Thoughts on Chapter 27
Up through chapter 26 of 3 Nephi, the people experienced Christ first hand. They were simultaneously chastened for past sins and lifted up through first-hand exposure to the core essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ, transformed through amazing spiritual experiences. With Christ’s departure, the designated disciples worked diligently to establish the church but got stuck early-on over names. In response, early on in Chapter 27, they unite in “mighty prayer and fasting” (verse 1) over what to name the church.
Why is naming things correctly so important?
Christ responds to their prayers with a final visit, instructing them to search the scriptures, wherein they may find the answer to this particular question. To be Christ’s church it must be called in Christ’s name. Being called in Christ’s name would make it Christ’s church but only “if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (verse 8).
In these sets of verses we get some clues about the role the gospel of Christ should play in our lives – the gospel needs to be foundational. We build our lives in individually unique ways according to our gifts and circumstance, but the foundation of our lives must rest firmly on the rock of the gospel of Christ. Which begs the question, what is the gospel of Christ? This question is answered, yet again, in chapter 27.
The gospel of Christ is to uplift, to elevate, but the only way to do that truly is to “do the will of my Father” (verse 13). Christ’s life was fully consecrated to do the will of the father, which led him inevitably to the cross. And through that sacrifice, our lives may be lifted up as we dedicate them fully to the will of the Father. “Now this is this commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.” (verse 20) Baptism is a way to dedicate our lives fully to Christ through covenant.
Earlier, Jesus warns about the lives not built upon the gospel, that “I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast in the fire, from whence there is no return.” (verse 11)
I don’t think this is quite as harsh as it sounds, but it is descriptive. Life is short, everything that begins must end. It is this way by design. As we fully consecrate everything to Christ, we share in the eternal round of God. We die in God, we are renewed in God. We die but then we live again.
Think of art. Really great art, architecture or music fully produced through the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ lives in some capacity, ever renewing and expanding as one generation’s art inspires and informs the next. As we flow within the conversation of deep time (to use a Richard Rohr concept), we contribute to an ever-growing, ever-continuing, never really dying life of humanity. We become one. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m sure there’s more to it than that but that’s the way I experience it right now.
Thoughts on Chapter 28
In Chapter 28, Jesus asks the disciples, “one by one, saying unto them ‘What is it that ye desire of me’ after that I am gone to the Father?” Nine of the twelve asked to have a full life fully consecrated to God and then when it’s done they can enter speedily into the kingdom of heaven. A full life in these terms is 72.
Can you imagine requesting this? 72 used to be a long, blessed life, considering the many ways life could be cut short. Now it’s considered an early-ish death. But this request shows a deep embrace of life’s temporariness. Having direct experience with eternity, these nine had no fear of it. They wanted a full life and a gentle transition into eternity. Contrast that with the more typical experience we all endure, the uncertainty and ever-present possibility of our lives cut short. We live life like it will never end, but it will, sometimes sooner than we expect.
The remaining three disciples, however, wanted something different. They wanted their lives extended to see and experience first hand the events to unfold on this earth until Christ returns again. They wanted to live on earth like the rocks or the trees, a permanent fixture, living on, while others died, that they may have a direct influence for good over the course of events while they remain.
After these blessings are requested and granted, the twelve disciples “were caught up into heaven and heard unspeakable things”. (verse 14).
When I think of unspeakable things, my mind goes in two directions – the information conveyed in the words being taught are so deep, requiring a level of sophistication, experience and training for the words to be understandable at all, they might as well be unspeakable. I can imagine going to a conference event in a field meant for people in an industry, where I have no direct training, and finding what’s being said to be, from my perspective, unspeakable.
Second, I can think of experiences that I cannot properly convey through language. Perhaps experiencing a devastatingly beautiful landscape or being captured in beautiful music at just the right time my entire soul is raptured. There’s no way to really communicate what I experience to another person that will give that experience justice. I’m imagining some combination of both is what’s being experienced here.
Mormon concludes describing the experiences of the three disciples that continue to live, writing as he is 400 years after the time described here, having encountered them himself.
Thoughts on Chapter 29 and 30
As the Book of Mormon comes forth into the world and as people all over the world really engage with its text, then you may know the time of Christ’s covenant to his people of Israel will be fulfilled, that Christ will remember the remnant. But not just the remnant of Israel but the Gentiles also. Now is the time for the gathering of Israel, a gathering that excludes no one. We will all be gathered in a final time.
Thoughts on 4 Nephi
Imagine if the Book of Mormon were organized differently. 4 Nephi consists of a single chapter, 49 verses covering three generations and two hundred years. This single chapter of 49 verses covers considerably more time than Alma, a book that takes up 1/3rd of the Book of Mormon. Imagine if Alma were one chapter of 49 verses, and 4 Nephi expanded out like Alma into 60 chapters, filled with multiple sermons and specific experiences described in as much detail. I think it’s wrong to think nothing of note happed during the time of 4 Nephi. Mormon applied editorial discretion in his summary for reasons I’m not sure are clear. Mormon knew war, named his son after Captain Moroni, a central hero of Alma.
But know, fourth Nephi is remarkable. Describing in some detail that the people achieve Zion over multiple generations, for 200 years.
“And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.” (verse 3)
They rebuilt their civilizations. The people did “wax strong, and did multiply exceedingly fast.” (verse 10)
“And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders… and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” (verse 16, 17).
But halfway through this chapter, Mormon slows down the pace considerably to dwell on the fractures that begin to take place. In verse 24, he describes the pride creeping in because of their riches and at that time, the society starts to divide into classes. Divisions crept in, multiple churches were created, some who claimed Christ but did not live up to his gospel, others denying Christ fully.
They begin to divide into historical tribes, Nephites and Lamanites, Nephites were they who believed in Christ and those who didn’t united as Lamanites. And then finally, they bring back in the “secret oaths and combinations of Gadianton” (verse 43).
Three hundred years had passed away and both the Nephites and Lamanites both become exceedingly wicked. The end of 4 Nephi brings the narrative right up to the time of Mormon, the prophet who had been narrating the story since Mosiah.