Redemption Comes Through Christ—Part Four: A Sacrifice for Sin – 2 Nephi 2:5-9

You can read 2 Nephi 2:5-9 here. You can also find the rest of the Blogging the Book of Mormon entries here.

Context and General Information

  • Lehi, before his death, preaches to Jacob a final time.
  • People are instructed sufficiently to know good from evil.
  • We have the law.
  • The law justifies no one, in fact because of the law we are cut off – from God.
  • We are also cut off from God spiritually and will be miserable forever.
  • BUT, redemption comes through the Holy Messiah
  • Christ offers Himself as a sacrifice for sin to answer the ends of the law.
  • If we will come unto Him with a broken heart and contrite spirit, then His sacrifice will answer the ends of the law – and we will not be subject to misery or death.
  • It is important that everyone on this earth knows this message. No one can dwell in the presence of God, save it is through Christ – His merits, mercy, and grace. He laid down His life and took it again to bring pass the resurrection of the dead.
  • He will also stand an intercessor between us and God – saving us.

Redemption Comes Through Christ – A Sacrifice for Sin

So, today we are continuing our study of 2 Nephi 2:5-9 – Redemption Cometh through Christ. In Part One, we studied the law. In Part two, we studied Redemption. In Part three, we studied Christ’s grace and truth. Today, we are studying a sacrifice for Sin. I know that there have already been a lot of “parts” in studying this small selection of verses, but I really feel like there is something important for to learn here, so…onward!

We read:

“Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.” – 2 Nephi 2:7

It has been established that there is a law that governs heaven. Because of this law, and because of the effects of the law, we are cut off. As fallen men and women, we sin and are therefore unworthy to be in God’s presence.

What’s the big deal with that? Well, God is light, life, happiness. So, when we are shut out from His presence – we experience darkness, death, and misery. Yikes. We need some way for our sins to be paid in order to have any kind of hope.

Enter Christ. It also been established that Christ—full of grace and truth—offers us redemption. As Lehi taught: he offered Himself a sacrifice for sin to answer the law,. How is this done???

It is done through Christ’s Sacrifice.

Jesus Praying in Gethsemane
Jesus Praying in Gethsemane (Christ in Gethsemane), by Harry Anderson
Jesus Is Condemned Before Pilate
Jesus is condemned before Pilate. (The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Video)
057-057-TheCrucifixion-display
Christ on the Cross
resurrected-christ-39608-gallery
The Resurrected Savior

The Bible Dictionary helps us to understand the significance of Christ’s sacrifice.

Atonement – The word describes the setting “at one” of those who have been estranged and denotes the reconciliation of man to God. Sin is the cause of the estrangement, and therefore the purpose of atonement is to correct or overcome the consequences of sin. From the time of Adam to the death of Jesus Christ, true believers were instructed to offer animal sacrifices to the Lord. These sacrifices were symbolic of the forthcoming death of Jesus Christ and were done by faith in Him (Moses 5:5–8).

Jesus Christ, as the Only Begotten Son of God and the only sinless person to live on this earth, was the only one capable of making an atonement for mankind. By His selection and foreordination in the Grand Council before the world was formed, His divine Sonship, His sinless life, the shedding of His blood in the garden of Gethsemane, His death on the cross and subsequent bodily resurrection from the grave, He made a perfect atonement for all mankind. All are covered unconditionally as pertaining to the Fall of Adam. Hence, all shall rise from the dead with immortal bodies because of Jesus’ Atonement. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22), and all little children are innocent at birth. The Atonement is conditional, however, so far as each person’s individual sins are concerned, and touches every one to the degree that he has faith in Jesus Christ, repents of his sins, and obeys the gospel. The services of the Day of Atonement foreshadowed the atoning work of Christ (Lev. 4; 23:26–32; Heb. 9). The scriptures point out that no law, ordinance, or sacrifice would be satisfactory if it were not for the Atonement of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:1–9; 2 Ne. 9:5–24; Mosiah 13:27–32).

