This is the Easter season, the time when we commemorate the most important event in human history. At sunrise on Easter morning, multitudes will gather on a thousand hills to welcome the dawn of the Easter day and to remind themselves of the story of Christ, whose resurrection they will commemorate. In language both beautiful and hopeful, preachers of many faiths will recount the story of the empty tomb.
Yet, against this tapestry of belief and devotion, there is substantial disbelief and the aimless, futile wanderings of the uncommitted.
Sometime ago I read a series of provocative writings setting forth the clever reasoning of American, British, and European theologians to “de-myth,” as it is called, the story of Jesus of Nazareth. I quote from a capable Protestant layman who writes:
“The most disruptive questions [have been] from theologians who … [have questioned] every old concept. They [have] even suggest[ed] that maybe the word ‘God’ should be discarded, since it has become meaningless to so many people.
“Stripped of all else, the question the liberal theologians [have asked] is the old one that has time and again sundered the Christian church: Who was Jesus?
“The revolutionists … turn to the Bible as a source of truth, but their Bible is an expurgated version with embarrassing references to abnormal events edited out. ‘De-mythologized,’ one says. ‘De-literalized,’ says another.
“What the new wave casts up is ‘religionless’ Christianity; a faith grounded on a philosophic system.” (Fortune, December 1965, p. 173.)
Thus, some modern theologians have attempted to strip the Lord of his divinity and then they wonder why men do not worship him. They have tried to take from Jesus the mantle of godhood and have left only a man in the eyes of their followers. They have tried to accommodate him to their own narrow thinking. In the process they have robbed the Lord of his divine sonship and have taken from the world its rightful King.
While reading of this very effective “de-literalization” process and of its evident effect on the faith of those who are its victims, particularly the youth of all ages who are often caught up in such sophistry, the words anciently spoken by the prophet Amos come home with new clarity:
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:
“And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.
“In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst. …
“Even they shall fall, and never rise up again.” (Amos 8:11–14.)
How descriptive those words are of many of our day, the young as well as all who in their hearts hunger for a faith that will satisfy, but who, spurning it because of the manner in which it is offered, “faint for thirst” and “fall, and never rise up again.”
To these we give our solemn witness that God is not dead, except as he is viewed with a lifeless interpretation.
Our position is that Jesus Christ is the key figure of our faith. The official name of the Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We worship him as Lord and Savior. The Bible is our scripture. We believe that the prophets of the Old Testament who foretold the coming of the Messiah spoke under divine inspiration. We glory in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, setting forth the events of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. Like Paul of old, we are “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation.” (Rom. 1:16.) And like Peter, we affirm that Jesus Christ is the only name “given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12.)
The Book of Mormon, which we regard as the testament of the New World, sets forth the teachings of prophets who lived anciently in this Western Hemisphere and testifies of him who was born in Bethlehem of Judea and who died on the hill of Calvary. To a world wavering in its faith, the Book of Mormon is another testament and powerful witness of the divinity of the Lord. Its very preface, written by a prophet who walked the Americas a millennium and a half ago, categorically states that it was written “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations.”
In our book of modern revelation, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Master has clearly declared himself in these words: “I am Alpha and Omega, Christ the Lord; yea, even I am he, the beginning and the end, the Redeemer of the world.” (D&C 19:1.)
This declaration reminds us that we must never forget the terrible price paid by our Redeemer who gave his life that all men might live—the agony of Gethsemane, the bitter mockery of his trial, the vicious crown of thorns tearing at his flesh, the blood cry of the mob before Pilate, the lonely burden of his heavy walk along the way to Calvary, the terrifying pain as great nails pierced his hands and feet, the fevered torture of his body as he hung that tragic day, the Son of God crying out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34.)
This was the cross, the instrument of his torture, the terrible device designed to destroy the Man of Peace, the evil recompense for his miraculous work of healing the sick, of causing the blind to see, of raising the dead. This was the cross on which he hung and died on Golgotha’s lonely summit.
