Reflections on the Atonement

 Sunrise Reflections on the Atonement

I feel very grateful and humble and a renewed awe for the Savior, on Easter Sunday, to speak about the very centerpiece of the Gospel – the Atonement.  As I was contemplating this I felt clearly and distinctly, the pressing through the Spirit, that the Savior has something very important that He wants us to learn, and even more deeply to experience, today – something He hopes will change your life, or the life of someone you love, through what He has for you.  So I have prayed, and pondered and studied and meditated that it will be His message that you hear through these words.

Rather than a more typical sermon, I have felt prompted to speak in a different vein; more personally and one to one, as if we were all sitting down in our living room having a conversation, sharing our hearts together, as we reflect on the Atonement ~ what we have learned, not only through study, but also through faith born of life experiences ~ and what it means to us.

I invite each one of us to have this conversation right here and now, in our own minds and hearts.  I hope you will ask questions silently, and listen and receive the answers and the insights that will be given specifically and personally to you.


Who Jesus Is

Who is Jesus?   Who is he really?  We think of Him as Savior, Lord, Messiah.  We know Him as Creator and Elder Brother.  He is all of these certainly, and He is so much more!  So much bigger, so much more! The Being who we know, love and revere as Jesus Christ is the most glorious, most elevated, most spiritually gifted advanced Being, after our Heavenly Parents, in all of Creation!

To Abraham, He said, “My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee”.[i]  He taught Abraham face to face, about the creation of the Earth, all of His creations, the planets, and the ordering and structuring of the heavens.  He concluded by teaching Abraham that just as there are planets in advancing order, one above another until we come to Kolob, the most advanced planet of all and the planet nearest to the throne of God, so “if there be two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other . . . And the Lord said unto [Abraham], these two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other;  there shall be another more intelligent than they;  I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all. . . I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, where in my wisdom excelleth them all, for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen from the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou has seen.”[ii]

Later we read this vignette from the Grand Council in Heaven, “there stood one among them, that was like unto God . . .”[iii]. From this we learn that Jesus, known premortally as Jehovah, was and is the greatest, most spiritually advanced and elevated, (which is what intelligence in this sense means) of our Heavenly Parents’ children.   


The Word of God

This in part is what the writer of the Book of John is attempting to express with these famous words:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by Him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.”[iv]

Jesus taught Joseph early in the restoration this same idea, when He gave this magnificent of instruction of Latter-day light:

Verily, thus saith the Lord:  It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am:

In our era, Jesus tells us who He is through these words of John:  “And [know] that I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world . . . And John saw and bore record of the fullness of my glory . . . and he bore record, saying;  I saw his glory, that he was in the beginning, before the world was:  Therefore, in the beginning, the Word was, for he was the Word, even the messenger of salvation ~
The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth, who came into the world, because the world was made by him, and in him was the life of men and the light of men.
The worlds were made by him; men were made by him, all things were made by him, and through him, and of him.
And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.
And I John, saw that he received not of the fullness at the first, but received grace for grace;
And he received not of the fullness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fullness;
And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fullness at the first. . .
And I, John, bear record that he received a fullness of the glory of the Father;
And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.” . . .

John teaches this so that we may know him, know who he really is, and be empowered to worship in spirit and truth.[v] Then the Lord said,  “I give unto you these sayings, that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in  my name, and in due time receive of his fullness.”[vi]

From his premortal state as the greatest of all, one like unto God, the Savior grew into the fullness of the Father, until “he received all power, in heaven and in earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.”[vii]

Jesus then, is the Word ~ the Word made flesh ~ the very source and well-spring of creation.


The Bread of Life and Living Water

Other deeply resonant poetic terms and images we use to capture who Jesus really is include the Bread of Life and Living Water.  These are deeply resonant images and metaphors in the consciousness of all of us, for we too, connect with the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, and how they were literally fed and sustained for forty years in the wilderness by the Bread of Life that came from God daily.  When asked for a sign to demonstrate to the Jews that he really was the Son of God, he told them to believe “on him, who [God] hath sent.”[viii]

They replied that manna was given to them by Moses as a sign to help them believe.   Jesus taught these struggling Jews ~ struggling not only to believe, but first to comprehend who He is ~ “Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. . . . I am the bread of Life; he that cometh to me, shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”[ix]

Who is He really?  Jesus is the spiritual sustainer of life in the most essential and fundamental of ways.



