This week’s lesson is about John the Baptist. What a radiant, powerful voice that attracted crowds to leave Jerusalem and come to the wilderness to hear him. Both John the Baptist and Joseph Smith share something, and that is that they weren’t influenced as much by the paradigms and teachings and education of their times because they were set apart. John spoke after four hundred years of silence. Joseph spoke after numerous centuries of silence.

Maurine

Welcome we’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and this is Meridian Magazine’s Come, Follow Me podcast, and this week’s lesson is Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.

Scot

So, we’ll be studying Matthew 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3. Thanks again to Paul Cardall for providing that beautiful music which opens and closes this podcast. By the way, please tell your friends about this podcast. It’s the only way they’ll hear about it.

Maurine

Now, we talk about many scriptures and quotations during this podcast, and if you want those references they are at ldsmag.com/podcast. That’s where you’ll find all the podcasts as well as the references we use.

Scot

So again, ldsmag.com/podcast.

Maurine

This week’s lesson is about John the Baptist. What a radiant, powerful voice that attracted crowds to leave Jerusalem and come to the wilderness to hear him. And here’s why: this had been a period of silence of revelation and prophecy, at least as far as we know it. Malachi is the last verse of the Old Testament, and we don’t have any information on those 400 years, until the coming of John the Baptist, about revelation of prophecy being received. We also know that Rome was in control of Judea. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. And who had put them in place? The Romans. That gives you a sense of how different that world was. It was not the spiritual world that these children of the covenant had been set up to have. So then, all of a sudden, there’s a voice coming named John.

Scot

In order to understand this setting, you have to understand two groups of people: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. You’ve heard about them all your life. The Pharisees are a religious party among the Jews, and their name kind of means separatist. And they were really totally into following the law to the T. Everything about it was important to them, and they wanted to exact the same thing of everyone else. They did believe in a life after this life, and they made the oral law become equal with the written law. And this became a big problem.

Now, the Sadducees were a different group. They were kind of the ruling class. They were wealthy. They were members of the Sanhedrin. They did not believe in the resurrection. And of course, you probably learned in seminary that they were sad, you see, because they did not believe in a life after this life. So those two groups are going to be the ones who are coming down from Jerusalem to hear John the Baptist.

Maurine

We sometimes caricaturize John. We think of him as being out there rough in the desert, and we think of him as only saying one word repeatedly: “repent ye, repent ye, repent.” That certainly was the burden of his mission, but I think we cannot discount that he taught many things to the people that were absolutely refreshing to their souls. Yes, he wore camel hair garb. Yes, he ate locusts and wild honey—whatever that meant. Some say it really was locusts he ate, and some say it was just the fruit of the carob tree. But at any rate, we can’t just caricaturize him. We have to understand what a powerful voice he was after 400 years of silence.

Scot

But there he is, a voice in the wilderness. It reminds us of Joseph Smith, who was also growing up in an obscure place. He was very impoverished. He was not well educated. But we underplay this powerful prophet who was to make straight the way of the Lord. But could any mission be more important than this one to make straight the way of the Lord, to prepare the way for the Lord to come? Joseph Smith had that same mission in this dispensation to prepare the way for the Second Coming of the Lord. John was there to prepare the way for this, His coming into mortality.

Maurine

I think it’s interesting that both John and Joseph Smith share something, and that is that they weren’t influenced as much by the paradigms and teaching and education of their times because they were set apart. Joseph Smith, of course, was obscure, not well educated, living in a little farm town in New York, not one of the powerful people of his day. And John the Baptist, of course, had been raised in the wilderness absolutely apart from things.

Now, it’s interesting that John is described as a voice in the wilderness. We actually have an English idiom that tells us what a voice in the wilderness is. It means someone who expresses an idea or an opinion that is not popular, or that the individual is the sole person expressing that particular opinion, with the suggestion that it’s often ignored. Well, John wasn’t ignored, but he certainly was that voice in the wilderness that was preaching something altogether new.

Scot

Back to the comparison between John and Joseph Smith. In Doctrine and Covenants 1:19 we have this verse:

“The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones” (D&C 1:19).

And surely John the Baptist and Joseph Smith would have been considered the weak things of the world. But there they were. John was ordained to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and Joseph Smith was ordained to make straight the way for the Lord and His Second Coming.

Maurine

So you have to ask yourself, what does it mean “prepare you the way of the Lord, make his path straight”? This is, of course, is a reference to Isaiah 40. And in it we understand that “prepare ye the way of the Lord” means that you cry repentance to a people so that they could be gathered together and be prepared to receive the covenants and ordinances that make it possible for them to receive the Lord. That’s true then. This is true now.