We must never forget that our Savior, our Redeemer, the Son of God, gave himself a vicarious sacrifice for each of us. For those who were there, the gloom of that dark evening before the Jewish Sabbath, when his lifeless body was taken down and hurriedly laid in a borrowed tomb, drained away the hope of even his most ardent and knowing disciples. They were bereft, not understanding what he had told them earlier. Dead was the Messiah in whom they believed. Gone was their Master in whom they had placed all of their longing, their faith, their hope. He who had spoken of everlasting life, he who had raised Lazarus from the grave, now had died as surely as all men before him had died. Now had come the end to his sorrowful, brief life. That life had been as Isaiah had long before foretold: He was “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. …
“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him.” (Isa. 53:3, 5.) Now he was gone.
We can only speculate on the feelings of those who loved him as they pondered his death during the long hours of the Jewish Sabbath, the Saturday of our calendar.
Then dawned the first day of the week, the Sabbath of the Lord as we have come to know it. To those who came to the tomb, heavy with sorrow, the attending angel declared, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?
“He is not here: … he is risen, as he said.” (Matt. 28:6.)
Here was the greatest miracle of human history. Earlier he had told them, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25.) But they had not understood. Now they knew. He had died in misery and pain and loneliness. Now, on the third day, he arose in power and beauty and life, the first fruits of all who slept, the assurance for men of all ages that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22.)
On Calvary he was the dying Jesus. From the tomb he emerged the living Christ. The cross had been the bitter fruit of Judas’ betrayal, the summary of Peter’s denial. The empty tomb now became the testimony of His divinity, the assurance of eternal life, the answer to Job’s unanswered question: “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14.)
Having died, he might have been forgotten, or, at best, remembered as one of the many great teachers whose lives are epitomized in a few lines in the books of history. Now, having been resurrected, he became the Master of life. Now, with Isaiah, his disciples could sing with certain faith: “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6.)
Fulfilled were the expectant words of Job: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
“And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
“Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” (Job 19:25–27.)
Well did Mary cry, “Rabboni!” (John 20:16) when first she saw the risen Lord, for master now he was in very deed, master not only of life, but of death itself. Gone was the sting of death, broken the victory of the grave.
The fearful Peter was transformed. Even the doubtful Thomas declared in soberness and reverence and realism, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28.) “Be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27) were the unforgettable words of the Lord on that marvelous occasion.
There followed appearances to many, including, as Paul records, “above five hundred brethren at once.” (1 Cor. 15:6.)
And in this Western Hemisphere were others of whom he had spoken earlier. And the people here “heard a voice as if it came out of heaven. …
“And it said unto them:
“Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him. …
“And behold, 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 it came to pass that he stretched forth his hand and spake unto the people, saying:
“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world …
“Arise and come forth unto me.” (3 Ne. 11:3, 6, 8–10, 14.)
Then follows in this beautiful Book of Mormon account many words of the ministry of the resurrected Lord among the people of ancient America.
And now finally there are modern witnesses, for the Master of all mankind came again to open this dispensation, the dispensation of the prophesied fulness of times. In a glorious vision, he—the resurrected, living Lord—and his Father, the God of heaven, appeared to a boy prophet to begin anew the restoration of ancient truth. There followed a veritable “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1). He who had been the recipient—Joseph Smith, the modern prophet—declared with words of soberness:
“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
“That 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.” (D&C 76:22–24.)
We Latter-day Saints add the witness of millions who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, have borne and bear now the solemn testimony of the Lord’s living reality.
With this evidence as backdrop, I turn again to tragic and aimless intellectual wanderings of the faithless and uncommitted. I ask some questions of those who would focus only with the mind:
Is a belief in the divinity of our Lord out of date in the twentieth century? We say that the great scientific and technological age of which we are a part does not demand a denial of the miracle that is Jesus. Rather, there was never a time in all the history of man that made more believable that which in the past might have been regarded as supernatural and impossible.
How can anyone today regard anything as impossible?
To those acquainted with the giant strides of biological and medical science, where men are beginning to peek into the very nature of life and its creation, the miracle of the birth of Jesus as the Son of God certainly becomes more plausible, even to the doubter.
Further, it is not difficult to believe that he, possessed of knowledge commensurate with the task of creating the earth, could heal the sick, restore the infirm, return the dead to life. It may have been difficult to believe these things in medieval times, but can one reasonably doubt the possibility of such while witnessing the miracles of healing and restoration that occur daily?
