Cover image: “He is Not Here” by Walter Rane.
As I think about the events facing the world today with Covid-19 and other challenges now facing us, I reflect on the following promises…
Deuteronomy 4:29-31 says, “But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; (For the Lord thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee….”
George Q. Cannon, taught: “God can be trusted. . . . No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, He will never desert us. He never has, and He never will. He cannot do it. It is not His character. He is an unchangeable being. . . . He will [always] stand by us. We may pass through the fiery furnace; we may pass through deep waters; but we shall not be consumed nor overwhelmed. We shall emerge from all these trials and difficulties the better and purer for them.”[i]
Easter is a time to remember the everlasting love of our Heavenly Father. It is a time to renew our trust in Him because he is trustworthy. The Lord Jesus Christ prepared an escape of death and hell, and we hold the promise of a glorious resurrection. We say with Nephi, “O how great the plan of our God!”[ii]
At times, however, that plan may seem difficult to follow. Speaking at the CES symposium on the Book of Mormon in 1986, Gerald Lund told the following story…
“A Christian missionary couple was called to Africa to serve deep in the heart of the continent. When they got to the coast, they were told that they would be taking machinery to a missionary center at their outpost in Zaire. They had a whole truckload of heavy machinery. When they got the truck completely loaded, it weighed about eight tons.
That was a problem. The road that led to where they were going passed over many rivers and many streams, and over deep ravines. The bridges were crude, they were made of logs tied together with vines. Some of the bridges had 3Ton the sign next to them meaning the limit was 3 tons. Some had 6T. None of them had 8T beside them. The truck was too heavy.
The missionary was deeply concerned, and his wife said, ‘What are we going to do about all that weight on those bridges? We will have to leave some stuff behind.’ The missionary said, ‘There isn’t anything I can do to lighten the load. I’ll just have to reinforce the bridges.’ So, that is what they did. They started out, and at each bridge they would stop and, with considerable work, sometimes dangerous work because the rivers were infested with crocodiles and poisonous snakes, they would cut down trees, strengthen the bridge, and rebuild it to the point where it could carry the eight tons. And thus they delivered the supplies. (Virginia Law Shell, The Bridge, Guideposts, January 1975, 10-11).”[iii]
In these latter days as striving followers of Christ, we are asked to carry a mighty load. We cannot forsake it. The worldly course would take the wide road around difficulties that come our way. The Lord’s path is straight. It does not turn to avoid crossing canyons and rivers. The Lord’s path requires bridge building. These bridges span the gaps in our character, the chasms of our weaknesses and the rivers of trials. Building a bridge means we overcome and construct the inner capability to pass over those trials again without having to stop to re-build the habit and faith necessary to travel uninterrupted in life.
When we arrive at the largest chasms of weakness or trial, and look at the breadth and distance involved, we often can’t see how we can possibly build a bridge there. The canyon is too wide and the river too deep. But the Lord has promised us like he promised Israel, “And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”[iv]
That is the power of the atonement of Christ. It has the power to transform us from mortal and natural to immortal and divine. The gift of Easter is the gift of resurrection, the gift to overcome sin, and also the endowment of divine gifts to help us become like Jesus Christ.
“Since man now possesses a physical body to which his spirit will be restored in the resurrection, the remaining purposes of the plan of life and salvation are, first, to cleanse man from all sin and, second, to develop within him the divine truth light, and power of God’s glory. Only in this way can man become like God. This means that in true worship man must partake of the truth, light, and power of God, so that his relationship with Deity is founded in truth and power. True worship is not merely a matter of man accepting certain required theological or philosophical principles and practices, or of adhering to a prescribed set of ethical and moral standards requiring personal righteousness and service. Though all these things are vitally important, true worship requires in addition that the intelligent believer acquire a spiritual union with God by which divine truth and power are transferred from God to man. Thereby man partakes of the glory of God. In this spiritual union he must mature until eventually he is glorified in Christ, as Christ is glorified in the Father.”[v]
So let’s look at three essential parts of the atonement: the resurrection, remission of sins, and the power to become like and partake in the glory of God.
