Certain Greeks approached Philip one day in Jerusalem. Presumably they had heard about the Savior from others, and, impressed by what they had heard about him, they now desired to spend some time with him. They wanted to get to know him personally. “Sir,” they requested, “we would see Jesus.” (John 12:21.)
Sooner or later, every person who has ever lived on earth will be given a knowledge about the divinity of Jesus Christ. The scriptures tell us that when he comes the second time, the signs of his divinity will be so overwhelming that “every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess” that Jesus is the Christ. (D&C 88:104.)
But knowledge about him is not enough. The knowledge that saves comes from our personal efforts to develop a close companionship with the Lord through prayer and meditation.
The Savior declared: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3.) Notice the wording. We gain eternal life by knowing God and Jesus Christ, not by knowing some things about them. It seems to me that there is a great difference between these two types of knowledge. This difference is exemplified in the testimony of Paul to the “learned” Greek philosophers worshipping at an altar to their “unknown God.” Paul declared: “Ye men of Athens, whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” (Acts 17:23.) While the God of these men was unknown to them personally, Paul bore a powerful and convincing testimony of the existence of his God based on his personal, first-hand knowledge.
Clearly, we should seek to emulate Paul’s intimate relationship with his God.
“The greatest and most important of all requirements of our Father in heaven and of his Son Jesus Christ,” said Brigham Young, “is … to believe in Jesus Christ, confess him, seek to him, cling to him, make friends with him. Take a course to open and keep open a communication with … our Savior.” (Journal of Discourses, 8:339.)
I find that I am interested in getting to know someone personally if what I have been told about him or observed in him indicates that our relationship will be a rewarding one. Four attributes of Jesus—inferred from his dealings with others—have indicated to me the Lord is someone whose close friendship I should earnestly cultivate.
The first attribute is the Savior’s intimate knowledge of each one of us. Because he knew the desires of people’s hearts and their inner, spiritual qualities in his own day, he frequently befriended the outcast who was scorned by his fellowmen. In selecting those who would comprise the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Jesus did not go to the homes of royalty or to the imposing chambers of the Sanhedrin, but rather to simple fishing boats by the seashore and to the desk of a despised tax collector.
One of my favorite examples of the Savior’s intimate knowledge of a person, and his kindness toward him, is the story of Zacchaeus. As Jesus entered the town of Jericho in the course of one of his journeys, a little man by the name of Zacchaeus desired to see him, and possibly deep in his heart he longed to spend some time with Jesus. Because he was so short, he decided to climb a sycamore tree overlooking the road for a better view. As Jesus came down the path, probably exchanging greetings with people on either side, he suddenly stopped, and looking up into the tree where the little fellow was perched, he called out, “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.” (Luke 19:5.) What a special honor for this man who was wealthy, chief among the publicans, and who consequently had undoubtedly received much scorn and abuse in his community. (SeeLuke 19:7.)
“But,” you might think, “that was when Jesus was on the earth. Does he really know us that well today from his distant position in the heavens?”
Listen to the Lord’s words to a congregation just 150 years ago, in 1831, as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“Behold and hearken, O ye elders of my church, who have assembled yourselves together, whose prayers I have heard, and whose hearts I know, and whose desires have come up before me.
“Behold and lo, mine eyes are upon you.” (D&C 67:1–2.)
Note also that in section 5 of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord refers to “my servant Martin Harris.” (D&C 5:1.) He knew his name! He also knew the names of John Whitmer, as recorded in section 15, and Frederick G. Williams in section 93. Indeed, the Lord gave specific instructions to more than sixty-five individuals in revelations recorded in that book of scripture.
I am personally convinced that the Lord is aware of each of us. I have felt his sustaining influence on many occasions during trials in my life. Whether experiencing fear after a painful knee injury in the mission field, loneliness during a traumatic separation from my family to serve in Vietnam, or an awful hollow numbness following the death of a beloved companion, I have found no balm so soothing as the sweet, peaceful, comforting assurance that comes from divine whisperings, “Be still,” “Be calm,” “I am here,” “I know.”
A second and related characteristic of the Savior is his ability, because of his own experiences, to empathize with all of our difficulties and trials. The Savior knows what it is like to be tempted, distraught, afraid, ridiculed, and abused; and consequently he has great compassion for others.
We know that he experienced what some have referred to as the most intense form of human suffering—loneliness. I am touched by this statement from the Savior near the end of his life: “Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.” (John 16:32.)
Certainly his loneliness, in terms of companionship with other mortals, was most intense during his ordeal in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Savior invited his three chief apostles to accompany him, to be part of the most wonderful, the most incredible event ever to transpire in the history of mankind. He invited them to come with him, to “tarry … and watch” with him in the time of his greatest need. (Matt. 26:38.) In short, he desired the companionship of three of his closest associates—but what happened? When he needed them most, he found them asleep, not once, but three times. How lonely he must have felt! Yet, as he said, he did not feel completely alone because his closest personal companion, his Father in Heaven, was with him.
