Mosiah 25-29 is a record of what happened in Zarahemla from approximately 120 to 91 B.C. The people of Zeniff’s colony, including Limhi’s people and Alma’s followers, had returned to Zarahemla and were united safely under King Mosiah’s rule. This was a time of peace and prosperity, even though many members of the Church were led into sin by unbelievers.
King Mosiah ruled the people in righteousness. During the final years of his life, many important events transpired that helped to bless and protect his people even after his death: (1) Mosiah gave Alma the Elder the authority to organize the Church in Zarahemla; (2) Mosiah enacted laws to help believers and unbelievers live together in peace; (3) Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah were converted miraculously and dedicated their lives to God’s service; (4) Mosiah translated the Jaredite records by means of the interpreters (the Urim and Thummim); (5) Mosiah gave Alma the Younger charge of the brass plates and the other religious records and artifacts, and commanded him to continue the record of God’s people; (6) Mosiah proposed that judges, instead of kings, rule the people, and the people agreed; and (7) Alma the Younger served as high priest over the Church and as the first chief judge.
I like to teach Mosiah 26 as a pattern for how to solve problems. It is unlikely that any of us will have to face the exact problem that Mosiah and Alma faced, but the way in which they dealt with their problem has a direct relevance to our lives that the lives of our students. A great question for discussion would be, “have you had to follow this pattern in solving a difficult problem? What was the problem? What solution did you find as you worked through this problem?”
You may have wondered, “Why all these flash-backs?” Once we recognize this chiastic structure, the need for the flash-backs becomes obvious. Note the precision of this chiasmus. Everything in Mosiah is recorded in just exactly the place where it needs to be recorded in order to create this complex structure.
Why did Mormon do this?
The fullness of the message is in the structure. There is a powerful message that is emphasized by this careful organization.
The beginning of Mosiah: King Benjamin’s people receive the Savior by covenant and are born again. These righteous people accept a message delivered by an angel of God and are born again. The righteous need to be born again (Mosiah 5:7-8).
At the center of Mosiah: Abinadi identifies Christ as the father of this rebirth—all who accept Jesus Christ and follow his example are born again become His seed and he becomes their father (Mosiah 15:10-13). In this way Jesus Christ is the Father and the Son. Those who are born again, the children of Christ, these are they whose feet are “beautiful upon the mountains” (Mosiah 15:14-18).
The end of Mosiah: Alma is born again—a wicked and rebellious man accepts a message delivered by an angel of God and is born again. Even a rebellious sinner can be born again (Mosiah 27:23-26).
Mosiah 27 Praying for others
Mosiah 27 tells us the experience when Alma and the four Sons of Mosiah meet an angel. I like to emphasize Mosiah 27:14 where we read, “the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightiest be brought to the knowledge of the truth…”
I like to ask, “What does this verse teach about how we can help others who are struggling?”
Many students have had experiences where they have prayed for another who has struggled. Some have been the recipients of these blessings as others have exercised their faith to pray for them. It is good to emphasize the power that we have when we collectively exercise our faith on behalf of others. Elder Bednar had this to say with respect to praying for others:
Petitioning Heavenly Father for the blessings we desire in our personal lives is good and proper. However, praying earnestly for others, both those whom we love and those who despitefully use us, is also an important element of meaningful prayer. Just as expressing gratitude more often in our prayers enlarges the conduit for revelation, so praying for others with all of the energy of our souls increases our capacity to hear and to heed the voice of the Lord.
We learn a vital lesson from the example of Lehi in the Book of Mormon. Lehi responded in faith to prophetic instruction and warnings concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. He then prayed unto the Lord “with all his heart, in behalf of his people” (1 Nephi 1:5; emphasis added). In answer to this fervent prayer, Lehi was blessed with a glorious vision of God and His Son and of the impending destruction of Jerusalem (see 1 Nephi 1:6–9, 13, 18). Consequently, Lehi rejoiced, and his whole heart was filled because of the things which the Lord had shown him (see 1 Nephi 1:15). Please note that the vision came in response to a prayer for others and not as a result of a request for personal edification or guidance. 1
Alma’s change of heart
You will note that Alma’s change and especially the forgiveness he received occurred immediately. I like to emphasize that there are two things happening in this chapter that are important to understand. Alma is experiencing both justification and sanctification in this chapter.
In its theological sense, justification is a forensic, or purely legal, term. It describes what God declares about the believer, not what He does to change the believer. In fact, justification effects no actual change whatsoever in the sinner’s nature or character. Justification is a divine judicial edict. It changes our status only, but it carries ramifications that guarantee other changes will follow. Forensic decrees like this are fairly common in everyday life.
Justification is more than simple pardon; pardon alone would still leave the sinner without merit before God. So when God justifies He imputes divine righteousness to the sinner (Romans 4:22-25). Christ’s own infinite merit thus becomes the ground on which the believer stands before God (Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:9). So justification elevates the believer to a realm of full acceptance and divine privilege in Jesus Christ.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson put it this way:
Christ removes our condemnation without removing the law. We are pardoned and placed in a condition of righteousness with Him. We become, like Him, without sin. We are sustained and protected by the law, by justice. We are, in a word, justified. 2
And so we read Alma’s explanation, “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit” (Mosiah 27:24).
