The Symbol of Christ

“The Symbol of Christ,” Tambuli, Mar. 1989, 3

First Presidency Message

The Symbol of Christ

As a new temple is completed, or an older temple is renovated, it is our custom to hold an open house a few days prior to the dedication and invite all who would attend to walk through and view the beautiful interior.

I remember one such open house at which nearly a quarter of a million people visited. On the first day of the opening, ministers of other religions were invited as special guests, and hundreds responded. It was my privilege to speak to them and to answer their questions at the conclusion of their tours. I told them that we would be pleased to answer any questions they might have. Many were asked. Among these was one which came from a Protestant minister.

He said: “I’ve been all through this building, this temple which has the name of Jesus Christ over the front door, but nowhere have I seen any representation of the cross, the symbol of Christianity. Why is this?”

I responded: “I do not wish to give offense to any of my Christian brethren, but for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the living Christ.”

He then asked: “If you do not use the cross, what is the symbol of your religion?”

I replied that the lives of our people must become the only meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.

The official name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We worship him as Lord and Savior. The Bible is our scripture. We believe that the prophets of the Old Testament who foretold the coming of the Messiah spoke under divine inspiration. We glory in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, setting forth the events of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. Like Paul of old, we are “not ashamed of the gospel of [Jesus] Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation.” (Rom. 1:16.) And like Peter, we affirm that Jesus Christ is the only name “given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (See Acts 4:12.)

The Book of Mormon, which we regard as the testament of the New World, sets forth the teachings of the prophets who lived anciently in the Western Hemisphere and it testifies of him who was born in Bethlehem of Judea and who died on the Hill of Calvary. To a world wavering in its faith, it is another and powerful witness of the divinity of the Lord. Its very preface, written by a prophet who walked the Americas 1,500 years ago, tells us that it was written “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations.”

In our book of modern revelation, the Doctrine and Covenants, He has declared himself in these certain words: “I am the Alpha and Omega, Christ the Lord: yea, even I am he, the beginning and the end, the Redeemer of the world.” (D&C 19:1)

Because of these declarations, and testimonies, many may ask, as my minister friend asked, “If you profess a belief in Jesus Christ, why do you not use the symbol of his death, the cross of Calvary?”

To which I must first reply that no member of this Church must ever forget the terrible price paid by our Redeemer who gave his life that all men might live—the agony of Gethsemane, the bitter mockery of his trial, the vicious crown of thorns tearing at his flesh, the blood cry of the mob before Pilate, the lonely burden of his heavy walk along the way to Calvary, the terrifying pain as great nails pierced his hands and feet, the fevered torture of his body as he hung that tragic day, the Son of God crying out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34.)

This was the cross, the instrument of his torture, the terrible device designed to destroy the Man of Peace, the evil recompense for his miraculous work of healing the sick, of causing the blind to see, of raising the dead. This was the cross on which he hung and died on Golgotha’s lonely hill.

We cannot forget that. We must never forget it, for here our Savior, our Redeemer, the Son of God gave himself a vicarious sacrifice for each of us. But the gloom of that dark evening before the Jewish Sabbath, when his lifeless body was taken down and hurriedly laid in a borrowed tomb, took away the hope of even his most devoted and knowing disciples. They sorrowed, not understanding what he had told them earlier. Dead was the Messiah in whom they believed. Gone was their Master in whom they had placed all of their longing, their faith, their hope. He who had spoken of everlasting life, he who had raised Lazarus from the grave, now had died as surely as all men before him had died. His brief, sorrowful life had come to an end. That life had been as described by Isaiah many years before. The Lord, he wrote, would be “despised and rejected of men: a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.

“… He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him.” (Isa. 53:3, 5.) Now he was gone.

We can only guess at the feelings of those who loved him as they pondered his death during the long hours of the Jewish Sabbath, the Saturday of our calendar.