Is the ascension so impossible a thing to comprehend after sitting in one’s living room and watching on television astronauts walk on the face of the moon?
Miracles? I should think so! This is the age of miracles. During my brief lifetime, I have witnessed more of scientific advance than did all of my forebears together during the previous nearly 6000 years.
With so much of what appears miraculous about me every day, it is easy to believe in the miracles of Jesus!
But we remind our interested friends world wide that a witness of the Lord is not obtained by observation of the accomplishments of men. Such observation makes reasonable a belief in his birth, life, death, and resurrection. But there is needed something more than a reasonable belief. There is needed an understanding of the Lord’s unique and incomparable position as the divine Redeemer and an enthusiasm for him and his message as the Son of God.
That understanding and that enthusiasm are available to all who will pay the price. They are not incompatible with higher education or secular knowledge, but they will not come only of reading philosophy. No, they come of a more sure process. The things of God are understood by the Spirit of God, declares the word of revelation. (See 1 Cor. 2:11.)
The acquisition of understanding and enthusiasm for the Lord comes from following simple rules. I should like to suggest three of these, elementary in their concept, almost trite in their repetition, but fundamental in their application and most fruitful in their result.
The first step is to read—to read the word of the Lord. I know that with the demands of daily living there is little time to read anything. But I promise you that if you will read that which we call scripture, there will come into your heart an understanding and a warmth that will be pleasing to experience. “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39.) Read, for instance, the Gospel of John from its beginning to its end. Let the Lord speak for himself to you, and his words will come with a quiet conviction that will make the words of his critics meaningless. Read also the testament of the New World, the Book of Mormon, brought forth as another witness “that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations.”
The second step is to pray. Speak with your Eternal Father in the name of his Beloved Son. “Behold,” he says, “I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20.)
This is his invitation, and the promise is sure. It is unlikely that you will hear voices from heaven, but there will come a heaven-sent assurance, peaceful and certain.
The third step is to live the teachings and to serve in the work of the Lord. Spiritual strength is like physical strength; it is like the muscle of my arm. It grows only as it is nourished and exercised.
As you exercise your time and talents in service, your faith will grow and your doubts will wane.
The Lord declared: “If any man will do his [the Father’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17); and he has also declared that as we apply the teachings of God and lose ourselves in his great cause, we find ourselves and we find the truth.
In that great conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, the Lord declared: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Then he went on to say, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:6, 8.)
We do not hesitate to promise that so it will be with all who will make the effort. If any person will read the word of the Lord, if any person will talk in prayer with him, if any person will live his teachings and serve in his cause, his or her doubts will leave; and shining through all of the confusion of the philosophy, the so-called higher criticism, and the negative theology of our day will come the witness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is in very deed the Son of God, born in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world resurrected from the grave, the Lord who shall come to reign as King of kings. It is our opportunity and blessing so to know. It is our obligation so to find out.
God bless us with faith in these great truths. God bless us to apply them constantly in our lives and seek to bless others that they may also apply them and learn for themselves the greatest knowledge that mankind needs to know—that God lives and is ever near to guide and bless us.
I add my witness that I know that Jesus is the Son of God, born in Bethlehem of Judea, that he walked the earth as the promised Messiah, that he was lifted up upon the cross, that he gave his life as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He is our Savior and our Redeemer. He is the one sure hope of mankind, the Resurrection and the Life.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
1. The official name of the Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jesus Christ is the key figure of our faith. We worship him as Lord and Savior. We consider the Bible to be scripture.
2. To a world wavering in faith, the Book of Mormon is another testament and powerful witness of the divinity of the Lord.
3. The empty tomb became the testimony of Jesus Christ’s divinity, the assurance of eternal life. Having been resurrected, he became the Master of life and of death.
4. In addition to ancient witnesses of the Resurrection, there are modern witnesses—the Prophet Joseph Smith’s visions and revelations and the witness of millions who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, bear solemn testimony of the Lord’s living reality.
5. The acquisition of understanding and love for the Lord comes from following basic rules, four of which are reading the scriptures, praying to our Heavenly Father, living the Lord’s teachings, and serving in his work.
1. Relate your personal feelings about the Resurrection. Ask family members to share their feelings.
2. Are there scriptural verses or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop to the household head concerning the Resurrection?