The videos that are linked to this lesson on the churches web site are often short snippets, however, for this lesson, the second video (Joseph Smith: Prophet to Our Generation), the church has included the speech ETB gave in the October 1981’s conference while he was still President of the Quorum of the Twelve. This talk outlines clearly this lesson and is very helpful in its preparation and would make a very good handout if the time and resources allow.
The first video, of different members of the church describing the story of the First Vision, is worth watching as it is a good example of how many, if not most, member of the church would describe the events that happened.
I will open by pointing out the importance of the timing of this lesson. We tend to be properly focused on Easter during this time of year, that we often tend to overlook the anniversary of the formation of the Church, April 6th, 1830. This is what Joseph Smith was called to do and is exactly why ETB makes the claim that:
“Joseph Smith, the latter-day Prophet, was an instrument in the hands of the Lord in opening a new gospel dispensation, the last and greatest of all gospel dispensations.”
In order to reestablish is church, Christ had to have someone to restore the priesthood to and take care of a few things like translating the Book of Mormon, reorganizing his church, build a few temples and implement temple ordinances, among other things. Each dispensation has received more knowledge and responsibility than the previous dispensation and with this being the last, this was a huge task that Joseph Smith was called to perform.
From the Life of Ezra Taft Benson
When Elder Ezra Taft Benson served as a full-time missionary in England in the early 1920s, he and his companions experienced what he called “great opposition to the Church.” He later recounted:
“The newspapers, the magazines, even anti-Mormon moving pictures [movies] were all over Great Britain.” Because the opposition was so great, some forms of missionary work, such as holding street meetings and handing out pamphlets, were discontinued. “But up in northern England where we were laboring,” he said, “we had a group of people out at South Shields Branch who were very faithful and very devoted and very loyal, and they had invited my companion and me to come over and speak in their sacrament meeting. They said, ‘Many of our neighbors don’t believe the lies that are being printed. If you will come, we will fill the little chapel.’
“And so we accepted the invitation and we started preparing and I started studying about the apostasy. It was a subject I liked, and I thought they needed it; and I worked and I studied, and I thought I could talk fifteen minutes on the subject.
“We went over to the little chapel and it was filled. Everyone was happy. And after the opening exercises my companion spoke, then I spoke with a freedom I had never enjoyed in all my life. And when I sat down and looked at my watch, I had talked twenty-five minutes, and I hadn’t mentioned the apostasy, I hadn’t even thought of the apostasy. I had talked about Joseph Smith, and I had borne witness that he was a prophet of God and I knew it. I told about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon as a new witness for Christ, and I had borne testimony. When I realized what had happened, I couldn’t hold back the tears.
“At the end of the meeting, many of the Saints came forward and expressed their gratitude that something had been said about Joseph Smith. They said, ‘Several of our neighbors have said, “We can accept everything about the Church except Joseph Smith.”’ And then some of those same neighbors came up and said, ‘We are now ready. We are ready tonight. We have received the witness that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.’
1 – Joseph Smith’s First Vision was the greatest event in this world since the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This section starts with the story of the First Vision, which I will paraphrase quickly and then jump to this quote from the lesson:
When God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ come to earth, as they did in 1820 when they appeared to the young boy prophet, Joseph Smith, it is not something that concerns only a handful of people. It is a message and a revelation intended for all of our Father’s children living upon the face of the earth. It was the greatest event that has ever happened in this world since the resurrection of the Master. Sometimes I think we are so close to it that we don’t fully appreciate its significance and importance and the magnitude of it.
I might even have it read twice. 🙂 I will steer the discussion at this point to discuss two of the points made in this quote.
LDS Living makes some good points about this being the greatest event that has happened in the world (see the other resources below for the link). This is quite a statement given the technological and scientific advances made in the world. The improvements in communication, transportation, and our overall knowledge is breathtaking. To rank this event above all these advances is quite a claim, yet it is true from an eternal perspective. It is my opinion that these advances were made so that the work of the Lord could progress faster during these last days. This is part of the reason that the church has always been advocates for education. We will discuss these thoughts for a few minutes.
The second part of the quote I will focus on is how we are sometimes too close to things to fully appreciate them. LeadingLDS has a fantastic exercise and some wonderful pictures that make this point way better than any explanation could. This discussion can be found here and the pictures themselves are located here. I will do this exercise with the class and discuss the results.
Not only was this the greatest event in the world since the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the brief visit was important in what it taught us regarding the Godhead. Jesus and the Father were two separate beings and were much like us. This was contrary to what was being taught at most churches.
2 – Consistent with New Testament prophecy, Joseph Smith received new revelation and angelic visitations.
The Bible contains testimony that God directed the affairs of His church on earth for over four thousand years by revelation and, when necessary, by heavenly ministrations.
In describing conditions of the last days incident to the second coming of Jesus Christ, John prophesied in the New Testament that before the Savior’s return, the world would receive a warning that the hour of God’s judgment was near. That warning would come by an angel from heaven declaring an “everlasting gospel.” Hear his words:
“I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, “Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” (Rev. 14:6–7.)
If one accepts the testimony of John the Revelator, new revelation and a visitation by a heavenly messenger to earth should be expected.
