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We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Atonement of Jesus Christ

                    The front page of any newspaper is usually reserved for the most important events of the day.  In fact, the most important news can usually be found "above the fold" on the front page.  If a newspaper published a special issue covering the entire history of the world, what stories do you think would be on the front page?  I believe that the news about the Atonement of Jesus Christ would be printed above the fold!

                    Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stated:  "The wondrous and glorious Atonement was the central act in all of human history" (Ensign, May 1985, 73).

Why do you think that Elder Maxwell would make this statement?  I believe that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the most important event in all history because it affects not only life on earth but the eternal lives of every person who has ever lived on earth.  Knowing about the Atonement can help each of us deal better with the bad news and terrible events we often hear about on the news.

To help you gain better understanding of the Atonement, I would like to share a story about an ordinary man who did an extra-ordinary thing.  "On a cold, wintry day in 1982, an airplane crashed into a bridge in Washington, D.C., and landed in the Potomac River.  Most of the people on the plane were killed immediately, but six people got out of the plane and hung on to its tail while two men in a helicopter threw them a life preserver.  The water was very cold, and it was hard to hang on to the plane.  The rescuers were afraid that the passengers might lose their grip and drown before they could be pulled out and carried to safety.  The rescuers noticed that one man seemed to be more alert than the others, so they lowered the life preserver to him.  But every time they did this, he passed the life preserver to someone else so the other person could be rescued first.  When the other five people were safe, the helicopter went back for the man, but he was gone." (See Roger Rosenblatt, "The Man in the Water," Time, 25 Jan. 1982, 86; see also Thomas S. Monson, Ensign, May 1983, 56.)

                    This was an ordinary man, a mortal like you and I; yet he gave his life that other people might live.  I don't know if I would have been as brave, unselfish, and loving as this man.  The man in the river did a great thing when he selflessly gave his own life to save the lives of five other people; but Jesus Christ did an even greater thing when he gave his life to save the spiritual lives of everyone on earth.

                    Last week I wrote about the Fall of Adam and Eve.
Because Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, both spiritual and physical death came into the world.  In physical death, a person's body becomes separated from his/her spirit.  In spiritual death, a person becomes separated from Heavenly Father.  Without a Savior, both physical death and spiritual death would be permanent.  After death our bodies and spirits would be separated forever, and we would be unable to live with Heavenly Father again.  But just as the Fall was part of Heavenly Father's plan, Heavenly Father also planned for us to have a Savior who would overcome both physical and spiritual death.

                    John 1:1-3, 14 tells us, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
                    "The same was in the beginning with God.
                    "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
                    "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

                    The "Word" is a name used for Jesus Christ.  He was with Heavenly Father before the earth was created, and He was chosen in the premortal world to create the earth and become our Savior.

                    The statement in John is confirmed in Pearl of Great Price, Moses 4:2, where we read, "But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me - Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever."

                    Jesus' existence on earth was different from every other mortal's in two different ways:  1) Jesus was the Only Begotten Son of Heavenly Father.  This means that Heavenly Father was the father of Jesus' physical body as well as His spirit.  2) Jesus was the only person to ever live on earth without committing a single sin.  These are two very important differences because these two qualities - his Godhood and his sinlessness - were necessary for Christ to atone for our sins and be our Savior.)

                    The word atone means to "correct or overcome the consequences of sin" and make "at one" people who have been separated [see "Atonement," Bible Dictionary, 617].)  The Atonement of Jesus Christ enables us to become "at one" with Heavenly Father because eternal law, or justice, requires that whoever violates a law must be punished.  Through his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and his death on the cross, Jesus Christ took upon himself the punishment for the sins of everyone who ever lived on the earth.  Because of this Atonement, we can repent of our sins, be freed from guilt, and be worthy to dwell with Heavenly Father again.

                    One of the Articles of Faith for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states:  "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel."  (See Pearl of Great Price, Articles of Faith 1:3.)  Christ's Atonement was performed for all mankind!

                    Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told a story - a parable - entitled "The Mediator;" this parable explains why the Atonement was necessary.  It is about a debtor (one who borrows or owes money), a creditor (one who lends money), and a mediator (one who solves problems).  It symbolizes our relationship with our Savior.  The debtor represents all mankind, the creditor represents the laws of justice, and the Mediator represents Jesus Christ.