Sin is lawlessness (1 Jn. 3:4); it is a refusal on men’s part to submit to the law of God (Rom. 8:7). By transgression man loses control over his own will and becomes the slave of sin (Rom. 7:14) and so incurs the penalty of spiritual death, which is alienation from God (Rom. 6:23). The Atonement of Jesus Christ redeems all mankind from the Fall of Adam and causes all to be answerable for their own manner of life. This means of atonement is provided by the Father (John 3:16–17) and is offered in the life and person of His Son, Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:19).” – Bible Dictionary: Atonement

I don’t think that I could say much to explain this any better than the above. However, there is a scripture that keeps coming to mind:

“Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” – Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-19

We need to repent – we will be learning more about this next time. We need to turn to the Savior and accept the atonement and sacrifice that He did perform in order for it to take effect in our lives. He will not force Himself on us. If we do accept His Atonement, then we will not suffer as He did. We will receive mercy. We will have light, life, and joy.

What does this mean for you and for me?

If you read this blog regularly, then you might already be pretty familiar with the basic tenets and doctrines of Christianity – namely that we have a Father in Heaven who loves us, we are fallen creatures, and the Atonement performed by Jesus Christ can save us. We are probably also somewhat familiar with the principles and ordinances required in order for us to be redeemed.

The thing is, these truths are deeply personal, yet I’m feeling unsatisfied because this post feels kind of philosophical and impersonal. So – how do I impart some of the personal into this post???

I keep thinking about that law. Yes, I believe in Christ, but let’s take Him out of the equation for a moment. Without Christ, then I’m a fallen creature. Without Christ, we don’t have the creation of the earth. Christ is the light. He is the bread of life. He is the water of life. He is life. He is Hope. He is salvation. He is joy.

Without Christ, then there is none of this:

Cascade SpringsFour Corners Areafriendshalloweenme and sasquatchPhoenix Temple Blue SkyPink RosePlaying in the OceanRexRex and ClydeSasquatchtiger and pandawhite plumeria

If we take Christ out of the equation, we take every good thing out of the equation.

Thankfully, Christ isn’t “out” of the equation. He is the linchpin of it. Christ offered Himself a sacrifice for Sin to answer the ends of the law – the law that, because of our natures and propensity for sin, would mean everlasting death and misery for us. When we think about this in the context of the beauty, joy, light, life we get to experience here, now, I feel so much gratitude.

I feel like I’m still not expressing what I want to say. Right now, this moment, as you read this, do you realize the blessing that Christ has been in your life? Regardless of your faith in Him – regardless of your past, present, or future choices, He has given so much. He has created this earth.

I know for myself, I tend to forget how much mercy and joy He is offering to me right now. I tend to think of the Atonement and its application in my life as this “far off” thing – that one day I’ll be judged; that Christ’s Atonement covers my sins so one day I can return to Him. I tend to forget that His Atonement, His sacrifice for sin, is blessing me RIGHT NOW! Even though I’m often oblivious, Christ is the reason for everything that is good in my life. I can’t imagine how bleak my existence would be without Him. Without Him there would be no existence.

I’m so grateful for our Redeemer – who offered Himself a sacrifice for sin. The ends of the law have been answered, and we can have hope, light, peace, life, and joy.

Redemption Comes through Christ – Part Two: Redemption – 2 Nephi 2:5-9

You can read 2 Nephi 2:5-9 here. You can also find the rest of the Blogging the Book of Mormon entries here.

Context and General Information

  • Lehi, before his death, preaches to Jacob a final time.
  • People are instructed sufficiently to know good from evil.
  • We have the law.
  • The law justifies no one, in fact because of the law we are cut off – from God.
  • We are also cut off from God spiritually and will be miserable forever.
  • BUT, redemption comes through the Holy Messiah
  • Christ offers Himself as a sacrifice for sin to answer the ends of the law.
  • If we will come unto Him with a broken heart and contrite spirit, then His sacrifice will answer the ends of the law – and we will not be subject to misery or death.
  • It is important that everyone on this earth knows this message. No one can dwell in the presence of God, save it is through Christ – His merits, mercy, and grace. He laid down His life and took it again to bring pass the resurrection of the dead.
  • He will also stand an intercessor between us and God – saving us.

Redemption Comes through Christ: Part Two – Redemption

In Part One, we studied the law. You can read it here. Because we have the law, because we know good from evil, and because we are fallen beings we are cut off. We perish physically, and we perish spiritually – being cut off from that which is good. We will be miserable forever.

Yikes.

We know that this all started in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. They sought progression and knowledge, and were beguiled by Satan who said that partaking of this tree would help them to progress and gain knowledge without any negative consequences.

