Christ’s Advice on Loyalty to and Trust in God

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.)

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 gives us advice on giving alms, prayer, forgiveness, fasting, prioritization, and loyalty to and trust in God.

Today, we’ll focus on the final point taught in Matthew 6 – our loyalty to and trust in God. We’ll learn about unintended worship of mammon, trusting in God, and seeking His kingdom. Finally, we’ll look at the Atonement and see how this teaching helped Him to perform His sacred work.

Loyalty to God

Do

  • Do remember that it is impossible to serve both God and mammon.
  • Do remember that life is more than meat. (What we eat.)
  • Do remember that our body is more than our raiment. (How we clothe ourselves.)
  • Do remember that God knows our needs.
  • Do seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Don’t

  • Do not attempt to serve two masters.
  • Do not take thought for life – what you’ll eat, drink, wear, etc.
  • Do not be materialistic.
  • Do not take thought for the morrow; the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.

We will study this section by breaking it down into three main parts.

You Cannot Serve Two Masters

The Worship of Mammon, Evelyn De Morgan
The Worship of Mammon, Evelyn De Morgan

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” – Matthew 6:24

So – the Savior teaches us here that we can’t serve two masters. And who are our masters that we, at times, attempt to serve simultaneously? God and Mammon.

Mammon. I decided to look this word up. I’m familiar with it, of course, but just to be sure that I wasn’t assuming anything, I looked up the definition in the dictionary and found that Mammon is idolatry, treasure, worldliness.

It seems like it would be an easy thing not to do. Who, while worshipping Christ, would also worship mammon? It seems hypocritical. And while Christ often spoke to the Pharisees about hypocrisy, it’s important to remember that the Sermon on the Mount was given to the disciples. So – this is an issue that we believers really need to be concerned with. Our attempt to serve two masters might be happening more often than we think.

Ways we might be serving Mammon rather than God:

  • Excessive consumption of TV and media. Do celebrities and social networking become our “gods”? (I admit that I have a difficulty with internet and media! And I know that it gets in the way with my own ability to be serve God).
  • Addiction to food, drugs, pornography, or gambling These things become our “god” rather than the Lord. In many cases, these addictions can turn us against God. I understand that addiction is real, and I don’t want to make light of the situation for so many. I also know that in order to really beat an addiction, we have to submit to something else – God! We can’t serve to masters. Either our addictions will strip us away from God, or God will save us from our addictions.
  • Consumer Debt. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and have come to the conclusion that being in excessive debt is our attempt to serve two masters. We think that we’re serving God, but we have this other master – Visa or the Bank – that we must answer to. The master of debt never sleeps. It accrues interest. It burdens us. Not only that, but how can we possibly serve God fully if we have the master of excessive consumer debt. I could go on about this, but don’t want to for this post. Maybe it is something that I will write about later in another blog post.

In any and each of the above mentioned forms of mammon (and I’m sure that there are more than what I just now came up with), we cannot serve God as we serve this other beast. It’s impossible.

It is impossible to multitask our allegiances.

Not only that, but the thought that we can is insidious – we will end up loving the one and hating the other.

Take No Thought

Interestingly enough, the scripture about serving God and Mammon isn’t the end of the chapter. It is a part of this series of verses. I have always thought of this scripture on its own – rather than it its context. Thinking about how it fits into the entire chapter of Matthew 6 might shed light on how serving mammon will turn us away from God.

In the very next verse, the Savior asks,

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.” – Matthew 6:25

I’ve been thinking about why this verse follows the “no man can serve two masters” verse. It’s because they are related.

Instead of serving the master of mammon – worldliness and materialism – we ought to serve the Lord. We know this. And what usually gets in the way? Well – besides our tendency to be like raccoons (shiny stuff!), we kind of get wrapped up in our day-to-day needs.

Of course, we should be self-sufficient, and that’s something to consider. But the Lord is telling his disciples not to take any thought for their life. Instead, they should focus their efforts on something else.

This topic (just like the serving two masters topic) could be studied even further, but the point I want to make is this – instead of getting hung up on many of the details in our lives, we need to trust in God. He knows what we need. He knows that we need food, shelter, and clothing. He has created this entire earth – including us – and He understands the conditions of our lives. He will help us with them!

Our perceived needs should never trump our devotion to God.

Seek First the Kingdom of God

Just to be clear – I don’t think that the Lord is telling us to be lazy bums. He’s not telling us to get stuff for free from others who have more than we do. He’s not telling us to get everything we need from the government. This isn’t some kind of economic or political treatise.

In fact, I think that this is the exact opposite. He’s letting us in on the secret to how we can get all of our true needs met. Christ is telling us the order and pattern of His kingdom. He’s teaching us how to prioritize our efforts. And we can rest assured that we will be blessed for our obedience. Whether we are blessed now, temporally, or in the next life, we will be blessed for keeping His commandments.

The Savior explains:

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” – Matthew 6:33

Before we seek clothing, food, shelter, entertainment, or anything else, we should seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. When we prioritize the Lord, then the other needs we have will fall into place.

