In the final part of this series of posts I’m going to share some of my thoughts on how the Atonement of Christ enables us to overcome our physical shortcomings. The previous posts in the series have included an introduction, and then my thoughts on how Christ helps us overcome our Spiritual, Emotional, and Intellectual shortcomings.
Ultimately, our physical limitations are overcome through Christ with the resurrection. The grave no longer holds its captives because Christ Himself broke the bands of death His own resurrection the crowning act of the Atonement. Elder Alexander B Morrison of the Seventy said,
“Doubt and cynicism about Jesus, about the reality of His resurrection, and even about His historical reality, increasingly have become the hallmark of our age. We observe with sorrow learned scholars who make a mockery of Christ, denying His virgin birth and resurrection, deriding His commandments, substituting pallid situational ethics for the eternally relevant certainties of the Sermon on the Mount….
“Increasingly today, even many who call themselves Christian do not take Christ’s resurrection and longed-for return to the earth literally. For them, Christ’s gospel is primarily a social agenda, concerned almost entirely with righting the wrongs of poverty, ignorance, and injustice. Some say Jesus was a great teacher, an inspired moralist, a healer and miracle worker. But His unique role as the atoning, resurrected Savior receives increasingly less attention. Yet, as Paul said, “if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. … If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:14, 19). (Elder Alexander B Morrison, I Am the Resurrection and the Life, Apr 1995 Ensign)
Whether or not we believe in the resurrection will determine whether we believe in a Christ who is simply the historical figure who went about doing good, and left some useful teachings behind, or whether we believe in a Christ who has power to save, and to bless all of mankind.
From the moment of His death, Satan and his followers have sought to weaken the faith of Heavenly Father’s children in the reality of Christ’s Atonement. Matthew records that the chief priests gave “large money” to the soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb, to have them spread the tale that “his disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept”. Unlike the centurion at the cross who testified of Christ’s divinity on seeing the manner of His death, these soldiers chose to ignore the miracle of His resurrected life, and they “took the money, and did as they were taught” by the chief priests. (Matt 28:12-15)
It is interesting to note that every part of the Atonement was miraculous in nature. As He knelt in Gethsemane, His physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering were beyond what any mortal could bear. In His own words, “Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit – and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink – nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” (D&C 19:18-19)
His death on the cross was also miraculous in nature. Although Christ submitted to the Roman military and Jewish religious leaders; to the mockery, scorn and taunts; to the cruel beatings and to the evil instrument of torture called crucifixion; it is important we remember that no mortal instrument had the power to kill the Saviour. Rather, He gave His life. The Roman centurion, guarding the cross on which Jesus lay, on seeing the manner in which He had chosen to die, testified of this saying, “Truly this man was the Son of God”. President Marion G Romney stated,
“His death on the cross, after he had been rejected and betrayed and had suffered appalling indignities, seems not to be in dispute, even among nonbelievers. That he gave his life voluntarily, with the express purpose of taking it up again in the Resurrection, is not so universally accepted. Such, however, is the fact. He was, it is true, maliciously slain by wicked men, but all the while he held the power to stay them. “I lay down my life,” he said, “that I might take it again.
“No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” (John 10:17–18.)
“This power was inherently his by virtue of his being born of the virgin Mary (a mortal) and being the Son of God (an immortal, celestialized being).”
(President Marion G Romney, The Resurrection of Jesus, April 1982 Conference)
Finally, the crowning act of the Atonement, an event described by President Romney, as, “the most significant event of recorded history, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus – an event so extraordinary that even the Apostles, who had been most intimately associated with Jesus in His earthly ministry and who had been carefully taught of the coming event, had difficulty grasping the reality of its full significance.” (Ibid)
Each of these: the power to vicariously suffer for sins, pains, sicknesses, and so much more for all of the Father’s children; the power to lay down His life at a moment of His choice; and the power to reunite spirit and body in a way that provides immortality not just for Himself but for all of mankind – these are beyond the understanding of mortal man. We cannot comprehend how these things can be possible, but their reality is the central message of the entire gospel.