Heavenly Father understood that Adam and Eve would need to make this choice: to live with Him forever in a blissful state in the garden of Eden – never progressing…Or for them to leave His presence, gain knowledge, be tested and tried. This choice wasn’t a trick.

Because Heavenly Father knew we would need to become mortal in order to continue our progression, the Atonement was planned from the beginning—before the world was created, before Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden, before that serpent beguiled Eve. We learn in the scriptures that Jesus was chosen to be a Redeemer and a Savior since before the world began. Jesus Himself proclaimed:

“Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.” – Ether 3:14

So – back to the law and to misery. I would imagine that when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, then when they faced God and learned that indeed they would die – just as He said; I imagine when they learned that they would be cast out of His presence – His light, His life, His love, and banished into the lone and dreary world…I would imagine they felt miserable, sad, and hopeless. What was that knowledge worth if they would never have God in their lives???

Of course, this wasn’t the plan. And offering up a Savior to redeem Adam and Eve and the rest of humankind from death and sin wasn’t some knee-jerk, last-ditch reaction to the choice made in Eden. It was planned from the beginning.

Yes, for a moment I’m sure that the hearts of Adam and Eve were filled with misery and dread. And then, the Father offered them a Savior.

As Lehi taught:

“Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.” – 2 Nephi 2:6

So – because of the law, no flesh is justified. We are all “defective” in a way – mortal, carnal, sensual, devilish. And the law states that we must be whole, holy, spiritual, and perfect in order to dwell with God. This is simply impossible. We need a redeemer. We learn the meaning of “redeem” in the dictionary:

Redeem:
1 a : to buy back: Repurchase
b : to get or win back

2 : to free from what distresses or harms us: such as
a :to free from captivity by payment of ransom
b :to extricate from help or overcome something detrimental
c :to release from blame or debt : Clear
d :to free from the consequences of sin

3 : to change for the better : Reform

4 : Repair, Restore

5 a : to free from a lien by payment of an amount secured thereby
b (1) :to remove the obligation by payment
(2) :to exchange for something of value
c : to make good : fulfill

6 a : to atone for : Expiate
b (1) :to offset the bad effect of
(2) :to make worthwhile : retrieve” – Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary: Redeem

This is what the Lord does for us. He redeems us. He buys us back – from the throes of Satan to the peace of God. He frees us from what distresses us by the payment of an infinite ransom. He extricates us from something a little more than detrimental (death and hell!). He releases us from blame and debt. He clears our names. He frees us from the consequences of sin.

The Lord changes us for the better.

The Lord repairs us. He restores us.

The Lord frees us from a “lien,” and makes us good.

The Lord atones for us, offsets our bad value, and makes us worthwhile.

Jesus Christ Christus

The Lord truly is our Redeemer. Lehi, calls Him “the Holy Messiah,” He is the One who was anointed before the foundation of the world to perform the holy work of Salvation.

We will continue to study this more, but what a joy it is to know that we aren’t consigned to a state of endless misery. Right now, we are living in these fleshy tabernacles – susceptible to sin, pain, and misery. I mean, I’m sitting on my bed wearing compression stockings because I have faulty veins that throb and give me pain. I am frustrated with myself because despite the knowledge that I have, I’m not as healthy as I should be, and I must suffer because of some of these decisions coupled with hereditary and mortal problems.

Each morning, I must plead with Heavenly Father and pray to realign myself with Him and His will.

I’m a natural person, always veering off course. Always trying to stave off spiritual entropy.

And this is just me. There are so many other people suffering more – because of natural problems, their own sins, or the sins of others. This life is a vale of tears. This is a lone and dreary world that we traverse.

Yet, because of the redemption offered to us through the Holy Messiah, we don’t need to droop in misery and sin. We can rejoice! We have hope!!!

***

I mean, really think about it for a second. Everything that I know and have experienced is within the context of this fallen, imperfect world. I haven’t lived in Eden. Don’t get me wrong, there is so much beauty, so much joy in this world…

western mountain bluebird

As much as I try to wrap my head around the idea of hope, I realize I really can’t contemplate it. I can’t contemplate what another world will be like. It will be so completely different than what we are experiencing now. It is difficult to imagine what it would be like to live in a world without the “thorns in the flesh” that bother us every day and night.

But that is what Christ offers us. Through His redemption, He offers us peace and rest from everything that wearies us. Though I can’t fully imagine it, the mere idea gives me joy. I’m so grateful to know that we have a Redeemer.

We will study more about Him and this redemption in the next part.

The God of Nature Suffers – 1 Nephi 19:10-12

You can read 1 Nephi 19:10-12 here. You can also find the rest of the Blogging the Book of Mormon entries here.

Context and General Information

  • Nephi continues to share his prophecy of Christ:
  • Christ, the God of the children of Abraham, would yield himself into the hands of wicked men.
  • Christ would be lifted up, crucified, and buried in a sepulcher.
  • Three days of darkness would be given as a sign of Christ’s death to those who lived on the “isle of the sea.”
  • At one point, the Lord would visit all of the house of Israel. The righteous would be visited with his voice – giving them joy and salvation. The wicked would be visited by thunder, lightning, tempers, and other natural disasters.
  • All these things would happen, and the people on the isles of the sea would exclaim: The God of nature suffers.

The God of Nature Suffers

I don’t know why, I just find that phrase: the God of nature suffers so profound. Let’s just investigate what is being taught in these scriptures.

First of all, we read:

“And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself, according to the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of his death unto those who should inhabit the isles of the sea, more especially given unto those who are of the house of Israel.” – 1 Nephi 19:10

It is interesting – what Nephi is teaching here. He teaches about the Savior, and not only from his own experience. He quotes other prophets – Zenos, Neum, and Zenock. These prophets are unfamiliar to me, and it is assumed that they were prophets whose records were included in the Brass Plates. I find this completely plausible as we know that there are many holy records that were not included in the King James Version of the Bible.

In any case, Zenos, Neum, and Zenock teach about the Savior. They teach about the bitter irony of His death.

Nephi begins this verse by saying, “And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him,…” This is interesting if we think about one of the most important holidays to the Jews at the time: The Passover and the Day of Atonement.

The Passover celebrated the God that saved the house of Israel and liberated them from Egyptian bondage. Not only that, but the Passover was symbolic of a larger liberation – because of the Messiah, we would be liberated from the bondage of sin. The Lamb of God’s blood would be spilled and sacrificed, so that the destroying angel would pass over anyone who covenanted with Him.

The Jews knew this. They celebrated it. And yet, they slaughtered the very Lamb of God.

Now, Nephi includes a prophecy from Zenos: three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of his death unto those who should inhabit the isles of the sea, more especially given unto those who are of the house of Israel. This most likely stands out to Nephi because he and his people are in this category. They have been scattered away from Jerusalem. They will not be living where the Savior will come. There wasn’t technology to keep everyone updated on what was happening in other parts of the world.

So, how would they know when the Savior came to earth or died?

storm
Photo by Brandon Morgan on Unsplash

Nephi quotes Zenos:

“For thus spake the prophet: The Lord God surely shall visit all the house of Israel at that day, some with his voice, because of their righteousness, unto their great joy and salvation, and others with the thunderings and the lightnings of his power, by tempest, by fire, and by smoke, and vapor of darkness, and by the opening of the earth, and by mountains which shall be carried up.

12 And all these things must surely come, saith the prophet Zenos. And the rocks of the earth must rend; and because of the groanings of the earth, many of the kings of the isles of the sea shall be wrought upon by the Spirit of God, to exclaim: The God of nature suffers.” – 1 Nephi 19:11-12

***
The people in other parts of the world knew that the Savior had been killed because the earth was bearing testimony of it. It is for this reason that they proclaimed: The God of Nature Suffers.

I like nature. And I suppose that is why I find this statement so profound.

bluebird in pa
Bluebird in PA
clouds in maui
The view from Mt. Haleakala – Maui
crested saguaro
A crested Saguaro in the Sonoran Desert
Ducklings
Mama and Babies in a little canal.
hawaiian sunset
Hawaiian Sunset
hawk heber
Juvenile Red Tailed Hawk
heber valley
Valley View
hike in Flagstaff
Lupine in Flagstaff
hiking in sedona
Moody Clouds in Sedona
hummingbird
Little guy!
rainbow eucalpytus
Rainbow Eucalyptus Bark
red clover
Red Clover
red winged blackbird
Red Winged Blackbird
Wasatch Mountain
Spring Snowstorm

The God of all of this – the birds, the flowers, the trees, and us – suffered.