I actually think that it might go deeper than that, too.

I know that when I have started to prioritize the Lord’s kingdom first, before what I considered were my “needs,” I got a better idea of what my actual needs were. The Lord has not only sustained me in life, but He has molded me into a better person who isn’t always claiming to need another bigger, better thing. I’ve come to learn more about what is of true worth and value in this world.

When we choose to serve God over mammon, take no thought of our daily “needs”, and seek God’s kingdom, we show our loyalty to God and learn to rise above materialism. We learn to prioritize God’s kingdom, and trust that He will provide a way for us to have what we need and when we need it.

The Savior, of course, is a perfect example of this.

Christ’s Atonement

The Savior was a simple man from a simple background. It’s safe to say that He didn’t get caught up in a rat race to get ahead. He knew who He was. He knew whom He worshipped. And, above all, He sought His Father’s Kingdom.

During the act of the Atonement, we see this come together.

Only complete devotion to God would be able to empower Christ to get through the agony He suffered in Gethsemane. Even a single deeply-residing devotion toward the world would have nullified everything He did. He was perfectly loyal to God; He loved God perfectly.

Christ didn’t seem to take any thought of what He would eat, drink, wear, or do during this great work. He didn’t worry. He knew a trade – He was a carpenter – and I suppose that He had supported Himself before His ministry. He wasn’t out “bumming” off of people. Additionally, he wasn’t fretting about His retirement plan, His job, His house. He didn’t worry about having the latest in sandals or togas. He was secure that His needs would be met. He completely trusted His father.

During the Atonement, He didn’t take any thought of what would happen to Him later on. He lived in the present moment, always seeking God’s kingdom and fully submitting to every horrible thing that He was subjected to. He was burdened with the weight of the world in Gethsemane, judged and mocked in Jerusalem, and then crucified on Calvary. Yet he took no thought for Himself. Instead, He healed a centurion’s ear, saw to it that His mother was taken care of, and forgave the Romans who crucified Him.

Because of His consecration and complete devotion to God, all that God had was added to Him. He inherited glory and power. He overcame death. And because He diligently sought the Kingdom of God, He can offer it to all of us.

***
Our own potential can only be reached when we completely submit ourselves to God and give up worldliness. It can be difficult. But, instead of letting our minds be clouded by fears and worries, we should look to build His kingdom and trust that He will prepare a way for us to keep the commandments He has given to us.

***
Thanks for reading this today. I’m not sure that it is my best writing. My mind is hazy. This has been in my queue for a long time. Even though this might be written in a pretty confusing way, I feel the concept here with clarity. I know that we cannot serve two masters. I keep learning more and more about myself – how much pride and fear that I have. They reside deep in my soul and take so much to get rid of.

I know that as I look to the Savior’s example, I am encouraged. I can seek God’s kingdom. I can worry less about the details of my life and trust in the Lord. I can trust that He hears my prayers, understands my needs, and that He knows me, personally.

What do you do to “take no thought”? How do you seek Him? How have you benefitted by serving God rather than mammon?

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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?

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice on Fasting

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, manage our finances/materialism, remain loyal to God.

Today, we’ll focus on fasting.

Sermon on the Mount, by Harry Anderson
Sermon on the Mount, by Harry Anderson

Fasting

Do

  • Do anoint thy head and wash thy face
  • Do fast in a manner which is only obvious to God

Don’t

  • Don’t have a sad countenance so that you appear to be fasting to others.

Why?
Before exploring how Christ exemplified this during His act of the Atonement, I think that it is helpful to consider why Christ gave us this advice in the first place.

What does the Savior mean when He teaches us to “anoint thy head and was thy face”? I have to admit, I’ve never thought much about this before.

We learn more about anointing in the Bible Dictionary:

“To apply oil or ointment to the head or the person. Anciently anointing was done for reasons both secular and sacred. It is a sign of hospitality in Luke 7:46 and of routine personal grooming in 2 Sam. 12:20 and Matt. 6:17.” – Bible Dictionary: Anoint

I can’t say that I completely understand what is meant by Matthew 6:17 – other than we can approach our fast in a very reverent manner. The fast isn’t something we do to show off to others. It is a serious practice that can result in miraculous blessings. So – when we fast, we ought to prepare appropriately.

Additionally, we should avoid fasting as the hypocrites do – which is to fast in an ostentatious way: so everyone knows we are fasting. In Matthew 6, we are warned not to have a sad countenance or to disfigure our face. I interpret this to mean that we shouldn’t go about having a sour expression.

I think that this is true for a few reasons.
1) Like prayer, fasting is very personal and is an intimate practice that can help us to focus our thoughts, meditation, and prayers on the Lord. We don’t need to let any other noise into this process. Fasting helps us to remain free from distraction.

