As I was sitting in during Sacrament, I prayed for the best way to deliver this talk. I received the strangest prompting – to give my talk in a completely different order than I have written it. I had spent at least 15 hours researching and preparing for the talk, so I was rather surprised and extremely nervous about going out of order. But I’m not in the habit of ignoring promptings from the Lord, so I did what I felt urged to do. The following is my memory of the order in which I gave this talk.
I’d like to begin with a story in President James E. Faust’s talk, The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope, that retells a story by President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Some years ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley told “something of a parable” about “a one room school house in the mountains of Virginia where the boys were so rough no teacher had been able to handle them.
“Then one day an inexperienced young teacher applied. He was told that every teacher had received an awful beating, but the teacher accepted the risk. The first day of school the teacher asked the boys to establish their own rules and the penalty for breaking the rules. The class came up with rules, which were written on the blackboard. Then the teacher asked, ‘What shall we do with one who breaks the rules?’
“‘Beat him across the back ten times without his coat on,’ came the response.
“A day or so later, … the lunch of a big student, named Tom, was stolen. ‘The thief was located—a little hungry fellow, about ten years old.’
“As Little Jim came up to take his licking, he pleaded to keep his coat on. ‘Take your coat off,’ the teacher said. ‘You helped make the rules!’
“The boy took off the coat. He had no shirt and revealed a bony little crippled body. As the teacher hesitated with the rod, Big Tom jumped to his feet and volunteered to take the boy’s licking.
“‘Very well, there is a certain law that one can become a substitute for another. Are you all agreed?’ the teacher asked.
“After five strokes across Tom’s back, the rod broke. The class was sobbing. ‘Little Jim had reached up and caught Tom with both arms around his neck. “Tom, I’m sorry that I stole your lunch, but I was awful hungry. Tom, I will love you till I die for taking my licking for me! Yes, I will love you forever!”’”
President Hinckley then quoted Isaiah:
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. …
“… 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.”
No man knows the full weight of what our Savior bore, but by the power of the Holy Ghost we can know something of the supernal gift He gave us.10 In the words of our sacrament hymn:
We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.
So as you may have guessed the subject of my talk today is the crucifixion of our Savior Jesus Christ, in which He died for our sins so that we might live again with our Father in Heaven.
The events leading up to the Crucifixion give us vivid examples of both absolute faith and the absence of it. The absence of faith can often be characterized as fear. As I describe the following events, I invite you to think about which events are representative of faith and which represent fear.
Christ perfectly endured the Atonement in all its agony, according to the will of the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. Christ was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve Apostles. Jesus was arrested, and the rest of his Apostles fled. Jesus was then subjected to multiple counsels and trials having false witnesses brought against Him.
Even the faithful disciple Peter ultimately denied Jesus and Jesus Himself prophesied he would earlier in Christ’s ministry. In John 13:38, it reads:
Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice. (John 13: 38)
Then at one of Jesus’s trials, the prophesy came to pass. In Matthew 26:69-75 it reads:
Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.
But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest.
And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.
And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man.
And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.n (Matthew 26:69–75)
Christ was mocked and ridiculed. In Matthew 27:28-30, it reads:
And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. (Matthew 28–30)
Christ was made to carry His own cross most likely weighting 75 to 125 pounds until a passerby named Simon was compelled to do it for him by the Roman guards.
When they reached the site of the crucifixion, Christ was nailed to the cross. At the head of the cross was affixed a title, “Jesus of Nazareth The King of the Jews.” Elder Bruce R. McConkie describes the brutality of what the Savior must have physically experienced:
A death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of the horrible and ghastly—dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, tetanus, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of untended wounds, all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give to the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness. The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; the arteries, especially of the head and stomach, became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood; and, while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst. Such was the death to which Christ was doomed. ( Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:816)
Even is this moment of extreme physical torment, the Savior was merciful, asking Heavenly Father to forgive those who crucified him. In Luke 23: 34, it reads:
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. (Luke 23:33-34)
Despite his tortured state, He thought of others before himself. In John 19:26-27, it says:
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. (John 19:26–27)
Then darkness came over the land as Heavenly Father withdrew his presence from the Savior. In Matthew 27:46 it reads:
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)
It’s hard to imagine the utter terror at being cut off from Heavenly Father for the first time in such a moment of tremendous suffering. But Christ needed to feel what it is like to be utterly alone, to descend all things. To completely fulfill upon what He came here to do.
Andrew C. Skinner said in his book, Golgotha,
The scriptures teach us that God has not forsaken us nor will he ever forsake us. He is waiting and able to help us in our extremity. No less powerful to help is his divine Son, who has perfect empathy for us and can carry us through those times when we cannot go on, precisely because of his own experience. In fact, one reason Jesus was abandoned by his Father in Gethsemane and on the cross of Golgotha [or Calvary] was so he could descend below all things to know every human circumstance and thus emerge victor over all things, with the knowledge and power to help us. By his confirming witness, I know that Jesus suffered on the cross the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God, and because Jesus suffered that wrath on the cross, I do not have to. Even more important, I know that because Jesus was lifted up on the cross, I can be lifted up also—to eternal life. Furthermore, I know that because God forsook his Son on the cross, he will never have to forsake me.
James E. Talmage, in his book, Jesus the Christ, wrote about Christ last moments:
Fully realizing that He was no longer forsaken, but that His atoning sacrifice had been accepted by the Father, and that His mission in the flesh had been carried to glorious consummation, He exclaimed in a loud voice of holy triumph: “It is finished.” In reverence, resignation, and relief, He addressed the Father saying: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” He bowed His head, and voluntarily gave up His life.
[…]Jesus the Christ was dead. His life had not been taken from Him except as He had willed to permit. Sweet and welcome as would have been the relief of death in any of the earlier stages of His suffering from Gethsemane to the cross, He lived until all things were accomplished as had been appointed. In the latter days the voice of the Lord Jesus has been heard affirming the actuality of His suffering and death, and the eternal purpose thereby accomplished. Hear and heed His words: “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.”
The Crucifixion can teach us much about living our lives after the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ. These are the five main things we can learn from the crucifixion:
- Be forgiving.
- Be filled with mercy.
- Be in service of others.
- Following Christ.
- Endure all things.
The first thing we can learn is to forgive others. Even when Christ was on the Cross he said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. This very Spirit of forgiveness teaches us that we need to forgive all. Even and especially those who hate and persecute us. In Doctrine & Covenants 64:10 it reads:
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (D&C 64:10)
Second we learn to be filled with mercy. To have mercy we must have compassion for people in our lives including ourselves. Having compassion for and extending mercy towards others as well as ourselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give.
Matthew 5:7 reads:
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7)
Third, we learn to serve others. Christ’s ministry was one of continually service. Healing the sick, feeding the poor and hungry, raising the dead, teaching the masses. Mosiah 2:17 reads:
And 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)
Fourth, we learn to carry our cross and follow Christ. This mean forsaking anything in our lives that are not in the manner of Christ. Giving up unrighteous thoughts, music, clothing, and activities, and exchanging them for righteous ones. Then follow the Saviors example in all things.
Fifth, we learn to patiently endure all things. Christ never complained, never object, never asked “why me?” He bore his burdens with tolerance, long-suffering, and dignity, always submitting to the will of the Father.
This perfect example of how to endure all things can especially help us in times of trial. Over the last ten years I’ve spent a significant amount of time in the hospital, often the ICU, often for several months at a time due to an autoimmune disease called Myasthenia Gravis. Myasthenia Gravis, which means grave weakness in Latin, causes its patients to become so weak during an acute flare or it that they cannot move any of their limbs and sometimes cannot breathe on their own, requiring the assistance of a ventilator. I have experienced this many times. It’s hard when lying there in the ICU unable to move or breathe on my own to feel like things are going to be okay, but the thing that gives me the most strength is the sweet knowledge that our Savior descended below all things so that I don’t have to suffer that alone. He knows exactly what extreme physical pain is like, beyond what I can even imagine, so He certainly can feel what I feel in those times. And it gives me the ability to endure to know that He endured all things. If he endured all things, then certainly I can endure this one trial I have been given as difficult as it seems. And this gives me eternal hope.
We also accept that Heavenly Father is giving us trials for our own benefit. Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-8 said:
And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? (D&C 7-8)
Since we are not greater than our Savior Jesus Christ we can take so much comfort in all He has done for us. All the pain He has suffered so that he could descend below all things was for our benefit because He has so much love for each and every one of us.
I want to share my testimony that Christ not only atoned and died for our sins but that He rose again three days later. He lives today. He knows and loves me personally. The Holy Ghost testifies of this to me on a daily basis. I am so grateful for my Savior and for his atoning sacrifice that through it I can return to live with my Heavenly Father for all eternity. I know that my Heavenly Father lives and loves me as well. I am grateful for all of you and the Spirit that is felt here today. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.