03402_000_012The First Presidency bears witness of Christ.We cannot of ourselves rid ourselves of our transgressions.Live today as if you were going to live forever, for you surely shall.
God So Loved the World
Before I became president of the Church, I was assigned as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to visit some of the countries of South America for various gatherings with the Saints. We were received well by the countries, by their officials, and by the press.
I was interested in a comment made by a representative of one of the largest papers in Brazil. She had heard my sermon the day before, on Sunday, in which I had spoken rather strongly about the restoration of the gospel. She asked me why Christ was crucified.
I answered: “Because he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
And her next remark shocked me: “He should not have said it, should he? He really was not, was he?”
I thought she was joking. I looked into her eyes for a moment and thought she was going to smile. But she did not. And I said firmly: “He said he was the Son of God because he was the Son of God.”
Later I read an article in the Easter paper of one of the largest cities in South America. The author was a minister with letters after his name. I read the entire article and in the half a page given front page notice, he never mentioned the Lord of heaven and earth, the Redeemer, the Savior. He always spoke of “Jesus.” He quoted two or three scriptures which mentioned Jesus of Nazareth as being more than the carpenter’s son, but never in his writing did he ever give any other title to the Christ who shed his precious blood for him.
During the same trip, I asked 400 missionaries gathered in a meeting, “What think ye of Christ and the claims that are made?” And I heard 400 inspiring testimonies from youth—sure testimonies, ringing with conviction.
I am reminded of what Paul said: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
“For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1–2).
I could not see how we could really celebrate an Easter without discussing the Lord Jesus Christ. Why even the devils know that Jesus is the Christ. On one occasion the devils came crying out and saying, “Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ” (Luke 4:41). On another occasion “the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” (Acts 19:15). And another time, “they cried out saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” (Matt. 8:29).
I believe that there was a considerable conviction in the heart of Pilate, who was constrained by his conscience to let the Savior go free, but because of political ambitions and other reasons, in spite of his wife’s importuning, he delivered him to be crucified. But even after that, he wrote on the cross in three languages—Hebrew, Greek, and Latin—this famous statement: “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.” The Jews, offended, came and said:
“Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.
“Pilate answered, What I have written I have written” (see John 19:19–22).
You have read of Nathanael, the man without guile, who said, as he saw the Christ: “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:49).
Paul had hardly made his transformation, had just barely received back his sight from his unusual experience when he went straightway into the synagogues and preached Christ, “that he is the Son of God.”
Why will the divines of the day purposely avoid the names of the Deity whom they would choose to call only Jesus? There are tens of thousands of Jesuses in the world. In all the Spanish-speaking countries you find them on every hand. They pronounce it Ha-sús, but it is Jesus. But there was only one Jesus who became the Prince of Light, the Author of our salvation.
Joseph Smith said: “I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation” (JS—H 1:25).
You remember what Peter said when the disciples were asked, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” They spoke up and said men thought him to be Elias or one of the other prophets, and then the Lord said again, and I can imagine his piercing eyes, wondering and expectant eyes, “But whom say ye that I am?” And the answer was one of the most stirring and glorious of all statements made, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And the next statement must never be overlooked: “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (see Matt. 16:13–17). In other words, man has not told you this, but my Father has revealed it unto thee; a great revelation has come unto thee, and thou knowest it.
I asked 400 missionaries the Lord’s question which faces every man, woman, and child on this earth: “Whom do ye say that I the Son of man am?” And I was gratified at the hundreds of replies saying “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And that is my testimony to you, that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the living Son of the living God.
God So Loved the World
The atonement of the Master is the central point of world history. Without it, the whole purpose for the creation of earth and our living upon it would fail.
From the scriptures, we learn that from the very beginning of the world, there has been among the Lord’s people a ceremony pointing to the atonement of the Redeemer. When Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, the Lord told them to build an altar and offer sacrifice. This they did, and they did it without knowing the reason. I wish every one of Adam’s posterity had the faith to do what the Lord tells him to do without first having to have an explanation as to why he should do it. But to continue with our theme:
“And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
“And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth” (Moses 5:6–7).
The angel told Adam other things. He told him that in the meridian of time the Redeemer would come into the world, and that until he should come God’s people were to offer blood sacrifices frequently. This they were to do to point their minds forward to the day when the Redeemer would come and be sacrificed for the sins of the whole world. Then the angel taught Adam the gospel and told him to repent and be baptized.
From the days of Adam to the days of Jesus Christ, every people who understood the gospel offered blood sacrifices, using animals or birds without blemish. This they did in contemplation of the great event which was to take place in the meridian of time.
When Jesus was about to go through that terrible suffering incident to the Atonement, he took his disciples with him to the Passover. As they sat in an upper chamber, Jesus broke bread and blessed it and gave of it to his Apostles, telling them that this they should do often in remembrance of his body, which was soon to be crucified on the cross for them, and for you and for me. Then he took wine, blessed it, and gave of it to them, telling them to do this often in remembrance of his blood, which was to be spilled for them.
Jesus then went into the Garden of Gethsemane. There he suffered most. He suffered greatly on the cross, of course, but other men had died by crucifixion; in fact, a man hung on either side of him as he died on the cross. But no man, nor set of men, nor all men put together, ever suffered what the Redeemer suffered in the Garden. He went there to pray and suffer. One of the New Testament writers says that it “was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
In this dispensation the Lord, calling upon the people to repent, tells them that unless they repent they must suffer even as he suffered. He describes that suffering in these words:
“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” (D&C 19:18–19).
