My wife teaches the youth 14-18 Sunday school class in our ward. Today’s lesson was on the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. She said that in the manual it was in two parts, one all about the actual events of the martyrdom, and the rest about what might be called Joseph Smith’s “legacy,” essentially a list of all the things he accomplished. She felt there wasn’t time for both, and wondered which she should focus on?
I understand the purpose of both, but personally a list of Joseph’s accomplishments belies the true purpose and meaning of what he did. I made a simple suggestion, and my wife followed the Spirit and put together a great lesson around the importance of Joseph Smith giving his life for the Savior. Among other things, she came up with this great list which she read to the class, allowing each student one guess as to who the list was describing:
- His birth was prophesied by ancient prophets
- He spoke with God the Father
- He was taught by angels
- He was baptized
- He restored the true gospel to his dispensation
- He performed many miracles throughout his life
- He restored priesthood keys and organized the Quorum of the 12
- He taught the meek and humble, was despised and rejected of the proud
- He often traveled to proclaim the gospel and lead the saints
- He was imprisoned for who he claimed to be
- He was dealt with unfairly by the ruling government
- He prophesied of his own death
- He was betrayed by someone close to him
- He was martyred by an illegal mob that hated him for the things he taught
I was amazed when I saw the list myself. I’ve seen other, similar lists, but in just a few minutes my wife wrote this one out without looking at any other list. The parallels between the life of the Savior and the life of Joseph Smith are amazing and extensive. To list Joseph’s accomplishments seems to miss the point. His whole life was about serving the Savior and doing whatever the Savior asked him to do. Even the events of Joseph’s life, and death, are a testament of the Savior Jesus Christ.
Killed for Teaching the True Nature of God
As Elder McConkie put it: “Knowledge of God is the greatest truth in all eternity. … Joseph Smith came to reveal God, in a day of almost total spiritual darkness, in a day when men no longer knew the nature and kind of Being whom they should worship.”1 And they killed Joseph because he taught the truth about God:
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another. 2
This is another way in which the Prophet’s life mirrored that of his Savior. Both were killed for proclaiming the true nature of God and the steps required by man, for his own deification. We often quote John Taylor’s words: “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” (D&C 135:3). But perhaps the subtle subtext of this passage is that Joseph has done more than any mortal man to testify of Christ and the truths of the gospel that our Savior would have us live by. Its only by truths he restored that we can inherit all that the Savior has: through becoming pure so that “when he shall appear, we shall be like him” (1 Jn 3:2).
I’d love to hear any additions to the list, anyone else thinks of.