I didn't really have the opportunity to give a "farewell" talk in church. But, I did get to speak on the Atonement about a month ago....and what better topic could I have chosen? The Atonement should be the basis of our lives, the source of our joy. I wasn't going to share my talk here, but I feel that I should. You may not ever take the time to read it, and that's okay. I even just went through and bolded the main points I was making to save you time. :) I firmly believe there should be a Cliff notes for everything.
Despite my original hesitations, I am choosing to share it, just as I will share my testimony for the next eighteen months (and for an eternity after that.)
In some ways, it's intimidating to speak about the Atonement--it's infinite, and I know I will never fully be able to comprehend or appreciate it. But I feel so blessed by it, and love learning about the endless love our Heavenly Father and Christ have for us.
Pres. Hinckley said: “With all of our doing. With all of our leading. With all of our teaching, the most important thing we can do for those whom we lead is to cultivate in their hearts a living, vital, vibrant testimony and knowledge of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world, the Author of our salvation, He who atoned for the sins of the world and opened the way of salvation and eternal life. I would hope that in all we do we would somehow constantly nourish the testimony of our people concerning the Savior. I am satisfied--I know it's so--that whenever a man has a true witness in his heart of the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ, all else will come together as it should... That is the root from which all virtue springs among those who call themselves Latter-day Saints.”
I’m always a little bit of a science nerd, so I guess in my mind, the Atonement is like a mole. A mole is a unit of measurement in chemistry—it allows one to convert from volume, to mass, to the number of particles. It helps account for changes like pressure, temperature, or volume and still arrive easily at the correct answer. It is a unit central to understanding all chemical conversions.
Similarly, Christ’s Atonement should be the defining characteristic in our lives. It is the central hinge on which the plan of salvation turns—without it, we cannot be saved. It should give us hope, comfort and joy. It is central to the entire gospel. Eternal families, baptism, faith, repentance, missionary work and every other principle of the gospel relies on the Atonement of Christ. Without it, we would be unable to overcome our sins, weaknesses, and pains. Without it, life would be confusing and pointless, as we would not have the purpose and hope that comes through the Atonement.
Today, I really want to focus on the dual nature of the Atonement. It doesn’t just help us overcome, it helps us become. These aren’t two distinct roles, but rather are intertwined. I think that will be clear as I talk about them, but I’ve separated them just to make it easier to talk about.
In Psalms 24, we are asked “For who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart, who hath not lifted up His soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully.”
This is one of my favorite scriptures. “Who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord?” That should be the goal for each and every one of us. We should be yearning and striving to come unto the Lord, to qualify for the temple and strive for the Celestial Kingdom. That was why we wanted to come down to earth—to gain a body, and show that we would make the choices needed to bring us back to live with our Heavenly Father.
But we make mistakes, we mess up, we suffer heartaches, and all in all ascending to the Lord seems impossible. THAT is why we need the Atonement—to help us achieve and reach our overall goal.
To ascend into the hill of the Lord, we need clean hands and a pure heart, but because we are imperfect, we cannot achieve these on our own. We need the Atonement to help cleanse our hands and purify our hearts, and the dual nature of the Atonement allows us to do both of these things, so that we can prepare to reenter the presence of our Heavenly Father.
Our hands are able to come clean as a result of being washed clean through the Atonement. In Isaiah 1, we are told that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” The Atonement purifies us because Christ suffered for our sins. He paid the price for them by His suffering in Gethsemane and Calvary
As we apply the Atonement, the demands of mercy and justice are met. Christ’s sacrifice and suffering pays the price of our sin, meeting the demands of justice. We obtain mercy, as we are not left alone to bear the price of our sin.
Isaiah 53 states:
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.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
I love this. It really shows how the atonement covers every one of us: He came to know our sorrows and grief as he was wounded or our transgressions and the chastisement of our peace was upon him. THIS is how the Atonement “cleans our hands”, and it can cover every one of us…. The Scripture mastery in D&C skips a few of my favorite verses about the Atonement….
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.
And he hath arisen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.
And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!