The Lamb of God

Perhaps the image that evokes the deepest layer upon layer of meaning and imagery in all of scripture to capture and describe who Jesus really is, is the title Lamb of God.  Since the first sacrifice when Eve and Adam left the Garden of Eden, to the Binding of Isaac, when Abraham was willing to sacrifice him in the manner of a sacrificial lamb ~ the only son through whom his own cherished promises and blessings from God were to be fulfilled ~ and Isaac willingly allowed himself to be bound, to the first Passover, which was the only thing that freed the Israelites from bondage and slavery in Egypt, to  the last Passover of the Savior’s mortal life, where in a sacred upper room, in a stranger’s anonymous home in Jerusalem, the Savior of the world brought it all home, in the stunning, simple, elegant memory-searing experience of the Last Supper.

Perhaps some insights from the Jewish way of teaching and learning will help us all more deeply understand and experience what happened.  In the Jewish scriptures and culture, even today, the scriptures and the meanings of scriptural teachings are layered, idea, image, meaning upon meaning, layer upon layer, from the beginning of the scriptural record to the present.  Images, ideas, and principles are drawn upon again and again, and new nuances, insights, connections and applications of meaning are woven together and added over time, with each new era and each new teacher.

To become a master teacher, to become a rabbi, required that you know the whole body of work ~ the whole thing including these insights and nuances ~ not just what is in the scriptures themselves, but also the major commentaries and commentators, to know it all and then to be able to add your own additional inspired insights, and new light and knowledge.  It literally took years to be able to achieve this level of mastery.  Even today, it is generally considered among Jews that someone is not prepared to teach others until at least the age of 30, after having begun significant serious Torah study at the age of 12.

Those who wanted it enough that they paid this price, were able to symbolically open the scriptures and teach them in whole, of a piece, to draw the pieces, the themes and the lessons together, to evoke them and to illuminate them, just as Jesus did through out his entire ministry, for the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and for the Nephites, and for those relatively few women and men who were with him in the Upper Room, on Erev Passover ~ the first night of Passover, the most sacred and spiritually meaningful and potent of the seven days.

In this sacred experience, Jesus opened and illuminated the scriptures, evoked and brought the meaning and significance of the experience of Adam and Eve and the first sacrifice of our human family, through the heart-searing, hold-your-breath sacrifice of Abraham, and the reliving of the intimate personal and family experience of the first Passover.  He evoked the memory of the psalms of David, and the words of Isaiah and wove together the ultimate meaning, symbolism and significance of all of scripture when, as they were eating, “Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is in remembrance of my body which I give a ransom for you.”[x]

“And then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying [all of you drink from it]; For this is in remembrance of my blood of the new testament, which is shed for as many as shall believe on my name, for the remission of their sins.”[xi]    

Who is Jesus really?  As Nephi learned, through Jesus’ very life, and by his Atoning sacrifice, death and resurrection Jesus is the literal “Lamb of God . . . and the Savior of the world, and that all . . . must come unto him or they cannot be saved.”[xii]
 


What Jesus Did

This great Being, whom we know, love and revere as the Savior of the World, the source of Living Water and the Bread of Life, the sacrificial Lamb of God, came to Earth to prepare a place for us to come in order to learn and grow through experiencing mortality.  He came to experience mortality himself, because even he, the “greatest of all” needed to grow into the fullness of the Father.

Jesus came to live among us.  As Nephi teaches so beautifully, the “greatest of all” stepped down or condescended to get involved in mortality, to step into the messiness, pain, problems,  the shortsightedness, the sins, and the weaknesses of life on Earth, in order to teach, to serve, to uplift, to elevate and to bless.[xiii]

Nephi saw him ministering to the people in power and great glory.  He saw “the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men.”  He saw multitudes of people who were sick and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits. . . and they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God.”

When Peter realized that the gospel is for everyone, not just a privileged few, his aha moment came when he realized that “Jesus went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed . . . for God was with him.”[xiv]

After a life of consummate goodness, Nephi saw the Lamb of God being “taken by the people, [and] judged of the world . . . lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.”[xv.

Before his death, Jesus, the greatest of all, took upon himself, all of our pain, our sins, our weaknesses, our regrets, the burdens or problems we have inherited through others, and the very chains of death and hell.   As Nephi so beautifully expressed,

“O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel!  For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.  Oh how great the holiness of our God!  For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.  And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice, for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women and children, who belong to the family of Adam.”[xvi]

Alma knew this too, as he taught:  “[Jesus] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon himself the pains and the sicknesses of his people.  And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people, and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh . . .”[xvii]

Jesus, the greatest of all, suffered beyond our ability to comprehend and probably endure.   “I God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent . . . 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.”[xviii]

 

Why He Did It

For a long time, a really long time, I couldn’t bear to think about this, to think about what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane or on the cross, let alone feel into it.  It was too horrifying, too barbaric, too unthinkable, and too painful to contemplate.  And then the Lord began showing me why he did it ~ he began showing me the depth of his condescension by showing me the depth of his compassion.  He brought me these scriptures, in real and personal ways, so that I could comprehend the gift of the Atonement, so I could approach it for myself, and to be able to share the depth, and power and hope and rescue of the Atonement with others.

