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This is lesson material studied April 1-14.
In Jesus’s teachings, the land of Israel itself becomes his visual aid. That is nowhere more evident than in the teachings he gives in Caesarea Philippi about the rock on which His Church will be built. Learn about that this week as well as the profound answer the Pharisees got who were seeking a sign.
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Welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me Podcast! We are Scot and Maurine Proctor and are so happy to be with you again this week and to study with you these most important truths from the New Testament. We are so blessed to have the scriptures and we are even more blessed to be able to study them every day.
We are grateful to Paul Cardall who provides that music that opens and closes this Podcast.
This week’s lesson is taken from parts of Matthew, Chapters 16 and 17; Mark Chapters 8 and 9 and Luke Chapter 9. The lesson is entitled “Thou Art the Christ.”
Let’s begin our discussion this week with a paragraph from the lesson and then a comment. Here’s the paragraph:
Isn’t it strange that the Pharisees and Sadducees would demand that Jesus show them “a sign from heaven”? Weren’t His many well-known miracles enough? What about His powerful teachings or the multiple ways He had fulfilled ancient prophecies? Their demand was prompted not by a lack of signs but by an unwillingness to “discern the signs” and accept them. (See Matthew 16:1–4.)
It struck us as we were reading that paragraph that Jesus Himself was the sign! Remember what the Prophet Isaiah had said in Chapter 7:
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
Remember what Immanuel means in the
Hebrew? God with us. Jesus Himself was the sign from the Father,
as John recorded: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten
Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting
life.” (John 3:16)
Jesus was the epitome of signs, the great sign from the heavens, that God does not forget His children. He sent His only begotten Son to let His children know that He loves them—and that Chosen Son would be the sign of His love.
Spirit of Prophecy
Let us lay down one more truth as we begin this lesson—and that is from the teachings of John the Beloved and Paul the Apostle: “…for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” and “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)
In other words: To know that Jesus Christ is the Holy One of Israel, the Only Begotten of the Father, the Messiah—we can only know that—absolutely know that truth by the revelation given us by the Holy Ghost.
If you already have that witness, which most of you do have, bear it to your family—this will immediately invite the Spirit into you home. If you have a spouse or a family member who is not of our faith or is struggling, bear your testimony of the Savior to them with love—this can do nothing but invite the sweetness of the Spirit into your home and into their hearts. They will feel the love of the Savior and your love and you can’t help but benefit.
This testimony that you have will truly bless all members of your household.
This testimony plays into our lesson this week.
We have this amazing wonderful what I would call “a snippet of a scene” at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus is there with his apostles. They have been out preaching the gospel. They are gathered here at this specific location and He wants to get a report from them. We will talk about what He asked them in a minute, but you can’t fully understand the impact of these verses unless you understand the geographic setting. Let’s talk about the setting.
Israel is a very dry country—especially in the south and the east. But, here in the North, at Caesarea Philippi, it is verdant and green. This ancient city sits right at the base of Mount Hermon, the highest mountain in the area at 9,232 feet. This mountain usually has snow year-round and that snow melts into the mountain and into deep, subterranean caverns. The water then comes out in three major springs here in the north—Dan (named after the tribe of Dan), Chatsbani or Snir, and Banias. These three springs flow in the Chula Valley and become one river—the Yardein (or Jordan) River. This name means “coming down from Dan.”
Here at Caesarea Philippi is the beautiful Banias Springs—a great waterfall that flows out and forms a crystal-clear river. Water in a dessert is life. We always take our tours to see this Banias Springs because they are so impressive and remind one of living waters.
The original name of this river would have been Panias—but the Arabs don’t use the “P” sound, so it is Banias. This was named after the Greek god Pan.
At the site, near where Jesus would have been getting the report from the apostles was the city of Caesarea Philippi and in that city, right up against a 100-foot solid rock cliff face and a larger cave or cavern was a pagan temple built to this idol god Pan. Earlier in its history this city would have been a center of worship for the god Baal. In the time of Jesus there were detestable rituals and sexual orgies and rites going on at this temple—things that would have been so abhorrent to Jesus and His disciples.
The locals considered the great cavern where water flowed out voluminously as one of the gates of Hades or the gates of hell. They believed that their idol gods would retreat into the cavern and into the underworld here during the winter and then they would come out in the spring—about the time the snows of Mt. Hermon were melting and the increase of water flow would be so evident. They made sacrifices to their idol gods at this cavern and many believed their livelihood, their flocks and herds, the blessings of their families were all given based on these gates of hell.