Lately, I’ve also learned a lot about fasting. When we are fasting, we start to burn ketones for energy, rather than glucose. Provided that we aren’t addicted to sugar (so we aren’t busy going through the withdrawal symptoms of sugar addiction), fasting can be a way that our body moves into a ketotic state. Our brains are primarily made up of fat and really benefit from burning ketones. When we are fasting, and burning those ketones, our brains are quite alert, and we’re thinking very clearly. I think that this explains why fasting can be such a beneficial thing for us spiritually. Instead of worrying about sugars and our next meal, Insulin is quiet, ketones are being spent, and we’re able to focus more on our thoughts. We experience clarity and closeness to our spirits. This is why fasting has always been beneficial to every religious group. It truly changes us – on a spiritual and physiological level.

In this way, we can be freed from some of the distractions that come from constant feeding, and then let our brains be filled with elevated thoughts and inspiration.

2) We shouldn’t “disfigure our faces” or have a sad countenance because fasting is a joyful exercise.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, we learn:

And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.

Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer.” – Doctrine and Covenants 59:13-14

There is a connection between fasting and joy. Interesting. At first, this seems nearly impossible. But I think that’s because we get so wrapped up in our physical needs and limitations.

When we learn to put off the natural man, (and what better way to do that than through fasting!), we become liberated. We experience joy and progression when we jump off the hamster wheel that is the “natural man.”

Now, I recognize that fasting can be difficult. I have faced this. If you are finding fasting difficult -rather than joyful – I invite you to examine your diet. Are you eating too much sugar? Are you eating foods that drive up insulin, cause leptin resistance, throw all of your hormones out of whack, and continually reinforce hunger? I have and currently am in a struggle with this. However, I have found that with cutting sugar and drastically reducing my consumption of processed foods (and most grains), and instead eating more fats, I’ve been able to fast more. I’ve been liberated from that constant hunger. And finally, I am beginning to understand what it means to experience REJOICING and prayer when I am fasting. Diet seriously makes a difference. That’s not the point of this blog post, but I wanted to include it because it’s possible.

And maybe our diet on regular days has more to do with fasting than we realize.

Maybe fasting often, in a true manner, will help us to maintain control in our lives on a regular basis. I don’t think that the Lord wants us to fast one day a month, and then live an unhealthy and gluttonous life for 30 days. Ultimately, we should become masters of our entire lives – spirits, emotions, minds, and bodies. Fasting can help us to achieve this.

Okay…sorry about that diversion. I’m kind of thinking out loud here, I know.

3)I think that Christ addressed fasting in this way – associated with sorrow and with the instruction to be anointed and washed because of the customs common in His day. In the Bible Dictionary, we learn:

“The Day of Atonement appears to be the only fast ordered by the law. Other fasts were instituted during the exile (Zech. 7:3–5; 8:19); and after the return, fasting is shown to be a regular custom (Luke 5:33; 18:12). It was regarded as a natural way of showing sorrow. Along with the fasting were often combined other ceremonies, such as rending of the garments, putting on sackcloth, refraining from washing the face or anointing with oil (2 Sam. 12:20; 1 Kgs. 21:27; Isa. 58:5). All such observances were, of course, liable to become mere formalities, and the danger of this was recognized by the prophets (Isa. 58:3–7; Joel 2:12–13; Zech. 7:5–6; see also Matt. 6:16–18).

By Christ’s time, fasting was associated with the one formal fast ordered by Mosaic Law – The Day of Atonement. That Day was set apart for showing the sorrow for sin and promising not to do them again. I suppose that, over time, fasting became associated with this holy day, and not much else.

I kind of wonder if something similar has happened in our own day.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also have a day that is set aside for fasting – Fast Sunday. On the first Sunday of each month, we fast by skipping two meals (or refraining from eating and drinking for 24 hours). It is suggest then use the money that we would have spent on our food and donate it to the poor.

It’s a nice tradition.

However, I must admit, I usually fast only once a month. I have grown accustomed to it. Often, I have looked at it like a chore – rather than a gateway to enlightenment and joy.

Fasting is so much more than a demonstration of sorrow. It is so much more than something Mormons do on the first of the month. Fasting strengthens us and teaches us.

When explaining how he had received His testimony, Alma the Younger explains:

“Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.” – Alma 5:46

When the apostles were unable to cast out a devil, the Lord told them how to develop their faith:

“Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” – Matthew 17:21

The Sons of Mosiah were men of a “sound understanding.” This came because they had searched the scriptures. We also learn this about them:

“But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” – Alma 17:3

I guess, what I’m trying to say is – fasting should be more than the tradition. It is a method to unlocking the mysteries of God in our own lives. If we approach it this way – rather than by rote mindlessness, we will find fasting to be a source of strength, joy, and enlightenment.

Why else would we go without food?!

Christ, the Atonement, and Fasting
I have no real reason to guess that Christ was fasting while He peformed the Atonement. Okay, I have no idea, actually.

The whole event really started at the Last Supper. So, He ate and drank there. Then, Christ went and suffered in the garden of Gethsemane. No mention of food or drink. So – he might not have been eating. I’m not sure if this would be considered a formal fast or not. Like I said, I have no idea.

