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Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “That first Easter sequence of Atonement and Resurrection constitutes the most consequential moment, the most generous gift, the most excruciating pain, and the most majestic manifestation of pure love ever to be demonstrated in the history of this world. Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, suffered, died, and rose from death in order that He could, like lightning in a summer storm, grasp us as we fall, hold us with His might, and through our obedience to His commandments, lift us to eternal life.”
In this week’s podcast episode, we explore those sacred moments in Gethsemane when Jesus Christ wrought the mighty atonement for us all.
You can also find it on any of these platforms by searching for Meridian Magazine-Come Follow Me.
Maurine and Scot Proctor have spent extensive time in the Holy Land, researching the life of Christ. They have taught the New Testament in the Institute program for many years and have written books and numerous articles on the life of the Savior.
Join our study group and let’s delve into the scriptures in a way that is inspiring, expanding and joyful.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “That first Easter sequence of Atonement and Resurrection constitutes the most consequential moment, the most generous gift, the most excruciating pain, and the most majestic manifestation of pure love ever to be demonstrated in the history of this world. Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, suffered, died, and rose from death in order that He could, like lightning in a summer storm, grasp us as we fall, hold us with His might, and through our obedience to His commandments, lift us to eternal life.” “Where Justice, Love and Mercy Meet”, April 2015 https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/where-justice-love-and-mercy-meet?lang=eng
We are Scot and Maurine Proctor of Meridian Magazine, and we’d like to welcome you to the Come Follow Me podcast, today being a special one as we go to those sacred moments in Gethsemane when Jesus Christ wrought the mighty atonement for us all. The transcripts for these podcasts can be found on the magazine at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast. While you are there you can sign up for free for the magazine which can come into your inbox each weekday with all the news of the church and the world, brought to you by some of the very best Latter-day Saint writers. That’s at latterdaysaintmag.com
Elder Holland continues, “We celebrate the gift of victory over every fall we have ever experienced, every sorrow we have ever known, every discouragement we have ever had, every fear we have ever faced—to say nothing of our resurrection from death and forgiveness for our sins. That victory is available to us because of events that transpired…nearly two millennia ago in Jerusalem.
“To all such, I speak of the loneliest journey ever made and the unending blessings it brought to all in the human family. I speak of the Savior’s solitary task of shouldering alone the burden of our salvation. Rightly He would say: “I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me. … I looked, and there was none to 9 to uphold [me]. Isaiah 63:3,5”
That image of treading the winepress alone is vivid. In ancient Israel, grapes were grown in vast vineyards and when it was time to harvest them, they were put in a winepress where people walked on them with their bare feet. Why? Because anything heavier or less flexible than a human foot would smash the seeds which were bitter, which, in turn, would add a bitter taste to the wine. This is not a job that can be done alone. Many feet have to trod together. The grapes can slip out from the feet of one person, and even more important, to tread alone, means you are in a slippery place without the support of someone else’s supporting hand or arm, should you slip.
Yet, the atonement was a winepress that only Jesus, the sinless one could do, and He would be alone in treading that winepress.
Of his own volition, for love of you personally, he came to this garden. “All ye shall be offended because of me this night for it is written, I will smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. Mark 14:27 He would be utterly alone.
So let’s take you back two thousand years to that time and place. Jesus and His apostles had just finished the Last Supper. They left that upper room, exited a gate from the dark, old walled city, and descended into the Kidron Valley, which is about a 10-minute walk until you rise again to the Mount of Olives which directly faces the Jerusalem. When you see wide city scape photos of Jerusalem, they are taken from the Mount of Olives.
All Things Testify of Christ
On an earth, designed specifically to be a place where all things testify of Christ, crossing the Kidron that night was one of those symbols. Next to the Temple Mount, it was a place where the Kidron brook carried away from the city the blood of animals sacrificed in the temple. These sacrifices had been done for centuries in anticipation of the Messiah’s coming, and now He was here. Connecting to this valley and not far away is the Hinnom Valley a valley of slaughter and unholy sacrifice—a symbol of hell. It was once a place where the refuse from Jerusalem was thrown. They called it Gehenna, a place of eternal burnings. It is meaningful to contemplate that the very physical geography through which Jesus passed is symbolic of the spiritual passage he would make in the Garden of Gethsemane, at the trial before the Jewish and Roman authorities, and during the suffering on the cross.
So they crossed the Kidron brook, the light of a nearly full moon illuminating the way, and climbed the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane. Though this was a place they knew, where they had often retreated together, this night would be different.