It makes me so sad to think of what the Savior went through. Yet, I am also filled with gratitude and hope. I know that His suffering doesn’t have to be in vain – if we will repent! I know that the Savior truly is the God of nature. He created this earth. He has blessed us with it. I also know that as we get out in nature, we will experience more of Him in our lives. We will feel closer to Him and to His love.

As we experience more of the Savior and His love, then we will also be more eager and willing to participate in the Atonement that He offers us. And then, we can be satisfied that though the God of Nature suffered, it was not done in vain.

And He Suffereth It – 1 Nephi 19:7-9

You can read 1 Nephi 19:7-9 here. You can also find the rest of the Blogging the Book of Mormon entries here.

Context and General Information

  • Nephi teaches a few principles about how people respond to the Lord – some people esteem these things to be of great worth. Others “trample” them under their feet—meaning they don’t listen to the prophecies of God, and hearken not to His voice.
  • The Savior will come six hundred years after Lehi left Jerusalem
  • The World, because of their iniquity, will think nothing of the Savior.
  • The World will scourge Jesus, and He will suffer it.
  • The World will smite Jesus, and He will suffer it.
  • The World will spit upon Jesus, and He will suffer it.
  • The Lord will suffer all of this because of his love towards us.

 

And He Suffereth It

In this chapter, we get such a hauntingly beautiful prophecy of Jesus Christ.

One – He Cometh

First of all, Nephi teaches that the Savior will come. They knew a rough timeline of the coming of the Lord—600 years after Lehi left Jerusalem. We have hindsight. We know that this prophecy was fulfilled.

We can trust that other prophecies have been or will be fulfilled.

Two – The World will Judge Him to be a “thing of Naught”

That is an interesting phrase…A thing of Naught.

The dictionary defines the word naught as – “nothing, nil, zero.”

It’s so sad. Really think about it. This is the Savior. Up to this point – 1 Nephi 19, in the Book of Mormon, the Savior has been referred to as:

  • Almighty God
  • Eternal God
  • Father
  • God
  • God of Abraham
  • God of Isaac
  • God of Israel
  • God of Jacob
  • Lamb
  • Lamb of God
  • Lord
  • Lord God
  • Lord God Almighty
  • Lord (My, Our, Their, Your) God
  • Messiah
  • One
  • Prophet
  • Redeemer
  • Rock
  • Salvation
  • Shepherd
  • Son of God
  • Son of the Eternal Father

Look through this list. Really – how could the world consider the Lord to be nothing, nil, zero. It’s so inaccurate, it’s laughable.

But understanding what the world thought of the Savior will help us to understand more of what we read next.

Three – The World Will Abuse the Savior, and He will Suffer It.

057-057-TheCrucifixion-display

Nephi states:

“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

Most of us know the story of the Savior. He was scourged, smitten, spat upon. He died on the cross. All of this he suffered.

And why? Why did He suffereth it? The scripture states – “Because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering toward the children of men.”

Okay. So what does Christ’s suffering have to do with loving kindness toward us? The Savior Himself answered this question:

“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.

20 Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit.” – Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-20

The Savior, The God of Israel, the Great Jehovah, came to this earth as a little baby – born in a meager and poor family. He was raised a carpenter’s son, and then later in his life spent his time in service – homeless – healing the sick and giving sight to the blind. He lived a simple life, and was treated as “nothing, nil, zero.”

His life, ministry, and message threatened the people in power. He was teaching a seemingly radical “new” gospel. He was making changes that the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other supposed believers couldn’t handle. His disruption – to his own church – led to the extreme anger of those people, of His own faith. Of course, this anger was not because of anything Jesus actually did. It is because, though they enlarged their phylacteries, their hearts were hard and unopened to the message of the gospel.

Instead of turning their hearts to God, these wicked people decided to shut Him down. They scourged Him, spat upon Him, and smote Him, and He suffered it – because He knew that He had a work to do. He knew that He needed to offer a great and final sacrifice so that we could receive salvation. He suffered it out of love for all of us – even for those who were doing the scourging, smiting, and spitting. He suffered so we could repent and return to God.

