As always, use the Official Gospel Doctrine Manual in your preparation, these ideas are supplemental.
Jesus gives the sermon at the temple, similar to the sermon on the mount given in the old world.
3 Nephi 12
1 – “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve” Here Jesus endorses the twelve and acknowledges their authority to administer the ordinances of the gospel. Notice that the beatitudes come after the admonition to receive baptism.
2 – “Blessed are they who shall believe … and … be baptized” Some of my students have wondered why the first principles of the gospel, as outlined in Article of Faith 4, are not mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible. The answer is that they do appear in Matthew 5 in the JST, as well as here in 3 Nephi 12. We might say “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is really the third beatitude, after these two. You many have also noticed that in Matthew 5, each of the beatitudes begin with the word “blessed,” while here in 3 Nephi 12, they are all joined together, and begin with the word “and.”
3 – “who come unto me” These four additional words are not included in Matthew 5. Being poor in spirit means to be humble and meek, and that is a blessed condition if it compels us to come to Christ. Being “poor in spirit” is also addressed in Isaiah 66:2, and Psalms 34:18.
4 – “blessed are all they that mourn” Normally we would not think of a state of mourning as a blessed condition. The term “mourning” is a feeling often associated with death. I’ve attended many meetings in my life, as we all have, but some of those meetings that have changed me the most have been funerals. Funerals can bring great clarity to our lives as we say goodbye to others, we consider our own mortality, and the direction we are going.
It could also be said that we are blessed when we “mourn” our own sinful state and wish to do better. This can bring us to a state of repentance and a resolve to begin a new course in life.
Deeply religious people are sometimes characterized as often “mourning” or somber and unhappy. In fact, a popular song in the 80’s quipped “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.” This very idea is discussed in Malachi 3:14-18:
Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the proud happy [or blessed]; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered. Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not (emphasis added).
5 – “Blessed are the meek” The meek shall inherit the earth, which will one day be “renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory” (Article of Faith 10). President Howard W. Hunter observed:
In a world too preoccupied with winning through intimidation and seeking to be number one, no large crowd of folk is standing in line to buy books that call for mere meekness. But the meek shall inherit the earth, a pretty impressive corporate takeover—and done without intimidation! (Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, 266).
6 – “hunger and thirst after righteousness” Why doesn’t it just say, “Blessed are the righteous?” Good question. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness speaks of our desires, not just our outward condition. While what Jesus taught in the New Testament has often been called the “higher law,” I also like to call it the “inner law” because Jesus spoke not only of our actions, but of our intents and the desires of our hearts. None of us are perfectly righteous, so Jesus mercifully invites us to “hunger and thirst” after righteousness. Similarly, we can witness before God that we are “willing to take upon us the name of [his] Son,” because we are not perfectly “able” to do so.
It is also interesting to note that Matthew 5:6 says “they shall be filled” but 3 Nephi 12:6 says “they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.” The Holy Ghost is a cleanser and purifier, and can change the desires of our hearts, and help us lose our desire to sin. Thus, the Savior’s emphasis was not only on doing the right things, but on doing them for the right reasons. In other words, the Savior’s call to higher righteousness was about changing and becoming, not just knowing and doing
The phrase “hunger and thirst” also reminds us of the daily, hourly nature of gospel living. How often to hunger and thirst need to be addressed? Do we ever get to a point when we no longer hunger and thirst? In the same way, righteousness, or the quest for righteousness, is not an event, but a way of life.
7 – “for they shall obtain mercy” This beatitude is an example of what has been called the “doctrine of reciprocity,” meaning that in order to obtain something, we must be willing to offer it to others. In the next chapter, we will read the Lord’s prayer in which he says, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” which is another example of reciprocity. To those who might be tempted to say, “well, I’ll forgive that person but only if they ask for forgiveness,” this statement of Joseph Smith is helpful: “…Should we even forgive our brother, or even our enemy, before he repent or ask forgiveness, our heavenly Father would be equally as merciful unto us” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 392-393).
9 – “blessed are the peacemakers” Peacemakers bring peace in marriages, families, workplaces, wards, stakes, neighborhoods and more. Isaiah loved peacemakers and spoke of them in poetic terms: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isaiah 52:7)
It is interesting to note the mixed tenses in the beatitudes. A present condition is followed by a future possibility – “blessed are the … for they shall be …” Like so many other things in the gospel, there is a waiting period. President Ezra Taft Benson taught:
One of the trials of life is that we do not usually receive immediately the full blessing for righteousness or the full cursing for wickedness. That it will come is certain, but ofttimes there is a waiting period that occurs, as was the case with Job and Joseph (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 352).