This garden was actually an olive vineyard, its name Gethsemane meaning “place of the olive press,” and in this hour there would be inconceivable, heartrending pressing for the Lord. Olives are put in a press, where a heavy, circular stone, connected to a long handle is rolled by an animal or human over and over them, until they are crushed into a mash. Next that mash is placed in baskets and is utterly crushed even further by another stone on a long lever until it begins to yield pure olive oil.
Olive oil in ancient Israel was used as the source of light, to illuminate a city that would otherwise be completely shrouded by night. It is used as nutrition, a staple in many foods. The symbol here is even deeper. It is used to heal the wounded.
Scot tells story from Turkey.
An olive press in ancient Israel was used to crush the bitter olives under mighty pressure until they yielded sweet oil for light and healing. So was the Lord crushed under mighty pressure for the same reason. He would be crushed to heal us and save us from sin.
“Is any sick among you?” asked James. “Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). Why when we give a blessing do we anoint someone with olive oil? Why this oil and none other? It is because we are essentially anointing them with the healing and strengthening power of the atonement. This same oil, used in the healing of the sick, anoints with symbolic power from Gethsemane.
The Grueling Atonement
When they arrived on the Mount of Olives, he left His other apostles behind and took only Peter, James, and John beyond the garden entrance, asking them to “Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder” (Matthew 26:36) and “Pray that ye enter not into temptation (Luke 22:40). In the JST Mark 14:36-38, Joseph Smith told us that that night the apostles were tempted by Satan, as one might suppose, “that they were very heavy, and to complain in their hearts, wondering if this be the Messiah. Of course, the Adversary would leave no stone unturned, seeking to rob the Savior of even the comfort of His dearest friends in this desperate hour.
Jesus would return to them three times during his ordeal to see if they were watching with him, and, exhausted, they could not. These three slept. “What, bcould ye not watch with me one hour?…The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 40, 41).
So Christ was alone as He faced His ordeal. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,” he said as He began to pay the terrible price of the Atonement. He was “sore amazed” (Mark 14:33). In the Greek this means terrified surprise or utterly astounded, greatly astonished. What could be the cause of that “terrified surprise”? As Jehovah, as the great Creator, Jesus knew all things in heaven and on earth—except one. Because he was perfect, he did not know what sin felt like. “Now, in an instant, he began to feel all the sensations and effects of sin, all the guilt, anguish, darkness, turmoil, depression, anger, and physical sickness that sin brings. He knew your sins and mine, our heartaches, our cries in the night when we are wracked with sickness or sorrow. He knew our grieving over a spouse or child unexpectedly taken from us, the resistance of our mind and hearts when we are unwilling to turn to Him who has outstretched arms toward us. He knew genocide, and abuse, neglect and viciousness, the cumulative weight and anguish of all the humanity has ever done or thought. All of this the Savior felt and much, much more during those hours when He was seeking to relieve us of burdens that we cannot carry.”
The intense agony Jesus faced in the garden was not from fear of death or the pain of crucifixion. As the Son of an eternal Father, no one could take His life from Him. But in these midnight hours He would face the ultimate contest with all the powers of darkness as He took upon Himself the pain, sin, infirmities, and anguish of a corrupted world.
“It was not physical pain, nor mental anguish alone, that caused Him to suffer such torture as to produce an extrusion of blood from every pore; but a spiritual agony of soul such as only God was capable of experiencing. No other man, however great his powers of physical or mental endurance, could have suffered so; for his human organism would have succumbed, and . . . produced unconsciousness and welcome oblivion. In that hour of anguish, Christ met and overcame all the horrors that Satan, ‘the prince of this world’ could inflict.”
James Talmage puts it this way: “Christ’s agony in the garden is unfathomable by the finite mind, both as to intensity and cause. The thought that He suffered through fear of death is untenable. Death to Him was preliminary to resurrection and triumphal return to the Father from whom He had come, and to a state of glory even beyond what He had before possessed; and, moreover, it was within His power to lay down His life voluntarily. [John 5:26-27; 10:17-18.] He struggled and groaned under a burden such as no other being who has lived on earth might even conceive as possible. It was not physical pain, nor mental anguish alone, that caused Him to suffer such torture as to produce an extrusion of blood from every pore; but a spiritual agony of soul such as only God was capable of experiencing. No other man, however great his powers of physical or mental endurance, could have suffered so; for his human organism would have succumbed, and syncope would have produced unconsciousness and welcome oblivion.
