Monday, April 6, 2015

The Miracle of the Atonement

Two years ago, if someone asked me what Jesus Christ has done for us, I probably would have said something along the lines of, “Jesus is our Savior.  He suffered and died for us.”  But I would not have fully understood what this meant. In the last 18 months serving a mission in Brazil, I was able to deepen my understanding of what Christ has truly done for us as I saw people choose to accept His atonement, repent, and be baptized.  As Easter is coming up next week, today I would like to share with you some of the things I learned and experiences I had that strengthened my testimony of the miracle of the Atonement of Christ. 

So what has Christ really done for us?
On my mission, I had the opportunity to teach a man, named Irmão Santos, who had done some terrible things in his life.  He had since stopped, but still felt the burden of his sins and could not seem to comprehend how his Heavenly Father could forgive Him after he had done things that had destroyed the lives of many others. 
One day we asked Irmão Santos to imagine that his son, Ato, had been playing outside with his friends and had accidentally kicked a ball into his neighbor’s window, causing it to shatter.  His neighbor was furious and wanted justice.  He went to Irmão Santos’ house and demanded that Ato repay him for his window. 
We asked Irmão Santos what he would do?  He replied that he would pay for the window.  “But you didn’t shatter the window,” we reminded him. “Ato did.  Shouldn’t he have to pay?”   Irmão Santos responded by saying that Ato was just a little boy and didn’t have any money.  He was Ato’s father, so he would pay for him.  When we asked him why, he finally said, “Because I love him.”  We then explained to our investigator that the love he had for his little boy could be compared to the love his Heavenly Father had for him – a son of God. 
As children of our Heavenly Father, at times we have accidents.  We make mistakes and wrong choices, and justice demands that we pay, for the scriptures clearly state that “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21).  But we, being imperfect humans, are unable to pay.  However, our Heavenly Father loves us so much that He provided a way for us to become clean again so that we can return to live with Him.  He was willing to send His Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ, who also loves us with an infinite love, to pay the price for our sins as He, the only perfect human being, suffered for our sins in Gethsemane and died on the cross at Calvary.  I will never forget the look of utter astonishment and joy that washed over my investigator’s face when he realized that we, as representatives of Jesus Christ, believed in him and that there really was a way for him to be made clean again. 
In Matthew 11:28-30, Christ says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor 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.

So what do we have to do to take Christ’s yoke upon us? 
Because of Christ’s Atonement, we all have the potential to be perfect, but we must do some things in order to accept our Savior’s sacrifice.  In Brazil, everyone loves soccer, or futebol.  I was there during the World Cup and we were allowed to watch the Brazil game with members and I can tell you, the adrenaline rush was gigantic.  There were people screaming and literally crying out of joy, fear, nervousness, etc. during all of the games.  It was quite the experience.  So, because of this Brazilian passion, at times we would need to use this sport during our lessons to spike our investigators interest and keep them engaged in the lesson, especially with the children.  We at times, I will admit, would play dumb and ask our investigators to describe futebol to us.  They would look at us, flabbergasted, and then, when they saw that we were being serious, would start trying to describe a soccer game.  They would say things like, “Well you and your teammates have to kick a ball into a net to score a goal.”  I would then surprise them by asking, “So if one individual scores a goal, is he the only one who gets a point?”
“No!” they would respond, thinking we were stupid.  “The whole team does.”
“Even those teammates who are sitting on the bench?” I would ask.
“Yeah!  Even them,” they would respond.  I would then ask them to compare their lives to a game of futebol and tell them that the best futebol player was Jesus Christ. (Even better than Neymar Jr.)
Jesus Christ, we would explain, is the perfect teammate because He is undefeatable and, if we are on His team, it is guaranteed that we will win.  And, to be on His team, He just requires five simple things: 1) We must have faith in Him, 2) we must repent when we make mistakes, 3) we must be baptized by someone holding priesthood authority, 4) we must receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and 5) we must endure to the end.  If we do these things, we will be on the undefeatable team of Christ and will be able to win eternal life.  “So,” we would ask them, “Do you have faith in Jesus Christ?”
“Yes,” they would answer.
“Do you repent when you make mistakes?”
“Yes,” they would answer.
“Then will you follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized by someone holding the proper priesthood authority?”
“Yes!” they would respond.  (I have to admit that not all those who said yes were baptized, but it really helped them understand what they needed to do to accept our Savior’s Atonement.)

