The Message:

“They Were Awesome!”

by Elder Robert L. Backman

of the First Quorum of the Seventy

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    For worthy young men, receiving the restored keys of the priesthood is an awesome experience.

    On a trip to the Orient it was my privilege to attend a sacrament meeting of the Naha Branch on the island of Okinawa. I was so impressed with the quality of the sacrament service and the reverence and dignity exhibited by the Aaronic Priesthood that when I was called to speak I asked one of the young men to join me at the pulpit. I asked him, “How do you feel knowing you hold the priesthood of God?” Not tall enough to see over the pulpit, he raised on his toes so he could see the congregation, then with deep emotion responded: “It’s the greatest honor of my life!”

    Some of us, because we receive the Aaronic Priesthood when we are very young, do not appreciate what an honor it is for us to be singled out from all of God’s sons to represent him with this sacred power and authority. Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on the banks of the Susquehanna River on that spring day, May 15, 1829? Can you picture the miracle and majesty of that moment when John the Baptist, a resurrected being, appeared to those two young men, laid his hands on their heads, and granted them the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood?

    Oliver Cowdery captured that unforgettable experience in his personal account. I hope you can feel the wonder and joy they felt as you read his words:

    “On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the veil was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the Gospel of repentance. What joy! what wonder! what amazement! While the world was racked and distracted—while millions were groping as the blind for the wall, and while all men were resting upon uncertainty, as a general mass, our eyes beheld—our ears heard. As in the ‘blaze of day’; yes, more—above the glitter of the May sunbeam, which then shed its brilliancy over the face of nature! Then his voice, though mild, pierced to the center, and his words, ‘I am thy fellow-servant,’ dispelled every fear. We listened, we gazed, we admired! ‘Twas the voice of an angel from glory—‘twas a message from the Most High, and as we heard we rejoiced, while His love enkindled upon our souls, and we were rapt in the vision of the Almighty! Where was room for doubt? Nowhere; uncertainty had fled, doubt had sunk, no more to rise, while fiction and deception had fled forever. …

    “I shall not attempt to paint to you the feelings of this heart, nor the majestic beauty and glory which surrounded us on this occasion; but you will believe me when I say, that earth, nor men, with the eloquence of time, cannot begin to clothe language in as interesting and sublime a manner as this holy personage. No; nor has this earth power to give the joy, to bestow the peace, or comprehend the wisdom which was contained in each sentence as it was delivered by the power of the Holy Spirit! Man may deceive his fellow man; deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till naught but fiction feeds the many, and the fruit of falsehood carries in its current the giddy to the grave, but one touch with the finger of his love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior, from the bosom of eternity, strikes it all into insignificance, and blots it forever from the mind! The assurance that we were in the presence of an angel; the certainty that we heard the voice of Jesus, and the truth unsullied as it flowed from a pure personage, dictated by the will of God, is to me, past description, and I shall ever look upon this expression of the Savior’s goodness with wonder and thanksgiving while I am permitted to tarry, and in those mansions where perfection dwells and sin never comes, I hope to adore in that day which shall never cease” (History of the Church, 1:43).

    I tingle when I read of such a glorious occasion so vitally important in the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I marvel when I consider the meaning of the ordination that occurred that day.

    Explaining that he acted under the direction of Peter, James, and John, the ancient Apostles who held the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, John pronounced these words to Joseph and Oliver, who had called upon God for guidance and direction:

    “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness” (D&C 13).

    What an awesome experience!

    Although we did not share that glorious event, when we are ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood we receive the same authority and powers that John the Baptist conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. This priesthood holds the keys to significant blessings that are essential to the accomplishment of the Lord’s work. That should make you stand in awe of yourself!

    Let us consider the keys conferred with the priesthood of Aaron.

    The first key committed by John was the key of the ministering of angels.

    What does it mean to you to be in a position to have angels minister unto you? It means that you are entitled to have inspiration and guidance in all phases of your life—at home, school, work, play, as well as in Church. Even on the football field—if you are honoring your priesthood.

    It provides protection to you from evil and danger.

    Have you read the account of Elisha and his young servant, who saw their city surrounded by the mighty arm of Syria? Fearful that they would be conquered, the servant appealed to his master: “Alas, my master! how shall we do?”

    The response of Elisha suggests what protection is given with the key of the ministering of angels:

    “And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

    “And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kgs. 6:15–17).

    It seems to me that the ministering of angels is a pretty powerful blessing to enjoy as a young man. I pray you will recognize that it is.

    The second key was that of the gospel of repentance.

    You may not appreciate this great saving key now, but you will. Only Jesus Christ has made it through this life without committing sin. Without the principle of repentance, all would be lost. Believe me, you will be grateful that God granted this beautiful key when he restored the gospel of Jesus Christ and named repentance only after faith in the Lord Jesus Christ among the first principles of the gospel. Think of the trust God has placed in his young sons in granting the responsibility and authority to preach repentance to his deacons, teachers, and priests.

    The third key was that of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.

    When ordained to the office of priest you are granted the authority to baptize.

    Of all the experiences I enjoyed as a mission president, one of the most exciting was the glorious sight of seeing the missionaries baptize converts to the Church. To see those handsome young men lead the baptismal candidates into the water to perform that sacred ordinance always brought a lump to my throat and sent a thrill up my spine. The elders felt the same way about that privilege. One of my fine missionaries had been a very adventurous lad. He loved to rappel cliffs, hang glide, and parachute jump. He even joined an Army reserve unit which gave him regular opportunities to jump. When I asked him how he felt when he stood in the baptismal font with a convert, he replied: “It’s as exciting as jumping out of an airplane.”

