayed.
33 And the multitude did hear and do bear record; and their hearts were open and they did understand in their hearts the words which he prayed.
34 Nevertheless, so great and marvelous were the words which he prayed that they cannot be written, neither can they be uttered by man.
35 And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying he came again to the disciples, and said unto them: So great faith have I never seen among all the Jews; wherefore I could not show unto them so great miracles, because of their unbelief.
36 Verily I say unto you, there are none of them that have seen so great things as ye have seen; neither have they heard so great things as ye have heard.
Brothers and sisters, I absolutely love these wonderful chapters. Whenever I am feeling weak, I read them and am completely reinvigorated. Whenever I feel that God can’t possibly love me, I read these words and remember that yes, he can and he does.
You see, years ago as a boy, when I first read these specific chapters on my own, I received my own witness from the Holy Ghost that Jesus is my Savior, that the Book of Mormon is a divine book of scripture and another testament of Jesus Christ, and the prophet Joseph Smith restored the Church of Jesus Christ and all of the covenants and priesthood ordinances which will one day enable us to return to the presence of God if we remain faithful and obedient to the teachings of Jesus.
Decades later, after reading and studying hundreds of books on the these topics, and listening and watching thousands of lessons and sermons and talks on the subject, the Spirit continues to witness to me that it is all very, very true!