Sorry Lord, could you repeat that?
This past week in Come, Follow Me, we read "the crowning event recorded in the Book of Mormon," the "personal ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ among the Nephites soon after His resurrection." After 600 years, the Nephites finally were privileged to stand in the presence of their Lord and Savior. You would think that Christ would be met with joyful, anticipated celebration. But that's not what happened at all. In fact, when the time came, it just really didn't click at first.
Putting every piece in place
For centuries, prophets back to Lehi had told the people Christ would come to them. Some of those prophets lamented that they could not be born in the day that He would come. When His sign was given in the heavens, it didn't faze the Israelites, but it had a big impact on the Nephites. They fell to the earth with amazement. The believers were saved a brutal death at the hands of the unbelievers. The entire nation became instant Christians:
There was not a living soul among all the people of the Nephites who did doubt in the least the words of all the holy prophets who had spoken; for they knew that it must needs be that they must be fulfilled.
And they knew that it must be expedient that Christ had come… and because of the things which had come to pass already they knew that it must needs be that all things should come to pass according to that which had been spoken.
This knowledge was perfect. So perfect that when a big chunk of the people turned back to wickedness, it was noted that "they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew… they did wilfully rebel against God."
Finally, the signs of His death was given. Three days of darkness, many cities destroyed, the voice of Christ speaking to them in the darkness, and the rising of many of the righteous saints of God from the grave– the commencement of the First Resurrection.
The Nephites and Lamanites who were spared were "more righteous" than their counterparts in the cities that were destroyed. They likely knew the prophecies of Lehi, Nephi, Alma, and even down to Samuel just a few years before. They had been taught clearly what was going to come next– the personal ministry of the resurrected Lord.
That event took place in the most ideal of circumstances. A large group of the most righteous saints in the nation was gathered at the Holy Temple, talking with each other. What was the subject of their conversation? They were talking about Jesus, of course. Who else was in the crowd? The mighty prophet Nephi and the soon-to-be Nephite Twelve Disciples.
When it all came together
Then they heard the Voice from heaven. It was the voice of God the Father, only recorded a handful of times through all history. His words "did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn." The voice was powerful and instantly commanded their attention.
And yet, they didn't understand. The patient Father had to repeat Himself three times before they could finally understand His words:
Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name– hear ye him.
Christ then descended out of glory. He had their full, undivided attention. They all stood silent and watched Him. But they still didn't know what was going on! "They thought it was an angel that had appeared unto them." So, even though His Father had already announced Him, our Master introduced Himself one more time:
Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.
Finally, finally it clicked. The multitude suddenly remembered that He had said He would come, and here He was. When the realization dawned on them that they were standing in the presence of their Lord, they fell to their knees in reverent worship.
Why does it take so long to click?
The history, the prophecies, the signs, the miracles, the destruction, the righteousness of the people, the presence of the Prophet, the voice of Christ from heaven, even the voice of God the Father Himself were not enough to get it to "click" for the Nephites that this was the Savior. They had been explicitly told in the plainest language imaginable by celestial and mortal messengers what was going on. Yet after all this, they looked upon the Creator of worlds without number and they still didn't get it. You can compare this to Christ's first appearance to the Apostles in Jerusalem. He told them He would rise on the third day. The women told them she had seen Him risen. And yet they didn't get it, either. When He appeared, they thought that He was a spirit and were afraid. For some reason, it seemed impossible for the Nephites and the Israelites to understand what was going on, even when they were told straight up by God.
As a latter-day reader, it's almost frustrating to read the account of the Nephites or the Apostles. Why in the world did it take so long to click with them? Perhaps we imagine that if we had been in their shoes (er– sandals) we would have been prepared, right? We wouldn't need to be told three times. We wouldn't need to be reminded again and again and again. We would have likely spent every day since the darkness was lifted squinting at the horizon and risking sun-blindness just to make sure we didn't miss Him when He came. And when He did appear, we surely would have fallen to our knees the moment we heard the first syllable from heaven.
Why didn't they get it? Why did it take so long to click for them?
I don't know the answer to that.* However, we know the Scriptures are written for our day. The Nephite record was preserved for us because we mirror the Nephites. I don't think it's fair to assume that we are so different– so much quicker on the draw than they were. The Brethren have a saying that they quote whenever there is a new initiative or teaching to emphasize: "How many tellings will it take?" How long until we start taking the home-centered approach seriously? How long until husbands and fathers start living up to their privileges bu blessing their wives and children with true priesthood power? Some things just don't seem to click for us, even though God is repeatedly speaking them to us from Heaven, too. What has God been trying to tell us over and over again that just keeps going in one ear and out the other?
God works with us
I take comfort in the record of the Nephites and their inability to "click" despite being told plain as day. It's a testimony to me that God is patient, and that He is willing to work with us. It comforts me by telling me that when I feel stuck and confused that I'm in good company.
It is also a rebuke to anyone in a position of ministering or responsibility. As a missionary, as a friend, as a leader in the Church, as a parent, as a ministering brother or sister, it is very easy to get frustrated with those around us who don't "get it" no matter what we try. The Gospel is preached to them in no uncertain terms, they have experiences that we think would convince the most staunch skeptic, and yet it just… doesn't… click. It sometimes makes us want to throw in the towel and give them up as a lost cause. Whether we are on the source or the recipient of this frustration varies depending on the day. Fortunately, the Lord told the Nephites exactly what to do for those who just don't get i: "unto such shall ye continue to minister" … and minister, and minister, and minister.
How long do we minister, trying to get it to click? If we follow the Savior's example? As long as it takes.
* I do have a theory on one reason things took so long to click for the Nephites and Jews at the time of Christ. According to the Bible Dictionary:
For some reason not fully explained in the scriptures, the Holy Ghost did not operate in the fulness among the Jews during the years of Jesus' mortal sojourn… the Holy Ghost did not come until after Jesus was resurrected
Christ taught that one of the principal purposes of the Holy Ghost is to "teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."
I wonder if that might have something to do with all the forgetting and being reminded we see in 3 Nephi and the New Testament. If the gift of the Holy Ghost was not "fully operational" during Christ's life, maybe that made it harder to remember the sacred, spiritual truths they had learned. Just a thought.