“In that hour of anguish Christ met and overcame all the horrors that Satan, “the prince of this world” could inflict. The frightful struggle incident to the temptations immediately following the Lord’s baptism was surpassed and overshadowed by this supreme contest with the powers of evil.
“In some manner, actual and terribly real though to man incomprehensible, the Savior took upon Himself the burden of the sins of mankind from Adam to the end of the world. Modern revelation assists us to a partial understanding of the awful experience.” James Talmage, Jesus the Christ, pp. 613-14).
Luke adds a most important detail, touched on above: “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus did all things perfectly. All his prayers were perfect, truly with an earnest heart and real intent. But here he prayed more earnestly. This obedient Son whose communication with His Father was so perfect that He could say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” 49 prayed yet more earnestly. What words He must have said in that impassioned prayer and in the intensity of his suffering, his blood literally oozed through his pores and fell to the ground. Latter-day revelation gives this sobering insight about the circumstances of that bleeding: “[This] 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” (D&C 19:18).
The Lord gives us a glimpse of the suffering we would experience if we refuse to repent: “[Those] sufferings [will] be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not” (D&C 19:15). This passage is describing the torture of one solitary soul who is suffering as a result of his or her own sins. But in the Savior the torture would be magnified to an infinite, incomprehensible level, since, as he said, “I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent” (D&C 19:16).
No wonder He “fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” “nevertheless not my will but thine be done.” In calling on His Father, Jesus used the term “Abba”, a term for father, used only in the most intimate family circles. It is the equivalent for us of saying “Daddy”, a most personal, loving and affectionate term.
There appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. Tradition says that the angel who appeared to strengthen Jesus was Michael, who, as Adam, in one garden had brought about the fall, now in another garden would comfort Jesus, who came to redeem us all.
He paid the price, with an infinite atonement, for all who would repent in His name and be at one again with the Lord. Since all things past, present, and future are continually before the Lord, in some way we cannot understand, even the sins we will yet commit added to the agony Christ faced in Gethsemane.
Regarding this, I have often wondered. When the Lord came to the New World in the Book of Mormon, He allowed each person to come up to Him and thrust their hands in his wounds, to touch his hands and feet and side. It was done one by one. We don’t do the temple ordinances as groups of people, taking a list and sweeping our hands across and saying this is done. No, this is accomplished one by one. So, I wonder if the Lord didn’t somehow, in a way that is possible only for Divinity, if He didn’t take us each individually through His atoning experience—that is was my sins and yours that He felt one by one.
Do we fully appreciate this gift? In Isaiah 53: 3,4 we read:
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
Let us talk about what that word stricken means. In the Bible, this word is used particularly to refer to one who has been stricken with leprosy. The leprosy-affected in Christ’s time was utterly rejected by society. If saw people saw the leprous, they would run, fearing their own infection. They were scorned, marginalized, turned out by their own family, neglected, living in holes, caves and squalor because no one would have them. They had a disease that was eating their body and destroying every relationship. To make it worse, people believed that they had this disease because they somehow deserved it for sin. God had rejected them. So we did esteem him stricken, means we did esteem Him as a leper, smitten of God, means we believed that God had punished Him.
So Jesus, who bears our grief and carries our sorrows, is esteemed and regarded by most of the world as the leprous were in his day. He is rejected.
We have a stunning dream from Elder Orson F. Whitney, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, of what happened Gethsemane. He said, “I seemed to be in the Garden of Gethsemane, a witness of the Savior’s agony. I saw Him as plainly as ever I have seen anyone. Standing behind a tree in the foreground, I beheld Jesus, with Peter, James and John, as they came through a little wicket gate at my right. . . . As He prayed the tears streamed down his face, which was toward me. I was so moved at the sight that I also wept, out of pure sympathy. My whole heart went out to him: I loved him with all my soul, and longed to be with him as I longed for nothing else. . . .
“All at once the circumstance seemed to change. … Instead of before, it was after the Crucifixion, and the Savior, with those three Apostles, now stood together in a group at my left. They were about to depart and ascend into heaven. I could endure it no longer. I ran from behind the tree, fell at His feet, clasped Him around the knees, and begged Him to take me with Him.