    Do you appreciate what it means to possess the authority to act for God, to be his trusted son, to have the unique power of the priesthood?

    When I was a boy I remember one of our Apostles and noted senators, Reed Smoot, saying: “I would rather be a deacon in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than be president of the United States.”

    Although your duties are defined as temporal, there is nothing more spiritual than your sacred calling. In fact, the two ordinances most directly related to the atonement of Jesus Christ are Aaronic Priesthood ordinances—the sacrament and baptism.

    You are entitled to be sustained by the Lord and to have his sacred power manifest through you.

    I have been reading of the tremendous missionary experiences of Wilford Woodruff, some occurring while he was still a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood. His testimony should be pondered by every Aaronic Priesthood holder. It will help you understand the magnificent power God has given you.

    “I traveled thousands of miles and preached the Gospel as a Priest, and … the Lord sustained me and made manifest His power in the defense of my life as much while I held that office as He had done while I have held the office of an Apostle. The Lord sustains any man that holds a portion of the Priesthood, whether he is a Priest, an Elder, a Seventy, or an Apostle, if he magnifies his calling and does his duty” (“Obtain the Spirit of God,” MillennialStar, 28 Sept. 1905, p. 610).

    This sacred priesthood gives you the privilege to render significant service to your fellowmen, to feel a sense of brotherhood which few of your peers enjoy, to reach out to one another as you teach your fellow priesthood holders the duties of your special calling.

    As the President of the Young Men of the Church, I delight in the story of a fine deacons quorum presidency who sensed the importance of their office in teaching their fellow quorum members.

    On a recent Sunday, Mark was ordained a deacon.

    When his family returned from Church, the telephone rang. It was the deacons quorum president asking for an appointment for the presidency to visit with Mark and his parents. The appointment was set for Tuesday night at 7:30 P.M. Promptly at 7:30 on Tuesday, the doorbell rang. The members of the presidency stood on the porch, dressed in suits, white shirts, and ties, each one carrying his scriptures.

    Sitting down with Mark and his parents, they began with prayer, then handed an agenda to everyone there.

    The quorum president then opened the scriptures, having Mark and has father read those references which speak of the power of the Aaronic Priesthood, what it is, and the particular duties of a deacon.

    He then spoke about Mark’s specific responsibilities and duties, explaining how he should dress as he performed his priesthood duties, where he should be to pass the sacrament, and his duties as a messenger for the bishop. He acquainted Mark with fast offering collection procedures and assured him that a counselor in the presidency would accompany him the first time. Then he asked Mark if he had any questions about his new calling.

    At the end of the visit, the deacons presidency welcomed Mark into the quorum and offered help whenever he needed it. As they left, Mark’s eyes were as big as saucers as he contemplated the seriousness and honor of his calling. He said to his dad: “They were awesome!”

    Through the experiences of the Aaronic Priesthood quorum, you learn to accept responsibility, to be dependable and trustworthy, to do your duty. When I asked a fine deacon what he did, he replied: “I do what I am supposed to do!”

    At the Scout encampment held at a beautiful site near Flagstaff, Arizona last summer, 1,150 Eagle Scouts met in a special dinner in honor of their achievement. During the program they were asked, “How many of you are planning to serve a mission?” Every young man rose to his feet, committing himself to fulfill the responsibility President Kimball has asked the Aaronic Priesthood to prepare for. Those Aaronic Priesthood brethren knew their duty.

    Above all, the Aaronic Priesthood teaches you what real happiness is. Not in acquiring possessions, wealth, position; not in giving in to the gang, appetites or passions, or to any other of Satan’s temptations, but in rendering service to your fellowmen, really learning to love as our Savior taught us to love.

    I know of a quorum of priests who really demonstrated how to love. Included in the quorum was a young man whose life was lived in a wheelchair because of paralysis. It was even difficult for him to speak so he could be understood. Despite his severe handicaps, the quorum rallied around him as his brothers in the gospel. They included him in all their activities. When they played basketball Eddy was there in his wheelchair, cheering them on. When they went waterskiing, Eddy was there on the bank, enjoying the outing with them. When they went to a movie, they wheeled Eddy into the theater with them. Those quorum members lifted him and his wheelchair in and out of the car wherever they went. He was truly one of them. You should have seen the bond of love that developed in that quorum. They brought meaning and worth into Eddy’s life, but they brought happiness into their own lives. I was very proud of these young men. They honored their priesthood.

    When I see hundreds of thousands of stalwart young men, sons of God, embarking on the adventure of life armed with God’s holy priesthood, serving so faithfully in your wards and branches, developing testimonies of the gospel in your youth, I know that the future of the Church is secure. With the Aaronic Priesthood as a schoolmaster to assist you in coming to know your Savior, to love him and his gospel, and to prepare you to receive the sacred oath and covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood, you fit the description of your royal generation of which we sing in that mighty hymn “Hope of Israel”:

    Hope of Israel, Zion’s army,

    Children of the promised day,

    See, the chieftain signals onward,

    And the battle’s in array!

    Hope of Israel, rise in might

    With the sword of truth and right;

    Sound the war-cry, “Watch and pray!”

    Vanquish every foe today.

    (Hymns, no. 64)

    Photos by Eldon Linschoten

    For worthy young men, receiving the restored keys of the priesthood is an awesome experience.

    Possessing the authority to act for God, Aaronic priesthood holders have the key of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.