Last Sunday, before Sacrament meeting, one of the counselors approached me and my wife with a slip of paper. “We don’t think our speakers are going to show up today, and this is our backup procedure.” The paper read, “please take a few minutes to discuss a favorite scripture or two that has strengthened your faith in Christ, brought you comfort, or deepened your understanding of the Gospel.”
As it turned out, the speakers did not show up and the first three people given these slips of paper took a combined total of 15 minutes. Add the rest hymn, and I had 30 minutes of sacrament meeting, a pulpit, and any topic I wanted.
Here’s what I ended up delivering, about 15-20 minutes worth.
I’d like to talk today about something basic in the Gospel, coming unto Christ. I’d like to begin with a scripture from Hebrews.
Hebrews 4:14-16 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are– yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (This the other Bible scriptures were read out of my NIV study Bible, which I alway tote to Church.)
Once we understand that Jesus vicariously suffered our pains and sicknesses as well as our sins, our guilt and our struggles should not drive us away from God, but towards him, boldly approaching the throne of grace in time of need and expecting grace and mercy.
Tell me and I forget, but show me and I remember, right? Well, I have some examples.
Let’s look at three prayers from the scriptures that depict someone humbly praying to God for mercy and grace and atonement in full awareness of their sins.
First, to Psalm 51. (Pages flipping.) Some of the Psalms were used or recited in the rituals of the Israelite temple, but some of them are prayers. Psalm 51 is attributed to King David. (Read large chunks of the Psalm. Advisable for you to do so.)
Psalm 51:10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
This verse in particular, with David praying for a steadfast heart, reminds me of another incident from the scriptures. Recall Peter’s vehement swearing that he would defend Jesus and not deny him, yet when the time came, he denied Jesus three times and “went out and wept bitterly.” (At this point, I tried to paraphrase the following from President Hinckley.)
“What pathos there is in those words! Peter, affirming his loyalty, his determination, his resolution, said that he would never deny. But the fear of men came upon him and the weakness of his flesh overtook him, and under the pressure of accusation, his resolution crumbled. Then, recognizing his wrong and weakness, “he went out, and wept.”
As I have read this account my heart goes out to Peter. So many of us are so much like him. We pledge our loyalty; we affirm our determination to be of good courage; we declare, sometimes even publicly, that come what may we will do the right thing, that we will stand for the right cause, that we will be true to ourselves and to others.
Then the pressures begin to build. Sometimes these are social pressures. Sometimes they are personal appetites. Sometimes they are false ambitions. There is a weakening of the will. There is a softening of discipline. There is capitulation. And then there is remorse, self-accusation, and bitter tears of regret.
One of the great tragedies we witness almost daily is the tragedy of men of high aim and low achievement. Their motives are noble. Their proclaimed ambition is praiseworthy. Their capacity is great. But their discipline is weak. They succumb to indolence. Appetite robs them of will.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “And Peter Went Out and Wept Bitterly,” Ensign, May 1979, 65. This has been reprinted at least one other time in the Ensign.)
Second, is the prayer of Ezra in Ezra 9. Ezra was a scribe who came with the Israelites when they returned from bondage in Babylon. (Selected verses read. Ezra 9 has been translated for the Naccle here.)
Lastly, we turn to the Book of Mormon, for everyone primary child’s favorite character, Nephi. Nephi’s family had deep split, and Lehi was the only glue holding the clan together. Lehi suspects he’s about to die, and 2 Nephi 1 through the middle of chapter 4 represent Lehi’s deathbed talks to his children. Once Lehi dies in 2 Nephi 4, spiritual responsibility for the clan’s spiritual welfare falls upon Nephi, and the responsibility weighs heavily on him. The latter part of 2 Nephi 4 is Nephi’s lament. We don’t tend to think of Nephi as a sinful character, but listen to his own words in verse 17-19.
“O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth 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.”
Flesh? Iniquities, temptations, and easily given-in-to sins? Nephi feels heavily affected by his imperfections, yet they do not depress him into spiritual despair or inactivity. Why is that? “Nevertheless, he knows in whom he has put his trust, where he has cast his lot, and signed up for the duration.
Nephi knows that God does is not holding tryouts for salvation, that God’s mercy and atonement are not contingent on perfection, but on continued commitment. Nephi is on God’s team and does his best to listen to the coach, so to speak, even if he’s not always the best player. From God’s perspective, we can be perfect, but not through our own efforts. Rather, when we are reconciled unto God, we become perfect through the Atonement. Listen to Moroni’s final words in Moroni 10:32-33.
32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. 33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.
If we are perfected in Christ, sanctified and made holy through him, then we have become spotless in God’s eyes and can go home, entering back into God’s presence. That is the Gospel.
May we all become truer disciples, and approach God’s throne boldly in times of need, for mercy and grace and atonement through Jesus Christ. In his name, amen.