And one more interesting detail is this 100-foot-high bedrock face below which the water would flow out (by the way—an earthquake in the nineteenth century changed the flow of the river to the nearby waterfalls instead of coming directly out from the cavern).
This rock face, called “petra” in the Greek plays into the story.
Now, back to that snippet we have of Christ and His apostles here:
You can follow along in your scriptures. We’re in Matthew 16, verses 13-19.
13 ¶ When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist (remember John the Baptist has been beheaded and some thought he had come back to life): some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Now remember what you’re seeing here: The pagan temple to Pan, a large cavern where all the locals considered this the very gates of hell, this very worldly city with people worshipping false gods, a large bedrock 100-foot cliff face, and a very large volume of water flowing out from underneath this cliff.
17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
In other words, Peter did not learn from other men or women that this Man was the Messiah—it was reveled to Peter, by revelation from Heavenly Father.
18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon
this rock I will build my church; and the gates
of hell shall not prevail against it.
The Lord first calls him Simon, son of Jona. Jona (yona) in the Hebrew means “dove” and the Lord may not have just reminded Simon of his earthly father’s name—but it could also be a word play. Jona, meaning dove, also reminds us of the Holy Spirit that came in the form of a dove that descended upon Jesus at His baptism.
Then He specifically calls him Peter—or Petros—which means a small stone or pebble.
Again, picture that bedrock cliff with a large volume of water flowing out of it, “upon this rock—here is the word Petra—bedrock—I will build my church. This symbol of bedrock and living water flowing from it—is the perfect symbol of revelation. And, of course, the Lord would say, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” There is that cavern and the place the locals fear—the very entrance to the underworld—and Christ emphasizes that Satan will not prevail over His Church. And to assure that, he then says in verse 19:
19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Now, Peter will be given these priesthood keys (just as Joseph Smith in our day)—and this will happen soon after this scene. We’ll talk about that in a couple of minutes.
Does this all make more sense to you now? The image we used to illustrate this week’s Podcast is of that bedrock cliff there at Caesarea Philippi.
What if the Savior asked us today, “Whom do you say that I am?” What would be our answer?
The Savior has more than 100 names given to Him in the scriptures—each of which captures some part of His mission as Savior and Redeemer.
How would you answer that question?
Time Magazine explored this question some years ago, trying to determine who Jesus really was. From author Richard Ostling we read:
In the U.S., conservative Christians are outraged by a self-appointed supreme court of professors known as the Jesus Seminar, which meets twice a year to cast ballots on whether each of the Master’s New Testament sayings is authentic or not. Sample conclusion: Jesus did say “Blessed are the poor” but not “Blessed are the meek” or “Blessed are the peacemakers,” phrases that, the group contends, were added by the Gospel authors in an echo of Old Testament writings.
“The attempt by modern scholars to ferret out the real, historical Nazarene from the supposedly embellished accounts in the Bible — a process known as the historical-critical method, or “higher criticism” — has resulted in some rather unorthodox notions.
A current sampling (the article goes on):
— Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah. Such assertions represent the church’s later belief, which Gospel writers inserted into the life of Christ.
— When Jesus said he was the “Son of God,” he did not mean to be taken literally. New Testament language of this kind, as in referring to Jesus as the “Lamb” or “Word” of God, is metaphorical.
— Some portions of the Gospel of Thomas, a text that church authorities have always considered spurious, are earlier and more authentic than the four New Testament Gospels.
— Jesus never uttered any of the numerous denunciations of the Pharisees found in the New Testament. These sentiments were put in Jesus’ mouth by 1st century church writers who considered the Pharisees their competition.
— Jesus may have been crucified by mistake. History suggests that the Romans regularly rounded up dissidents and executed them without trial. Jesus may “accidentally” have been caught in one of these periodic sweeps, suggests the Rev. Burton Mack, a Presbyterian at the School of Theology at Claremont, Calif. “Maybe he was trying out one of his kingdom of God ideas in the company of some boisterous Galileans — a bad idea at that time.” (Time Magazine, Sunday, June 24, 2001)
In the secular and even religious world since then, the view of Jesus has diminished even further—some even question if He ever existed.
