TALKING ON THE ATONEMENT

by Steven A. Cramer

 

Today I would like to discuss with you the difference between Christmas and Easter.

At Christmas time we celebrate Christ’s birth, and at Easter time, His death and resurrection.

But Easter offers so much more than that, that it is like trying to compare graduate school to kindergarten.

Christmas time is fun. It makes us feel good. If we really understood and appreciated Easter, it would give us even greater joy because Christmas is merely a beginning…while Easter is the entrance to eternity.

At Christmastime, God gave ONE gift to the world…the coming of his Only Begotten Son.

At Easter, God gave us MANY gifts, opportunities made possible by Christ’s life and atonement.

And one of these is the gift of the resurrection.

When Jesus came out of that tomb on Easter Sunday, He not only conquered death not for Himself, but opened the resurrection to every person unconditionally, regardless of whether they live a good life or bad.

When it comes to Christmas, I imagine our family is very much like yours. We spend several weeks before Christmas either making or buying gifts for each family member. It is always fun to finish the preparation of the gift by wrapping them and then putting them under the tree. When our children were younger, some of the gifts were hidden away and not placed by the tree until all the kids were in bed and asleep, but sooner or later every Christmas eve there came a time when Mom and Dad had placed the last gift and we could stand back and say there: IT IS FINISHED.

Christmas was not finished. But the preparations were all done.

After Christ suffered for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane and again on the cross, there came a point in time when the Father made it known to Christ that his sacrifice was complete and sufficient.

Christ then spoke those incredible words: "IT IS FINISHED"

And then He bowed His head, and His spirit left the crucified body to continue His work in the spirit world.

Unfortunately, the majority of the Christian world has misinterpreted those words to mean that all the work of salvation was done and finished by Him…and that to be saved we have nothing to do but to accept what Christ has already done for us.

But just like gifts of Christmas mean nothing until the family unwraps them and uses them, so too must we accept and then apply the gifts Jesus made possible through His suffering and atonement.

His words on the cross, "IT IS FINISHED," are better understood from the 19th Section of the Doctrine & Covenants, where He describes the horrible suffering He endured for us, and how it made Him, even a perfect God, tremble and shrink and look for another and easier way.

"Nevertheless," He said, "glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men." (v. 19) In other words, He had finished His part…which now makes it possible for the Father to accept us when we do our part.

That’s what atonement means, a reconciliation or AT-ONE-MENT with God.

When we open a box from under the Christmas tree, it will usually be a finished product. Perhaps a book, all printed and ready to read. Or a computer disk, ready to insert and use. Or some kind of clothing, all sewn and ready to wear.

But when we open an Easter gift from the Savior’s atonement, it is not finished. It is more like an invitation, beckoning us to a happier, more joyful and victorious life.

For example:

The gift of repentance. Christ invites us to repent. He made it possible to repent. But He cannot repent for us. Because of our sacred agency, He cannot change our choices and decisions. Only we can do that work in response to the repentance He made possible by His payment for our sins.

We may open the gift of forgiveness and cleansing of our sins. The preparations for this gift are already finished. The forgiveness and peace of conscience are there for the taking. But if we are too proud to accept His gift, if we insist on punishing ourselves for our mistakes instead of coming to Him with a humble heart that is broken in sorrow for offending Him, then not even He can give us the peace and purity He suffered and died to make possible.

And so it is with each of the Easter gifts.

They are gifts of incredible invitation, but all of them except the resurrection are conditional upon our acceptance and response.

One of the traditions in our family is that everyone gets what we call their "main gift." We usually make them save that for the last.

It is the same with Easter. One main gift, but it comes with three different names.

One of them is called the gift of Telestial glory, one is the gift of Terrestrial glory, and the biggest and best gift of all is the possibility of Celestial glory and capacity.

This main gift of Easter determines where we will live for the rest of eternity…and who we will get to live with.

When Christ finished His work, He made it possible for us to go to which ever kingdom and glory we choose, but it is we who must choose.

We call those main Easter gifts the three kingdoms or degrees of glory, but these gifts are much more than mere entrance tickets to the place or the kingdom where we will live for the rest of eternity. They are also gifts of capacity that determine what we will be doing for the rest of eternity.

These main gifts of the atonement are something like the kind of degree we receive when we graduate from college or trade school. For example, if you graduate with a degree in medicine, banking, or teaching, or with a degree in art or music, your qualifications and the things you do with the rest of your life will very different than if you graduate with a degree in science, engineering or computers.

Similarly, when we each stand before our Father and Savior to be judged at the graduation ceremony that comes at the end of this earth school, the Telestial, Terrestrial or Celestial gift we have chosen to live for is going to determine what kind of career or quality of life and what level of joy and experience that we will have for the rest of eternity.

So Christmas is rather passive on our part, but Easter is not passive. It is a time of choosing.

Bruce C. Hafen has explained that, as our Savior continues His work to help us accept the preparations which He made possible as he finished His atonement, His concern is for every burden and every circumstance we may encounter. He said:

"The lost sheep are not just the people who don’t come to church. The lost sheep is a mother who goes down into the valley of the dark shadows to bring forth children. The lost sheep is a young person, far away from home and faced with loneliness and temptation. The lost sheep is a person who has just lost a critically needed job, a business person in financial distress, a new missionary in a foreign culture, a man just called to be a bishop, a married couple who are misunderstanding each other, a grandmother whose children are forgetting her.

"I am the lost sheep. You are the lost sheep." (The Broken Heart, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1989, p. 60.)

Have difficult circumstances driven you from the fellowship of the flock? Or made you feel unworthy to be here? Are you struggling with a need you cannot fill, a weakness you cannot conquer, a hurt or emotional wound that is festering because you cannot heal it yourself?

Then you are the one He is looking for.

Easter invites us to come to the Shepherd, to accept His invitations, to accept His acceptance of us. The message of Easter is that He is always there for us, waiting with open arms to receive you and heal you and to prepare you in every way to return to your Heavenly Father.

That we may each receive and cherish the gifts of Easter as eagerly and enthusiastically as we do the gifts on Christmas Day is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

 


2003 Steven A. Cramer
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