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Cover image: “Christ Calling The Apostles James And John” by Edward Armitage, 1869.

The authors of the New Testament gospels had to choose their words carefully. They sought to convey the “good news” to the world which was delivered to them by “eyewitnesses” to the ministrations of the Savior.  When reading a story in the scriptures, we would be wise to ask, “Why is this author including these details in his gospel? What is the truth he is attempting to convey that I can liken unto my own experience?”

In the first verse of Matthew 10, we read that Christ called His apostles, and then gave them power to cast out devils and heal the sick.  He gave them “authority,” (Luke 9:1) and “ordained” them. They did not seek their callings, but left their nets to follow the Savior. He told them, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you” (John 15:16). To what “power” were these men ordained? Ephesians tells us that these apostles and prophets are the “foundation” of Christ’s church.  Why is this “power” and “authority” so essential to maintaining stability and keeping order within the Church of Jesus Christ? Why did these gospel writers take the time to record this detail in their gospel narratives?

To illustrate the necessity of proper authority, Boyd K. Packer shared this story:

Suppose an agent came to you with a real bargain in insurance. He claims that his policy offers complete protection. He talks of generous coverage, very low premiums, no penalties for making a claim—even a heavy claim. Other features make the policy look better than any you have considered before. He tells you of the company he claims to represent. You know it to be very reputable. You study the policy and find more offered to you, with less required of you, than any policy you have looked at before. You check carefully on the company and come away satisfied that they are indeed reputable. They do stand behind their policies. Some of your friends have dealt with them for years and have always been satisfied. You, it appears, have found a real bargain.

But in this imaginary account there is one thing that you did not discover, one hitch. This agent was never hired by that company. They have not authorized him to represent them. The company is not even aware that he is using their name. He obtained copies of the policy and adjusted it to give it a little wider appeal. He had some forms and letterheads printed and set himself up in business. When he writes a policy and collects the premiums, they do not go to the head office. The policy goes into a drawer somewhere, and the premium money into his pocket. Chances are, he figures, there will be no claim against the policy anyway, at least not while he is around. And since it is life insurance, certainly there will be no claim while the policyholder is around.

You have, as the expression goes, been sold a bill of goods. For all you know, you are well-insured. You feel content and suppose that when the day comes, as it surely will, your claim will be paid.

Too bad for you! No doubt the company will reject your claim. They cannot be compelled to honor policies except those written by authorized agents whom they have hired and certified, no matter how convinced you were that this man was a bona fide agent.

Will you get sympathy? Oh yes. Full value of the policy? Not a chance! Would you not receive anything? Well, for as long as you didn’t know the difference, you felt secure, for whatever that is worth.

(Boyd K. Packer, “Ordinances,” BYU Devotional Feb 3, 1980)

It is a wonderful thing to know that every priesthood holder in the Church today can trace his priesthood authority back to this moment when Christ ordained His apostles.[1] My husband keeps his priesthood line of authority chart in his Book of Remembrance.  Our children can rest assured that their father has the same priesthood authority that Jesus Christ gave to His apostles.

Although the instructions Jesus gave were to His apostles, we all have part in the Lord’s work.  The Lord will give each one of us the power to do the work He has called us to do.  

D&C 121:34-36 gives detailed instructions as to how these “powers” of heaven may be accessed. Although the authority may be conferred upon a man, the power may be accessed “only upon the principles of righteousness.”

Matt. 10:9-10 “Go without purse or scrip”

Jesus told his apostles to go forth and preach taking neither “purse or scrip.” As a young girl, I wondered why he would send missionaries out into the world without their scriptures.  The word “scrip” is no longer used today with its original meaning.  It has nothing to do with scriptures. In the Savior’s time, a purse was used to carry money [a wallet], and a scrip was a larger sack used to carry food and other supplies [lunch box]. The Savior was telling His apostles that they didn’t need to worry about food, clothing, or lodgings, or any other temporal needs.  They were to rely on the Lord for their needs. This was in harmony with the laws of hospitality and the social customs of the day.  Later, in Luke 22:35-36, Jesus revoked the command to rely on the hospitality of the people, perhaps because the apostles would soon carry the gospel to Gentile nations that did not have the same standards of hospitality, and because they would face opposition from the Jews as they went out into the world (see John 15:18-22).

