God So Loved the World

Speaking of the final day of Jesus’ time in mortality, the late Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, a modern Apostle and witness of Christ, said:

I think of how dark that Friday was when Christ was lifted up on the cross. On that terrible Friday the earth shook and grew dark. Frightful storms lashed at the earth. On that Friday the Savior of mankind was humiliated and bruised, abused and reviled. It was a Friday filled with devastating, consuming sorrow that gnawed at the souls of those who loved and honored the Son of God. I think that of all the days since the beginning of this world’s history, that Friday was the darkest.

Elder Wirthlin adds, however, that “the doom of that day did not endure,” for on the following Sunday, Mary found an angel in the empty tomb which bore glad tidings, saying, “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6). With those words, the angel heralded the greatest hope that had ever been given to woman or man—and that has ever been given since. The quiet declaration was that Christ had conquered death and that, through Him, all of us could likewise live anew.

lds.org

The Empty Tomb (lds.org)

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Easter season is one that reflects the hope of renewal that is inherent in the celebration. The trees, barren through the months of cold, are adorned with bright green buds; the perfume of flowers, having been absent for months, drifts on the spring breeze; the sun, no longer obscured by grey, wintry clouds, shines in the blue sky, warming and illuminating the landscape. It would seem as though nature itself were celebrating the resurrection of its Creator. But beyond the blue skies and bright flowers, “Easter is that sacred season when the heart of each devout Christian turns in humble gratitude to our beloved Savior,” Elder Richard G. Scott said, for “Easter brings thoughts of Jesus, His life, His Atonement, His Resurrection, His love. He has risen from the dead ‘with healing in his wings.’”

During His final days, Jesus Christ confronted all our sorrows and pains and bore the awful weight of our sins. He was uniquely qualified as God’s Only Begotten Son to suffer in our place, and did so, sustained by His infinite love for us. He could have turned from the collective weight of our sins and sadnesses at any moment, but He did not. He submitted Himself to the Father who had sent Him, saying, “nevertheless not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42).  When all others had left Him, the Savior pressed on through persecution and abuse. Indeed, “one of the great consolations of this Easter season is that because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught. “Trumpeted from the summit of Calvary is the truth that we will never be left alone nor unaided, even if sometimes we may feel that we are. Truly the Redeemer of us all said: ‘I will not leave you comfortless.’” Jesus endured all so that we might not suffer as we go unto Him for strength and relief.

Surely, Jesus of Nazareth was more than simply a great teacher or gifted leader. He was the Son of God. After His resurrection and ascension, He appeared to His “other sheep” (John 1:16) in the Americas and declared, “I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the light and the life of the world: and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world” (3 Nephi 11:10-11).

When the Savior left the tomb that Sunday morning, He showed that victory over death was possible–a victory He has promised to us. The Apostle Paul delcared, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? [T]hanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Corinthians 15:55, 57). I cannot think of any greater blessing than to know that Jesus Christ is our Savior, that He lives, and that He was sent by God, our loving and devoted Father. The Lord’s prophet on the earth today, President Thomas S. Monson, taught that “God our Eternal Father lives and loves us. He is indeed our Father, and He is personal and real. May we realize and understand how close to us He is willing to come, how far He is willing to go to help us, how much He loves us, and how much He does and is willing to do for us.”

Indeed, the great Easter message and blessing is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

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Palm Sunday

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus said in a Nazarene synagogue, “because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable day of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). He was then opening His ministry and promising to teach, to serve, and to bless any and all who would cross His path. True to His divine nature, He kept that promise everywhere He went, leaving us an unparalleled example of selfless love and tender mercy. Then, at the beginning of the final week of His life, He rode into Jerusalem to the shouts and praise of a devoted crowd that had seen the good He had done in the few years of His mortal ministry. With palm branches in hand, they hailed Him as their King and gloried in the good things He had taught them.

On this Palm Sunday, let us echo praise that rings through the millennia, for we know that there was something even more profound to His promise to love and to serve! As he stood  in that synagogue, He declared Himself to be the Messiah, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And that promise is one that extended beyond the few years of His earthly ministry and continues to touch our lives. Indeed, “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

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Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (lds.org)

Entering Jerusalem, Jesus rode into a week that would show Him the horrors of bearing the guilt and sorrow of the world, culminating with Friday’s cross. “Surely, he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows,” the prophet Isaiah said, “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him: and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5). Knowing, as we do, what Jesus Christ endured for us, how can we not rejoice? Shouldn’t our shouts of praise match—if not transcend—the shouts of those in ancient Jerusalem? Many of them probably only knew Him to be their teacher and healer—but we know Him to be our Savior and Redeemer.

This week provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the Savior’s life and on the peace, forgiveness, and salvation He has invited us to enjoy. I know that I will do more to remember Him and the love that motivated Him to lay down His life in order to lift us above our own imperfection. Today and throughout the week, I hope that we all may be found praising the Lord, our hearts full of gratitude for the great blessings that He has given us.

