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|Title||Seeking Jesus, Class 16 – Jesus and Individuals|
|Year of Publication||2022|
|Authors||Hilton, III, John|
|Series Title||Seeking Jesus|
|Date Published||July 2022|
|Publisher||Book of Mormon Central|
|Keywords||Forgiveness; Jesus Christ, Mortal Ministry of; John the Baptist; Nicodemus; Repentance; Samaritans; Zacchaeus|
For a copy of the PowerPoint slides, as well as for pre-class readings and questions to focus on during the video, click on the link below.
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Seeking Jesus, Class 16 – Jesus and Individuals
On my mission, I loved teaching teenagers. Until that point, I had never heard of teaching seminary as a career, but my mission president had been a full-time seminary teacher. He inspired me, and so did my experiences teaching youth as a missionary. So in my first semester after my mission, I signed up for a class focused on becoming a professional seminary teacher. I walked into the class feeling excited!
But the teacher was somewhat negative. He said something like, “A lot of you just came back from your missions and you think you can be a seminary teacher. Well, you probably won’t succeed. Most of you aren’t going to get hired.” This was not what I was expecting, and I immediately dropped the class.
So then I was looking for a new religion class to take. I remembered that two years earlier I had loved my class from a professor named Matthew Richardson, and so I signed up for another class he was teaching. I walked into the classroom the next day and Brother Richardson looked at me and said “John Hilton! Welcome back, it’s great to see you again!” I felt so loved that he remembered who I was.
While I remember some of the principles he taught that semester, what I remember most is the individual connection we had. He knew my name! I think that’s true with many areas of life. Ultimately it comes down to individual relationships. And Jesus is the master of these one-by-one connections. You’ve probably noticed this pattern in 3rd Nephi.
“The multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side…going forth one by one” (3 Nephi 11:15). “[Jesus] took their little children, one by one, and blessed them” (3 Nephi 17:21). “[Jesus] touched with his hand the disciples whom he had chosen, one by one” (3 Nephi 18:36). “[Jesus] spake unto his disciples, one by one” (3 Nephi 28:1).
Yes, Jesus has a lot of important things to do. But with him, it’s all about the individual. Today we’re going to explore a few different accounts of Jesus and individuals. This is only a sampling of people whose lives were touched by a personal connection with Christ.
Let’s turn to John 3 and begin with Nicodemus. Jesus was in Jerusalem and a man named Nicodemus, “A Pharisee... a leader of the Jews…came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God” (John 3:1-2, NRSV). Note that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. It’s possible that they were busy during the daytime so night was the best time to connect. At the same time, in John, there is a lot of symbolism around light and darkness, so it’s also possible that John is making a statement about Nicodemus, in the fact that he’s coming at night.
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:3-4). Note that Jesus said, “Be born again.” In Greek, this phrase has a double meaning: it can mean “be born a second time,” or it can also mean “be born from above.” In context, Jesus is talking about a spiritual rebirth, being born from above, but apparently Nicodemus doesn’t get it. He interprets it as being born a second time, and so that’s why he asked people re-entering their mothers’ wombs.
Jesus continues, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again….Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? …If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?” (John 3:7, 9–12).
One thing I want to highlight is that Jesus does not hesitate to rebuke Nicodemus. Jesus says, “You’re a teacher of Israel and you don’t understand these things?” I don’t know exactly what tone of voice Jesus was using when he talked to Nicodemus, but this was a rebuke. It’s a reminder that in individual relationships, Christ is not afraid to give correction.
That reminds me of a story told by Elder David A. Bednar. “As the president of BYU-Idaho, Elder Bednar and President Henry B. Eyring, who was Commissioner of Church Education and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time, had differing opinions about how the university was to transition from Ricks College to BYU-Idaho. The two worked throughout the day to find a resolution but were unsuccessful. The next morning, President Eyring told Elder Bednar that he had been rebuked by the Holy Ghost and indicated that Elder Bednar’s plan for the transition should continue forward. “[President Eyring] then said to me something I have never forgotten,” Elder Bednar said. “‘President, if you have not been rebuked lately by the Holy Ghost as you are praying, then you need to improve your prayers.’” Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit are not afraid to give correction, and that includes Jesus correcting Nicodemus.
