Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Jesus and Joseph Smith

(From notes of a talk given in Sacrament Meeting)

This year we celebrate Christmas, but there is another birth that is important to Mormons. That is the Prophet Joseph Smith who founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He would be happy that the birth of Jesus Christ was recognized over his own, adding his testimony of the Savior.

Born Dec. 23, 1805 to Lucy Mack and Joseph Smith Jr. in Sharon Vermont, he came from a religious family. They didn't always go to the same church, but they were taught the Bible and about faith. Joseph Smith's father taught school in the winter and farmed during the summer, sometimes taking odd jobs to support his large family.

When I was young, I had access to a family library that included Mormon related books. Among the books I read was "Teachings of he Prophet Joseph Smith" edited by Joseph Fielding Smith and "Joseph Smith: American Prophet" by John Henry Evans. I became fascinated by his life and ideas, but didn't at first have a conviction of him as a prophet.

It wasn't until I read the Book of Mormon that my testimony of Joseph Smith as a Prophet came in full harmony with him as a great man and religious teacher. This was because of the nature of that Scripture as a testimony of Jesus Christ through the witness of the spirit. The Title Page sums this up:
Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God. . .

. . . Which is to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations

Also I found it true that the Book of Mormon does well in accomplishing its mission, "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." Having gained a testimony of the book, I gained a testimony of Joseph Smith as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.

Besides sharing a month in commemoration of their births, There are similarities that Joseph and Jesus share:

Both were born of working class families. Joseph of Jesus was a carpenter who probably did many odd jobs. Joseph Smith Sr. was a farmer, and as mentioned also a laborer.

Jesus had a religious upbringing, getting blessed as a baby and taken to the Temple as a young boy. Joseph Smith was taught religion from the time he was young along with the rest of his family.

They were both to have no official standing among the religious leaders, but claimed authority from Heaven. The towns they grew up in rejected them. A book was written against Joseph Smith using negative memories of some towns people. He often left to other places for safety. Jesus came back and taught in a synagogue only be questioned about his ancestory. Surely it is true, ". . . A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house."

Both never stayed in one place for very long. Jesus was an itinerant preacher and Joseph was pushed out of states along with his people while preaching along the way.

They were called liars and possessed of the devil. At the same time they had loyal followers in difficulties who believed their testimonies.

In death, both were betrayed by former believers and brought before the law for treason. One was crucified by the government and another by a mob. The Gov. of Illinois at the time, Thomas Ford, stated he feared becoming associated with Pilot as he recognized and tried to reject that role.

They died young: Joseph Smith at 38 and Jesus at 33. To this day both are controversial men of faith. Believers honor them and doubters persist in questioning every detail about them.

The true relationship between the two began while Joseph Smith sought to answer his religious questions. Besides the official version of the First Vision, an earlier diary entry by Joseph Smith states:

Therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy. The Lord herd me cry in the wilderness and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord . . . a pillar of light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me. I was filled with the Spirit of Go and the Lord opened the Heavens upon me and I saw the Lord.
He spake unto me saying, "Joseph my Son, thy sins are forgiven thee. Go thy way, walk in my statutes and keep my commandments. Behold I am the Lord of Glory. I was crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life.

He continued with the familiar message about the world's sinful condition. After describing the vision, he wrote:
My soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me.

Of course, after that Joseph Smith would become the Lord's Prophet. He would testify of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He said, "Salvation could not come to the world without the mediation of Jesus Christ."

We hold the third of 13 Articles of Faith, as written by Joseph Smith, "We believe that through the aAtonement of Christ, all bmankind may be csaved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel." Every revelation and doctrine taught by Joseph Smith points to faith in the Lord and his salvation:
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth.

Like in the grove of trees where he first prayed and received an answer, Joseph continued to give supplication. He trusted the Lord Jesus Christ would forgive him of his human weaknesses and sin. In a letter to his wife Emma Smith, he wrote:
I have visited a grove which is just back of the town almost every day, where I can be secluded from the eyes of any mortal and there give vent to all the feelings of my heart in meditation and prayer. I have called to mind all the past moments of my life and am left to mourn and shed tears of sorrow for my folly in suffering the adversary of my soul to have so much power over me as he has had in times past. But God is merciful and has forgiven my sins, and I rejoice that he sendeth forth the Comforter unto as many as believe and humble themselves before him.

I will try to be contented with my lot, knowing that God is my friend. In him I shall find comfort. I have given my life into his hands. I am prepared to go at his call. I desire to be with Christ. I count not my life dear to me [except] to do his will

In a revelation at the organization of the LDS Church, the Lord tetified of Joseph Smith, "Behold, there shall be a record kept among you; and in it thou shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ, Being inspired of the Holy Ghost to lay the foundation thereof, and to build it up unto the most holy faith." The Lord continued, "For thus saith the Lord God: Him have I inspired to move the cause of Zion in mighty power for good, and his diligence I know, and his prayers I have heard."

President Gordon B. Hinkley said of Joseph Smith and his testimony of Jesus Christ:
To a world plagued with doubt over the actuality of the Resurrection, Joseph Smith testified unequivocally of the risen, living Christ. That testimony was spoken in many ways and under many circumstances.

Pres. Hinkley went on to say:
Joseph Smith testified of the risen Lord when by the power of his prophetic office he spoke these remarkable words:

“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—

“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:22–24).

Finally, he sealed that testimony with his life’s blood, dying a martyr to the truths of which he had spoken concerning the Redeemer of the world, in whose name he had carried on his ministry.

The Prophet Joseph Smith was a preeminent witness of the living Christ.

This Christmas, let us celebrate the birth of our Savior in humility. Remember the gift of the Restoration of the Gospel as given through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Amen.


C.J. said...

I think it's an understatement to say that Joseph Smith would be "happy" to have Jesus' birth recognized over his own. It in no way diminishes his status as a prophet to recognize that Jesus is, in fact, our Savior. No man can, or should, be compared to him.

Certainly, there are similarities between all righteous men and women who seek to follow Jesus--but remember, in the Scriptures, Jesus Himself warns us against comparing anyone to Him, or placing any prophet next to Him.

The purity of your intent aside, I don't think Joseph Smith would, himself, appreciate the comparison. He is a prophet of God, not God Himself. His glory came, and continues to come, from his service--to God and to us. Yes, we should be grateful for the restored Gospel, and for the prophets, but we shouldn't let our special knowledge of it distract us from the true purpose of Christmas: glorifying, and giving thanks to Jesus, who is Everything.

Jettboy said...

Although I understand what you say about "but remember, in the Scriptures, Jesus Himself warns us against comparing anyone to Him," I don't think that is completely true. If that was the case, Matthew would be in trouble as he often uses Moses as an example of Jesus. Abraham is also used by Paul as a type of Jesus. Even Moses says that a prophet would come after him that would be like him. Often it is said in both the Scriptures and other places that this or that prophet or event is a type of Christ. What I think is true is that we are warned not to put these prophets on the same level as Jesus, as the prophets testify (in word, deed, and type) he is the Savior of the World.