|photocredit: Del Parsons studio|
**The following is a talk I gave in Sacrament meeting on Easter in 2009.
Over two millennia ago, the Savior met in an upper room with his disciples to participate in what would be his last supper. Here He instituted the sacrament and taught his disciples how to perform the ordinance to commemorate the coming event of his atonement.
We know from the account in Matthew that the Savior and his disciples go from dinner to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he instructs most of them to ‘Sit ye here while I go and pray yonder.’
Then he takes Peter, James, and John and says unto them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved even unto death; tarry ye here and watch with me,’ in other words, ‘stay awake.’ And he went a little further, and fell on his face and prayed saying, ‘Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt.’
He returns to the disciples and finds them asleep. He wakes them and says to Peter, ‘What, could ye not watch with me one hour?’ Are you so powerless that you could not stay awake with me?
He went a second time and prayed, returned and found them asleep again. He went away a third time and prayed. Somewhere in the process, as He took upon himself all of my sins, sorrows, and sicknesses, and all of yours, “there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
Being in agony, he prayed more earnestly: and he sweat as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. As he rose up, he returned to his disciples who were asleep again.
And while he yet spake to them, behold a multitude, and Judas drew near unto Jesus and kissed him.
Judas, one of his disciples betrays him with a kiss, for 30 pieces of silver, the price of a slave.
Publicly arrested in the middle of the night, they took him, bound, to Annas’ house, father-in-law to the chief priest, where he was interrogated. Annas then sent him to Ciaphus, the high priest, with whom were assembled the chief priests, elders and scribes. Through the entirety of the night, they held an illegal trial where the accused did not have any advocate to plead his case. Though they convened to dispute the accusation of sedition, the verdict they rendered was that of blasphemy----the one sin the Savior was not even capable of, because he truly was the son of God, with divine attributes and powers.
Straightway in the morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes. The whole council condemned him, bound him, and delivered him to Pilate. (Mark 15: 1-2)
Pilate examined him. The Jewish leaders change their accusation from blasphemy to high treason. Blasphemy carries no death sentence under Roman law. Pilate finds no fault in him, doesn’t want to insight the crowd, and sends him to Herod, hoping to make Herod deal with the matter as a case of jurisdiction.
Herod is excited. He has wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle for a long time. In Herod’s examination, Jesus speaks not a word. Not an utterance comes from his lips. Herod has his men set the Savior at naught, mock him and array him in a gorgeous robe—mocking his claim of royalty, and sends him back to Pilate.
Pilate desires to release Jesus. He tells the crowd that he finds no fault in him and that Herod concurs with his findings. He offers to subdue the crowd by scourging the Savior and then releasing him, as is their Passover custom.
The Jewish leaders will have no part in that! They sway the crowd to cry, ‘Crucify Jesus of Nazareth and release unto us Barabas’—one who the scriptures label an insurrectionist, a thief, and a murderer.
Pilate then orders for Jesus to be scourged, a process Elder McConkie says “consists of stripping the victim’s clothes, strapping him to a pillar or frame, and beating him with a scourge made of leather straps weighted with sharp pieces of lead and bone. It left the tortured sufferer bleeding, weak, and sometimes dead.”
They stripped him and placed a scarlet robe around him. And when they had [plaited] a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head and put a reed in his right hand, and they bowed the knee before him and mocked him saying, ‘Hail King of the Jews!’ (Matt. 27:28-30.
About the sixth hour, Pilate presents a beaten and scourged Jesus to the Jewish mob. They cry ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate says, ‘Do it yourself. I find no fault in him.’ The Jews answered, ‘By our law he ought to die, because he made himself the son of God.’
Pilate, now more afraid that he is sentencing an innocent man to die, seeks for Jesus’ release. The Jews cry, ‘If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend.’ Pilate tries again, ‘Behold your King.’ The mob again responds, ‘Crucify him!’
“Shall I crucify your king?” asks Pilate.
To which the Jewish leaders respond, “We have no king but Caesar!”
They turned their backs on God---their God. The God they supposedly worshipped. The God they had been looking for, waiting for, praying for. He is there in front of them. But he is not what they expect, nor what they want and as such they cry ‘Crucify him…We have no king but Caesar!’
And when Pilate saw that he could not prevail, he crumbled and let the Jewish leaders have their way. He had the power to release the Savior, to let him go. He knew Christ was innocent. Yet rather than having built up his moral courage for such a time as this, he symbolically washes his hands and claims he is innocent of the blood of this man.
To which the mob cries, His blood come upon us and our children---which it has for generations of time.
The Savior is then taken to Golgotha where huge iron nails secure him through the palms of his hands and his feet to the cross.
A sign is placed above his head reading ‘Jesus of Nazareth—The King of the Jews’ written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. He is given vinegar to drink. He is mocked, scorned, and derided as he hangs there in agony, with his mother, his friends, and his disciples at his feet.
Elder McConkie says that Jesus was crucified at about 9:00 a.m. Matthew records from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour, when Jesus cries with a loud voice, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? Which is to say, My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?
