Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Atonement of Jesus Christ

So it is a bit of an ongoing joke in my family how often I've been asked to speak on the Atonement in Sacrament Meeting. 3 out of the last 5 years. I'm convinced it was because I didn't get it quite right the first 2 times. lol. SOO this time I tried extra hard to say exactly what I was supposed to say. (Also because I had to speak right before the Bishop - no pressure.) I'll let you know if I have to speak on it again next year. ;) Thought I'd share because I am so grateful for the atonement in my life and for the Savior's willing sacrifice for us all. Enjoy!

I am happy to have had a chance to think about the Atonement of Jesus Christ the past couple of weeks. I’d like to start off by sharing a tender, personal glimpse of the Savior’s loving sacrifice for us through a dream that Orson F. Whitney, who served in the quorum of the twelve apostles, had when he was a young missionary. It was a dream so powerful that it changed his life forever:

“One night I dreamed … that I was in the Garden of Gethsemane, a witness of the Savior’s agony. … I stood behind a tree in the foreground. … Jesus, with Peter, James, and John, came through a little wicket gate at my right. Leaving the three Apostles there, after telling them to kneel and pray, He passed over to the other side, where He also knelt and prayed … : ‘Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will but as Thou wilt.’ “As He prayed the tears streamed down His face, which was [turned] toward me. I was so moved at the sight that I wept also, out of pure sympathy with His great sorrow. My whole heart went out to Him. I loved Him with all my soul and longed to be with Him as I longed for nothing else. “Presently He arose and walked to where those Apostles were kneeling—fast asleep! He shook them gently, awoke them, and in a tone of tender reproach, untinctured by the least show of anger or scolding, asked them if they could not watch with Him one hour. “Returning to His place, He prayed again and then went back and found them again sleeping. Again He awoke them, admonished them, and returned and prayed as before. Three times this happened, until I was perfectly familiar with His appearance—face, form, and movements. He was of noble stature and of majestic mien … the very God that He was and is, yet as meek and lowly as a little child. “All at once the circumstance seemed to change. … Instead of before, it was after the Crucifixion, and the Savior, with those three Apostles, now stood together in a group at my left. They were about to depart and ascend into heaven. I could endure it no longer. I ran from behind the tree, fell at His feet, clasped Him around the knees, and begged Him to take me with Him. “I shall never forget the kind and gentle manner in which He stooped and raised me up and embraced me. It was so vivid, so real that I felt the very warmth of His bosom against which I rested. Then He said: ‘No, my son; these have finished their work, and they may go with me; but you must stay and finish yours.’ Still I clung to Him. Gazing up into His face—for He was taller than I—I besought Him most earnestly: ‘Well, promise me that I will come to You at the last.’ He smiled sweetly and tenderly and replied: ‘That will depend entirely upon yourself.’

I love the descriptions he gave of the Savior from this dream: Gentle, tender, kind, meek and lowly as a little child, sweet.

Through his sinless life, his genetic nature as the only begotten of the Father and his willingness to drink the bitter cup of justice, The Savior was able to atone unconditionally for Adam and Eve’s transgression and for Physical death allowing for us all to be resurrected. These unconditional parts of the atonement are free gifts of grace requiring no further action on our parts. He also atoned conditionally for our personal sins. This requires our repentance as the condition of applying mercy. Like the Savior said in Elder Whitney’s dream “That will depend entirely upon ourselves.” If we do not repent we must suffer even as the Lord did to satisfy the demands of justice.

When I was in younger I remember viewing repentance as something that had a definite start and finish but as I have matured, I have realized that it is an ongoing process that truly never ends and that it can be a daily blessing that allows us to become closer to our Heavenly Father, more like him, and strengthen us as a result if we take advantage of it.

I think in the repentance process it is important to remember just how much our Heavenly Father loves us, is on our side, and wants to forgive us. There is a line in my patriarchal blessing that I feel is ok to share because it applies to us all and teaches us about the nature of God. It says “Always remember that the commandments of God are gentle. As you remember this you will have the necessary faith to place your burdens at His feet. This means that our Heavenly Father is just that, the very best kind of father. A gentle father who knows that we will sometimes make mistakes, who waits and longs to forgive, comfort, strengthen and bless his children. I know that our Bishop and his counselors have this same kind of love for the members of our ward.

In the April 1990 Ensign article titled Beauty for Ashes – Bruce C. Hafen discusses two other ways that the Lord’s atonement or grace blesses us beyond compensating for our sins. The first of these is that that the Atonement can sweeten the bitter. Each of us will taste the bitter ashes of this life. In Moses chapter 6:55 we read that we taste the bitter that we might learn to prize the good. Some examples of bitterness we might experience in life are: Accidents caused by carelessness, forgotten promises, discouragement about the circumstances of our personal lives, self-doubts, ignorance, stresses and troubles, broken hearts, spiritual fatigue, illnesses and the undeserved pain of adversity. We must also lay these burdens at the feet of our Savior. The blessed news of the Gospel is that the Atonement can not only purify all uncleanness but sweeten all the bitterness we taste. It compensates after all we can do for the ignorance or neglect, the sorrows and adversity we experience in this life. I know that is true and I’d like to share an example of this from my own life.

Sorry to those of you who have heard parts of this story before. Before I tell it I have to preface that, looking back, I know that in the grand scheme of things this was a relatively small challenge but it sure didn’t feel very small when I when I was going through it and I feel like the principles I learned from going through it can apply to all of the challenges that we might receive in this life.

