Christ’s Atonement | Easter Week

Today I gave a talk in Church about overcoming death and sin through Christ’s Atonement. It’s Palm Sunday today, a day that, nearly 2,000 years ago, marked the Savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as a king. This preceded the final week of Jesus Christ’s life, a week of lessons and learning, a week of of betrayal, a week of suffering. The tragedy of a people killing their Messiah was only eclipsed by the beauty of Christ’s love, sacrifice, and the gift of the Atonement.

This is the talk I gave today:

Overcoming Death and Sin Through Christ’s Atonement

I think it’s fitting that today is Palm Sunday, a day when—almost 2,000 years ago—Jesus Christ rode triumphantly through the palm-strewn streets of Jerusalem on a donkey. This preceded the final week of the Savior’s life when He would work out the infinite Atonement, be crucified, and be resurrected. It was a week of lessons and learning; it was a week of betrayal; it was a week of suffering. The tragedy of a people killing their Messiah was only eclipsed by the beauty of Christ’s love, sacrifice, and the gift of the Atonement.

An article in the Church News, titled “Christ’s Atonement Triumphed Over Four Obstacles,” explains that Christ’s Atonement helps us overcome: 1) physical death; 2) sin and its consequences; 3) mortal weaknesses and imperfections; and 4) common ailments of life.

1. Physical death

First, Christ’s Atonement enables us to overcome physical death. I’ve always known and believed in the resurrection. One day we’ll each have a perfected body. Mosiah 16:7-9 reads:

“And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection.

“But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.

“He is the light and the life of the world; yeah, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death.”

Adam:

My faith in the resurrection meant something more than just a nebulous, distant future when my brother, Adam, died almost six years ago. He had a canyoneering accident in southern Utah, and when they brought him home, he wasn’t only dead, but his body was broken. The realization that that broken, mortal body would one day be whole again brought me so much comfort and hope.

A few months after his death, I read Alma 40:23:

“The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.”

In my journal, I wrote: “I like knowing that one day Adam’s broken body will no longer be broken, but whole and strong and beautiful.”

Nearly two years after his death, on April 5, 2015, I was reading D&C 42:46:

“And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them.”

My journal entry for that day read, “It’s Easter today and General Conference, and I have been thinking a lot about the resurrection, about how Adam will one day be whole and uninjured, how the last painful moments of his life will be swept aside by the Savior’s power over death.”

The resurrection, the way Jesus made it possible for us to overcome physical death through His Atonement, never meant as much to me as it has since Adam’s death. You’re never quite as invested in the reality of the resurrection as you are when someone close to you passes away; then you appreciate it as you never have before.

2. Sin and its consequences

Second, Christ’s Atonement helps us overcome sin.

Laborers in the Vineyard:

I was reading in Matthew 20:1-16 the other day. The Savior was giving the parable of the laborers in the vineyard during that final week of His mortal ministry:

1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Before, I always saw this parable as commentary about service in the Church, how we can all be blessed by it no matter when we start. But, this week, I saw something more in it: I saw it as a commentary on the power of forgiveness, how it’s never too late to repent and feel Christ’s healing.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in his talk “The Laborers in the Vineyard,” said:

“This parable—like all parables—is not really about laborers or wages any more than the others are about sheep and goats. This is a story about God’s goodness, His patience and forgiveness, and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a story about generosity and compassion. It is a story about grace. It underscores the thought I heard many years ago that surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.

“… However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.

“… There is no dream that in the unfolding of time and eternity cannot yet be realized. Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the eleventh hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning.

“… His concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of the day in which you got there.

“So if you have made covenants, keep them. If you haven’t made them, make them. If you have made them and broken them, repent and repair them. It is never too late so long as the Master of the vineyard says there is time.”

Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 32–33

I can see how these laborers—from a purely material standpoint and if this was just a story and nothing else—might be annoyed that the latter laborers received just as much as they did. But from a spiritual point of view, I don’t think any of us would begrudge those who come to the Lord later in life a full measure of blessings. In fact, I think the more the merrier. So what if they come in the eleventh hour? Think how smoothly that last hour of labor will be! Can you imagine the joy of sharing that labor with all your family and friends, of being together in the vineyard, in the Church, laboring? I don’t care how late others come, just as long as we’re there together in the end.

