"Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world." (3 Nephi 11:10)
God keeps His promises through Jesus Christ.
That's the overwhelming message that I get from this verse as I imagine the resurrected Christ descending from heaven to a multitude of believing faithful who had held fast through all of the recent turmoil and persecution. Thirty-three years earlier, some of them had faced the threat of death for believing in Him, only to be delivered at the last moment when the irrefutable sign of his birth appeared in the heavens. For a little while after that, all of society had stood with them and believed. But then, the doctrine of Christ fell into disrepute. It became not only unfashionable but perilous to promote it. Saints and prophets who testified of Him and stood against corruption were cast out, stoned and killed (3 Nephi 8:25; 9:5-11).
And now, here He is. Those who trusted in Him and were killed have now risen from their graves and entered into glory. And He has come to establish a kingdom of righteousness, where there are neither contentions nor disputations and everyone "deal[s] justly one with another" (4 Nephi 1:2).
Did the declarations of prophets who testified of Him and His law, only to be slain for it, make a difference? Try as they would to win the hearts of the people to Him and to establish justice based on righteous principles, they failed. When the promises foretold were not to be realized in their lifetimes and when their own lives were going to be forfeit for declaring those promises, why should they even have bothered? The wicked were not going to listen, and then they were going to be wiped out by the natural disasters that were slated to occur at the time of Jesus's death. Why not just leave them to God and quietly live lives of faithful ministry to the saints?
I'm led to ponder on Jesus Himself, who knew that many would not accept His atonement and suffered for them anyway, to give them a choice. But then, I question the assumption that many would not accept His atonement. It certainly looks that way during mortality, but Joseph Smith's vision of the kingdoms of glory reveals otherwise. Joseph writes about the heirs of the Telestial Kingdom, "These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection," (D&C 76:85). But they will eventually be redeemed through Jesus Christ, "who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition" (D&C 76:43).
Just as Jesus's suffering is not unavailing for any but the sons of perdition, so are we assured that our labours in His kingdom will certainly bear fruit.
First of all, our service bears fruit in us. Isaiah laboured his entire life with the kings of Judah and their people. Just one of them, Hezekiah, hearkened to his counsel, only to be succeeded by a son who led the people into iniquity and, according to tradition, had Isaiah executed by sawing in half. None of this seems to have been a surprise to Isaiah. The Lord had warned him at the commencement of his ministry that the people would shut their ears and eyes to his message (Isaiah 6:10). So why did he bother?
"And now, saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength" (Isaiah 49:5).
Similarly, when the Nephite civilization was in the final stages of decline, Mormon wrote to his son Moroni,
"And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God" (Moroni 9:6).
Whether or not our witness touches anybody else, we need to bear it. Jesus said,
"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).
The very act of standing for Him, especially when we risk rejection and persecution for it, makes us His indeed. But that's only part of the fruit He promises. Ammon prophesied:
"Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing -- unto such it shall be given ...to bring thousands of souls to repentance" (Alma 26:22).
I still remember the electric moment 37 years ago, when that verse struck me with power. I read it again. Thousands. It was a clear formula with a promise. I knew it was true and I resolved to qualify. I've been trying ever since.
But thousands? I haven't come close. More inexplicably, neither did Abinadi or Mormon or Moroni. Unless we count the millions who have since read the Book of Mormon and been touched by their witness.
And that's not all. What about those who rejected these prophets in mortality, who then died steeped in worldly illusions? Does the witness that was so boldly shared with them when they weren't listening bear weight with them now that their illusions have been stripped away? Just as Alma the Younger, suffering the anguish of hell, remembered what his father had taught him about Jesus Christ and found deliverance, might those who stoned the prophets eventually, in spirit prison, remember what the prophets taught them? Might the witness of martyrs then bear fruit and finally turn the hearts of their persecutors to Christ?
God's keeps His promises. Serving Him is never vain, no matter how unavailing it may seem at a particular moment.