It’s important for me, and maybe for all of us, to make this connection – Christ suffered it so we wouldn’t suffer if we repent. Now, if we aren’t repenting, then we cause not only suffering for ourselves, but it means that we also caused undue suffering for the Savior. If we do not take time to repent, then it means we consider the Savior a thing of naught.

Recently the Prophet, President Nelson stated about repentance:

“Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling, or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance. Repentance is not an event; it is a process. It is the key to happiness and peace of mind. When coupled with faith, repentance opens our access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. …

When we choose to repent, we choose to change! We allow the Savior to transform us into the best version of ourselves. We choose to grow spiritually and receive joy—the joy of redemption in Him. When we choose to repent, we choose to become more like Jesus Christ!” – Russell M. Nelson

I love this! I often misunderstand what repentance is. I kind of think it is a “punishment” rather than a key to a better life. I hope that I will never treat my Savior, My Lord, My God as nothing, nil, zero—a thing of naught. I hope that I will remember Him by repenting and turning back to Him again and again and again. I’m so grateful that he suffered it. Yes – it was the greatest expression of loving kindness ever given. Because of Christ’s suffering, we can repent. We can be liberated, we can progress, we can have happiness and peace. Because of Christ’s suffering, we can repent! We can change, we can be transformed, by the Savior, into the best versions of ourselves.

Because of Christ’s suffering, we can experience true happiness.

The Atonement – Russell M. Nelson

Today, I’m studying the talk The Atonement, by Russell M. Nelson. He gave this talk in the October 1996 General Conference.

The Atonement. Performed for each of us by the grace and love of Jesus Christ, our Savior.

It’s a lot to speak on. In fact, this talk – while helpful – can’t cover everything! I can’t really cover everything in a single blog post, either. I actually think that you could dedicate an entire website to the Atonement, and still – there would be so much to uncover and understand.

Be that as it may, the Atonement is the subject of President Nelson’s talk. I really like this talk. In October of 1996, I was eighteen years old. Crazy. Senior year in high school. I don’t really remember this talk, specifically, but I do know that I heard it and took notes on it. And I also know that these talks were becoming the fabric of my own understanding of the gospel and the Atonement.

Why?

I’m a “why” person.

Why am I a why person?! Hahahahahaaaa! Well – because I want to know what I believe. I don’t go to church just because. I mean, it is loonnnnnnngggggg. I don’t go to church for social reasons. Sure, it is great to gather with saints, I really like that and church does provide a wonderful social setting. It helps you make friends and connections wherever you go.

But that’s not why I go to church.

I go to church because I actually believe that this is God’s church. That I need to participate in the weekly ordinance of the Sacrament. I like to know what I believe because I know that I need meaning in my life.

And this has a lot to do with my faith. Often we hear that Christ is our Savior, but what if you don’t understand what that means or why he saves us? Then what is the motivation???

This is what I love about President Nelson’s talk. Instead of immediately launching in to Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane, President Nelson stated:

“Before we can comprehend the Atonement of Christ, however, we must first understand the Fall of Adam. And before we can understand the Fall of Adam, we must first understand the Creation. These three crucial components of the plan of salvation relate to each other” – Russell M. Nelson

I really love this. In order to understand the Atonement – what it is and why that matters to us – we have to understand a few other facts first.

The Creation

In his talk, President Nelson refers to the creation of the earth and then the creation of Adam and Eve as a paradisiacal creation. He states:

“The Creation culminated with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were created in the image of God, with bodies of flesh and bone. Created in the image of God and not yet mortal, they could not grow old and die. “And they would have had no children” nor experienced the trials of life. (Please forgive me for mentioning children and the trials of life in the same breath.) The creation of Adam and Eve was a paradisiacal creation, one that required a significant change before they could fulfill the commandment to have children and thus provide earthly bodies for premortal spirit sons and daughters of God.” – Russell M. Nelson

Adam and Eve – alive – were not mortal. They didn’t function in a way that we completely understand. They didn’t grow old. They couldn’t have children. Alive and breathing, yes. But they couldn’t procreate and progress.

I’m sure that life was nice in the garden. It was probably pretty blissful, but I don’t want to say that it was happy. Adam and Eve didn’t have knowledge in that way. Okay – let me think of how to phrase this. They probably had some knowledge – as they were having plenty of experiences in the garden. But they didn’t have knowledge of good and evil – because there wasn’t any evil yet. They didn’t have the knowledge of pleasure or pain – because there wasn’t any pain yet. They didn’t understand joy or misery – because there was no misery.