The Atonement Likened to a Parachute:

Last Sunday, Tad R. Callister gave an excellent talk about Christ’s Atonement, titled “The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” and likened it to a parachute. He said:

“Suppose for a moment a man contemplating an exhilarating free fall makes a rash decision and spontaneously jumps from a small plane. After doing so, he quickly realizes the foolishness of his actions. He wants to land safely, but there is an obstacle—the law of gravity. He moves his arms with astounding speed, hoping to fly, but to no avail. He positions his body to float or glide to slow the descent, but the law of gravity is unrelenting and unmerciful. He tries to reason with this basic law of nature: “It was a mistake. I will never do it again.” But his pleas fall on deaf ears. The law of gravity knows no compassion; it makes no exceptions. Fortuitously, though, the man suddenly feels something on his back. His friend in the plane, sensing the moment of foolishness, had placed a parachute there just before the jump. He finds the rip cord and pulls it. Relieved, he floats safely to the ground. We might ask, “Was the law of gravity violated, or did that parachute work within that law to provide a safe landing?

“When we sin, we are like the foolish man who jumped from the plane. No matter what we do on our own, only a crash-landing awaits us. We are subject to the law of justice, which, like the law of gravity, is exacting and unforgiving. We can be saved only because the Savior, through His Atonement, mercifully provides us with a spiritual parachute of sorts. If we have faith in Jesus Christ and repent (meaning we do our part and pull the rip cord), then the protective powers of the Savior are unleashed on our behalf and we can land spiritually unharmed.”

Tad R. Callister, “The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” 2019

I love his analogy. The law of justice is strict and unforgiving. If we didn’t have a parachute—Christ’s Atonement—we’d have no other option but to crash. And there’s no backup parachute, no second option. Jesus Christ is the only way back to Heavenly Father. Luckily, the Atonement is a parachute that is 100% reliable, always opening and bringing us safely to the ground.

3. Mortal weaknesses, imperfections, afflictions, and infirmities

Christ’s Atonement also helps us overcome mortal weaknesses, imperfections, afflictions, infirmities, and the common ailments of life because He suffered all of these things. Alma 7:12 reads:

“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.”

These afflictions might not be due to bad decisions or sin, but because of the nature of mortality. This could be addiction or cancer, disease of the mind or body. It can be persecution for the sake of the Gospel. Brother Callister explains how Christ’s Atonement can overcome these afflictions:

“Sometimes he removes the affliction, sometimes He strengthens us to endure, and sometimes He gives us an eternal perspective to better understand their temporary nature.”

Tad R. Callister, “The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” 2019

The Atonement gives us strength, perspective and hope, it reminds us that regardless of the suffering we endure now, it will be all right. That we’ll enjoy the full fruits of the Atonement, the deliverance from both spiritual and physical death.

Alma and Amulek:

Alma and Amulek were persecuted in the city of Ammonihah. In fact, the wicked citizens took the families of the believers and cast them into the fire. Alma and Amulek weren’t physically being burned, but can you imagine the mental and emotional conflagration? It was so excruciating, that Amulek told Alma that they should exercise the power of God to save them. Alma though, in his wisdom and having an understanding of the Atonement of Christ replied in Alma 14:11:

“The spirit constraints me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.”

Alma was able to overcome this trial through the Atonement, which gave him an eternal perspective.

Depression experience:

I myself have experienced the healing power of the Atonement, the strength that it gives, even though at the time I didn’t understand fully that it was Christ and His Atonement that were holding me up. I was 12… (find my story here).

Strengthened by Christ’s Atonement:

Elder Oaks speaks at length on the power of the Atonement to overcome mortal trials in his talk “Strengthened by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” He says:

“Our Savior’s Atonement does more than assure us of immortality by a universal resurrection and give us the opportunity to be cleansed from sin by repentance and baptism. His Atonement also provides the opportunity to call upon Him who has experienced all of our mortal infirmities to give us the strength to bear the burdens of mortality. He knows of our anguish, and He is there for us. Like the good Samaritan, when He finds us wounded at the wayside, He will bind up our wounds and care for us (see Luke 10:34). The healing and strengthening power of Jesus Christ and His Atonement is for all of us who will ask. I testify of that as I also testify of our Savior, who makes it all possible.

“One day all of these mortal burdens will pass away and there will be no more pain (see Revelation 21:4). I pray that we will all understand the hope and strength of our Savior’s Atonement: the assurance of immortality, the opportunity for eternal life, and the sustaining strength we can receive if only we will ask.”

Dallin H. Oaks, “Strengthened by the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” 2015

Testimony

I testify that we can overcome all things through Christ’s Atonement, that He has suffered all things so that we might not. I’ve felt His healing in my life and I’m forever grateful—that’s such an insufficient word—for His perfect love. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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