I cannot here discuss with you in detail what the atonement of the Savior means to us. But without it, no man or woman would ever be resurrected. From Adam’s time to the time of Jesus, men died—millions of them. But not a single one of them ever came out of the grave as a resurrected person until that glorious morning when Jesus was resurrected. Without his victory over death, they never would have come out of their graves, worlds without end. It took the atonement of Jesus Christ to reunite the bodies and spirits of men in the Resurrection. And so all the world, believers and nonbelievers, are indebted to the Redeemer for their certain resurrection, because the Resurrection will be as wide as was the Fall, which brought death to every man.
There is another phase of the Atonement which makes me love the Savior even more and fills my soul with gratitude beyond expression. It is that in addition to atoning for Adam’s transgression, thereby bringing about the Resurrection, the Savior by his suffering paid the debt for the personal sins of every living soul that ever dwelt upon the earth or that ever will dwell in mortality upon the earth. But this he did conditionally. The benefits of this suffering for our individual transgressions will not come to us unconditionally in the same sense that the Resurrection will come regardless of what we do. If we partake of the blessings of the Atonement as far as our individual transgressions are concerned, we must obey the law.
And it is perfectly just that we are required to obey it because through the fall of Adam, man’s free agency was preserved. We had nothing to do with death’s coming into the world; death came as a consequence of Adam’s fall. But we have everything to do with our own acts. When we commit sin, we are estranged from God and rendered unfit to enter into his presence. No unclean thing can enter into his presence. We cannot of ourselves, no matter how we may try, rid ourselves of the stain which is upon us as a result of our own transgressions. That stain must be washed away by the blood of the Redeemer, and he has set up the way by which that stain may be removed. That way is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel requires us to believe in the Redeemer, accept his atonement, repent of our sins, be baptized by immersion for the remission of our sins, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and continue faithfully to observe, or do the best we can to observe, the principles of the gospel all the days of our lives.
We have in the Church an ordinance which I have explained. It is the sacrament. The Lord has commanded us to partake of the sacrament regularly. Members of his church are by him directed to go on the Sabbath day to the sacrament meeting, and there partake of the sacrament. And what are we to do when we partake of the sacrament? We are to think of all these things above mentioned, and many more. This is what we go to the sacrament meeting for; this is what we ought to do when we are there. Think about it:
“O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, …”
What we ought to do when we partake of the sacrament is think of the Redeemer—of his wounded body as we partake of the bread, and of his spilt blood when we partake of the water.
“… and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, …”
A witness is a testimony. We ought, silently, to testify to our Father—
“… that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; …”
And to what end?
“… that they may always have his Spirit to be with them” (D&C 20:77).
God help us to renew our covenants every week in this manner and to remember the redemption wrought for us by our great Redeemer.
God So Loved the World
I bring to you the question given the shouting mob by Pilate 2,000 years ago, “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” I ask you, “What shall you do with Jesus which is called Christ?”
When I think of the Savior, I think of the words of Matthew, Mark, and Luke but particularly the words of John:
“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. In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1–4).
Here is something spoken of more than a babe in a manger; here is declared the Creator of all that is good and beautiful. I have looked at majestic mountains rising against a blue sky and thought of Jesus, the Creator of heaven and earth. I have stood on a spit of sand in the Pacific and watched the dawn rise like thunder—a ball of gold surrounded by clouds of pink and white and purple—and thought of Jesus, the Word by whom all things were made and without whom was not anything made that was made. I have seen a beautiful child—many of them—bright-eyed, innocent, clean, and trusting, and marveled at the majesty and miracle of creation. What then shall you do with Jesus that is called Christ?
This earth is his creation. When we make it ugly, we offend him. Our bodies are the work of our Creator. When we abuse them, we abuse him. “Know ye not that ye are the temples of God?”
As certainly as Christ came into the world, lived among men, laid down his life, and became the first fruits of them that slept, so shall all men rise from the grave. Death may and will come, but death has been robbed of its sting, and the grave of its victory. “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).
I once stood before the bier of a young man whose life had been bright with hope and promise. He had been an athlete in his high school and a student for one year at Brigham Young University. He was a friendly, affable, brilliant young man. He had gone into the mission field. He and his companion were riding down the highway when a car, coming from the opposite direction, moved into their lane and crashed head-on into them. He died in the hospital an hour later. As I stood there at the pulpit at his funeral and looked into the faces of his father and his mother, there came into my heart a conviction that I had never before felt with such assurance. I knew with certainty, as I looked across that casket, that he had not died but had merely been transferred to another field of labor to go forward with his mission so well begun here.
What shall you do with Jesus which is called Christ? Live today as if you were going to live forever, for you surely shall. Live with the conviction that whatsoever principle of intelligence and beauty and truth and goodness you attain unto in this life, it shall rise with you in the Resurrection. Live with the certain knowledge that some day “we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt” (Alma 11:43).
“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). How poor indeed would be our lives without the influence of his teachings and his matchless example. The lessons of the turning of the other cheek, going the second mile, the return of the prodigal, and scores of others have somehow filtered down to become the catalyst to bring kindness and mercy out of man’s apparently natural inclination toward inhumanity to man.
He whose resurrection we commemorate this season is more than the symbol of a holiday. He is the Son of God, the Creator of the earth, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the fulfillment of the law, the Redeemer of mankind, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace.
“Now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:22–24).
To which testimony I add my own. Christ lives! He is the Savior. By following him, we can return to our Father and enjoy eternal life.