Perhaps the greatest contribution that Joseph Smith made in restoring the Gospel of Jesus Christ was uncovering the meaning and importance of the Atonement. In the Christian world, Latter-day Saints are often vilified for not bearing the cross on our chapels or other places of worship. We often reply that we don’t celebrate the death of Christ, but rather his victory over death. I would argue another reason is the cross alone is a symbol of the physical death Christ endured but is only half of battle He won on our behalf.
It isn’t surprising that little would be known about the Atonement just by reading the New Testament. In all, Jesus’ experience in Gethsemane covers fewer than 20 total verses in the Gospels. Meanwhile, the Book of Mormon has enlightened us with the great sermons by Lehi (2 Nephi 2), Jacob (2 Nephi 9-10), King Benjamin (Mosiah 3-4), Abinidi (Mosiah 13), Amulek (Alma 34), and Alma (Alma 42) just to name a few. These prophets offer further light and knowledge regarding the Plan of Salvation and the Atonement’s importance in satisfying mercy and justice. The Savior wasn’t just asked to overcome physical death, but His mission required that he overcome spiritual death as well.
The Fall of Adam brought about two deaths: Physical death, the separation of our body with our spirit; and Spiritual Death, the separation of our spirits from the presence of God. Sin is what divides us from our Heavenly Father and a mediator was required to pay our sins so that we may overcome Spiritual Death. Such a mediator needed to live a perfect life. Jesus Christ lived such a life and never experienced a spiritual separation from God – until the Atonement. Just as overcoming death required dying, overcoming spiritual death required spiritually dying.
We read in Luke, chapter 22 as Jesus retired to the Garden: “And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” Later, as Jesus hung on the cross, He “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) Christ suffered eternal pains alone “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.” (Alma 7:12)
The Atonement allows Christ to know all our pains, our sicknesses, our sins, and our sufferings, whether they be self-inflicted or whether they be caused by someone or something else. He overcame all and through Him we may overcome as well if we but humble ourselves and lay our sins at His feet. There is nothing the Atonement can’t heal and there is nothing we can’t conquer with Christ as our undefeated advocate. The light and knowledge we have about the Atonement truly is a blessing of the Restoration.
- “Redemption” – Elder D. Todd Christofferson, April 2013
- “The Purifying Power of Gathsemane” – Elder Bruce R. McConkie, April 1985
Dustin Turner is a life long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served a mission in Monterrey, Mexico (2002-04). He has been married 15 years to his wife, Paola and together they have five boys. You can follow him @dmturner1232