When I was a new first time Mom, my first child at 4 months contracted a common childhood virus in the chickenpox family that causes an itchy rash with raised bumps. The pediatrician said it usually ran its course in a year or less and that the bumps usually spread a little and that they often caused scarring similar to the chicken pox when they went away. Well, we soon discovered that our case was not a very typical case. Within a few months the bumps had spread to cover both arms and parts of his trunk and back. The pediatrician made a phone call and got us in quickly to see the best dermatologist at Duke. The Dermatologist was surprised at the number of and the size of the bumps (they were quite frightening to behold) and asked permission to remove one to study it and to take pictures to send to his colleagues across the country to see if they had discovered any new treatments or if they had had any success treating severe cases. He also said that typically, cases like this were only seen on people who had severe immune deficiencies and they tested our son for every immune deficiency imaginable. Nothing showed up. We prayed continually, we pleaded, we fasted, we researched and tried online cures none of which seemed to work. We kept him in long sleeves during the summer to try to prevent him from scratching and spreading it or passing it to another child. I watched as the rash continued to spread and climb up to his neck and chin despite my very best efforts and mourned that it would spread to his cute face. I spent sleepless nights next to him holding his hands to keep him from itching and spreading the rash. On one particular exhausting sleepless night near my ropes end I prayed a short emotional prayer. Why. Why, Heavenly Father? Why won’t this go away? Why does he have to suffer? He is so young and he has so much. I’ll be listening. As I sat in the dark and listened, It was not long before a thought that was not my own clearly came to my mind. I heard. “He knew before he came to earth that he would have to suffer and Jesus Christ descended below it all.” What perspective. It was enough. I was humbled. I knew that Jesus Christ truly did suffer for it all and that he understood. Even though I knew this trial was not going to be taken from us yet, I received strength to continue on and hope that all would be well eventually. I knew that we were not alone. A few weeks later, the dermatologist called and said he had heard from a colleague that had had some success with what was basically an overdose of Calcium. The overdose of Calcium would change the PH of the body allowing the body to recognize that the virus was there and begin fighting it. It began to work. Some of the bumps began to turn an angry red color and then the goo that was on the inside of each bump began to come out. (sorry) The dermatologist told me that My job was to bath him each day, remove the old Band-Aids and clean the pus from the red bumps that were ready and try to remove the core from these bumps, then cover with cream and Band-Aids, then check for new red bumps and keep them covered with Band-Aids. Each new morning we would repeat the process. It was a process that took at least twenty minutes each morning while my husband worked. I needed help. This was a child that I had to throw my leg over to keep him still for a simple diaper change. “I need you Heavenly Father. I can’t do it by myself. Please, help him to be able to lie still, Help him to understand that I am trying to help him." He did help me. I know it. My active son would lie still EVERY TIME and watch the ceiling. Sometimes as long as 30 minutes while I cleaned and wiped and creamed and bandaged. I sometimes wondered what he might see that I could not see. Within 5 weeks of beginning the new medicine, every bump was gone. He was 14 months when the last one disappeared. While the trial was not taken from us right away, he upheld us in the trail, he strengthened me, gave me perspective and hope and he blessed us with what we needed to get through it when I asked for help. I know that He longs to do this for each of us in the trials that we face.

A second way that the Atonement blesses our lives beyond compensating for our sins is in our quest for divine perfection. While much of this perfection process involves healing from sin and bitterness, the processes involves an additional dimension through which we may acquire a Christ like nature and become even as the Father and Son are. We read in D&C 93:12, that in His own development on Earth, the Savior received the Father’s grace not of the fullness at first, but that he received grace for grace until he received a fullness. This grace was not to compensate for any sins (because he had none) but to empower his personal growth. Though he was the son of God, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered, and being made perfect became the author of eternal salvation. Just as the Sinless Christ was made perfect through interaction with his Father’s grace, So HIS Atoning grace can move us beyond a remission of sins to the perfection of a divine nature. This Gospel has good news not only for serious transgressions but for all of us who long to be better than we are. I know that I long to be better.

Through the Holy Ghost, the atonement makes possible certain spiritual endowments that actually purify our natures and allow us to be more like our Heavenly Father. Then we will exhibit divine character not because it is the way we think we should act, but because it is the way we are.

One of these spiritual endowments is the Gift of Charity. Charity is not developed by our own power, even though our faithfulness is a qualification to receive it. In Moroni 7:40 we learn that Charity is bestowed upon the true followers of Christ.

It is important that we are patient with ourselves and others as we are all on our own individual paths towards perfection and becoming more Christ-like and more likely than not, we are all doing the very best that we can.

Another Endowment of the Savior’s grace is the gift of HOPE which blesses us with the state of mind necessary to deal with the gap between where we are and where we seek to be. As the remission of our sins makes us lowly of heart and meek enough to receive the Holy Ghost, the comforter fills us with hope, peace and perspective and we will be able to see the light at the end of the Tunnel given by the Savior himself who is the light and life of the world.

I am so grateful for the marvelous gift of the atonement in my life, I know that Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten of the Father and our Elder Brother. I know that His atonement is real and I have felt the peace that it brings in my life. I know that life is hard but when we are doing our best as men and as women, Mothers and Fathers in the roles that we are given, that his Atonement will also make up the difference for the things that we are trying to accomplish in our homes and in our lives.

It is my prayer that I and we can all use this gift to the fullest that we may be purified, that the bitterness in our lives can be sweetened, that we might be strengthened as we bear our burdens and that our hearts and minds may be filled with the hope, peace and perspective that it brings and that we may we go forth with more love and charity for ourselves and others in our lives as a result. In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

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