The Wondrous Blessings of the Atonement

Reese Hansen


Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional

April 11, 2006


I feel it a wonderful honor to be asked to address you in a devotional. My wife, Kathryn, is here with me today. I am grateful that she is at my side now and always. She has been my ever faithful better half for nearly 44 years. She is my advisor, confidant, and best friend. I am profoundly grateful for the gospel which has been a central part of our lives together and which provides the promise of an eternity together with our family.


I asked a trusted colleague for some advice on giving this talk. He thought for a few moments and then wrote on a piece of paper, folded it, and handed it to me without saying anything. On the front of the note, as you can see if you are close enough, is written one word: “Socrates.” When I opened the note I read his sound counsel: “Socrates gave long speeches. Socrates was poisoned by his friends.”


I feel a burden of responsibility this afternoon to speak of things which will be useful to you. I am aware that the end of the semester is looming large on the near horizon. By now many of you may be in the beginning stages of the awful realization that there is more to be done than can possibly be accomplished by the end of the semester. So I understand that you may be a bit distracted just now. But for the next few minutes I hope we can focus together on our Savior and the wonderful gifts his Atonement provides for each one of us.


On Sunday, we, with the rest of the Christian world, will celebrate Easter and acknowledge and remember the Savior’s Divine act in overcoming physical death. As Latter-day Saints our Easter remembrance of the Savior’s emergence from the tomb of Joseph of Aramethia is richly informed and enlarged by latter-day revelations.


Latter-day Saints are familiar with the singular role of the Savior in the grand plan by which the children of God progress from premortal existence, to mortality, and to life in the eternities. In the premortal council, Jesus Christ was the advocate for our Father’s plan of agency, repentance, love, justice, mercy, Atonement, and eternal progression.


He, the first born of our Heavenly Father in the Spirit, who was a God already, was the volunteer who condescended to come to earth and perform the necessary Atonement which was absolutely essential to the Father’s Plan. Elder Neal A. Maxwell has observed that: “Never has one person offered so much in so few words” as the Savior did when he said, “Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27). He is the Creator of heaven and earth and all that is in them. He is the only begotten Son of our Heavenly Father in the flesh. His was the one and only perfect life in mortality which could qualify as the essential sinless sacrifice on the eternal alter to compensate for the sins of His less-worthy brothers and sisters. He was the perfect example and unmatchable teacher whose gentle invitation bids each of us to “. . . come unto me and be ye saved. . .” (3 Nephi 12:20). We know that he is our advocate with the Father (see Doctrine and Covenants 110:4) and is our perfect judge (see 3 Nephi 27:16).


You and I know that through His divine grace, Jesus’ Atonement unconditionally compensates for Adam and Eves’ transgression in the Garden of Eden and overcomes mortal death for all mankind. Through the Atonement we have the hope of eternal life with our Father in Heaven by our individual repentance and through His Atonement which can satisfy the demands of justice. The scale of these monumental achievements is unmatchable. The Savior’s Atonement is the single greatest event in the history of mankind. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “. . . the Atonement of Jesus Christ [i]s the central act of all human history” (Ensign, May 1997, p. 12).


From the upper room the disciples and Jesus walked to the Garden of Gethsemane. The Lord left them and went alone into the Garden to pray and to begin the miracle of the Atonement. There, his suffering was so great that He sweat great drops of blood (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18). Then came Judas, with a great multitude of men who were armed with swords and staves; and Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss.


By the testimony of false witnesses He was condemned to die. To placate the priests, Pilate had the Lord whipped and then delivered Him to be crucified. And Jesus was silent as they mocked Him.


Forced to carry the cross until he could do so no more, to Calvary he was taken, where the Roman soldiers pierced his hands, wrists, and feet with nails, thus affixing his body to the cross. There he hung in a constant agony, derived from pain, thirst, and derision, with no one to comfort him or relieve his anguish of body, mind, or spirit. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Then after one last lonely experience with the suffering begun in the Garden Gethsemane, he cried with a loud voice, saying, “It is finished. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (see Luke 23:46 and John 19:30).


The Lord Jesus Christ had died for all mankind. His mortal life and the mortal ministry were ended.


We do not know how the Atonement satisfies the requirements of justice. As Elder Packer has said, “How the Atonement was wrought, we do not know. No mortal watched as evil turned away and hid in shame before the light of that pure being” (Ensign, May 1988, p. 69). But we do know that the Atonement unconditionally compensates for the original sin of Adam and Eve and overcomes the physical death of all mankind. And that on the condition of repentance it satisfies the demands of justice for our individual sins.


