“Jesus of Nazareth,” Ensign, Dec. 1984, 2
We celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ at this season of the year. How grateful we are that the baby Jesus was born. His birth and life and death were the greatest of all. He died a propitiation for our sins to open the way for our resurrection, to point the way to our perfection of life, to show the way to exaltation. He died purposefully, voluntarily. His birth was humble, his life was perfect, his example was compelling; his death opened doors, and man was offered every good gift and blessing.
Yes, every soul has his agency. We can have all the blessings Christ lived and died to give us. But Christ’s death and plan are in vain if we do not take advantage of them: “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent.” (D&C 19:16.)
The Savior came “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.) His birth, death, and resurrection brought about the first. But we must join our efforts with his to bring about the second, to attain eternal life.
To the Nephites, he summed up the eternal plan for exaltation: “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” (3 Ne. 27:27.)
Leading the Jewish multitudes up onto the mountain, he elaborated extensively upon the requirements for exaltation. His celebrated Sermon on the Mount seems to have included all the commandments and all the requirements, and his conclusion was—“Be ye therefore perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.)
Perhaps he could have died long years earlier and accomplished the first of the requirements: resurrection and immortality. But it seemed that he must live a longer, danger-filled life so he could establish firmly the way to perfection.
For more than three decades he lived a life of hazard and jeopardy. From Herod’s horrible murder of Bethlehem’s infants to Pilate’s giving him to the bloodthirsty mob, Jesus was in constant danger. Perilously he lived with a price upon his head, the final price paid being thirty pieces of silver. It seemed that not only human enemies would snarl his life, but even his friends would desert him; and Satan and his cohorts would hound him ceaselessly. Yet, even after his early death, it seemed that he could not leave the earth until he had further trained his disciples. For forty days he remained to prepare the Apostles in leadership and the people in Sainthood.
As we look upon his life, we see prophetic patterns. As predicted, he was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isa. 53:3.) How could he effectively lead his people—how could he show us the way to keep his commandments—unless he experienced sorrow as well as joy? How could it ever be known if individual perfection is possible, or how could one be persuaded to reach for it, if someone did not prove it could be done? So he lived through trials all his life.
Early in his ministry he gave the command to be perfect. Perhaps he already had some conception of what was to come in the tests he would face. Would he himself be able to live up to the exalted ideal of perfection? Could he stand the continuous strain?
But his life day by day confirmed his power, his ability, his strength. From birth, his life was a rugged one. Born in a manger without the conveniences even of the average Israelite home, he was an unwelcome guest. There was no room for him in the inn.
When still young, he was whisked away to a far country to save his life, a perilous journey in great haste and fear, a trip which was undoubtedly hard for the new infant, perhaps still being nursed by his mother. The trip back to Nazareth from Egypt was a longer and more arduous journey, this to avoid again a heartless ruler.
His trials were continuous. Perhaps Lucifer had heard him say when he was still but a lad of twelve: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49.) Then came the time when Satan sought to entrap him. Their encounter in the previous world had been on more equal terms, but now Jesus was young and Satan was experienced. By subtlety and challenges he thought to destroy the Savior. Jesus had spoken of his Father-Son relationship. Lucifer determined to test that. Hungry after a long fast, Jesus needed sustenance, and the cruel question came hurling at him: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” (Matt. 4:3.) Bread would have tasted so good at that moment.
Then, on the pinnacle of the temple, an ugly thought was planted. “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for [the angels] shall bear thee up,” (Matt. 4:6.) Perhaps the Lord fully sensed his unlimited power, but to use it for himself and to satisfy Satan’s devilish challenge would be wrong.
And finally on the exceeding high mountain where could be envisioned the wealth of nations, the power of kings and emperors, the glory of affluence, the satisfactions of every urge, desire, want and passion, came the appealing promise: “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” (Matt. 4:9.)
But to each appeal came the stout refusal, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matt. 4:10.)
What a lonely life he must have lived! No more could he live a private existence. Many times he asked the healed one, “Go thy way and tell no man.” But the recipient of his power and goodness went abroad and praised the matter and published it, “insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places.” (Mark 1:45.)
His statements were challenged. He must defend the principles he taught. “Why don’t you fast?” “Why do your disciples eat with unwashed hands?” “Why do you break the Sabbath by healing on that day?” The leaders sought to kill him for healing on the Sabbath!
It was bad enough to have his enemies try to trap him, but then even his friends “went out to lay hold on him. For they said, he is beside himself.” (Mark 3:21.)
To whom could he go for sympathy? Was this the reason for his frequent climbing of the mountains for privacy and comfort from his Father? Lonely, alone, no one to truly confide in, no place to go. As he said: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57.) So he climbs the hills, but is followed. He sails across the sea, and there is the multitude. He lies down to rest in the ship, and is rudely awakened with criticism: “Carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38.)
