“Three Questions,” Ensign, Jan. 1984, 71
An ancient prophet said to an audience much like the one assembled here tonight, “I speak by way of command unto you that belong to the church; and unto those who do not belong to the church I speak by way of invitation.” (Alma 5:62; italics added.)
My message is intended to spark within the hearts of Church members added reverence for the King of Kings—even Jesus Christ. I hope that this added reverence will elicit greater allegiance to Christian living. At the same time, I want to share with our invited guests knowledge about the Christ that will “enlighten [your] understanding.” (See Alma 32:28.) For we have nothing of higher value to share with you than the revealed truths about him who is the center of our faith, the Savior of the world.
Included in the New Testament are three questions of vital importance. The first was posed by Jesus on the coasts of Caesarea Philippi when he said to his disciples, “Whom do men say that I … am?” (Matt. 16:13.) Question two, Jesus asked the Pharisees: “What think ye of Christ?” (Matt. 22:42.) The third was voiced by Pilate: “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matt. 27:22.)
Few, if any, questions are more important than these three because what we say, think, and do with Jesus the Christ will have bearing upon our lives, both here and hereafter. If I regarded Jesus as being only a clever man, it would make little sense for me to follow him. If, however, I knew that he was the Son of God, I would be foolish to ignore his teachings and to flaunt his commandments. Permit me, therefore, to discuss, one-by-one, these questions with their eternal implications.
Christ was well into his ministry at the time he asked his disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” They answered, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” (Matt. 16:14.) Apparently, there were those who believed in reincarnation and who speculated that he was a returned prophet of old.
Had the question been posed to others of that day, I suspect that some would have responded: “Why he is only the son of Joseph, the carpenter. His mother is called Mary. And can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (See Matt. 13:53–58.)
In our modern world, many men say that Jesus was a great and wise teacher, but nothing more. Some acknowledge him as being a prophet, but not the greatest. Others might acknowledge him as a prophet, perhaps even the greatest. Still others testify that he is more than a teacher, more than a prophet—much more!
When Jesus said to Peter, “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter gave that thrilling declaration of faith: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This answer pleased the Lord, for he said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (See Matt. 16:15–17.)
I find it most significant that the “Father which is in heaven,” referred to by Christ, has announced his Son to the world on at least four occasions. At the time of Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan, a voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17.) That same voice spoke similar words on the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Land of Bountiful. (See Matt. 17:5; 3 Ne. 11:3, 7.)
The last time God announced his Son was only 163 years ago. It occurred in a grove in upstate New York when Joseph Smith knelt and sought knowledge from on high. In answer to his humble petition, two personages stood above him in the air, and one spoke, pointing to the other—“This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:17.)
Joseph Smith’s first vision dispelled all the doubts, mysteries, and misconceptions about the living God and his Son which had accumulated for centuries. He saw, he heard, and he knew the truth. Though many reviled and ridiculed, he boldly testified, “I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me.” (JS—H 1:25.)
The light and revelation which came to the Prophet Joseph Smith ushered in a new dispensation of truth. Light replaced darkness; knowledge pushed aside ignorance. We are privileged to bask in that light and knowledge. We therefore invite men and women everywhere to receive the revealed truth, for it is the rock upon which our faith is built.
Throughout his brief public years, Christ’s detractors often tempted him by asking questions. One time “while the Pharisees were gathered together,” Jesus switched roles and became the questioner by asking, “What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?” (See Matt. 22:41–42.)
When I think of Christ, my mind turns to the Babe of Bethlehem. His mother was a mortal, called Mary—“A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.” (1 Ne. 11:15.) From his mother, Jesus inherited the powers of mortality and the ability to die. His father, however, was God; from his Eternal Father, Jesus inherited the powers of immortality—the ability to live again after death. Yes, Jesus was the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh as declared by himself and by other witnesses. He was “the Word [which] was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (See John 1:14.)
When I think of Christ, my mind turns also to the boy of Nazareth who “grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” In my mind’s eye, I see him increasing in stature and in favor with God and man. I see him preparing to be about his Father’s business. (See Luke 2:40, 49, 52.)
When I think of Christ, my mind turns further to the man of Galilee, the man who wrought mighty miracles, who preached saving truths, and who invited men and women to follow in his footsteps. I think of one whose love was endless, whose life was impeccable, and whose teachings were divine.
When I think of Christ, my mind turns to the King on Calvary. In the words of a hymn:
“I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt!
Such mercy, such love, and devotion can I forget?
No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.”
(“I Stand All Amazed,” Hymns, no. 80.)
Latter-day Saints not only think, but know that there is “no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” (Mosiah 3:17.) We proclaim that through his death and resurrection, the gift of immortality is extended to all men. This gift of grace provides all of God’s children who have lived on this earth the assurance of living forever in a resurrected state. He has broken the bands of physical death; he has taken away the fear of the grave. (See 1 Cor. 15:55.) We attest that “there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.” (Mosiah 16:8.)
Furthermore, we think and know that Christ offers all of us “the greatest of all the gifts of God,” which is eternal life. (D&C 14:7.) Eternal life is God’s life; and it is shared with those who obey gospel law. It is given those who develop faith, repent of all sins, submit to baptism, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and endure faithfully to the end. It is offered through Christ’s Atonement, for he took upon himself the sins of all mankind, providing men repent. And it comes when man’s good works are coupled with Christ’s infinite sacrifice.