So, does the Atonement really change lives?
The answer is yes.  One day my companion and I were walking down the street when we passed a group of drunkards.  One of them called to us and we found out that he was the uncle of a faithful member of our ward, named Isabela.  We stopped and started talking with this man, whose name was Francisco, and his drunken friends and ended up quickly teaching them the Word of Wisdom and inviting them to quit drinking for a few days and come to Church on Sunday.  I must admit that it was an invitation extended without much hope, so you can expect how surprised we were when Francisco showed up at church on Sunday and told us that he hadn’t drunk since we last saw him. 
After church that day, we gave Francisco a Book of Mormon and began to teach him.  We invited him to read daily and pray for strength to resist the temptation to drink.  Over the week as we told the members of the church that we were teaching Isabela's uncle, all of them reacted in an astonished and dubious manner.  They said things like: “You better be careful with him!”, “He’s a drunkard!”, “He uses drugs!”, “He won’t be baptized!”  But my companion and I never stopped believing in him because we could feel the love our Heavenly Father had for this beloved son of His. 
Two weeks after we met him, on his third Sunday at church, Francisco was baptized.  Our bishop, who had been a bit doubtful about this baptism later told us that, after the baptism, when he and Francisco were in the bathroom changing, both of them had felt the Spirit really strongly.  Francisco actually started crying and told Bishop that he had felt that it was time to make some changes in his life.  Since his baptism, Francisco has never drunk again and is now a worthy priesthood holder. 
A week after his baptism, he went over to Isabela's house and, as he walked in, Isabela's cousin said, “There’s a man coming in!”  Isabela laughed and said, “It’s Titio!” (“It’s Uncle!”).  His own family couldn't even recognize him.  A month after his baptism, Francisco was overjoyed to see his own son and daughter, who live with his ex-wife, enter the waters of baptism. This experience repeated itself in different forms throughout my mission as I was able to see different children of God learn about the Atonement of Christ and find a hope, a desire, a courage, and a strength to accept it and truly change their lives.

Well, knowing that the Atonement changes lives, the next question is, who is it for?
The answer is simple and wonderful – it is for everyone.  After Christ had finished His atoning sacrifice and was resurrected that Easter Sunday, He appeared to His apostles and said, “(If ye love me,) feed my sheep,” (John 21:15-17) exhorting them to share the message of the atonement with all nations and all mankind.  He then left the Middle East and appeared to the Nephites in the Americas to teach them the same Gospel and atonement which He taught during His mortal ministry.
To me, The Book of Mormon is true proof that the atonement is for everyone, for while other prophets were teaching His children in the Middle East, our loving Heavenly Father didn’t forget about His children in the Americas but instead called prophets to teach them as well.  As The Book of Mormon prophets clearly state, “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what resource they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26) 
Christ’s atoning sacrifice is for everyone.  We are all His sheep.  He knows us by name and loves us and, because of Him, we can receive a remission of our sins and return to live with our Father in Heaven again.

I bear my sincere testimony that the Atonement of Christ is real. It truly is a miracle that will change the lives of all who choose to accept it and give their best each day as they have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repent when they make mistakes, are baptized by worthy priesthood holders and renew their covenants when they partake of the sacrament each week, live to be worthy to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end.  I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is Christ’s true Church here upon the earth that was restored by a modern day prophet named Joseph Smith.  And I know with all of my heart that The Book of Mormon is a true testament of Jesus Christ that proves the love our Savior has for each and every one of us.  

*some names may have been changed for privacy privileges

"Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world." (3 Nephi 11:14)

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