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While working through his inspired translation of the Bible, the Prophet Joseph Smith learned that those who receive “the testimony of Jesus” and believe on his name and receive priesthood ordinances will inherit the celestial kingdom (see D&C 76:51). He also learned that those who refuse to receive the testimony of Jesus, those who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus, and those who deny the testimony of Jesus or fight against the witness of the Spirit, will be consigned to lower kingdoms throughout eternity (see D&C 76:72, 79, 101, and 35-37).
To receive the testimony of Jesus is to hear it, accept it, and assimilate it into our lives. God has promised eternal life to those who come to “know” Him by becoming like Him (see John 17:3 and Matthew 5:48).
The Sermon on the Mount is the most significant “testimony” of our Lord ever recorded. It is a blueprint for exaltation because it bears witness of the Savior’s celestial character. It is an invitation from the Redeemer of all mankind to “Come watch me. Listen to my words. Do what you see me do. Learn of me, and receive eternal life.” In this magnificent sermon, the Savior taught the Nephites about his magnificent character and what it really means to become “even as He is.” Latter-day Saints are fortunate to have an inspired version of the Sermon on the Mount and an additional version, the Sermon at the temple in the land Bountiful. Both sermons add much light and understanding to what Jesus really taught.
To Whom Was Jesus Speaking?
The Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith Translation make it clear that these sermons were directed to the Twelve Apostles and to the Savior’s disciples, or the baptized, covenant members of the Church (3 Nephi 12:1-2). They were calls to a higher level for members of the Church, as well as a call for members to share the gospel with others.
Come unto Christ–the Beatitudes
There are some significant differences between the account of the Beatitudes in the New Testament Sermon on the Mount, and the Beatitudes recorded in the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith Translation. All the changes in the JST are found in the Book of Mormon. It is interesting to note the change in the first beatitude because this is how the Savior began his great sermon: “Yea, Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (3 Nephi 12:3.)
Those who are humble will be led by the Spirit to know and understand the gospel (D&C136:32-33; Alma 13:28). Those who “come unto Christ” by denying themselves of “all ungodliness,” who love God with all their might, mind, strength, and who serve others can receive His grace (Moroni 10:32-33). This grace is a divine means of help or strength that can fill us with the Savior’s love (Moroni 7:47-48), can make “weak things become strong” unto us(Ether 12:24), can perfect us in Christ (Moroni 10:32-33), and can enable “men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts” (LDS Bible Dictionary, “Grace,” p. 697.) In other words, the Savior has power far beyond our own. He can bless and strengthen us to accomplish things and to become something more than we could ever do on our own. But this gift of grace, or help in time of need, is reserved only for those who “come unto him,” who “have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else” (2 Nephi 2:7). There are many blessings flowing from the Savior’s atoning sacrifice and from his loving kindness that can be had in this life, as well as the next. “For I do know,” Alma taught his family, “that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” (Alma 36:3.)
This great Sermon clarifies that coming unto Christ is the only way back to the presence of the Father. That is why the Savior’s invitations to us include: “Come, follow me” (Luke 18:22), “Learn of me” (Matt. 11:29), “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), “I have set an example for you” (3 Ne. 18:16), and “Be ” even as I am” (3 NE 27:27).
There are other changes in the Beatitudes (literally meaning “attitudes” that ought to “be” a part of our life). The Beatitudes are a description of the happy life. Comparing all the Beatitudes in the Book of Mormon with the Beatitudes in the Bible gives us significant new insight.
Salt of the Earth and Light of the World
Following the Beatitudes, the Book of Mormon and JST add a phrase to the beginning of verses 13 and 14: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be…” This is far different than “Ye are the…”
Thus, the Sermon at the Temple in the Book of Mormon makes it clear that the Savior is inviting his disciples to “become” the salt of the earth and to “become” the light of the world. Covenant Saints are the Salt of the Earth. It is not a given that they already are. The personal example of a Latter-day Saint can have a very positive impact on others. Negative examples can also keep people from receiving the gospel message, “for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words” (Alma 39:11).
Salt can only lose its savor through mixture and contamination. Light can only be eliminated when it is covered. The Book of Mormon Sermon at the Temple indicates that the Savior was calling his disciples to become “Saints,” to set their lives apart from the world, so that others might see “your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (3 Nephi 12:16).
In our day, the Lord reiterated this same call, but added one letter to the word “savor” and changed its entire meaning: “For they [the Saints] were set to be as light unto the world, and to be the saviors of men; And inasmuch as they are not the saviors of men, they are as salt that has lost its savor…” (D&C 103:8-10.)