For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;


But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I (Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-17).


I am reminded of an experience with one who learned for himself how absolutely essential the Savior is in the process of repentance I first met Bill after his disfellowshipment from the Church, he was trying to come back. Although not raised in the Church, Bill had become a member as a mid-teenager. Now, years later, he is a fine man, well educated, married in the temple, with a growing family of small children, and serving faithfully in a leadership position in the Church.


Bill described to me his difficult journey to true repentance. He told me of the deep sorrow he felt after he had seriously sinned. He knew he had violated sacred covenants which were essential to his eternal sealing to his family. He loved his children and his wife. At first he believed he could keep his sin a secret. He had a testimony of the gospel and believed in the Savior, but somehow Bill had come to think that he could personally and privately work out his repentance. In the long weeks and months following his sin, Bill would occasionally awaken in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with a feeling of indescribable despair. The same feelings persisted in times when he was alone or in private contemplation. He always felt in those dark hours that all was lost, but he concluded in his heart to take his chances at the bar of judgment, rather than inflict the pain on his family their knowledge of his selfish, sinful act would cause.


As Bill poured out his heart to me, I thought of Alma the Younger who had spent his early life in disobedience to God’s laws and in opposition to the Church. Alma’s description of his feelings upon realization of what he and done paralleled Bill’s, “But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins” (Alma 36:12). And in verse 15, “Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.”


Under Satan’s influence, Bill had concluded in his mind that if he punished himself enough while at the same time continuing to fill his church obligations, surely he would be forgiven. Bill told me of his love for running, and how, in order to punish himself, he would run for hours at a time, up steep hills and down, until he reached a state of total exhaustion, convinced that if he experienced enough pain he might be forgiven.


Bill’s loving father, who was not a member of the Church, could see that Bill was greatly troubled. Although not aware of Bill's specific problem, his father recommended, arranged , and paid for counseling which they both hoped would give Bill some comfort and peace. But even with counseling, there were always those terrifying moments when Bill knew what he had done would cost him everything.


Finally, after months of painful, but futile, attempts to overcome the effects of his sin by himself, Bill sought help from his friend, the Branch President. From that moment to the day I first met Bill months later, he had felt a growing sense of relief. At first it was hard, very hard. When Bill was disfellowshipped, his church leaders provided loving help for him and his wife. Over time, Bill had fully and gratefully given up his sin and returned to Christ.


Bill wept openly as he expressed to me his love for his wife and family, for his Church leaders, and most of all for the Savior. Bill had come to realize that no act of his alone would atone for his sin. The only price which would ransom his soul had been offered in Gethsemane and Calvary by Jesus Christ. Divine forgiveness could only come through Bill's humble acceptance of Christ’s unmatchable offer. And the process of repentance had worked its miracle for Bill. The miracle of forgiveness.


“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:42).


Some variation of Bill’s experience has been a part of the lives of all who have found the pathway to that same forgiveness by accessing the peace of the Atonement through real repentance.


Besides the tragic error in the denial of the essentialness of the Atonement in our lives illustrated by Bill’s story, there is another kind of rejection of the sacred Atonement which is a favorite tool of Satan. It is the notion, indulged in by some, that it is OK to sin a little here and there, or that some time other than now will be a better or easier time to repent.


Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.


And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God – he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God (2 Nephi 28:7-8).


The attitude that we can sin a little (if no one else is really harmed) without meaningful consequence, or that some other time will be a better time to repent, denies the necessity of the Atonement and runs the risk that we will yield our eternal agency to Satan.


Amulek, the missionary companion of Alma, taught:


For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; . . .


I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.


Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.


For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked (Alma 34:32-35).


Those who engage in these rationalizations risk everything. For no one can know at what point in our continued sinning we will become sealed to Satan. The privacy of our sinning, or the belief that no one is really harmed by our sinful behavior, provides an especially dangerous environment wherein Satan’s power can overcome us. Of particular concern in this regard is the use of pornography to satisfy lustful appetites. Our prophets have repeatedly warned of the dangers of this addicting practice. The risks are so high and the consequences so grave that no one should indulge in rationalizations to begin or continue accessing pornography.


Elder Theodore M. Burton taught that it is sometimes easier to understand what repentance is not than to understand what it is:


Many times a bishop will write, “I feel he has suffered enough!” But suffering is not repentance. Suffering comes from lack of complete repentance. A stake president will write, “I feel he has been punished enough!” But punishment is not repentance. Punishment follows disobedience and precedes repentance. A husband will write, “My wife has confessed everything!” But confession is not repentance. Confession is an admission of guilt that occurs as repentance begins. A wife will write, “My husband is filled with remorse!” But remorse is not repentance. Remorse and sorrow continue because a person has not yet fully repented. Suffering, punishment, confession, remorse, and sorrow may sometimes accompany repentance, but they are not repentance (Ensign, August 1988, p.7, emphasis added).


President Kimball taught that we cannot repent and be forgiven of our sins without fully cooperating with God in helping us attain Eternal Life ( The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 2).


Repentance is not just stopping something wrong or starting something right. Repentance has to do with our hearts and minds as well as our actions. Elder Burton explains that the Hebrew word for repentance means to “turn back to him [Heavenly Father] – to leave unhappiness, sorrow, regret, and despair behind and turn back to your Father's family, where you can find happiness, joy, and acceptance” (Ensign, August 1988, p. 7).


Repentance is a process of turning our attitudes, desires, and actions toward God, and when our hearts are pure and we are willing to do whatever God wants us to do, we are repentant and, therefore, forgiven. President Kimball taught:


Repentance must involve an all-out, total surrender to the program of the Lord. That transgressor is not fully repentant who neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, fails in his family prayers, does not sustain the authorities of the Church, breaks the Word of Wisdom, does not love the Lord nor his fellowmen. . . . God cannot forgive unless the transgressor shows a true repentance which spreads to all areas of his life (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 203).


This does not mean that the Lord expects us to live perfect lives, but he does expect us to want to become perfect and to try to do it. When we do everything we can do, placing the Lord first in our lives and continually repenting in order to improve, the Atonement of Jesus takes effect in our lives.


The process of repentance is the process of becoming. It is a change within us that is then mirrored by our actions. After King Benjamin had taught his people:


They all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually (Mosiah 5:2).


These people went on to say that they were willing to do God's will all the remainder of their days. They were not yet perfect, but they desired to be so and were willing to work for it; therefore, they were repentant and were forgiven of their sins. They had turned their hearts and efforts toward God, and were willing to cooperate fully with him in becoming celestial people.


Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants teaches that celestial people are those who are valiant in their testimony of Jesus, and explains that they are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator. Thus, even our best efforts will not be enough to perfect ourselves. All of us are dependant upon the Savior.


Parable of the bicycle: Stephen E. Robinson, has written a wonderful parable, “You Are Priceless - The Parable of the Bicycle”, which I want to share with you.


“Daddy, I need to talk to you,” the little girl said. Seeing her earnest expression, the father set his newspaper aside and looked into his daughter’s eyes.


“All my friends have bikes,” the little girl explained. “Can I get a bike? I could ride it to school and lock it with a lock. I could go to my friend’s house all by myself and you wouldn’t even have to drive me.” Her eyes sparkled with excitement at the thought.


“Well,” he said, “that is an interesting idea. But having a bike is a big responsibility, you know. And bikes cost quite a lot of money.”


The little girl smiled confidently. “I’m going to pay for it myself,” she declared. ”I’m going to save up all my money and not spend even one penny. If I save and save, don’t you think I’ll have enough for a bike someday.”


Her father sat for a few moments without answering. He knew that his little girl had no idea what a bicycle would really cost. There was no way her small allowance would be enough, even if she did extra jobs around the house to add to it.


But she was so excited, so earnest – so priceless – that his heart melted. He took her into his arms and hugged her tightly. “A goal is a good thing to have,” he said. “Why don’t you try it, and let’s see what happens.”


A few days went by, and the father found his little girl sweeping the porch. The following week he noticed her working alongside her mother in the garden, pulling weeds and planting flowers. And once or twice, as the little girl went into her bedroom, he heard the clink of coins being dropped into a glass jar.


After a while, the little girl came to her father and said, “Daddy, I’ve been working and saving up all my money for a long time. Can we get my bike now?” She shook the coins in the bottom of the jar.


The father looked at the little collection of coins, and then he looked into the pleading eyes of the little girl he loved so much. “Let’s go and see what we can find out,” he suggested.


The bicycle shop had a little bell that made a tinkling noise when they walked into the store. They hadn’t looked around very long when suddenly the little girl froze. There it was! The most beautiful bicycle she could ever have imagined! She ran to it, stroking its shiny chrome and running her fingers through the colorful streamers that flowed from its handle grips. Never could there be a more perfect bike than this one. She clapped her hands with the pure delight of it.


Then she reached for the price tag.


The next moment, the sunshine in the little girl’s eyes melted into tears. “Oh, Daddy,” she wept, “I’ll never have enough. Never.” She threw herself into his arms.


Her father cradled her head on his shoulder and gently stroked her hair, letting her cry.


When the little girl finally settled down, her father wiped her tears away and said, “How about this? How much money do you have?”


“Sixty-one cents,” she answered in a forlorn voice.


“Then I’ll tell you what,” he said. “Let’s try a different arrangement. You give me everything you’ve got – the whole sixty-one cents – and a hug and a kiss, and this bike is yours. I’ll make up the difference.”


Hope came back into the little girl’s eyes. “Really, Daddy?” she asked.


“Really, honey.”


“Oh, Daddy!” she said once again, but the words were happy ones now, and the little girl hurried to fill her part of the bargain with several hugs and kisses just to be sure.


The deal was completed, and the Most Perfect Bike Ever was purchased, and the father walked beside his little girl as she wheeled it proudly to the car. In his pockets jingled the sixty-one cents, and in his heart glowed his love for his daughter and the joy he felt in knowing how hard she had worked to reach her goal. When it came down to it, the sixty-one cents – and the hugs and kisses – were exactly enough.


But the story doesn’t end there. . . .


The truth is, there’s something we all want, and we want it more than any child ever wanted any bicycle. We want the kingdom of God. We want to go home to our Father in Heaven worthy and clean.


At some point in that spiritual voyage, we recognize the full price of admission into that kingdom, and we also realize we cannot pay it. We’ll never have enough - - never. The tremendous price of perfect performance is hopelessly beyond our means.


And so we despair.


Only then can we fully appreciate the One who comes to save. For Him, each soul is priceless. When we finally feel the pain of our own shortcomings, the Savior, Jesus Christ, steps in and lovingly says, “Let’s try a different arrangement. How much do you have? You give me exactly that much (the whole sixty-one cents) and do all you can do, and I will provide the rest for now. You give me all you’ve got, and a hug and a kiss (signifying the love that cements this covenant), and the kingdom is yours. Perfection will still be our ultimate goal, but until you can achieve it on your own, I’ll let you use mine. What do you say?”


To all who want to serve God and keep his commandments, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, we declare, this is the “good news” of the gospel. Christ is the answer. He is the bridge from here to there. He is our hope when we feel cut off and alone. He is our Savior” (Stephen E. Robinson, “You Are Priceless - The Parable of the Bicycle”, Shadow Mountain 2004).


“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8, emphasis added).


In addition to the incomprehensibly magnificent power in the Atonement to overcome the effects of sin, the Atonement also provides healing to those that suffer from the consequences of mortality which are not the product of sin.


In Nazareth, Jesus read to the people from Isaiah, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18). The Old Testament reveals this additional prophetic language regarding Christ's mission: “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3), and then Jesus said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21).


This broad declaration of the mission of Jesus clearly suggests that the Atonement had a purpose in addition to overcoming death and satisfying the demands of justice for sinners.


The sorrows and trials of this life are not all the result of our personal fault. Indeed, probably most of them are not.


Along the continuum of our sorrows and adversities lie some which are the result of our deliberate sins, some which are caused by unwise choices which are not sinful, others the result of hasty judgments, and still others which are the product of circumstance for which we have absolutely no responsibility. Yet, regardless of the degree of our responsibility for the bad things that happen in our lives, we feel the sorrows and suffering, and taste the bitter taste, whatever its source. And the pain and bitterness we feel, whatever its source, can destroy our peace, break our hearts, and separate us from God.


When the bitterness we feel is caused by sin, we always lack the power to fully overcome its effects alone. And when we are without fault, we so very often lack the personal power to compensate for all of the harmful effects of such bitter events. And when we find ourselves distanced from God in circumstances we have not created nor have moral responsibility for, I believe the Atonement can work to heal our spirits and return us to God “as one,” just as effectively as it can when we repent of our sins and return to God "as one" through the power of the Atonement.