Though we like to avoid opposition, it is necessary. How can you really define life without using its opposite – death? Joy is impossible to understand without also understanding misery. These things are connected. Joy and misery, for example, cannot be separated. They are like heads and tails. You can’t pick up the heads side of the coin without also picking up tails. If you don’t want misery, then you have to also give up joy.

Life in the garden was life without joy. It was also a life without potency. Adam and Eve, though commanded to multiply and replenish the earth, were unable to do so in the state of their pre-fall existence.

…I’m getting long winded here…not surprising, I’m sure…

But for now, we need to understand that first God created the world and He created Adam and Eve. And when He created them there was no death or hell. Additionally, they were kind of suspended in their progress.

The Fall

Before the fall, Eve sought knowledge. There came a point where she knew that her progression was halted in that garden. That is when the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil started to look pretty appetizing. I don’t think that she fully understood the scope of the consequences (she was beguiled, after all). But I do think that she understood that she needed to make this choice if she wanted to become more like her Heavenly Parents.

I believe that the choice Eve made in Eden was the bravest choice ever made.

Once this choice – to be mortal – took place, she understood that Adam needed to make the same choice, so they could keep the commandments. Adam’s choice was also brave. And I think that it was full of love and compassion. Eve was his helpmeet. She literally helped him out of that garden and onto the next extremely important phase of life.

And Adam loved her and listened to her. He, fiercely obedient, started to understand why he also needed to partake of the fruit. So he did.

And then they fell.

President Nelson taught about this fall:

“The Fall of Adam (and Eve) constituted the mortal creation and brought about the required changes in their bodies, including the circulation of blood and other modifications as well. They were now able to have children. They and their posterity also became subject to injury, disease, and death. And a loving Creator blessed them with healing power by which the life and function of precious physical bodies could be preserved.” – Russell M. Nelson

The fall was both beautiful and messy. Both good and bad…

The Pros of the Fall

  • Knowledge
  • Potential for positive experiences of life – even if it requires exposure to the negative experiences of life.
  • Ability to keep the command to multiply and replenish the earth.

The Negatives of the Fall

  • Physical death – they would age and die.
  • Spiritual death – They were no longer worthy or capable of being in the presence of God. This is spiritual death. Or hell.

The thing that strikes me is – they didn’t realize that God would offer them a Savior. They had no idea. They fell and Heavenly Father pronounced the everlasting consequences:

To the Serpent:

“And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” – Genesis 3:14-15

Notice – it is only the Serpent who is cursed. This is because the Serpent is a symbol of Satan, the Devil. And he knew what he was doing. He was willfully rebelling against God and trying to destroy God’s plan and His creations.

Adam and Eve transgressed, for sure. They knew that the were disobeying God’s command, but this wasn’t because they were trying to be destructive. They weren’t trying to set themselves against God. Their intention was simply to gain more knowledge and then have children.

It was a transgression, for sure – with consequences still, but not worthy of the same kind of cursing that the serpent received.

To Eve:

“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” – Genesis 3:16

I’ve had children, and I can say that there is great joy in conception, and great sorrow. Not only does this sorrow occur during the nine months that lead up to birth – and of course birth itself. But hormones! wow! Even when I am not in the middle of having children – the hormones and organs that make me a woman – that make being a mother possible – have caused headaches, breakouts, anxiety, mild depression, etc.

This consequence is real!

To Adam:

“And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” – Genesis 3:17-19

Adam would have to work hard just to stay alive. And you know what – in the end, he would die. He would return to the very dust that made his life so hard.

***
At this point, when the Lord pronounced these consequences of partaking of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, He didn’t tell Adam and Eve of another major part of His plan.

Heavenly Father drove them out of the Garden, They were no longer able to be in his presence. To feel His warmth and peace. They were forced to go into the “lone and dreary world.”

Yikes. So – yes – they had knowledge…but at what cost? Physical death? Sorrow? Cursed Ground? And also being cut off from God.

I would have cried.