Latter-day Saints are more than the “flavoring” (savor) or examples to mankind. They have been called to be “saviors” by sharing the gospel, redeeming the dead, and perfecting their own lives(D&C 86:11). If they are unable to do this work, “wherewith shall the earth be salted?” In a Mission President’s Seminar (June 1999), President Gordon B. Hinckley observed, “Our message is so imperative, when you stop to think that the salvation, the eternal salvation of the world, rests upon the shoulders of this church. When all is said and done, if the world is going to be saved, we have to do it. There is no escaping from that. No other people in the history of the world have received the kind of mandate that we have received. We are responsible for all who have lived on the earth. That involves family history and temple work. We are responsible for all who now live upon the earth, and that involves missionary work. And we are going to be responsible for all who will yet live upon the earth.”
This sermon was also a call to teach others the eternal truths of the Gospel. “Whosoever shall do and teach these commandments of the law until it be fulfilled, the same shall be called great,and shall be saved in the kingdom of heaven. (See JST Matt. 5:21.) “Effective teaching,”President Gordon B. Hinckley has said, “is the very essence of leadership in the Church. Eternal life will come only as men and women are taught with such effectiveness that they change and discipline their lives.
They cannot be coerced into righteousness or into heaven. They must be led, and that means teaching.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles added: “For each of us to ‘come unto Christ,’ to keep His commandments and follow His example back to the Father is surely the highest and holiest purpose of human existence. To help others do that as well–to teach, persuade, and prayerfully lead them to walk that path of redemption also–surely that must be the second most significant task in our lives. Perhaps that is why President David O. McKay once said, ‘No greater responsibility can rest upon any man[or woman] than to be a teacher of God’s children.'”
The Joseph Smith Translation strengthens the charge in Matt. 5:48: “Ye are therefore commanded to be perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (JST Matt. 5:50).In the Book of Mormon account, given after the Savior’s resurrection, it reads, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” (3 Nephi 12:48.)
Perfection is an eternal goal, not a mortal possibility. It is, however, a commandment that can be kept. As President Joseph Fielding Smith observed, “I believe the Lord meant just what he said:that we should be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. That will not come all at once, but line upon line, and precept upon precept, example upon example, and even then not as long as we live in this mortal life, for we will have to go even beyond the grave before we reach that perfection and shall be like God.
“But here we lay the foundation. Here is where we are taught these simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in this probationary state, to prepare us for that perfection. It is our duty to be better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today. Why?Because…if we are keeping the commandments of the Lord, we are on that road to perfection,and that can only come through obedience and the desire in our hearts to overcome the world. It is the duty of every man to try to be like his Eternal Father.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:18-19.)
Feelings of inadequacy or anxiety about perfection should not surprise us. Only with the Savior’s help, atonement, and resurrection will perfection ever be possible. But the marvelous promise is that He can and will help! “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32).”Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:20).
The word “steadfastness” comes from the Greek, meaning “immovable, settled.” In English it means “to stand firm in belief and determination.” Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, means to be settled and firm in our faith that he can help us become even as he is.
Doing Alms in Secret
Alms are righteous acts of service or righteous acts of religious devotion (see Matt. 6:1, footnote b). The King James Version and the Book of Mormon state: “When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” (Matt. 6:3; 3 Nephi 13:3), a physical impossibility if taken literally. The Joseph Smith Translation is much clearer: “When thou doest alms, let it be unto thee as thy left hand not knowing what thy right hand doeth.”
The Savior set the perfect example of one who continually did quiet acts of service and numerous acts of kindness for which He sought no recognition (see Matt. 8:4; Luke 8:56; Luke 9:21). John the Beloved closed his testament and bore witness of the Savior’s almsgiving with these words: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25). As in all things, the Savior showed us the way.
The Lord’s Prayer
None of the changes in the JST to the Lord’s Prayer are found in the Book of Mormon account. One in particular is profound. The King James Version and the Book of Mormon record, “And lead us not into temptation” (Matt. 6:13), making it sound as if Heavenly Father occasionally and purposefully leads His children into temptation. The JST footnote in the Bible reads: “Suffer us not to be led into temptation.”
While some readers wrestle with the false idea that God creates evil and leads us to it, the Prophet Joseph Smith helps us understand that portion of the Lord’s Prayer as a plea for protection from the evil one, as a petition to not let us enter into temptation (compare Matt. 6:13, footnotes b and d). As Joseph Smith himself later taught, only those who resist the Spirit of God are liable to be led into temptation.
Doing the Father’s Will
The King James Version and the Book of Mormon state: “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matt. 6:22). The JST footnote adds, “If therefore thine eye be single to the glory of God, thy whole body shall be full of light.”