“I shall never forget the kind and gentle manner in which He stooped and raised me up and embraced me. It was so vivid, so real that I felt the very warmth of His bosom against which I rested. Then He said: ‘No, my son; these have finished their work, and they may go with me; but you must stay and finish yours.’ Still I clung to Him. Gazing up into His face—for He was taller than I—I besought Him most earnestly: ‘Well, promise me that I will come to You at the last.’ He smiled sweetly and tenderly and replied: ‘That will depend entirely upon yourself.’ I awoke with a sob in my throat, and it was morning.”
“The Divinity of Jesus Christ,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1926, 224–25; see also Liahona, Dec. 2003, 16; Ensign, Dec. 2003, 10; punctuation, capitalization, and spelling standardized.
How do we begin to understand the atonement and what does this mean for us?
Scot tell story: Don’t let this be the story of your life.
What this means to me is that sin, addiction, weakness, resistance, heartbreak, falling, failing do not need to be the story of our lives. Neither does the heartbreak, sickness or assault that came upon us from outside. Christ has freed us from that story. With the Lord’s help we create a new story and a new self. We do not need to be in bondage because the Savior came to unloose us. He came to help us be reborn as a new person.
We don’t have to be dragged down with a self-definition that says we are less or we are incompetent or we are so broken that the Lord cannot bring us to Him. Because all things are present before Him, even now He can see us in the Celestial Kingdom with him again. He anoints us for that opportunity while we are still very far from it—and He says, together we can make that journey. It is just one step at a time, forgetting what is passed, making amends and forging something new.
There are many who think that they have done something so wrong, that there is no turning home. That just isn’t true. Instead of defining ourselves as missing the mark or failing, we can think of ourselves as in partnership with God who is in the process of making us whole. I like the idea of being able to admit that we are not perfect or whole yet. We are vulnerable and in a world where we have contrary emotions and sometimes forget what we really want, every one of us needs His help and His strength made available to us from the atonement.
I’ve always identified with the song, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” which begins and ends this podcast. The line that strikes me so poignantly is this, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” I like this too:
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood
He sought me because I wandered and I couldn’t quite find my way.
It strikes me because I feel that “prone to wander.” I think we can all say with Paul, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” Romans 7:19
Repentance means to be reconciled with God. It means to turn our face back home. It means to be encircled in the arms of His love. It’s not a heavy thing, or a scary thing, or an impossible thing. It is a daily thing. We redefine ourselves as a learner, someone who wants to grow. We are not trying to earn heaven. We are trying to learn it. This means we slip and fall and have things to overcome and ways to become more wise and more loving. We make mistakes and we learn from them. The Lord understands that process.
In an earlier podcast we talked about the parable of the Good Samaritan who was accosted by thieves on the road to Jericho. We always talk about this parable solely as a metaphor for what kind of neighbor we need to be, but it is also, and maybe most preeminently about the atonement. Who is the man on the road that thieves fall upon? This man is making the journey downward to Jericho from a higher place, probably Jerusalem. This road is one where thieves can hide in the twists and turns of the road and fall upon everyone. They leave this man stricken, wounded, stripped and left for dead. This is a metaphor about mortality. Who is this man? It is all of us who are wounded in this place. It is everybody, because all are wounded. Some of those wounds come not from anything we did. It may be sickness or heartache or calamity of any sort. Some of those wounds are self-inflicted. We ourselves are the thieves.
The Lord who in the story is the Good Samaritan comes along and immediately pours olive oil, which is the atonement, into our wounds. Then, because that road to Jericho is unbearably hot, treeless and barren, He knows that we can’t endure long when we have been so stripped of our protective clothing. We will dehydrate in this beating sun. So He wraps us in His own cloak to cover our nakedness and takes us on His donkey where He pays the price for our healing, and says that if any more is required, He will pay more.
The atonement is a covering. It is a healing. It is a forgiving. It is paying a price. It is a strengthening. It is being encircled in the arms of His love where our fragility and vulnerability are shielded and protected. Every one of us must partake of it every day of our lives.
No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God (1 Nephi 10:21), and we became unclean with our first sin, our first expression of weakness in mortality. We could not be sinless here. It would be a harsh, impossible standard if there were no atonement. It would be our ultimate dilemma—wanting to be with the Lord again, and having no way to get there, but we have a Savior who stepped forward and volunteered to pay the price. No wonder the stars in heaven shouted for joy. We are completely dependent on the Lord’s grace given us through the atonement.
BYU professor Stephen E. Robinson said, “Atonement means taking two things that have become separated, estranged, or incompatible, like a perfect God and an imperfect me or you, and bringing them together again, thus making the two be “at one.” The word itself derives historically from two smaller words and a suffix at-one-ment (to make at one), and the Greek word for atone is often translated “to reconcile.”
