Thank You for the Christ
Brothers and sisters, it is a privilege to be able to address the Ensign College community, and I express appreciation to President Kusch for the invitation. I also express appreciation to my good wife, Jill, as well as Alan and Melanie Young for sharing their talents in the beautiful musical number they provided. I love that song, and it captures well the heart of my message.
Some of the greatest lessons I have learned about life and the gospel are those that have been taught to me by my four daughters. Such lessons include how to freely forgive, how to love purely, how to enjoy life and not sweat the small stuff and how to do missionary work without overcomplicating things. Of the many important lessons my girls have taught me, one of the most impactful, and long-lasting came from my third daughter, Londyn, when she was just two years old. Londyn taught me to often reflect on the importance of Jesus Christ, and my gratitude for the roles he plays in my life.
In the process of teaching Londyn how to pray, somewhere between the instructions of giving thanks for blessings received and ending in the name of Jesus Christ, she developed a phrase that she incorporated in every prayer she offered in our home for over a year. The phrase was, “thank you for the Christ.” For some time, that is all Londyn’s prayers would consist of. She would simply and sweetly pray, “Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the Christ, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” As her vocabulary and understanding of the concept of prayer expanded, so did the things she prayed for; but that phrase remained a constant.
Hearing those words come from my toddler on a regular basis had a significant and lasting impact on me. As a family, we were regularly invited through Londyn’s prayers to ponder in our minds and hearts why we are thankful for Jesus Christ. Today I want to share just four of many reasons why my soul often declares, “thank you for the Christ.”
1. Jesus Christ knows how to Succor me, and you
In a sermon about the Savior to the people of Gideon in the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma boldly declared,
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people… and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”i
The meaning of the word succor is to run to, to provide relief, to give aid to. Thus, Jesus Christ experienced and suffered every pain, affliction and temptation, and of every kind ii, so that he would know perfectly how to run to us and give us relief and aid in our time of need. When we experience various forms of emotional and physical pain and anguish, we tend to feel that no one understands, but because of Jesus Christ’s boundless suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, he understands perfectly our suffering—no matter the impetus.
The first time I remember experiencing the Savior’s succor was when I was fifteen years old. I played soccer from my early childhood. In middle school, I made a state competitive team and looked forward from that time to playing on the Mountain Crest High School team. In time my freshman year rolled around, as did soccer try-outs. My teenage world was shattered when the final roster was posted and my name was not on the list. I was crushed.
Insult added to injury as later that same week the high school coach came to my team’s indoor soccer game to observe many of his new recruits—who I had played the game with for years. After the match, the coach approached me and asked me where I attended high school. I told him I attended Mountain Crest High. He then surprisingly asked, “Why didn’t you try out for the soccer team?” I sheepishly responded that I had, at which point it became a bit awkward for both of us.
That night I went home feeling heartbroken, dejected, forgotten and overlooked. Those feelings led me to put to the test—for the first time in my life—the invitation I had received from my parents, church leaders and seminary teachers to find solace and guidance in the scriptures. That year in seminary we were studying the New Testament. I began reading the assigned scripture block for the week and found myself in John chapter 14. In this particular chapter, the Savior is preparing His disciples for the day when He will no longer be in their physical presence. In verse 18, the Savior says to them (and to us), “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.”iii As I read those words my heart was immediately filled with peace, and I felt the undeniable presence of the Savior through the Holy Ghost. It became clear that the Savior was aware of me and my need for His succor. My personal relationship with the Savior was born out of that challenge. I have experienced the Savior’s comfort, relief and reassurance many times since.
Looking back now, not making a high school sports team seems insignificant and inconsequential when compared to the heavy trials mortality brings, but at the time, it was a significant challenge. I know that the Savior knows us, loves us and is desirous to provide us needed solace. No challenge is insignificant or inconsequential to Him. His compassion extends to each of us when we experience heartache, grief and emotional turmoil—no matter the cause.
2. Jesus Christ frees me from Sin
Again quoting from Alma’s sermon to the people of Gideon, he said,
“…the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance….”iv
In addition to our pains, afflictions and temptations of every kind v, the Savior also took upon him all of our sins—every mistake we could or would make—the weight of which caused him to bleed from every pore. He bore the weight of justice so that we might reap the benefits of mercy.
Through our exercise of faith in Jesus Christ, and repenting of our misdeeds, we can be liberated from our sins. Wrongs can be made right, the unholy can become sanctified, virtue can be restored and the unclean can be made clean again. We are promised that “though our sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”vi We can truly become “new creatures”vii in Christ.