When the Savior undertook the work of the Father to save all mankind, He had regard only for the glory of the Father. The first words we hear from His premortal life as recorded in the scriptures are “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). The first words we have in the scriptures that the Savior spoke as a mortal include “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). In Gethsemane He prayed, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). His final words on the cross were “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46) and “Father, it is finished, thy will is done” (see JST, footnote to Matt. 27:50).From His premortal existence throughout His entire life, the Savior’s eye was single to doing the will of His Father.
To follow in the Savior’s footsteps is to assist the Father in His work and glory, which is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). As one source put it, “To be able to say at all times, truthfully, ‘Thine be the honor,’ is to be sanctified; that is to be a Saint.”In other words, following the Savior’s example and participating in God’s work through perfecting our lives, preaching the gospel, and redeeming the dead through temple work will sanctify us and help us not only comprehend God, but become precisely like him (D&C88:67-68).
Instructions to Ministers in the Kingdom
The JST and the Book of Mormon indicate that certain verses in the Sermon on the Mount were directed to the Twelve, who were about to embark on missions (see JST, Matt. 6:25-27, Bible appendix; 3 NE 13:25). Without knowing that, one could assume that the Savior was telling everyone not to worry about food, clothing, or other necessities of life (see Matt. 6:25-34). But His words about taking no thought for those things were spoken in answer to the Apostles’ concerns about providing for themselves and their families while serving in the ministry. He gave the absolute assurance that Heavenly Father would care for His servants if they would “seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness” (JST, Matt. 6:33). The Lord gave a similar assurance to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon while they were serving a mission to Canada in 1833 and feeling concern for their families (see D&C 100:1).
The King James Version and the Book of Mormon read: “Judge not, that ye be not judged”(Matt. 7:1; 3 Nephi 14:1), making it sound as if no one should ever judge others. But the JST footnote clarifies the doctrine: “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment.”
The context of verses 2-5 suggests that looking for fault in others or critically condemning others is what is being censured by the Savior. He has counseled us to be merciful, to deal justly, and to judge others righteously–to make appropriate ethical appraisals of others under the influence of the Spirit (see Alma 41:14; D&C 11:12; D&C 121:41-45). He warned us to “cease to find fault one with another” (D&C 88:124) because “with [that same] judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged” (Matt. 7:2).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed there are two kinds of judging, including “final judgments, which we are forbidden to make, and intermediate judgments which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles. ”
“Latter-day Saints understand the final judgment as the time when all men will receive their personal dominions in the mansions prepared for them in various kingdoms of glory. ” I believe that the scriptural command to judge not refers most clearly to this final judgment.”
“Ye Never Knew Me”
Near the close of the Sermon, the King James Version and the Book of Mormon state that at the day of final judgment the Savior will declare to some, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23; 3 Nephi 154:23). The Savior, of course, knows each of us. Because of the Atonement, He knows us better than we know ourselves, including an intimate understanding of all our pains, sufferings, and infirmities (see Alma 7:11-13). There is nothing He cannot comprehend (see D&C 38:2). He not only knows us but He loves us and helps us (see Alma 36:3; Isa. 61:1-3). In contrast, the JST reverses the thought to its accurate case: “Ye never knew me.” President John Taylor said that the statements in 3 Nephi 14:21-23 will refer to some Latter-day Saints at the day of final judgment.
As He closed His sermon, the Savior gave the comforting assurance that those who “heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock” (3 Nephi 14:24). His teachings are a sure foundation upon which we can build our lives to weather any storm (see Matt. 7:25 and Helaman 5:12). His philosophy of life–His gospel–exceeds all the wisdom of the world, and His teachings bring to the world things “which they have never considered” (D&C 101:94). To those awed by the philosophies of men,however, His teachings may seem like “idle tales” (Luke 24:11) or “strange things” (Luke 5:26). Little wonder then that “when Jesus had ended these sayings with his disciples, the people were astonished at his doctrine: “For he taught them as one having authority from God, and not as having authority from the Scribes” (see JST footnotes to Matt. 7:28-29).
Blueprint for Exaltation
The Sermon at the temple is perhaps the most significant testimony of our Lord ever recorded. It is a blueprint for exaltation because it bears witness of the Savior’s celestial nature. President Harold B. Lee called it “a revelation of His own character, which was perfect” and said it is an”autobiography, every syllable of which He had written down in deeds,” thus making it a “blueprint for our own lives.” It is essentially an invitation from the Redeemer of all mankind to come and watch Him, let him be our example, to learn of Him, and receive eternal life.
We owe the Prophet Joseph Smith a debt of gratitude for providing the world with two of the most insightful renderings of the greatest sermon ever given. The Savior has promised that those who receive His testimony, which undoubtedly includes the Sermon at the temple, will inherit the celestial kingdom of God. Because of Joseph Smith’s contributions, we can discover the true meanings of the Savior’s teachings to a greater extent than ever before.