With his closest disciples, the apostles He had called, gathered about Him and just hours before He would be betrayed into the hands of those who would end His life, Jesus of Nazareth declared, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Knowing, as He did, of the chaos, fear, and uncertainty that would accompany His imminent arrest and eventual crucifixion, the Savior used that final gathering to demonstrate His unfailing love by encouraging and inspiring His disciples, His friends, saying, “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” (John 14:27). It amazes me how, with the pains of Gethsemane and the horrors of Calvary looming before Him, Jesus chose not to seek sympathy or beg for support. Rather, He gathered those who would also suffer (in significantly smaller ways) and delivered to them one of the most powerful sermons in scripture, promising them “another Comforter, that [would] abide with [them] for ever” (John 14:16). Often, we think of His love as expressed in the laying down of His life in death to redeem us—and that surely was an incomparable act of love. However, His conduct—even in the direst moments—reveals that His love was and is expressed also in the laying down of His life in service to save us and to lift us. In both His willingness to die for us and to live for us, Christ has shown that no love is greater than His.
Describing the sufferings of the Savior, Isaiah wrote:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But 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…. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:4-5, 7)
When confronted by His captors, the Son of God asked, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). His object, however, was not to garner renown for Himself nor to seek His own comfort. His was a mission given to Him by God the Father, “that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17), and that meant that He had to suffer sorrow, pain, and death—to conquer them so that He would be able to lift us above them. Therefore, when the accusing priests blasphemed and spit, when the soldiers plaited thorns and wielded flails, and when the crucifiers drove their awful nails, He opened not His mouth, but suffered His cross in order to save us from ours—sin and death. He didn’t endure such horrors for His own good; He endured them for ours because He loved us.
Of course, Christ’s love didn’t end with His death. After three days in the tomb, He arose, never to die again, and He continued a life of unfathomable love and care for all those whose sins He had borne. Recently, I was reading the account given in the Book of Mormon of Christ’s visit to the ancient people of the Americas. Describing the condition of the people around the time of Christ’s death, the Book of Mormon says that the “more righteous part of the people had nearly all become wicked; yea, there were but few righteous among them” (3 Nephi 7:7). After the death of Jesus, there were earthquakes and fires, upheavals and calamities across the continent that left cities ruined and civilization fractured. It was to such a scene that the resurrected Christ came. Thus standing among the remainder of that wicked race, the Savior had no scolding words, no bile, nor bitterness. Among those imperfect, sinful people—people whose suffering and guilt He had endured—the loving Lord pointed no fingers, made no railing accusations. Rather, He came with an invitation and plea:
[W]ill ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? Yea, verily I say unto you if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me. Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. (3 Nephi 9:13-15)
Instead of telling the gathered people how much He had gone through because of them or complaining about their inability to live as they should have lived, the Savior and Redeemer forgave them, healed them, and blessed them. He bore no ill will towards those whose sins had been the reason for His suffering. He came to lift them, to carry them above the sins that would have been their eternal undoing. What greater love can there be than this?
Edward P. Kimball’s hymn, “God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son,” describes the mission and love of the Savior in words that show that His love and His light are still effective in the world—and in our lives—today:
God loved us, so he sent his Son,
Christ Jesus, the atoning One,
To show us by the path he trod
The one and only way to God
He came as man, though Son of God,
And bowed himself beneath the rod.
He died in holy innocence,
A broken law to recompense.
Oh, love effulgent, love divine!
What debt of gratitude is mine,
That in his off’ring I have part
And hold a place within his heart.
Each of us holds a place in His heart. He knows us and loves us. How often do we groan when traffic slows down because of a minor, avoidable collision at the intersection ahead? Yet the Savior, who only suffered because we fail to avoid sin—suffering such agony that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44)—never groans nor never laments His lot. He stands, rather, with his merciful, loving arm outstretched, inviting us: “Come unto me, all ye that labour 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). In everything, Jesus Christ’s purpose is to bring out the best within us, to help us to become better today than we were yesterday. He worries so much less about where we’ve been than He does about where we’re going: He’s paid the price of our shortcomings and lends His power and grace to our best efforts in order to propel us into the eternities. Knowing, as we do, that He has taken from us the yokes of sin and death, let us take up His yoke of love, striving, as He does, to bring out the best in those around us, to increase the good in the world. As we live lives of Christian love and service, I believe that we’ll come to know just how deeply Christ loves us, and I’m sure we’ll come to find that, through our service, He will have brought out the very best in us.