What a stunning set of ideas the beatitudes must have been for both those in the old world and the new! Normally, we would think that the “blessed” are those who are wealthy, independent, happy and powerful. Yet Jesus teaches that the blessed are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, and hungering. He turned conventional wisdom about success and happiness upside-down.
13 – “If the salt shall lose its savor” Elder Carlos E. Asay taught: Salt will not lose its savor with age. Savor is lost through mixture and contamination . . . . Flavor and quality flee a man when he contaminates his mind with unclean thoughts, desecrates his mouth by speaking less than the truth, and misapplies his strength in performing evil acts.” – Ensign, May 1980, 42-43.
“When salt was collected from the Dead Sea area, some of it was good for salting and cooking, but other salt had lost its saltiness. This salt was not thrown away, however. It was stored in the Jerusalem Temple, and when the winter rains made the marble courtyards slippery, it was spread on them to reduce the slipperiness. Hence salt that has lost its saltiness is trodden under the foot of men.” – Ralph Gower, Manners and Customs of Bible Times, p. 56.
14 – “be the light of this people” It is interesting to find the Savior’s willingness to share one of his powerful names with us. In the last chapter, Jesus announced “I am the light and the life of the world” (3 Nephi 11:11), yet here, he invites the children of Lehi to be the “light of this people.” In Matthew 5:14 he said it more directly, “ye are the light of the world.”
17-18 – “The law or the prophets” this phrase has specific reference to the first five book of the Old Testament, or “the law” and “the prophets,” which were books like Isaiah and Ezekiel. We can only imagine what the people must have thought when the Savior appeared and made such wholesale changes to their whole religious system. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:
Jesus came to restore that gospel fulness which men had enjoyed before the day of Moses, before the time of the lesser order. Obviously he did not come to destroy what he himself had revealed to Moses any more than a college professor destroys arithmetic by revealing principles of integral calculus to his students. Jesus came to build on the foundation Moses laid….No one need any longer walk by the light of the moon, for the sun had risen in all its splendor. — Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:219-20.
Jots and tittles are small letters and accent marks in Hebrew (in fact, “iota” is an English transliteration of “jot”). Jesus was remarking that even the smallest letters and marks in the law were fulfilled in him.
21-22 – “ye have heard … but I say” Notice again how Jesus addresses not only the outward behavior, but the inner intent:
You’ve heard that it was said by them of old time…
Thou shalt not kill
Thou shalt not commit adultery
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
But I say…
Don’t be angry
Don’t lust in your heart
Turn the other cheek
31-32 – “whoso shall marry her who is divorced” Commenting on Matthew 19:8-9, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:
The kind of marriage required for exaltation—eternal in duration and godlike in quality—does not contemplate divorce. In the temples of the Lord, couples are married for all eternity. But some marriages do not progress toward that ideal. Because “of the hardness of [our] hearts,” the Lord does not currently enforce the consequences of the celestial standard. He permits divorced persons to marry again without the stain of immorality specified in the higher law. Unless a divorced member has committed serious transgressions, he or she can become eligible for a temple recommend under the same worthiness standards that apply to other members. (April 2007 General Conference).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:
Divorce is totally foreign to celestial standards, a verity that Jesus will one day expound in more detail to the people of Jewry. For now, as far as the record reveals, he merely specifies the high law that his people should live, but that is beyond our capability even today. If husbands and wives lived the law as the Lord would have them live it, they would neither do nor say the things that would even permit the fleeting thought of divorce to enter the mind of their eternal companions. Though we today have the gospel, we have yet to grow into that high state of marital association where marrying a divorced person constitutes adultery. — Bruce R. McConkie, Mortal Messiah 2:139.
48 – “be perfect even as I” Here, Jesus adds “even as I” to what is recorded in Matthew 5:48. Perhaps it is because Jesus is a resurrected being, as is the Father in this instance. Also, especially when we apply the word “perfect” to ourselves, it should be remembered that “perfect” is defined as complete or whole. President Russell M. Nelson explained:
“The term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios, which means ‘complete.’ . . . The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means ‘to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.’ Please note that the word does not imply freedom from error; it implies achieving a distant objective . . .” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 86.
3 Nephi 13
5 – “that they may be seen of men” Notice, it is not prayer that is condemned, but the inner intent of prayer. Is it to communicate with God, or to be seen by others? In this context, some of my students have wondered if it is okay to pray at a restaurant. That’s an interesting question. Again, it comes down to the intents of our hearts. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:
The practice of the Church in our day is to have family prayer twice daily, plus our personal prayers, plus a blessing on the food at mealtimes (except in those public or other circumstances where it would be ostentatious or inappropriate to do so), plus proper prayers in our meetings. — Bruce R. McConkie, Prayer, [Deseret Book, 1977], p.10.
