One of the compensations for going away from home is coming home again, where we receive such a warm welcome. We left here on the 22nd of September for a quick trip to the Holy Land, and with respect to that I would like to speak for just a moment. I shall not inflict upon you a travelogue but will refer to some of the places we visited and the effect upon us of such visits.
I was accompanied by Dr. Truman Grant Madsen of Brigham Young University, who has taken many trips over there with various groups and knows the country well and knows the story of the Christ remarkably well. The question arose as to the wisdom of my going on account of my weakened condition, but Dr. J. Louis Schricker of this city said he would personally accompany me and see that I was getting good care. So with these two fine men, I left via New York and Paris and went to Tel Aviv. From there we took an automobile down to Jerusalem and were booked in the Intercontinental Hotel on top of the Mount of Olives, which gave us a beautiful view of Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives was made famous and sacred by the frequent visits of the Christ; and when he comes again, this mount will be cleft in twain as he descends.
We went out from there to Bethlehem, and as we stood in that beautiful, quiet little city, we could almost hear the voices of the angels and the hosts of heaven singing glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
We thought of the declaration of war which was made by Beelzebub when this child was born. He seemed to have some knowledge of what it portended, and he declared war on this babe and all of his followers.
We went on from there to the tomb of Abraham near the Brook Cedron, and the next day went on to Jericho. You will remember that Jericho is that city where a military band must have played rather better than our bands do today, for we understand that because of the clarity of their horns the walls of Jericho tumbled to the ground.
On the way to Jericho we passed through the place made famous by the words of the Master in answering the question, “Who is my neighbour?” He told the story of the Good Samaritan, where a man had the courage to step over race barriers and assist one whom it was not lawful for him to help. On the way to Jericho we passed by this place, and there is a little inn there called the Good Samaritan.
From Jericho we went down through the Jordan River Valley to the Dead Sea, and from there up to the tombs, the caves where the scrolls were found. It was a glorious trip, and upon returning to Jerusalem we took it upon ourselves to go again into the Garden of Gethsemane. Here it was that Jesus suffered his greatest anguish. Here it was that he sweat drops of blood; and as he knelt there in the garden alone, his disciples having remained outside, he said, “O my father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt. 26:39.) I thought as I stood there and remembered those words, how wonderful it would be for all of us if we had the courage and the insight and the fortitude, whatever might happen to us, to say, “Not my will, but thine be done.” That attitude makes any burden lighter. It makes any task less difficult.
We went up through the Via Dolorosa Road, where he carried his cross up to Golgotha. We are told of that struggle. While there is a great deal of disputation and disagreement as to just where this event happened, something seems to be quite sure, and that is, that he was crucified on this Hill of Skulls, as it is called.
From there we went down into the garden and into the tomb. As we stood by the door of that tomb, I remembered the women who came there with their spices. These women who were the last at the cross and the first at the tomb could not believe but that they would be permitted to anoint his body; but when they saw that he had gone and the stone had been rolled away, the attendants in the tomb said, “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.” (Luke 24:5–6.) They could not comprehend the meaning of what they heard. And then Mary, turning, had a glimpse of the feet and ankles of someone standing near. She thought it was the gardener, and she said, “I have come to find the Master. Tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (See John 20:15.)
Jesus reached forth his hand and said to her, in that voice which only he could use, “Mary.” She looked up and saw the face of Jesus the Christ and was about to embrace him. It was a remarkable feeling we had as we stood and remembered these things; and we, the three of us, had prayer each day, praying God to guide us on our journey and help us to emulate the example of him who made that whole country so famous and so sacred.
After visiting other places in Jerusalem, we went north, starting at the Sea of Galilee. On the way up we visited Mount Tabor, believed to be the Mount of the Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah met with Jesus and Peter, James, and John; and He was transfigured before them. While on this mount, Christ instructed them, and Peter, feeling that it was a good place to be, said, “Let us build a tabernacle, one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for thee.” (See Matt. 17:4. See also James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, pp. 370–71.) That was not thought wise at the time, however.
From Mount Tabor we went on over the hill past Nazareth and came upon the Sea of Galilee. All of us gasped as we came over the hill and saw this beautiful little valley, green all around, and the quiet Sea of Galilee. And as we came down to it, we found accommodations in a small Jewish guest house near the hotel. We were impressed by the thought that here it was that Jesus walked on the water. Here it was that he stilled the tempest. Here it was that he performed many miracles.
In looking across one part of the sea, we saw the Mount of the Beatitudes, where it is alleged the Sermon on the Mount was preached. It was immensely impressive, and we went home that night with thanksgiving in our hearts to belong to the Church of Jesus Christ, he who led his people in that forbidding country and was led by them to the cross.
Upon returning to the Jordan Valley, we saw the cities on the hillside on both sides of the road. We were impressed as we came into Nazareth; it is also a city on a hill. Jesus lived there for a time, and because of that fact, he was known as a Nazarene. We went back into Jerusalem, and there day after day we visited points of interest in that great city.
I tell you these things to indicate the object of our visit, which was to get closer to him, to come home with increased devotion, increased commitment to his work, increased assurance that he is the Son of God, as Brother Anderson has told us this afternoon. Peter said what a lot of us would like to say when Jesus asked him, “… whom sayest ye that I am?” He said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 16:15–17.)
I want to tell you, my brethren and sisters, as is my calling as a witness of Christ, that I too know, and I know it from the same source that Peter knew it, for flesh and blood have not revealed that knowledge unto me, but our Father which is in heaven. And from the bottom of my heart I say to him and to you, as I think back over that trip through the Holy Land, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and I know it as I know that I live.
God bless you, my brethren and sisters, and all of us, as we devote ourselves to his work, to one another, that we may follow the example of those who have spoken in this great conference. Some of the sessions of the conference I viewed on television, and I remember the words of President Joseph Fielding Smith at the opening session when he gave the keynote address advising the Saints to follow in the footsteps of the Lord.
Let us, then, at this closing session, renew that plea and rededicate ourselves to the unfinished task of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of men. I bear this witness to you, and bring you this report on my activities, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.