Yesterday was a real treat for me. In Sunday School, we covered 2 Ne. Chs. 1 — 2. This was great because of all the many scriptures I love, 2 Ne. 2:6 — 9 is my absolute favorite (esp. v. 8). Then the Priesthood lesson was Ch. 3 out of the Joseph Smith manual, which was about Jesus Christ. So yesterday was extraordinarily uplifting for me. And the two lessons tied together nicely.
I’d like to quote from Joseph Smith’s own words:
“… We cannot believe that the ancients in all ages were so ignorant of the system of heaven as many suppose, since all that were ever saved, were saved through the power of this great plan of redemption, as much before the coming of Christ as since; if not, God has had different plans in operation (if we may so express it), to bring men back to dwell with Himself. And this we cannot believe, since there has been no change in the constitution of man since he fell; and the ordinance or institution of offering blood in sacrifice was only designed to be performed till Christ was offered up and shed His blood—as said before—that man might look forward in faith to that time. …
“That the offering of sacrifice was only to point the mind forward to Christ, we infer from these remarkable words of Jesus to the Jews: ‘Your Father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad’ [John 8:56]. So, then, because the ancients offered sacrifice it did not hinder their hearing the Gospel; but served, as we said before, to open their eyes, and enable them to look forward to the time of the coming of the Savior, and rejoice in His redemption. … We conclude that whenever the Lord revealed Himself to men in ancient days, and commanded them to offer sacrifice to Him, that it was done that they might look forward in faith to the time of His coming, and rely upon the power of that atonement for a remission of their sins. And this they have done, thousands who have gone before us, whose garments are spotless, and who are, like Job, waiting with an assurance like his, that they will see Him in the latter day upon the earth, even in their flesh [see Job 19:25–26].
So the ancient Jews had received the truth, and received a law to remind them of it. But we see a fundamental misunderstanding in the Jews at the Meridian of Time. After Jesus had showed the people great miracles—indeed, it appears shortly after He had fed the five thousand—they became enraged at His teachings. They demanded that He show them a sign (!) to support His authority. In John 8, He says to them:
21 Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your asins: whither I go, ye cannot come.22 Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come.
The Jews practiced ritualistic sacrifice. They obeyed the Law of Moses (or at least the version of the Law their priests had passed to them by largely oral tradition). And they were, after all, the seed of Abraham. So when He told them, “Whither I go, ye cannot come,” they retorted, “Will he kill himself?” For, as Elder James E. Talmage teaches us in Jesus the Christ, Gehenna (Jewish Hell) was the place for those who committed suicide, and as the chosen people, they were, they supposed, destined for Heaven.
What they did not understand was that it was neither the blood of lambs, nor even the blood of Abraham by which they were saved. Those things were merely symbols. It was only through the blood of Christ that they could be saved. Indeed, their Law had become so encumbered with oral tradition, the original purpose of the Law—as a type of Jesus Christ—was wholly lost on most of those who followed it. So it is that Joseph Smith taught:
Certainly, the shedding of the blood of a beast could be beneficial to no man, except it was done in imitation, or as a type, or explanation of what was to be offered through the gift of God Himself—and this performance done with an eye looking forward in faith on the power of that great Sacrifice for a remission of sins. …
The value of the Law of Moses is not that we are cleansed by the blood of beasts. The purpose of the Law of Moses was to point us Christ. Is it any wonder, then, that Lehi, who spent his life trying to teach those who blindly followed, but did not understand, the Law, taught his son Jacob:
6 Wherefore, aredemption cometh in and through the bHoly cMessiah; for he is full of dgrace and truth.8 Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, asave it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who blayeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the cresurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.9 Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make aintercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.
Lehi wanted his sons to understand what his countrymen did not—that the Messiah alone would redeem men from the pains of death and Hell; that the Messiah alone had power to save; that the Law of Moses was not the power of redemption by itself, but rather was a type of the Messiah (as a side note—how Lehi would have rejoiced to learn the name that his sons Nephi and Jacob knew the Messiah by, the name Jacob received by revelation, the name “Christ”; but it was not to be given in his lifetime).
One of the things I love to do when I study the scriptures is to look up the Hebrew and Greek roots of words. I have found that Hebrew is a richly symbolic language, and we can learn a lot about what the prophets are saying when we look at what the words meant to them. So I looked up the Hebrew roots for the words “merits,” “mercy,” and “grace”—the three attributes of the Messiah that Lehi taught would save.
The word “merit” does not appear anywhere in the KJV Bible, so that one was a little tough. The word that represents my best guess is “tsedekh,” also rendered “zedek”, which means “righteousness” or “good acts” (as in “Melchizedek,” King of Righteousness or “Zedekiah,” the Lord is Righteousness).
Mercy is one of my favorite Hebrew words. It is “chesedh,” which means kindness and piety, and also sometimes “reproach” (for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth).
Grace is “chenn”, which is to bow oneself down in graciousness. Or in other words, grace is the condescension of God, spoken of in 1 Ne. 11, when the angel says to Nephi, “Behold the condescension of God!” and Nephi sees in vision the suffering of the Lord in Gethsemane.
So in sum, the unique attributes that qualify Jesus Christ to be our savior are His merits, His mercy, and His grace. His merits are His good works, for He alone lived a righteous life. No other man could pay for the sins of his brethren by proxy, for no other man was himself without guilt. Jesus Christ alone was perfect and thus wholly beyond the demands of justice, so He alone was qualified to answer the ends of the law for others. His mercy is that great love, charity, boundless and enduring. He loved us enough to pay the price, as high as it might be. Indeed, the price was so high that even He did not realize in mortality the terrible price He would pay in His condescension below all things. But at that terrible moment, He chose to finish His work, that He might have mercy on us. Finally, the grace, or condescension of Christ. He bowed Himself below all things. I explored this topic more extensively in another post, but to be brief, He experienced all of our pain so that we do not have to bear it ourselves.
Those three attributes meant that Jesus Christ was uniquely qualified to be the Redeemer. Those three attributes are why we worship Jesus Christ, who is the Father and the Son, who descended below all things. And as Lehi taught, He redeems all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. Our broken hearts and contrite spirits are both necessary and sufficient to have access to His grace. And His grace, if we receive it, is necessary and sufficient for our salvation.