This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)
The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ – Assignment for Matthew 5
“1. Christ has officially begun His ministry here. His ministry is a part of His purpose, His goals, and is the set up to His eventual Atonement. Keep this in mind as we study His teachings. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings fit into the Atonement, plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.
2. Each thing Christ has taught in this chapter, He has modeled Himself. He is the Exemplar. You may consider studying some of these qualities and finding instances where Christ exemplifies them. For example: poor in spirit. Find a time when Christ was poor in spirit. How can you follow His behavior in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
This beatitude has always seemed fairly obvious to me. The concept of being merciful in order to obtain mercy is pretty intuitive, and it is taught by the Savior really well in the parable of the king of the evil servant. (See Matthew 18:25-35.)
Additionally, when the Savior gives the “Lord’s prayer,” he gives the pattern of receiving forgiveness from God, as we have forgiven others. (See Matthew 6:12.)
In the Book of Mormon, when the Savior visits the Nephites, he teaches: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you;” (3 Nephi 13:14).
Finally – in these latter-days, we’ve been taught to forgive others. (See Doctrine and Covenants 64:10.)
We have been commanded to forgive. And in this beatitude, Christ gives us one of the reasons why we must: so that we, too can receive forgiveness.
I’m trying to think of these beatitudes within the context of the Atonement – as in how does Christ model this in His performance of the Atonement? and What is the connection between this scripture and the Atonement? And, as I think about it, I find it interesting that Christ was merciful even though He didn’t need mercy. He was God. He created the earth. He was perfect. He could have progressed without obtaining any kind of mercy.
However, he extended mercy and, therefore, obtained it.
Christ’s Atonement – Merciful
So, we’ll look at the first part of the beatitude first. blessed are the merciful. During the Atonement, Christ is merciful a few different ays.
While Christ is on the cross at Calvary, we read, “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know now what they do,” (Luke 23:34). After this act of forgiveness, the soldiers took no notice of Christ. Instead, they took his clothes and then gambled.
Keep in mind, Christ says this while He’s on the cross. It is after he has already suffered for the sins of the world in Gethsemane; After he had been betrayed by His friend and disciple; After he had been judged; After he had been mocked; and After he had been scourged. While He hangs on the cross, in unimaginable anguish, Christ forgives the people that were crucifying Him!
In this very specific way, Christ exemplifies the type of merciful behavior that we need to cultivate.
As we think of mercy and the Atonement, it is easy to come up with a few examples: the healing of the officer’s ear. Christ’s forgiveness of the crucifiers. Those are great examples of merciful behavior, but we can’t just stop there. They only scratch the surface of the mercy of the Atonement.
The Atonement, in its essence, is about mercy. The Atonement is the single most merciful act ever done. We have to look at the big picture – what the Atonement does for all of us.
First, we have to understand a few facts:
- God is just.
- We, mortal men and women, are fallen creatures.
- In order to return to God, then we need mercy. Because God is just, then we will always be separated from Him – because of our sins.
- Mercy cannot rob justice. (Remember, GOD IS JUST!)
If you want to understand the concept of our need for mercy, then I would suggest reading Alma 34 and Alma 42. The basic idea is that we, mortals, are susceptible to the justice of God. If you take that truth – on its own – then our state is pathetic and pitiful. We would be required to pay for every single sin we commit.
Look at us! We are a mess! We lie, we hurt others, and we hurt ourselves. For the sake of a better understanding of why we need mercy, let’s look at a few awesome examples. Let’s say there is a person with the patience ofJob, the charity of Mother Theresa, and the knowledge of Neal A. Maxwell. Where would this person be?
Actually, this is a great example because Job, Mother Theresa, and Neal A. Maxwell are all dead. Not to be rude. It’s just a fact. Though they were marvelous people, they couldn’t fully save themselves. No matter how wonderful we think we are, we can’t navigate this mortal life alone. In fact, mortality is all about death: spiritual and physical death. Because of the fall, we are all susceptible to both modalities of death. And, before the Savior and the Atonement – death -both physical and spiritual – was the ultimate end of each of us.
So. We, humankind, need a way to be forgiven of the sins we commit. We need mercy. When Christ suffered the sins of each person on this earth, he accomplished the most merciful act conceivable.
Though we break commandments and commit sins, Christ, God, came to earth and paid the debts that we racked. Only He could do it. And he did it for us because He loves us. He forgives us. The Atonement was the ultimate act of His forgiveness for our weakness and sin.
Christ’s Atonement – Obtained Mercy
The promise that Christ gives in the beatitude is that the merciful will obtain mercy. However, we have already determined that Christ didn’t need it. Because God is just, and because Christ is perfect, he didn’t need mercy or forgiveness.
Yet He was merciful.
At first, I just thought, “Of course Christ was merciful. He’s a nice guy. He’s perfect.”
But, as I consider the connection between the Atonement and mercy, I’m thinking that it is more than that. In fact, even though Christ didn’t need to obtain mercy for Himself, it was His duty, His purpose, and His foreordained role to obtain mercy…for us.
Had Christ not been merciful, then He would not have performed the Atonement. Had Christ not performed the Atonement, then He would not have obtained mercy. Had Christ not obtained mercy, then He would not have been able to offer it to any of us.
This is what Christ was sent to do. We learn in the Book of Mormon:
“And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.
And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.
And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.” – Alma 34:14-16
Because Christ was merciful, he knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane; He trembled because of pain and bled from every pore. He even asked to get out of this excruciating act. (See Doctrine and Covenants 19:18.) However, His love of God and His mercy for us enabled Him to endure. He descended below all and then obtained mercy for us.
It was Christ’s mercy, then, that enabled Him to obtain mercy.
How have you experienced the blessing of mercy in your life? What does the Atonement teach you about mercy? What can you do to be more merciful to others?