Sunday, February 5, 2017

Receive the Holy Ghost

In the six weeks that followed the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the apostle Peter undergoes a miraculous transformation. It is a change that has had lasting impacts on the history of the Church and the world; and a similar change is within all of our reach.

Simon Peter is a prominent figure in Christ's ministry. He was the Savior's chief apostle, the "rock" and future leader of Christ's church and one of the Lord's most devoted friends. It is Peter that has the faith to walk a step or two on the water, who learns by the spirit and testifies that Jesus is the Christ, who witnesses the transfiguration and the most sacred miracles of Christ, and who cuts off the ear of Malchus in defense of Christ immediately prior to his crucifixion. In simple terms, Peter was a good guy.

Yet, when the Sanhedrin seized the Savior and sentenced him to die, Peter wasn't feeling so good. He was recognized three times as he followed the proceedings and each time Peter denied his association with the accused. When he realized what he had done he went out and wept bitterly. Then, when the Lord was gone, he went back to his fishing boat aggrieved. It must have seemed like it was over-- like there was nothing more to hope.

Six weeks later, everything looked different. Peter and John noticed an older man in front of the temple who had been lame from his birth. When they heal the man, a crowd gathers and Peter testifies of the same Christ who the leaders in the crowd had just crucified. Peter and John were then brought before the Sanhedrin themselves, where Peter boldly declares:

Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand before you whole (Acts 4:10).

What could have made such a difference in so little time? Yes, he had been with Christ for 40 days after the resurrection; but he had been with Christ three years before his infamous denial. He had testified that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God" before he decided he'd go back to being a fisherman (Matthew 16:16). Now he and John were defying a direct order from the Sanhedrin, ignoring threats of violence against them, and "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name" when they were imprisoned and beaten (Acts 5:41).

The difference wasn't the prints of the nails in the Savior's hands or his resurrected glory alone, as wonderful as it must have been to witness the Resurrected Lord. Peter had seen Christ's glory, witnessed the raising of the dead on more than one occasion, and had a testimony of the Savior's divinity even prior to his crucifixion. It also certainly wasn't that like-minded individuals had assumed political power or that the risk of association had diminished. To the contrary, Christ had prophesied that Peter would be crucified for his testimony. So what else could it have been?

In the closing moments before the Savior's ascension into heaven, he repeated a promise to his apostles that he had made before. "Ye shall receive power," he said, "after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

A week later, "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4). A crowd of 3,000 people gathered in Jerusalem that day and Peter taught them the gospel. The hearts of the people in the crowd were softened until they asked Peter and the disciples, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Peter responded, "Repent, and be baptized... and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:37-38).

Peter had experienced the power of the Holy Ghost prior to the resurrection. When he had testified of Christ's divinity in Ceasarea Phillipi, Christ's response confirmed that "flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17). He had participated in the first sacrament and the ordinance of the washing of feet. These spiritual experiences and others like them were intermittent however, and in many ways insufficient to facilitate full conversion. In between spiritual high points, Peter was left to himself and the weakness of his own flesh.

It is only after Peter and John receive the gift of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost that they really begin their ministries. Only then do they have the boldness to stand in a crowd of Jewish leaders and testify of those leaders' sins and their ignorance of the teachings of all the prophets regarding Christ's return and the restoration of the gospel. Only after Peter is "filled with the Holy Ghost" does he have the courage to stand before the Sanhedrin and preach of the same Christ that was hated and crucified by them. Only then do the apostles perform many signs and wonders in defiance of the high priest and then explain with plainness that "we ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost brings confidence, sanctification and peace of conscience, knowledge of all things, strength to endure all things and a desire to share that gift with all of the children of God. It helps Peter overcome his fear of men and transform from student to teacher, from follower to disciple and from having a testimony to being converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is only natural that, given the opportunity to teach the people after experiencing the gift of the Holy Ghost, he teaches the goal and promise of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Peter's teaching is for us, too. The Lord stands ready to bless each of us with the power that is accessory to the gift of the Holy Ghost, but we have to be ready to receive it. Elder Bednar explained:

 These four words-- "Receive the Holy Ghost"-- are not a passive pronouncement; rather, they constitute a priesthood injunction-- an authoritative admonition to act and not simply be acted upon. The Holy Ghost does not become operative in our lives merely because hands are placed upon our heads and those four important words are spoken. As we receive this ordinance, each of us accepts a sacred and ongoing responsibility to desire, to seek, to work, and to so live that we indeed "receive the Holy Ghost" and its attendant spiritual gifts ("Receive the Holy Ghost", October 2010).

The gift of the Holy Ghost is sometimes called the "baptism of fire". In ancient Hebrew culture, fire was a symbol for the presence of the divine. Thus, we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost only after we repent and are baptized by the proper authority for the remission of sins. Only then are we worthy of the presence of the divine.

Likewise, after this gift has been bestowed upon us, it operates in our lives as we remain worthy of it. Elder Bednar taught, "Receiving the Holy Ghost starts with our sincere and constant desire for His companionship in our lives." When we desire to live in the presence of the divine, we invite the companionship of the Holy Ghost as we make and keep sacred covenants, seek virtuous thoughts and actions, strengthen appropriate relationships with friends and family and commune with God through scripture study and prayer.

In short, we can be transformed by the presence of the divine if we're willing to leave old habits behind and heed the priesthood injunction to receive the Holy Ghost. If we will do this, the promise of the Lord is that, come what may, we will receive power-- power to know all things, to overcome all things, to endure all things, and to witness in our homes, our communities, on social media and to all people foreign or domestic. Most miraculous of all, through the gift of the Holy Ghost we receive power to change ourselves, the legacy we leave for our families, and the entire world.

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