Broken Covenants; Unrepentant Sin; and Atonement

The gospel of Jesus Christ is full of individual responsibility, personal covenants, distinctive action, and one on one choice to follow the will of God. This holds the basis of Salvation: that each soul must choose for themselves whom they will serve. As Joshua so eloquently challenged: “If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Inharently in Joshua’s command is the individual choice to serve God. 

However, a handful of nations have gone above and beyond this command of individual worship and covenant. 

Israel had made the covenant with their foundation. Having rejected it, they spent years in chastising bondage. Before returning to their home, Joshua warned them that he covenant not be taken lightly, and they made it again:

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” 

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.” 

But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.” 

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied. 

“Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 

And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.” On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. 

On this continent, following a similar apostasy of the covenent people (who were a lost branch of the Israelites), the faithful leader Moroni called for a similar renewal of Godly covenent:

 Behold, whosoever will maintain this title upon the land, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that they will maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them.

And it came to pass that when Moroni had proclaimed these words, behold, the people came running together with their armor girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God; or, in other words, if they should transgress the commandments of God, or fall into transgression, and be ashamed to take upon them the name of Christ, the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments.
Now this was the covenant which they made, and they cast their garments at the feet of Moroni, saying: We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression.

Here, a similar covenent was made after years of hardship, termoil, and oppression:

On May 15, 1776, shortly after the Continental Army’s initial arrival at New York, months before the British invasion, Washington prepared his men. Not only did he prepare them physically, but spiritually. He called them to the covenant. In a General Order, he declared:

“Instant to be observed [on Friday the 17th] as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, humbly to supplicate the mercy of Almighty God, that it would please him to pardon all our manifold sins and transgressions, and to prosper the Arms of the United Colonies, and finally establish the peace and freedom of America, upon a solid and lasting foundation.”
Then again on July 2, Washington in another General Order would remind his men that “the fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army…Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is.” Two days later, in Philadelphia, these same sentiments would be immortalized by the Continental Congress in the Declaration of Independence, which concludes, “And for support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
Washington was so convinced of his utter dependence upon this covenant relationship with God that he would continue to extend reminders and calls to repentance. On July 9, Washington issued another General Order in which he called for chaplains in each regiment to ensure that the soldiers “attend carefully upon religious exercises.” The order concluded with the following: “The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger-the General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavor so to live, and act, as becomes a good Christian soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.

In each of these cases, and many others, the sincere covenent with God has lead to victory of His covenent people: militarily, economically, in peace, in happiness, and in liberty.

But in each of these cases, we can also see the consequence when the people in question have defied or broken their covenant with God:

The Israelites, turning from God, were chastened with millennia of torment at the hands of the Canaanites, Persians, and the Arabs. After the final rejection and crucifixion of their God, they were dispersed entirely spending nearly 2000 years in exile for their failure to uphold their covenant.

The Nephites spent the better part of the next 1000 years being reminded of their covenent by falling and returning to God; accepting defeat and victory according to their faith. Ultimately they were completely destroyed in a genocidal war because of their failure to return to the God who protected them.

The Americans failure to keep their promise to God, and provide liberty to their fellow men, became embroiled in a civil war that nearly cost the nation, and remains to be the single most deadly war in their history. The following generation saw a turn from God, until they wer chastened by two generations of war, and returned them to the faith of God. However, the current trend is the most blatant rejection of God in American history: no longer do we openly enslave people by race, but we have committed an evil sacrament to Satan which has resulted in the murder of over 50 million innocent children: and we have called that sacrament good. We have turned away from our covenant and called it evil. We have selected leaders to guide us that we know are evil and unrighteousness actors, and called it inevitable.

America, like Israel and the Land of Nephi before them (and others) is ripe for just destruction. We have openly defied the God whom we promised to serve. Ours is a nation that has fallen into the worship of Baal and the grove, just as completely as our predecessors. And the Godly covenant gives us our promised consequence: obliteration.

But there is hope now, as there always has been. Israel is restored: they have turned back to the God who made them, and they have defied all external enemies (see the 7 day war…. And every other Israelie conflict in modern history….) the United States need only return to her Father for the promise of redemption.

Atonement must be made. Christ has made it, but we must accept that atonement, or we will make it ourselves again. That road leads to destruction.

As Joshua, I call on my readers to “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” The salvation of your individual soul depends upon your choice.

But as the Israelites, the Nephites, and the Americans before us, the return to God as a people; the restoration of our covenant; predicates our national security, our collective peace, our economic stability, and our cultural longevity. For the sake of our children, we must choose worthy leaders to lead and guide us. Like our spiritual ancestors, we must declare firmly that “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” 

Advertisements

Resurrection Sunday, Celebrating Life, and Defeating Death

Thank you for walking through Holy Week with me. The final mortal week of the Son of Man started nicely, and just got worse. I’d say, I’ve never had such a rough week. But it ends well. That’s the spoiler here: it ends well for the King of Kings. And perhaps more importantly, He’s made it so it can end well for us, too!