After suffering in the garden of Gethsemane, He was betrayed, judged, and condemned. He suffered on the Christ, and finally, when His work was complete, He asked for a little to drink. He was thirsty and was handed a cup of vinegar.

Even though there is nothing to suggest that Christ fasted formally during the period of the Atonement, we know that He did fast for 40 days and nights before He began His ministry. This practice is an example of what would be necessary in order for Christ to perform His great work of the Atonement and to give the ultimate sacrifice of His life. Christ understood the power of the fast, employed it in His life, and taught His disciples to use it as a tool to sharpen their faith and grow closer to the Spirit.

***
What does this part of Christ’s sermon on the mount teach you about fasting? How has fasting been a benefit to you in your life? If you haven’t fasted, what do you think that you can do to implement it in your life?

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice about Forgiveness

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, manage our finances/materialism, remain loyal to God.

This blog post will focus on forgiveness.

The Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount

Forgiveness

Do

  • Do forgive others

Don’t

  • Don’t forgive not – or hold grudges

Very clear advice…

Why Forgiveness Even Matters

I’ve thought a lot about forgiveness over the years. I, like any of you reading this, have been hurt by others. I have also hurt others.

The first thing to ask is why forgive? Why does it even matter?

In Matthew 6, we learn:

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:14-15

According to the Savior’s words in these verses, we need to forgive others so we can be forgiven. It seems cut and dry. But, I have to admit. I’m not completely satisfied with that reasoning. In a way it seems kind of like there is this big scoreboard in Heaven with tally marks showing the offenses we’ve received and the times we’ve forgiven others. In other words, it feels like a “rule.” As if Heavenly Father is in heaven saying, Well, you haven’t forgiven so and so…so I can’t help you. (Can you imagine Him saying that, eyes closed, nose in the air? Nope. Neither can I.)

I have come to learn that there is always much more to every commandment than the idea that it is simply an arbitrary commandment.

So…let’s think about this more…

If you look at the context of the advice on forgiveness, Christ says it while He is teaching about prayer. Hmmmm….We have discussed Christ’s advice on prayer here, and we have learned that prayer, alone, was powerful enough to sustain Christ through the Atonement.

Forgiveness is related to prayer. And if we want to have power, then forgiveness is a part of that.

I’m not completely sure why. I feel like I’m figuring this out in my own life. For many years – if not most of my life – my prayers have really struggled. I mean, really bad. I would say them, but it was kind of a chore. Of course I experienced powerful prayers from time to time, but I just can’t say that I ever really figured out how to pray in a way that would bring the kind of power I desired in my life.

Recently, I have started meditating and combining it with prayer. Such mindfulness has helped me immensely. The thing I’ve really learned a lot is that in order for us to pray in the way that Christ has taught, we have to be one with God. The Bible dictionary teaches:

“Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. – Bible Dictionary: Prayer

So – the goal of prayer, as so perfectly exemplified by the Savior, is to align our will with God’s. Because of Christ’s prayer, he was able to secure that which God was willing to bless Him with (an Angel, power to perform the Atonement, the power to be resurrected). This only happened because Christ’s will was aligned with God’s.

Obviously, a major part of prayer is the alignment of will. And I think that this is where forgiveness really figures into the equation. If we want to align our will with God, then we need to become more like Him. We need to free ourselves from fear (which gets in the way of faith) and also of contention (which is of the devil). In doing so, we will have faith and we will forgive. It is this mental clarity that will then set the stage for powerful prayer.

Can we really pray if we’re wrapped up in emotions like fear, regret, hatred, or jealousy? Can we really expect to find power in prayer – enough power in prayer to come off conquerer over Satan – if we are consumed with his contentious and unforgiving spirit while praying? (See Doctrine and Covenants 10:5).

I think that when we think of the connection between forgiveness and prayer, and when we think of the potential power of prayer, then the commandment to forgive doesn’t come off as a rule given from a power hungry God as much as it is a hint! It’s the secret to success! It’s the way for us to become the people we want to be. Forgiveness will give us freedom and clarity. And it will make the way available for us to pray powerfully.

Christ, Forgiveness, and the Atonement

The Atonement really is all about forgiveness. The sacrifice of the Atonement was given so that Christ could fulfill the demands of justice while offering us a way to receive mercy. Because of Christ’s Atonement, God is both a just and a forgiving God. It is impossible to separate forgiveness and the Atonement.

While the entire Atonement revolves around concepts of love and forgiveness, Christ also exemplifies His advice – to forgive – in a very specific way.

Christ forgave those who crucified Him while He was being crucified!
Christ forgave those who crucified Him while He was being crucified!

In Luke, we read:

“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” – Luke 23:34

Christ forgave those who crucified Him while He was being crucified. Imagine that! Wouldn’t this have been a good time to teach them a lesson? Could you imagine? He would have had every right to say, “Excuse me. Do you know who I am. What do you think you’re doing???”