                    "There once was a man who wanted something very much.  It seemed more important than anything else in his life.  In order for him to have his desire, he incurred a great debt.
                    "He had been warned about going into that much debt, and particularly about his creditor.  But it seemed so important for him to do what he wanted to do and to have what he wanted right now.  He was sure he could pay for it later.
                    "So he signed a contract.  He would pay it off some time along the way.  He didn't worry too much about it, for the due date seemed such a long time away.  He had what he wanted now, and that was what seemed important.
                    "The creditor was always somewhere in the back of his mind, and he made token payments now and again thinking somehow that the day of reckoning really would never come.
                    "But as it always does, the day came, and the contract fell due.  The debt had not been fully paid.  His creditor appeared and demanded payment in full.  Only then did he realize that his creditor not only had the power to repossess all that he owned, but the power to cast him into prison as well. 
                    "`I cannot pay you, for I have not the power to do so,' he confessed.
                    "`Then,' said the creditor, `we will exercise the contract, take your possessions, and you shall go to prison.  You agreed to that.  It was your choice.  You signed the contract, and now it must be enforced.'
                    "`Can you not extend the time or forgive the debt?' the debtor begged.  `Arrange some way for me to keep what I have and not go to prison.  Surely you believe in mercy?  Will you not show mercy?'
                    "The creditor replied, `Mercy is always so one-sided.  It would serve only you.  If I show mercy to you, it will leave me unpaid.  It is justice I demand.  Do you believe in justice?'
                    "`I believed in justice when I signed the contract,' the debtor said.  `It was on my side then, for I thought it would protect me.  I did not need mercy then, nor think I should need it ever.  Justice, I thought, would serve both of us equally as well.'
                    "`It is justice that demands that you pay the contract or suffer the penalty,' the creditor replied.  `That is the law.  You have agreed to it and that is the way it must be.  Mercy cannot rob justice.'
                    "There they were:  One meting out justice, the other pleading for mercy.  Neither could prevail except at the expense of the other.
                    "`If you do not forgive the debt there will be no mercy,' the debtor pleaded.
                    "`If I do, there will be no justice,' was the reply.
                    "Both laws, it seemed, could not be served.  They are two eternal ideals that appear to contradict one another.  Is there no way for justice to be fully served, and mercy also?
                    "There is a way!  The law of justice can be fully satisfied and mercy can be fully extended - but it takes someone else.  And so it happened this time.
                    "The debtor had a friend.  He came to help.  He knew the debtor well.  He knew him to be shortsighted.  He thought him foolish to have gotten himself into such a predicament.  Nevertheless, he wanted to help because he loved him.  He stepped between them, faced the creditor, and made this offer.
                    "`I will pay the debt if you will free the debtor from his contract so that he may keep his possessions and not go to prison.'
                    "As the creditor was pondering the offer, the mediator added, `You demanded justice.  Though he cannot pay you, I will do so.  You will have been justly dealt with and can ask no more.  It would not be just.'
                    "And so the creditor agreed.
                    "The mediator turned then to the debtor.  `If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?'
                    "`Oh yes, yes,' cried the debtor.  `You save me from prison and show mercy to me.'
                    "Then,' said the benefactor, `you will pay the debt to me and I will set the terms.  It will not be easy, but it will be possible.  I will provide a way.  You need not go to prison.'
                    "And so it was that the creditor was paid in full.  He had been justly dealt with.  No contract had been broken.
                    "The debtor, in turn, had been extended mercy.  Both laws stood fulfilled.  Because there was a mediator, justice had claimed its full share, and mercy was fully satisfied" (Ensign, May 1977, 55-55).

                    When we agreed to come to earth and receive bodies, we knew that we would sometimes make wrong decisions.  Our sins are like the debt of the man in the story.  The laws of justice demand that our sins be paid for if we are to return to live with Heavenly Father again.  Because Jesus was sinless and the Only Begotten Son of Heavenly Father, he was the only one who could atone for our sins and satisfy justice.

In the story, the mediator (the debtor's friend) said he would become the debtor's new creditor.  The debt would be repaid on his terms.  Christ has set the terms for us in order that we might receive all the blessings of the Atonement.  Those terms are contained in the following scriptures.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

"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.
"And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day" (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 2 Nephi 9:21-22).

"For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent" (Doctrine and Covenants 19:16).

All mankind are unconditionally saved from physical death because of the Savior's Atonement.  Every one of us will be resurrected and gain immortality.  In order to be saved from spiritual death and live with Heavenly Father again, we must follow the counsel given in these scriptures:  1) we must believe in Christ, 2) we must follow and obey him, and 3) we must repent of our sins.

If we do not repent of our sins, we will have to suffer the consequences for our choices.  Doctrine and Covenants 19:17-18 tells us:  "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."

The debtor in the story would have lost all his possessions and gone to prison if his friend had not offered to help him.
Jesus Christ has already atoned for our sins.  In the Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ (2 Nephi 9:7-9), a prophet named Nephi explained what would happen to us if an atonement had not been made.  "Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement - save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption.  Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration.  And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more.
                    "O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace!  For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.
                    "And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness."

                    In other words, without the Atonement of Jesus Christ and our willingness to abide by the terms of His offer, we would not be resurrected, and our sins in this life would keep us out of the presence of Heavenly Father forever.

Heavenly Father showed His great love for all His children when He sent Jesus Christ, His Only Begotten Son, to earth and allowed Him to suffer, bleed, and die to atone for our sins.  Jesus Christ showed His great love for His spirit brothers and sisters when He willingly suffered for our sake.  I am so very grateful for the sacrifices made by both of them.  In fact, "I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me" (Hymns, 193).  I love both Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ with all my heart!

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