Because of the approaching Sabbath, when the Savior’s body had been laid to rest, it was done in haste. So on the third day, which would be Sunday, Mary Magdalene and other faithful women returned to the tomb so that they could more appropriately prepare the body of Jesus for its final burial. As they walked, they pondered how they would do this thing. “Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?” Likely they didn’t know of the Roman guards standing watch at the tomb.

Imagine the shock when they found the tomb empty. An angel told them “Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.” They went and told some of the Apostles that the tomb was empty. It seems that the grieving women missed the important pronunciation that “he is risen,” for Mary was distraught.

She returned to the garden, and crying, was approached by men. They asked her “Woman, why weepest thou?” Her reply was full of despair: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” And another man asked her, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” Again, thinking this man to be responsible for the missing body of her Lord, she begged, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”

In his single word reply, she must have finally recognized His voice: “Mary,” He said. Her tears of despair and sorrow changed in an instant to joy and unbelief as she declared in her happiness, “Rabboni!” Or, beloved Master.

It is perhaps instructive that He first appeared to Mary rather than His apostles. But we will leave it to this: He informed her that she must not touch Him yet, as He had not ascended to His father.

Later, however, as He showed Himself to His Apostles, He invited them to feel the wounds still in His hands, and still on His side. Doubting his own seeing eyes, it wasn’t until he had felt these wounds for himself the Apostle Thomas believed. 

Over the coming weeks the Master spent substantial time with his Apostles and disciples, teaching them and preparing His Apostles to lead His Church, and teach His gospel. But today, this Resurrection Sunday, finished the Atonement, and broke the bonds of death. Because He had never sinned, death held no power over Him. He was the first fruits of them that slept. And most importantly, because He lives, we will live again.

So today, this Easter Sunday, I raise my voice in praise for Him. I join my voice to the countless others who have sung it before me: Hallelujah! Praise to God in the highest!

Let us not forget His Atoning Sacrifice. Let us not forget His burden and trial in Gethsemane. Let us not forget His silence in the face of damning opposition. Let us always remember that the Plan of the Father recognized our sins; that He gave us His Son, Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation, the Savior, the Redeemer, and our Lord, to make a path for us to return to Him. Because He lives, we will live!

Good Friday, the Road to Galgotha, and the Broken Law

Following His trials, which lasted the night, the Sinless One was scourged. They took a cat of nine tails, a brutal whip with nine ends, each laced with shards of bone or pottery, designed to tear the flesh, and break the spirit of those on the merciless receiving end. He was given 39 lashes, a process which frequently ended in death for the whipped.

While he was beaten, the Roman soldiers bet for his clothes, and when they were done brutalizing him, the gave him new raiment: they clothed him in a purple robe, symbolizing royalty, and a crown to mark his Kingship. But in the mocking fashion of the blasphemer, they had fashioned the crown of biting thorns. As the pressed the ring onto his forehead, it undoubtedly took flesh with it.

The Romans made their bleeding and broken Lord carry his cross through the streets to the hill of crucifixion. The streets were lined with a deriding mob, who shouted, and mocked and spit on their Redeemer. The very man who, just hours before, had taken their every sins upon himself. Mixed in the crowd were the meek and broken of spirit who wept as they watched their Master carry the burden that He had chosen but certainly did not deserve.

Jesus stumbled and fell under the weight of cross, unable to carry the weight any more.

The Romans forced another to pick up the cross and they continued on. I wonder what the man thought. Was he one of the bitter and angry crowd? Or was he one that the Healer had made whole? Did he resent the burden? Or did he weep knowing that he was helping the Man to his death?

The writers of the Gospels had few words to describe what happened next, because of the monstrous and barbaric act that followed, few words can describe the horror: “and they crucified him.”
They buried nails in his hands, wrists, and feet, and raised the cross on the hill of skulls, called Golgotha. Here men were left to die. It could take days as the men would die slowly, not of their wounds, but of starvation and thirst. The merciless Romans would give water to the dying to prolong their death. Of the few things the Innocent One said while on the cross, the first was a plead for drink, which was granted in the form of vinegar.

In his pain and agony, He prayed to the Father, asking for forgiveness for the Romans, who “…know not what they do”, as they crucified the Son of the Living God.

He asked John to care for His aging Mother.

He spoke to one of those dying with him.

