As Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ is God. We further believe that God came and dwelt among the children of men and took upon him the infirmities of the flesh. That is, He was subject to the same physical appetites of hunger, thirst, sleep, companionship, and solitude which all of us have. He also endure pain, sorrow, frustration, ridicule, rejection, and all other emotions which we as mortals must endure. He had to face the temptations of impatience, pride, greed, revenge, and hate that each of us battle with. Yet, because He was God, He never once gave into any of these character flaws, but showed us how it is possible to control and over come each of these frailties .
But before He was born to a virgin woman named Mary, Jesus was the God whom Abraham worshipped, whom Isaac followed, and Jacob looked to. He was the God who spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. It was His laws which the Israelites were expected to obey and it was His anger which God's chosen people suffered when they followed after pagan idols. It was Jesus Christ who spoke to the ancient prophets in Old Testament times, directing them to warn the people of their wicked ways.
Jesus was the God of the entire universe. He created all that has been made, both in the heavens and the earth. He was in the beginning before the world ever existed, and was chosen to be the redeemer of mankind before the earth was ever formed. By His command the planets were created and their orbits fixed. By His decree the seas appeared and the land was formed. By His direction, both plants and animals sprang forth upon the earth and multiplied themselves as He intended. Even the winds and the waves obeyed His will. Indeed, Jesus was the supreme ruler to whom all nature paid homage.
One of the glorious names by which Jesus is know is "Emanuel," which means "God is with us." However, in order for God to live among man, He first had to descend from above. Leaving His Father's throne and the royal courts on high, He laid His majesty and glory by and left worlds of light, so He could walk here upon His footstool and be like man - almost.
Unlike all other mortals, Jesus did not have an earthly father. His Father lived in heaven. Thus, even though He looked like a normal human being, and was subject to the same weakness of the flesh that all of us have, He was still divine. He was like a King in pauper's clothing. As such, He taught with authority, He walked with dignity, He spoke with profound wisdom, and His deeds were performed with unnatural power. He had power to heal the sick, make the blind see, cause the lame to walk, and even call the dead from their grave. He could discern the thoughts of men and determine what was in people's hearts. He could walk on water, make a tree wither, know the future, and defy all powers of Satan to destroy Him. He could pass untouched through the midst of an angry crowd intent on killing Him. He was invincible and unconquerable because He was God Himself, living, walking, and working side by side with man whom He had created in the beginning.
Yet the reason He came to earth was not to live, but to die. His whole purpose for being on earth was to atone for the sins of the world by offering Himself up as a human sacrifice. Indeed, all the prophets, from Adam to Malachi foretold of the time when God would redeem His creation from the sentence of death which had come upon every person because of transgressing the laws which God had established. As such, only God Himself could rescue man from his fallen condition and return him back into God's presence. And it was for this cause that Jesus came into the world, that the world, through Him, might be saved.
To help mankind look forward to this anticipated event, God gave man the law of sacrifice. The law required that a first-born male lamb or goat without blemish was to be offered up as a blood sacrifice. The sins of the individual were placed upon the animal, and then it was killed in such a manner that it's blood flowed onto the ground. Once that had been accomplished, it's body was then burnt and the priests ate the meat. The symbolism behind this ritual was to foreshadow the time when Jesus, the Lamb of God, would take upon Himself all of our sins, then give His body to be slain, with His blood being spilled upon the ground. That's what the sacrificed animal was intended to represent. However, in reality, that's not nearly what happened.
To understand the differences and appreciate their significances, we first need to briefly examine the life of Christ. When Jesus was twelve years of age, His parents had gone to Jerusalem to offer up the annual sacrifices as requited under the law of Moses. Having completed their duty, Joseph and Mary headed back home to Nazareth, but Jesus had remained at the temple, asking questions and speaking with the leading Rabbis and Jewish scholars of His day. When His frantic parents returned looking for Him, Jesus reminded them that He was about His real Father's business. Even at this young age, Jesus was behaving more like the son of a king rather than the child of a common carpenter.
When He was thirty years old, Jesus went into the wilderness to be baptized by His cousin, John. When John initially refused to baptize Him, Jesus answered with quiet authority, saying, "Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15) and John at once complied with Jesus' wishes. Immediately after that, Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for forty days, and was severely tempted by Satan himself. Yet, despite being tired and weakened from hunger, Jesus easily withstood Satan's subtle and crafty attempts to lure Him into sin. Once more, Jesus spoke in an authoritative and commanding way, eventually going so far as to order Satan to leave. So powerful was Jesus' authority, that Satan had no other choice than obey the command he was given.