The lesson briefly mentions the Angel Moroni (for trivia about the Angel Moroni statues that are on some of the temples see LDSLiving), but there were many other angelic visits to the Prophet Joseph Smith. In 1994, the Ensign printed a question regarding the nature of these visits and included this chart:
|Personage(s)||Purpose of Appearance(s)||Selected References|
|God the Father||Open dispensation, introduce the Son||JS—H 1:17|
|Jesus Christ||Accept Kirtland Temple and direct bestowal of priesthood keys||D&C 110:2–10|
|Moroni||Instruct, bestow the plates and Urim and Thummim||JS—H 1:30–49, 59|
|John the Baptist||Confer Aaronic Priesthood and its keys||D&C 13:1;HC 1:39–40|
|Peter, James, John||Confer Melchizedek Priesthood and its keys||D&C 27; HC1:40–42 n.|
|Moses||Confer keys to gather Israel and ten tribes||D&C 110:11|
|Elias||Commit gospel of Abraham||D&C 110:12|
|Elijah||Confer sealing power||D&C 110:13–16|
|Adam (Michael)||Instruct Joseph||D&C 128:21; HC2:380; 3:388|
|Noah (Gabriel)||Instruct Joseph||D&C 128:21|
|Raphael||Instruct Joseph||D&C 128:21|
|“Divers angels”6||Declare their respective dispensations||D&C 128:21|
|Lehi||Instruct Joseph||JD 16:266|
|Nephi||Instruct Joseph||JD 16:266; 17:374; 21:161|
|Mormon||Instruct Joseph||JD 17:374|
(the entire article can be found here)
Moroni was one of many angels who visited the Prophet Joseph Smith to provide keys, knowledge and instruction regarding his duties.
3 – The Book of Mormon is the most singular evidence of Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet.
The most singular evidence in support of Joseph Smith’s claim to being a spokesman for Almighty God was the publication of a scriptural record, the Book of Mormon.
I will paraphrase what the Book of Mormon is and Joseph Smith’s role in its translation and publication to allow for more time to discuss other aspects of this lesson.
We invite you to test the validity of our witness about the origin of the Book of Mormon. You can do this by reading it and asking our Heavenly Father if these things are true. I promise you, if you are sincere, you will receive a confirmation of the truthfulness by the Holy Ghost. Millions, with soberness and sincerity, testify they know it is from God.
If the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was His prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation.
The Book of Mormon was an important theme for ETB as we have discussed before, and now we know another reason why.
4 – God reestablished His kingdom on the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
The Prophet Joseph was commanded to go forth as an instrument in the hands of God and organize the Church, to publish to the world as an added testimony to the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon which was taken from the sacred records. …
This restoration of the gospel, the bringing back of light and truth, is intended for the benefit and blessing of all God’s children. And so, humbly and gratefully, our missionaries go out into the world to proclaim that there has been an apostasy from the truth, but that through the goodness of God the heavens have again been opened and the gospel revealed unto man through Joseph Smith, the Prophet.
5 – Joseph Smith was loyal and true even unto death.
As Elder Holland (among others) has pointed out, would Joseph Smith willingly die if his work had been a fraud? (see the link in the other resource section for his talk). I will skim over this section if running short on time as I want to have enough time to be able to close with ETB’s testimony of Joseph Smith.
6 – Joseph Smith stands today as the head of this last and greatest of all gospel dispensations.
I know that Joseph Smith, although slain as a martyr to the truth, still lives and that as head of this dispensation—the greatest of all gospel dispensations—he will continue so to stand throughout the eternities to come.23
The message of Joseph Smith—the message of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the message of Mormonism—is the most important message in this world. And Joseph Smith the Prophet, who lives today, continues to have an important part in its direction here on earth
The greatest activity in this world or in the world to come is directly related to the work and mission of Joseph Smith—man of destiny, prophet of God. That work is the salvation and eternal life of man. For that great purpose this earth was created, prophets of God are called, heavenly messengers are sent forth, and on sacred and important occasions even God, the Father of us all, condescends to come to earth and to introduce his beloved Son.
I will stress this point, that the greatest work on earth is related to salvation and eternal life of man. We often get caught up in the day to day issues related to our lives that we lose sight of the importance of an eternal perspective.
The Prophet Joseph Smith was not only “one of the noble and great ones,” but he gave and continues to give attention to important matters here on the earth even today from the realms above. For in the eyes of the Lord, the God of this world under the Father, it is all one great eternal program in which the Prophet Joseph plays an important role, all through the eternal priesthood and authority of God.25
I testify to you that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God, one of the truly great prophets of all time, a man of destiny, a man of character, a man of courage, a man of deep spirituality, a God-like prophet of the Lord, a truly noble and great one of all time.26
Yes, Joseph Smith, the latter-day Prophet, was an instrument in the hands of the Lord in opening a new gospel dispensation, the last and greatest of all gospel dispensations.
Elder Anderson recently said regarding the Prophet Joseph Smith:
Millions of Latter-day Saints are seeking to follow Jesus Christ, live honorable lives, care for the poor, and give of their time and talents in helping others.
Jesus said: “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. … “… By their fruits ye shall know them.
By the fruits of Joseph Smith’s work we can clearly see that he was truly an instrument of the Lord.
LDS Living really puts a good focus on the first section of this lesson, one that I will use as well. It can be found here.
I enjoyed The Exponent’s Relief Society lesson on this topic as well. The focus on Sister Missionaries can be incorporated nicely into some sections of this lesson. For a great lesson on the origins of Sister missionaries click here
Anyone preparing this lesson should watch Elder Holland’s testimony of the Book of Mormon found here. It really drives home the message of the last 3 sections of this lesson. (Hat tip to LeadingLDS for referencing it!)
As always, I like to see what is currently being said regarding the lessons topic. In last October’s conference, Elder Neal L. Anderson gave a powerful talk on the Prophet Joseph Smith. This was the inspiration for my closing. The full talk can be found here.