Thank you for playing that hymn - it's amazing how the spirit can touch others to provide exactly what is needed. I was contemplating singing "I Stand All Amazed" for you, but now I see that I don't have to. What a beautiful testament.
First, I would like to share with you John 15:13 "Greater love hath no man than this - that he lay down his life for his friends."
Bishop Ure asked me to speak on the Atonement and how it has affected me in my life.
First off, I'd like to take a moment and define the word atonement - this word literally means to be brought 'at one'.
1. Amends or reparation made for an injury or wrong; expiation.
b. Atonement Christianity The reconciliation of God and humans brought about by the redemptive life and death of Jesus.
True to the faith - restore to harmony
Christ's atonement is truly the saving grace in our lives, that power which allows us to enter back into the presence of our Heavenly Father. As God can not 'look upon sin with the least degree of allowance', all of us, as fallen creatures - human beings that make mistakes - would not be able to return to our God. Jesus Christ, as our Savior, made this possible.
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
**This promise was given to all that would follow Him.
**If ever there has been a time that you have wondered if anyone truly knows you, knows your joys and heartaches, remember this. The Savior's sacrifice for us - that he bled from every pore in the garden of Gethsamane, and then allowed death to come upon on the Cross of Calvary - that sacrifice was for you personally, as well as for all mankind. Marill J. Bateman, a former member of the presidency of the 70, put it this way:
“The Savior, as a member of the Godhead, knows each of us personally. Isaiah and the prophet Abinadi said that when Christ would “make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed” (Isa. 53:10; compare Mosiah 15:10). Abinadi explains that “his seed” are the righteous, those who follow the prophets (see Mosiah 15:11). In the garden and on the cross, Jesus saw each of us and not only bore our sins, but also experienced our deepest feelings so that he would know how to comfort and strengthen us...
“The Savior’s atonement in the garden and on the cross is intimate as well as infinite. Infinite in that it spans the eternities. Intimate in that the Savior felt each person’s pains, sufferings, and sicknesses. Consequently, he knows how to carry our sorrows and relieve our burdens that we might be healed from within, made whole persons, and receive everlasting joy in his kingdom” (emphasis added, “The Power to Heal from Within,” Ensign, May 1995, 14).
**I could stop talking right now, and I know that what I have said would be worthwhile in your life - however, I was asked to talk about how the atonement has changed my life. I think, perhaps, the greatest effect the atonement has had in my life has come when I realized that yes, it did apply to me. Elder Stephen E. Robinson gave a BYU devotional entitled "Believing Christ", and his words struck me during some of the most difficult parts of my life
"We must not only believe in Christ, we must believe Christ when he says, "I can cleanse you and make you celestial."
When I was a bishop, I used to hear several variations on a theme. Sometimes it was, "Bishop, I've punched my ticket wrong. I've just made mistakes that have gotten me off on the wrong track, and you can't get there from here." I've heard those who say, "Bishop, I've sinned too horribly. I can't have the full blessings of the gospel because I did this, or I did that. I'll come to Church, and I'll be active, and I'm hoping for a pretty good reward, but I couldn't receive the full blessings of exaltation in the celestial kingdom after what I've done." There are those members who say, "Bishop, I'm just an average Saint. I'm weak and imperfect, and I don't have all the talents that Sister So-and-So does, or Brother So-and-So does. I'll never be in the bishopric, or I'll never be the Relief Society president. I'm just average. I hope for a place a little further down." All of these are variations of the same theme: "I do not believe Christ can do what he claims. I have no faith in his ability to exalt me."
My favorite is a fellow who said to me once, "Bishop, I'm just not celestial material." Well, I'd had enough, so I said back to him, "Why don't you admit your problem? You're not celestial material? Welcome to the club. None of us are! None of us qualify on the terms of perfection required for the presence of God by ourselves. Why don't you just admit that you don't have faith in the ability of Christ to do what he says he can do?"
He got angry. He had always believed in Christ. He said, "I have a testimony of Jesus. I believe in Christ."
I said, "Yes, you believe in Christ. You simply do not believe Christ, because he says even though you are not celestial material, he can make you celestial material."
Nephi, one of the great prophets in the Book of Mormon - knew this. In 2 Nephi 4:17-19, he says:
17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart corroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.
19 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
Learning to trust in Christ's atonement, and that it could truly apply to me, and to all others who may not think that they are 'Heavenly material', has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.
Through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism - for the remission of our sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost - for he is the great teacher of truth - we can become a new person in Christ, have a mighty change of heart - be born again, and forgiven. If we follow the direction given us by Christ, and strive to become whole in him, we will be able to use the gift of the atonement in our lives.
This great gift given to us from our loving brother, Jesus Christ, will bring us peace as we use it in our lives, and will help us to endure to the end:
Alma 36: 19-21
19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
21 Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.
One of my favorite scriptures - the promise of Christ:
John 14: 18, 27
18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.