Area Presidency Message

"Whom say ye that I am"

Elder Dale Renlund, Area President

“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.”(1)

The question the Savior asked his disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” is as important today as it was when it was first asked. Just as in Jesus’ time, it is answered in many ways by different people. Today, some say that Jesus was an invention of New Testament writers. Others say that He was a remarkable man, a great teacher, philosopher, or political leader.

After hearing the responses of His disciples to His question, Jesus posed another critical question, “But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”(2) Peter was right. Jesus is the Christ, He broke the bands of death and performed the seminal act in all of human history. He rose from the dead. The Atonement which all mankind depended on was accomplished to perfection.

“But whom say ye that I am?”        

In essence, Jesus asks the same question of each of us, “But whom say ye that I am?” The divinity of Jesus Christ and the reality of His Atonement are either true or they are not. The tomb was either empty or it was not. It was not a little bit empty or almost empty. This concept is stated clearly by C. S. Lewis, an English Christian author, as he says, “I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who is merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the level with a man who says he’s a poached egg–or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”(3)

Significance of the empty tomb in our lives

The empty tomb makes all the difference in the world and in our lives. This was brought home to me by an incident that occurred in an Area Seventy/General Authority Training meeting before the April 2005 General Conference. The assembled Area Seventies and General Authorities were invited to ask any questions they wished of the Quorum of the Twelve. The first question was asked by Elder Joshua Subandriyo, an Area Seventy from Indonesia. His nation had just experienced a horrific tsunami on December 26, 2004 in which over 225,000 died.(4) Elder Subandriyo asked: “What are we to say to people who are so weighed down by life’s tragedies and challenges?”

After one member of the Twelve gave a wonderful and thoughtful response, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland came to the pulpit and said, “I have a simpler answer. Tell them, ‘He is not here: for He is risen.’”(5) Elder Holland was simply teaching that the tomb was empty that Easter morning, bringing hope, life, and resurrection to every member of the human family, regardless of circumstances.         

“…May Christ lift thee up…”

Most in the Africa Southeast Area have experienced and are dealing with life’s ongoing tragedies. Very few have escaped the loss of loved ones. Very few have escaped economic challenges. Very few have escaped societal conflict.  None have escaped all. The Book of Mormon prophet, Mormon, illustrates how Christ and His Atonement can bring the proper perspective to life’s difficulties. In writing to his son Moroni, after detailing the destruction of their civilization and atrocities done by both sides of the conflict. Mormon said, “…may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.”(6)

The scriptures tell us of witnesses, even a cloud of witnesses(7) to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Consider the testimony of these who all testified that they had seen the Living Christ: Mary Magdalene;(8) the remaining eleven Apostles;(9) the 120 disciples Peter refers to as having been witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection during the process of replacing Judas Iscariot in the Quorum of the Twelve began;(10) the 2,500 assembled at the Temple Bountiful in the Americas;(11) Saul on the road to Damascus;(12) Joseph Smith;(13) Sidney Rigdon with Joseph Smith in 1832 in Hiram, Ohio;(14) and Oliver Cowdery with Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio in 1836.(15)

We are blessed as we follow today’s special witnesses of the Savior       

Furthermore, today we have 15 who we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators who are special witnesses of the Savior. They know Him well. Jointly they say, “We solemnly testify that His life [the life of Jesus Christ] which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary… He rose from the grave to ‘become the firstfruits of them that slept’ (1 Corinthians 15:20). … Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father.”(16)  Is it any wonder that when asked, “what are the fundamental principles of your religion?” the Prophet Joseph Smith would reply, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets concerning Jesus Christ; that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”(17)

Our lives will be blessed when we accept the testimony of these witnesses and come to know for ourselves through the Holy Ghost that the Savior lives. Then we can answer the Savior’s question as Peter did, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”(2) That is how I answer the question, “But whom say ye that I am?” As an especial witness of the Savior, I testify that Jesus is the Christ and that He lives. I know that the tomb was empty because He is risen. Through His Atonement, He brings peace and solace. Because of what He offers, our perspectives can be changed, our fears can be replaced with hope, and we can have the promise of the greatest of blessings, that of Eternal Life.(18)

Notes

1.                   Matthew 16:13-14

2.                   Matthew 16:15-16

3.                   Mere Christianity. Pages 55-56; quoted also by Elder Tad R. Callister, November 2011Ensign, pages 74-76

4.                   See http://www/drgeorgepc.com/Tsunami2004Indonesia.html

5.                   Matthew 28:6

6.                   Moroni 9:25

7.                   Hebrews 12:1

8.                   John 20:14-17

9.                   John 20:19-29

10.                Acts 1:15-22

11.                3 Nephi 11:7,15-17

12.                Acts 9:4-6

13.                Joseph Smith History 1:17

14.                D&C 76:22-24

15.                D&C 110:2-3

16.                The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles, January 1, 2000; http://lds.org/study/living-Christ

17.                Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 121

18.                D&C 14:7