Pres. James E. Faust: “All of us benefit from the transcendent blessings of the Atonement and the Resurrection, through which the divine healing process can work in our lives.. . . .
“Of vital importance is resolving transgression, experiencing the healing process which comes of repentance. As President Kimball reminds us: The principle of repentance of rising again whenever we fall, brushing ourselves off, and setting off again on that upward trail is the basis for our hope. It is through repentance that the Lord Jesus Christ can work his healing miracle, infusing us with strength when we are weak, health when we are sick, hope when we are downhearted, love when we feel empty, and understanding when we search for truth.”
So not only does the Atonement literally help us wash our hands of sin, but it helps wash our hands of the pains and unfairness of this world . The Atonement overcomes all of the “unfairness” of life. We are each given the challenges that are suited to help us grow the most, and it is the Atonement that “makes it fair”. If we turn to Christ, He will succor us. We will be comforted in our grief, and begin to understand “Why” we are to go through certain trials.
In short, the Atonement brings us hope. We hope in a better world, and in the promises of our Heavenly father that all losses and wrongs will be made whole.
President Faust said: The hurt can be replaced by the joy the Savior promised. To the doubting Thomas, Jesus said, Be not faithless, but believing. Through faith and righteousness all of the inequities, injuries, and pains of this life can be fully compensated for and made right. Blessings denied in this life will be fully recompensed in the eternities. Through complete repentance of our sins we can be forgiven and we can enjoy eternal life. Thus our suffering in this life can be as the refining fire, purifying us for a higher purpose. Heartaches can be healed, and we can come to know a soul-satisfying joy and happiness beyond our dreams and expectations"
I just want to share a story to illustrate that. I think most of you know that I was a Resident Assistant for the freshman girls in the dorms at BYU for a while. It was an incredible opportunity or me to get a small understanding about the worth of souls. This summer, I became really close to several of my residents, but I want to talk about Madie. Madie was one of those people that literally glows with happiness. Every time we talked, I realized just how much more I could learn from her. I really developed a special love for her. This Thanksgiving, she was traveling and was in a car accident with her brother and she was killed on impact. When I found out about Madie’s death, I was shocked and in a lot of pain. It was just not fair. But this is why the Atonement is so exquisitely comforting.
Healing from losing Madie, or anyone we love, is a long process. Without the perspective of the gospel, it seems hopeless. But it is the power of the Atonement that gives us hope, enough hope to move forward. Christ suffered the remorse, heartache, pain and loss we will ever experience. That is beautiful to me. He descended below all things so He could overcome all things. This means that any challenge or experience we will face, we have a best friend, an advocate who has already suffered there—One who willingly suffered our exact pain and will comfort us as we turn to Him.
The week before, I had run into her on campus, and she tackled me with a hug and enthusiastically told me she was going on a mission. To me, it’s a precious gift that my friend and I will be able to serve our missions at the same time, just on opposite sides of the veil.
Healing our hurts is as much of a part of the Atonement as is suffering for our sins. All of this is part of getting the clean hands we need to return to Heaven.
The last thing I want to talk about with having clean hands what we carry with them. We need to use them to bear our burdens, but are sometimes caught into carrying unnecessary baggage. Sheri Dew said:
The Lord will carry our burdens, but not our baggage. Burdens are part of the mortal experience—the burdens that come with unfulfilled expectations, with disappointment and heartache, with affliction and wavering faith. Loneliness … [and] emotional wounds can be burdens. Heavy assignments from the Lord can feel like burdens. … Sin creates burdens. But the Savior atoned precisely so we wouldn’t have to carry our burdens alone. He knew they’d be too heavy for us. … Burdens have the potential to exalt us, but baggage just weighs us down and wears us out. When we don’t repent, sin becomes baggage. Natural-man behaviors that we aren’t ready to give up become baggage. Worry, jealousy, and guilt are baggage. An unforgiving heart, anger, regret, and pride are baggage. Resentment, the desire to retaliate, fear, and insecurity create unbearable baggage. We choose whether or not to pick up baggage, and Satan loves nothing more than loading us down like pack mules.”
