Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
Cover image: “Hand of God” by Yongsung Kim.
It is interesting that Christ begins and ends His sermon at the temple to the Nephites by speaking about the foundational “Rock.” He first defines it as “my doctrine,” and then concludes by indicating that He just taught how to build upon that rock.[i]
So, the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are the “Doctrine of Christ,” the Rock upon which we must build. The Sermon at the temple is how and what to build on that foundation.
The Sermon at the Temple is not only the most important address ever given on this planet, according to Elder McConkie,[ii] but its organization is powerful.
The three separate chapters that make up the Sermon begin with what we now call “The Beatitudes.”
“The Beatitudes form the stairway to Christ by which you can receive power from Him to become like Him.”
(Lee, Decisions for Successful Living, p. 56.)
“These declarations of the Master are known in the literature of the Christian world as the Beatitudes. … They embody in fact the constitution for a perfect life”
(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee , 200).
Our Bible Dictionary adds, “Rather than being isolated statements, the Beatitudes are interrelated and progressive in their arrangement” (“Beatitudes”).
The Guide to the Scriptures adds, “The Beatitudes are arranged in such a way that each statement builds upon the one that precedes it” (“Beatitudes”).
Each Beatitude presents a condition for obedience and then its resultant blessing. This pattern can serve, President Lee instructed in that same discourse, as an upward climb from gaining an initial testimony through the steps of a powerful conversion; or they might serve as a repeatable pattern for renewing our conversion or ending a plateau in our progression.
But what if Christ’s intention in using them, was to tell us what He was going to say before detailing their actual practice. What if the Beatitudes were a table of contents to the Sermon at the Temple, where we find the Savior’s teachings on the condition, skills and blessings that each particular Beatitude indicates or predicts. The rest of chapter 12 then elaborates the enabling blessings He furnishes, by grace, as we strive to live His higher law. Chapter 13 then details what we do to receive that grace, while chapter 14 instructs us how to be the salt and light with which He culminated the beatitude section.
The resurrected Savior, in The Book of Mormon, begins the staircase by adding an additional Beatitude:
“Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.” 3 Nephi 12:2
They are only visited because they don’t have the gift yet. The result of being visited by the Holy Ghost is that afterward they are left “poor in spirit,” having experienced it and desiring His holy presence again. If the reader is already baptized and confirmed, the visit may be a passing impression of guilt or encouragement to step-up.
“Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 3 Nephi 12:3
The poor in spirit, who come unto Christ, do so by baptism and confirmation thereby becoming members of His church or the kingdom of heaven on earth. Or for those already confirmed, it is a longing for the Spirit followed by meaningful sacrament covenant renewal whereby reintegration into the kingdom fellowship and activity is augmented.
The table of contents nature of the Beatitudes points us into the Sermon where we find two laws addressed by the savior that refer to this process of redemption. 3 Nephi 12:17-20 detail principles of obedience and sacrifice with which we come unto Him. He addresses the continuing importance of law even though He fulfilled the lesser law. He then refers to the entry sacrifice that brings one to the gate of discipleship, “a broken heart and a contrite spirit” unto repentance and hence, baptism. The next Beatitude is then post baptism instruction.
“And again, blessed are all they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” 3 Nephi 12:4
Within the covenants made at baptism is included, “willing to mourn with those who mourn.” (Mosiah 18:8-10) The blessing is to receive the Spirit or Comforter:
“…that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?” Mosiah 18:10
With each succeeding step, our focus turns outward as compared to the inward focus of being poor in spirit and seeking redemption. As we lift the burdens of others, we begin to share in a common identity as children of God. Our willingness to lift, changes our self-focused natural-man as we yield to the enticings of the Comforter. This outward focus and effects of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts, begins the process of changing it until we bask in a “peaceable walk with the children of men.” Moroni 7:3-4
“And blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” 3 Nephi 12:5
To inherit the earth is of eternal portent since the earth will be celestialized.[iii] If humility is seen as our relationship with God, meekness is used by Moroni as our visible relationship with others. (Moroni 7:3-4, 39)[iv] The change of character leads the humble follower of Christ to become meek. But as our inner sense of caring and love increases, we yearn to be better prepared, better qualified, to know more, to do more, to be more serviceable.