The good news for Nicodemus is that this is not his only encounter with Christ. In fact, it’s fun to track Nicodemus’ story throughout the gospel according to John. Those of you who have watched “The Chosen” know that Nicodemus is a main character in that series and might wonder which scenes from the series are scriptural. Today we’ll look at every scriptural scene with Nicodemus, so anything outside this discussion is fictional—that doesn’t make it bad, but it’s good to know what’s from scripture and what’s invented.
In John Chapter 7, Jesus has been teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles, something we discussed in an earlier class. The officials didn’t like his words, so they sent some temple police to arrest Jesus, but these officers didn’t arrest Christ because of his impressive speaking. The Pharisees said to them, “Are ye also deceived? Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed” (John 7:47-49).
Notice these people don’t like Jesus, and Nicodemus is present. He could have criticized the Savior, or stayed silent, but instead Nicodemus said, “Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” (John 7:50–51).
This isn’t a full-on defense of Jesus, but it’s something right? Nicodemus is sticking up for Jesus, at least a little bit, and he’s attacked for it. The other Pharisees “answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” (John 7:52-53).
Nicodemus is making progress. Then, at the death of Christ, something happens. Remember that Christ was crucified as a criminal. He was condemned by the highest Roman official in the land, so once Christ is on the cross, people who associate with him are putting themselves in danger. If you associate with the criminal, maybe people will think that you are a criminal as well. But Nicodemus wasn’t afraid to connect himself with Christ.
In John 19 we read, “Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds” (John 19:39 (NRSV)). The burial spices Nicodemus brings are expensive—they are fit for a king.
Then Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea “took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews” (John 19:40). Now, at the end of Christ’s life, Nicodemus is coming to Jesus, not at night, but in daylight. Consider a prophecy Jesus made shortly before his death: “When I am lifted up from the earth [meaning crucified], I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32, NRSV). Perhaps we see in Nicodemus a personalization of this promise. Nicodemus, who once came to Jesus by night, now comes in daylight. Christ, lifted up on the cross, draws Nicodemus to him. I think it’s beautiful to see the progression of this relationship. Wherever we are at, even if right now we’re not in the best place, we can continue to grow in our conversion to Christ.
The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus takes place in John 3; in the very next chapter, Jesus has a conversation with a woman at a well in Samaria. Perhaps we’re to study these stories side-by-side and learn from their similarities and contrasts. Jesus has been on a long journey through Samaria and stops at a well at noon. Already we see a contrast. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, this next encounter happens at noon. Christ’s disciples had gone into the city to get food and Christ was alone at the well. We read,
“A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” …The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well?” (John 4:7–12, NRSV)
Just like in the conversation with Nicodemus, a key phrase is misunderstood. When Jesus says that he has “Living water,” there are different ways that “Living water” could be interpreted. One is that “Living water” is running water, like a stream or a river, as opposed to dead water, which would be a well or a pond. Another meaning of “Living water” could be water that gives life—either physical or spiritual. However the woman interprets Jesus, she’s thinking of some type of physical water that Christ is offering her. And she says, “There’s no way you can get me physical water because you don’t have a bucket.”
“Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:13-15, NRSV).
I wonder the woman’s tone of voice was. Was she earnest—“Sir give me this water”? Or sarcastic—“Yeah right sir, give me this water that you don’t even have.”
Either way, in the next verse, “Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet’” (John 4:16-19, NRSV).
Sometimes we talk about how this Samaritan woman has had five husbands and she’s now living with someone who’s not her husband, so she must be a sinner. Maybe she was. But are there other possibilities? We know from an earlier class that women were typically not the ones divorcing their husbands. This woman could have been the victim of a series of abusive husbands who have been divorcing her for no reason and she’s now living with somebody to have enough food to eat. And even if she is in the wrong, note that Jesus still views her as a valued person. He sees her for who she really is.
Jump down to verse 25. “The woman said to him, ‘I know that [the] Messiah is coming…When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you’” (John 4:25-26 (NRSV)). Jesus clearly tells the woman his identity.
“Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city” (John 4:28). What an interesting detail—the woman left her water jar. Presumably, this water jar is a valuable possession, and the woman probably is not financially well off. Why would she leave it behind?
Perhaps she’s so excited to go tell people about Jesus, she just forgot about the water pot. If so, her example could motivate me to be more enthusiastic in sharing the Savior’s message. Or maybe the water jar is heavy—she doesn’t forget it, she intentionally leaves it behind so she could run faster. Do we have this same desire to share the message of Jesus?
