Cover image: Worlds Without End by Greg Olsen.
Jesus is and was a mystery. He just kept doing things that people didn’t expect and couldn’t deserve. He treated the adulterous woman at the well as if she were royalty. He frankly forgave the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee. He honored as righteous the publican who professed himself to be a sinner. He healed a man at the pool of Bethesda who He knew would violate His trust. He forgave the Roman soldiers who crucified Him. He made the fisherman who thrice betrayed Him the president of His post-resurrection church.
The mystery of Jesus includes the observation that Jesus was cool towards the civic and religious leaders of the time. He stonewalled Herod. He defied the Pharisees. He challenged the Sanhedrin. Their positions meant nothing to them. He made personal friends of the worst class of people: publicans and sinners. He treated lepers with more personal warmth than He treated kings. The list goes on. His ministry was packed with such violations of religious discipline and social order.
Jesus is a mystery. How do we explain His reckless disregard for decorum? How do we make sense of His dispensing goodness to people who were so patently undeserving while acting without regard for those who were powerful?
Jesus is a mystery. How can we discern the formula that explains His unexpected behavior?
Actually, He has already given us the formula: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Those who come unto Him are blessed with rest. Those who do not come unto Him do not enjoy His unique and life-changing rest. That is the formula that explains His mysterious behavior.
The challenge for earthlings is that we tend to act according to Standard Spiritual Practices rather than according to His example. Following the counsel of Satan, we hide ourselves after we sin — just as Adam and Eve did.
We fuss around our spiritual houses trying to get everything in order before we will let Him in. The problem is that everywhere we go, we make things dirtier. We vow to change our thoughts and behavior so that we are better—yet we keep falling short. We intend to be kinder and more compassionate—but we continue to trip over our self-centeredness. We promise to live as we know we should—yet inevitably sin and mistakes worm their way past our best intentions. So, as we rush around working ever harder, our houses get ever more uninhabitable. Until we collapse in spiritual exhaustion. We cannot make ourselves clean. But we, like our First Parents, can decide to resist Him and can go to Him.
He is the One who is able to set things right. He does not ask us to make our own houses clean. Of course, He expects us not to throw dinner on the wall. He encourages us to keep farm animals out of the kitchen. He asks that we do our best to keep things in order.
But only He justifies. Only He sanctifies. Only He perfects. He says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are burdened by the deadweight of sin. I will give you rest. I will set your house in order” (paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30).
There is no other way, no other means, no other path, no other name under Heaven whereby we can be set right. We must come unto Him.
Who could have Supposed?
Something inside us objects to this wanton goodness. How can He possibly make friends of those who are tainted? Shouldn’t we be noble and good? Ask the woman at the well. Shouldn’t we push sin and error out of our lives? Ask Simon Peter.
Don’t misunderstand me. We must cheerfully do all that we are able to do. We must. But we must not be confused. We will never cleanse ourselves nor save ourselves. After we have done all that we are able, we must “stand still with the utmost assurance to see the salvation of God and for His arm to be revealed” (D&C 123:17). He is the One who does the miracle of saving.
The key is coming to Him. That matters more than anything else. It changes everything. Ask the woman with the issue of blood. Or the woman taken in adultery. Or anyone you know who glows with quiet hope. Coming unto Christ changes everything.
His Personal Invitation to Us
Consider His sacramental invitation:
Seeing then that we have a great high priest , that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities ; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16, emphasis added).
Think about His invitation to come boldly to the throne of grace any time we need healing or cleansing. Satan prefers that we hide. But Jesus invites us to come to Him! He is able and willing to give the needed blessing.
Running from Goodness
Maybe every sin is the sin of resisting God. We may resist God because we want to be self-sufficient. Or maybe we resist Him because we find a perverse comfort in our sins.
He tells us that we must go boldly to the throne of grace and receive mercy in time of need. Otherwise there can be no healing.
But how can we come to Him when we are filthy? He cannot tolerate filth one whit. Yet, the very act of turning to Him and putting ourselves in His hands is the requisite act of humility. When we come to Him, He cleanses us as He embraces us. What a friend!
Two Kinds of Pride
So, it turns out that one of the greatest enemies of righteousness is not sin itself but spiritual self-sufficiency. President Benson called it pride. He also said it was the universal sin. It is the state of mind that keeps us working on ourselves endlessly and fruitlessly while Jesus beckons: “Come unto me. I can set you right. I can renew a right spirit within you. I have already paid for your sins. Please let me toss them to the side and make you clean.”
Pride has another face. The people we usually call proud are those who are too self-sufficient to have faith in Christ. Yet pride also includes those exhausted do-it-yourselfers who know their houses are filthy but will not come to Him until they can make the place presentable. We can never do it. So, it is not enough to be humble. We must be humble and go to Him for help. Anything that keeps us from going to Him is sin.
So, His spiritual prescription is to fill ourselves with Him. Study the stories of His healings. Cherish every experience of His goodness. Celebrate His willingness to pay the price of sin.
When we study the scriptures with new eyes, we see that, at the heart of every great story, Jesus is giving someone something that they didn’t expect and could never deserve . And He does it because they came to Him.
Collapsing into His Love
I compare my own spiritual plight to experiences years ago with little Vivian, our beloved, curly-headed granddaughter. She would toddle and play all day long. We laughed with her. At some point she needed rest. But she fought it. She tried to keep going. She got cranky.
We put out our arms. But she would run from us. She toddled and flopped and whined until she could go no farther.
I would pick her up and hold her close. She immediately nestled her black curls against my shoulder. I rejoiced in the love I felt for this little one. I put a blanket over her, and we would sit in Grandma’s chair and rock. I whispered love in her ear.
And finally, she would be at rest.
“Come unto Me”
Let’s all go to Him where He sits ready to hold us close, speak words of love, and rock us toward eternal life. The greatest surprise of my life is that, when I go to Him, He welcomes me, besmirched as I am. He doesn’t ask me to go through a hundred decontamination steps. He grabs me and pulls me close leaving me weeping with the mystery of His love.
I join my testimony with that of Ammon, a believer whose sense of mystery of Jesus led him to rejoice:
Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy , and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.
Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?
Let us praise His name for He is mighty to save.
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her helpful suggestions for this article.
J. McElprangJanuary 4, 2020
This made me realize what I have been doing to myself, "We fuss around our spiritual houses trying to get everything in order before we will let Him in. The problem is that everywhere we go, we make things dirtier." I have some repentance to do, thank you!
Debra McCrackenDecember 29, 2019
So insightful. The little granddaughter fighting off that which she needed most struck a chord with me also. As did also the frantic do-good-er inexhaustibly trying to clean up first before allowing Christ as the visitor to enter in. I have found myself so many times falling into that trap, and forgetting that I cannot "earn" salvation. Christ gives it to me freely if I just humble myself and go to him.