Much has been written concerning the Sermon at the Temple in 3rd Nephi comparing it to the Matthew version, showing that the Book of Mormon version is not simply plagiarized from the Bible. In fact, a close scholarly comparison of the two, proves to be a powerful evidence that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be, an ancient revelatory record, translated by a prophet using divine gifts of seership.1
In the Sermon at the Temple in 3rd Nephi among other differences from the Sermon on the Mount, are found two verses of great significance. After raising lust, a thought sin, to the same level as a sin of commission, adultery, the Savior adds,
29 Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart;
30 For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell.
This phrase, “take up your cross” is graphic and powerful. The Law of Moses defines the penalty for adultery as death, “thou hang him on a tree.”2 The New Testament refers to the cross as “a tree.”3 When succumbing to temptation, Satan works to disconnect the penalty from the action so that only the appetite satiation is the focus. Christ, here, provides the powerful tool for those tempted, to consider the end result, the consequence, rather than the pleasure, as a means of self-control or “denying yourself.” During that, “I really want to,” phase of temptation, one might ask, “but what will it lead to, and is this what I really want?”
The promise is powerful to those who learn to thus, “deny themselves,” not only of sexual sins but for any “ungodliness.”
“Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.” Moroni 10:32
The metaphor of taking up a cross is used in other contexts that expand its useful and powerful meaning as well. Sometimes it is to “take up his cross” or “your cross” with a different focus than denying oneself of some passion or appetite. It seems to include denying oneself of fear, laziness, business, or other priorities. Note the use of the phrase and its intent for Joseph Knight and consequently, all of us.
“Behold, I manifest unto you, Joseph Knight, by these words, that you must take up your cross, in the which you must pray vocally before the world as well as in secret, and in your family, and among your friends, and in all places. And, behold, it is your duty to unite with the true church, and give your language to exhortation continually, that you may receive the reward of the laborer.” Amen. DC 23:6-7
Here, it seems, Joseph Knight is being asked to do some things that are difficult, perhaps new to him. He was a farmer, so praying and speaking, preaching, etc. was not native to his temperament. To take up his cross was to do difficult things as an instrument in the hands of God. Both quorums of twelve were likewise invited.
“Now, I say unto you, and what I say unto you, I say unto all the Twelve: Arise and gird up your loins, take up your cross, follow me, and feed my sheep.” DC 112:14
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
He then invites all of us with the indication that it will be a daily effort and adding a stern warning:
“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” Luke 9:23; Mark 8:34
“And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:38
“And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27
“And he that will not take up his cross and follow me, and keep my commandments, the same shall not be saved.” DC 56:2
It is important for us to contextualize both the invitation and the warnings. When Christ met with His apostles for the last time, he invited them to join Him in a more powerful way than they had yet grasped. He said,
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” John 14:12
They, and all who believe Him, weren’t just being asked to follow along as spectators but to do the works that He was, and had been, doing. To be actors in this great work of “at-one-ment” or creating Zion with its four unities4, requires, not just conversion, but rather full consecration. The scope of His saving work, to that point, was very small compared to all of Father’s children born or yet to be born on this earth, let alone everyone on all worlds created by Him.5 So, He added that we all must do “greater works” than had been done. First, as His sheep we are then to become His under-shepherds!6 This is indeed “a hard thing,” this our cross to be born, on the climb to at-one-ment, is to take His cross.
It was during His climb to Golgotha that the cross became “His cross,” a totally different metaphor. As He “climbed the hill of Calvary” He needed help. The creator of the universe needed mortal help!
17 And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: John 19:17
21 And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross. Mark 15:21; Matthew 27:32
A dispensation later, in describing the incredible and unimaginable suffering of that time, He revealed:
“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” DC 19:18-19
While we call this, “treading the wine press alone,” or simply, “The Atonement,” Christ calls this ultimate price, “my preparations unto” us. He didn’t finish the work of the Atonement, He started it! The next two verses clarify what must happen in order for that work to go forth.