Let me share with you a time when I wasn’t like the woman at the well. I was serving as a full-time missionary and it was the Monday after Easter. My companion and I were doing our grocery shopping and I saw that you could get big bags of jellybeans and chocolates for ten cents. Ten cents! I couldn’t believe it! I was so excited! I showed my companion and we each got some. I wound up buying 27 bags of candy. All the time I was shopping I wanted to run up and down the aisles and tell every shopper that they could buy big bags of candy for only ten cents. And as I was riding my bike home, laden down with candy, I wanted to flag down cars and tell them to go straight to the grocery store! Suddenly it dawned on me that I was more excited about candy for ten cents than sharing the copy of the Book of Mormon in my backpack. I made it a point from then on to get more excited about the gospel message. In fact, I still have today one of those bags of jelly beans to remind me of this experience. This bag of jelly beans is more than 20 years old! Every time I see it, I remember to be excited about sharing the gospel.
Well, after the woman leaves, Jesus and his disciples are alone at the well. And I wonder, did Jesus ever get his drink? Jesus has been on a long journey and is tired. He says to the woman, “I’m thirsty, give me something to drink,” they have a conversation, then she leaves, and, as far as we know, Jesus never gets his drink. I love the idea that the Savior sets aside his real thirst to have a conversation with someone in need. Do we do the same?
I shared one story in my life when I didn’t get it, and I’ll share one more. Many years ago, I was living in Miami and serving as a stake clerk. Our stake presidency would sometimes go to different wards for special meetings and occasionally the ward would have an amazing meal for us afterwards. I was at the Miami Beach chapel, eating this delicious food, and I noticed that the stake president wasn’t in the room. I felt bad for him, and went looking for him. He was talking to somebody and I said, “Hey President, there’s some amazing food in here, you have to come eat before it’s gone!”
He looked at me and said, “Brother Hilton, I didn’t come here for the food.”
I was embarrassed because I actually was kind of focused on the food. But the stake president was ministering to an individual. Jesus didn’t come to the well for a drink. He didn’t come for the food, he came for the ministry. That’s a powerful example for me.
Christ’s individual ministry to this woman changed her life. She testified of Christ to the people in her city. We read, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word.” (John 4:39–41, NRSV).
Let’s contrast the conversations Jesus had with Nicodemus and the woman at the well. By the way, these are the two longest conversations in the New Testament between Jesus and another individual. One took place in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish religion, the other in Samaria, a place at enmity with the Jewish religion. One was a wealthy Pharisee, the other a poor woman on the margins. Nicodemus initiates one conversation, but Jesus initiates the other. One happens at night, the other at noon. Both individuals are confused about Christ’s initial teaching. Even though the woman understands who Jesus is quicker than Nicodemus does, they both come to know him. We could learn many lessons from these contrasts, but one that I want to highlight is Christ’s outreach to all. Whether you’re a wealthy elite in the capital, or a marginalized person on the fringes, Jesus loves and reaches out to each of us as individuals.
We’re going to turn now to a woman who appears in Luke. Let’s first read the scriptural account, and then discuss it. Jesus was eating at the home of a Pharisee named Simon. During the meal, “a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:37–39, NRSV)
Note that Simon seems to categorize the woman. He lumps her into the group of sinners, whereas Jesus will invite Simon to see her as a person.
Jesus told Simon a parable: “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. [Jesus] said unto [Simon], Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman?”
I want to pause on Christ’s question—Do you really see this person? If we’re not careful, it’s easy to slip into the habit of viewing people as categories, or seeing them as objects. But notice this pattern in Christ’s ministry:
“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her” (Luke 7:13).
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (Mark 10:21, NRSV).
“He cast his eyes…on the multitude…and said…my bowels are filled with compassion.” (3 Nephi 17:5–6).
When we follow Christ’s example of really seeing people, it’s easier for us to feel love and compassion for others.
Back to the Savior’s conversation with Simon. He said,
“Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:36–50).
