The Atonement: Christ’s Advice on Prioritizing

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ 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 6

“1. In Matthew 6, Christ is still teaching the Sermon on the Mount that began in chapter 5. Specifically, He is speaking to His apostles and servants in the church. His teachings—His ministry—are a part of His primary purpose and are the set up to His eventual Atonement. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings in this chapter fit into the work of the Atonement, the Plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.

2. In this chapter, we have examples of how not to do and how to do certain things. What are these things? What does Christ teach about them? Can you think of times when Christ models the way to do what He is teaching? How does His example help you to better understand Christ and your relationship with Him? How does understanding the way He serves, fasts, and prays help you to gain insight on the act of the Atonement?

3. Think of the last major section of this chapter (“Take no thought for your own life…” in verse 25). How did Christ exemplify this? How does the Atonement help us “not to take thought of our own lives”? Is there anything we can do to work out our salvation on our own? What do we rely on in order to receive salvation? How can you apply His example in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew

So – in Matthew 6, Christ continues with the Sermon on the Mount. As I studied this chapter, I found that there are six main categories of advice that He gives (both a do and a do not). He teaches us how to give alms, pray, forgive, fast, prioritize, and remain loyal to God.

Today, we’ll focus on what the Savior teaches us about prioritizing our lives, why it is important, and how He exemplified it in the Atonement.

What do you treasure?

What do you treasure?

Prioritizing

Do

  • Do lay up treasures in heaven
  • Do keep in mind that where your heart is, there is your treasure also</li<
  • Do keep your eye single to God and full of light

Don’t

  • Don’t lay up treasures upon earth.
  • Don’t get distracted from God. If your eye is not single to God, then your body is full of darkness.

Catania, Why are you calling this prioritization, rather than materialism or financial advice?

Maybe you already know the answer to this question. Maybe you have already thought of this scripture in these terms: that the advice to lay up treasures in heaven is all about prioritization. I have to admit, however, I’ve always thought that this was merely a small sermon on materialism.

It is so much more.

The Savior is teaching us how to prioritize our lives. And the advice is simple: lay up treasures in heaven.

If we have this at the center of what we do, then we won’t waste time on the things that are corrupted by moth and that rust. Instead, we will find that we have spent our lives on doing the things that will bring us joy – both here and in heaven.

I think that this advice is less about finances and materialism because of what the Savior says in verses 22-23:

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” – Matthew 6:22-23

By the way – there is a JST in verse 22 that helps us understand it more:

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single to the glory of God, thy whole body shall be full of light.” – Matthew 6:22 – JST is included in italics

Additionally, we learn that “single” means (from the Greek translation): healthy, sincere, without guile.

This advice that Christ gives is associated with “treasures in Heaven.” If you look at the entire chapter of Matthew 6, The Savior does address materialism pretty directly (that will be the next blog post – no man can serve two masters). However, here we learn that we need to lay up treasures in heaven, and to have our eye single to God.

There are many things that we might be treasuring above God. Popularity. Fame. The “perfect” body. Perhaps we even treasure something that is good, but somehow it becomes something that causes us to take our eyes off of God’s glory. Keeping our eye on God’s glory is the key to laying up treasure in Heaven.

The Benefit of Having an Eye Single to God’s Glory

I really like the concept of having an eye single to God’s glory – or an eye of faith. It is the only way to really succeed in this life and return to Him in the life to come. And there are a few really great scriptural examples of this kind of eye of faith.

I’ve written about how Alma had an eye single to God’s glory in this blog post.

Another example of an eye single to God’s glory is that of Stephen.

In Acts, we read about Stephen. He was a Christian disciple in the early church. He had been taken by a council of the Jews and was being questioned. He stood fast to his faith, taught the council how Moses was a type of Christ, He witnessed against the council – and their wickedness, and He testified of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

The council of the Jews wasn’t too excited about what Stephen had to say. In Acts, we read:

“When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” – Acts 7:54-56

Many of you are probably familiar with this story. Stephen looked up steadfastly into heaven and then saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Stephen Sees Jesus on the Right Hand of God, by Walter Rane

Stephen Sees Jesus on the Right Hand of God, by Walter Rane

Usually, when I think of this story, I kind of stop here. Stephen looked steadfastly into heaven. He saw two personages, he testified of them, and he was martyred for his testimony.

But take a second, and really think about it. Think about what Stephen was doing: He was looking steadfastly into heaven. In other words, his eye was single to God’s glory.

I don’t think that this was the first time Stephen looked steadfastly into heaven. In fact, I kind of think that he had been looking steadfastly into heaven long before this moment. He did this through expressing his faith and living as a disciple. Because he had developed his eye of faith, when he was under immense pressure, he didn’t back down out of fear. He still looked steadfastly into heaven, received a sure witness, and died protecting it.

I love this example because Stephen was literally looking into Heaven. He is a good example. His example teaches me that I can do the same – on a more spiritual level. I can look steadfastly into heaven by covenanting with God and then keeping those covenants. I can look steadfastly into heaven through prayer, scripture study, and obedience to the commandments. Going to the temple often also helps to focus our gaze heavenward.

