A Few Thoughts on The Sacrifice of the Savior of the World, for Christmas Day – or Shortly Thereafter
By Ken K. Gourdin
The Apostle Paul says that Christ is not “an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15, KJV). The Book of Mormon elaborates further on why this is so. The Book of Alma, in chapter 7, contains a prophecy of Christ’s mission here on earth. In verses 11 and 12, it says:
And he [Christ] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
Joan Osborne once sang, “What if God was one of us; just a slob like one of us; just a stranger on the bus; trying to make His way home?” In a very real sense, God – in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ – is one of us. As a mortal, Christ experienced everything we suffer. Yes, as it says in another volume I revere as holy writ, He truly did “descend below all things” that He might rise above them. (See, e.g., Doctrine and Covenants 88:6, 122:8).1 Yes, Christ was fully man. Or, as Paul also wrote to the Hebrews, He was “in all points tempted like as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). Yet He was also fully God, because, as that same scripture also says, He was “without sin.”
Have you ever been in pain? Christ knows about that. Have you ever been tired? He knows about that, too. Have you ever wondered where your next meal is going to come from? He knows about that, too. Have you ever been tempted? Yes, He knows about that, too (see Matthew 4:1-11). Another Book of Mormon prophecy of His mortal advent says, “And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death” (Mosiah 3:7). Have you ever wondered where you’re going to lay your head on any given night? Yes; He knows about that, too (see Matthew 8:20).
Another way in which Christ is “one of us” is that He strongly implied that we should see Him in the faces of all of our brothers and sisters. He said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40, see vss. 34-40). Similarly, a Book of Mormon prophet-king, Benjamin in counseling his people to serve one another, said, “Behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
Christ did not have to offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Notwithstanding the taunts hurled at Him by the scribes and Pharisees while He was on the cross that “He saved others; himself, he cannot save,” and “He trusted in God, let him deliver him now, if he will have him” (Matthew 27:42, 43), Christ made it clear that neither they nor anyone else could take His life from Him. In John 10:17-18, He says:
Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me. But I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
Still, there was a part of Him that did not want to offer Himself up. As He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:44, KJV). And, in holy writ that I revere as further light and knowledge, regarding His sacrifice, He also said (speaking of Himself) that He “would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” – or, in other words, He did not want to pull back before completing His mission. (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18).
It’s worth remembering, too, that, according to one account, even Christ – though He was and is the Omnipotent Lord of the Universe – as a mortal, could not carry His cross to Calvary without the help of Simon, the Cyrenian (see Matthew 27:32). As it was on the journey to Calvary, so it was in the Garden of Gethsemane: Notwithstanding His Omnipotence, the mortal Christ sought and received help – earthly help in carrying the cross, and Heavenly help in bearing His suffering in the garden.
We are told, “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44). I lack a ready reference, but Elder Neal A. Maxwell, formerly of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints once marveled at the fact that Christ, notwithstanding the fact that He did all things well, prayed even more earnestly on this occasion. Surely, there’s a lesson there for us: while we weak mortals are prone to turn away from God in the hour of our greatest need, Christ, by contrast, “prayed more earnestly.”
I also think the sequence of events as recorded in the Gospel of Luke is interesting. In verse 43, we are told, “And there appeared an angel from heaven, strengthening him.” Yet the reference to His praying “more earnestly” comes after that, in verse 44. How often we mortals are prone, once we receive heaven’s unacknowledged help – like the story of a man who falls from a cliff and prays to be saved on the way down, whereupon an article of his clothing gets stuck on a tree branch – to say, in essence, “Never mind, Lord, I’ve got this.” Yet Christ, by contrast, prayed more earnestly after the angel – the help – came.
And, while the constraints of mortal perception often prevent us from perceiving such help, if God is willing to send an angel to Christ, powerful as He is, surely He ought to be willing to do the same to help his weaker servants. Indeed, in Doctrine and Covenants 84:88, Christ says, “I will go before your face, I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you to bear you up.”
Of course, with regard to the Savior’s mission, we know, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.” After being in agony; after being helped by an angel in Gethsemane; after expressing His mortal side’s reluctance and his desire to not begin to “drink the bitter cup and shrink”; after being helped by a mortal to carry His cross from Gethsemane to Golgotha; after taking upon Himself, not only our sins, but also our pains and our sicknesses, that He might know “according to the flesh,” how to succor us; after suffering “pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death”; He willingly gave up His mortal life to help us triumph over mortal death. As He said in the Gospel of John, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). And as He put it in modern revelation, “Glory be to the Father, for I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:19).
As President Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put it, “God be thanked for the gift of His Son, the Redeemer of the world, the Savior of mankind, the Prince of Life and Peace, the Holy One.” (See the following address, last accessed December 25, 2014: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2002/12/a-testimony-of-the-son-of-god?lang=eng.)
Merry Christmas to one and all! As A Christmas Carol’s Tiny Tim put it, “God bless us, every one!”
|1||Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that the resurrected Lord visited the Americas and preached a discourse similar to the Sermon on the Mount here. We also believe that obtaining a mortal body is necessary to attain our full potential. Although we believe Christ attained Godhood prior to his mortal advent, It’s interesting to note the subtle differences between the two sermons. While He told the Jews, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), he told the Nephites (a Book of Mormon people), “Be ye therefore perfect, even as I, or your Father in Heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48, emphasis mine).|