Instead of trying to condemn them, trying to “correct” them or teach them a lesson, Christ simply accepted the situation. Those soldiers were ignorant. They had no idea what they were doing. Christ forgave them. And it was relatively simple because He knew that they were clueless.

When we look at the whole picture, we will often find that those who harm us may also be “clueless.” When we look at the whole picture, we will often find that nothing we do or say will change a person – so it is better to simply accept them and then move onto the phase of forgiving them, rather than hold onto our pride and grudges. Typically, we can’t change people. So why waste the time trying? Instead, when we forgive, we relieve ourselves of the burden of the pain we’ve experienced. We are then able to let go and enjoy liberty.

Christ shows us this perfectly, by forgiving those who crucified Him. Because He forgave them, He was able again to focus on His work – which would require His entire attention. He couldn’t waste a single ounce of energy being angry with another person. His forgiveness enabled Him to finish his work, return to Heavenly Father, and be resurrected.

***
What do you think about forgiveness? Have you been able to forgive those who have wronged you? If you have, how did this forgiveness liberate you and enable the power of the Atonement to take effect in your life? If you haven’t forgiven another, what do you think that you can do to forgive them?

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice on Prayer

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, manage our finances/materialism, remain loyal to God.

This blog post will focus on prayer.

The Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount

Prayer

Do

  • Enter into your closet, shut the door, and pray
  • Address Heavenly Father, who is Holy
  • Pray for His will to be done
  • Pray for His kingdom to come to the earth (This includes pryaing for others – even our enemies!
  • Ask for assistance in your needs
  • Ask for forgiveness
  • Ask for strength to do what we were sent here to do

Don’t

  • Don’t pray like a hypocrite
  • Don’t pray in front of others, simply to be seen by them
  • Don’t use vain repetitions. In other words, don’t mindlessly speak to God, by rote. Make it meaningful!

Prayer, Christ and the Atonement
Christ teaches us about prayer – not only in word here in Matthew 6, but also in deed. We can read of a few examples of His prayers in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon.

Based on what Christ teaches in Matthew 6, we see that Christ understands the true purpose of prayer: communication with God. I want to break that down further – prayer is our chance to commune with God. When I think of it as communing, the concept of prayer becomes more personal, sacred, and intimate. That is exactly what prayer should be.

Christ actually exemplifies this when He performs the Atonement. In fact, prayer is one of the most important parts of the Atonement.

In Matthew, we read:

“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.

Christ knew that He was going to perform the Atonement. Prayer was always a crucial part of it. Christ explained what He was doing in the garden as praying.

And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.

Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.

As the Savior begins to take on the sins of the world, he feels sorrowful and heavy. He felt so stressed by the sins He was taking on, that he felt sorrowful unto death. He asked Peter, James, and John to accompany Him. He sought comfort and camaraderie.

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

When the Savior left the presence of the apostles, he fell on his face and prayed. He was overcome with the burden of the Atonement. We read some of what Christ prayed for – that the burden He was chosen to bear could pass from Him. He prayed to be relieved of His trial! Christ’s example shows that it is okay to pray for relief.

Of course, he included the essential caveat, “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Because Christ was one with God, because Christ knew the will of God, He knew that God wouldn’t let the cup pass from Him. Yet He still prayed.

I’m not completely sure of the lesson that is being taught here, but one thing that stands out to me is that the Savior knows that our Father in Heaven is loving and kind. He wants us to share our most intimate thoughts with Him. He can’t help us if we aren’t opening ourselves up to Him in the first place.

Matthew continues:

And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?

After agonizing in the garden of Gethsemane, the Savior finds that the apostles are asleep. He then warns them:

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

I find this interesting. The advice that Christ gave to His disciples – to watch and pray – is the exact method that He is using to get through the hardest trial, temptation, and agony ever felt by man. Christ’s flesh was strengthened and He performed the excruciating work of the Atonement through prayer.

Christ spoke from experience. His spirit was willing, but His flesh was weak. He had prayed that the cup pass from Him because of the flesh. Yet, His Spirit triumphed, thanks to prayer, and he did as the Lord would have Him do.

We then read:

“He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.

And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.

Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.” – Matthew 26:36-46

We cannot underestimate the power of prayer. It is prayer that He turned to three times as He suffered the sins, pains, and sicknesses of the entire world. It is prayer that enabled Christ to perform the Atonement. Christ didn’t pray to get our approval. He didn’t pray to come off as righteous or pious. He prayed because it was a natural part of His relationship with His Father. His prayer was heartfelt, pure, and meaningful. Though He repeated the words of His prayer a few times, they were no where near “vain or repetitious.” He prayed for strength, and, above all, He prayed for God’s will to be done.

Christ, through the Atonement, exemplifies not only all that prayer should be, but the remarkable power of prayer.

***
What have you learned about prayer as you have studied Matthew 6? What does Christ’s example – especially when He performed the Atonement – teach you about the powerof a true prayer?