There are some parts of this passage that can be misunderstood. Consider the following insight from Mark Ellison, a religion professor at BYU. He said, “The King James Version of Luke 7:47 says, ‘Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.’ That makes it sound like Jesus is forgiving the woman’s sins, right now, because of her outpouring of love. But that seems odd. Do we really obtain forgiveness by kind gestures? Isn’t repentance required? And it doesn’t seem to fit the parable in Luke 7:41-43, which implies that love results from forgiveness, rather than forgiveness resulting from love. It might help to recognize that the verb translated ‘forgiven’ in Luke 7:47-48 is not in the present tense (‘you are forgiven right now’), but in the perfect tense (‘you have been forgiven’). A perfect tense verb in Greek indicates a past event with continuing effects in the present. So Jesus isn’t saying that he is forgiving the woman here and now, he’s saying that in the past her sins were forgiven. There’s more to the woman’s story here than Luke has told us. At some point in the past this woman apparently listened to Jesus’s teaching and either repented and received forgiveness, or had already repented and finally understood that she was forgiven. Now she’s coming to Jesus with overflowing gratitude. That gratitude is the continuing effect, in the present, of her forgiveness in the past. Her act of love in washing Jesus’s feet at the dinner was not what earned her forgiveness, it’s what resulted from her forgiveness.”
We can learn several lessons in the individual connection between Jesus and this anointing woman. One is that Jesus sees others and urges us to see them as well. Another lesson is that Jesus sticks up for those who are objects of derision. This encounter also demonstrates the love Jesus has for each person. At times we might feel too far gone for Jesus to reach us. That’s not true. Jesus extends his merciful arm to all people and hopes we will take hold of his hand.
Let’s next explore the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. We know that they were connected early on. When the pregnant Mary met the pregnant Elizabeth, John the Baptist jumped for joy in the womb. Sometimes we imagine that Jesus and John the Baptist were close friends as they were growing up. That could be true, but we don’t know for sure. The Greek text doesn’t make clear how close of relatives Mary and Elizabeth were, and we don’t know how often John the Baptist and Jesus interacted.
The first time we see them together in scripture, outside the womb, is when Jesus was baptized. It’s obvious that John the Baptist had a testimony of Jesus. When Christ came to be baptized by John, John said, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” (Matthew 3:14). In John’s account, John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching and said to some of his disciples, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29).
Shortly after Jesus talked to Nicodemus, some of John’s disciples “Came to John, and said to him, ‘Rabbi, [Jesus] … to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’” You can see that they’re jealous on behalf of John the Baptist. It’s as if they are saying, “This Jesus guy seems to be taking over some of what you’re supposed to be doing!” But John the Baptist wasn’t jealous.
“John answered…‘You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him…He must increase, but I must decrease.’” (John 3:25–30, NRSV). What a beautiful example of humility in John the Baptist. He was focused on Christ, not building the number of his followers. His statement makes me wonder if there are things in my life that I need to decrease so that Jesus can increase.
Shortly after this, John the Baptist was cast into prison by Herod Antipas. Matthew records, “When John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2–3).
The phrases I have highlighted in yellow are significant because earlier John had said, “He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear.” (Matthew 3:11). The phrases about “He that cometh” suggest a connection between these two passages. It’s as though John the Baptist is sending his disciples to Jesus to say, “Are you the person that I was talking about back in Matthew 3?” Why would John send disciples to Jesus to ask if Jesus was the Messiah? As we saw previously, John the Baptist already knew the Savior’s identity.
There are at least two ways we could look at this. We could say, “John the Baptist had a strong testimony of Christ, and so he sent these disciples to Jesus, hoping they would start associating with Jesus rather than John the Baptist.” That’s one possibility.
Here’s another. Perhaps John the Baptist is languishing in prison and he’s starting to lose hope. Maybe he’s doubting a little bit, saying something like, “Jesus, are you really the Christ? Because I thought you were coming to build a new kingdom and I’m a political prisoner!”
When John the Baptist’s disciples asked Jesus, “Are you the one who’s coming?” “Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see’ (Matthew 11:4). Note that Jesus tells them to go back to John. This suggests that the disciples weren’t just coming to associate with Jesus, they really did have a question from John the Baptist and Jesus is sending them back to John with an answer.
Jesus says, “Shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matthew 11:4–5). Many of the things in that list are fulfillments of prophecy from Isaiah. In essence, these deeds could be a way that Jesus responds to John the Baptist by saying, “I am the Messiah.”
Some people could be offended by this second possibility. They might say, “How could John the Baptist lose hope? He was amazing and had a great testimony of Jesus!” But who else had a powerful witness of Jesus Christ, and still struggled with moments of discouragement and cried out to God for confirmation? One example might be Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail.