And again alone, He cried “why has thou forsaken me?”
As 3:00 in the afternoon approached, the sky darkened and the ground shook. The veil separating the courtyard of the temple from the Holy of Holies was torn in two, as the Father rejected the the Covenant People in their wickedness, and the the Son of Man died as he uttered the words “it is finished.” The very earth recognized the death of its creator, and tore itself asunder, burying cities in the sea, and sinking valleys with the mountains. The whole of the New World was reformed, killing many. And darkness covered all the land for days.

The Romans were astounded by the speed of his death, and to confirm the death, stabbed him through the ribs right into his heart. It gushed water and blood; it was broken.

The Lord of all creation had died. The consequence of sin, the just reward of sin, is death; but the Sinless One had died unjustly: thus, the law was broken.

History has come to know this day as Good Friday. His death was unremarkable: the Romans had crucified countless before, and would crucify countless after. That He died was remarkable, because He, unlike any before him, or any after, was free from the need for death. Having never sinned, the law of death did not bind him, but He died anyway. The Atoning sacrifice that had begun in a garden was nearly complete.
The spirits of His disciples were as broken as His body. I imagine their voices to be hollow as they asked the Romans to bring him down so that they could bury him. With the Sabbath approaching, the apostles, Mother Mary, and Mary Magdalene, had to act quickly to prepare the spiritless and lifeless body for burial. Joseph of Arimathea, one of the Sanhedrin itself, offered his tomb for the burial of the Christ.
The day ended with the burial of the King of Kings. Fearing His body would be stolen, the Romans ordered his tomb to be sealed, and guards to watch it.

The hopes of countless Jews died with the Carpenter from Nazareth.

One other died this day. The traitorous coward Judas Iscariot, knowing his own sin, used the 30 pieces of silver to buy a plot of ground, where he hung himself from a tree.

This was the darkest day in human history. A day where the Covenant People killed their own God.

The faith of many died with Him.

And if the story ended here, hope should have died too.

But it doesn’t end here. Tomorrow is the Sabbath for the Jews, and tomorrow we will learn what the Savior of Mankind did millenia ago on that Sabbath.

As we remember the cross, as we remember the Holy Death, let us know why He died: he died as a sacrificial Lamb, making atonement with the Father on our behalf. He is the Lamb of God. He is Savior of mankind. He is the Redeemer.

As we prepare for Easter, who’s very name forgets the Master of All, let us never forget. Let us ponder His sacrifices in the Garden and on Golgotha. Let us remember as we have broken the law, the law was broken by Him.

Remember. Remember.

The Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, and Condemning the Innocent One

On Thursday of the Holy Week, in preparation for the Passover feast, Emmanuel sent his apostles to obtain a room wherin they would eat the Paschal meal: they would eat a sacrificial lamb, as well as unleavened bread, and the following 8 days would be spent without leaven in their diet.

Though the beginning of the Jewish Friday, for our reckoning, it would have been Thursday night that He gathered His chosen 12 into the upper room of a prepared house to break bread with them. Here, the Apostles prepared for an annual feast, but the Lord prepared for His last mortal meal. I imigine some solemnity appropriate to the celebration, but the most astute of the 12 might have noticed an additional sorrow permeate the room.

Here they ate together, and in His true prescience, Jesus declared that he knew that one of his chosen would betray him. In an audacious attempt to further cover his evil design, Judas asked “is it I?” Christ’s reply, “thou hast said”, would undoubtedly have been as cutting to Himself as it was to the traitor. 

Here it was that He introduced the sacrament of the last supper, and the ordinance of washing of feet. Here he taught that the greatest must become the servant of all. Here Peter, misunderstanding the ordinance, and zealous as ever, argued that he would never allow his Master to debase himself by washing Peter’s feet. Christ warned him, “if I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me,” Peter cried “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” The Lord’s gentle rebuke showed the nature of the ordinance “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.” The Master continued “and ye are clean, but not all,” showing again that, while his chosen 12 allowed him to cleanse them and make them pre, 1 remained stained in his heart, preparing even now to complete the sale of his soul and commit the final act of treacherous murder and betrayal that he kept hidden in his heart… And Jesus knew it.

Soon after, they men sat again to eat, ““I speak not of you all,” Jesus said, “I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” Understanding his meaning, Peter motioned John, who sat with Jesus, to ask who it was that was the traitor: Jesus told John, “He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it.”

In the Jewish tradition, it wasn’t uncommon for the head of the table to offer a dipped piece of bread to a guest at the table, so when the Head offered the Sop to the traitor Iscariot, Judas took it. To him, Christ said “That thou doest, do quickly.” Surely, the bulk of the followers understood Christ as sending Judas on some pre-arranged task, or they would have tried to stop him. But imagine the dismay of the zealous Peter and the beloved John who watched as the betrayer, having been identified as such by the master, skulked into the night to fulfil his malevolent plans. John comments darkly “and it was night.”