You also get the idea in Isaiah “make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). Now, what is the desert? The desert is the wilderness that we all live in. It is our secular world. And what is the road, the pathway? The pathway is that road that leads us to the Lord through this wilderness, which is our secular world. And so someone who prepares the way removes the obstacles for you so that you can make your way to the Lord. So the obstacles that have to be removed is that you have to repent. And John the Baptist came with that message. So he prepared the way of the Lord.

Scot

And, obviously, as we read these scriptures, we come to understand that John’s word was like this refreshing thing for them. It was powerful and they flocked to him. They flocked to him from Jerusalem. They came from all of Judea. They’re coming from everywhere. There may very well have been thousands of people gathered to this desert location to hear the word of this prophet. And they did consider him a prophet. They could see that he was different, and his word was given with power.

Maurine

I love that in the scripture, it says “all the land of Judæa, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized” (Mark 1:5). This doesn’t sound like a hyperbole. It sounds like this was a stir beyond anything that had been seen for hundreds of years. It’s interesting that during the last week of Jesus’ life, when he is in the temple teaching, we remember that the chief priests and the elders of the people are always trying to catch him in a trap. And so they ask him—which is such an interesting question for the Lord Himself—“by what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” (Matthew 21:23) And Jesus, of course, being more intelligent than they all, answered with such a wise question. He said,

“I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things.

“The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?

“But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet.” (Matthew 21:24-26)

That’s a little clue into their thinking. All the people held John as a prophet, and so they dared not cross Jesus because of that.

Scot

So John is preaching repentance, and I love his approach. It’s not your standard missionary approach, but he says,

“O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7)

Nice way to call to them. But they were!

Maurine

He also talked to them about being dead men’s bones, as if they were in a grave, as if they had lost their way.

Scot

And then they start appealing to their own genealogy, to their elite father.

“We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).

So he puts it right back on them and says, that is not something that will save you just because of your pedigree.

Maurine

And that was quite surprising because they felt like, because Abraham had received that covenant, they were a special and chosen people and they should be saved because of that. But being saved involves repentance. It always does.

Scot

So when he says that God is able of the stones to raise up children and to Abraham, John is making it very clear that the only way we become worthy of the Lord’s presence is to repent. So John is really doing them a favor, because we know from 1 Nephi 10:21 that “no unclean thing can dwell with God.” No unclean thing can enter His presence. And so he’s trying to prepare them to meet with God and to be able to come back into His presence. And there’s only one way and that’s through repentance.

Maurine

I think the Greek word that is used here for repentance is a fascinating one.

Scot

The word is metanoia, and that actually means a change of mind or a change in the inner man. And I really like that because that is really what we all have to do. We have to change our minds. Something in the inner part of us has to change to be able to turn ourselves and our faces towards God.

Maurine

We have to reconsider our current path to turn our faces and our hearts to the Lord. Elder D. Todd Christofferson gives us this wonderful quote. He said,

“As in the days of Nehor and Korihor, we live in a time not long before the advent of Jesus Christ—in our case, the time of preparation for His Second Coming. And similarly, the message of repentance is often not welcomed. Some profess that if there is a God, He makes no real demands upon us.” (D. Todd Christofferson, The Divine Gift of Repentance, November 2011)

Maurine

And what a funny idea that is. We love to think that He just takes us as we are. And He does—He takes us as we are. It’s a come as you are party, and then let me help you grow.

Scot

And “others maintain”, quoting from Elder Christofferson again, “others maintain that a loving God forgives all sin based on simple confession, or if there actually is a punishment for sin, ‘God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God’ (2 Nephi 28:8).”

Maurine

“Others, with Korihor, deny the very existence of Christ,” Elder Christofferson said, “and any such thing as sin. Their doctrine is that values, standards, and even truth are all relative. Thus, whatever one feels is right for him or her cannot be judged by others to be wrong or sinful.”

Does that sound familiar? That is the sophistry of our time. That is the reigning belief.

Scot

Moral relativism.

Maurine

Anything I think, anything I do, is right, and please do not cross me with the idea that it might not be.

Scot

Elder Christofferson continues:

“On the surface such philosophies seem appealing because they give us license to indulge any appetite or desire without concern for consequences. By using the teachings of Nehor and Korihor, we can rationalize and justify anything. When prophets come crying repentance, it “throws cold water on the party.”