I think it’s powerful to consider the possibility that John the Baptist was struggling a little bit. Because then there’s room for you and me if we struggle. You and I have had powerful experiences with Christ. But maybe we’re going to encounter some difficult times and need extra reassurance. I love that right after the disciples of John the Baptist leave to give John the Savior’s message, Jesus turns to the crowd and says, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). If John the Baptist is doubting, that doesn’t scratch him off the list of Jesus’ all-time favorites, the Savior still says, “John the Baptist is great.” That’s an important message. Even if we are struggling, we can still be great in the eyes of Jesus and he’s still reaching out to us. He doesn’t want us to be offended by him, but he still has words of kindness as well.
Sadly, John the Baptist is put to death by Herod Antipas. How does Jesus react? When Jesus heard of it, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself” (Matthew 14:11). Jesus wanted to be alone at this difficult time.
“But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (Matthew 14:13-14). John the Baptist’s death devastates Jesus. He wants to be alone. But when the people follow him, Jesus doesn’t say “Get away from me! I need my private time!” Instead, he has compassion and reaches out with love and mercy. Do we do the same thing? Even when we are feeling like we need our own time because of discouraging news or difficulties we face? Just after this, Jesus feeds the 5000. This illustrates a powerful theme in the Savior’s life—in his moments of greatest difficulty, he ministers to others.
But eventually he does get his alone time. We read, “Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when [Jesus] had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray” (Matthew 14:22-23).
We’ll come back to this part of the story in a minute, but let’s first shift from John the Baptist to Peter. We could have a whole class on the connection between Jesus and Peter because they share so many experiences; today we’ll just look at two. In Luke Chapter 5, Peter had been fishing all night and caught nothing. He was cleaning his nets and Jesus told him to go out into the deep water and cast his net again. Peter said, “This isn’t going to work, but I’ll do it because you’re telling me to.”
Peter did as Jesus said and caught so many fish his net began to break and he had to call his partners to help him. It’s after Peter has caught the biggest catch of his life that Jesus says, “Come follow me and I will make you a fisher of men.”
A principle I want to highlight from this first interaction between Jesus and Peter is that Christ asks us to leave when the nets are full. Imagine, if Peter had just had the worst night of fishing in his life, he didn’t catch anything, and Jesus said, “Do you want to come follow me?” Peter might have said, “I hate fishing anyways, this is a great time to leave.”
But that’s not what Jesus did. He asked Peter to leave at the pinnacle—when his nets were full. Sometimes that happens to us as well.
Here’s a modern example from Elder Robert D. Hales. He said, “I was at Harvard Business School. I was stretched to my capacity…At an important point in my schooling, a mission president asked me to be an Elders Quorum President. It is the only time in my life that I ever questioned an assignment.” Can you see how Elder Hales’ nets were full? He was at an elite school, how could he devote a significant part of his time to a church calling?
Elder Hales continues. “So I went home and said to my wife, ‘There is a chance of failing in my schooling if I become an elders quorum president.’ She said to me the words which have helped for many years: ‘Bob, I would rather have an active priesthood holder than a man who holds a master’s degree from Harvard.’ But as she put her arms around me, she said, ‘We’ll do them both.’”
Note what Elder Hales says next, “That decision was much harder to make then than when, years later, I accepted the call to serve as [a General Authority] and left my business career behind.” Here Elder Hales alludes to a later time when his net was full. He was the president of a large company and President Kimball asked him to leave it all behind to become general authority.
Elder Hales concludes with an interesting observation: “You really show the Lord who you are and what you are willing to become when you make those hard decisions as a young person.” Elder Hales choice to serve Christ as a graduate student—even when his nets were full—changed the whole course of his life. What does this look like for you and me? How will Christ ask us to leave when the nets are full? How will we respond?
Well, let’s return to Jesus, who had just fed the 5,000 after hearing of John the Baptist’s death. Jesus had asked his disciples, including Peter, to get in the boat, go to the other side of the lake. They obeyed Jesus, but things weren’t working out. There was a huge storm, and they were struggling in their journey. Note that they were doing exactly what Christ had told them to do and it was a struggle. Perhaps we can relate. At times we may feel like we’re following divine direction, but things aren’t working out!”
Unbeknownst to the disciples, Jesus was watching them. Mark records that when Jesus was alone, he “saw [his disciples] toiling in rowing” (Mark 6:48). That’s important to remember. Even though his disciples felt alone in their struggles, Jesus was aware of them. In the fourth watch, between 3:00 and 6:00 AM, Jesus came to them. I emphasize the phrase, “The fourth watch” to point out that Christ didn’t immediately run to their rescue—like we saw in our class on miracles, sometimes Jesus waits to help us.
