I gave the following talk in our Sacrament Meeting today. I requested giving a talk today because it is the last time I will be attending my ward for at least several months. My new job requires me to work Sundays.
Shortly before appearing to the Nephites, Jesus spoke to them amongst the engulfing darkness, saying:
â€œWill ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? . . . if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me.â€ (3 Ne 9:13â€“14)
In a similar plea to the people of the Old World, Jesus offered:
â€œCome unto me, all ye that labour 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.â€ (Matt 11:28â€“29)
How many of us have carried in our hearts for too long a burden too heavy? How many of us have stumbled along the strait and narrow path hoping to make it without clinging to the iron rod? How many of us have suffered through pain and sorrow and darkness because we wanted to hide our sins and cover our follies?
Brethren and sisters, let us remember we need not suffer; we need not carry our burdens; we need not stumble unsupported.
Jesusâ€™s offer of peace, rest, and mercy is extended to everyone: Mormon and non-Mormon, poor and rich, male and female, you and me. Each of us is a sinner, each of us falls short of the glory of God, (Rom 3:23) and each of us needs healing.
In 1 Nephi, chapter 8, we read of a vision the prophet Lehi had. In this vision, was a tree with beautiful, bright, sweet-tasting fruit. Leading to the tree was a strait and narrow path. Running alongside the path was an iron rod. According to 1 Nephi 11, the tree represents the love of God and the iron rod represents his word, which could be the scriptures or Jesus himself.
Often, when we hear or read this story, we imagine ourselves walking along a narrow path, holding onto the rod, and slowly advancing toward a distant tree. Consider the following:
In 2 Nephi 31:17, Nephi states:
The gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate
The Lord declared in Moses 7:53
Whoso cometh in at the gate and climbeth up by me shall never fall
The 1828 Websterâ€™s Dictionary, documenting the usage of English in Joseph Smithâ€™s time, defined â€œstraitâ€ as difficult, distressing and rigorous.
When we take all these things under consideration, I have to wonder if travelling along the strait and narrow path is less like a peaceful stroll through a quiet park and more like an exhausting climb up a rugged mountain. If so, then itâ€™s no wonder the people following the strait and narrow path in Lehiâ€™s dream were clinging to the iron rod. (1 Ne 8:24)
Following the strait and narrow path is tough. Being a Christian isnâ€™t easy.
Embracing the natural man is easy. Itâ€™s easy to be unyielding, defiant, proud, impatient, and unloving. Putting off the natural man, on the other hand, is hard. Itâ€™s hard to be submissive, meek, humble, patient, and full of love. (Mosiah 3:19)
Itâ€™s hard to be submissive and meek when youâ€™re in the thick of a faith-testing trial. Itâ€™s hard to be humble when you donâ€™t want to be embarrassed. Itâ€™s hard to be patient when youâ€™ve stumbled for the 500th time. Itâ€™s hard to be full of love when others hurt you.
But just because something is difficult, doesnâ€™t mean it isnâ€™t worth doing. If the climb up the strait and narrow is difficult, we keep going. If we stumble on our climb, we cling to the iron rod and pull ourselves up. We keep going because we know the fruit at the end will taste so very sweet.
How do we do it? How do we stop ourselves from giving up? How do we pick our bruised and battered selves up each time we stumble? How do we find balm for our wounds and strength for our exhaustion? In the Saviour, of course.
We all know Jesus came to save us from sin and death. But he saves us from pain, sorrow, and suffering, too.
To the people of Gideon, Alma the Younger taught:
â€œAnd he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; . . . he will take upon him [our] infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy . . . that he may know . . . how to succor his peopleâ€ (Mosiah 2:11â€“12)
Jesus knows what we go through when we sin and struggle. He understands each pain of sorrow and each twinge of guilt. He can honestly say, â€œIâ€™ve been there. I understand.â€
Because he knows what we go through, he is merciful to our suffering. He doesnâ€™t want us to suffer as he suffered, which suffering caused him â€œto tremble because of pain, to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit.â€ (D&C 19:18) And he stands with open arms to succor us.
