Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My Farewell Talk: The Power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ

As I’ve prepared and studied for my mission, I’ve come to understand the atonement with a greater knowledge, and it has really helped me feel closer to Christ. I know that some of you have never even heard of the atonement before. And for those of you who have, while the atonement is one of the most basic doctrines of our church, it is still the one least understood. For this reason, I would like to focus on the Atonement and bare witness of the truthfulness of this message.  

Before the world was organized, Heavenly Father chose Jesus Christ to be our Savior and our Redeemer. Being an all knowing God, He knew that Adam and Eve would choose to eat of the forbidden fruit, which would thus cast them out of the Garden of Eden. Because they were cast out, they were no longer able to be in God’s physical presence. This separation from God is called spiritual death. Our Heavenly Father had also told them that if they ate of the fruit, then they would surely die. Thus, they became mortal, which brought about the existence physical death, both of which extended beyond Adam and Eve and applied to all mankind. In order to overcome both these spiritual and physical deaths, a Savior was needed, and this was the purpose of Christ. Without Christ to come down and complete the atonement and to die for us, men would never be able to overcome the bands of death and return to heaven again.

2,000 years ago, Christ came to complete our Heavenly Father’s plan. While here on earth, he accomplished the task that only a god could do, which is that of the Atonement. In John 3:16-17, it reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that the world through him might be saved.” While on earth, Jesus Christ took upon Him, by His suffering, the sins of all who would live on earth. This infinite, atoning sacrifice is made possible to all of us if we have faith in Him, repent, are baptized, receive the Holy Ghost and endure to the end. We read in the bible the story that happened on that day of his crucifixion.

With the accompaniment of his apostles, Christ departed for Gethsemane. Upon arrival, he told his apostles to sit and wait for him as he continued his journey, all alone. Once he found a quiet spot in the garden, he began to pray to His Father in Heaven. It was here, in this peaceful garden of Gethsemane, that the Sinless Son of the Everlasting Father took upon himself the sins of all men on condition of repentance.

We cannot fully comprehend what all occurred here on this night. We cannot comprehend how a single man, even the Son of God, was able to take upon himself the sins of every being to walk the earth. What we do know is of the extreme agony and pain that occurred. We know that while he prayed, he bled from every pore.
We read how, in some way, through this extreme suffering, Christ was able to satisfy the demands of justice, save us from our sins, and extend his hand of mercy to every one of us here today.

We understand that this extreme agony lasted for some three or four hours, at the end of which he lay heavy on the ground only to be taken to meet his fate in front of Pilate. Here, after taking upon him the sins of us all, after extending the sweetest hand of mercy that the world could ever see, our Savior was sentenced to death. An innocent man, who had lived his life in service and in teaching, was whipped, scourged, mocked, and nailed upon a cross to meet his death.

While we may not understand exactly why Christ had to endure all of this pain, we do know that it was necessary for the plan of God. It was necessary for his Son to come to earth and to save all mankind from the death that was brought about by Adam.

This great and eternal sacrifice that was made by Christ had to be the hardest thing that has been accomplished on this earth, and while he may have been abandoned or betrayed by those closest to him on earth, the Father never left his side during this time, because the Father knew of the importance and necessity of what Christ was about to do. In fact, as Elder Holland said in his general conference talk, he quotes, “In all of Christ’s mortal ministry the Father may never have been closer to His Son than in these agonizing final moments of suffering.” However he continues by explaining why the extreme pain was so necessary. Quote “Nevertheless, that the supreme sacrifice of His Son might be as complete as it was voluntary and solitary, the Father briefly withdrew from Jesus the comfort of His Spirit, the support of His personal presence. It was required, indeed it was central to the significance of the Atonement, that this perfect Son who had never spoken ill nor done wrong nor touched an unclean thing had to know how the rest of humankind—us, all of us—would feel when we did commit such sins. For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone.”

However, because of the goodness of Christ, he held on during this time. He knew that even in this extreme pain, the importance of what he was doing. Holland continues by saying, “Against all odds and with none to help or uphold Him, Jesus of Nazareth, the living Son of the living God, restored physical life where death had held sway and brought joyful, spiritual redemption out of sin, hellish darkness, and despair. With faith in the God He knew was there, He could say in triumph, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

I want you all to understand that the atonement was for us. Christ did not have to do this in order to live with Heavenly Father again. He was already perfect. However, Heavenly Father has a plan for us. He sent us here to earth so that we might prove ourselves and return to Him. He is rooting for us every step of the way and wants us to return. The only thing is that we all need help along the way. Unlike Christ, we are not perfect. We sin. As Elder Holland so perfectly put it, “Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it.”

Well, one of those imperfect people is my elder brother, Troy. However, through the power of the atonement of Christ, his life has been changed forever, and it is clearly noticeable. He wrote me a letter and I asked him if I could share it with you all today.