The company of angels

Are praising thee on high,

And mortal men and all things

Created make reply.

The people of the Hebrews

With palms before thee went;

Our praise and love and anthems

Before thee we present.

To thee, before thy passion,

They sang their hymns of praise;

To thee, now high exalted,

Our melody we raise.

Thou didst accept their praises;

Accept the love we bring,

Who in all good delightest,

Thou good and gracious King.

(Theodulph of Orleans)

The Winter’s Seeds

A while ago I walked past a tree that had kept its seeds all the way through the winter. I personified that tree liberally and wondered about all the time that it had spent growing and preparing those seeds to be carried off by the wind in order to grow elsewhere. In those final weeks of winter, however, the seeds were still there, dried and brown. Seeing that tree made me wonder about how often our careful plans and hopes seem to be completely frustrated at times. Of course, the promise of spring and another chance to grow makes that tree’s lackluster past (and ours) seem a little less final. With that thought, I wrote this sonnet, a reminder that every bleak winter is followed by a vibrant spring.

A hollow breeze comes hissing through the seeds

That cling, unsown, to frozen branches. Snow

Remains through weeks of cold; the maple pleads

For some relief, but wintry winds still blow

To scorn the tree whose flowers bloomed in vain,

It seems. Not many months ago, the life

That filled the leaves coursed green, but vernal rain

Through March and May gave way to winter’s strife—

And autumn’s hope, in lifeless seeds, decays.

The disappointed tree endures the snow

And thinks about the past, the promised days

That never came—a withering, aching blow.

Yet fearsome winter yields itself to spring,

And life’s renewed—a gift from heaven’s King.

Consider the Lilies

Frozen February has passed, and March has come roaring in to take its place. February was a trying month for many, and, despite the warming temperatures, I still find myself shivering off last month’s final icy traces. Amidst the dreary, grey days, daily stresses, and mundane tasks, however, I can always find relief through good music—especially when that music points my mind and my heart heavenward. The pairing of inspired melody and sacred verse warms my soul. This week, then, I want to share one of my very favorite hymns, Roger Hoffman’s “Consider the Lilies.”

“Consider the lilies of the field…”

On the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Savior Jesus Christ invited His disciples to “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28-29). I don’t think there is any designer, seamstress, or tailor who has ever matched the simple elegance and honest beauty of the Creator’s handiwork , for the world is full of beauty from the magnificent lilies in the field to the majestic mountains with their snowy peaks. Seeing that beauty, do we remember that the Being who “clothe[d] the grass of the field” is literally our Father? “Shall he not much more clothe you?” the Savior asked in the same way that He drew the multitude’s attention to the birds of the sky, saying “they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

I love the way the book of Genesis tells of the Creation. It says that God created the heaven and the earth, the land and the sea, plants, animals, fowls, and fishes. He hung the stars in the heavens and set the moon in orbit around the earth. After that work, He saw His creation, and “it was good” (Genesis 1:25). Then He created man and woman, finally putting His own children on the earth that had been created just for them. It was only then that “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). If all of God’s creation only became “very good” in His sight once He put man and woman on it, doesn’t that illustrate just how much He values us—you and me—over the birds of the sky? Doesn’t it show just how willing He is to take care of our needs and address our righteous wants?

“Though the path may wind across the mountains, He knows the meadows where they feed…”

Often, it’s hard to see God’s wisdom at work in our trials, but that is more of a testament to our ignorance than to God’s indifference. One of my favorite passages of the Old Testament is found in Isaiah 55. It says:

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Rain cannot fall to the earth without watering it and causing life to spring up where it falls; similarly, we cannot receive God’s word nor do His will without it being for our benefit. To tie it back to the verse of music, we may not see much beyond the winding mountain paths that we find ourselves on, but He knows the meadows where we feed. He knows where we need to be in order to find safety and happiness, and He knows how to get us there. As long as we follow Him in faith, He will get us there—even if it means we have to climb a mountain or two along the way.

“The pains of all of them He carried from the day of His birth…”

The most important thing to remember in all this is that we don’t walk those mountain paths alone. The Lord is not one to point out our destination and watch us recede into the distance, nor is He one to wait for us on the finish line, unconcerned with the upsets along the way. Rather, our Savior walks alongside us, and He knows perfectly what we think and feel as we struggle towards greener pastures. The Book of Mormon teaches:

He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people…. And he will take upon him their infirmities, 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 7:11-12)

Jesus Christ understands perfectly what we suffer because He suffered it too, and, with His infinite love, He wants to help us to overcome the difficulties we face. Not only did He suffer our pains and infirmities, but He overcame them, and that means that He has not only the desire to help us to overcome, but the power necessary to make it happen.