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice on Giving Alms

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, manage our finances/materialism, remain loyal to God.

This blog post will focus on giving alms.

The Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount

Doing Alms

Do

  • Do them in secret – Your left hand won’t know what your right hand does.

Don’t

  • Don’t sound a trumpet when you do them.
  • Don’t do them before men – to be seen of them.

Why?
This advice, not to do our alms to be seen of men is the first thing mentioned in this chapter. Why does it matter? Isn’t doing good doing good – even if others see?

And, even as I write this, I realize my mistake. Jesus teaches not to do alms before men to be seen of men. This explanation helps us understand what Christ means. Of course, there are times when we will do our alms, and it will be obvious – because it is the nature of that kind of service.

I think of a few years ago, when the tornado hit Joplin. Within days, members of the church were set up, cleaning and serving the people. They were wearing yellow helping hands tee-shirts. They were seen while serving.

The key question is, who is magnified. Yes, they were wearing yellow vests – but not to elevate any single person. Instead, when and if we ever do our alms before men, it isn’t to make ourselves look better – it is to magnify the Lord and build His kingdom. Our actions should be directing people to Christ, not to ourselves. We can learn more about this by studying the Savior’s example.

Doing Alms, Christ, and the Atonement
Christ’s motive for performing the Atonement wasn’t for fame, money, position, or power. It was for us. Christ performed the Atonement so we could overcome the effects of the fall and receive salvation.

In fact, had Christ been looking for the glory of men, I don’t think that He would have been crucified by the Pharisees. If He was looking for acceptance and power, He probably would have united with them.

The performance of the Atonement in the garden of Gethsemane was done completely alone. Christ suffered with only the support of an angel. He didn’t do this in front of anyone. He didn’t suffer the sins of all in the town square, with a trumpet, and demanding attention be placed on Him. Christ suffered, alone, in a garden, while his friends slept.

Though Christ gave the greatest of all alms all alone, He was rewarded openly. He was resurrected and glorified. And thanks to this selfless act, we can all be rewarded with such a reward.

***
What have you learned about giving alms? What does Christ’s example – especially when He performed the Atonement – teach you about service?

The Atonement: The Beatitudes (8/8)

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 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 they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

This is the final of the beatitudes that we’ll be studying. I feel like I’ve learned so much! I hope that you have, too.

This last beatitude is actually a little longer than the others. We can quote it in one verse, but the Savior actually continues on:

” Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12

Before I began to really study this beatitude, I wondered, why did Christ tell this one last of all? and Why did Christ explain this one more than He did the others? I’m not completely sure of the answers. (Besides, they would only be speculation, anyways). But I’m keeping them in mind. In a way, I suppose it implies importance to this beatitude. In any case, think about this while we study the beatitude.

As with the other beatitudes, we will first discover what this beatitude means. We will then see how Christ exemplified it during His great work of the Atonement.

The Meaning of the Parable

Persecuted for righteousness’ sake

You don’t have to think very long or hard to find examples of people who have either persecuted the righteous or have been persecuted because they were righteous. A few quick examples include: The people in Lehi’s Dream (1 Nephi 8), Joseph Smith (See here), The Savior (Luke 23), Abinadi (Mosiah 17), and Alma both persecuted others (Mosiah 27 and then after his conversion was persecuted (Alma 14). There are even modern-day accounts of people who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. (Jeffrey R. Holland shares a few examples in this talk).

The point of this list is to say that people have always been persecuted for righteousness’ sake. The short list above is not even the tip of the iceberg. So many of the people I listed here who were persecuted for righteousness’ sake were martyred. What dedication! Yet the beatitude says that “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…” how could persecution unto death be considered a blessing?

Jacob, the son of Lehi, was reminded about his suffering:

“Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” – 2 Nephi 2:2

Trusting that we’ll be blessed for enduring persecution requires us to trust in God and His perspective. It can be difficult to see how such endurance could be a blessing. I’m often guilty of thinking, “Oh, things will be alright. If I’m righteous, then the Lord will spare me of my suffering.” Sometimes, this is true. Because of righteous decisions, there is a great deal of suffering that I’m spared of – self-inflicted problems such as addiction.

However, this beatitude reminds us that there are times when, even though we’re righteous, we will suffer. Some people, like many mentioned above, suffer to the death. There are times when we won’t be delivered from the difficulty and affliction we’re in until we die. We must maintain an eternal perspective while going through this life, otherwise it is impossible to endure persecution.

***
There is another aspect to being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. I can’t help but think about the people who are doing the persecuting. What on earth is their motive? An unnamed high priest wonders the same thing when Korihor is about persecuting the people of God and preaching against the gospel:

“And it came to pass that the high priest said unto him [Korihor]: Why do ye go about perverting the ways of the Lord? Why do ye teach this people that there shall be no Christ, to interrupt their rejoicings? Why do ye speak against all the prophecies of the holy prophets?” – Alma 30:22

In other words, this high priest is asking Korihor, “What’s your deal? Why are you changing God’s ways and laws? Why are you trying to frustrate our happiness? There are so many more witnesses than you of God and His divinity. What gives???

