With Easter coming up soon, it is important to understand and reflect upon Jesus Christ’s Atonement– what it is, why it happened, and what it means for us today. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the single most important event to have taken place on the Earth. Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and His death on the cross enables us to overcome our sins, pains, weaknesses, and shortcomings in which we can return to God’s presence someday. The ultimate question people often ask is “Does the Atonement cover all our sins and pains, or are there some who have sinned and suffered beyond Christ’s redeeming grace?” Growing up, many may simply understand that the Atonement involved Christ paying the price for our sins. But with personal study, prayer, revelation, and overall life experience, one can truly learn and understand how the Atonement really does cover everything that mankind has gone through.
A great way for one to learn about the vast scope of Jesus Christ’s Atonement is to read and study the LDS book, “The Infinite Atonement”, written by Tad R. Callister, who has been the general president of the Sunday School of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since April 2014. Tad R. Callister states that “the Savior descended beneath all sins, all transgressions, all ailments, and all temptations known to the human family.” It can be hard to truly visualize what Christ experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane; a great scripture found in the Doctrine and Covenants about the Prophet Joseph Smith helps paint a picture of the the magnitude of the Atonement. In DC 122, the Lord tells Joseph the potential trials he will yet face:
“ If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea; If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring… and thou be dragged to prison, and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb; And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?”
Thus, Christ even suffered and overcame all the horrors Joseph Smith faced and more.
Some may also wonder how Christ could have truly gone through everything we do in his single mortal lifetime… Callister explains that “His life was not a random sampling, a spot audit; it was a total confrontation with and internalization of every human experience, every human plight, every human trial.”
First and foremost, Christ felt the pains and suffering we experience when we sin. He suffered for every kind of sin so that anyone can repent and change after making even the most serious sins. Christ’s Atonement is there for each of us to progress, even if it means just moving a little bit forward at a time.
Furthermore, not only did Christ feel the pain of mankind’s sins, he also felt everything and anything someone goes through: loneliness, inadequacy, and sickness. Through the Atonement, Christ also felt and experienced every manner of temptation. Since facing temptation is part of our everyday lives, it was necessary for Christ to overcome such. As Callister states, “It is an integral part of the human experience—facing temptations on a daily, almost moment-by-moment basis—Every day of our lives we battle temptation—and so did the Savior.” Christ truly lived the perfect life and example for us. He faced temptation many times from the devil and the Pharisees and Sadducees—even his last moments before death on the cross he was cunningly mocked, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Even though Christ was confronted with numerous temptation, he never gave in to it. For this reason, some may argue that Christ fully can’t relate to us without knowing what it’s like to give in to temptation. However, Callister remarkably counters this claim by reminding us that righteous people know just as much about temptation since they have to build the power to resist it. “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is… A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.”
As stated in Hebrews 2:18, because Christ himself suffered from and conquered temptation, “He is able to succor them that are tempted.” As a result, Christ becomes our “advocate, who knoweth the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted” as explained in DC 62:1. Brigham Young backs this up saying “It must be that God knows something about temporal things, and has had a body and been on Earth, were it not so he would not know how to judge men righteously, according to the temptations and sin they have to contend with.” Christ’s mortal life, ministry, and Atonement was essential for all of our final judgment, resurrection, and salvation.
In addition, through the Atonement, Christ even experienced the trials and anxiety that comes from exercising faith. Throughout each of our lives, we have to choose to move forward with faith even though we may not have the answers—we may have to choose faith over the worldly reason and logic—walking by faith rather than by sight. A great example from the scriptures of walking by faith is shown by the prophet Nephi when he was instructed by the Lord to go back to Jerusalem to obtain the brass plates: “I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” This was pure, absolute, unwavering faith.
Since all of us have to experience exercising faith, it would make perfect sense for the Savior to have to proceed with faith in His mortal life as well. Christ’s suffering in the garden and on the cross wouldn’t have been truly complete if he fully knew the outcome—he had to exercise faith that all would work out. According to author C.S. Lewis, “it is clear that this knowledge of his death must somehow have been withdrawn from Him before He prayed in Gethsemane. He could not, with whatever reservation about the Father’s will, have prayed that the cup might pass and simultaneously known that it would not. That is both a logical and psychological impossibility.”
In Matthew 26:39 Christ’s plea to the Father in the garden reveals his necessity to rely on faith, “O Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” He made an honest request to seek another alternative, if there were any, to the atoning sacrifice. His probing mind sorted out all the options and all the possibilities but could not find no alternative, so he turned in hope to that one being who knew and had experienced even more then he. The response was in the negative; there was no other way. He must place his trust in God and proceed on faith.
Christ later faced the ultimate test of faith alone on the cross when the Father withdrew His spirit and left him comfortless. In His abandonment, as stated in Matthew 27:46, Christ cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Christ truly exercised faith even though all seemed hopeless in the moment. We should all be grateful for Christ and his commitment to fulfill the unknown, uncharted mission of the Atonement for each of us. It is inspiring that Christ himself had to trust in the Father with faith rather than reason—many people today rely on being very rational, realistic, and matter-of-fact, usually tending to think and make decisions according to what makes sense. However, we can all slowly but surely come to know how much more powerful faith is when we trust in the Lord and His Spirit. We should always remember and be grateful that Heavenly Father has given us ways to exercise faith to learn and grow closer to Him.
The Savior Suffers in the Garden of Gethsemane Video
The following bible video produced by the LDS Church portrays what Christ went through in the Garden of Gethsemane as part of the Atonement: