As always, use the Official Gospel Doctrine Manual in your preparation, these ideas are supplemental.
3 Nephi 17
1 – “Behold, many time is at hand” None of us can be certain what kind of time restraints the Savior and Creator of the world is under, but in this verse and in verse 4, Jesus mentions that he needs to leave.
2 – “I perceive that ye are weak” I once heard an Isaiah scholar joke that it was only after Jesus quoted three verses from Isaiah that he noticed that they were weak, they couldn’t understand, and sent them home. But remember, it has already been a very eventful day. He first appeared unto the people in 3 Nephi 11, and has been teaching and interacting with them for the past several chapters.
3 – “go ye unto your homes” Jesus gives priceless advice on learning and absorbing spiritual truth. He asks them to go home, to ponder upon what they have heard, to ask the Father to help them understand, and to prepare their minds of the morrow. Imagine if Latter-day Saints applied this advice before attending their many meetings! Pondering is becoming a lost art. We are sometimes tempted to fill any quiet time with television, music or some form of media. But it’s a little more difficult to hear the still, small voice with our earbuds in.
4 – “show myself unto the lost tribes of Israel” We sometimes assume that the lost tribes were all in once place, but the wording of the text could also be interpreted that they were scattered in many places. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote about the lost tribes in a Q and A format:
“But says one, are they not in a body somewhere in the land of the north? Answer: They are not; they are scattered in all nations (see 1 Nephi 22:4). The north countries of their habitation are all the countries north of their Palestinian home, north of Assyria from whence they escaped, north of the prophets who attempted to describe their habitat. And for that matter, they shall also come from the south and the east and the west and the ends of the earth [see 3 Nephi 20:13; Isaiah 43:5-6; Zechariah 2:61]. Such is the prophetic word.
“But, says another, did not Jesus visit them after he ministered among the Nephites? Answer: Of course he did, in one or many places as suited his purposes. He assembled them together in exactly the same way he gathered the Nephites in the land Bountiful so that they too could hear his voice and feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet. Of this there can be no question. And we suppose that he also called twelve apostles and established his kingdom among them even as he did in Jerusalem and in the Americas. Why should he deal any differently with one branch of Israel than with another? – Millennial Messiah, 215-216.
5 – “he cast his eyes round about again” A children’s song teaches little ones how to be safe at a railroad crossing with these words: “Choo, choo, the big train is coming down the track now, choo, choo the big train in coming down the track. Stop, look and listen, stop, look, and listen. Choo, choo the big train is coming down the track.” I once heard an Education Week speaker apply the words “Stop, Look and Listen” not only to railroad safety, but to interpersonal relationships. Stop what you are doing, put down the phone, the remote, etc. Look at the person who is talking to you, and finally, listen! It is instructive that Jesus did exactly this with the righteous Nephites and Lamanites with whom he visited. He stopped talking, he looked at the multitude, or “cast his eyes round about,” then he listened to their silent request that he “tarry a little longer with them.” He stopped, he looked, he listened, and he stayed.
6 – “my bowels are filled with compassion towards you” In our western culture, we would probably use the words, “my heart is full of compassion” but in an ancient culture, where the center of feeling was thought to be lower and nearer the stomach, the phrase “my bowels are filled with compassion” is used. In other words, to my very center, I feel compassion towards you.
7 – “bring them hither, and I will heal them” Why did Jesus perform healing miracles? Perhaps the number one reason would be compassion. But a secondary reason might be as a witness of who he was. Jesus had power of death, infirmities and sicknesses in men, women and children. He had power over plants, animals, and the weather, and he could even heal and cast out evil spirits from a distance (the centurion’s servant, Matthew 8:13, and the woman whose daughter was possessed, Mark 7:29). All of these miracles witnessed that he was the Son of God, and if he had the power to heal the ailments of the physical body, then he had power to heal the spirit as well.
8 – “your faith is sufficient” Obviously Jesus’ faith was sufficient to do anything he desired, but blessings from God are often contingent upon the faith of those he sought to serve. Miracles do not produce faith, as much as reward it. Signs follow the believers, not the other way around. While the world says “seeing is believing, the gospel says, “believing is seeing” (the premortal Christ told the Brother of Jared, “because of thy faith, thou hast seen” not “now that you’ve seen, you’ll have faith” (Ether 3:9).
14 – “I am troubled because of the wickedness” This statement might seem a little strange or out of context considering it followed the wonderful healing miracles, the outpouring of the spirit, and the multitude bathing the Savior’s feet with their tears. Why did he suddenly talk about the wickedness of the house of Israel? Wasn’t this group the “more righteous” among the children of Lehi? One possible explanation is that the Savior was thinking about those who were not there, who had perished in the earthquakes and calamities just preceding his coming. Perhaps another explanation is that he was remembering those in Judea, many of whom received no such miracles, which he would have been willing to give had they been prepared and of sufficient faith.
17 – “we heard him pray for us” We can only imagine what it would have been like to hear the Savior mention your name in his prayers, to hear him “pray for you.” It filled their souls with joy.
18 – “so great was the joy of the multitude that they were overcome” As we go through these chapters, it is easy to focus on the rich doctrines presented, and to highlight them and cross reference them with other teachings in the standard works. But this chapter, and what Jesus did after all the great doctrines had been taught reminds us of the feelings and emotions that must have been so abundant on that occasion. Their feelings of love and joy were so powerful that the multitude was “overcome.” In their Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet have written:
This chapter certifies that religion is more than doctrine, more than theology, more even than selfless service. Religion is a thing of the heart. Religion is lived. And religion is felt. (4: 118.)
20 – “my joy is full” It is interesting, and wonderful to note that Jesus’ joy was only full after the multitude was filled with joy. Another evidence of his selflessness, and his concern for the well being of others.
21 – “he took their little children, one by one” Once again, as in 3 Nephi 11:15, the Savior ministered “one by one,” another evidence of the personal nature of the gospel. One can only imagine the feelings of the parents in the multitude as they sent their little ones to the Savior and watched him bless them, and pray unto the father for them.
25 – “all of them did see and hear, every man for himself” It is interesting that in common conversation we use the phrase “every man for himself” as a kind of “survival to the fittest” comment, as in, “you’re going to have to fend for yourself.” Here, however, we are reminded of the necessity of personal testimony. Every man, and every woman, must know for themselves personally. Here, “every man for himself” is spoken in a tone of celebration, as if to say, “No one was living on borrowed light here, they all knew, every one for himself or for herself.” There was no wide range of testimonies, from struggling to strong. Every knew powerfully. Imagine the impact on in a multitude of 2500 where each individual became eyewitnesses of the resurrection, eyewitnesses of the healing power of the Savior, and eyewitnesses of the loving Son of God who wept and blessed the children!
We are also reminded of the understatement made by 14 year old Joseph Smith as he returned to his home after experiencing the First Vision and told his mother, “I have learned for myself…” JS-H 1:20.
3 Nephi 18 – It is interesting to note, that at the beginning of 3 Nephi 17, the multitude desired Jesus to tarry longer with them. Here in 3 Nephi 18, the Savior institutes the sacrament, as if to say, “I cannot stay with you physically, but I will provide a way that you may ‘always have my spirit to be with you.’”
We also recall that before Jesus appeared in person, his voice declared the end of the practice of animal sacrifice: “And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away…” (3 Nephi 9:19). What was to replace this practice? Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:
As sacrifice was thus to cease with the occurrence of the great event toward which it pointed, there must needs be a new ordinance to replace it, an ordinance which also would center the attention of the saints on the infinite and eternal atonement. And so Jesus…initiated the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Sacrifice stopped and sacrament started. It was the end of the old era, the beginning of the new. Sacrifice looked forward to the shed blood and bruised flesh of the Lamb of God. The sacrament was to be in remembrance of his spilt blood and broken flesh, the emblems, bread and wine, typifying such as completely as had the shedding of the blood of animals in their days. — Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol.1, p.719 -p.720.
5 – “power that he shall break bread” Our current practice in sacrament meeting is that the members of the teachers quorum prepare the sacrament, by placing the bread and water trays on the table, but the priests are the ones who actually break the bread during the sacrament hymn. Why don’t the teachers break the bread? This verse may indicate that the breaking of the bread itself is a priesthood privilege, since the Savior gave them power to “break bread and bless it.”
6 – “this shall ye always observe to do” The atonement of Christ is not something to be remembered only on Christmas and Easter, or even just on Sundays. If we desire to always have his spirit with us, we must remember the sacrament and its promises always.
7 – “a testimony unto the Father” Our attendance and participation in sacrament meeting is a way of bearing testimony to the Father that we remember the sacrifice of his only begotten son. President Marion G. Romney taught:
It is said of President Wilford Woodruff that while the sacrament was being passed, his lips could be observed in silent motion as he repeated to himself over and over again, “I do remember thee, I do remember thee.” – Ensign, Oct. 1976, 3.
10 – “willing to do that which I have commanded you” Once again, we are reminded that while we are not “able” to live perfectly, we can be “willing.” As far as I can find, men are never described as able, but only admonished to “willing.” By contrast, the scriptures teach that God is “able,” as in: “I am able to do mine own work” (2 Nephi 27:21).
11 – “if ye do always remember me” To always remember Christ is more than just to remember who he is, or what he did; it is more active than that. Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught:
I wish to elaborate on three aspects of what it means to “always remember him’: first, seeking to know and follow his will; second, recognizing and accepting our obligation to answer to Christ for every thought, word, and action; and third, living with faith and without fear so that we can always look to the Savior for the help we need” (Ensign, April 2011)
12 – “if ye shall always do these things, blessed are ye” Elder Melvin J. Ballard taught:
No man goes away from this Church and becomes an apostate in a week, nor in a month. It is a slow process. The one thing that would make for the safety of every man and woman would be to appear at the sacrament table every Sabbath day. We would not get very far away in a week-not so far away that, by the process of self-investigation, we could not rectify the wrongs we may have done. If we should refrain from partaking of the sacrament, condemned by ourselves as unworthy to receive these emblems, we could not endure that long, and we would soon, I am sure, have the spirit of repentance. The road to the sacrament table is the path of safety for Latter-day Saints.” (“The Sacramental Covenant.”) (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4: 121.)
We often speak of “renewing our covenants” by partaking of the sacrament. Elder John H. Groberg taught:
Do you remember the feeling you had when you were baptized — that sweet, clean feeling of a pure soul, having been forgiven, washed clean through the merits of the Savior? If we partake of the sacrament worthily, we can feel that way regularly, for we renew that covenant, which includes his forgiveness. — John H. Groberg, Ensign, May 1989, p.38.
15 – “watch and pray always” To “watch” means being on guard, or being spiritually aware, as the “night watchman.” The importance of keeping watch on ourselves is taught by Alma:
humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering; (Alma 13:28).
21 – “pray in your families” Family prayer, difficult as it might be to arrange with a large family going in all directions, can be a constant in a chaotic world. President Gordon B. Hinckley taught:
I feel satisfied that there is no adequate substitute for the morning and evening practice of kneeling together — father, mother, and children. This, more than soft carpets, more than lovely draperies, more than cleverly balanced color schemes, is the thing that will make for better and more beautiful homes. — Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Blessings of Family Prayer,” Ensign, February, 1991, p.2.
24 – “hold up your light” Jesus announced that he was the light of the world when he first appeared, but here admonishes the multitude to also hold up their light, then continues, “I am the light which ye shall hold up – that which ye have seen me do.” When we strive to do what Jesus did, his light can shine within us. As mentioned earlier, although Jesus taught “I am the light of the world,” he also said, “Ye are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). He shares this name and his work with us.
25 – “I have commanded that none of you should go away” Jesus taught and did so many things in the last several chapters, but here he wants the multitude (and future readers) to notice something he never did. He seems to be saying, “did you notice that I never told anyone to go away? Instead, I told them to come unto me and feel and see.” So that it would be nearly impossible to miss the point, Nephi repeated the same idea four times in a row in 2 Nephi 26:25-28:
Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.
Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.
Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.
28 – “ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily” These instructions were given to the disciples whom he had chosen, not to all the members. The story is told of someone who approached the bishop after a meeting and said, “so and so took the sacrament unworthily – what should I do?” The bishop responded and said, “You, do nothing. I might need to do something.”
Our focus should be on ourselves as we partake, but how might we know if we are worthy? Elder John H. Groberg taught:
What does it mean to partake of the sacrament unworthily? Or how do we know if we are unworthy? If we desire to improve (which is to repent) and are not under priesthood restriction, then, in my opinion, we are worthy. If, however, we have no desire to improve, if we have no intention of following the guidance of the Spirit, we must ask: are we worthy to partake, or are we making a mockery of the very purpose of the sacrament, which is to act as a catalyst for personal repentance and improvement? — John H. Groberg, Ensign, May 1989, p.38.
32 – “unto such shall ye continue to minister” These instructions apply to modern day home teachers and visiting teachers, and might even apply to those who don’t want to be visited. These three words, “continue to minister” are a sermon in a sentence:
The Lord never gives up on anyone, and neither should we. The Perfection First Ward in the Perfection Stake has yet to be created. Each of us stumbles through life, acquiring scars and, regrettably, causing a few. What do we do when someone falls away? We continue to minister. But what if people don’t want to be ministered to? Elder Von G. Keetch taught that by the time search-and-rescue crews reach victims on the mountain, they often don’t want to be rescued. Typically, they finally feel warm and comfortable as a result of hypothermia. The rescuer knows what he must do: First, get the victims to trust him; second, give them something to do that will help them feel needed (such as calling home); and third, raise their body temperature with some warm nourishment. Similarly, for those who may not want to be rescued spiritually, we give them a friend, a responsibility, and some nourishment by the good word—we continue to minister. (John Bytheway, Sermons in a Sentence, Deseret Book, 2012, 59)
3 Nephi 19
3 – “all the night it was noised abroad concerning Jesus” Suppose you knew where Jesus was going to be tomorrow. Suppose you had friends or family members who lived far away, but might be able to make it if they only knew. How hard would you work to make sure your loved ones would be in the place where Jesus would appear? Many, without email or mobile phones labored “all that night” to invite their family and friends to be there.