Eventually, Christ came to his disciples, walking on the water. Some of the disciples were terrified, but Jesus said, “‘Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.’ And Peter answered him and said, ‘Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water’” (Matthew 14:27–28). What a great moment showing us the trust and relationship between Jesus and Peter.
In response to Peter, Jesus said one word—“Come.” Think for a moment about Jesus’ invitation to Peter to get out of the boat. What does that look like for you and me today? How does the Savior ask us to get out of the boat?
I remember a time when it felt like the Lord was asking me to get out of the boat. I had been invited to be a guest teacher for a summer semester in China. The company that was hiring me asked me to purchase my plane ticket and told me that they would reimburse me. I did not have a lot of money, but I went ahead and bought the ticket. When the reimbursement check came, the check bounced!
I was really worried that I would lose this money and wondered if the invitation to go to China was a scam. But as I prayed about it, I felt the Lord saying, “Just keep moving forward.” It felt like a call to get out of the boat. It turns out that this was a new company, and they hadn't fully established their payment processes. A new check was sent and did not bounce. That summer in China was a pivotal experience for me, and led to my family getting to spend several more summers in China. How Christ calls us to get out of the boat will look differently for each of us. But when his call come, we can remember the example of Peter who courageously got out of the boat and onto the stormy sea.
Peter stepped out onto the water and began walking towards Jesus. But as Peter noticed the strong wind, he lost focus on Jesus and began to sink. Does the same thing ever happen to us? Artists have portrayed Peter’s sinking differently, look at this series of paintings.
What do you think the actual moment looked like?
I love this painting that portrays Peter, totally underwater. I think the artist wants to remind us sometimes we feel like we’re drowning, like there is no hope. In such times we can take comfort that Christ is still coming to our rescue. I’m not sure how deep Peter actually sank, but the scripture says that when Peter said, “‘Lord save me’, Jesus immediately reached out his hand.” (Matthew 14:31)
As I read the scriptures, I love finding one-liners: short, powerful phrases that carry a lot of meaning. There are several in this account. For example, “Jesus saw them,” Jesus saw Peter. He also sees you and me in the struggles we face. Sometimes there is divine delay, as Christ comes in “the fourth watch,” but at times, Jesus immediately comes to our rescue. Jesus also invites us to get out of the boat and come to him. How could these scriptural phrases and principles apply to your life?
Today we’ve touched on Christ’s individual interactions with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, a woman who anointed Christ, John the Baptist and Peter. Each of these individuals had a different background and relationship with Jesus Christ. Which of their stories most resonate with you?
Christ personally ministered to many others. Think of how he reached out to Matthew.
We could talk about Zacchaeus, blind Bartimaeus, or the woman who was taken in adultery. We could also explore Christ’s relationships with individuals in the new world, such as Nephi, Alma the Younger, and Samuel the Lamanite. Truly Christ ministers to us one-by-one. This applies to us personally. Christ knows you and I as individuals.
An overarching lesson I see from today’s class is the importance of us following the Savior in a personal ministry. You and I have church callings, but each of us also has a personal ministry—individuals to whom the Spirit prompts us to serve. When Jesus met the woman at the well, he hadn’t been assigned as her ministering brother, he just ministered to her. You and I might, metaphorically speaking, have a “chance encounter” with a woman at a well. Or it may be an old friend, a family member, or somebody from a previous ward that the Spirit brings to your mind. The Spirit will prompt us to know who we can reach out to in our personal ministry. President M. Russell Ballard taught, “To me, when my ministry is all over, it will not be any talk that I gave that will be very important in the sight of the Lord; but what will be important to him will be my hearing his voice and responding to his promptings. I constantly pray that the Spirit might direct me to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord to do his will and his bidding.” Then he went on to share several examples of reaching out to individuals.
I’ll conclude with these words from President Bonnie D. Parkin: “Our personal ministry is sacred and precious. It allows us to become an extension of the Lord’s love. It embraces all who cross our path. What are those things you can do for another person that only you can do? I invite you to find out.…Today, you will have immediate opportunities to practice your personal ministry.”
I pray that you and I will follow the Savior’s example in a personal ministry to others.
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