When he landed at the area of the Gadarenes, frightened by his miracles they “besought him to depart from them.” (Luke 8:37.) So he re-embarked and recrossed the sea of Galilee.
When he fed them, they followed him, but for the wrong reasons: “Ye seek me … because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.” (John 6:26.)
When he gave them strong doctrine and required much at their hands, “many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” (John 6:66.)
And even as he walked toward his death, he had to say to his chosen Twelve: “I have chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil.” (John 6:70.) He walked daily thereafter with a traitor.
How lonely! How disquieting! To escape and wait, knowing that death was but a short time away! “He would walk no more in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.” (John 7:1.)
He sought to go incognito, “but he could not be hid.” (Mark 7:24.)
One of his greatest disappointments was his homecoming. No celebrations for him, only curiosity and rejection. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3.) The common boy from their common streets, they said.
“And he could there do no mighty work … because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5–6)—and because of their jealousy and sarcasm. What a homecoming! Poor Nazareth! Poor Nazarenes to reject their own native son, their own Redeemer! They would have thrown him from the precipice at Nazareth but for his quick escape. They would have stoned him in Jerusalem, “but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.” (John 8:59.)
And after another discourse, “they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand.” (John 10:39.)
A price was on his head. Physical violence confronted him always. People were enjoined to reveal his whereabouts so he could be put to death. The specter of death preceded him, sat with him, walked with him, followed him.
How difficult it must have been for him, who could wither a fig tree with a single command, to restrain himself from cursing his enemies. Rather, he prayed for them. To retaliate and fight back is human, but to accept indignities, as did the Lord, is divine. He permitted himself to be kissed by the known traitor, yet did not resist. And when he was captured, he did not permit his loyal Apostle Peter to defend him, though that worthy man was willing to die fighting for him.
With twelve legions of angels at his command, he yielded himself and disarmed his courageous Apostles at his side. He accepted this manhandling and the indignities without retaliation. Had he not said, “Love your enemies”? (Matt. 5:44.)
In quiet, restrained, divine dignity he stood when they cast their spittle in his face. He remained composed. Not an angry word escaped his lips. They slapped his face and beat his body. Yet he stood resolute, unintimidated.
Literally did he follow his own admonition when he turned his other cheek to be also slapped and smitten. And yet, he did not cringe, gave no denials, offered no rebuttals. When false witnesses were paid to lie about him, he condemned them not. They twisted his words and misinterpreted his meanings, yet he was calm and unflustered. Had he not taught, “Pray for them which despitefully use you”? (Matt. 5:44.)
He who created the world and all that is in it, he who made the silver from which the pieces were stamped which bought him, he who could command defenders on both sides of the veil—stood and suffered.
What dignity! What mastery! What control! Even when he, the perfect, the sinless, the good, the Prince of Life, the Just, was weighed on one side of the scales against the murderer, the seditionist, the insurrectionist, Barrabas—and Barrabas won, thus winning his liberty at the price of Christ’s crucifixion—yet the Savior said not a word of condemnation to the magistrate who made the unjust decision.
Neither did he say anything to the people who called, “Release unto us Barrabas.” (Luke 23:18.) Even when they cried for his blood, saying, “Crucify him, crucify him” (Luke 23:21)—yet he showed no bitterness nor condemnation. Only tranquility. This is divine dignity, power, control, restraint. Barrabas for Christ! The unjust for the just; the Holy One crucified, the malefactor released. Yet no revenge, no name-calling, no condemnation came from him whom they condemned. No lightning struck them, though it could have done. No earthquake came to save him, though a severe one could have come. No angels sped to him with protective weapons, though legions were ready. No escape was asked for, though he could have been translated. He stood and suffered in mind and body. “Bless them that curse you,” he had taught. (Matt. 5:44.)
Yet still further tests came. Though pronounced innocent, he was scourged. Unworthy men lashed him, the pure and the Holy One, the Son of God. One word from his lips and all his enemies would have fallen to the earth, helpless. All would have perished, all could have been as dust and ashes. Yet, in calmness, he suffered.
Even when delivered to the soldiers to be crucified, he prayed for them who despitefully used him. How he must have suffered when they violated his privacy by stripping off his clothes and then putting on him the scarlet robe!
Then, the crown of thorns. Blood from the thorns seemed to be what they wanted. For had they not just said, “His blood be on us and on our children”? (Matt. 27:25.) Now nothing could stop them. They hungered to satisfy their blood lust. Only the crucifixion would do that, but first they must satisfy their appetites for sadism and cast their spittle in his holy face.
