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I have been thinking about angels again. The Book of Mormon is full of angels: they are mentioned 145 times. 543 citations mention angels in all of the standard works. I love the George Q. Cannon quote below:
Now, this is the truth. We humble people; we who feel ourselves sometimes so worthless, so good‑for‑nothing; we are not so worthless as we think. There is not one of us but what God’s love has been expended upon. There is not one of us that He has not cared for and caressed. There is not one of us that He has not desired to save, and that He has not devised means to save. There is not one of us that He has not given His angels charge concerning. We may be insignificant and contemptible in our own eyes, and in the eyes of others, but the truth remains that we are the children of God, and that He has actually given His angels‑‑invisible beings of power and might‑‑charge concerning us, and they watch over us and have us in their keeping….
Those who otherwise might be thought to be contemptible and unworthy of notice, Jesus says be careful about offending them, for “their angels do always behold the face of my Father” (Matt. 18:10). We are in their charge. They watch over us, and are, to a certain extent, doubtless, responsible for the watchcare that they exercise over us, just as we are responsible for any duty that is assigned us (Collected Discourses, Vol.2, George Q. Cannon, November, 1890).
These reflections blossomed from the time I spent pondering the angels that came to minister to the little ones in 3rd Nephi 17. Did those children all have “their [own] angels”? Why were those celestial beings summoned at that moment to that place? Did they come as teachers? Testifiers? Messengers? Was their presence an added confirmation of the love and concern of the Father and the Son for all of his children in all ages and at all times, or was their mission specialized: an assignment for that time and that place and those people? I do not know the answer, but the momentum of those questions led me to an even more careful examination of 3 Nephi 17.
The following observations grew out of that study.
1) In verse 4, the Savior points out that his plans require him to go to the Father and then to the lost tribes of Israel. Both of those events seem to be significant–the kind of appointments that you place in your planner and then highlight with yellow: 12:30 Visit with Elohim. 2:15 Go see the Lost Tribes.
But he altered his schedule. He looks around at the weeping people and realized that they wanted him to stay and he stayed. I feel a deep gratitude for the insight conveyed by the fact that Jesus restructured his plans. The underlying evidence of his love in this simple act is rich with implication. “You want me near? Then I will stay for a while.”
Do you remember the woman in Mark 5 who touched His clothes? He stopped and asked, “Who touched me?” Peter was astonished at the question? Christ was walking down a narrow road with a great convocation of people, all of whom were anxious to be near Him. “Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?” (Luke 8:45). But in that touch he felt something of the longing of this wonderful woman. He knew of her need: “Who touched me?” Our righteous reaching will always reach Him, or our righteous preparation will permit Him to reach us.
2). He remained to heal the Nephites at the temple: all of them.
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 (3 Nephi 17:7).
We know enough about our own eternal nature to understand that unhealed afflictions are not the worst thing that can happen to us. But they can be painful and discouraging and enduring. Jesus offers to heal any of them who are “afflicted in any manner.” Again I sense the scope of His power. Last night my daughter asked me to help her with some computer work in Excel. Excel? I have never used it. I do not know how it operates. “Sorry,” I told her. “You are shopping at the wrong store.” But can you imagine the Savior saying, “Cancer? Sorry. Anybody have a cold or a hangnail or a headache?” Jeremiah said, “Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee . . .” (Jeremiah 32:17, emphasis added). We cannot imagine the Savior saying, “I have no idea what to do about that!”
If I had been with those gathered in Bountiful, I would have gone to Him with my diabetic sons and my wife to ask for healings. But I would also have taken the young man who lives with us who is more than 30 years old and developmentally disabled. Jesus said he would heal any who were afflicted in any manner, and this young man is afflicted. I would love to meet the real Justin. He=s under there, somewhere.
At a recent stake conference, I noticed on the front row a family including a girl of ten who has palsy and is deaf. Her father held her so that she would not slide off the bench. Their tenderness touched me deeply. When the meeting ended, I motioned for them to come up to me, for they were holding back. The father turned so that I could see Heidi=s face, which was buried into his shoulder, and he said with a smile, AShe=s under there someplace.”