Perhaps this imagery from Enoch’s response to being shown the history and experiences of our human family, expresses the Savior’s own compassion:  “the Lord spake unto Enoch, and told Enoch all the doings of the children of men; wherefore Enoch knew, and looked upon their wickedness, and their misery, and wept and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned, and all eternity shook.”[xix]

Speaking to Joseph in this dispensation, Jesus described why he went below all things:  “He that ascended up on high, [also descended below all things] in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth.”[xx]

And the rest of Alma 7:12:  “He will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”

In other words, Jesus ~ the greatest of all ~ became the Lamb of God, and came to earth to experience mortality, and in Gethsemane and on the cross, went further into the depths of the experience of darkness, despair, grief and pain than any of us will ever imagine, in order to know how to succor, which means to run to rescue us in practical ways from our own pain, our own sins, our own shortcomings and sorrow, and from the impact of the sins, and shortcomings and pains of others – as far and as deep as necessary, for our rescue to be complete.

In so doing, He became our Advocate with our Father, pleading and praying our cause before him, “saying, Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou was well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him who thou gavest . . . Wherefore, Father, spare these . . . that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”[xxi]

As Jesus was preparing to descend to teach the Nephites, he spoke to them, calling them to him, and describing himself in the ordinary day to day image of a hen who gathers her chickens; “how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.   And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.  O ye house of Israel, whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart.” [xxii]

Again and again, Jesus reaches out to draw us to him, to nourish us, to protect us, and to bless us!

As Jesus was teaching the Nephites, there came a point where he was about to send them home to ponder and pray about what they had just learned, and told them he was preparing to return to the Father, in order to teach  the lost tribes of Israel.  As he said this, he looked down upon “the multitude and behold, they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him, as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.”[xxiii]

What opened was one of the most transcendent experiences of the compassion of Jesus we have in all of scripture.   He said, “Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.  Have ye any that are sick among you?  Bring them hither.  Have ye any that are lame, or blind or halt, or maimed or leprous, or that are withered or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner?  Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.” [xxiv]

And so they did.  All came forward who were in need of healing of any kind, and he healed them, and he blessed their children and he changed their lives, their hearts, their family relationships and ultimately their entire society.    He prayed with them, and for them, and he wept with them, and for them.  “And after this manner do they bear record:  The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father:  And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written . . . neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak, and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.”[xxv]

Surely like Enoch, Jesus “wept and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned, and all eternity shook” as the Nephites were forever changed that day through the compassion of the Lamb of God.



What Then of Us?

Knowing this, what then of us?   What difference does Jesus want this to make in our lives?  What would he, the Lamb of God, have us do? 

To answer, I feel to share an experience I had many years ago.   I share it to impart hope and encouragement, and some of the meaning the Atonement has come to have for me.

Long ago and far away, in another community and I might add, a different marriage, in what gratefully seems like a different lifetime to me now, I found myself in the midst of a family crisis. It was so horrific and painful, that I could not imagine how I was going to survive it, let alone grow in that experience. I was thrown into a state of pain and panic and fear that was overwhelming and immobilizing.

I knew only one thing to do, and that was to throw myself at the feet of the Savior and plead for help; and that is what I did.

And He did help. He calmed my fears and panic, comforted my pain and sorrow and grief. He gave me a daunting teaching calling with a class I felt intimidated by, and that required me to study the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon and the Book of Isaiah, deeply and with a hunger to be taught and a yearning for light and truth. He taught me about the power of prayer and the power tool of fasting.

Mostly, the Savior taught me to trust in Him by teaching me the truth of who He is, what the Atonement is, and who I am, and who I am capable of becoming.  Line upon line, step by step, precept upon precept, day by day and grace for grace the Lord taught and led me along the pathway up and through and out of that crisis of my heart and home.

It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t quick, especially in the midst of the experience. It took time, and many times I stumbled and doubted and questioned and got in my own way. One of the most surprising things of the experience, was that instead of making someone else change according to my finite, earthly and self-focused viewpoint, the Lord taught and led me along the personalized pathway of my own change, my own healing, and my own Self-mastery.