“And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.” 3 Nephi 12:6
What was but a visit of the Holy Ghost that grew into a comforting presence, now fills us. It is now that our desire, (to “love the Lord with all our heart, might, mind, and strength (humility) and our neighbor as ourselves” (meekness)) has grown to a hungering. So, under the influence of the Spirit, we seek to increase our spiritual, mental, physical and emotional capacities so that we can love more powerfully as divine instruments. This may at first seem self-focused but as Paul clarified, increased knowledge capacitates increased love.[v]
These Beatitudes (mourn, meek, and hunger) point into the sermon, 3 Nephi 12:21-48. As we hunger and thirst after a righteous capacity to love God, and others, He clarifies how His grace will perfect us as we learn the law of the gospel and its subset, the law of chastity. These verses take us through various realities of living the laws that focus on our relationships. The chapter winds through relationship complexities beginning with associates and friends, then marriage, including how we risk using these people. Then, He teaches how to make relationship agreements with others, and how to act when they begin to use us, including how He will help us even love our enemies. From friends to enemies; the scale covers many promises that culminate in how He will make us perfect through His ordinances, by His grace. The word “perfect” here in the Greek is used again by Paul to express “receiving all the ordinances.”[vi] The next Beatitude clarifies this “grace for grace” process of being “perfected in Christ:”
“And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. “ 3 Nephi 12:7
Mercy in the scriptures is an English translation of a word that is better translated as love or grace, especially in Hebrew. We receive mercy as we give it because God can affect us better by working through us than be working on us. Since we are perfected in Christ by receiving grace from Him as we use it to minister to others, we grow from one level of grace to the next level of grace. As we give His grace, He empowers us with additional grace.[vii] This endowment transitions us from the laws of obedience, sacrifice, the gospel (including chasity) to the law of consecration.[viii]
What are ways we can effectively give His grace as opposed to just giving our service? Chapter 13 of the Sermon instructs us through using the lens of selflessness in our service (13:1-4), people-focus in our prayers (13:5-15), and tangible giving in our fasting (13:16-18; Isaiah 58:3-12).
Strategically, Joseph Smith targets two grace-giving activities that empower all others: 1) Seek after our dead, 2) share the gospel. [ix] As we grow in capacity, remaining selfless can be a challenge. The next Beatitude empowers us:
“And blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” 3 Nephi 12:8
In the body of Sermon, He teaches how to keep our hearts pure through centering our lives (13:19-21) and disciplining our senses, (13:22-24) so we can maintain our focus on heaven. This grows as we learn to prioritize the kingdom (13:33) and manage time (13:34) by relying “wholly on” the grace of Christ. (13:25-32; 2 Nephi 31:19) This is in preparation for being included in the participatory nature of the enabling power of the atoning grace of Christ, identified in the next Beatitude.
“And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” 3 Nephi 12:9
The Savior’s teaching on how to be a peacemaker is Chapter 14:1-20 of the 3 Nephi. The gospel is the message of peace. We learn how to consecrate our whole selves in His service, helping to influence others. He instructs in several keys that help us help others reach and enter the strait gate of divine peace.
- Judge by the Spirit (14:1-2; DC 11:12)
- Change me first (14:3-5)
- Nurture their strengths (14:5)
- Share according to their capacity to receive (14:6)
- Teach them to Ask, Seek, and Knock (14:7-8)
- Teach them to trust in His love to get answers (14:9-11)
- Love and serve others (14:12)
- Endure in His service, bringing others to Him (14:14-20)
Though the source of the greatest joy, this service or grace-giving is not always easy and may invoke opposition. So:
“And blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
3 Nephi 12:10
As a result, the Celestial Kingdom is promised as we endure all for His “name’s sake,” thus becoming one with Him.
Having taken upon us His name and inheriting his characteristics, He now gives unto us to be SALT and LIGHT wherein we serve as under-shepherds. Under-saviors bring savor to our ever-enlarging circles of influence and, thereby, souls to Christ.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the salt of the earth…
Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the light of this people.”
Therefore let your light so shine [before this people], that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” 3 Nephi 12:13-16
This is how we come to know Him, (as contrasted in 14:21-24) so that He can say, “Enter in, thou good and faithful servant.[x]” Having learned how to build upon the rock of Christ through personal revelation and love for others in the service of our Master. In so doing, we will be capacitated to endure the gulf of misery and shafts in the whirlwind.
“I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock—
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.” 3 Nephi 14:24-25
We now see WHAT and HOW to build upon the Rock or “doctrine of Christ” through the need for the Holy Ghost and the faith-process of receiving His grace as we give His grace to others (chiasm center). We walk a covenant path learning to live the five temple laws taught here in this powerful sermon until we endure to the end. This is a temple sermon given at the temple. In Hebrew, “temple” comes from the word “yakol” meaning to “endure.”
[i] BEGINNING: 3 Nephi 11:39 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.”
ENDING: 3 Nephi 14:24 “Therefore, whoso heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock.“ “These sayings” refer to the Sermon He just delivered
[ii] Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p.703
[iii]…the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it. Therefore, it must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory; For after it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father; DC 88:17-20
[iv] Moroni 7:42-44 “And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart. If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.”
[v] Philippians 1:9And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
[vi] Hebrews 5:14-6:1-Teleioo as noted by John Welch https://publications.mi.byu.edu/book/the-sermon-at-the-temple-and-the-sermon-on-the-mount/
[vii] DC 93:12-13, 20 And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.
[viii] E. T. Benson, Vision. “Thus, our Father in Heaven has ordained certain holy sanctuaries, called temples, in which these laws may be fully explained, the laws include the law of obedience and sacrifice, the law of the gospel, the law of chastity, and the law of consecration.”
[ix] History of the Church, 2:478; TPJS p375 King Follette Discourse
[x] See Matthew 25:23