Maurine

And I think it’s interesting that when John was crying repentance, so many responded. They felt that need. It didn’t throw cold water on their party. But for others, like the ruling class and the rulers of Judea, it poured great cold water on their party.

Scot

Elder Christofferson continues:

“But in reality the prophetic call should be received with joy. Without repentance, there is no real progress or improvement in life. Pretending there is no sin does not lessen its burden and pain. Suffering for sin does not by itself change anything for the better. Only repentance leads to the sunlit uplands of a better life. And, of course, only through repentance do we gain access to the atoning grace of Jesus Christ and salvation.”

Maurine

I really love that idea of being led to the sunlit uplands of a better life.

Scot

Isn’t that so nice?

Maurine

That is so true because we sometimes think of repentance as just being for bank robbers and drug dealers and people who have some horrible thing that they’re involved in their lives. But every single one of us are being invited to the “sunlit uplands of a better life.” And who doesn’t want that?

Scot

“Repentance is a divine gift,” Elder Christofferson concludes, “and there should be a smile on our faces when we speak of it. It points us to freedom, confidence, and peace. Rather than interrupting the celebration, the gift of repentance is the cause for true celebration.”

Maurine

I think repentance is one of the most beautiful words in the English language. And actually, looking at the origins of that word, it means to be reconciled. It means to turn one’s face again toward the Lord. What a beautiful thought. You know, when Adam and Eve left the garden, they were divided from the Lord. They had walked and talked with Him, and now they were being sent into a very lone and very difficult world. And we, too, have been divided from the Lord, not only by our birth, but the first time we make a mistake, we are divided from Him. What a sad thing that would be. But, instead, repentance through the Atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ, allows us to be reconciled. I love that. Reconciled is such a beautiful word.

Scot

In a general conference address, President Nelson said:

Reconciliation comes from Latin roots re, meaning ‘again’; con, meaning ‘with’; and sella, meaning ‘seat.’ Reconciliation, therefore, literally means “to sit again with.” (Elder Russell M. Nelson, The Atonement, October 1996)

Maurine

And that’s where I want to be. I want to sit again with the Savior.

Scot

Another name for repentance could be growth. I change my mind. I see things differently. I expand my understanding.

Maurine

It isn’t that we just repent and we’re baptized and we’re finished. Repentance is our daily walk because growth is our daily walk, and we are so blessed because we get to turn to the Lord and ask for His strength and ask for His empowerment in this process.

Scot

I have to tell you a story. Seeing as how no unclean thing can enter into the presence of God, and we have to repent and be baptized, and that’s what this lesson is all about, but on the day of my baptism—in those days, we were baptized on one day, usually a Saturday, and we were confirmed the next day; and sometimes that’s the way it is now—, but on that day of my confirmation it was a Sunday, and our chapel had been under construction so there was a lot of mud in the back parking lot where they hadn’t paved it yet. And after the meeting, when I’d been confirmed, there I was, this brand new member of the church, eight years old, and my best friend was standing on one of the little items in the back there, and I pushed him in his Sunday clothes into the mud on the day of my confirmation.

Maurine

Oh, you must have felt terrible.

Scot

I felt so bad. And in fact, I immediately started saying, oh, I repent, I repent! But I realized that I had made a mistake right after my baptism and confirmation into the Church. And I just felt horrible. But if that repentance had not been given to us as a gift and for our growth, then I would be forever banned from being in the presence of God because no unclean thing can come into His presence. And I’ve never forgotten that, because of what I did, but also because of the gift that He gave to us.

Maurine

And, you know, it’s interesting, sometimes we think that repentance is about a single act or a single indiscretion or something that we do on a regular basis. But, in reality, it is about the quality of our thinking, our hearts, our inclinations, and that’s why repentance is a daily process. And again, I think of it as growth and love and empowerment.

Now, there is a wonderful idea that is brought forth in these verses about John the Baptist from the JST, and that is the idea of being clothed and naked. Scot, we go to the Middle East all the time and what do we see there?

Scot

Oh, we see all these what we call Arab headdresses, but if you want to find one, you say, I’d like to find a kaffiyeh. Kaffiyeh. And that comes from the Arabic word for—or Hebrew word also, it’s a Semitic root—meaning cover or kafir. Kafir.  And there we get the word kaffiyeh, which means a covering. And that’s the same word for atonement.

Maurine

It’s also so beautiful because it’s closely related to the Aramaic word and the Arabic word kafat, k-a-f-a-t, kafat, meaning a close embrace. And so here we have this beautiful image of the Atonement, and we see it a lot in the Book of Mormon, and that is about being embraced in the arms of the Lord. One of our verses there states that,

“the Lord hath redeemed my soul[…]I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Nephi 1: 15).