When the Lord said, “Be ye therefore perfect”, remember that perfection here means whole, the end point of a process which the Lord is working upon us and through us. Our actions cannot make us perfect. We’ve all noticed that. He’s asking us instead to be whole by letting the atonement work upon us.
Robinson again said, “Taken together, Christ and I make up a new creature. The old creature, the imperfect me, ceases to exist, and a glorious new creature, a perfect partnership, takes its place. Taken together as a single entity, the two of us, Christ and I, are perfect. I do not mean (this is absolutely crucial!) that we can become perfect later on. I mean that from the moment the partnership is formed in good faith, from the moment we have sincere faith in Christ, sincerely repent of our sins, and receive baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost—from this moment the partnership is celestial. The merits of the Senior Partner make it so. True, this is not individual perfection, which will indeed come later (much later), rather it is perfection-in-Christ (see Moro. 10:32-33), through which we receive the benefits of our partner’s merits. Nevertheless, from this moment the kingdom is ours, provided that we maintain the partnership by abiding in the gospel covenant. (See 3 Ne. 27:16, 19-21)
“At this point someone will object that I still have faults and limitations, and I admit that if I am judged separately and alone, this is true. But in the covenant relationship, I am not judged separately and alone but as one with Christ. Simply consider the mathematics of it: If Christ is infinite and unlimited, but I am finite and limited, and we become one, what do Christ and I together add up to? What is the sum of an infinite, positive quantity and a limited, negative quantity (infinity + -x)? Why, infinity, of course! And the math is the same whether I (the finite part) am a ten or a five or a one, whether I’m the prophet or a stake president or any other struggling member. Infinity plus any amount, positive or negative, equals infinity.
“What matters is not how much we bring to the equation, but only that we can make the equation by entering into a covenant relationship with an infinite Christ, however great or small we may think ourselves to be. Any two people who are joined together and have become one in a covenant unity are perfect as long as one of them is Jesus Christ.
“You see, we all want something desperately… We want the kingdom of God. We want to go home to our heavenly parents worthy and clean. But the horrible price—perfect performance—is hopelessly beyond our means. At some point in our spiritual progress, we realize what the full price of admission into that kingdom is, and we also realize that we cannot pay it. And then we despair.. at the vast difference between perfect performance” and what we can do
“…only at this point, when we finally realize our inability to perfect and save ourselves, when we finally realize our truly desperate situation here in mortality and our need to be saved from it by some outside intervention—only then can we fully appreciate the One who comes to save. “Stephen E. Robinson, “Believing Christ” http://www.gospelink.com/library/document/20072?highlight=1
Brad Wilcox tells a story. He said: “A BYU student once came to me and asked if we could talk. I said, ‘Of course. How can I help you?’
“She said, ‘I just don’t get grace.’
“I responded, ‘What is it that you don’t understand?’
“She said, ‘I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.’
“She then went on to tell me all the things she should be doing because she’s a [Latter-day Saint] that she wasn’t doing.
“She continued, ‘I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?’
“She then went on to tell me all the things that she shouldn’t be doing because she’s a [Latter-day Saint], but she was doing them anyway.
“Finally, I said, ‘Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.’
“Seeing that she was still confused, I took a piece of paper and drew two dots—one at the top representing God and one at the bottom representing us. I then said, ‘Go ahead. Draw the line. How much is our part? How much is Christ’s part?’
“She went right to the center of the page and began to draw a line. Then, considering what we had been speaking about, she went to the bottom of the page and drew a line just above the bottom dot.
“I said, ‘Wrong.’
“She said, ‘I knew it was higher. I should have just drawn it, because I knew it.’
“I said, ‘No. The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.’
“She said, ‘Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?’
“’Oh no,’ I said, ‘you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap.’ Brad Wilcox, “His Grace is Sufficient” https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/brad-wilcox_his-grace-is-sufficient/
Jesus offers us grace, and what we offer back is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. The atonement doesn’t just offer us the opportunity to do things differently. It offers us the chance to be someone different, someone ultimately like the Lord. I can’t achieve this by making a bigger and bigger list of things to do. I have to be transformed from my most inward parts. I have to see things in a new way, feel in a new way, think in a new way, understand others with a more loving and pure heart. This requires insight and strength I do not have. But the Lord does and knows how to remake me.
Elder David A. Bednar reminds us that the atonement includes two ideas that are found in this scripture from Mosiah 3:19. “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.”
