As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have been instructed to read, ponder, and study the scriptures. The reason why is because they contain the words of eternal life (see John 6:68), therefore, if we want to obtain eternal life it's important that we read the scriptures to find out what they have to say about this subject.
We know what it means to read, because most of us have been doing that since first grade, but there are some who don't really know what it means to ponder and are confused about whether that is the same as studying.
While it's true that people both ponder and study when reading the scriptures, they are separate and distinct actions To ponder simply means "to think about something" while studying usually involves doing research as a person inquires, or investigates a subject for the purpose of gaining or determining facts.
Quite often when we just read the scriptures without doing any pondering or studying, we don't get very much out of them and that's because much of what's in them is not always clearly stated. The more we learn about the gospel the more we are able to see how the scriptures all fit together and when that happens we begin to see a bigger picture than what is contained in each individual verse or chapter of scripture
Perhaps we can illustrate this by taking a closer look at a particular scripture.
In the second chapter of Luke we read how the parents of Jesus "went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.
"And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.
"And when they (the parents of Jesus) saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them" (verses 41-51).
This is a familiar story that most Sunday School children know and, upon a casual reading, there doesn't seem to be much here to ponder or study. Therefore, most people would quickly move on in their reading. If they were to be asked what we can learn about how to gain eternal life from reading these words, most people would be at a loss to give an answer or might state the obvious that this story illustrates how Jesus, even at a young age, was showing His divine character by teaching the doctors of divinity of His day by explaining and expounding the law of Moses to them.
However, this story doesn't say that Jesus was teaching the doctors of the law and, upon doing some pondering we can discover a very important principle of the gospel that is needed in order to obtain eternal life.
As we examine what this story actually says, we learn that when Joseph and Mary found Jesus He was "sitting in the midst of the doctors both hearing them and asking them questions . " In other words, at the age of twelve Jesus was intently interested in sitting at the feet of some of the most learned rabbis of His time for the purpose of listening to them as they were expounding the scriptures. And as they taught, every so often Jesus would ask them some questions.
We can relate to this if we imagine a twelve year old boy stopping to listen to a group of college professors talk about astronomy and then, occasionally stopping the conversation by asking them a question or two. If that question was one that another professor might inquire about, rather than what a twelve year old boy would ask, it's easy to image how astonished they would be with this young child's understanding of astronomy.
This was the situation the doctors in the temple found themselves in as they listened to the questions Jesus asked them. That's why "all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers." This statement doesn't mean that Jesus was teaching them. Instead, it shows how eager Jesus was to learn more about the scriptures and the law of God. What this also indicates or infers is that at a young age, Jesus knew His scriptures well enough to ask highly intelligent questions.
So, the first thing we can learn from this story concerning eternal life, is how Jesus Himself read the scriptures. As we ponder this fact, we come to realize that if reading the scriptures was so important to Him, and He is our example, then it is surely something that should be of great importance to us.
The second thing we learn is that Jesus didn't merely read the scriptures. It's obvious from this story that He had a deep understanding of them, which can only come from deeply pondering them. But even that wasn't enough for Jesus. In this story we see that He wanted to learn more so when He had the chance, He took the time to study (inquire, investigate, search, question) at the feet of learned men. Thus, we learn that Jesus not only read the scriptures but He pondered and studied them as well.
However, there is another important lesson we learn from this story as we take the time to ponder upon it.
It is understandable that when Mary and Joseph discovered that their oldest son was not with them as they journeyed back to Nazareth, they were frantic with concern. They had already been traveling for three days when they made this discovery so they immediately left the caravan they were traveling with and no doubt raced back to Jerusalem. This city is not a small town or village. It is quite large and it's certain that Mary and Joseph must have felt a sense of panic wondering how they would ever find their son.
The joy and anger these two parents must have felt when they finally found Jesus is something all parents can identify with. The scriptures tell us that Mary, "his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us?" I'm sure she must have been very distraught and upset with Jesus when she uttered these words and in all probability they weren't spoken with a tender and loving tone of voice.
But Jesus fully understood the importance of why He had stayed at the temple. From His answer to this question it would seem that Mary had actually said, "We have been running all over the city looking for you. Why have you treated us this way? Don't you realize how you have worried us?" In response to this comment Jesus replied, "Why did you go running all over the city looking for me and why were you worried? Don't you realize that I must be about my Father's business? This is my Father's house, so where else do you think I would be?"
In one sense, this statement can be taken as a mild rebuke, reminding His mother that Joseph was not His father but that God was and that He was doing what His real Father expected of Him. However, in all probability, there was no rebuke intended but Jesus was merely explaining His behavior and giving a reason for why He stayed behind.