“Growing up I constantly struggled with an internal conflict. I tried to follow the gospel while still having one foot in the door of the world. It never worked, Alma 41:10 really is true; wickedness never was happiness. I had always assumed that I was going to BYU and going on a mission because my parents expected it of me, not because I wanted to for myself.
After a particularly tough trial towards the end of my freshman year at BYU I was faced with the choice that I knew I had to make for years: do I give my whole heart and soul to Christ and follow him for the remainder of my life or do I give up and follow the path of least resistance? After much pondering I made the choice to read in the scriptures. I read in 3rd Nephi, chapter 17 where Christ blest the little children and then wept.
As I read of this experience I too wept, overcome by the pure love of Christ for me personally and the weight of all my sins began to press upon me as they never before had. I decided that night to get my life in order and serve a mission. Ten months later I left for the MTC and then to Chile to serve a full time mission and the Lord has continually blessed me ever since. I now have a beautiful, loving and faithful wife, a perfect home, and great friends and family who are examples to me. I feel the light and love of Christ constantly as I can say for myself that I have come to Him.”

The blessings in Troy’s life are clear and they are apparent. Through the atonement of Christ, he was able to be cleaned of all of his sins. All of the mistakes that he has made growing up mean nothing to God anymore because he has repented and started over. This is the greatness of God. If only we are willing to repent and to come unto Him, he will remember our sins no more and we will be able to move on. I am so grateful for the mercy of Christ. I know I have made my fair share of sins and wrong doings, but I have repented and every day I try to improve. Our Heavenly Father knows we will never be perfect, but with the help of our Savior, we can be perfected in Him.

The greatness of the Atonement is that it extends even beyond covering our sins. It extends beyond saving us from physical and spiritual death and covers all of our sorrows, our sadness, and our worries. During Christ’s agony, he not only took upon him our sins but every feeling of inadequacy we could have. For this reason, there is always one person that we can talk to who understands what we are going through.
You may or may not have heard this poem before, but it is one of my favorites, and I feel like it properly portrays the significance of the atonement in this aspect. It is called, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand”.

’Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile:
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar”; then, “Two!” “Only two?
Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?
Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three—” But no,
From the room, far back, a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loose strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet
As a caroling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said, “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice,
And going, and gone!” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand
What changed its worth.” Swift came the reply:
“The touch of a master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,
Much like the old violin.
A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,
A game—and he travels on.
He’s “going” once, and “going” twice,
He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.

I love this poem. While reading it, I imagine, while in my most beaten and bruised state, Christ picking me up, polishing me off and make me more beautiful than I could ever imagine. All he asks in return is for me to repent and come unto Him. We must recognize what he has done for us and this is possible by taken upon us His name. We must be willing to stand as examples at all times. I’ve experienced this before in my life. I’ve had times of doubt and times of sorrow where I’ve felt like I couldn’t continue, but I kneel down and I pray for strength, and Christ gives it to me. In these moments, the Holy Ghost is so strong that it feels as if Jesus Christ is wrapping his own arms around me, helping me through the hardest times of my life.

The Hymn, “Nearer, my God, to thee” has recently taken new meaning to me. For those of you who haven’t heard it before, the lyrics are as follows.

Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee!
E'en though it be a cross
That raiseth me.
Still all my song shall be
Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee!"

In this song, the cross is not lifting Christ, but it is lifting us, and bringing us closer to Christ. The cross in this instance is all of our burdens, our trials, and our worries. As I said before, it has been through some of the hardest times in my life that I have felt the love of God the strongest. The atonement of Christ allows us to draw nearer to him as he draws nearer to us. His love for us is something we can always have.

This is why I am going on a mission. I want people to understand all that Christ has done for us and to feel His love as I do every day. I promise you that he is always there for you, no matter your circumstances. All you need to do is kneel and pray and know that God is there, listening to you. He is waiting and willing to help you.

I am proud to be able to call Christ my Savior. I cannot express my gratitude enough for the love that he has shown for me and for each and every person here on earth. We are God’s children. I know this to be true. I know that Christ came to earth to die so that we may live again. I cannot wait for the day that I meet my Savior face to face and kneel at His feet. I cannot wait to feel the scars on his hands and feet that mark where He was raised on the cross to save all of us from death. I know it will be just as described in 3 Nephi when he bid all of the little children to come unto him, one by one. I will stand in front of him, with him proud of how I have lived my life. He will look down on me and smile.

I know this gospel to be true. I know my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live and that they love us more than we will ever be able to comprehend. I know that through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, if only we repent and follow the laws of Christ. I know that on a spring morning of 1820, the Father and the Son appeared unto Joseph Smith and gave him instruction to once again restore the gospel of Christ on earth. That same invitation that was extended to Joseph Smith is extended to all of us. Our Heavenly Father beckons to us all when he says, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” Of this I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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