The Doctrine and Covenants teach us that if we are but faithful and keep his commandments, He will encircle us in the arms of his love. (D&C 6:20)
The prophet Nephi taught that we deny Jesus despite his lengthening out his arm to us each day. And despite our denying him, he will still be merciful if we repent and come unto him. (2 Ne 28:32)
In sharing with us the conversion of Lamoni and his people, Mormon taught us that the Lordâ€™s arm is extended to all who repent and believe on his name. (Alma 19:36)
Lehi preached that he had beheld the glory of the Lord and was encircled about eternally in the arm of his love. (2 Ne 1:15)
Alma the Younger, in speaking to the people of Zarahemla, taught that Jesus has sent an invitation to all, that if we repent, he will receive us, for his arms of mercy are extended toward us. (Alma 5:33)
Brethren and sisters, the scriptures clearly declare the Lord stands with open, loving, merciful arms waiting to embrace us. But he doesnâ€™t come to us. We must come to him if we want to experience his love, mercy, and peace. In order to come unto him, all he requires of us is four things.
First, we must learn of him.
In Matthew 11:29, Jesus invited us to â€œtake [his] yoke upon [ourselves], and learn of [him]; . . . and [we] shall find rest unto [our] souls.â€
We cannot expect to come unto one of whom we know very little. It is fundamental to understand the Saviour. We must understand who he was, what he did and what he taught.
Jesus was more than someone who performed miracles. Everything he taught challenged the popular beliefs and established ways of the society in which he lived.
The law said we shouldnâ€™t kill; Jesus said we shouldnâ€™t get angry at others. The law said we shouldnâ€™t commit adultery; Jesus said we shouldnâ€™t look at others to lust after them. The law said we should seek revenge for wrongdoings; Jesus said we should turn the other cheek. The law said we should hate our enemies; Jesus said we should love everyone.
His teachings laid out a higher way of living, a higher way of loving, respecting, and forgiving others. Mormon encapsulated the life of Jesus in the brief statement: charity is the pure love of Christ (Moro. 7:47). Every action he took and every tenet he taught was infused with his pure love.
We must feast upon his words and study his life if we are to understand who he is and consequentially how to come unto him.
Second, we must have faith in him.
Faith in Jesus Christ, the very first principle of the gospel, naturally comes next. For as we learn of him, we gain a testimony of him. We become convinced of his divinity, and we want to be like him.
This leads to the third thing required of us: repentance.
Amulek, companion to Alma the Younger, invited us to exercise our faith unto repentance, and as we did so, we would call to God for mercy (Alma 34:17). As our faith in the Saviour grows, so does our desire to be like him. We desire to be new creatures, to be born again, to become his spiritually begotten children (Mosiah 5:7). We desire a mighty change, to have the gospel written on our hearts (2 Cor. 3:3), and to have his image engraven in our countenances (Alma 5:14).
We desire to follow the counsel of King Benjamin to repent of our sins, to forsake them, to humble ourselves before God, and to ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive us (Mosiah 4:10). We desire to be as the Nephites after being delivered from the Gadianton Robbers, forsaking all our sins and abominations (3 Ne 5:3).
Repentance brings us to the fourth thing Jesus requires of us: keep his commandments. As we desire to be better, we want to do better. We want to do good, not just avoiding doing bad. We want to keep the Sabbath holy, not just keep it work-free. We want to tell the truth, not just avoid telling lies. We want to serve others because we love them, not just because we were asked to.
Please remember these four things are not steps in a checklist. Â We cannot say, â€œOh, we are done learning of him. Now itâ€™s time to get some faith.â€ The faith comes in time. The repentance comes in time. It all comes in time. These four things are interdependent and interconnected. They are parts of a process. A lifelong process.
As we learn of Jesus, our faith in Him grows. As our faith in him grows, we want to repent. As we repent, we want to keep the commandments.
Brethren and sisters, Jesus promises us peace, mercy, and deliverance from the sins that hold us bound, that burden our backs, and that darken our hearts. Â If we but learn of him, develop faith in him, repent of our sins, and keep his commandments, one day we will find the loving and merciful arms of the Saviour are no longer open. We will find them closed, closed around us. We will feel of his glory and finally, after much trial, stumbling, and heartache, we will be healed.