As Jesus began His ministry, He chose His disciples, telling them, "Come follow me." From the scriptural account we read that they immediately did as they were told. Throughout His ministry, He commanded the sick to be healed and it happened as He ordered. Even evil spirits obeyed His command when He ordered them to depart from inhabiting the bodies of people. On two occasions He forcefully cleansed the temple, declaring God's house to be His Father's. When the religious leaders found fault with His actions, Jesus met their criticism head-on and defeated them at their own game every time. Even though this infuriated these self-proclaimed pious men, despite all their best efforts to stop Him, they were powerless to do so. On one occasion, high on a mountain top, secluded from the view of others except three of His disciples, Jesus appeared in full glory before them.
There can be no doubt that even though He walked among men, Jesus lived His life and behaved Himself as the God He was - the supreme ruler of His creation and the Son of God.
But that was about to change.
Sometime near His thirty-third birthday in mortality, Jesus returned to the city of Jerusalem to observe the feast of the Passover, which was to be eaten on Thursday evening that year. We can assume that Wednesday night Jesus slept, but it was the last time He would ever do so. All day Thursday Jesus went about teaching the people, but as evening approached, He retired to an upper room that had been obtained for the purpose of participating in the annual Jewish feast.
After the sun had set, He ate the traditional Passover meal with twelve specially chosen disciples whom He referred to as "apostles, " and then afterwards spent considerable time instructing them. As the night progressed, Jesus eventually left the building with eleven of His apostles and traveled through the crowded streets to a garden area known as Gethsemane which laid outside the city walls. After secluding Himself in a remote area, this mighty and kingly God knelt down upon the ground with His "soul exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death" (Mark 14:34 ). In fact, we're told that He "began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy" (Mark 14:33 ). Then something happened which made even this fearless God tremble and bleed at every pore. So great was His agony that He "fell on His face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me" (Mathew 26:39 ).
The hour of the night must have been very late because even His most devout disciples had trouble staying awake. How long the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob suffered in that garden we don't know for sure but from the account it would appear that His agony lasted for three hours. If the others that were with Him were tired by this time, Jesus must have been physically exhausted, not only from a lack of sleep, but from the three hour of agony He had just endured.
But, before He could leave Gethsemane, Roman soldiers came to arrest Jesus, and brought Him to stand trial before the Jewish High Priest. Throughout the remainder of the night, the mighty God of Israel stood before a council of the Sanhedrin as a criminal, with His hands tied behind Him and armed guards waiting nearby to carry out the will of the High Priest. As they questioned their God, they spoke menacingly to Him. They taunted Him. They reviled Him. Their intent was to find a reason to justify destroying Him. Although Jesus had earlier successfully countered Satan himself, this time He allowed His enemies to carry on with their blasphemous activity as they used false charges and lying witnesses to accuse Him of crimes worthy of death. Even when they smote their God and spit upon Him, He refrained from using the authority He possessed to take control of the situation as He had done so many times before.
As the sun rose, Jesus was hustled off to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate where He was again interrogated. After that, Jesus was taken before Herod, the king, who had imprisoned and ordered the beheading of John the Baptist. From there, Jesus was lead back to Pilate. Throughout the early morning hours, the mighty God of the universe, the great Jehovah, the ruler of all creation, was led about like an animal on a rope. Yet, unlike an animal, He was treated with contempt and hatred as though He were the vilest of lawbreakers.
Unsure what to do to satisfy the Jewish leaders, Pilate ordered Jesus to be scourged. With His clothes dishonorably stripped from His body, Jesus was unmercifully lashed. With each punishing swing of the whip, small chunks of skin were gouged off, leaving long bleeding gashes on His body. Repeatedly He was beaten this way, nearly to the point of death.
When at last the whipping stopped, the soldiers gathered around Jesus and mocked Him. They draped a purple robe over His swollen, bleeding body, placed a reed in His hand as a make believe scepter, and shoved a plaited thicket of thorns on His head, hastily fashioned into a crown. Then, bowing in ridicule before their victim, they chanted "Hail, King of the Jews." But what was intended to be a joke, was indeed true. Jesus was the true King of the Jews. More than that, He was the King of kings and Lord of lords. Yet, He silently stood before them and allowed these men of small minds and foul character to have their fun with Him. Even when they next smote Him and spit upon Him, He never used the power at His command to stop them.
Somewhere between nine and ten o'clock that morning, Jesus was forced to carry a large, heavy wooden beam through the streets of Jerusalem to a hill outside the city walls where He was to be crucified as a criminal. Throngs of people lined the street and watched as their God slowly passed before them, not in majesty and splendor, but as a despised outcast from society.
Once He arrived at the hill called Calvary, Jesus was laid on the beam He had been forced to carry, and large spikes were hammered through His hands, ripping gaping holes through muscles and nerves. Then a third spike was violently driven through His feet in like manner. As the beam was lifted, the full weight of His body hung with excruciating pain from the nails which secured Him to the cross.
Throughout the rest of the morning, and most of the afternoon - a total of possibly 8 hours - Jesus hung in full view of His chosen people. His blood profusely dripped from the nails in His body to the ground below His feet. He had had nothing to eat or drink since the night before. He had been deprived of sleep. His body was drained of energy from a loss of blood caused by the cruel beating and the crucifixion He had been subjected to. But, instead of worshipping their God, or at least having pity upon Him, the Jewish people taunted Him, saying, "He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God, let him deliver him now, if he will have him" (Matthew 27:42, emphasis added).
Jesus wasn't just any ordinary man. He was Emanuel. He was God living among us. Nevertheless, for our sake He allowed Himself to be treated as though He were unworthy of even the most common courtesy. Although He was full of love, He was hated. Although He had done nothing but good, He was despised. Although He had all power, He submitted Himself to be treated in the most degrading manner. Although He was worthy of praise and honor, He was scoffed and sneered at. Although He had done no harm, He was executed as a contemptible convict. Although He was God, He was reviled as though He were the devil himself.
Yet, this had all been prophesied for centuries. Indeed, under the law of Moses, the Israelites were required to offer up a male lamb or goat as a sacrifice for their sins to serve as a symbol or a representation of the sacrifice which God would someday make for our sins. However, the unsuspecting animal was quickly and mercifully slain by the priest. Even though Jesus was the Lamb of God who gave His own body and blood as a sacrifice for our sins, His death was anything but quick and painless. Instead of being unaware of what was about to happen to Him, Jesus knowingly gave Himself up to be slain. More than that, Jesus willingly allowed men to mock Him, ridicule Him, severely beat Him, humiliate Him, and torture Him.
Imagine taking a lamb, dressing it in funny looking clothing, then leading it around by a rope while mocking and beating it for several hours. Then, imagine torturing the animal for many more hours, allowing it to die a slow, painful death. This would be a better representation of what Christ's sacrifice for us was like. Yet, imagine taking a good, kindly king, a person of dignity and royalty and treating him this way. That would be a much better representation of what Christ's atonement was actually like.
The poets have described this for us in these words:
"When Jesus, the anointed, descended from above and gave Himself a ransom to win our souls with love. To walk upon His footstool and be like man almost, in His exalted station, and die, or all was lost. Leaving His Father's throne, on earth to live, His work to do alone, His life to give. He came as man, though Son of God and bowed Himself beneath the rod. He died in holy innocence, a broken law to recompense.
"Our Savior in Gethsemane shrank not to drink the bitter cup. And then for us on Calvary, upon the cross was lifted up. The body bruised, the life blood shed, a sinless ransom for our sake. While guilty men his pain deride, they pierced His hands, and feet and side. And with insulting scoffs and scorns they crowned His head with plaited thorns.
"For us the blood of Christ was shed. For us on Calvary's cross He bled. And thus dispelled the awful gloom that else were this creation's doom. Come saints and drop a tear or two for Him who groaned beneath your load. He shed a thousand drops for you, a thousand drops of precious blood."
When I contemplate who Jesus really is, and what He so willing endured for my sake, I can truly say, "I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me, confused at the grace that so fully He proffers me. I tremble to know that for me He was crucified; that, for me, a sinner, He suffered, He bled and died. Oh it is wonderful, wonderful to me."
SPECIAL NOTE: Because I feel that the above article is such a powerful and heartfelt testimony to the divinity of Jesus Christ, I am offering, free upon request, a cassette recording of this talk to anyone who would like to have one. It can be used to help non-members know how Latter-day Saints feel about Jesus Christ, as well as for inspiring others to better appreciate the atonement of Christ. On side two of this cassette I will also include my talk Whom shall I send? which provides further significance into the meaning of the Sacrament. To receive this free offer, please email your complete mailing address to Ron Cappelli .