Alma experienced the immediacy of the grace of Jesus Christ. His forgiveness for his sins was immediate. Repentance is a principle of the gospel that some of us mistakenly think will take a our entire lives to achieve, that somehow forgiveness is only available after an eternity of personal effort and toil. Such a thought is enough to discourage anyone! Fortunately, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once explained the following:
You can change anything you want to change, and you can do it very fast. (A) Satanic sucker punch is that it takes years and years and eons to repent. That’s just not true. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes for you to say, “I’ll change”- and mean it. Of course there will be problems to work out and restitutions to make. You may well spend- indeed, you had better spend- the rest of your life proving your repentance by its permanence. But change, growth, renewal, and repentance can come for you as instantaneously as it did for Alma and the sons of Mosiah. 3
The process of sanctification is a long road that Alma walked during the remainder of his days. We see him starting this process when we read, “they (Alma and the four sons of Mosiah) traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them. And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer” (Mosiah 27:35-36).
The process of sanctification involves a change in our desires, thoughts, and behavior. Perhaps the following by Elder Bednar will prove insightful:
The gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses much more than avoiding, overcoming, and being cleansed from sin and the bad influences in our lives; it also essentially entails doing good, being good, and becoming better. Repenting of our sins and seeking forgiveness are spiritually necessary, and we must always do so. But remission of sin is not the only or even the ultimate purpose of the gospel. To have our hearts changed by the Holy Spirit… is the covenant responsibility we have accepted. This mighty change is not simply the result of working harder or developing greater individual discipline. Rather, it is the consequence of a fundamental change in our desires, our motives, and our natures made possible through the Atonement of Christ the Lord. Our spiritual purpose is to overcome both sin and the desire to sin, both the taint and the tyranny of sin. 4
It makes sense that this process of sanctification will take time. Desires, thoughts, and behaviors that are not in line with the gospel may take time as we mature in our discipleship. The belief that we must have everything in order before the Savior will forgive us is not what is demonstrated in Mosiah 27, rather, Alma expressed his desire to change, asked for forgiveness, and received it! This chapter gives hope to everyone who hopes to change and access the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ!
Why don’t angels come to call men to repentance today?
I have been asked this question many times! I believe that angels come in many ways to declare repentance to mankind. I love the talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles entitled The Ministry of Angels. In this message he said:
From the beginning down through the dispensations, God has used angels as His emissaries in conveying love and concern for His children…Usually such beings are not seen. Sometimes they are. But seen or unseen they are always near. Sometimes their assignments are very grand and have significance for the whole world. Sometimes the messages are more private. Occasionally the angelic purpose is to warn. But most often it is to comfort, to provide some form of merciful attention, guidance in difficult times. 5
I appreciate another response to this question from two great teachers, Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert Millett:
At this point let us confine ourselves primarily to the question why Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah were accorded a call to repentance by an angel, when so many others who have left the Church and warred against it do not appear to have been granted a like privilege. Some considerations would include the following:
First, it ought be observed that if all rebellious souls were accorded a personal visit from an angel assuring the reality of the world to come with its rewards and punishments, there would be little need for faith on anyone’s part.
Second, such appearances of angels would create the temptation to obtain a testimony by negative behavior rather than through righteousness. Given that few among the faithful are privileged to enjoy the ministering of angels, it would seem a strange system of theology that freely granted such a privilege to the wicked.
Third, it could be that some appreciable number of people have had such an experience and have rejected the divine counsel and chosen not to repent, and thus we have no record of the experience. We know, for example, that Laman and Lemuel were rebuked by an angel and that they disregarded it (1 Nephi 3:29). And there is no evidence that they ever recorded such things.
Fourth, the Savior explained that those who reject the testimony of scripture and living prophets would also reject the testimony of angels were they to appear to them (see Luke 16:31).
Fifth, we have the testimony of scripture that “some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2), and we might suppose that in many instances angels have sought to entice transgressors from their course in unobserved or less dramatic ways than this appearance to Alma and the sons of Mosiah.
Sixth, the prayers of the righteous cannot go unheard. Alma the Elder and Mosiah were both men of great faith who no doubt implored the heavens night and day with a plea of help to save their wayward sons. Nor did they pray alone, for their pleadings were joined by those of all the faithful of the Church in and around Zarahemla.
Seventh, it need be remembered that the Lord, who can manifest his power in a great variety of ways, is hardly limited to angelic ministrations or open visions. Many have had conversion experiences of spiritual impact and consequence equal to Alma’s, experiences which are the result of a coalescense of circumstances divinely contrived: life-changing experiences involving such things as a confrontation with death, an inspired sermon, a caring parent or relative, or a sensitive priesthood leader. 6
1. Elder David A. Bednar, Pray Always, Ensign, November 2008.
2. Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Justification and Sanctification, Ensign, June 2001, p. 18.
3. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, However Long and Hard the Road, p. 6 emphasis added. See also C. Robert Line, Pure Before Thee, p. 15.
4. Elder David A. Bednar, Clean Hands and a Pure Heart, Ensign, October 2007.
5. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, The Ministry of Angels, Ensign, November, 2008.
6. Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millett, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, volume 2, (SLC, Bookcraft, 1988), pages 304-305.