I love this: We each have burdens that the Lord will help us shoulder when we take His yoke upon us. But we need to leave our baggage behind as we ascend into the hill of the Lord.
The second thing we need to come unto the Lord is a pure heart. We gain this by developing Christlike attributes. When we understand the Atonement, we will be enpowered and enabled. In seminary one time, I remember we drew out the plan of salvation in a unique way. We drew the Fall as a “pit” that we fall into. Once inside, we are subject to make mistakes and must suffer the consequences. We cannot escape this pit on our own—we need help to escape. Christ lowers a ladder into the pit: the Atonement. By utilizing it, we can come out of the pit and back to where we were before. But as I’ve come to understand the Atonement a little better through study, I believe that the ladder keeps going up, helping us become better than we were before we even fell into our pit. This is the pure heart part of the Atonement: where we develop--becoming Christ-like and becoming better.
Pres David O McKay explained that: “The world would never have been stirred by men with such wavering, doubting, despairing minds as the apostles possessed on the day of the crucifixion. What was it that suddenly changed these disciples to confident, fearless, heroic preachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ? It was the revelation that Christ had risen from the grave. His promises had been kept, his Messianic mission fulfilled. ... On the evidence of these unprejudiced, unexpectant, incredulous witnesses, faith in the resurrection has its impregnable foundation. (Treasures of Life, comp. Clare Middlemiss, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1962, pp. 15-16.)
“Like the Apostles of old, this knowledge and belief should transform all of us to be confident, settled, unafraid, and at peace in our lives as followers of the divine Christ. It should help us carry all burdens, bear any sorrows, and also fully savor all joys and happiness that can be found in this life. . . .
“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. (Rev. 21:7.) And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
As I was struggling with how to describe the heart purifying power of the Atonement, I found a talk by Elder Bednar called The Enabling Power of the Atonement which of course described it so much clearer than I ever could.
He shares another scripture, in Mosiah 3:19: For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been since 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.”
Again, this has two steps: putting off the natural man is getting our hands clean, and becoming a saint is purifying our hearts.
It is one thing toknow that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us—that isfundamental and foundational to the doctrine of Christ. But we alsoneed to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement andby the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—not only to direct us but also to empower us….
GRACE (BIBLE DICTIONARY): 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.”
Grace is the divine assistance or heavenly help each of us desperately needs toqualify for the celestial kingdom. Thus, the enabling powerof the Atonement.strengthens us to do and be good and to servebeyond our own individual desire and natural capacity.
I’m rereading the Book of Mormon again as I prepare to enter the MTC, and a scripture jumped out at me in a way it never had before—and then I found it described in several talks in the same way, and I wondered how I’d never noticed it before. When Nephi’s brothers tied him up in the wilderness and left him for dead, Nephi prayed that he would have the strength to break his bounds, not that they would automatically loosened. He asked for the strength to change his circumstances, not just for the circumstances themselves to change.
“The implication of this episode for each of us is 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 a t rather than objects that are acted upon”
The same happened when Alma and his people were being persecuted. They asked that they would be able to bear their burdens, not that they would be removed. In Mosiah 24:14, we are told that they submitted cheerfully. They were strengthened by their trials, and became more pure through the enabling power of the Atonement.
Not only does this Atonement help us meet the “minimum” requirements, it helps us overcome and exalts us.
As we apply the Atonement in our own lives, we will have so much comfort. The indescribable power of the Atonement overcomes the price of sin, the effects of tragedy, and helps purify our heart to become more Christlike, and more ready to ascend into the hill of the Lord. If we truly understand the Atonement, we will be a happy people. Not necessarily because our burdens are removed, but (like for the people of Alma) they will become light, and we will learn to rejoice in the blessings and trials and all opportunities we have been given.
Personally, I am so grateful for the power of the Atonement. The majesty of it overwhelms me, and I am grateful for the changes it has helped me make in my own life. I feel so blessed to be able to utilize the power of the Atonement over and over in my life. I hope that each one of us strive to utilize it better in our lives, and work harder at ascending unto the hill of the Lord. In the name of Jesus Christ. AMEN.