Matthew 10:17-20 “Take no thought how ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.”

Christ told His apostles that they would be brought before the captains and the kings of the world to defend their message. They were not to despair, but have confidence that “it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.”

Here in the mission field, our mission president is continually sharing this same message with the young missionaries.  Many are barely out of high school, and they are used to communicating with other people through texts or emails. A large number of them have never communicated with people by actually talking to them. Because of this, they find that street contacting is a very stressful activity. They have studied Preach My Gospel, but when faced with the task of sharing a 30-second message with someone, they are often at a loss as to what to say. At the last Zone Conference, he told them, “You will know what to say if you will just open your mouth.” He quoted D&C 33:7-9 “Open your mouths and they shall be filled.” In fact, the theme of the whole Zone Conference was OPEN YOUR MOUTH! 

As everyday missionaries, we can all take heed of this directive. The scriptures seem to repeat this message over and over. “It shall be given you what ye shall say – in the very moment” (D&C 100:6). That is how things work in the Kingdom of God. Small things become great things. Ask Heavenly Father who you might share the gospel with. After all, He is hearing the prayers of everyone you know, and knows who is ready to listen.  He will bless you as you invite others to come to Christ. 

As missionaries, we do have to do a few things – be sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit, and fill our memory banks with scriptural knowledge so when we open our mouths, the Spirit can have something to work with. President told the elders and sisters, “You don’t need toworry so much about what you will say!  You just need to trust that God will fill your mouths with the right things to say. Then, (v.8), the Holy Ghost will bear testimony of the truth of what you say.” 

Then he made an interesting point. He said, “Maybe these verses aren’t given so much to teach us what to do, but to learn how He works.  Maybe He is willing to help us more than we know.”  He told a story of meeting a lady and striking up a conversation with her. It struck him that she would make a great Relief Society sister. So, he told her about Relief Society and it turned out that she needed friends and thought Relief Society sounded like a greatidea. 

He told us to ask ourselves this question. “What if I just acted upon the thoughts that came into my mind because I expect revelation? God will help you as you try to recognize the Spirit.  That’s how things work in the kingdom of God. Sometimes we don’t even know we are receiving revelation. It all boils down to developing a trust in God that He really will come to our aid.”

In our ward one Sunday, a young returned missionary accompanied the High Council speaker. She emphasized the importance of members in missionary work.  She loved her mission because she had a front row seat watching people change their lives.  She said, “No show can beat that!  Not even The Greatest Showman!  It is the best show ever! You members can feel that too! You should not be praying for the missionaries to find the seekers of truth.”  (That statement was shocking to me!!)  She went on, “It is our job as members to do the finding.  Open your mouths!”  She quoted D&C 33:9, “‘Open your mouths and ye shall be laden with sheaves upon your backs…’  Don’t be afraid! Trust in the Lord and OPEN YOUR MOUTH!”  She told about her trainer who made her an OYM charm.  Every time she opened her mouth to an investigator, she got to put a paper in a jar with a favorite activity on it, and on P-day they got to draw a paper out and do that thing.  She loved Taco Bell and her trainer hated it.  She wrote “Go to Taco Bell” on every paper.  It really helped her to open her mouth!

Matt. 10:34-37 What did Jesus mean by “I came not to send peace, but a sword?”

In these verses, Jesus Christ declared that His message would not always bring peace. In fact, choosing to make God preeminent in one’s life might even result in divisions within a family.  President Ezra Taft Benson commented on this verse by saying, “One of the most difficult tests of all is when you have to choose between pleasing God or pleasing someone you love and respect – particularly a family member” (Ensign, May 1988, 5).

Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of meeting a young naval officer from Asia. The officer had not been a Christian, but during training in the United States, he had learned about the Church and was baptized. He was now preparing to return to his native land.

President Hinckley asked the officer: “Your people are not Christians. What will happen when you return home a Christian, and, more particularly, a Mormon Christian?”

The officer’s face clouded, and he replied: “My family will be disappointed. … As for my future and my career, all opportunity may be foreclosed against me.”

President Hinckley asked, “Are you willing to pay so great a price for the gospel?”

With his dark eyes moistened by tears, he answered with a question: “It’s true, isn’t it?”

President Hinckley responded, “Yes, it is true.”

To which the officer replied, “Then what else matters?”

(“The True Strength of the Church,” Ensign, July 1973, 48.)

I think this week would be a good time to look up stories of the ancestors who gave up so much for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 11:28-30 “Take My Yoke upon You”

In times past, wooden yokes were usually carefully crafted by carpenters to fit the necks of the animals that would wear them. Since yokes were used to bind one animal to another animal, they can be seen as symbolic of the covenant relationship that binds us to the Savior and allows us to “pull together” with Him.

President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) explained,

“In biblical times the yoke was a device of great assistance to those who tilled the field. It allowed the strength of a second animal to be linked and coupled with the effort of a single animal, sharing and reducing the heavy labor of the plow or wagon. A burden that was overwhelming or perhaps impossible for one to bear could be equitably and comfortably borne by two bound together with a common yoke. . . . Why face life’s burdens alone, Christ asks, or why face them with temporal support that will quickly falter? To the heavy laden it is Christ’s yoke, it is the power and peace of standing side by side with a God that will provide the support, balance, and strength to meet our challenges and endure our tasks here in the hardpan field of mortality.  

(“Come unto Me,” Ensign, Nov. 1990, 18.)

There is another aspect of this yoke analogy that is worth considering. Although this scripture is timeless, it was given to the Jewish people who were attempting to live the law of Moses. Christ says, “Come unto me all you who are weighted down beneath your burdens.” To the Jew, religion was a thing of endless rules. (613 from the written and oral Torah) which dictated every action of his life. These demands were indeed a burden.

He says, “My yoke is easy.” The word easy is in Greek is chrestos, which can mean well-fitting. In Palestine, ox-yokes were made of wood. The ox was brought, and the measurements were taken. The yoke was then roughed out, and the ox brought back to have the yoke tried on. The yoke was carefully adjusted, so that it would fit perfectly, and not irritate the ox’s neck. (See Barclay’s Study Bible)

There is a legend that Jesus made the best ox-yokes in all Galilee, and that from all over the country men came to him to buy the best yokes that skill could make.  It has been suggested that the sign above the door of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth may well have been: “My yokes fit well.” Jesus says, “My yoke fits well.” Whatever God sends us is made to fit our needs and our abilities exactly. God knows exactly what we need to fill our divine potential.

“How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences, which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy Joy.’”

Neal A. Maxwell, “Lest Ye Be Weary and Faint in Your Minds,” Ensign, May 1991, 88.

To those who take upon them the Savior’s yoke, He promises “rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29). This promised “rest” can be a lightening of our burdens (see Mosiah 24:15) and ultimately a fulness of God’s glory (see D&C 84:24; Hebrews 4:1–11).

Luke 7:11-17  Jesus Christ restored to life the son of a widow of Nain.

The young man described in this chapter was “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow” (Luke 7:12). The loss of her only son meant that the widow was left without means of temporal support. Those who witnessed Jesus Christ restore the young man to life acknowledged, “A great prophet is risen up among us” (Luke 7:16). This statement suggests that the miracle may have prompted people to note similarities between the ministries of the Savior and two ancient prophets. Centuries earlier, Elijah had restored to life the son of a widow at Zarephath (see 1 Kings 17:17–24), and Elisha had raised the son of a widow in the village of Shunem, just three miles (five kilometers) northwest of Nain (see 2 Kings 4:17–22, 32–37).  

