Happy Easter! Easter and Christmas are my two favorite holidays, because they’re really both just chapters in the same continuing story. With Christmas the emphasis is on Joy, Peace, Goodwill to Men. With Easter it is a little more somber as we reflect on the atoning sacrifice of our Savior, His suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary, the laying down of His own life, and then the taking it up again in the reality of the Resurrection. But the message of Christmas and Easter is the same - HOPE.
As we stood on the other side of the veil with the hosts of heaven, rejoicing in the birth of
our Savior, we celebrated all that the birth of that child signified. His life, His teachings, His miracles, but ultimately the fact that He would, through the ATONEMENT and the RESURRECTION, irrevocably break the bonds of SIN and DEATH.
I struggled preparing this talk because there is so much to think about and discuss. I decided to look at the last week of His life leading up to the crucifixion, at the things that He taught and did, and was amazed at how much was packed into every single day. To quickly review -
Day 1 - His Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, where the people greeted him as a king, when He wept over the city and prophesied of its destruction and the resulting captivity of the people.
Day 2 - The second clearing of the temple where He drove out the money changers and those buying and selling sacrificial animals. NOTE, the first time, He identified the temple as his Father’s house, the second time He identified it as HIS house, effectively and boldly declaring himself to be the Messiah in the face of those who wanted to destroy Him. He heals the sick and afflicted in the temple.
Day 3 - The blighting of the fig tree (the fig was a symbol of the Jewish faith, the showy tree with no fruit indicated the hypocrisy of those who feigned to be fruitful but were actually spiritually barren). Shows the Savior’s power to destroy, which is interesting that He demonstrated that for His disciples heading into His last few days. The message is that He could’ve stopped those who opposed Him at any given moment, but he didn’t. He then gives a mini sermon to the disciples about forgiveness. This is prior to entering the city where the religious leaders attempted to ensnare Him in breaking the Mosaic law with layered questions. But He taught them doctrine in parables, including the two great commandments to love God above all else, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. He then went to the Mount of Olives and gave the Olivet Discourse about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Coming of the Savior.
Day 4 is known as the “Silent Day”, we do not know what Jesus did this day as he stayed in Bethany, but we do know at some point during the holy week that Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 apostles, made his deal with the chief priests to betray Jesus for the price of 30 pieces of silver. Which was the price at the time common for the sale of a slave.
Day 5 - The Last Supper, where Jesus shares the Passover meal with his disciples, washes their feet, calms their contentions, teaches them that the greatest leaders are the servants of all, institutes the sacrament, identifies Judas as his betrayer in a way that Judas understands if the others did not, suffers alone in Gethsemane where Peter, James, and John are unable to wait and watch with him, has an angel appear to comfort him, later is betrayed by Judas Iscariot with a kiss, heals a man’s ear after Peter cuts it off, is arrested by the Sanhedrin. Peter denies Him three times before the rooster crows, as the Savior prophesied he would.
Day 6 - His trial, crucifixion, death, and burial. Remember that the atonement of the Savior is not just what occurred in Gethsemane, but everything he endured from Gethsemane to the cross. Betrayal, mockery, scorn, abuse, pain, being left alone on the cross as he cried out to the Father. After His death, His battered and bruised, but unbroken body (like all sacrificial lambs that were slaughtered without breaking any bones), the blood and water pouring from his side, the repentance and conversion of some nearby (the Centurion, and one of the prisoners being crucified).
Day 7 - The tomb. He was taken there by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, prominent members of the Sanhedrin who had been secretly converted to the Savior, but came out openly to care for and prepare the Savior’s body for burial.
Finally - The Resurrection, where Mary Magdalene and others came to ensure his body had been properly prepared, only to find the tomb open and empty, and then for Mary to see the Savior himself and eventually recognize Him as her Master.
Reviewing this, I was struck with the contrast between Judas Iscariot, and Peter in regards to the transformative power of the Atonement.
Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, who plotted with the chief priests and elders, and essentially sold the Savior for money, agreeing to identify him with a kiss on the cheek so He could be arrested. We could argue that his great failing was greed, we don’t know a lot about his motivations from the scriptures, but he does seem to be a little preoccupied with money. He “holds the bag”, meaning he has charge over the money for the group. He criticizes Mary for using costly spikenard oil when she washes and anoints the Savior’s feet, we also know from the various accounts in the Bible that he was heavily influenced by Satan, and even after the Savior acknowledged him as a betrayer at the Last Supper, Judas carried on with his plan. READ from Jesus the Christ,pg 642.
Peter - I love Peter, the somewhat impulsive, but bold apostle, who is so quick to jump to action for the Savior. What is his great failing? In my opinion it’s fear, which causes him to lose faith. He walks on water to the Savior, but fears and sinks, only to be lifted and saved by Jesus. He tells the Lord multiple times that he would lay down his life for him, and the Savior tells him that Peter will deny Him 3 times before the rooster crows. Peter is shocked into silence. In Gethsemane, Peter, James & John accompany the Savior, but are unable to wait and watch with Him because of fatigue. READ MATTHEW 26:40. When Judas betrays the Master, Peter leaps forward to defend and cuts off a man’s ear. The Savior gently rebukes him and heals the man. In the tumultuous events that follow, Peter does, in fact, deny knowing the Savior 3 times. READ Jesus the Christ, page 630.
Both men had weaknesses, repeated failures, but the difference is that Judas chose to leave the Savior’s side, to allow himself to be so repeatedly influenced by Satan that when he finally realized what he had done, he despaired completely, he couldn’t see a way back. ‘Anne of Green Gables’ quote, “To despair is to turn one’s back on God.”
Peter, in contrast, sorrowed and repented, kept at the work the Lord had given him, and overcame his failing of fear to become the steadfast prophet of Christ’s church after the Savior ascended to Heaven. Jesus Christ left the keys of authority with Peter. I’m sure it was much more difficult to be an apostle without the Savior by his side, than it had been with him there. Peter never denied the Savior again, and was martyred for the cause. He was also crucified, but requested to be hung upside down because he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as his Savior.
How do we be more like Peter, than Judas? How do we continually maintain hope in the transformative power of the Atonement? According to one of my daughter Marin’s favorite songs, “The Wise Man Built his House Upon the Rock,” we simply build our lives upon the rock of Jesus Christ.
READ HELAMEN 5:12 - remember, remember. We are urged all throughout the scriptures to always remember Him. But for us, that goes beyond good advice. As Elder Soares taught in his talk from this last conference titled, “Always Remember Him” we actually COVENANT each week in the sacrament prayers to ALWAYS remember him. Elder Soares explains, “The English word remember comes from the Latin word memor and means “to be mindful of.” In this context, the word remember means to have in mind or to be able to bring to one’s mind an awareness of someone or something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past… In the Hebrew context, the word remember involves a knowledge that is accompanied by appropriate action. Thus doing is an essential part of remembering.``
As we keep the commandments of our Heavenly Father, as we DO the things the Lord asks us to do through the promptings of the Holy Ghost, we will be increased in our ability to see, to know, and to have personal experiences with our Savior. Or we will be blessed with increased discernment to recognize those experiences in our past where the Savior stood beside us, walked with us, maybe carried us through the storms and whirlwinds of our lives.