“And He will heal those who trust Him and make their hearts as gold…”

“Come unto me,” the Savior says, “all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). There can be great comfort in knowing that, for however difficult things may seem, the Savior always has His hand outstretched to lift us when we struggle. I can think of several occasions in which the Lord has helped me to overcome challenges that I didn’t have the strength to overcome—and I know that, as long as I remember Him and trust Him enough to let Him help me, He will see me through many more. That is the wonderful thing—our Savior is not a passive one. In fact, He is actively engaged and invested in our well-being. When He was on the earth, He went about doing good, spreading joy, and easing burdens. Surely, now that He has ascended into heaven, resurrected and glorified, His character of love and service and His capacity to provide them have only increased. It can be hard sometimes for us to walk the mountain paths and believe that the grass really is greener on the other side. However, it gets easier when we remember that Christ is the Good Shepherd who will lead us, heal us, and show us the way to become better people. And it gets even easier when we remember that He has promised us rest and that He has the capacity to keep that promise perfectly. He can indeed purify us, heal us, and lift us to heaven where, as the Apostle John wrote, “They [or we] shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all the tears from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16-17).

I know great things await those who press on in faith. Trials will arise—there is no doubt of that—but if God cares enough to feed the birds of the sky, He will certainly care for us, His sons and daughters. So consider the lilies of the field and their silent promise that God will care for us with tenderness and love—for that is His greatest desire and joy.

The Widow’s Mite

When we set out to do something good that we fear may be scrutinized, criticized, or ridiculed, we may feel like we have to justify ourselves to onlookers, hoping that a greater understanding of our motives will prompt them to be more charitable in their judgment. At other times, we may think of calling a friend to see how they are doing, but then we ultimately decide against it, not wanting to interrupt their day with our—as we suppose—pointless chatter. Thus, we do nothing, thinking that the good we had in mind may be more of an inconvenience than a blessing. Unfortunately, we often fail in these cases to recognize that real good is always worth doing and that it never needs to be justified.

A short while ago, I was thinking about the widow who, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, cast her two mites into the treasury of the temple even as the men around her gave, at face value, vastly more generous and meaningful contributions. I’m not going to pretend that I know exactly what those funds were for, but it wouldn’t be hard to assume that her two mites didn’t make much of a difference to the bottom line. Surely, the Temple Mount would not have shut down if she hadn’t given her almost unnoticeable contribution. I say “almost unnoticeable” because, of course, that widow’s donation did not go unnoticed; the Savior of Mankind did notice, and He then said to His disciples, “[T]his poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasure: for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12:43-44).

By this, we can see that the scope of service clearly isn’t the measure of its validity. In the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the ancient prophet Alma teaches that “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” and that “by very small means the Lord…bringeth about the salvation of many souls” (Alma 37:6-7). We may not see the immediate effects of the small things that we do, but that does not make them worthless. Like honeybees, we can collectively perform our small kindnesses, working independently but with the unifying purpose of making the world a sweeter place. Or, like the tiny particles that deposit themselves layer-by-layer to form sandstone, the small and simple things that we do each day can, by their steady accretion, form a monument of goodness and faith in the life of another. Indeed, like ours, that widow’s contribution may have been small , but it drew the attention of the Lord of all Creation.

As I think more about that widow and her mites, though, I believe that there may be more to the story. I suppose that the lesson is not just one of how small acts can make a big difference, but it is also a lesson of how we should feel about the small and simple good we can do each day. How many of us with small musical talent see a more accomplished musician perform and then decide that we’ll stick to playing alone in a practice room, letting the other musician pick up our slack? I’m certainly guilty of holding back on certain occasions because I didn’t think that my contribution would measure up, but that is exactly what that mighty widow teaches us not to do. She approached the treasury of the temple with her two mites and no doubt saw the others pouring their wealth into the coffers, but, rather than be ashamed of the size of her offering, she boldly gave her contribution to the Lord. She didn’t compare her offering to the offerings of others, she didn’t apologize for not having more to give, and she didn’t decide that her offering was too small to be worth giving. She recognized the importance of giving what she had to give and trusted that it would be enough. What made her contribution worthy of the Savior’s notice was not its size; what made her contribution worthy of such attention was the stalwart faith and unwavering devotion with which made it. That same faith and that same devotion can transform our simple acts of kindness into noble acts of Christlike love—and those acts can draw heaven’s notice, lifting and refining us because we are willing to cast in what little we have to give.

Indeed, this is the greater message of the widow’s mite—that good is always worth doing and that we should never be ashamed to give what we have to offer because we fear it won’t measure up. Surely, those who do give what they have will be pleasantly surprised to see the cumulative effect of their goodness when they stand before the Savior and ask:

[W]hen saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee to drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

(Matt. 25: 37-40)

And then, to all those widows and widowers who were willing to cast in their mites, brighten another’s day with a simple gesture, or perform an unrecognized act of service, He will say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).