It was difficult for the Apostles and others closest to Him, to whom He had directly taught that He would die and rise again, to understand what had happened following His death, so much so that they didn’t believe the reports they were receiving of His resurrection. The gospel writer Mark records that when the group of women went to the tomb on the Sunday morning following the crucifixion, when the angel told them that He was alive, “they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). When Mary told the disciples that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to her, they “believed not” (Mark 16:11). When the two disciples on the road to Emmaus subsequently told them of their experience, “neither believed they them” (Mark 16:13). As followers of Christ, we believe, but I wonder how often our belief is more theoretical than really deep-seated. After all, we believe, but when things in our own lives happen that we don’t expect, our own faith is sometimes challenged. Are we really any different from the Apostles in this regard?
He afterwards appeared to the 11 apostles, then to 500, and the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Christ – reports that the resurrected Christ appeared on the other side of the world to many thousands of people. In a day to come, every knee shall bow before Him, and every tongue confess that He is their Saviour and Redeemer.
But in taking upon Himself our physical limitations and imperfections, the Saviour not only conquered death – He also took upon himself our sicknesses and other physical pains during our mortal lives, “…so that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:12)
Throughout His ministry, both in the old world and the new, Christ went about healing those who were sick. In all of the healings there were, of course, spiritual lessons to be learned. The blind that received their sight teach us that we are all, to some degree, spiritually blind, and need the Saviour to be able to see things “as they really are” (see Jacob 4:13), for example.
But Christ didn’t only perform these miracles to teach spiritual lessons. He also blessed and healed because He loved the people. In the Book of Mormon, He healed the multitudes because His, “…bowels [were] filled with compassion towards [them].” (3 Nephi 17:6) A quick search of the New Testament gospels shows similar reasons for His healing the people in Israel:
“And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.” (Matt 14:14)
“So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight….” (Matt 20:34)
“And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him… be thou clean.” (Mark 1:41)
One of my favourite passages relating to miracles in the New Testament is in Luke chapter 8. Jairus, one of the rulers in the synagogue, came, and “fell down at Jesus’ feet, and besought him…” to come to his house and heal his 12 year old daughter who was dying. He is, of course delayed, which we will come back to, and before he gets there, a messenger comes and says, “Thy daughter is dead; trouble not the Master.” But, of course, the Saviour gave Jairus comfort and continued to his house, and after he “put them all out” who were laughing to scorn that He might have the power to heal, He commanded “Maid, arise….” and “she rose straightway.” (Luke 8:41-42, 49-56)
Sandwiched in the middle of this miracle, and the reason Jesus was delayed getting to Jairus’ house, is another miracle. A woman who had an issue of blood for 12 years. This of course, made her ritually unclean amongst the Jews, and in addition to the pain, discomfort, and inconvenience this condition would have brought upon her, probably limited her ability to access society, both temporal and religious. Luke tells us that she had, “…spent all her living upon physicians…” trying to be cured. Of course, medicine wasn’t then what it is today, and the physicians she would have visited would have used a whole host of bizarre “healing” techniques, and some probably would have taken advantage of her.
We imagine the crowds who were thronging Him on his way to Jairus’ house, and this faithful woman, thinking, “I can touch just the border of his garment, and he won’t even notice”, which of course she does, “…and immediately her issue of blood stanched.” Having an issue of blood was no small thing for a woman in the days of Jesus. Leviticus makes it clear that such a woman is ritually unclean, and for most women that meant a period of a few days each month when they were relieved of their normal duties – but for this woman it meant 12 years of intolerable life. According to the laws of ritual purity, this woman should have stayed at home – anyone she touched would become unclean. “When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period. Whoever touches them will be unclean; he must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening.” (Leviticus 15:25-27)
So, she couldn’t go to the market and associate with other women; she couldn’t go to the synagogue to worship; she was effectively shut out of society, and she was flouting the law by going out into the street to touch the border of Jesus’s robe, because all who she touched in the thronging crowd – not least of whom was at the very least considered a highly regarded rabbi, and for many the promised Messiah – would also have become ritually unclean by her acts. This was an act of desperation for a woman of faith.