Isn’t it wonderful that we live in an age where the Lord has sent yet another Testament of Jesus Christ in The Book of Mormon, the voice of Jesus Christ in the Doctrine and Covenants and living witnesses of the resurrected Christ in the Apostles and Prophets!
We would say with Peter, “Thou art the Christ! The Son of the Living God!”
Mount of Transfiguration
Just six days after this interaction with the Savior at Caesarea Philippi, the Lord took His senior apostles, Peter, James and John to “an high mountain apart,” to what is called the Mount of Transfiguration.
Some feel this was right there at Mt. Hermon—the 9,232 foot peak in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi. Others feel it was Mount Tabor, a single mountain that rises above the Jezreel Valley floor as a prominence of nearly 1,500 feet. Our purpose here is not to convince you of either mountain, but to testify of what happened there.
Let’s read together in Matthew 17 verses 1-9.
1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
[please note a pattern here: The Lord’s revelations are often given on mountains apart, in a wilderness place. A temple is a type of a mountain and there is always an ascension in the temple to finally reach the presence of God.]
2 And [Jesus] was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the
sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
[an interesting footnote here is that when witnesses of heavenly manifestations try to describe those experiences they often have to revert to similes, metaphors and comparisons—they just don’t have the words, like: “His face did shine as the sun,” and “His raiment was white as the light.” Joseph Smith said of Jesus Christ: “His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters.” (D&C 110: 3)
Please note the people who are here: Jesus. Moses. And Elias (that’s the Greek name for Elijah). Both Moses and Elijah were taken from the earth, or transfigured, without tasting of death—and it was for this very hour on the Mount of Transfiguration. Make no mistake: They laid physical hands on Peter, James and John and gave them the keys of the Priesthood that they held—the keys of the gathering of Israel and the keys of turning the hearts of the children to their fathers and the hearts of the fathers to their children. These priesthood keys are essential for the work of the Lord to move forward on earth.
4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
6 And when the disciples heard it,they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
Now, question: Do we have the full account of the Mount of Transfiguration? A resounding NO!
What is the most basic and wonderful thing that happened here?
Peter, James and John received Priesthood Keys, by the laying on of hands, from Moses and Elijah—so that the work could continue after the death and resurrection of Christ.
Of course, in Jewish tradition, Elijah would one day return at Passover. And has he returned? A resounding YES!
In Kirtland, Ohio, in the newly dedicated Temple, Moses, another Elias and Elijah returned at Passover, on Sunday, April 3, 1836 and laid their hands upon the heads of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and gave them those priesthood keys.
We have a most interesting promise, by the way, in the Doctrine and Covenants—with a little insight into more of what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration:’’
D&C 63: 20 and 21:
20 “Nevertheless, he that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come;
21 When the earth shall be transfigured, even according to the pattern which was shown unto mine apostles upon the mount; of which account the fulness ye have not yet received.
Now that is exciting and mysterious! That’s kind of like when Amulek, in the Book of Mormon, is introducing himself and he refers to one of his well-known ancestors, Aminadi “and it was that same Aminadi who interpreted the writing which was upon the wall of the temple, which was written by the finger of God.” He gives us a story we know nothing about, but was clearly well-known among the Nephites.
Obviously, the fullness of the account of the Mount of Transfiguration is yet to come forth and we will be excited to read and study it some day!
This whole lesson this week really is about priesthood keys. Keys are different than just the priesthood. It is so important that we understand this. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained it this way:
“There is a difference between receiving an office in the priesthood and in receiving the keys of the priesthood. This we should clearly understand. …
all men hold the priesthood who are ordained to any office, yet there are
special, or directing, authorities, bestowed upon those who are called to
preside. These authorities are called keys.
“[Priesthood] keys are the right of presidency; they are the power and authority to govern and direct all of the Lord’s affairs on earth. Those who hold them have power to govern and control the manner in which all others may serve in the priesthood.7
When men are commissioned by the one who holds these keys, then their acts are valid. That which they do is sealed and ratified in the Church both on earth and in the heavens.”(Teachings of the Presidents, Joseph Fielding Smith, Chapter 11, pp. 153-154.)
Accordingly, anyone who is a sealer in the temple has to be given those keys through the Prophet or someone designated by the Prophet to extend those keys.