One time on a flight with Brad Wilcox, we were served our airline food (back in the day when the airlines actually gave you food). Brad bowed his head, closed his eyes and started to rub his temples as if he had a headache. Suddenly, he opened his eyes and began to eat. “I call that a ‘Bayer Prayer’ he said. A great idea – a nice way to give thanks without calling attention to yourself.
8 – “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of” Romans 8:26 says: “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
10 – “…thy will be done” The phrase “they kingdom come” is missing when compared to the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 5. Why do you suppose? Perhaps because Jesus’ kingdom had come with his visit and his organization of the church.
14-15 – “if ye forgive men…” Here is another example of the doctrine of reciprocity. President Boyd K. Packer taught:
[This] is my counsel to you. If you have festering sores, a grudge, some bitterness, disappointment, or jealousy, get hold of yourself. You may not be able to control things out there with others, but you can control things here, inside of you. I say, therefore: John, leave it alone. Mary, leave it alone….All of us carry excess baggage around from time to time, but the wisest ones among us don’t carry it for very long. They get rid of it.
Some of it you have to get rid of without really solving the problem. Some things that ought to be put in order are not put in order because you can’t control them. Often, however, the things we carry are petty, even stupid. If you are still upset after all these years because Aunt Clara didn’t come to your wedding reception, why do you grow up? Forget it. If you brood over some past mistake, settle it — look ahead. If the bishop didn’t call you right — or release you right — forget it. If you resent someone for something he has done, or failed to do — forget it.
We call that forgiveness. It is powerful spiritual medicine. The instructions for its use are in the scriptures. I repeat: John, leave it alone. Mary, leave it alone. Purge and cleanse and soothe your soul and your heart and your mind. It will then be as though a cloudy, dirty film has been erased from the world around you; and though the problem may remain, the sun will come out. The beam will have been lifted from your eyes. There will come a peace that surpasseth understanding. — Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, November 1977, pp.60-61.
I have also enjoyed this quotation from Richard Paul Evans: “I found peace. As elusive as it had always seemed, where it had always been, concealed behind a door of forgiveness.”
21 – “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” Elder Joe J. Christensen taught: “How do we determine where our treasure is? To do so, we need to evaluate the amount of time, money, and thought we devote to something” (Ensign, May 1999, 10).
25 – “he looked upon the twelve” This important phrase, absent in Matthew 5, lets us know that Jesus’ comments about “take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat … what ye shall put on” etc., were not intended for everyone, but for the twelve. It wasn’t intended for the rest of us to just hang out in the park and expect to be fed and clothed and taken care of. We should get a job, and work to be able to eat, and to clothe ourselves and our families. The twelve, however, were promised that they would be taken care of. This distinction does not appear in the New Testament account.
34 – “sufficient is the day unto the evil thereof” As a teenager and as a missionary this particular phrase didn’t make sense to me. The New International Version and the New American Standard translation render this phrase respectively, “Each day has enough trouble of its own” and “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” In other words, focus on today’s worries, since that is all that is within your control. What’s behind you is regret, what’s ahead is worry, but what you have right now, that’s what you can do something about.
One of my favorite life lessons from the game of golf concerns the principle of focusing only on “the next shot.” Don’t think about the holes behind or the holes yet to be played. Just focus on what’s right in front of you. Some people call it a cliche´ when a coach says, “We’re not looking ahead, we’re only thinking about our next opponent.” But that’s not a cliche´, and it’s not just “coachspeak.” It’s more like a true principle. (John Bytheway, Golf: Lessons I Learned While Looking for My Ball, 62).
3 Nephi 14
1 – “judge not that ye be not judged” Some scriptures tell us not to judge, and others tell us that we must judge, and even tell us how. Which one is it? Elder Dallin H. Oaks (a former Utah State Supreme Court Judge) gave a classic talk called “Judge Not and Judging” and explored this very question. In a nutshell:
“…there are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make, and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles” – Ensign, August 1999, 9-12.
This counsel and insight has helped me tremendously, especially when people ask rhetorical questions such as, “so, is that person going to hell?” That is a “final judgment,” and I can answer, “how should I know? That’s not my call.” Intermediate judgments I have to make concerning me and my family and the hundreds of daily decisions involved in raising children. But what a relief it is to know that I can leave the rest up to God.
