I have been teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ for most of my life. As a missionary, my efforts were meager, but I tried as hard as I could to stick to the truths as given in the scriptures. My knowledge of the Bible and The Book of Mormon was basic but over the years more of the truths found therein began to stand out and help in the progress to goodness.
This year is another chance to study deeper in the translated words of Mormon and the other prophets who contributed to the work. Students have been very willing to dig down and discover hidden gems of faith that invite the Holy Ghost to testify of Christ. My own study has increased, as new insights are discovered and shared with those I love.
That brings me to today’s experience.
We are working our way through the book of Alma, a conglomeration of truths/stories assembled by the prophet Mormon. Just before Christmas we spent a full day on Alma chapter 7 where the purpose and experience of the Savior’s atonement was described. The moving words of Alma help us to find comfort in the sacrifice Jesus provided for ALL of God’s children:
For behold, I say unto you there be many things to come; and behold, there is one thing of more importance than they all… And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Alma 7:7, 11-13, emphasis added)
These wonderful verses have been a comfort to me (and many others) as I have pondered the things that happen in mortal life. And I rejoice because according to Alma, sin has an enemy that will swallow all the pain and anguish it causes – if the individual will allow Christ to be involved in the process.
I believe completly in the power of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice to change us as we seek His help, but as I studied further in the book of Alma there was another discovery that helped me anchor this truth in my heart.
In chapters 8-11 in the book of Alma, we find a story about the missionary efforts of Alma the younger, the once wayward and now repentant son of Alma, the first Chief Judge of the people in Zarahemla. Alma the younger was appointed to the Chief Judge position when his father retired. Additionally, he was also given the responsibility to guide the church as presiding priesthood leader (Prophet). His efforts to bless the people had him working hard in Zarahemla, traveling to the city of Gideon and Melek (finding much success in both) and finally arriving in the city of Ammonihah.
|Alma rejected in Ammonihah|
The reception in Ammonihah was ‘chilly’ – maybe even ‘frosty.’ So little success was found that Alma determined to move on to another city rather than take the abuse of the leaders. But as he made his way along the path, he was instructed to return to Ammonihah with the assurance that new circumstances would improve the outlook. Immediately, Alma turned around and entered the city by a back way. As he wandered the streets, he stumbled on a resident of the city and asked for food and lodging for the night.
The man, Amulek (a lapsed member of the church), recognized Alma and invited him to his home for rest and refreshment. Over the next days, Alma and Amulek developed a friendship based in a common desire to serve the Lord in His work. Both men recognized that there were souls in the city who could benefit from the blessings of Christ, so they prepared to share their message – despite Alma’s previous experiences.
When the two men were prepared they went to the place where they could find people who would listen to their words. As expected, they encountered resistance from the same crowd that rejected Alma in his first attempt to teach. But with Amulek, some of the people had a little more incentive to listen to the message.
|Alma and Amulek teaching Zeezrom|
While probably not a polished as Alma, Amulek began his teaching stating his place in the city as a well-known citizen and recounting the conversion that brought him to his present circumstance. Various individuals asked questions of him and some attempted to trick him into making a mistake in his message, but Amulek was able to answer each question and challenge to the satisfaction of the listeners.
One of the listeners, a lawyer named Zeezrom, took another route to turn the situation to his own benefit. Offering a great deal of money, he invited Amulek to recant his testimony of Christ and the doctrines He taught. This Zeezrom was a well-spoken man who had proven his abilities to twist the truth for his own benefit. His confidence in those abilities gave him the chutzpah to stand up to Amulek’s confession of faith.
How disappointed he must have been when Amulek refused the money AND chastised him for his misbegotten plan. And his disappointment turned to fear as the missionaries taught him the true doctrine of Jesus Christ and the Atonement. In fact, the fear of destruction left Zeezrom physically weak and unable to continue his rantings against Alma and Amulek. In the end, Zeezrom recognized his own sins and the damage he had done to the faith of the people. His change of heart caused his former friends to cast him out of the city forever.
Alma and Amulek continued to preach and were eventually driven from Ammonihah, only to find Zeezrom on his death bed in another town. Laying hands on his head, Alma and Amulek healed the former enemy and raised him up off his death bed. Then they taught him the gospel and helped him enter the church of God. Zeezrom became a powerful instrument in the spreading of the doctrines of Christ among many of the Nephites.
Now, that’s a pretty common story when it comes to religious conversions. A former unbeliever becomes a believer through a spiritual experience that changes their heart (see Saul for example). But that’s only part of the message I think Mormon is trying to give us in these chapters.
If you remember, Alma 7 explained, in detail, the blessings that would be available to those who accepted the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repented of their sins. That redemption is meant for ALL of God’s children, not just a select few. In chapters 8-11 we encounter three individuals who are in varying stages of mortal life.
1. Alma, a rebellious son of a prophet of God, has been converted and is now doing his best to repair the damage he caused in his younger days. His success is impressive, and we are all inspired by his efforts.
2. Amulek, a ‘less-active’ member of the church, has been re-converted and invited to help bring other souls to the fountain of Christ. He was not necessarily antagonistic toward the Savior, but he was apathetic in his testimony.
3. Zeezrom, an opponent of Christ and all He offers. This man had wealth and power as his god and tried to destroy anyone who would try to affect his plans but found peace in the teachings of Christ.
|The resurrected Christ appears to the Nephites|
The placement of each of these individual characters is a testament to the wisdom and inspiration of Mormon as he assembled the records. It was not by chance that the stories of Alma, Amulek, and Zeezrom were given after the teachings of the Atonement of Christ. No, Mormon wanted us to see a deeper application of Christ’s work. Mormon shows us that there is every possibility, despite current circumstance, for anyone to be redeemed by the blood of Christ.
Jesus did His work for the benefit of all His Father’s children – the rebellious, the apathetic, and the most virulent opponent – each has access to the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ as they acknowledge their need for His redemption.
This experience in my own awakening reminds me that there is a plan in place to guide us all back to our heavenly home. And the most valuable and powerful ‘tool’ is given as we access the Atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ which prepares us for that future day.