Why do people persecute others? What motivated the Pharisees to hate the Savior so much? Why did Korihor, Sherem, and Nehor seek to destroy the church in the Book of Mormon. Why did mobs of people attack and then kill Joseph Smith? What motivates those who persected in the past and those who persecute others now?

In the Book of Mormon is recorded Lehi’s dream. He had a vision where he saw many people walking along a path and an iron rod to the tree of life. This path was arduous and difficult. The people needed to endure trials, mists of darkness, and even scoffing and mocking in order to finally partake of the fruit of this tree. Along this path were people in a “great and spacious building” who mocked the people who were faithfully holding tight to the rod of iron and making their way to the tree of life.

Why did they mock? What was it to them? We find out more about these people from Nephi:

“And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record, from the beginning of the world until this time, and from this time henceforth and forever.” – 1 Nephi 12:18

The people in the great and spacious building were motivated by the “vain imaginations” and pride.

Other helpful examples are the excuses given by three prominent “anti-Christs” in the book of Mormon.

Why did Sherem persecute the people and preach against God? He tells here:

And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment. – Jacob 7:18

Sherem preached against righteousness because he had been deceived.

Why did Nehor preach against the church and then even kill Gideon, a righteous man? We learn in Alma:

“And it came to pass that he did teach these things so much that many did believe on his words, even so many that they began to support him and give him money.” – Alma 1:5

Nehor preached against righteousness because he was able to get power and money for his self-promotion and teaching. Nehor later killed a righteous man, and was consequently put to death. At his execution, Nehor admits that what he had taught people was “contrary to the word of God,” (Alma 1:15).

Why did Korihor persecute the righteous? He explains it himself:

“But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.” – Alma 30:53

From these four examples, I can only surmise that people persecute the righteous because they are proud, they are deceived, they want power and prestige over others, and because righteousness is not really pleasing to our carnal, natural minds.

I think it is important to remember the motives of those who persecute against righteousness. Sometimes the reason is pathetic- the people are confused or deceived. Other times, the reasons are insidious – they want power over people. Understanding these motives can help us to fight them off. Those who preach against the gospel and persecute righteousness can be very convincing.

Kingdom of Heaven

Next, the Lord teaches that those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Before investigating this further, the first thing that strikes me is that Christ doesn’t say, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for they will be blessed with monetary riches.” He doesn’t say that they “…will experience great health throughout their lives.” He doesn’t promise friends, an easy life, or many of the things that we consider blessings.

Instead, Christ offers something that no one or thing else can offer: the kingdom of Heaven. I think that if we remember that this is the blessing, then we will also better be able to keep perspective of our current trials and tribulations. In other words, this beatitude demands us to have an eternal perspective.

Now, what is the kingdom of Heaven?

I can’t help but think of the many parables that Christ gives in Matthew 13. In this chapter alone, we learn that the kingdom of Heaven is:

  • “Mysterious” – it is not understood by the natural mind, but by the Spirit. (Verse 11)
  • Will be purged of the tares. (Verse 24)
  • Like a mustard seed – the least of all seeds, but greatest of all herbs: growing into a tree. (Verse 31)
  • Like leaven – a small amount will leaven the whole loaf. (Verse 33)
  • A treasure in a field and when a man finds it will sell all he has to buy that field. (Verse 44)
  • A pearl of great price. (Verse 45)
  • A net that is cast into the sea and gathers of every kind. All of the bad is discarded, then all truth and goodness is included. (Verse 47)

As I look through this list, I’m struck by a few things: the kingdom of Heaven is, of course, God’s kingdom. It is perfectly cleaned. In fact, it has been cleansed by Him. The tares were cast out. The garbage caught in the net was discarded. Only the pure remains.

Additionally, I’m formulating another idea of the kingdom of heaven. It is abundantly rich. Like the mustard tree, it is large and strong even though it had humble beginnings. It is a pearl of great price. It is everything in the earth that is good and true. I really love understanding this concept. I have recently gotten into yoga and meditation. There are so many good practices from eastern religions. As I’ve learned more about them, I remember to keep the Savior at the center of everything that I’m learning, but that the gospel is all truth circumscribed into one great whole.

This is the kingdom of Heaven: all that is good, just, and true. It is all that is beautiful and joyous. It is every pure and good thing. It isn’t just this ethereal idea of people floating around in clouds and blowing trumpets (although there may be some of that…who knows). My point is it is more than that. The kingdom of Heaven is substantive. It is all of everything – truth, goodness, purity. I need to remember that God isn’t just offering us a life of hanging out in the sky. He offers us the abundant life. To those who are righteous to the point where they will endure persecution because of their righteousness Christ offers everything in His kingdom.

Understanding this makes martyrdom, even, seem like a small price to pay for everlasting joy and abundance.

Jesus Christ – His Atonement and Persecution

Now that we understand more about this beatitude, we will look at how it can possibly relate to Christ’s Atonement.