Resurrection is the permanent reuniting of the body and the spirit.
A careful study of Alma 11:41-45 yields several truths about the resurrection:
- The death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death. No one shall be lost. All will be resurrected. This gift is given to everyone on the earth. For anyone who has lost a loved one, the thought of seeing them again brings great hope. Alma 27:28 says the people of Ammon, “never did look upon death with any degree of terror, for their hope and views of Christ and the resurrection; therefore, death was swallowed up to them by the victory of Christ over it.”
I take great faith in the testimonies of modern prophets who know with certainty of the resurrection, including that offered by President Eyring, “I am a witness of the Resurrection of the Lord as surely as if I had been there in the evening with the two disciples in the house on Emmaus road. I know that He lives as surely as did Joseph Smith when he saw the Father and the Son in the light of a brilliant morning in a grove of trees in Palmyra.”[vi]
- There is an order to the resurrection. Christ was the first to be resurrected on Easter morning (2 Nephi 2:8). At Christ’s second coming D&C 88:96-102 teaches the order of the resurrection and events of that day. First, “the saints that are upon the earth, who are alive, shall be quickened and be caught up to meet him.”
Second, “…they who have slept in their graves shall come forth, for their graves shall be opened; and they also shall be caught up to meet him in the midst of the pillar of heaven–They are Christ’s, the first fruits, they who shall descend with him first, and they who are on the earth and in their graves, who are first caught up to meet him; and all this by the voice of the sounding of the trump of the angel of God.”
Elder McConkie explained: “Those being resurrected with celestial bodies, whose destiny is to inherit a celestial kingdom, will come forth in the morning of the first resurrection. Their graves shall be opened and they shall be caught up to meet the Lord at his Second Coming. They are Christ’s, the firstfruits, and they shall descend with him to reign as kings and priests during the millennial era.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 640.)
Third, “…And then cometh the redemption of those who are Christ’s at his coming; who have received their part in that prison which is prepared for them, that they might receive the gospel, and be judged according to men in the flesh.”
Fourth, “… and then come the spirits of men who are to be judged, and are found under condemnation;And these are the rest of the dead; and they live not again until the thousand years are ended, neither again, until the end of the earth.
Fifth, “And another trump shall sound, which is the fourth trump, saying: There are found among those who are to remain until that great and last day, even the end, who shall remain filthy still.”
- We also know that the resurrection includes a change of perfection. Alma 11:42-44 tells us, “Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame”
- An essential part of the resurrection is to bring us to the judgment bar of Christ. Alma 11:44 says, “but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.”
The scriptures tell us the resurrection includes the reuniting of the spirit and body, but that definition alone is incomplete. The resurrection is also the power by which all men are lifted up to Christ to be judged. 3 Nephi 27:14 says, “And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.”
When I think of the cross or see the symbol of the cross, the thought that comes to mind is that I will be brought to the bar of Christ, a complete being, with perfect recollection of both body and spirit to be judged. From Alma 41:13 we know that the resurrection is a restoration that brings back “carnal for carnal” and “good for that which is good.”
There is a leveling effect to the resurrection that is taught in the scriptures. We will all approach the judgement as beggars, depending solely on the merits of Christ. “And let’s be clear on one point: no matter how far behind the person sitting next to you—or the bishop or the stake president—you think you are, you must remember that we do not come to Christ as bishops or stake presidents. We don’t come as Republicans or Democrats; we don’t come as men or women; we don’t come as farmers or teachers. We come as sinners and beggars, ‘relying wholly on the merits of him who is mighty to save.’”[vii]
Modern day prophets have shared their witness: “We testify that He will someday return to earth. ‘And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together’ (Isa. 40:5). He will rule as King of Kings and reign as Lord of Lords, and every knee shall bend and every tongue shall speak in worship before Him. Each of us will stand to be judged of Him according to our works and the desires of our hearts.”[viii]
- We also know, from modern revelation, that without the reuniting of our spirits and our bodies in the resurrection we could not receive a “fulness of joy” (D&C 93:33-34).