Another says, the glorious hope of our being is clasped in the arms of Jesus (Mormon 5:11). And if you’ll remember from 2 Nephi 4:33, that beautiful area where we call Nephi’s Psalm, he says, “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!”

So it’s interesting to think for a minute what it means to be encircled in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. He means that He covers our nakedness with the robes of His righteousness. He embraces our vulnerability and shields us with protection. What does this mean, this idea of being circled like that?

Scot

Well, we see it all through the scriptures. It seems like when we’re clothed by His atoning sacrifice, by the Atonement of Jesus Christ, then we are covered, our sins are covered. They are withheld from the sight of God, if you will. And when we’re naked, we’re far from the Atonement of Jesus Christ. That comparison is shown all through the scriptures, and we have to watch for that because it’s there often. And we see it in the readings, in this week’s readings in the Joseph Smith Translation. Those who rejected the message of John the Baptist rejected Christ. And he said,

“Why is it”—this is in Joseph Smith Translation Matthew 3:34—”Why is it that ye receive not the preaching of him whom God hath sent? If ye receive not this in your hearts, ye receive not me; and if ye receive not me, ye receive not him of whom I am sent to bear record; and for your sins ye have no cloak.”

Maurine

That idea of a cloak goes back to these verses in the Book of Mormon that talk about being encircled in the robes of His righteousness. And why does He do that? The difference between naked and being clothed, naked means vulnerable, it means fragile, it means the need for protection. We think of Adam and Eve in the garden, and they are naked there in their innocence. But as soon as their eyes are opened, then they are ashamed of their nakedness and the Lord clothes them. And what he clothes them in is the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. So what a beautiful thing to see. That idea of being naked means more vulnerable or sinful, and clothed means we are clothed in the Atonement.

Scot

There’s a wonderful verse in 2 Nephi 9:14. I love this. That kind of brings it all together.

“Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.” (2 Nephi 9:14)

Maurine

The guilty are naked before the throne of God, but the righteous are clothed, and what they’re clothed in is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. They’ve had that opportunity to repent. And I do love this idea of being embraced because I think of being embraced like being hugged when I need comfort or being protected when I need shelter. And that is exactly what the Lord is giving us with the Atonement of Jesus Christ and with that immense joy of being able to repent.

Scot

There’s also a reference to this in the Book of Mormon when they have those major battles. The first time we hear kind of the 72 B.C. wars with Captain Moroni and he clothes all of his men in the whole armor of God, and it goes through a very detailed description of that clothing of them. And their enemies that are coming against them are basically naked—they just have a small loincloth and they have their weapons, but they’re basically naked. And that is represented to us, again, in this setting with those who are clothed in the Atonement and those who are far from the Atonement. I love that comparison there.

Maurine

Without the Atonement of Jesus Christ for our sins we would have no cloak. We see this one more time in the life of Christ. Remember that man of Gadara who is been possessed with the legion of devils and he is roaming, and ranting, and he is without a home, and he is naked. The scriptures very specifically tell us that he is naked.

Scot

But then after Christ heals him and casts the legions into the swine—you remember the story—and then in the next scene we see him that he is peaceful, he is calm, and he is clothed.

Maurine

What a powerful image. Now, John isn’t just telling the people to repent. You know that they’re flocking to him because he’s also telling them how to live. And we do have this wonderful scripture in Luke 3:10-11 that people ask him, “what shall we do then?” In other words, how shall we live our lives?

“He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11).

Beautiful teaching, and it reminds us that there are so many more teachings of John the Baptist that we don’t have. But it was powerful and with authority and the people knew it.

Scot

I love how he quotes from Isaiah, not only that he is the one that’s making straight the way of the Lord, but he says, “Every valley shall be exalted”—this is in Luke 3:4—”Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain” (Isaiah 40:4). I don’t think that just refers to big mountains that we see before us and valleys that we look down upon and crooked paths. I think it refers to our insides, all the pride and all of the things that are high in us shall be brought down, and all the things that are low depression, all these different things, will be brought up. And those things that are crooked in us, those things that we can’t seem to fix will be made straight. I’d love that. It just makes me so happy and gives me hope.

Maurine

And rough places made plain. I love that because we struggle against the things that are not plain in our lives all the time. We struggle and trip over rocks in our way.

Now, the people wanted to know, are you the Christ? And as we’ve talked about it, it’s really clear why they would ask such a thing. These teachings are so powerful, and they are being moved in ways that haven’t been moved in their history for a very long time there.