With a reed in his hand, a scarlet robe over his shoulders, and a crown of thorns on his head, he was made to suffer indignity: they laughed and mocked and jeered and challenged him. Taking the reed from his hand, they would strike him on the head. Yet he stood there, the model of long-suffering.
Still they moved about him. In base mockery they feigned worship, praying mockingly to him, doing him false reverence, joking, laughing. Was all their ugliness, all their pent-up grievance against mankind, all their bitternesses against acquaintances and enemies loosed upon this one so pure, clean, and worthy? When would they get their fill? How base can man become—he who may be but a little lower than the angels, he who is created in the image of God. What would they do when their victim could suffer no more and no more satisfy their depravity?
They would have his sore and bruised and bloody body carry the cross, the weighty implement of his own death. Their strong backs unburdened, they watched him sweat and heave and strain and pull, a helpless victim. Or was he helpless? Were not the twelve legions of angels still at his command? Did they not still have their swords unsheathed? Were they not still agonizing, yet restrained from coming to the rescue?
The mockery grows as the rabble walk alongside and look up, leering and blaspheming and mocking. “He saved others; himself he cannot save.” (Mark 15:31.) They had seen or heard of his miracles: how the wind and waves had yielded to his word, how lepers had been made clean, how the lame had walked and the sightless had seen, how the dead had been raised how Lazarus had walked forth alive from the grave after he had been dead for days and his body was already decomposing.
He goes his way alone. The nails are hammered into his hands and feet, through soft and quivering flesh. The agony increases. The cross is dropped in the hole; the flesh tears. What excruciating pain! Then new nails are placed in the wrist to make sure that the body will not fall to the ground and recover.
And now they taunt him again: “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.” (Matt. 27:42.) What a temptation it must have been for the Lord who could have stepped down whole and well without scars or bruises! What a challenge it must have been, yet he had set his mind and had sweat great drops of blood in his anguish as he faced his mission—to move forward through all gross indignities and meet death at the end, to bring life to these very men and their children, if they would heed.
Here, with mortal life fast ebbing—here he restrained himself, controlling the temptation to “show them” his power. As he had been tempted in the wilderness to satisfy his hunger by causing stones to become bread, as he had stood on the mountaintop and was tempted to show his adversary what he could do, so now he was again approached. Surely Lucifer, who had tempted him in the wilderness, on the mountain, and on the pinnacle of the temple—surely he had done an efficient work in prompting his underlings. They now used the same tactics, the same words: “If thou be the King of the Jews, save thyself.” (Luke 23:37.) The thief on the cross taunted him, “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.” (Luke 23:39.) All around were others only little less criminal in their persecution. The swaggering clergy in their long embroidered robes, the leaders of the people—base, low, degraded—they also were to mock and jeer.
His hour had come. He was alone, yet among crowds of people. Alone he was, with eager angels waiting to comfort him. Alone, with his Father in deepest sympathy but knowing that his Son must walk alone the bitter, tortuous path. Alone, drained, feverish, dying, he called out: “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46.) Alone he had been in the garden—praying for strength to drink the bitter cup.
He had said, “Love your enemies.” Now he proved how much one can love his enemies. He was dying on the cross for those who had nailed him there. As he died, he experienced agonies that no man had ever before or has since experienced. Yet he cried out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34.) Was this not the last word—the supreme act? How divine to forgive those who were killing him—those who were clamoring for his blood! He had said, “Pray for them which despitefully use you,” and here he was praying for them. His life met perfectly his teachings. “Be ye therefore perfect” was his command to us. With his life, his death, and his resurrection, Jesus truly has shown us the way.
It is well that at this time of the year we pour out our hearts in prayers of love and thanksgiving to our Father in Heaven: We are grateful, Father, that we know so positively that thou dost live; that we know the babe born in Bethlehem was in reality thy Son; grateful that thy plan of salvation is real, workable, and exalting. We know thee, Lord. We love thee, and will follow thee. We pledge again our lives, our all, to thy cause.
At this beautiful season, we invite all people everywhere to join us in our prayers of joy and love and gratitude for the life and teachings of our Lord and Savior, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
1. Jesus Christ opened the way for our resurrection, pointed the way to our perfection of life, and showed us the path to exaltation.
2. His birth, death, and resurrection brought about immortality. But we must join our efforts with his to attain eternal life.
3. How could he show us the way to keep his commands unless he experienced sorrow as well as joy? Thus, he lived through trials all his life.
4. How could it ever be known if individual perfection is possible, or how could one be persuaded to reach for it, if someone did not prove it could be done? Jesus truly has shown us the way.
1. Relate your personal feelings about the Savior. Ask family members to share their feelings.
2. Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop?