Today's LDS missionaries are the "swift messengers" foretold in ancient scripture, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve told missionaries gathered at the weekly Missionary Training Center devotional on Jan. 10.
Elder Nelson is the chairman of the Missionary Executive Council, and his visit to the MTC was part of a three-day annual Seminar for New Mission Training Center Presidents and Visitors' Center Directors Jan. 10–12.
Earlier in the evening, he enjoyed dinner with the 21 couples who are departing for missionary training centers and Church visitors' centers in various locales and shared remarks with them (please see related report on page 7). For the devotional, they joined the entire missionary force — young elders and sisters and older couples — currently at the Provo Missionary Training Center in preparation for their various assignments in the world.
Elder Nelson's topic was "the gathering of Israel," and he expounded on various passages of Bible and Book of Mormon scripture displayed in turn on large monitors in the auditorium.
"Tonight I will not speak of methods or techniques or how to do anything," Elder Nelson said. "I will leave that to the Missionary Training Center. I will teach the word of God right from the scriptures."
He said, because of time limitations, he would be able to give only a fraction of what the scriptures contain on the topic. "What I would like you to get is the spirit, the sense, the spiritual impact on yourselves. The hope in my heart is that you will each study the doctrine personally, especially as it relates to your own identity and focus as a missionary at this unique time in the history of the world," he explained.
The most important doctrine the Church teaches is the Atonement of Christ, he said, "and that is precisely why the modern prophets and apostles wrote their testimony and presented it to the world on the 2000th anniversary of the Lord's birth."
"We called that document 'The Living Christ: the Testimony of the Apostles.' We signed it and dated it Jan. 1, 2000. It is our testimony of the Lord and His Atonement."
The Atonement is important because it allowed the purposes of God to be fulfilled, Elder Nelson said, citing Moses 1:39 that God's work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
"What is the significance of Father Abraham in this plan?" Elder Nelson asked. "That answer is recorded in the Book of Abraham, Chapter 2, starting at verse 8."
The passage teaches that through Abraham's lineage, all the families of the earth would receive the blessings of the gospel, including salvation and eternal life, Elder Nelson said. So important is the promise, that the Lord renewed it again with Abraham's son Isaac and with his grandson Jacob, he noted.
Disobedience among the Israelites angered the Lord, and the scattering of Israel was a consequence, Elder Nelson said, citing passages from Deuteronomy.
But the Lord also offered hope to Israel, extending "an outstretched hand inviting their repentance and return to the fold," he said. "That's what the Father does. The Father loves His children, He disciplines them and lays out hope that they will come back corrected."
That hope pertains to the latter days, Elder Nelson said, noting that the term "latter days" is found in seven books of the Old Testament. "So you wonder why those words are in the name of the Church that was restored? Because they were prophesied. They were part of the plan."
No nation is excluded, and post-mortal repentance is not excluded, from the Lord's pledge to gather scattered Israel, he said.
Citing Isaiah 11:11, Elder Nelson spoke of an "ensign to the nations" being raised to gather the outcasts of the dispersed of Judah from all parts of the earth.
"I love this from Isaiah 18: 'Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled.' Who are the swift messengers? Any swift messengers here? That's you!"
Citing verse 3 of that chapter, he said, "It's not a coincidence that we have [a statue of] a man with a trumpet on top of the temple. And you are the trumpeters. You're the swift messengers. Keep your running shoes on."
He cited passages from Jeremiah, including Chapter 16, that refer to the Lord sending for fishers and hunters who will hunt scattered Israel "from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks."
"Think of that sometime when you are wondering where to go next," Elder Nelson said. "You are the fishers the Lord raised up for this day and age. You are the hunters to find these people who are to be brought back to the Lord."
Turning to the New Testament, Elder Nelson cited Matthew 24:31, which tells of the Lord sending His angels with the sound of a trumpet to gather "his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." And he cited the first verse in James, which addresses the epistle to the 12 tribes of Israel scattered abroad.
"Now, as you know, children of the covenant may come either by birth or by adoption," Elder Nelson said. "Regardless of the mode of entry, those who follow Jesus Christ become children of the covenant. The apostle Paul so declared in his epistle to the Galatians."
He then cited Galatians 3:27-28.
"So this is a nice rebuttal to those who say, 'This doesn't really apply to me,' " Elder Nelson remarked. "You are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's 'then ye are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise.'
"What promise is Paul referring to here? That promise originally made from Jehovah to Abraham and then to Isaac and then to Jacob."
Regarding the Book of Mormon's additional witness, Elder Nelson declared: "Without the Book of Mormon, there would be no gathering of Israel. It was given to help accomplish the gathering."
Citing the title page, he said that missionaries bring hope to people who feel they are cast off forever. They know nothing of God's promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their lineage."
The three farewell messages of Mormon and Moroni are related to the gathering of Israel, Elder Nelson observed.
"Some 600 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the prophets knew the Abrahamic covenant would be fulfilled 'in the latter days.' And we get to participate! Isn't that exciting?" Elder Nelson exclaimed, citing Book of Mormon scripture. "We get to participate in this fulfillment of prophecies made some 4,000 years ago."
He recounted that in the newly dedicated Kirtland Temple on Easter Sunday, April 3, 1836, one of those few times when Easter coincided with the Israelite observance of Passover, "under the direction of the Lord came Moses and Elias and Elijah. Moses conferred the keys for the gathering of Israel. Elias committed to this dispensation the gospel of Abraham. And Elijah came to confer the keys of sealing authority." Thus three cardinal concepts of the gospel all converged on that day in the Kirtland Temple, Elder Nelson explained.
In the past year, many new nations have been dedicated to the preaching of the gospel, he observed.
"Missionaries are the connecting link between God and millions of His children, most of whom populate the earth without the slightest knowledge of their identity and purpose. Missionaries invite these uninformed souls to come unto Christ."