Jesus Christ took upon Himself our sins, pains, and infirmities.
A careful read of Mosiah 15:5-9 reveals important truths about the atonement.
- The atonement is the ultimate expression of Christ following the will of the Father. “Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.” The atonement is also the ultimate expression of God’s love for us–so much so that it was his will that his Son atone for our sins.
Speaking to BYU students many years ago, President Nelson said, “To shed additional insight on [the relationship between Father and Son], I would like to share a remarkable quotation I found in a rare book in London one day while searching through the library of the British Museum. It was published as a 20th-century English translation of an ancient Egyptian text. It was written by Timothy, Archbishop of Alexandria, who died in A.D. 385. This record refers to the creation of Adam; premortal Jesus is speaking of His Father:
“He … made Adam according to Our image and likeness, and He left him lying for forty days and forty nights without putting breath into him. And He heaved sighs over him daily, saying, ‘If I put breath into this [man], he must suffer many pains.’ And I said unto My father, ‘Put breath into him; I will be an advocate for him.’ And My Father said unto Me, ‘If I put breath into him, My beloved Son, Thou wilt be obliged to go down into the world, and to suffer many pains for him before Thou shalt have redeemed him, and made him to come back to his primal state.’ And I said unto My Father, ‘Put breath into him; I will be his advocate, and I will go down into the world, and will fulfil Thy command’” (“Discourse on Abbaton,” in E. A. Wallis Budge, ed. and trans., Coptic Martyrdoms etc. in the Dialect of Upper Egypt ).[ix]
- We often forget that Christ’s entire mortal life was an offering for us. “And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people.”
His condescension unto the children of men was an offering of his perfect self and the example of his life is a gift to each of us so we might know how to return to our father in heaven. What a gift, what a sacrifice–to give his entire life on this earth to us as well as his eventual life for our sakes!
- “And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men.”
It is clear that the life of Christ and his atonement armed him in power and understanding to make intercession for us. He is the perfect advocate and judge. Wouldn’t you want a judge who fully understands you, your life, your weaknesses and can fully empathize with your situation? “Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice.”
- His atonement allows us to repent and come to him despite our repeated mistakes or failings. Mosiah 26:20 says, “As often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.”
Romans 6:3-6 says, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin”
The Atonement of Jesus Christ helps perfect us.
Inherent in the atonement is are the divine gifts necessary for us to overcome our sins. Elder Packer said, “Every soul confined in a prison of sin, guilt, or perversion has a key to the gate. The key is labeled ‘repentance.’ If you know how to use this key, the adversary cannot hold you. The twin principles of repentance and forgiveness exceed in strength the awesome power of the tempter. If you are bound by a habit or an addiction that is unworthy, you must stop conduct that is harmful. Angels will coach you, and priesthood leaders will guide you through those difficult times.”[x]
James E. Faust wrote, “Out of the refiner’s fire can come a glorious deliverance. It can be a noble and lasting rebirth. The price to become acquainted with God will have been paid. There can come a sacred peace. There will be a reawakening of dormant, inner resources. A comfortable cloak of righteousness will be drawn around us to protect us and to keep us warm spiritually. Self-pity will vanish as our blessings are counted.”[xi]
Neal A Maxwell wrote, “As we accept Christ and become his children, there begins to be a change—even a ‘mighty change’ in us. As we earnestly strive to become one with him and his purposes, we come to resemble him. Christ who has saved us thus becomes the Father of our Salvation, and we become the ‘children of Christ,’ having his image increasingly in our countenances and conduct (see Mosiah 5:7).”[xii]
Are we transformed each time we repent to a be a little more like our Savior? Could it be that the difficulties we face are sometimes given to us to help us become like Him? If so, an essential part of the atonement is the gift or power to become like him.