But then comes the lesson we can learn from all of this. Although Jesus was the Son of God and would someday become the Savior of the world, we read that "he went down with them (Mary and Joseph), and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them." In other words, He obeyed His earthly parents and submitted His will to theirs.
When Jesus said what He did to them, they didn't understand what He meant but, instead of arguing with them and exerting His divine authority, He kept the law of Moses which says "Honor they father and mother" (Exodus 20:12). But this commandment comes with a blessing which is that if we honor our father and mother we will have long life. However, Jesus knew that would not be the case with Him. He specifically came to earth to die for the sins of the world, and that wasn't going to happen when He was old and frail. In fact, it happened at the early age of thirty-three.
The point is that Jesus was obedient to His earthly parents, not for the promised blessing it offered, but because it was a commandment of God.
This is what we learn as we ponder, think about, and contemplate this particular story. But, it can be argued that Jesus was a child when this incident happened and that He was required by Jewish law to be obedient if, for no other reason, than His parents were bigger than Him and had legal authority over Him. Therefore, as we further ponder this story, we are led to wonder if there are any other instances of Jesus being obedient to His parents.
To find the answer to this we must do a little more studying. That is to say, we must search the scriptures to see if we can find the answer to this question. As we do we come across another familiar story.
In the second chapter of John we read: "And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it" (verse 2-5).
As we read these words we once more find ourselves needing to do some pondering.
At the time of this event, Jesus was thirty years old, had already been baptized by His cousin, John, had then spent forty days in the wilderness fasting and praying before setting out into the countryside of Galilee to preach the gospel, and He had already attracted several followers, known as disciples.
The wedding took place in the town of Cana which is close to Nazareth and Mary invited her Son, Jesus, along with some of His followers to attend the celebration. Then, after the wine had run out, Mary came to Jesus and said to Him, "We need more wine." Although that may sound like a reasonable request, Jesus clearly understood what she meant. She wasn't asking Him to run into town to buy more wine. She wanted Him to use His divine powers to produce new wine on the spot.
The reply Jesus gave her could be viewed as a mild rebuke. In effect, He said, "Mother, why are you asking me to use my priesthood powers like this? Don't you understand that those powers are to be used for the salvation of mankind, not to produce magic tricks? Besides, the time isn't right for me to begin showing the world what I'm capable of doing. "
But Mary wasn't swayed by His explanation. With calm authority she turned to the servants and said, "Do whatever he tells you to do." The implication was clear. Mary expected Jesus to do as she had asked Him. As an adult man, no longer living under His mother's rule, Jesus could have easily asserted His divine authority and firmly said He wasn't going to do what she wanted because it wasn't the proper use of His priesthood power. However, He obeyed His mother and provided wine for the wedding as she had instructed Him.
As we do a little more studying we run across another scripture found in the fifth chapter of Hebrews which reads: "So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec. Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (versus 5-9)
Again, as we ponder these words we begin to see a pattern and we learn an important lesson of what it takes to receive eternal life.
Jesus did not seek to glorify Himself, which is what someone does who thinks they don't need to obey others in authority over them. It was God, the Father of Jesus, who ordained His Son to become" a High Priest after the order of Melchisedec." But, with that ordination came responsibility. Just as the Israelite High Priest had the responsibility to offer up sacrifices for sin, so too Jesus was tasked by His Father to offer Himself up as a living sacrifice for the sins of the world (John 3:16).
When He was thirty-three years old, after eating the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples left their upper room, traveled through the city of Jerusalem and went outside the city's gate. "And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him" (Mark 14L32-35). "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44).
It was there in Gethsemane, all alone, that the sacrifice for sin began. It was there that the sins of the world were laid upon the Savior in preparation for Him being slain as the sacrificial lamb. And as those sins descended upon Him He was sore amazed and felt exceedingly sorrowful, even to the point of death. The pain was so intense that it caused even Jesus, the greatest of all, to tremble because of the pain and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both in body and in spirit (D&C 19:18) .
The writer of Hebrews describes this event in these words: "in the days of his flesh… he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death." Jesus didn't just pray to His Father, He supplicated Him with strong crying and tears. God was the only Person who could save Jesus from this torment and so He cried out in anguish. However, even though He was God's Son He remained obedient, even as He suffered more than any man could endure. This is what the scriptures means when it says, "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered."
And it was because of His obedience, even in the face of extreme pain and anguish, that He was able to be "made perfect." And because He was made perfect, "he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him."
The great key to obtaining eternal life is obedience. This principle was exemplified in the life of Jesus but, even though we know this, it's easy to miss how fully Jesus kept this law if all we do is merely read the scriptures. We can get a better understanding and a greater appreciation for not only this principle, but all other principles of salvation as well when we not only read, but take the time for pondering the scriptures.