We know that the Savior experienced not only rejection and loneliness, but also temptation. Paul writes that the Savior “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15.) How does this affect our relationship with the Savior? Paul answers, “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Heb. 2:18.)
Jesus’ life prepared him to have compassion for others. We have many examples of the compassion shown by the Savior. On one occasion he was traveling with his disciples in a ship on the Sea of Galilee, and a mighty wind came up, threatening their safety. The disciples expressed their fears, crying out, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” Showing great compassion for their human frailties, the Savior calmed the storm. (Mark 4:35–41.)
The Savior showed compassion not only for his closest associates, but also for the thousands of nameless faces who gathered to hear his teachings. On one occasion, after preaching a long sermon he said to his disciples, “I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way” (Matt. 15:32), and he proceeded to feed miraculously 4,000 people with seven loaves “and a few little fishes,” demonstrating his concern for their physical as well as their spiritual needs.
Note the incomparable sensitivity of this man, as well as his great desire to relieve suffering and sorrow. One of the tenderest expressions of the Savior’s compassion is recorded in Luke 13:34: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how oft would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!”
His great compassion for us can be a source of comfort when we are tempted and wonder if we are worthy of his great love and trust. I am reassured by his words to some early Church members.
“Behold, and hearken, O ye elders of my church, … [I know] the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted.
“For verily I say unto you, I will have compassion upon you.
The late Elder Hugh B. Brown, of the Council of the Twelve, said: “Very frequently I have felt I could reach up and take hold of God’s hand. He has been so close, so gracious, so willing to respond to my request and to help me over the rough places.” (Church News, 6 Dec. 1975, p. 3.) To Elder Brown’s testimony I add my own that, in the words of Isaiah’s great prophecy, a child was born who has become “wonderful” and “counselor.” (Isa. 9:6.)
A third characteristic that should motivate us to draw closer to the Savior is his deep, abiding, perfect love for us. The greatest evidence of his love was his willingness to die for us. Realizing the significance of one man’s volunteering to suffer great pain in order that his brothers and sisters would not have to suffer similar pain, Paul exclaimed,
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38–39.)
What a powerful testimony of Christ’s willingness to pay any price to aid us in our quest for eternal happiness! Indeed, the essence of godhood is the willingness to sacrifice for the good of others. Clearly this was exemplified in the life and teachings of the Savior. Frequently he taught his disciples that to love only those who loved and appreciated them was not particularly praiseworthy. True charity, or godlike love, he said, involves loving those who fail to appreciate, or even despise, your good works for them. Certainly this is the acid test of one’s willingness to sacrifice for others. How often I have heard a person seeking help for a troubled marriage concede, “All right, I will do my part, but only if he/she does his/hers.” How fortunate we are that in a world governed by the norm of “an eye for an eye” Christ was willing to be crucified for us regardless of our personal appreciation for his sacrifice.
A fourth characteristic is one which separates him from all others: his divine power. Christ not only is deeply interested in our personal development, but also has the power to do something about it—he has the power to change lives. Undoubtedly, we have all read stories of how the Lord has literally transformed people almost overnight, like Paul and Alma. But often the small, unheralded, everyday examples of the miracle of conversion are easier to relate to.
One of my most memorable missionary experiences took place in a cold, damp basement apartment of a nonmember in Edmonton, Canada. My companion and I were trying to help a lifelong chain smoker live the Word of Wisdom, and he had called us to his humble residence one night to admit defeat. He said, “I have made every effort humanly possible, and I just can’t quit smoking. I know the gospel is true and I want to be baptized, but I’ll never be able to overcome this habit.”
Our reply to this defeated man was, “Don’t give up. You can quit smoking because there is a superhuman power that can give you the strength and courage you need.”
We asked him to read these comforting and reassuring words from Paul: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor. 10:13.)
Then we knelt with him and asked the Lord to give him the courage and the determination necessary to place his life in order so that he and his family could be baptized. What a testimony-building experience it was for a nineteen-year-old boy to witness the changes in this man’s life as the Spirit of the Lord magnified his strength, helping him resist temptation and live God’s commandments!
What a powerful friend—this man of Galilee! Who else knows us so intimately, has done so much to prove his love for us, has demonstrated his capacity for compassion and understanding, and also has the divine power to help us change our lives? Who, therefore, should be more sought after as our intimate companion and true friend?
Let us, like the Greeks who approached Philip, be sufficiently motivated by what we have heard about Christ that we desire to develop a personal, intimate relationship with him. As we spend time with him through mighty prayer and thoughtful meditation, we will gain a personal knowledge of the God we worship and realize that he is indeed our dearest friend.
As we do, we will begin to appreciate the insight of Paul, truly one of Christ’s friends, who declared: “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things … that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings!” (Philip. 3:8, 10.)