Our Come Follow Me lesson for this week is focused on the Atonement and the events surrounding it as recorded in the New Testament; therefore, it seems only fitting that I begin by talking about Abinadi.
Abinadi’s ministry began and ended more than a hundred years before and an entire hemisphere away from Jesus’s mortal ministry, but he prophesied of it all the same. Standing as a prisoner before a wicked king and his false priests, Abinadi taught with boldness of the coming Messiah and His mission, and in so doing he used a phrase that is, as far as I’ve been able to find, unique in scripture:
Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.
And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men—
Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice.Mosiah 15:7-9 (emphasis added)
“Standing betwixt them and justice.” What a powerful picture those words paint: Justice, looming over the scene, raining down blows that land not on their target, but instead upon the back of an Intercessor who has willingly placed Himself in the line of fire, shielding the unhappy person who was the intended (and deserving) recipient of those blows.
We have a few examples of Him doing this in our reading this week:
- He didn’t tell the other apostles what Judas had done. If Peter was willing to draw a sword on a servant of the high priest, imagine what he would have done to Judas, knowing he was a traitor.
- He was gentle with His apostles who fell asleep (thrice!) rather than giving Him comfort and company in His hour of need.
- He healed the servant of the high priest, a man who had come to help cravenly arrest Him in the dead of night.
- He refrained from calling the “twelve legions of angels” He could have summoned, instead peaceably going with those who sought His life. He continued in this restraint as they mocked, hit, and spit upon Him, and brazenly sought false witness against Him.
And of course, the incomparable, infinite Atonement, in which He performed this merciful function for each and every one of us.
Why? Why was it worth it to Him?
You’ve probably seen this rather popular picture somewhere on the interwebs; my husband has had it as the wallpaper on his computer for at least a year now.
This image is quite evocative. “What a brave and noble knight, protecting that poor woman from the savage mob,” you might say.
But what if she deserved it?
What if she had done something to richly deserve every rotten fruit, every piece of refuse that is flying at her head? What if she had thoroughly earned the crowd’s invective, and then some?
What if, in so doing, she’d hurt the good sir knight worst of all?
Upon learning that was the case, you might go from admiring the knight’s chivalry to questioning his sanity, or even his moral judgment: “Why? Why would you put yourself through that for her?”
But what if he knew that his taking her blows was the only way she would have the opportunity to make things right: to change, to be a better person, to make better choices going forward? What if him enduring this pain and humiliation — that she, by her own actions, brought about — is the only way that she can learn from her mistakes and become stronger, rather than being broken and crippled by them?
Your opinion of the knight probably just changed again.
It can be difficult to really grasp the extent to which this grace was extended to us in the Atonement, as the scope and breadth and depth of that infinite act are literally incomprehensible to us. So let’s instead have a look at the above list, as it’s much easier to digest. In each of these acts, we see Christ living out the principle found in the book of Alma:
And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.
For behold, if Adam had put forth his hand immediately, and partaken of the tree of life, he would have lived forever, according to the word of God, having no space for repentance; yea, and also the word of God would have been void, and the great plan of salvation would have been frustrated.Alma 42:4-5
Which principle itself illustrates part of the “why” of this doctrine from the Savior’s own mouth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain….
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.Matthew 5:39-41, 44
He gave Judas time, space, and a reason (Matthew 26:24) to change his mind; He was understanding of His apostles’ frailties and ignorance; He threw a potentially heart-changing lifeline to a man who may have been just doing his job; He refused to strike out in any way against His persecutors, both giving them time to repent afterward and not heaping any more condemnation upon their heads than they’d already taken on themselves.
Some used the mercy He gave them as an opportunity to dig their own graves deeper. Some did not. He extended it to all of them anyway. Not even Christ can block justice forever, though; if the person in question rejects or resists mercy for long enough, then Jesus steps aside and justice claims that person, because mercy cannot rob justice. But He can and does block it long enough for us to learn from the mistakes we make, or to think better of our choices before we go through with them, and repent — to become stronger from our experience rather than remaining broken by it.
So how do we liken these scriptures unto ourselves? Surely none of us will ever be called to atone for the sins of mankind; that has been accomplished already. It is unlikely any of us will be subjected to torture and death due to the betrayal of a beloved friend, or that the leadership of our own nation will rise against us and flagrantly seek our lives. Stories found in the scriptures often highlight the extreme examples: Abraham and Isaac, Joseph in Egypt, Moses, Lehi and his family, Queen Esther, Job, and so many others. The value in the extreme examples is summed up well by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland who said, referring to the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant:
We may not be able to demonstrate yet the 10,000-talent perfection the Father and the Son have achieved, but it is not too much for them to ask us to be a little more godlike in little things, that we speak and act, love and forgive, repent and improve at least at the 100-pence level of perfection, which it is clearly within our ability to do.Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, October 2017
Likewise, if others are capable of holding fast to true principles through trials measured in talents (as it were), then surely we can do the same in trials measured in pence. It is true that we are incapable of standing betwixt someone else and justice to the extent that Christ has done for us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it at all — and if we truly are “trying to be like Jesus,” then there will come at least one time in your life, and likely many, when you are called to do just that. It may have come already. It might be right now. But at some point, our Father in Heaven will call upon you to bear the blows that have been brought about by someone else’s poor decisions. In the midst of that process, your friends may fail you. They may even flee. But I testify, from my own very personal experience in this matter, that God will send his angels to strengthen you, just as He did for His Son while He suffered even greater pains for our sake.
Suffering from the mistakes of others is indeed a bitter cup. And as someone who has done so needlessly before, I will say that it is very important to earnestly seek the will of the Lord in such matters. But those times when He directs us to bear that burden, we would do well to follow His example and decide, “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
- Come, Follow Me – For Individuals and Families: New Testament 2019: June 10-16.
- “Be Ye Therefore Perfect – Eventually” – Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, October 2017
- “Free Forever, to Act for Themselves” – Elder D. Todd Christofferson, October 2014
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