Anyone who is baptized must do so under the direction of one who holds the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood—and that is the Bishop or the Branch President.
There are only four men in a ward organization who hold priesthood keys: The Bishop or Branch President, the Elders Quorum President, the Teachers Quorum President and the Deacons Quorum President. In all cases these are quorum presidents—including the bishop who is president of the priests quorum.
And of course the President and Prophet of the Church actively exercises all priesthood keys—and we are asked to sustain him in that exercise. You remember one of the Temple recommend questions:
“Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?”
This sustaining of the prophet gives us great promises. We have read this before but it’s worth repeating here:
We’re reading from Section 21 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 5 and 6:
“For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.
“For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.” (D&C 21: 5, 6)
I want those promises in my life! And in our lives as a family!
We were in Rome for the dedication of the temple there. And, as you know, the First Presidency and the entire Quorum of the Twelve Apostle gathered there. One of the photographs that was taken during that gathering was of President Russell M. Nelson, standing by the statue of Peter, who is depicted as holding the keys in his hand. President Nelson is, right now, the living prophet who holds and exercises all those keys.
Seeking Greater Faith
As we come to the last part of this lesson we can’t miss talking about this tender scene in Mark Chapter 9, verses 14-29. I believe we are all in various places in our lives where faith has to be exercised, sometimes it takes a little faith, sometimes a lot—and sometimes we are presented with challenges and opportunities that may seem to be overwhelming to our faith. Such is the case in this story in Mark. Let’s read this together:
14 ¶ And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.
15 And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him.
16 And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them?
17 And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit;
18 And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.
19 He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.
20 And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.
21 And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child.
22 And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.
24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
We have to stop at this point. This man is desperate: “If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.” Isn’t that so very tender?
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland centered one of his conference talks on
this very story:
“This man’s initial conviction, by his own admission, is limited. But he has an urgent, emphatic desire in behalf of his only child. We are told that is good enough for a beginning. “Even if ye can no more than desire to believe,” Alma declares, “let this desire work in you, even until ye believe.” With no other hope remaining, this father asserts what faith he has and pleads with the Savior of the world, “If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.” I can hardly read those words without weeping. The plural pronoun us is obviously used intentionally. This man is saying, in effect, “Our whole family is pleading. Our struggle never ceases. We are exhausted. Our son falls into the water. He falls into the fire. He is continually in danger, and we are continually afraid. We don’t know where else to turn. Can you help us? We will be grateful for anything—a partial blessing, a glimmer of hope, some small lifting of the burden carried by this boy’s mother every day of her life.”
“If thou canst do any thing,” spoken by the father, comes back to him “If thou canst believe,” spoken by the Master.4
“Straightway,” the scripture says—not slowly nor skeptically nor cynically but “straightway”—the father cries out in his unvarnished parental pain, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” In response to new and still partial faith, Jesus heals the boy, almost literally raising him from the dead, as Mark describes the incident.”
R. Holland, “Lord, I
What a view of this marvelous Son of God! What a scene of His compassion on this family—and thus and our own families! What a scene to recall again and again as we cry out to the Lord in our own limitations and fears, “Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.”
How do we strengthen our own faith?
Scot, what have we done over the years that has helped us so much?
We have a list of faith scriptures that we have memorized or are constantly memorizing that help us and strengthen us. We used to have 30 of them—now we have 43 core scriptures we memorize. And I want to testify that as we have made these scriptures a part of our minds and spirits, they really help us in times of need.
I love this one from the Prophet Jacob in Chapter 4 verse 6 (and as you listen to this you can feel the faith surge in your spirit):
Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.”
Oh, and I love this one from John chapter 15, verse 5:
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
And, of course, I love Moroni 7:33:
And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.
These are the kinds of scriptures on our list of 43. Memorizing them over the last 30 plus years has really blessed and strengthened our faith.
If you would like to have our list, drop us an email to [email protected] and I will send you out own faith scriptures list. And, of course, you can make your own list of the faith scriptures that move you
Now, we encourage you during General Conference to listen for all the things that are said that will strengthen your own faith and testimony.
Thanks for joining us! We have loved being with you. Please don’t forget our assignment for you to share this with 3 of your family members or friends. Just tell them to go to latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast
The following lesson will be a special one on Easter entitled: “O Grave, Where is thy Victory?”
Until next time, see you later and have a great couple of weeks.