The Book of Mormon records the visit of Christ to the ‘people of Nephi.’ As a missionary, I recall the recitation of the scripture in 3rd Nephi as follows:
…they saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe; and he came down and stood in the midst of them; and the eyes of the whole multitude were turned upon him, and they durst not open their mouths, even one to another, and wist not what it meant, for they thought it was an angel that had appeared unto them.
I still hold closely the feeling I had as I struggled to learn this in a foreign tongue; we had new information to share with the world. Christ visited his people in other lands. His message was for all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues. I never got to use that lesson very often as it was next to the last of the missionary discussions but the feeling persists to this day.
What a privilege the people of Nephi had in being able to approach the resurrected Christ and thrust their hands into His side and feel the prints of the nails in His hands and feet. This was the first action Christ directed upon His glorious arrival. The second was to call forward Nephi to come before him as recorded in 3 Nephi, chapter 11:
18 And it came to pass that he spake unto Nephi (for Nephi was among the multitude) and he commanded him that he should come forth.
19 And Nephi arose and went forth, and bowed himself before the Lord and did kiss his feet.
20 And the Lord commanded him that he should arise. And he arose and stood before him.
21 And the Lord said unto him: I give unto you power that ye shall baptize this people when I am again ascended into heaven.
22 And again the Lord called others, and said unto them likewise; and he gave unto them power to baptize….
Here we find the twelve disciples charged with the authority to baptize. Along with this we find that Christ explicitly defined the baptismal process that the twelve were to follow. I find it interesting that throughout the rest of the description of the people of Nephi, I cannot find any place where this was delegated beyond the twelve. As I read of the visit of Christ, this time I wish to focus on what I would call the roles and responsibilities of the twelve as defined by Christ.
We read the following in chapter 12 as Christ began to speak to the multitude:
Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.
Here we read that the disciples were chosen to be ministers and servants. I wonder what it must be like to be called to lead His church and be told that you are to be a servant. I believe this was a message to the twelve to maintain their humility and shun any pride or ego that could come from such a calling.
Following His discourse, Christ then gives another commandment to the twelve disciples, as found in Chapter 18:
3 And when the disciples had come with bread and wine, he took of the bread and brake and blessed it; and he gave unto the disciples and commanded that they should eat.
4 And when they had eaten and were filled, he commanded that they should give unto the multitude.
5 And when the multitude had eaten and were filled, he said unto the disciples: Behold there shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name.
I find it interesting that there would be ‘one’ of the disciples ordained among the people of Nephi to prepare and administer the emblems of the sacrament to the members of His church. Again, I can find no evidence in the subsequent discussion of this people that indicates the sacrament was treated any differently.
Then, Christ, speaking of the baptism and the sacrament, says the following:
11 And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name; and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.
12 And I give unto you a commandment that ye shall do these things. And if ye shall always do these things blessed are ye, for ye are built upon my rock.
13 But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them.
The disciples are to baptize and conduct the sacrament. The warning comes next. If they continue to do these things, they will be built on the rock of Christ. But… if they do ‘more or less’ than this, they will build on a sandy foundation. What is the message to us here? How much credence should we place on the Book of Mormon and the visit of Christ to the people of Nephi in the definition of the role of the twelve chosen to lead the church of Christ? Should their role be constrained to baptism and sacrament, no more no less? Should the charge given to the modern leaders of the church be significantly different than that presented in Christ’s visit? How can we possibly accomplish this if those that are members of His church are not gathered together?
In the next verses, the disciples are charged with not allowing anyone to partake of the unworthily when they shall administer it. This again reinforces the idea that the twelve are responsible for the correct administration of the sacrament.
In verse 37 of chapter 18 we read that Christ ‘gave them power to give the Holy Ghost.’ Christ, in praying to the Father said in chapter 19 verse 20 ‘Father, I thank thee that thou has given the Holy Ghost unto thee whom I have chosen.’ I take this to mean that the disciples, in a similar manner, are able to call upon the recipient to ‘receive the Holy Ghost’ but it is incumbent upon the person to prepare themselves to receive this gift from the Father.
Again in chapter 19, we read:
13 And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
All the disciples were baptized by water, and they then experienced the second baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. This event transpired at the beginning of their ministry not as an imperceptible event after a long life of Christ-like service. We read later in verse 28 that these men were ‘purified.’ This is consistent with the remission of sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost (see 2 Nephi 31:17-20). Should we expect anything different from the twelve that lead the church in modern times?
Speaking of the twelve disciples, we read:
8 And when they had ministered those same words which Jesus had spoken—nothing varying from the words which Jesus had spoken—behold, they knelt again and prayed to the Father in the name of Jesus.
When the disciples ministered unto the people, they used only the words that Christ had spoken, ‘nothing varying.’ How important is it for the disciples to stay on message? As they were warned earlier, they were not to do more or less than what Christ commanded them. What are we to think of the modern disciples who are ‘obligated’ to publish books of their wisdom? Does this seem to be consistent with the message delivered by Christ to these earlier disciples? Is it right that leaders of the church of Christ supplement their incomes with the book profits from adding to the words of Christ?
Because the disciples stayed on task this was the result from chapter 26:
17 And it came to pass that the disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them; and as many as were baptized in the name of Jesus were filled with the Holy Ghost.
18 And many of them saw and heard unspeakable things, which are not lawful to be written.
19 And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another.
20 And it came to pass that they did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them.
21 And they who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ.
We read later that as the disciple passed away, others were ordained in their stead. There is again no mention that their responsibilities were delegated to others. The message is clear to me – the environment necessary to being about the implementation of the law of consecration (all things common) is achieved by both the disciples/leaders and the people staying on task with baptism, the sacrament, the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, to receive all the other blessings that come from the ‘true’ church of Christ (4 Nephi):
5 And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.
How much of this is required of us today? Can we reach this ‘Zion’ when we are not willing to stay on task? Has the ‘gospel of prosperity’ supplanted the gospel of Christ among those ‘who profess to be called by His name?’ Do we seek after drivers and limos and multi-million dollar penthouses instead of seeking to be servants?
I am reminded of the pride before the fall:
25 And so great was the prosperity of the church, and so many the blessings which were poured out upon the people, that even the high priests and the teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure.
It took only a decade for the people described in this quote from Helaman, chapter 3 until ‘they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten…until they had lost possession of almost all of their lands.’ Is that what awaits us if we do not see the situation we are in? Is all well in Zion?
What think ye?