Additionally, I know that if I will focus my eye on God’s glory, then I will be strengthened during the times of intense pressure and temptation.

Keeping my eye single to God will fill my body with light – just as the Savior promised. And it is the way that I am able to keep Christ’s charge to “lay up treasures in heaven.”

Christ, The Atonement, Treasures in Heaven, and An Eye of Faith

Of course, Christ was the perfect example of everything that we should be – proper prioritization included. Throughout Christ’s life, He focused on laying up treasure in Heaven.

For now, we’ll look only at His experience of the Atonement – and how He chose to lay up treasures in Heaven by prioritizing God above all else.

In the Garden of Gethsemane
Christ never gave into His own desires. Even though He suffered greatly, He still prioritized the will of God. While suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, three times He said:

“O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” – Matthew 26:39

Christ – doing the will of God – was laying up for Himself treasure in Heaven. The treasure He obtained was resurrection for Himself and all mankind. He also obtained the great treasure of an Atonement that could exalt all of us.

Christ’s Capture
After suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas came and betrayed the Savior with a kiss. As Christ was being arrested, Peter smote off the ear of an officer. Christ healed the injured man and said to Peter:

“Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” – Matthew 26:53-54

Again, Christ prioritizes God’s will above all else. Even though He finished suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, there was still much more to suffer and endure. His Atonement and work was not yet done. He still had to keep His eye single to the glory of His Father in order to finish the work of the Atonement.

Christ made the deliberate choice to allow Himself to be arrested and judged. He could have escaped the officers and high priests. He could have had twelve legions of angels defend Him.

However, He knew what His work was. He understood God’s will and God’s purpose for Christ. Instead of laying up treasures on earth and protecting Himself, physically, Christ chose to lay up treasures in Heaven and finish His work of the Atonement.

The Judgment of Christ
Again, Christ had a chance to lay up treasure on earth rather than in Heaven when He was judged by Pilate, Herod, and then Pilate again. Yet Christ submitted to their judgment.

Pilate was relatively uninformed of the divinity and mission of Christ. He only knew that the Jews he ruled over were stirred up. Pilate was motivated by treasures on earth, so He wanted to pacify these angry constituents. Yet, Pilate also seems to be worried about condemning an innocent man – who is potentially the very Son of God.

Jesus is condemned before Pilate. (The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Video)

Jesus is condemned before Pilate. (The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Video)

The contrast between the two (Pilate – who lays up treasure on earth; and Christ – who lays up treasure in Heaven) is striking:

“When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid;

And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.

Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?

Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Cæsar.

When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.” – John 19:8-13

Pilate – who prioritized his earthly wealth and stature – went against his intuition and was swayed by the Jews argument – that by letting Christ live, he was jeopardizing His relationship with Cæsar.

Christ, on the other hand, prioritized God’s will. Though He had more power than Pilate and any other earthly force, Christ submitted to the will of God. Christ was judged and then condemned to death by crucifixion.

The Crucifixion
Christ faithfully kept His eye single to God’s glory. This steadfastness enabled Him to perform the work of the Atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane and accept His capture and judgment. Of course, He would still have to overcome another great hurdle – the actual crucifixion.

I can only imagine the pain of the crucifixion, but the only time Christ cries out is when His father forsakes Him. We read:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34

I think that this is worth mentioning because we know – Christ always had an eye single to God’s glory. He never looked away from God. Yet God looked away from Him. Elder Jeffery R. Holland humbly and succinctly explains the reason that Christ had to be forsaken, even though He never took His gaze off of His Father:

“With all the conviction of my soul I testify that He did please His Father perfectly and that a perfect Father did not forsake His Son in that hour. Indeed, it is my personal belief that 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. 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.” – Jeffrey R. Holland

While we struggle to keep our eye single to God’s glory, we will not have to endure what Christ faced. We will be blessed with the companionship of the Spirit when we live worthy of it – exercising our eye of faith. Of course, there are times when there seems to be a pavilion that covers the Lord’s hiding place. (See Doctrine and Covenants 121:1.) However these “pavilions” are usually caused by our own lack of faith or even disobedience. Even when it is difficult to “see” the Lord, we can follow Christ’s example and keep our eye firmly fixed on God’s glory.

Christ’s gaze had always been fixed on His Father, and while on the cross, Christ continued to lay up treasures in heaven by sacrificing His very life – even while Heavenly Father forsook Him and left Him to finish His work by suffering alone.

Because Christ prioritized God, He submitted to the excruciating work of the Atonement. In doing so, the Savior did lay up treasure in Heaven not only for Himself, but also enabled all of us to lay up treasure in Heaven, too.

***
What can you do to prioritize God and lay up treasure in Heaven? How can you keep your eye single to His glory? How does Christ’s example in the Atonement help you to better understand this teaching from the Sermon on the Mount?

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  1. Christ’s Advice on Loyalty to and Trust in God | That Good Part

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