Indeed she is under there someplace. All of them are under there somewhere. (Boyd K. Packer, “The Moving of the Water,” Ensign, May 1991, 8).
3) “I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy” (3 Nephi 17:7). The scriptures mention the compassion of the Savior about fifty times. This cannot be an emotion He turns on and off like a faucet. He always feels compassion. Why else would he weep over the application of the demands of justice and the impending flood in the days of Enoch? Why else would he weep over the pain of Mary and Martha at the death of Lazarus?
And he is “filled with mercy.” That verb, “filled,” must be included here and in other verses to convey something unique about him. It would be impossible for us to engage in behavior or iniquity that would take us into a part of Him where there is no mercy. Mercy is available to any of us who desire it and seek it. He is filled with it! “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy” (Micah 7:18). He delights in mercy because He is full of mercy. But not only mercy: Alma testified with these words: “I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth” (Alma 5:48).
4). He has a great concern and love for little children. My wife in her prayers often pleads for the innocent children who have no mortal protection or defense from abuse or hunger or hatred. Who will care for them if not the Savior? Who will watch over them if not the Savior? If 3 Nephi 17 is an indication, the Lord’s love hovers over them constantly. After the healings he “commanded that their little children should be brought” (3 Nephi 17:11). He then prays for the people with unwritable and unspeakable language. Then “he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them” (3 Nephi 17:21). After this the angels mentioned at the beginning of this article “came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them” (3 Nephi 17:24). The verse of scripture George Q. Cannon quoted above reaffirms this: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).
5). He prayed unto the Father for these people. The standard works show us a Savior “who is [our] advocate with the Father, who is pleading [our] cause before him . . .” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:3). John 17 tells us that he prayed for us among his apostles in the Old World: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:20 – 21). Without knowing how such things work in the eternal worlds, I am nevertheless convinced that the Father and the Son do not inhabit the same room, nor even the same galaxy all the time. But I believe that the Son communicates with the Father about His concern for us. Like the angels of the little ones who always have access to the face of the Father, the prayers of our Redeemer in our behalf must find their way quickly to the heart of our Father.
6). I had one additional insight: “And it came to pass that when [the little ones] had all been brought, and Jesus stood in the midst, he commanded the multitude that they should kneel down upon the ground. 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” (3 Nephi 17:13-14). I would like to understand this better. Is He troubled because these people are so good and other Israelites are not? Is He troubled because of the influence of wicked Israelites on their children? But the people who are kneeling around Him are good people. Six verses later He will affirm that His joy is full because of their faith. Then He weeps, apparently from this fullness of joy. That groaning in verse 14 seems to reflect again the compassion of verse 7.
The Savior often grieves for the trees of his vineyard, “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant” (Isaiah 5:7).
But in spite of His best efforts, that vineyard has often been unproductive. “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” (Isaiah 5:4). Eight times in Jacob 5 the Master of the vineyard grieves over the impending loss of his decaying trees, which represent people he loves. In that allegory the Lord asks his servant three times, “What could I have done more for my vineyard?” (Jacob 5:41,47,49)
Clearly, Christ will do all that he can do to transform us into good fruit. The accounts of His groaning nourish in me a desire to be more disciplined; I never want my behavior to cause Him grief.
Experiences with the Spirit and the word of God cause wonderful things happen. I know most of you have these experiences. But if Lucifer has eased you out of this habit with his flattering words, and if the thought of immersion in the scriptures does not fill you with anticipation, repent and return to the word. Job said, “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). 3 Nephi 17 seems more attractive right now than Thanksgiving dinner.
But I ask us all to honestly evaluate our performance in scripture study. It is a common thing to have a few passages of scripture at our disposal, floating in our minds, as it were, and thus to have the illusion that we know a great deal about the gospel. In this sense, having a little knowledge can be a problem indeed. I am convinced that each of us, at some time in our lives, must discover the scriptures for ourselves–and not just discover them once, but rediscover them again and again (Spencer W. Kimball, “How Rare a Possession–The Scriptures,” Ensign, July 1985, 4:5).