Marks’ account of this miracle states that this woman had, “suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse” (Mark 5:26), in her efforts to be cured and be able to function in society once again. As an example of some of the “cures” that might have been available, Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible quotes Rabbi Jochanan:
“Take of gum Alexandria, of alum, and of crocus hortensis, the weight of a zuzee each; let them be bruised together, and given in wine to the woman that hath an issue of blood. But if this fail, “Take of Persian onions nine logs, boil them in wine, and give it to her to drink: and say, Arise from thy flux. But should this fail, “Set her in a place where two ways meet, and let her hold a cup of wine in her hand; and let somebody come behind and affright her, and say, Arise from thy flux. But should this do no good, “Take a handful of cummin and a handful of crocus, and a handful of faenu-greek; let these be boiled, and given her to drink, and say, Arise from thy flux. But should this also fail, “Dig seven trenches, and burn in them some cuttings of vines not yet circumcised (vines not four years old); and let her take in her hand a cup of wine, and let her be led from this trench and set down over that, and let her be removed from that, and set down over another: and in each removal say unto her, Arise from thy flux.”
And these “cures”, which all seem at the very least bizarre to us today, would likely have been the more reputable ones! And, of course, all the cures she had sought, had simply made her worse. Perhaps there is a symbolism in the fact that she had been ill 12 years, suggesting that this was an illness that could only be healed by Priesthood power, 12 being the symbolic number related to the Priesthood.
The Saviour of course knew all of her background when she touched Him. He would also have known that she wanted to keep quiet about the whole event. But, He also knew that this good woman would probably have felt guilty her entire life about touching so many people while she was unclean, without their knowing, and worried what this might mean for her. Would she have worried about receiving eternal punishment for flouting the law in the way she did? So, He stops, and asks, “Who touched me?” (Luke 8:45)
O the dread that must have filled her, as she realised that her touch had somehow not gone un-noticed in the crowd, and it is not long before she comes forward, “trembling” – probably expecting a rebuke. She falls down before Him, and then declares “before all the people” what she had done. I suspect there were those in the crowd who were horrified that she would do such a thing when, according to their customs, she ought to be hiding away at home. Rather than castigate her for her actions, however, He gives her the honour of calling her a daughter and in love proclaims, “…thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.” (Luke 8:48) It was not just her body that was healed that day.
We could go on and on, of course, talking about the miracles of Jesus: the blind He gave sight to; the lame to whom He gave power to walk; the lepers He made clean; etc. In our own day, when we are ill, we call the Elders and they bless us. Such miraculous healings do not always take place, but they can. And in all cases, blessings and healings, whether of body or of spirit, are given “In the name of Jesus Christ”. It is His atoning blood which allows Priesthood Holders to heal and to bless – salvation of any sort comes in no other way. “Silver and gold have I none” the apostle Peter said, “but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6)
And the Saviour’s love and compassion for the people’s physical welfare didn’t just extend to their illnesses. It extends also to their general wellbeing. Consider His words in Matthew, “Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.” (Matt 15:32). He then turned the seven loves of bread and the “few little fishes” into a meal for four thousand men, “beside women and children”.
I love that phrase, “I will not send them away…lest they faint.” Christ never sends us away. He wants to stay close to us. In this example, there is no record of the people clamouring for food; there is nothing that says the people said they were famished, or weak. They had, we presume, lost interest in food and had been held rapt by His words through the day. But they were still mortals, and probably had some distance to walk – men, women and children – to get to their homes, after a long day in the hot sun. And Jesus knew their needs, possibly before they knew themselves, and desired to fill those needs.
We talk often of the scripture in Corinthians that God, “…will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able’ but with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor 10:13). But in addition to the temptations against our spiritual natures that this refers to and which we usually quote this in relation to, surely it also refers to the limitations and challenges we face because of our physical natures.
In the Book of Mormon, Alma cried out, “O Lord, wilt thou give me strength, that I may bear with mine infirmities.” (Alma 31:30) And Paul explained, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities…” (Heb 4:15) So, we have here Paul explaining that Christ felt our infirmities, and Alma appealing for strength so that he may “bear” his.
Isaiah speaks of this when he says, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) This is a blessing that is repeated in our day of course, in connection with the Word of Wisdom.
The Lord won’t always heal our physical imperfections. We are given limitations in part at least so that we can learn to rely on the Saviour. But such limitations can, and will, become blessings to us as we come to Christ, and partake of His grace. As we do so, we will never be found physically lacking in any of the really important ways.