Thursday, September 22, 2016

Upon This Rock

Not long after the death of John the Baptist, Christ led his disciples to the base of Mount Hermon in the northern reaches of Galilee. Soon he would ascend that mountain with Peter, James, and John and be transfigured before them. God the Father would be present to testify of His Beloved Son. Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist would appear to relay priesthood authority and keys. In short, the Church of Christ and the power to administer the ordinances thereof would be restored. Before the Church could be built however, the Savior sought an opportunity to lay the foundation.

At the base of the mountain was the city of Caesarea Phillipi. Though proximate to Israel, this was a Gentile resort city in the same vein as a modern Las Vegas. Since the time of Alexander the great several hundred years earlier, it had also become a place dedicated to the worship of Pan, the faun-like Greek god of nature and the wild often associated with sexuality. Unlike other Greek gods, Pan was worshiped almost exclusively in natural settings such as the hot springs present at Caesarea Phillipi. The springs at this site were so warm that they emitted a constant wave of steam through the entrance gates, which became known locally as the "Gates of Hades".

Had the disciples been aware of what was about to occur, they might have recognized the similarities between their setting in Caesarea Phillipi and their Israelite ancestors that worshiped a golden calf at the base of Mount Sinai. It was on Mount Sinai that God revealed himself to Moses. Now that same God sought to reveal himself to his disciples.

"Whom do men say that I the Son of man am," he asked. In that worldly setting, his disciples responded with worldly speculations. Then the Savior asked, "But whom say ye that I am?"

Peter responded resolutely, "Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

It is worth remembering that some time just prior to the 16-mile journey to Caesarea Phillipi, Peter had a life-changing spiritual experience. In the dark of night, exhausted from more than nine hours of rowing in a storm and surrounded by the fears of his peers, Peter had hearkened to the voice of the Lord to leave the boat and walk on water. Somewhere along the way, or perhaps gradually all along the way, Peter had prepared himself to receive and follow spiritual promptings. Now his confidence in those promptings allowed him to answer the Lord's inquiry with conviction.

The Lord commended Peter for his answer and emphasized that "flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." Christ continued:

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:18-19).

What was the rock that Christ would use to build his church? What was the foundation that had to be laid for the pending restoration to succeed?

Was it Peter himself, whose name means "small rock" in Greek? They were, after all, in a Greek city; but if Peter were the foundation wouldn't it be the Church of Peter rather than the Church of Christ?

Or did Christ mean the rock of the mountain where he would soon ascend with Peter, James and John to restore priesthood authority and keys? Certainly it would be hard to miss the large rock face that was the strength of Caesarea Phillipi. Was Christ simply hinting that his church would be restored on that mountain and that Peter would be present?

Or did Christ refer to the city built into the rock? Didn't the apostles build the church of Christ largely upon similar Gentile cities in Turkey, Greece and Syria after the ascension of Christ?

All of these theories and many more have been debated by scripture scholars for hundreds if not thousands of years. Perhaps all of them have some merit. Thankfully, the Lord taught the Prophet Joseph Smith the primary intention of this expression. He explained, "Jesus in His teachings says, 'Upon this rock I will build my Church...' What rock? Revelation" (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 195. emphasis added). 

Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. This is the rock emphasized by the Savior as the foundation of His Church. It was His Church. Peter would be chosen to serve as Christ's mouthpiece on the earth for a time, but the Savior himself would continue to lead the Church by revelation just as he had periodically revealed his will to Moses on Mount Sinai. 

Christ leads his restored church today through revelation to prophets, just as he has always done. As Joseph Smith testified, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded upon direct revelation, as the true Church of God has ever been, according to the Scriptures" (TPC: JS, 195). This distinguishes the Church from all other religious sects.

Likewise, we have the promise of our Creator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, that if we will rely on the foundation of revelation in our lives the world will not prevail against us. Even if it seems as though we stand at the gates of hell, if we are prepared and willing to follow the promptings we receive the best is yet to come. There is a glorious experience for each of us at the top of the mountain.

Twice each year, living prophets address the Church to share the mind and will of the Lord as it has been revealed to them. If we are prepared and willing to follow the promptings we receive, the Lord will teach us what we need to do to get out of the boat, to be protected from the evils of the world and to see his plan from a higher altitude. As we are all children of God, we are all encouraged to listen to what the Lord has to say. Archived messages and information about how to view these messages live can be found at

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Walking on Water

All of us have heard the story about the time that Christ, and for a short time, Peter, walked on water. We know that the wind was blowing and that Peter took a few steps on the choppy sea before he began to doubt and sink. We’ve talked at church and at home about the importance of keeping our focus on Christ and how Christ will help us when we falter. We know this stuff, and it is important, but we also miss a lot when we examine this experience as an isolated incident. Consider for a moment the many lessons available for us in the context of this story:

Less than 24 hours before Christ traversed the surface of the stormy sea, he learned that his cousin, friend and predecessor, John the Baptist, had been killed unjustly to satisfy a young woman who had danced for the king. The news was a heavy blow and Christ soon boarded a ship across the Sea of Galilee to the wilderness where he could be alone to grieve.