Following the exit of the evil one, the Teacher shared his last sermon to his brothers. He prayed with them, and for them, that “they may be one,” pleading unity among the leaders that he had ordained. Then they departed, as planned, to a garden, for Jesus to pray.

In Gethsemane, Jesus set his remaining 11 to guard and watch over him as he wrestled in the Spirit. We cannot know, we cannot fathom the burden that the Lord carried. For centuries the Jews had symbolically banished a goat into the wilderness carrying the sins of the Children of Israel. Since the beginning of man, they had sacraficed pure and perfect lambs to redeem them and atone them with the Farher. Here, in the garden, the Lamb of God prepared himself to take take all of those roles upon himself, to fill the Plan of the Father, and to end the symbolic sacrifices forever.

It was here that He bore the sins, the sorrows, the pains of all mankind from the beginning to the end, on his own shoulders. Here, he who was with the Father in the beginning, struggled with the load he had been given. Here he plead with his Father: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” 

Having never sinned, the law of death did not bind him, he could have chosen to walk away, saving himself and damning us forever, but instead surrounded by trees and oil presses, he bore the weight of the infinite atonement, and as the olives are pressed for their precious oil, he was pressed until he bleed from every pore.

Again he pled “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.”

We often remember the cross as the place of atonement, but it was here in the garden that the Master of Creation, the King of Kings, took upon himself the consequence of sin, and began the redeeming atonement that saved all mankind from death, and all who would follow him from damnation.

Still later, the traitor returned with the Jewish guard, and, having shown them the sign by which they would recognize the Master in the dark, condemned his Lord with a kiss. Ever zealous, Peter prepared himself to give his own life in defense of the Savior, but was stopped, and Jesus mended the soldier’s wounded ear. Did the healed guard turn away in shame? Or had his hate already filled his heart?

Jesus was taken before the Sanhedrin, where he was condemned for daring to speak the truth: that he was, and is, the Son of the Father. Enraged, they sought his life, but fearing the Romans, sent Him to Pilate for his sentencing, for while blasphemy was punishable by death (though he had not blasphemed, they convicted him of that crime, and in so doing, committed the very act of which they accused him), capital punishment needed to be pronounced by the Romans for violating Roman law. So they sent him to the Romans and accused him of treason, stating that the King of Peace was trying to insite rebellion against the Empire.
Through the night he was passed from one coward to another, and the Lord of All was humiliated and beaten, scorned and shamed. Having prophetically seen the atrocity, Isaiah wrote about the horrors of this Thursday night:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

As we remember the Great Reedeemer, and walk with Him on his road to the cross, let us remember that He bore our sins. It was because of His love for us, His obedience to the Father’s Plan, and His infinite mercy that he suffered the presses of Gethsemene, that He submitted to the traitor’s kiss, that He allowed the abuse of those charged with watching over Isreal and the looking for His coming. 

Let us allow Him to carry our burdens, lest we scorn His sacrafice. If you have once believed, but are lost: come home! His arms are outstretched still! If you have yet to feel his endless love, accept it! For it there for you, no matter your sins or sorrows. If you have already accepted Him, then use today as a chance of reflection and repentance. 

Jesus Christ is the Promised Messiah, the Lamb of God!

The Cursed Fig Tree, Whited Sepulchers, and Selfish Hypocrisy

Traditionally, Tuesday of the Holy Week marks several important lessons from the Master Teacher. One lesson that has struck me, is the lesson of the fig tree.

As the Master traveled with his companions, the grew hungry. There was a fig tree, brightly bearing its colors before the season, suggesting that it carried fruit ready to eat. Hungrily examining it, He found it to be barren. “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever,” he said, and Peter noticed “Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away!”

Jesus used the opportunity to show is wondering apostles of the power of faith. And lest I challenge His lesson, I reiterate His teaching that “when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” If we have faith, and our prayers are acceptable to God, we will receive the answers to our prayers.

But in combination to another of the Master’s lessons, wherin He condemned the teachers of the Jews, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness!”

The fig tree in our first story, is condemned, but not because it didn’t have fruit when the Lord was hungry, as none of the other trees did either, but because it wantonly displayed itself as having such, while being no more fit for feeding the hungry travelers than its fellows. 

Like the hypocritical leaders in the second story, the Lord condemned its pretension; we then, are to be condemned of hypocrisy and unearned claims of righteousness and holiness.

This week, as we walk daily with the Lord, let us remember to be humble, never claiming ourselves to be more or better than we are, and remembering Him who purifies us.

Let us remember that as we invite others to come and eat, it is Christ who fills men that they never hunger, and we are but messengers of His feast.

Perhaps we might enjoy a fig or two to remember this lesson as we feast on Sunday. Perhaps we can learn from the ostentatious tree how not to behave, and remember, yet again, the power of the Master.