This, of course, involves two parts—the first is putting off the natural man and the second is becoming a Saint.
Elder Bednar said, “If I were to emphasize one overarching point… it would be this: I suspect that you and I are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming power of the Atonement than we are with the enabling power of the Atonement. It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us. That is fundamental and foundational to the doctrine of Christ. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—not only to direct us but also to empower us. I think most of us know that when we do things wrong, when we need help to overcome the effects of sin in our lives, the Savior has paid the price and made it possible for us to be made clean through His redeeming power. Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints—for good men and women who are obedient and worthy and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. I frankly do not think many of us ‘get it’ concerning this enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.”
Elder Bednar continued, “In the Bible Dictionary in our scriptures we learn that the word grace frequently is used in the scriptures to connote enabling power.” Grace is:
“’A word that occurs frequently in the New Testament, especially in the writings of Paul. The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ (emphasis added)…
“’It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts” (emphasis added).
“That is, grace represents that divine assistance or heavenly help each of us will desperately need to qualify for the celestial kingdom. Thus, the enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be good and serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity.
“In my personal scripture study, I often insert the term enabling power whenever I encounter the word grace. Consider, for example, this verse with which we are all familiar: ‘For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23).
“Let’s review this verse one more time: ‘For we know that it is by grace [the enabling and strengthening power of the Atonement of Christ] that we are saved, after all we can do.’
“I believe we can learn much about this vital aspect of the Atonement if we will insert enabling and strengthening power each time we find the word grace in the scriptures…
“Nephi is an example of one who knew and understood and relied upon the enabling power of the Savior. In 1 Nephi 7 we recall that the sons of Lehi had returned to Jerusalem to enlist Ishmael and his household in their cause. Laman and others in the party traveling with Nephi from Jerusalem back to the wilderness rebelled, and Nephi exhorted his brethren to have faith in the Lord. It was at this point in their trip that Nephi’s brothers bound him with cords and planned his destruction. Now please note Nephi’s prayer in verse 17: ‘O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound’ (emphasis added).”
Elder Bednar continued, “Brothers and sisters, do you know what I likely would have prayed for if I had been tied up by my brothers? My prayer would have included a request for something bad to happen to my brothers and ended with the phrase ‘wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren’ or, in other words, ‘Please get me out of this mess, now!’ It is especially interesting to me that Nephi did not pray, as I probably would have prayed, to have his circumstances changed. Rather, he prayed for the strength to change his circumstances. And may I suggest that he prayed in this manner precisely because he knew and understood and had experienced the enabling power of the Atonement of the Savior.
“I personally do not believe the bands with which Nephi was bound just magically fell from his hands and wrists. Rather, I suspect that he was blessed with both persistence and personal strength beyond his natural capacity, that he then “in the strength of the Lord” (Mosiah 9:17) worked and twisted and tugged on the cords and ultimately and literally was enabled to break the bands.”
Elder Bednar continues, “Brothers and sisters, the implication of this episode for each of us is quite straightforward. As you and I come to understand and employ the enabling power of the Atonement in our personal lives, we will pray and seek for strength to change our circumstances rather than praying for our circumstances to be changed. We will become agents who ‘act’ rather than objects that are ‘acted upon’ (2 Nephi 2:14).
When I partake of the sacrament each week, I can remember the price that the Lord paid for me in Gethsemane. I can remember that everyone in mortality, including me, needs not just to be forgiven, but to be strengthened, empowered and enabled to become a Saint. I can remember that without the Lord I can do nothing, but with Him as my partner, together we can take the journey back to the Lord’s presence where I can be like Him.
During the sacrament I can ask questions and tell the Lord that I am willing and wanting to learn. I can ask Him without fear, “What lack I yet?” I can ask Him to teach me a better way. I can ask for forgiveness for my shortcomings. I can offer my broken heart and contrite spirit and confess that I know that He can transform me. I can give my whole soul in gratitude for the price He paid to make me new. I can love him with all my heart, might, mind and strength. I can ask Him to be my partner in my problems. I can be willing and eager to take His name upon me. In this way, I am saying, “I remember your hours in Gethsemane and it has changed me forever.”
Thanks to Paul Cardall for the music that begins and ends this podcast. We’re Maurine and Scot Proctor and have been so happy to be with you today. Don’t forget to read Meridian Magazine at latterdaysaintmag.com and to tell your friends about this podcast.
Next week we will be studying “It is Finished” which is Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; and John 19. See you then.