- Wherefore, I command you again to repent
- And I command you that you preach
He NEEDS us to be saviors of men! It isn’t that He is incapable of disseminating the glorious “plan of happiness” to every spirit child of Elohim. He knew that hearing the message, in a context of agency, is insufficient to change our hearts and minds completely in overriding passion, greed, covetousness like that Lucifer displayed during his rebellious coup attempt.7 The only way for the change to penetrate our spiritual childishness and natural man appetites, is to engage us in saving each other. This is what is meant by “receiving grace FOR grace;” the only way to eventually increment to a fullness as did the Son.8
Jacob, in the Book of Mormon then clarifies four things that will include:
…that all men would
- believe in Christ, and
- view his death, and
- suffer his cross and
- bear the shame of the world; Jacob 1:8
Christ told His apostles to be of good cheer because He had overcome the world,9 but then He compassionately calls us to do likewise:
“I say unto you, I will that ye should overcome the world; wherefore I will have compassion upon you.” DC 64:2
To bear, not just our cross (do our hard things, deny our appetites) but to bear His cross is then the central focus of the “law of the gospel.” Christ told the lawyer, who asked how to gain eternal life, to completely love God and to love our neighbors.10 This simple, but powerful outline of the law finds its origin in the Ten Commandments where the first four commandments focus on our devotion to God and the last six on our treatment of others.
Drawing a line between God and I, can be visualized as a vertical line. Drawing a line between myself and my neighbor is then a horizontal line. Superimpose them and you have a cross, an intersection of the vertical and horizontal. It isn’t coincidence that later in the Sermons at the Temple and on the Mount, when teaching how to influence and teach each other,11 that He juxtaposed the love that naturally exists between God and Man with our need to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.12
Again, a vertical superimposed on a horizontal – a cross! In the following verse, He calls this combination “the strait gate,” and warns against the two natural tendencies that keep most from entering, personifying them as a woolen wolf – someone who uses people for their own agendas; and the false prophet – one who loves to be seen as authoritative and leads for self-aggrandizement.13 Since our human appetites focus our attention and efforts on self, pridefully pursuing self-interest, few will enter. The idea that the strait gate, the narrow gate, is visualized as a cross – the intersection of our love of God and our love of others, furnishes an antidote to these two trolls, as we learn to “deny ourselves” in the context of divine instrumentality.
This visualization carries consistently as a pre-requisite to “faith, hope, and charity,” the keys to discipleship. Moroni makes it clear:
“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.” Moroni 7:43-44
Lowliness of heart is the beginning of humility, the recognition of our dependence on God – the only authorized vertical axis. Meekness is more public, visible to Moroni who then noted, “I judge that ye have faith in Christ because of your meekness”14 thus describing our relationship with others,15 the horizontal dimension. But the moment that we see ourselves as below or above others is unauthorized and forbidden verticality that must be self-denied as we both see ourselves and others as equally precious children of God.16
As our relationship with Father deepens, our humility naturally grows and sometimes a humble man becomes meek.17 Meekness: the perfect description of one who has both taken up “his cross,” and “His cross.”
2 And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. Leviticus 20:10 And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: Deuteronomy 21:22
3 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Acts 5:30
4 Moses 7:18 the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.
5 DC 7:24 By him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.
6 DC 103:9 For they were set to be a light unto the world, and to be the saviors of men
7 Moses 4:3 Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power DC 29:36 the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power;
8 DC 93:12-13, 19-20 he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; …that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his 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.
9 John 16:33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
10 Luke 10:25-27 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
11 JST Matthew 7:1, 9, 12, 16 Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people. Go ye into the world, saying unto all Say unto them, Thus shall ye say unto them,
12 JST Matthew 7:1-17; Matthew 7:11-12 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
13 DC 121:34-40 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. We have learned by sad experience that it Is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
14 Moroni 7:39
15 Meekness is strong, not weak; active, not passive; courageous, not timid; restrained, not excessive; modest, not self-aggrandizing; and gracious, not brash. A meek person is not easily provoked, pretentious, or overbearing and readily acknowledges the accomplishments of others. Whereas humility generally denotes dependence upon God and the constant need for His guidance and support, a distinguishing characteristic of meekness is a particular spiritual receptivity to learning both from the Holy Ghost and from people who may seem less capable, experienced, or educated, who may not hold important positions, or who otherwise may not appear to have much to contribute. Elder David A. Bednar, Conference April 2018
16 See President Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride”; Conference 04/89 “Pride looking up, or pride looking down” See also President Dieter F. Uchtdorf; “Pride and Priesthood”; Conference 10/12 Julie De Azevedo Hanks, Mormon Life, “4 Ways What You Think is Humility Could Actually be Pride”
17 Another step to attain meekness is to become humble. Elder Ulysses Soares Conference Oct 2013