When he reached the opposite coast however, Christ found that thousands of people had walked the several miles around the sea to be with him when he arrived. Rather than sending them away or being frustrated that he couldn’t get a moment for himself, Christ spent the rest of the day preaching and healing the sick.

When evening came and there was no food, Christ could have very easily dismissed the crowd with no ill will. Surely after the loss of John and a full day of ministering to the multitude, he would have been justified in doing so. But the scriptures say that he was moved with compassion and instead performed a miracle to feed the multitude.

Finally, sometime after dinnertime, Christ told the disciples to take the boat and head home. He stayed with the crowd a little longer and then sent them to their homes as well. It had been a full day. Christ was probably physically and emotionally exhausted, but he was finally alone. Still seeking solace himself, he climbed a nearby mountain to pray.

Hours later, the disciples were struggling to get home. The five-mile journey that might normally take about two hours had stretched into a very difficult nine or more hours of rowing in a choppy sea against a blasting wind. What physical strength they had was likely exhausted. Different personalities in the boat may have been upset or annoyed or even a little incredulous that they had battled through the entire night and were still stuck out in the middle of the sea. Some might have been scared that they weren’t going to make it across at all.

Then, sometime between three and six in the morning, the disciples saw a mysterious figure out on the water. Christ had seen them struggling from the temple-mountain where he had been praying and had walked the five or more miles to where they were. He was unrecognizable in the dark of night and the disciples cried out in fear of what they thought may be an evil spirit. Christ responded, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”

Peter recognized the voice of the Lord and answered, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” Peter’s qualifying statement, “if it be thou”, indicates that Christ was probably still at least partially hidden by the darkness. Christ told Peter to come to him.

Most of us recognize that it is a bit irrational under normal circumstances to get out of a boat that is nowhere near land. By this logic, it is then completely irrational to do so at night amid high wind and waves when you are completely exhausted from a full day of service and a full night of rowing and your peers are terrified of what they see outside the boat. Peter knew this, but Peter got out of the boat.

In utter contradiction to everything he knew to be possible, Peter then walked on the water. He took a few obedient steps before suddenly becoming aware again that he was in the middle of the storm and that what he was doing was impossible. As he sensed himself beginning to falter, he called out, “Lord, save me.” Immediately, the Savior stretched forth his hand and caught Peter. When both men had reached to boat, the storm ceased. The rest of the disciples then recognized the Lord and worshipped him.

The boat made landfall in early morning and again Christ was met by crowds of people seeking healing for themselves and their loved ones. Despite all that had happened and now more than 24 hours without sleep, Christ spent the day ministering unto the people, healing their sick, contending with the Pharisees, and performing another miracle to feed the multitudes.

In the 24 verses adjacent to the story of Christ walking on the water in Matthew 14, we find a rich context with filled with insightful details and instructive gospel lessons. In these verses we learn that Christ always has time for us and is always ready to provide help and healing. We learn that when we serve others even when we are grieved or sad, we are following the example of our Savior. We learn that we can find solace in the temple and in prayer, just as the Savior did.

The context prepares our heart and mind to learn that even though God might not always spare us from the storms of life, he is aware of us and will come to our aid; that we get credit for trying; and that if we will try to come to him he will catch us when we start to sink. It helps us see the power of love and the deceit of fear.

From Peter we learn that sometimes we cannot overcome our trials on our own or even with the support of friends and family; but that doesn’t mean our trials cannot be overcome. We learn the importance of recognizing the voice of the Lord and trusting his voice above the fearful voices of the world or even our own logic. We do not have to see Christ to know he is there. And though it may not always be rational or even possible to obey his voice, the Lord will help us do the impossible if we will just get out of the boat. Indeed, the boat is often our biggest obstacle.

The story of Christ walking on the water is one of the best-known Bible stories worldwide. Its richness is enhanced when we understand the emotions, symbols and other details surrounding it. And best of all, it is true and so are the principles we learn from it. Jesus Christ is the Creator of heaven and Earth. He is our Savior. He loves us. He wants each of us to come to him. He wants each of us to walk on water.