Orson F. Whitney said: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we came here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.” (As quoted by Spencer W. Kimball).[xiii]
The following is a quote I read some years ago that has stayed with me. I have pondered on it over and over again. It clarifies how the atonement opens the door for spiritual gifts that can change us if we, like Christ, will give our will to the Father.
“The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a divine formula designed to give man a remission of sins through the atonement of Christ and endow him with the spiritual truth and power to acquire eternal life. Essentially, it is a plan by which man may attain a true spiritual union with Christ and mature in His divine powers until he receives a fullness of the truth and light of celestial glory.
Having received the requisite ordinances, man must then apply himself in faith and in dedication to do the will of the Lord. In direct proportion to the degree that man then yields his heart to God, he can expect to receive of those spiritual powers that are necessary to cleanse him from the effects of sin and develop him in that divine pathway that leads to eternal life—to immortal glory.
It follows that if one has received the Gospel and is abiding in the Holy Spirit, that person should begin to express that great attribute of pure love in his daily life—in his home, in his work, in his association with others. It should be clarified that not all spiritual gifts are immediately or outwardly manifest so that others might see their tangible effects. Joseph Smith explained that “the greatest, the best, and the most useful gifts would be known nothing about by an observer.” Among these, he listed the gift of wisdom, of knowledge, of faith, the discernment of spirits, etc. It takes time and circumstances to call these gifts forth and to manifest them among men.”[xiv]
In conclusion, it occurs to me that bridge building is the ultimate engineering feat. Perhaps the greatest bridge every built is the Akashi Kaikyo bridge that spans the Akashi strait in Japan. It spans 2.4 miles across, soars 928 feet above the water, and is built to withstand the strongest earthquake. In fact, during construction it weathered a 7.2 magnitude quake. The bridge sits on gliders to stabilized its shaking during an earthquake.
As I look at the span between me and my Savior. I could shake in fear and tremble at the thought of standing at the judgment bar someday. What spiritual gliders will be fitted to help me stand firm at that day? It seems almost impossible that I could ever change from who I am to be fully like Him. What an engineering feat that will be! Jesus is the ultimate engineer, the finisher of our faith and redeemer.
Easter is a time to celebrate the power of the resurrection
to draw us to Christ; to ponder on the great day of his coming; to be grateful
for the gift of repentance and the gift of Christ’s life that enables us to
trust in his mercy and judgment; and to know when we give our will to God and
do our best to follow our Savior, we will be given gifts of strength to help us
change and be more like them.
[i] George Q. Cannon, “Remarks,” Deseret Evening News, Mar. 7, 1891, 4.
[ii] 2 Nephi 9:13
[iii] Gerald N. Lund, Selected Writings of Gerald N. Lund: Gospel Scholars Series [Deseret Book Co., 1999], 351.
[iv] Isaiah 42:14
[v] Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrinal Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price [Deseret Book Co., 1967], 63 – 64.
[vi] Henry B. Eyring, Come Unto Me, Ensign, May 2013.
[vii] Dale Sturm, Faith is a Decision, BYU Idaho Devotional, January 31, 2012.
[viii] The Living Christ
[ix] Russell M. Nelson, Jesus the Christ—Our Master and More, BYU Devotional, Feb. 2, 1992.
[x] Boyd K. Packer, Cleansing the Inner Vessel, Oct 2010 General Conference.
[xi] James E. Faust, The Refiner’s Fire, Ensign, May 1979, 53
[xii] Neal A. Maxwell, The Children of Christ, Devotional, Feb. 4, 1990.
[xiii] Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle [Deseret Book Co., 1972], 98.
[xiv] Hyrum L. Andrus, The Glory of God and Man’s Relation to Deity [BYU Extension Publications, 1964], 40.