We think and know that Christ is a living Savior. His life did not end on Golgotha. He ministered for forty days after his resurrection among his disciples in the Holy Land. Many infallible proofs of this truth were given. (See Acts 1:1–14.) He also ministered to the ancients of America after his crucifixion. A record of this visit is found in the Book of Mormon—that second witness for Christ. Most thrilling of all, he and his Father revealed themselves to the boy Joseph Smith. In doing so, they gave the reassurance that a soul in modern times is as precious as a soul of former years.
Of all the questions asked about Christ, certainly one of the most critical is the one asked by Pilate: “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matt. 27:22.) Ultimately, each of us will be required to provide an answer and to live with it.
Pilate attempted to avoid the issue altogether by washing his hands of Christ and turning aside. (See Matt. 27:24.) He betrayed the role of a judge. We, too, wash our hands of him and betray his cause when we turn away from his teachings.
The multitude cried out before the rulers, “Let him be crucified.” (Matt. 27:22.) We wonder how they could have been so hard and so blind. Yet, do we not crucify him anew when we sin wantonly and place him in open shame?
Some of the early disciples of Christ regarded his words strict and his expectations high. They therefore went away and followed the crowd in easier paths. We “go away” also when we forsake the Lord’s truths and become swallowed up in the ways of the world. (See John 6:66–69.)
A man called Simon was compelled to carry Christ’s cross to Calvary. (See Matt. 27:32.) He will certainly receive a just reward. We should ask ourselves whether our discipleship is willing and full of desire to obey him, or whether we carry our crosses in a forced and grudging manner.
A woman who loved the Lord very much anointed his head with precious ointment as he sat at meat. Some disciples questioned the economy of the act. But the Savior explained, “She did it for my burial.” He predicted that the world would note what she had done and that it would “be told for a memorial of her.” (See Matt. 26:12–13.)
We cannot do for Christ precisely what Mary did. We can, however, clothe, visit, feed, and do good for others. Such Christian service will win for us these words of approval from the King of Kings: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40.) Is there any memorial greater than these words of acceptance?
Few words are more inspiring than those spoken by Peter when the Lord asked him, “Will ye also go away?” Peter answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:67–69.) There was no question about what Peter intended to do with Jesus.
When Pilate stood on the stage of life and pondered what to do with Christ, he listened to the voices of an angry mob and consented to his death. Now that we are on center stage, whose promptings will we follow? In the wings of our stage, prophets of the past and present are pleading for us to “look to God and live” (Alma 37:47), to “seek this Jesus of whom the … apostles have written” (Ether 12:41), to taste and know of “the goodness of Jesus” (Morm. 1:15), and to be men and women of Christ. (See Hel. 3:29.)
The three questions about Christ which I have discussed are not trite. They are profound and worthy of our prayerful consideration. They require of us serious soul-searching, much like that which I experienced recently.
My wife and I were invited to participate in a missionary fireside on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. As I stood to bear my testimony, a frail fourteen-year-old girl in a wheelchair positioned herself directly in front of me. She fixed her beautiful dark eyes upon me and did not turn her gaze as I spoke. Immediately following the meeting, she came even closer and in her broken English asked, “Do you speak with God?” I replied, “Yes I do. I pray and read the scriptures every day.” And I added, “I regard my prayers and scripture reading as daily conversations with deity.”
She shook her head and said, “No! That is not what I meant. Have you seen him; have you heard his voice?” I indicated that his voice, that “still small voice” (1 Kgs. 19:12), had come into my mind on many occasions.
Perhaps my answers were not completely satisfying to my little Mauritian friend. It is possible that she expected more from me. Still, the conversation caused me to assess the depth of my faith and to ponder my standing before God.
I realize that we were placed on the earth to gain experiences, to be tested, and to walk by faith. You will recall that Thomas, one of the Twelve, said of the risen Christ, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25.)
The Savior accommodated Thomas and removed his doubts by inviting him to feel the wounds. However, the Savior taught, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou has believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29; italics added.)
Yes, I have walked where Jesus walked. I have bathed my feet on the shores of Galilee; I have tasted the waters of Jacob’s Well, where Jesus talked with the woman of Samaria; I have prayed in Gethsemane; and I have worshipped silently at the garden tomb. Each place stirred my soul and made me feel his holy presence.
But I have not seen him in this life, nor have I spoken with him face-to-face. I know, however, that he lives and that he loves me. Through the power of the Holy Spirit I can testify that I know him as if I had seen him with my own eyes and heard his voice with my own ears. I hold in my heart the desire expressed by an earlier disciple: “I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure.” (Enos 1:27; italics added.)
The great missionary Paul gave us to understand “that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed; and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” (1 Cor. 12:3.)
May we seek for the companionship of the Holy Spirit and prepare ourselves that we might say with conviction, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), that we might think of him as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and that we might do his will and keep his commandments.
I testify, through borrowed words, “He was the One perfect Man—the ideal of humanity; His doctrine the one absolute teaching. The world has known none other, none equal. And the world has owned it, if not by the testimony of words, yet by the evidence of facts.” (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. 1, Longmans, Green, and Co., London, 1903, p. 180.)
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.