A couple of weeks ago I taught Relief Society and the lesson was on the martyrdom of the prophet Joseph Smith. The lesson opened up my eyes to a lot of things I had never thought about before and has only increased my love and respect for this amazing man. So, this morning when I woke up, I felt the spirit impress upon me the importance of writing about this topic on today’s blog – and I couldn’t agree more. I originally had something else I was going to write about today, but there’s always next time.
In a brief summary we know that Joseph Smith was a hard working, uneducated, poor farm boy. He was honest and had a firm testimony of God. Though he didn’t belong to any religious denomination he yearned to, and he studied the Bible regularly. He attended several religious services but always felt certain truths were lacking. There was great religious competition in the area which raised much confusion in the mind of Joseph and he did not know which church to join. After reading in James 1:5 “If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” Joseph realized he lacked wisdom and that he should ask God.
At the age of 14 on a beautiful spring morning in Palmyra New York, Joseph Smith went alone into a grove of trees where he knelt down to pray. After experiencing a frightening darkness overcome him which Joseph described in his own words, “I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak.” He goes on to say that thick darkness surrounded him and he felt he was about to be destroyed. When he was ready to give up he saw, “a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually and fell upon me…When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in mid air.”
The Father and the Son knew Joseph and called him by name. He asked them which religious sect he should join and which was right. The Father responded that all were wrong and he should join none of them saying, “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Later Joseph was visited by the angel Moroni with further instruction which led to the unearthing of the ancient gold plates and the translation of the Book of Mormon; a record of the ancient people on the American continent and an account of Christ visiting them after his crucifixion.
The prophet Isaiah foretold a prophecy of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon when he spoke of an uneducated man receiving a sealed book during a time of spiritual and religious upheaval. This book would help “the blind see out of darkness”:
10 For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.
11 And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:
13 Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
18 And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.
From this point on Joseph is ordained as the prophet of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. The same priesthood powers and keys that were lost with the death of Christ’s apostles are restored to the earth and conferred upon Joseph. The beautiful testimony of 11 witnesses can be read who testify of this amazing experience. Again, angels visit the earth to give instruction, revelation is in motion and the keys of the priesthood powers of God are restored to heal and bless man and fulfill the purposes of God -something which had been lost after the apostles.
Now, two remarkable turning points occur – first, the beginning of a new dispensation which rapidly converts and gathers millions of saints throughout the world and ushers in the fullness of the gospel which precedes the return of the Savior. Second, the persecution and hatred of the prophet Joseph Smith by many who seek his life and attempt to destroy the church. The prophet forsees his death and warns his apostles. He passes on the keys and powers to them so that the church may continue. He willingly puts himself in the hands of murderous men who violently end his life. The prophet seals his testimony in his blood as a witness to all throughout time that he would willingly die for the gospel of Jesus Christ. And like so many others before and after him who died for the gospel and would not deny or give it up, their blood is a testimony to us of the truth of this gospel.
And that is why having a testimony of Joseph Smith is crucial to having a testimony of the restored gospel. That is why John Taylor himself boldly stated, “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.” Joseph Smith was foreordained to come to the world and restore the gospel of Jesus Christ. That was his purpose.
The Savior himself came from humble circumstances, was persecuted for what he taught and who he claimed to be, and was eventually crucified by those who hated him. His followers were persecuted for his name’s sake. He knew he was going to be crucified and that it was part of the plan. He warned his disciples before it happened as well as gave them further instruction so they could continue missionary work and building up the church. Eventually they died as martyrs and the keys were taken from the Earth. Man still sought God and His teachings and religions formed on the basis of Christianity but without they keys, authority and priesthood power there was no fullness. The restoration changed that.
Who was the prophet Joseph Smith? He was a man who gave up all he had for what he believed. He was a willing servant of the Lord who suffered great afflictions and tragedies for the sake of Lord. His life was anything but easy or a bed of roses but he willingly gave all he had and never once denied what he knew to be true –even when it cost him his life. He had a great love for all those around him, was a father, a son, a teacher, a leader, a husband and a positive, happy man. He was poor and his family homeless at times, yet he prevailed. Hated by many, tortured by mobs, often not a penny to his name – this would cause most men to give up and lose faith. Not Joseph, he was an extraordinary man with great faith and obedience. This was not his work but the Lord’s work. This was not the Church of Joseph Smith but the Church of Jesus Christ. He did not fear man but the Lord instead, and his great sacrifice will be a testament to all throughout all time that this gospel is true. Many lives were sacrificed so that we could partake in it’s fullness in our time. Never take it for granted and may you be blessed. This I say in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.