Scot

Well, it says a number of things. It says that these people were looking for a Messiah, they’re looking for this Holy One of Israel. And that John could possibly be mistaken for Him says how powerful he was, and that they were thinking maybe this is the one, maybe this is the promised one, the Holy One of Israel that we’ve been waiting for.

Maurine

And he answers that he is not the one. And I love what he says. He says,

“I bear record…[that one who is] mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear, (or whose place I am not able to fill,) [is coming] as I said, I indeed baptize you before he cometh, that when he cometh he may baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire.” (JST, Matthew 3:38)

I love that humility on John’s part, especially the idea that the latchet of His shoes I’m not worthy to stoop down and unloose because that gives a very interesting idea from that world dominated by Romans.

Scot

Well, their soldiers used to have the people actually do their latchets, and it was a very humbling and very menial task and it was…

Maurine

Humiliating

Scot

…humiliating to them. And so he says, I’m not even worthy to do this for this one that’s coming after me. And that shows John’s humility and his regard for this Messiah who is coming just after him.

Maurine

And it’s interesting to note also that he says:

“And it is he of whom I shall bear record, whose fan shall be in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but in the fullness of his own time will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (JST, Matthew 3:29)

Now, that might be a reference that is a little bit vague to us, but in that world where they lived on wheat and barley bread, that was a very clear reference. When you gather in wheat, you have to remove the kernel of the wheat from the chaff, which is that folding around it. And then, of course, the stem that it is on is the straw. So you have to get that kernel of wheat out and you do it on a threshing floor with animals that take a board that have it has very sharp things upon that board that can crush and crush that wheat until the kernel is removed. So this is what the Lord will do as He prepares us for Him.

Scot

Now, let’s talk just a little bit about where John was preaching geographically. It says in the scriptures that he was preaching at a place called Bethabara, or Bethabara we might say in our language today, which means a home or place of the fort or place of the crossing. Now, there’s a map in the modern-day country of Jordan, in the city or village of Madaba, and it’s a very famous map. It was created somewhere between 542 and 570 AD. It’s called the Mosaic Map of Madaba. And there it shows Bethabara right at the mouth of the Jordan River as it flows into the Dead Sea. So we know where he was. And this is very significant. And we want to just tell you a brief story to help you understand how significant this is.

Maurine

One time when we came to Jerusalem, we arrived at the Tel Aviv airport at the same time as Truman and Ann Madsen. And so we took a shared taxi, which is called a sherut, to Jerusalem together and we started talking about the baptism of John, and Truman pointed out something so interesting.

Scot

I asked him, is it significant that Jesus was baptized where he was baptized by John? I mean, geographically where it was, because isn’t that the lowest place on the earth? And Truman said, yes, it is. And of course, He would descend below all things. And there indeed, geographically, physically, and in all ways, He would descend below all things at this place, which is 1300 feet below sea level.

Maurine

Yes, the Dead Sea area where the Jordan River flows into it is the lowest place on earth.

Now, we remember that Jesus came to John to be baptized and John said, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” (Matthew 3:14)

Scot

“And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

Then John baptized him. I think this teaching here is very powerful. And we learn from the Book of Mormon a wonderful doctrine in 2 Nephi 31:7.

Maurine

It says:

“Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.” (2 Nephi 31:7)

In other words, the Lord sets out some very strict ordinances and ways, things we have to perform in order to be able to return to Him. This is true even for Jesus. And so He made it clear that we must do the things that we were asked in order to fulfill all righteousness.

Scot

What an example to all of us. He had no sin, yet He would be obedient to the commandments of His Father.

Now, let’s just talk a little bit about the baptism itself. He goes down into the water. John is there baptizing in the water. And we learn, of course, from the Greek, this word is baptizo, and it means to actually submerge or to immerse completely. And after he comes up out of the water, it says:

“[he] went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

“And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

And the Joseph Smith Translation adds the words “Hear ye Him.” (JST Matthew 3:46)

So we see the Godhead represented perfectly here. We hear the voice of the Father coming from the heavens. We see the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove. And there is the Son of God being baptized in the Jordan River.

Maurine

And John absolutely witnesses this as well. So what a perfect example we have that God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate beings.

Scot

So now that Jesus is baptized, He will begin his ministry and He leaves from here and will go into the wilderness and we’ll talk about that next week.

Maurine

So next week’s lesson is The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. That’s Matthew 4 and Luke 4-5. Thank you for joining us. And don’t forget you can find all these podcasts at ldsmag.com/podcast.

Scot

See you next time.