But they were not without hope! Heavenly Father clothed them in a coat of skins…and He taught them about their Savior. The Lord, all along, had a plan. He had prepared an Atonement for them. President Nelson stated:

“But mortal life, glorious as it is, was never the ultimate objective of God’s plan. Life and death here on planet Earth were merely means to an end—not the end for which we were sent.” – Russell M. Nelson

The fall wasn’t it. There is so much more in store for all of us, thanks to our Heavenly Father’s elegant and merciful plan of Salvation – which hinges on the incredible work of the Savior…the Atonement.

The Atonement

Gosh…I’m 1600 words into this blog, and I’m finally getting to the Atonement. But hopefully now, we can see why it is so important. Hopefully we can see why we need the Atonement.

I love what President Nelson taught:

“The Atonement of Jesus Christ became the immortal creation.” – Russell M. Nelson

Read that again. The Atonement of Jesus Christ became the immortal creation!!!!!!!

As Paul taught:

“As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” – 1 Corinthians 15:22

Because of the Savior – the negative effects of the fall aren’t consequences we must suffer throughout eternity. The Savior offers physical life too each and every one of us. He offers spiritual life to all of those who will choose it.

And President Nelson puts it so beautifully:

“I weep for joy when I contemplate the significance of it all. To be redeemed is to be atoned—received in the close embrace of God with an expression not only of His forgiveness, but of our oneness of heart and mind. What a privilege! ” – Russell M. Nelson

Isn’t that what we are all aching for? Acceptance and love?! To have our parents pat us on the back, kiss us on the head, and hug us? To be filled with peace and joy – one with the very One who gave us life in the first place, and filled with His light that offers life and joy for eternity?

This is what the Savior offers us through His Infinite Atonement.

President Nelson so eloquently put it:

“All that the Fall allowed to go awry, the Atonement allowed to go aright.” – Russell M. Nelson

***

If I let myself, I can get overwhelmed and anxious – when I think of how I fall short. How I am not good enough. How I make mistakes. For example, right now, It is 10:43 AM on a Sunday Morning. I haven’t quite gotten out of bed yet. I’m in my pjs, my hair is a mess. (I’ve brushed my teeth because my breath was so bad I couldn’t take it.) I had a slight headache this morning. I’m living in my in-law’s house. I’m a little overweight. I have more cellulite than I’d like to have. And a big varicose vein on my leg that is not only unsightly but also painful.

I have a mess in my room, remnants of some work and projects that I have needed to get done for the quilt shop that I occasionally work for. I have a project that I told them I’d do, but I know that I don’t have enough time for, so like a dog with its tail between its legs, I’ll be taking it back to them unfinished and sorry that I can’t do more.

I have homeschool to plan for four kids, and it will start in about a week and a half when we finally move into our own place.

And whatever. Then there are the other facts. I can work and work and work, and I’ll still get old and die. My kids will still make their own choices. And still there will be a pile of dirty laundry.

If I let myself, I could get down a pretty gnarly spiral fairly quickly. But the truth is:

life is amazing! Even mortal life. The messes, the pain, the excess weight, the inability to do enough, the limited time…it is an amazing blessing that has immense meaning.

Heber Valley Golden Hour

This is the reality. We live in a fallen world full of beauty and hope. The Savior came to this earth, in the meridian of time, and performed a work that makes every negative into a positive – if we will let it. The Savior came and atoned – for our mortal failings and sins. He overcame death. He cleans the messes in our lives. He heals us from our circulatory issues. He lightens each day and brings rest each night.

Without the creation and fall, His Atonement would be moot and meaningless. But God loves us! He created us! Here we are!…God loves us! He let us choose! He let us fall! He lets us experience opposition in all things, so that we can have knowledge. And He has given us a Savior who performed an Atonement so that the fall isn’t the end. So that we don’t die forever.

The Atonement is the alchemy that turns our leaden mortal experiences into brilliant gold.

***

I’m so grateful for President Nelson – and that we are guided by a prophet who has sought to both understand the Atonement and why we need it. I’m grateful that our prophet has a testimony of our living and loving Savior. I will end this post with his words, and trust that I’m grateful this is the man leading our church.

President Nelson testified:

“As one of the “special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world,” I testify that He is the Son of the living God. Jesus is the Christ—our atoning Savior and Redeemer. This is His Church, restored to bless God’s children and to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord. I so testify in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.” – Russell M. Nelson

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.

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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?