By His willing sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, Christ freed all men from the grave. It is a wonderous gift of love that he has freely given to all mankind—all will have their spirit and their body reunited again someday, unblemished, whole and healthy. And through the atonement in the Garden and on the cross Christ has overcome the consequences of Adam and Eve’s original transgression. Our second Article of Faith states, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression.” Joseph Smith followed that with the 3rd Article of Faith which says, “We believe that all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”
I remember reading the story of a young man who was out hunting one day. While being out in the quietness of nature, having it’s serenity pressed upon him, he began to think back on his life, the things he had done. He wondered about what kind of man he had become. As he pondered these questions he remembered how often his father had spoken to him of a Jesus Christ who would have to power to overcome death and all men’s sins. This is what followed:
“And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.”
“And there came a voice unto me saying; Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.”
“And I, Enos knew that God could not lie; wherefore my guilt was swept away.”
And I said; Lord, how is it done?”
“And he said unto me: “Because of thy faith in Christ…go to, thy faith hath made the whole.” Enos 4-8
Unfortunately much of the world thinks that all they have to do is to confess once in their life that Jesus is the Christ and they are eternally saved from the consequences of their sins but Br. Holland points out, “…while all members of the human family are freely given a reprieve from Adam’s sin through no effort of their own, they are not given a reprieve from their own sins unless they pledge faith in Christ, repent of their sins, are baptized in His name, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and confirmation into Christ’s Church, and press forward in faithful endurance the remainder of life’s journey.”
Some criticize the Church saying it sounds like we think we can save ourselves but Abinadi in the Book of Mormon states very clearly, “Salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses.” Mosiah 13:28.
Songwriter Br Kenneth Cope has put it for us in more modern terms in the first verse of a song as he said:
How could I think it’s mine to merit
Or speak of my share in it
This saving work He wrought alone
I’ve been a fool to believe I’d earn it
Or suppose I could deserve it
By words and deeds I’d call my own
From this day on
I know I’m saved by Him alone
And in another song Br. Cope again tries to explain how we approach our part in it as he writes
Bowing in awe of You, wanting to follow You
Tirelessly trying, but hopelessly flawed.
Failing and fretting, each fall more upsetting,
So near to regretting the child You made me
Bankrupt and begging more time to pay what’s due
But, then I learned the truth
After all I can do, it’s still You, it’s still You
You have come and corrected my view
Though I strain in pursuit, even after all I can do, it’s still You
So again we might ask as did Enos—how is it done? I think it is like a feast the Savior invites us to come and share in. He has already made the food-he has already paid the price for our sins but until we feast at the table, until we actually accept the food and make it part of us, it will do us no good. Without partaking even though the food is there and ready-we will starve to death and perish. Our purpose in life is to perfect our love and trust in the Savior-to believe and accept his atonement and when we do that-he will take care of the rest.
So how do I develop that love and trust and how do I show that I accept the atonement? May I share just two events that occurred during that pivotal Passover week that may help get us started.
While looking for some pictures of the life of Jesus Christ to share with the Primary children I happened upon a Simon Dewey picture called “Behold the Man.” Many of you will not be able to see this but it is a portrayal of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea who after interviewing Jesus and finding no fault with him, presented him to the gathered crowd to ask what they would have him do with Jesus. It was the Roman custom in Israel that on the feast day of the Passover, the governor would present two prisoners to the crowd and they would choose one to set free and the other to condemn to death. As I looked at this picture I was struck with the thought-how did they dare to think that they had the right to judge the Son of Man. Here was the very creator of heaven and earth, the one who would act as their advocate at the great judgment seat and they took it as their right to judge Him, to take away life from the giver of all life???? Here was a man who had never done wrong, falsely condemned for conspiracy and sedition who deserved to be free and yet who did they set free, the very one who truly had committed treason and sedition and condemned the innocent to the cross.. I felt overwhelmed with sorrow for what had happened and then I thought back to that night as his disciples gathered for the final supper and as he told the twelve that one of them would betray him and I asked as I looked at the picture, is it I? The world offers me a daily choice between Christ and Barabbas. I look at this picture and thin,-how could they and yet each day in the many decisions I make, how many times do those choices shout Barabbas. That which I really love determines my choices. They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.(JSH1:19, Isa 29:13) As I learn to love the Savior, I will have less and less desire to choose the world and I will find more and more joy in following him. It is that love that will allow him to lift my guilt and make my burdens light.