I have known many whose lives are burdened by choices which were not “sinful,” but were unwise, or who must deal with overwhelming sorrow caused by accident, or illness, or by the acts of others. Sometimes these burdens and sorrows can cause the sufferer to separate themselves from God, or even to blame God for their pain. I am convinced that the hope which is the promise of the Atonement is as much for those who suffer in these circumstances as it is for the repentant sinner. Some, sometimes feel that their activity in the Church and their commitment to obedience to the commandments ought to somehow shield them from the pains and sorrows, even sicknesses, of mortality. But the Atonement does not shield us from all of the sorrows, pains and sicknesses of mortality. Rather it provides access to strength beyond our own capacities to deal with the heartbreaks that are inevitably a part of our lives.


The Book of Mormon prophet, Jacob taught, “And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam” (2 Nephi 9:21). Elder Neal A. Maxwell has said of this scripture, “Since not all human sorrow and pain is connected to sin, the full intensiveness of the Atonement involved bearing our pains, infirmities, and sicknesses, as well as our sins” (Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine, p. 51).


Elder Jeffrey R. Holland quoted from April Conference:


Are you battling a demon of addiction—tobacco or drugs or gambling, or the pernicious contemporary plague of pornography? Is your marriage in trouble or your child in danger? Are you confused with gender identity or searching for self-esteem? Do you—or someone you love—face disease or depression or death? Whatever other steps you may need to take to resolve these concerns, come first to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Trust in heaven’s promises. In that regard Alma’s testimony is my testimony: “I do know,” that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions.


This reliance upon the merciful nature of God is at the very center of the gospel Christ taught. I testify that the Savior’s Atonement lifts from us not only the burden of our sins but also the burden of our disappointments and sorrows, our heartaches and our despair. From the beginning, trust in such help was to give us both a reason and a way to improve, an incentive to lay down our burdens and take up our salvation. There can and will be plenty of difficulties in life. Nevertheless, the soul that comes unto Christ, who knows His voice and strives to do as He did, finds a strength, as the hymn says, “beyond [his] own.” The Savior reminds us that He has “graven [us] upon the palms of [His] hands.” Considering the incomprehensible cost of the Crucifixion and Atonement, I promise you He is not going to turn His back on us now. When He says to the poor in spirit, “Come unto me,” He means He knows the way out and He knows the way up. He knows it because He has walked it. He knows the way because He is the way (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, April 2006 Conference Address, Sunday morning session).


I have learned that real faith in Christ, our Redeemer, can bring as much peace into the life of those who innocently suffer or who are tragically ill as is brought to the repentant sinner. For Jesus is willing to take up the cross of every person who is willing to give themselves to Him. What makes the Atonement so incomprehensibly magnificent to me is that it works for those who suffer because of sin they have committed and also compensates and heals those who suffer because of innocent circumstances of mortality.


We have access our Heavenly Father’s mercy, not because of anything we have done ( for we can not completely compensate for our sins and failures), but because of what the Savior has done.


Elder Maxwell taught, “The cumulative weight of all mortal sins – past, present, and future – pressed upon that perfect, sinless, and sensitive Soul! All our infirmities and sicknesses were somehow, too, a part of the awful arithmetic of the Atonement” (Ensign, May 1985, p. 73).


There are many whose lives have been tragically affected by abuse, illness, handicap, or other circumstances, for whom the bitter cup has caused them to become estranged from the Spirit of our Heavenly Father. If you are such a person, I invite you to consider Christ, and the comfort He has promised to all of God's children who believe on Him, that his Atonement will make possible for all of us a fullness of the blessings of heaven. I encourage you to lay your burden upon the alter where our magnificent Brother will heal and help and eventually bring you peace and happiness.


My dear brothers and sisters, I have learned over the years of my life that only obedience to the commandments of God brings freedom, happiness, and peace of soul. Further, it is my experience that disobedience inevitably leads to unhappiness, bondage, and a troubled spirit. I know that the Atonement has real power which can be manifest in us through the miracle of forgiveness, and through strength bestowed upon us in adversity, trials, and illnesses. I know that our Savior loves me and you. He is our Redeemer, Comforter, and Guide. He lives. He has broken the bonds of death. He is my brother and most trusted friend. We are lead by prophets. President Hinckley is a living prophet, whom I love with all my heart and whose counsel is inspired of God. The Book of Mormon is true. I am forever grateful for the Gospel in my life, and especially for the abundant wondrous blessings in my life which come from the Atonement of our Savior. I pray for the very best in life for each of you. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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