He taught me what I needed to change about me, and He empowered me with the faith in Him and in myself, to do so. Step by step I was led. As I acted upon the light and truth I was given, more light and truth and the next step was revealed to me. I learned to hear the voice of God in my own mind and heart and to rely upon it, and to trust in Him and His voice, independent of others’ opinions and advice. I was taught what to change within my own actions, beliefs and feelings, and mostly within my own perception of myself, and I was empowered with faith to do it.

At one point in the experience, it was confirmed to me that even though I had done everything required, in faith and through faith, to bring about the resolution of the crisis in the way my heart yearned for at the time, it was not to be the case. Another’s agency had been exercised toward a different result, and I was to let go of that dream. Once again I dropped to my knees in prayer, and once again, the Lord led me step by step, line upon line, here a little and there a little, through to the completion of that very painful experience.
 


Conclusion

Toward the end of my experience, I was driven by the Spirit to go to Temple Square ~ one of the places in all the earth where I feel closest to God and to the things of eternity.  I went by myself, and as I walked around that day, I listened to the tabernacle organist, the brother of friends of mine, play his improvisation on Come, Come Ye Saints. I thought about his family and all they sacrificed so he could study the organ with Alexander Shreiner in that very tabernacle. I listened to his soaring and plaintive and sweet variation on the greatest hymn of the Restoration, and I began to feel so grateful. His family had been significant influences in my coming to join the church.

I looked at the temple, and though it was closed for cleaning and therefore, I could not attend a session, I felt so grateful to have made covenants there, covenants that bind me to my husband and children and to the Savior.

I walked up the ramp in the North Visitors Center, came in to the rotunda with the Christus statue, and really saw it all, as if for the very first time. In that room, representing the focal point of Eternity, the Creator of the Universe, the Lamb of God and Savior of the World stands in majesty and invitation with his hands outstretched, to every one of us.  

I heard these words as if spoken to me personally:

"Behold, I am Jesus Christ… I created the Heavens and the Earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning… 3 Nephi 9: 15

…I came into the world to do the will of my Father… 3 Nephi 27: 13

…my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross…that I might draw all men unto me…3 Nephi 27: 14

Learn of me and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. D&C 19: 23

Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet…D&C 6: 37

For behold, I … have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer, if they would repent. D&C 19: 16

Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me. John 14: 1

A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples…John 13: 34-35.

In my Father’s house are many mansions . . . I go to prepare a place for you. John 14: 2.

If ye love me, keep my commandments." John 14: 15.
 


I testify that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, the Lamb of God. I testify that His love is “sufficient to own, to redeem and to justify”[xxvi] each of us.  I testify that his Atonement is endless, timeless and eternal, and that through his Atonement there is “no sorrow that heaven cannot heal”[xxvii].

I testify that He has “wept [for each of us] and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned, and all eternity shook”[xxviii], just as the Lamb of God is reaching out even now to each one of us.  I testify that as we reach up and take His outreached hand in partnership with Him, by the power of His Atonement He will lead us step by step, day by day, line upon line and grace for grace, in loving patience along our personalized pathway into all that the Father promises us. 

In the Sacred and Holy name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


[i] Abraham 2:8

[ii] Abraham 2:18-19, 21

[iii] Abraham 2:  24

[iv] John 1:  1 - 5

[v] John 4:  23-24

[vi] D&C 93:  1 - 19

[vii] D&C 93:17

[viii] John 6:  29

[ix] John 6: 35

[x] JST Matthew 26:  26

[xi]JST Matthew: 26: 24

[xii] 1 Nephi 13:40

[xiii] 1 Nephi 11 - 14

[xiv] Acts 10: 38

[xv] 1 Nephi 11:  32-33

[xvi] 2 Nephi 9:  19-21

[xvii] Alma 7:  11-12

[xviii] D&C 19:  16, 18-19

[xix] Moses 7: 41

[xx] D&C 88:6

[xxi] D&C 45:  3 - 5

[xxii] 3 Nephi 10:  4-6

[xxiii] 3 Nephi 17:  5

[xxiv] 3 Nephi 17:  6=7

[xxv] 3 Nephi 17:  16-17

[xxvi] Hymn #193  I Stand All Amazed

[xxvii] Htmn #115 Come Ye Disconsolate

[xxviii] Moses 7:41


© March 2013.  Debra Brown Gordy.   All Rights Reserved.   Copying or distributing without the express written consent of the author is prohibited. 

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