The second event is that which occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane and was completed upon the cross a few days later. The Prophet Jacob refers to the need for an infinite atonement which King Benjamin later reiterated to his people centuries later. The atonement takes we who have been abolished from God’s presence for our sins, for no unclean thing can enter into the presence of God, and bridges the gap and brings us back into his presence again. I think we get hung up on the word infinite which is so huge and overwhelming and forget to focus on the at-one-ment. Or we think of the at-one-ment strictly in terms of bringing us all back into His presence and we forget the comment that the good shepherd will leave the ninety and nine to go after the one. The atonement or at-one-ment while infinite, is done one person at a time, it is a very personal thing. While Christ took upon himself all of our sins, he suffered for each one of us individually, he knows us and our weaknesses and yet he still loved us enough to die for us. Regarding this Luke records in his gospel:
“And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed.
Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me, nevertheless not my will , but thine be done.
And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
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 22:41-44
A fairly new book out depicts this moment as it beautifully tells the story of that first Easter season.
In the year of 2001 Br. Kenneth Cope was working on a special project to depict the life of Christ called “Son of Man.” During this project his group spent a great deal of time in Jerusalem studying those sacred places and walking where Jesus had walked. Just as a side note, we do not have to travel all the way to Jerusalem to be able to walk where Jesus walked-any time we step within the walls of the temple-we are walking where he continues to walk! but back to Brother Cope– They spent an especial amount of time in the Garden of Gethsemane as they tried to visualize and understand what took place there that awful dark night.
Some time later as they tried to portray that Garden experience for their program Br. Cope records this experience that lead to the composition of the song “Gethsemane”.
“We had dramatic music playing as Christopher, our Christ bearer came into the picture and began to put himself, as best he could, in Jesus’ place. My work at these photoshoots is to take video…that can be used later and to also serve me as emotional stimulus for the writing process. At one point in the photoshoot that night, the gentleman portraying the angel that came to strengthen Jesus entered the scene and began to comfort the exhausted Christ. Watching this display of reverenced love rendered by this mighty angel to his Savior had a powerful effect upon me. While the emotion surged I was overcome with great love for my Savior. I realized at that moment, that I wanted to be that angel. I wanted to comfort Jesus, and wipe away His blood, and hold Him in my arms, encouraging, strengthening; “You can do it Jesus. Don’t fail us. You can do it.” I knew I was looking at actors.. I knew it was the year 2001, but somehow that night, through that video viewfinder, the image of that event had its unforgettable effect upon me… Oh, how I wanted to be the real blessed angel! Now, I’m certain that I was not—but at that moment I wanted to be…which later got me to thinking….If seeing a dramatization of that event—a pretended version—had such an impact on me, what must the real night of blood and tears so long ago have caused me to feel if I had been permitted to watch it from my heavenly window? And if I felt that way through His Gethsemane, what does my faithful, loving Savior feel as He looks upon me in mine?”
I’d like to share with you the words of the song that are the result of that experience. Gethsemane
By Kenneth Cope
My Lord Jesus
Me in heaven—You on earth
You’re in the garden
And Your heavy burden is growing worse
I weep for You, Jesus
My poor Jesus
I’m so sorry to make You cry
But I’m far from like You
And all my sins Lord demand this price
I wish that I could come to You
And wipe away the blood
And then I’d bear Your cross Lord
If I could
But I’m up here
And you’re down there, Jesus
My poor Jesus
I’m so sorry to make You die
But, please, for me Jesus
Now Lord Jesus
You’re in heaven and I’m on earth
Now it’s my turn
And my little burden is getting worse
I weep for me Jesus
Oh kind Jesus
I keep trying to win the fight
But I just can’t change me
I need Your grace Lord
I wish that I could run to You
And all of this would end
If I could see Your face
Have You close again,
But You’re up there
And I’m down here, Oh Jesus
My Lord Jesus
If you’ve got time to spend with me tonight
Then fly to me Jesus