Then came the dawn of the first day of the week, the Sabbath of the Lord as we have come to know it. To those who came to the tomb, heavy with sorrow, the attending angel declared, “Why seek ye the living among the dead:

“He is not here … he is risen, as he said.” (Matt. 28:6.)

Here was the greatest miracle of human history. Earlier he had told them, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25.) But they had not understood. Now they knew. He had died in misery and pain and loneliness. Now, on the third day, he arose in power and beauty and life, the first fruits of all who slept, the assurance for men of all ages that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22.)

On Calvary he was the dying Jesus. From the tomb he emerged the living Christ. The empty tomb now became the testimony of his divinity, the assurance of eternal life, the answer to Job’s unanswered question: “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14.)

Having died, he might have been forgotten, or, at best remembered as one of many great teachers whose lives are summarized in a few lines in the books of history. Now, having been resurrected, he became the Master of Life. Now, with Isaiah, his disciples could sing with certain faith: “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6.)

Fulfilled were the expectant words of Job: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

“And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

“Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” (Job 19:25–27.)

With good reason Mary cried, “Rabboni!” (John 20:16) when first she saw the risen Lord, for now he was indeed the master—master not only of life, but of death itself. Gone was the sting of death, broken the victory of the grave.

The fearful Peter was transformed. Even the doubtful Thomas declared in soberness and reverence and realism, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28.) “Be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27) were the unforgettable words of the Lord on that marvelous occasion.

After that occasion he appeared to many, including, as Paul records, “above five hundred brethren at once.” (1 Cor. 15:6.)

And in the Western Hemisphere were other sheep of whom he had spoken earlier. And the people there heard a voice as if it came out of heaven … and it said unto them: “Behold my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him.

“… And behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe; and he came down and stood in the midst of them. …

“And it came to pass that he stretched forth his hand and spake unto the people saying:

“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified [should] come into the world. …

“Arise and come forth unto me.” (3 Ne. 11:3, 6, 8–10, 14.)

The Book of Mormon goes on to give a beautiful account of the words and scenes from the ministry of the resurrected Lord to the people of ancient America.

And now finally there are modern witnesses, for the Master of all mankind came again to open this dispensation, the dispensation of the prophesied fulness of times. In a glorious vision, he—the resurrected, living Lord—and his Father, the God of heaven, appeared to a boy prophet to begin anew the restoration of ancient truth. Joseph Smith, the modern prophet, declared with words of soberness:

“And now after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

“For we saw him even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father.” (D&C 76:22–23.)

Because our Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of his death as the symbol of our faith. But what shall we use? No sign, no work of art, no representation of form is adequate to express the glory and the wonder of the Living Christ. He told us what that symbol should be when he said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15.)

It is that simple, my brethren and sisters, and that profound—the symbol of our declaration of the Living Christ is our very lives. The way we live must be a meaningful expression of our testimony of the Eternal Son of the Living God. May we never forget it.

Ideas for Home Teachers

You may wish to talk about these things in your home teaching visit:

  1. The empty tomb became the testimony of Jesus Christ’s divinity, the assurance of eternal life. Having been resurrected, he became the Master of life and death.

  2. In addition to ancient witnesses of the Resurrection, there are modern witnesses—the Prophet Joseph Smith’s visions and revelations and the solemn testimonies of millions who bear witness of the Lord’s living reality.

  3. Jesus Christ is the center of our faith, and we worship him as Lord and Savior.

Discussion Helps

  1. Express your personal feelings about the Resurrection. Ask family members to share their feelings.

  2. Are there scriptural verses or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?

  3. Would this discussion be better after talking with the head of the household before the visit? Is there a special message from the bishop or quorum leader?

“The Burial of Christ,” by Carl Heinrich Bloch. Original at the chapel of Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark. Used by permission of the Frederiksborgmuseum.

Illustrated by Steve Monroe Hart

“The Resurrection,” by Carl Heinrich Bloch. Original at the chapel of Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark. Used by permission of the Frederiksborgmuseum.

“The Doubtful Thomas,” by Carl Heinrich Bloch. © Three Lions.