One hundred sixty-four years ago, on May 15, 1829, something unusual took place along the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. While translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith came upon a passage in which the need for baptism for the remission of sins by one holding authority was mentioned. Having a desire for further understanding of this important ordinance, he and Oliver Cowdery decided to inquire of the Lord.
“While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us, saying: 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.
“He said this Aaronic Priesthood had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on us hereafter; …
“The messenger … said that his name was John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament, and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us, and that I should be called the first Elder of the Church, and he (Oliver Cowdery) the second” (JS—H 1:68–70, 72).
You’ll have to agree that the restoration of the priesthood through the visit of John the Baptist is remarkable, wonderful, and well worth remembering. But you may also ask, “Why is it important to me today?”
To answer that question, let me ask you to think about a piece of wood, a stick you might pick up while walking along in the mountains. Maybe it’s a branch from a Russian olive tree—not anything special or unusual—just a common stick. Or is it? Maybe it’s a baseball bat or a sword? It’s probably too short for a pole vault!
One of life’s greatest wonders is to take something like this old stick, and visualize—to see in your mind’s eye—what it may become. For example, imagine your stick now as carefully carved and molded into a useful and handsome walking stick.
Now, let me ask you to think of a boy you know. Now think of another one—and another—a fourth—a fifth—not anything unusual or special, just a common boy—like one you might find while walking in the mountains.
The man who carved the walking stick looked past the bark, past the gnarled shape, and, looking into the heart of the wood, saw what it could become. So it is with a boy. Heavenly Father looks past the freckles, the tousled hair, and the legs too short to dunk—he sees what a boy may become.
But there is carving and molding to be done. And so the Aaronic Priesthood has been restored, the priesthood of God whose purpose is to begin the carving and molding to prepare a boy to become a special kind of man. When we look at you young men of the Aaronic Priesthood, we see missionaries, we see husbands, fathers, we see the Melchizedek Priesthood working to build our Heavenly Father’s kingdom.
What does the Aaronic Priesthood mean to every young man in the Church? It means the priesthood to prepare—to start doing priesthood work of a particular kind—the kind of work, the kind of experience that will help a young man fulfill the vision that our Heavenly Father has for you.
Now, boys, stop and think with me for a minute. If you were to invite me into your room, at home, in your house, what would I find there? Let me guess. For some of you, I would find a lot of clothes on the floor. But what would I see on your walls? Posters? Pictures of something associated with action and excitement—cars, fishing, skiing, athletes like Dale Murphy, or Pélé. There’s hardly a boy in the United States who doesn’t have at least one poster of someone who has captured your imaginations—Michael “Air” Jordan.
Young men, would you be willing to do something a little unusual, a little different? You see, your leaders and parents are so keen on seeing you achieve the vision that our Heavenly Father has for you—would you be willing to move things around a little, to find some space on your wall, maybe right next to your favorite poster? We’d like you to put in that space a poster listing the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood.
Did you know the Aaronic Priesthood has a wonderful written statement of purpose and vision? It ought to be a part of every young man’s life. It appears on page six of the new Aaronic Priesthood Leadership Handbook.
There are six Aaronic Priesthood purposes. Let’s go over them together.
Become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and live by its teachings.
To have the power of the Aaronic Priesthood a young man must understand the teachings of the gospel and use them in his life.
Magnify priesthood callings.
John the Baptist fulfilled his mission so well that Jesus said, “There is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28). You can learn from John to do more—and do it better.
Give meaningful service.
God has given the priesthood to his sons so they can help everyone. There is great joy and satisfaction in learning to serve. There are opportunities in the quorum and all around us to do something for someone else.
Prepare to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood.
As you learn how to use your priesthood and have opportunities to bless the lives of others, you are molded and carved and prepared for additional responsibility. You will thereby prove yourselves worthy of qualifying for the greater or Melchizedek Priesthood.
Commit to, worthily prepare for, and serve an honorable full-time mission.
Aaronic Priesthood holders have the responsibility to “invite all to come unto Christ” (D&C 20:59) by teaching faith, repentance, and the remission of sins through baptism, just as John the Baptist prepared the way for the Savior in the lives of people in his time.
Live worthy to receive temple covenants and prepare to become a worthy husband and father.
Our Heavenly Father desires that each of his sons marry a worthy young woman in the temple and establish a family that will last throughout eternity. The role of husband and father in a family is the most important role that a man will ever have.
These are the six purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. These are the six points that should be on the poster on your wall.
Now I want you to think about your worthy father or about other worthy priesthood leaders. They are great examples of priesthood purpose, and they, and we, love you very much. The priesthood of God is a great brotherhood, and you are a part of it.
The priesthood of preparation—the Aaronic Priesthood—has been restored; it is here on the earth for you to use. It is here to help shape and mold you. The tools are Heavenly Father’s own. He has a vision. Your parents and we your priesthood leaders have a vision of who you are and who you are to become. You need to catch that vision! It is embodied in the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. Please put those purposes on a poster and hang them on your wall. Put the poster where you can see these purposes every day. The most important thing you can do in this life is hold the priesthood honorably and use it wisely. As the days go by and you live by its precepts, the handiwork of the Lord will make of you mighty men of God.