What is Jesus doing here?  This act was not only an act of great compassion, but also had adeeper purpose.  When Elijah ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire, Elisha was a witness and took up the mantle which fell on him. As he stood by the bank of the Jordan, he smote the waters with the mantle, and it parted, just as it had for Elijah.  Those that watched said, “The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha” (2 Kings 2:11-15). Jesus wrapped himself in the mantle of both Elijah and Elisha by performing this familiar miracle.  No wonder the people said, “A great prophet is risen among us.”

Luke 7:36-50  A woman washes the Savior’s feet with her tears, and dries them with her hair.

Barclay’s Study Bible provides these insights into the social mores of the day:

The scene is the courtyard of the house of Simon the Pharisee. The houses of well-to-do people were built round an open courtyard in the form of a hollow square. Often, in the courtyard, there would be a garden and a fountain, and there, in the warm weather, meals were eaten. It was the custom that when a Rabbi was at a meal in such a house, all kinds of people came in – they were quite free to do so – to listen to the pearls of wisdom which fell from his lips. That explains the presence of the woman.

When a guest entered such a house three things were always done. The host placed his hand on the guest’s shoulder and gave him the kiss of peace. That was a mark of respect which was never omitted in the case of a distinguished Rabbi. The roads were only dust tracks, and shoes were merely soles held in place by straps across the foot. So always cool water was poured over the guest’s feet to cleanse and comfort them. Either a pinch of sweet-smelling incense was burned, or a drop of attar of roses was placed on the guest’s head. These things good manners demanded, and in this case not one of them was done.

In the east, the guests did not sit, but reclined, at table. They lay on low couches, resting on the left elbow, leaving the right arm free, with the feet stretched out behind; and during the meal the sandals were taken off. That explains how the woman was standing beside Jesus’s feet.

The woman was a prostitute. No doubt she had listened to Jesus speak from the edge of the crowd and had glimpsed in him the hand which could lift her from the mire of her ways. Round her neck she wore, like all Jewish women, a little phial of concentrated perfume; they were called alabasters; and they were very costly. She wished to pour it on his feet, for it was all she had to offer. But as she saw him, the tears came and fell upon his feet. For a Jewish woman to appear with hair unbound was an act of the gravest immodesty. On her wedding day, a girl bound up her hair and never would she appear with it unbound again. The fact that this woman loosed her long hair in public showed how she had forgotten everyone except Jesus.

The story demonstrates a contrast between two attitudes of mind and heart.

Simon was conscious of no need and therefore felt no love, and so received no forgiveness. Simon’s impression of himself was that he was a good man in the sight of men and of God. 

The woman was conscious of nothing else than an [urgent] need, and therefore was overwhelmed with love for him who could supply it, and so received forgiveness.

Here again, we see a sharp contrast in the characters presented in this story. We saw this in the third and fourth chapters of the Gospel of John, where John contrasted Nicodemus, a member of the powerful Jewish Sanhedrin, with the Samaritan woman at the well, who was one of the lowliest members that society. It is difficult to miss the point Luke is trying to make. Nothing shows off diamonds better than placing them on black velvet. 

Conclusion

As we consider these verses in the New Testament, what conclusions can be drawn? Why have these gospel writers included these details in their carefully chosen words?

I think we can discern a pattern.  The Lord loves His children and wants them all to return to Him. In order to do this, He chose representatives and gave them power to act in His name. He told them that he would be with them always, and that they need not worry about what they should bring or what they should say when they opened their mouths. He would provide all.  The message they would bring to His children would make their lives easier. It would relieve their burdens, and give much-needed rest to their souls.  Any sacrifice necessary to come unto Christ was well worth the price. His well-fitting yoke is individually designed to develop within us the divine attributes that will enable us to dwell eternally with Him and fully share His joy.


[1] [A Melchizedek Priesthood holder can obtain his own line of authority by following the instructions at lineofauthority@ldschurch.org.  He will need his own member number.]