Elder Talmage states “What mind of man can fathom the significance of that awful cry? It seems that in addition to the fearful suffering incident to the crucifixion, the agony of Gethsemane had recurred, intensified beyond human power to endure. In that bitterest hour, the dying Christ was alone, alone in the most terrible reality. That the supreme sacrifice of the Son might be consummated in all its fullness, the Father seems to have withdrawn the support of his immediate Presence, leaving to the Savior of men the glory of complete victory over the forces of sin and death.”
Jesus, when he had cried, again with a loud voice, said, Father, it is finished, thy will is done, yielded up the ghost. (Matt. 27:54)
Why, why did the Savior do this for us?
First and foremost, we must acknowledge his great love for us—to be willing to do this for you and me of his own free will and choice. What great love.
But more than his love for us, He understood the doctrine. He knew, for instance, that no unclean thing can dwell with God. (1st Nephi 10:21) He knew that all of us at some point in time would fall short of living a perfect and just life and as such would be eliminated from the possibility of living with God because we were now unclean.
The Savior understood that our Father must be perfectly just, that the works of justice could not be destroyed. He knew that from the very beginning God had given us commandments and told us that we should not do evil and that the penalty for such was a second death---a death which was everlasting as to things pertaining unto righteousness. When we choose to do wrong, we separate ourselves from God eternally. We have no power of ourselves to rectify this situation. Even the smallest degree of sin would keep us from returning because of the law of justice.
But a beautiful plan was laid, the plan of Redemption, the Plan of Happiness, the Plan of Salvation, the Great Plan of our God wherein God could remain perfectly just and adhere to that law and also be perfectly merciful.
“For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must needs be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea all are hardened, all are fallen and are lost and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.” (Alma 34:9)
If someone came to earth who adhered to the law of justice perfectly, justice could not require him to pay the penalty, because he never broke the law. By the law of justice alone, Jesus Christ would be the only one permitted to return to our Father.
Now, if owing nothing, that individual was also willing to pay the penalty for those who would sin and would repent, then the law of mercy could also be enacted and God could be perfectly merciful also.
“And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also….(Alma 42:15)
“And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.
“And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice. [Which caused our Savior Jesus Christ to bleed at every pour and sweat as it were great drops of blood.] Therefore, only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.” (Alma 34:15-16)
“What do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:25)
So Brothers and Sisters, what then is our obligation?
Nephi’s brother, Jacob, enlightens us.
“Wherefore my beloved brethren, I beseech of you in words of soberness that ye would repent, and come with full purpose of heart, and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you. And while his arm of mercy is extended towards you in the light of day, harden not your hearts.
Yea today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts; for why will ye die?
For behold, after ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, will ye bring forth evil fruit, that ye must be hewn down and cast into the fire?
Behold will ye reject these words? Will ye reject the words of the prophets; and will ye reject all the words which have been spoken concerning Christ, after so many have spoken concerning him; and deny the good word of Christ and the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost and quench the Holy Spirit and make a mock of the plan of redemption which has been laid for you?.....justice cannot be denied….
Oh then my beloved brethren, repent ye and enter in at the straight gate and continue in the way…until ye shall obtain eternal life.” (Jacob 6:5-12)
All the day long the Savior says, Repent and I will receive you…Come unto me and ye shall partake of the tree of life….Follow me and I will heal you….I will gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wing…If ye will repent and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy on [you] unto a remission of [your] sins and [ye] shall enter into my rest.
THAT Brothers and Sisters is the whole point of the gospel…THAT is the good news we are to proclaim!!! THAT is what we should teach in every lesson!!! If we will all continuously repent, continuously seek after Jesus of Nazareth, continuously be willing to change for the better, to grow, to become and harden not our hearts…We Can ALL return to our Father!! Oh that all people knew that doctrine and had a testimony of it! We return through repentance and exercising our faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ!
“For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
“And then ye are in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life [and] ye have entered in by the gate…..
Is that all you have to do? NO!
“Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, have a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and all men, feasting upon the words of Christ and endure to the end.”
And guess what, if you make a mistake along the way, or you find there is someone that you just can’t love, or you’ve lost your hope, or you haven’t been feasting on the words of Christ only nibbling….then guess what? You REPENT!!
“This is the way and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby men can be saved in the kingdom of God.”
Brothers and Sisters, we have been bought and paid for with a price, and a dear price it was. May we always remember the price that was paid that we might not suffer even as the Savior did, that we might not be exposed to the whole law of justice. Might we be willing to pay the price required of our discipleship even the price of repentance. May we not be found sleeping when He needs us. May we not sell our testimony of the Savior or our opportunities for spiritual learning for things of this world that have no eternal value. May we not wash our hands of our ability to make a difference, or take a stand, or to help another. And may we not ever be found crying, ‘We have no other God but Caesar, or wealth, or beauty, or work, or leisure, or anything else…’
May we follow his pleadings—Come unto me, repent, follow me, change, work, love, press forward----that we may have eternal life. And may we not ever forget who Jesus was, what He did, why He did it, and what we are to do about it. May our lives ever bear record of our knowledge of, deep gratitude for, reverence and love for Jesus the Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.
I testify of his life, that he did what he said he would do. And if we will do what he says for us to do we will one day see him and touch him. We will feel the prints of the nails in his hands and we will know that he has always engraven us on the palms of his hands. ‘God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son.’