7 – “Ask, and it shall be given unto you.” See also D&C 88:63, and 3 Nephi 19:24
13-14 – “Enter ye in at the strait gate” Note the different spelling between the words “strait” and “straight.” President Joseph Fielding Smith taught:
Mark you, this word strait is spelled s-t-r-a-I-t and not s-tr-a-I-g-h-t. While no doubt, that path which leads into the presence of God is straight, it is also strait, which means that those who enter into it will find it restricted; it is narrow; they cannot take with them that which does not apply, or which does not belong to the kingdom of God. All such things must be left behind when we enter into this narrow way which leads into the presence of God, where we can receive life eternal. “Few there be that find it.” — Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.2, p.13.
20 – “by their fruits ye shall know them” There are many different ways to know the teachings of the gospel are true, and one of those is evidences, or fruits. What are the results of striving to live the gospel? What kind of people does it produce? What are the fruits of the Word of Wisdom, or of following the standards of chastity in For the Strength of Youth? And if the fruits are good, what does that tell you about the tree from which they grow? This same idea is expounded by Alma as he asks the Zoramites to plant the word in their hearts, and to nourish with faith and patience so that they may partake of the fruit of the tree of life (See Alma 32-33).
22 – “Many will say to me in that day; Lord, Lord” I have heard friends of other faiths use the phrase, “I accept Jesus as my Savior, and make him Lord of my life.” I like the distinction of those two titles. He is our Savior, because he saves us from sin and death. But if he’s also our Lord, then we need to follow him and obey him. Luke 6:46 states, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”
23 – “I never knew you” Who are those to whom the Lord will say “I never knew you?” Could it be some of us? Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:
These fall into two categories: 1) False ministers, those who have professed to teach the gospel, but who have acted without authority from God….2) Those of the elders of Israel who are true ministers and prophets; who have been on missions for the Church, for instance; who have healed the sick and performed great miracles; but who did not magnify their callings all their lives and thereby endure in righteousness to the end. — Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:255.
Elder David A. Bednar spoke of the inspired changes made to this verse in Matthew in the JST, from “I never knew you” to “you never knew me” in the October 2016 General Conference (the talk was called “If Ye Had Known Me”).
(This change, as with others in the JST, brings up an interesting question often brought up by my students. Why is it this way in the Book of Mormon, and then changed in the Matthew JST? We will explore this question when we look at 3 Nephi 24-25 a few weeks from now).
3 Nephi 15
1-5 – “There were some among them who marveled” This was a huge change to digest. The law of Moses was all they had ever known. Jesus had already told the people that the law of Moses was fulfilled in him (3 Nephi 12:17-18), but apparently, he felt the need to tell them again.
The Savior had already taught the Nephites that the law of Moses was fulfilled in him, and that the rites and sacrifices associated with it were to cease. The further elaboration on this teaching comes in this chapter as a result of the people’s marveling and wondering concerning the meaning of the Lord’s words. These Nephites, and generations before them, had known no other system of gospel living than the Mosaic Law. All of their worship, religious rites, and Church organization were built upon the law. In one marvelous moment the resurrected Lawgiver virtually changed their entire religious structure. It is no wonder that it was difficult for them to comprehend that the “old things” (the law of Moses) had “passed away” and “all things had become new.” — Joseph Fielding McConkie, Robert L. Millet, Brent L. Top, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 99.
9 – “unto him that endureth to the end” Perhaps you have been asked by friends of other faiths, “have you been saved?” Many of us are hesitant to answer, because we know we must “endure to the end.” We feel like saying something like, “well, not yet.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:
I have suggested that the short answer to the question of whether a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been saved or born again must be a fervent “yes.” Our covenant relationship with our Savior puts us in that “saved” or “born again” condition meant by those who ask this question (“Have You Been Saved?” Ensign, May 1998, 55).
We have entered into a covenant with Christ through baptism, and are a part of the kingdom of God on earth. The New Testament also teaches that endurance to the end is part of the process in Mark 13:13.
21 – “Ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have” Jesus specifically explains the meaning of what he taught those in the old world in John 10. (In 3 Nephi 16, he references yet “other sheep” which are of the lost tribes, whom he will also visit).
24 – “ye have both heard my voice and seen me” It is interesting how often Jesus reassures these the “other sheep” of their identity and importance. While reading from the accounts of Nephi and Jacob we get the impression that the children of Lehi felt alone and displaced, and disconnected from the house of Israel. Perhaps this is why Nephi quoted Isaiah, to remind them of the covenant destiny, and their covenant obligations. It should be no surprise then, that the Savior would also reassure them of who they were, and of what they needed to do to remain a covenant people.