In a moment of introspection, we might also ask ourselves about the next best thing. What if you knew exactly when the next General Conference would be held? What if we knew where the Lord’s prophet would be? How hard do we work to be there, and if we had to miss it, how hard to we try to find out what was said?
8 – “those same words which Jesus had spoken” This is evidence of how many more came to attend since Jesus left. The disciples taught the others that weren’t at the first meeting what Jesus taught. Also, it is a pattern that we should teach what Jesus has taught “nothing varying.”
9 – “they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them” What could be more desirable, besides the presence of the Savior himself, than the Holy Ghost? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has written:
It is most significant that it was this for which the Nephite twelve prayed above all else. As Christ had not yet appeared to them for this second day (and because the Father and Son could not permanently be with them—or us—in a telestial world), the next best companionship came from that member of the Godhead who can be with mortals permanently—the Holy Ghost. In their ministry these newly called apostles could not always have the daily, physical presence of the Savior with them. Nevertheless, because they were to lead the Church of Jesus Christ in righteousness and be witnesses of his name throughout the Nephite world, they would surely need the prompting, the protection, the revelation, and the comfort of that One who is the spiritual extension and telestial representative of the Father and the Son. (Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon, 278.)
11 – “Nephi … was baptized” The obvious question is “why were they baptized again? Hadn’t they already been baptized?” Yes. The Book of Mormon speaks of Jesus’ baptism as early as 1 Nephi 10, and of the necessity of baptism for all others in 2 Nephi 31:17. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught:
When Christ appeared to the Nephites on this continent, he commanded them to be baptized, although they had been baptized previously for the remission of their sins. We read how Nephi beheld angels who came and ministered to him daily; how he baptized all who came to be baptized for the remission of sins; how he organized the Church; and how he even raised his brother from the dead, since he held the priesthood. Then we read that the Savior commanded Nephi and the people to be baptized again, because he had organized anew the Church under the gospel. Before that it had been organized under the law. (Doctrines of Salvation, 2: 336.)
18, 22 – “they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God” Another obvious question, “why did they pray to Jesus when the disciples just taught them in verse 6 to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus? The best answer, we suppose, is in the text itself in verse 22 when Jesus says, “they pray unto me because I am with them.” Elder Bruce R. McConkie also offered this explanation:
Jesus was present before them as the symbol of the Father. Seeing him, it was as though they saw the Father; praying to him, it was as though they prayed to the Father. It was a special and unique situation that as far as we know has taken place only once on earth during all the long ages of the Lord’s hand-dealings with his children…..At this point in the Nephite experience, Jesus prayed to the Father, thanking him for all that was then transpiring, and saying: “Thou seest that they believe in me because thou hearest them, and they pray unto me; and they pray unto me because I am with them.” (3 Ne. 19:8-22.) When the special circumstances here involved no longer prevailed; when the circling flames of fire no longer blazed around them; and when the angels had returned to their heavenly abodes, the Nephites reverted to the established order and prayed again to the Father in the name of the Son. (3 Ne. 27:2). — The Promised Messiah, p .561.
23 – “that I am be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one.” Here is a perfect explanation of what it means to be one with the Savior, and also how the Savior is one with the Father. Jesus’ prayer is similar to his great intercessory prayer offered in John 17 (notice footnotes 23c and 29a).
24 – “it was given unto them what they should pray” We are instructed to pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, and by the power of the Holy Ghost. The best way to pray to is be directed by the spirit, or to be taught what to pray (a pattern of which appears in temple worship). Oliver Cowdery was counseled, “Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith. Trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not” (D&C 8:10).
30 – “he did smile upon them” In this verse, and in verse 25, we have record of the Savior smiling upon the people.
33-35 – “I could not show unto them so great miracles” There is a difference between “would not” and “could not.” Jesus not only would not, but could not show miracles to a faithless people, because it is against the laws of heaven. Moroni, as he abridged the Book of Ether taught, “For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith” (Ether 12:12).
It is also interesting to remember that there had been a “sifting” before Jesus appeared to these particular Nephites and Lamanites (see 3 Nephi 10:18). The more wicked part of the people had been destroyed, and the “more righteous” remained. During Jesus’ mortal ministry, he labored among all types of people with varying levels of faith. With some of them he performed miracles, and with some he didn’t. But this particular group, to which Jesus appeared as a resurrected, perfected being were the “more righteous” that remained after all the destructions, earthquakes and so forth, so we would expect there would be a higher degree of faith among them (see 3 Nephi 9:13).