Persecution for Righteousness’ sake

Well, at first glance, I think that it is really easy to see the relationship between this beatitude and the Atonement. The entire Atonement is fraught with persecution and suffering. Here are a few thoughts on the matter:

One
Christ was righteous, and I mean Righteous. He is the essence of all righteousness. His example is perfect. He was pure. The Atonement – which was taking on our sins and imperfections and paying the price that justice demanded of them so that we could receive mercy – could only be performed by Him. Because of His purity, only He could offer Himself up as a sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus Praying in Gethsemane (Christ in Gethsemane), by Harry Anderson
Jesus Praying in Gethsemane (Christ in Gethsemane), by Harry Anderson

It is interesting to me, too, that Christ – immediately after paying the price of our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane – would be betrayed, falsely accused, and arrested.

Two
After being arrested, he is taken before Pilate and questioned. He then is taken to Herod where he is treated like some kind of circus freak. (Herod wants him to “perform”). This is all before the real persecution starts. But it’s bad enough already. Can you imagine being falsely accused and then taken before local judges/magistrates where they treated you like some kind of freak show? How horribly humiliating.

But Christ’s persecution – all because He was righteous – doesn’t end there.

Christ is sentenced to death, primarily because a mob chanting, “Crucify Him!” refused to release a known robber. The Pharisees and wicked people that condemned Christ were largely offended by who He was – the son of God – one who healed, served, and performed miracles. Instead of seeing that Christ was their promised Messiah, because they had been so far removed from righteousness, they persecuted it.

As Christ endured His sentence, He also endured a great deal of persecution.

Nephi describes Christ’s experience succinctly:

“And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.” – 1 Nephi 19:9

AFTER Christ had already suffered the pains of every sin and infirmity of every person in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ then suffered the humiliation of false accusation, arrest and judgement. Then, He continued to suffer mocking, scourging, and smiting.

Matthew relates what happened to the Savior as He hung on the Christ but before He gave up the ghost:

And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,

And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.

Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,

He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.

He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.

The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.” – Matthew 27:39-43

I find this to be one of the most bitterly ironic passages, or paradoxical, maybe hypocritical? I don’t know. But this passage is annoying, at best, and I shake my head in amazement. These unbelieving Jews, the people of the covenant, didn’t understand their own religion or their God. And what they persecute Christ for demonstrates their ignorance and pride.

They walk by Him, wagging their heads. This implies a sense of persecution and mockery, for sure.

Then, they tempt Christ, saying, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” They claim that because He can’t save Himself, then He’s obviously not capable of saving anyone else. But they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand their own laws and ordinances. They didn’t understand the symbolism of the blood sacrifice that they offered – as a type of the sacrifice that He would offer.

The thing that is ironic here is that because Christ didn’t save Himself in that moment, he saved Himself and all mankind. Had Christ not endured persecution for righteousness sake, and He had the power not to, then He would not have been able to finish His work. By staying on that cross,and by dying, He was saving Himself and others!

Three
Thankfully, we have the advantage of hindsight when thinking of Christ and His Atonement. We know that three days after being crucified, He was not in the garden tomb. He was risen. And He lives.

Sometimes it is easy to think that we could endure the persecution that those who lived in the past endured, but we forget that they didn’t have the advantage of hindsight.

When I think of Christ’s experience being persecuted, I am reminded of the fact that sometimes the wicked do have the power to hurt us to the point where we may die. Sometimes the wicked do obtain material wealth and power over others. We see this with war criminals. We see this with the Pharisees that condemned Christ.

But we must maintain perspective. The devil had power to bruise Christ’s Heel, but with that very heel that had been bruised, Christ was able to crush the devil’s head.

Righteous will prevail. It’s worth enduring persecution for.

The Kingdom of Heaven

Because of all that Christ suffered – even unto death; because He chose to descend below all, He was able ascend above all and inherit the kingdom of God.

And, because Christ has suffered our sins, we can covenant with Him and also become joint heirs and inherit the kingdom of Heaven.

***
Last week, I went to the Mesa Easter Pageant with my kids. When Christ was being crucified, T-Rex was perplexed, “Why didn’t he fight?” He asked. It was cute, and it was a good question.

That’s the thing, though. Christ didn’t fight the immediate problem. He could have He could have escaped and destroyed His executioners. He could have avoided all persecution. He could have silenced the Pharisees or He could have given into their traps. Of course, Had he done that, then the Atonement would not have been performed, Salvation for all would have been thwarted and niehter the Savior nor anyone else would have been able to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

And, as I write this, maybe the right answer to my little boy is, “Oh, but He did fight. He fought the true fight of agency and mastery over sin and temptation. He performed His work. He was resurrected. He lives. He didn’t get diverted by a little difficulty (okay, crucifixion is more than a “little” difficulty). Instead, He stayed focused on His real battle, and He conquered.

***

What have you learned about being persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Have you experienced this in some way? How did you endure?