I have experienced firsthand the Savior’s redemption and cleansing power in my life. I have felt the sweet relief from the guilt and anguish my actions have caused, and have felt as Alma the younger who said, while recounting his experience of being cleansed of sin through the Atonement of Christ to his son, “oh what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!”viii
I have also been blessed with opportunities to see the Savior’s cleansing power work in the lives of others in miraculous ways. While serving a Spanish-speaking mission in Southern California, I met a wonderful woman from Honduras whom I will refer to as Maria. When my companion and I first met Maria, she carried a very dark countenance. I remember vividly our first encounter. Maria was dressed in all black clothing covered with decals of skulls and wore very dark makeup. Nothing about her appearance was warm or inviting. As we described our role and purpose as missionaries, in no uncertain terms Maria told us that she had no interest in God or Jesus Christ. As we parted, I didn’t expect that we would ever see Maria again. However, the Lord had other plans. Through a few small miracles, we came in contact with Maria again, and she opened her heart and home to our message.
We soon learned that Maria had lived a very difficult life filled with abuse, severe addictions and poor choices. We worked with Maria for months—teaching her the Savior’s gospel, helping her establish habits of scripture study, prayer and church attendance, and overcoming her various vices. Through concentrated and diligent effort, and through the grace of Jesus Christ, Maria brought her life in harmony with the teachings of the Savior. She overcame significant obstacles and egregious sins. On the day of Maria’s baptism, her countenance radiated nothing but light and goodness. Through the redeeming power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Maria had truly become a new creature—completely transformed. She was reclaimed from a state of sin and darkness to a visible state of light and goodness.
The ability to see such a drastic change in the life of another left a lasting impression on my heart. Working with Maria, and watching the Atonement work in and transform her very person served as a witness to me of the Savior’s ability to change and sanctify each one of us if we will simply turn to him and turn away from those things which alienate us from his influence.
3. Jesus Christ gives us courage and strength to do difficult things
I love the story of Peter stepping out of the boat to walk on the water toward the Savior. While Peter’s focus and faith were directed at the Savior—he was able to do the impossible—he walked on water. It was only when Peter was distracted by his surroundings and let fear replace his faith, that he began to sink and cried for the Savior’s help to save him—which the Savior did without hesitation.ix
As we focus on the Savior and exercise faith in him, we can do difficult things—even things that may seem impossible.
A few years ago, while living in Idaho, a new family moved in across the street from us. This family consisted of a single mother and three young girls. As a fellow household of multiple little women, we became fast friends with Jenna—the mom, and her daughters Jordan, Rachel and Beth Forbush. We soon learned that Jenna’s husband had passed away from heart complications just a few months prior. We also learned that Jenna and her husband Brigham had lost an infant daughter a few years before his passing. We marveled at the significant loss of this family and the grace with which Jenna endured such heavy trials. Jenna’s faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement was awe-inspiring. In preparing for this message, I invited my friend Jenna to share her thoughts on how the Atonement of Jesus Christ has enabled her to do difficult things—namely to persevere through sorrow and suffering to continue to raise her family as a single mother. With Jenna’s permission, I share the following.
“I can still recall the nights following my husband’s passing. The most exquisite longing and sorrow I have ever experienced seemed to engulf the long night hours of those first days and weeks after his death. I found myself on my knees in fervent prayer like I had never before experienced nor had such a poignant need to offer. This was a pain that only my Savior could heal and I knew of nowhere else to turn to find the peace I needed to face the next day. I had three little girls depending on me every single day and no time to waste wallowing in my sorrow, yet the pain at times was immobilizing. Each night as I faced these waves of sorrow, I found myself kneeling in prayer, tears pouring down my face in anguish. This is the circumstance in which I came to truly know and trust my Savior as I found His peace consistently each time I turned to Him. My Savior became a close and dear friend to me.
“This journey of single parenting for the past six years since my husband’s passing has blessed me with the opportunity to come to know my Savior in a way that I never could have otherwise. It has formed within me an unshakable foundation. It is the incredible and irreplaceable enabling power of the Atonement that allows me now to get up at 4:30 a.m. so that I can study my scriptures and pray, do family scripture study and prayer with my children, go to work and perform all of the other tasks that are necessary throughout the day. It is manifest in the miracle that my children, ages 13 and 9, choose willingly to get up also at 5 a.m. to do their personal and family scripture study and prayer. His power flows into our lives and home with great influence to do great things and bring miracles to pass. The sacred experiences I have had with my Savior, many in the wake of extreme trial, as well as the miracles I have seen as I have looked to Him each time in faith, have built a sure foundation on which I can stand and do all things.”
In the April 2021 General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson stated,
“Through your faith, Jesus Christ will increase your ability to move the mountains in your life, even though your personal challenges may loom as large as Mount Everest.”x
As the enabling power of the Atonement has blessed my good friend Jenna, it has also blessed and sustained me, and it will each who seek to use it.
4. The Savior Enables us to Overcome Death
I cannot think of any challenge in mortality more difficult or heart-wrenching than losing a loved one—especially when such a loss comes prematurely. When I have lost loved ones in my life I have wondered how such pain could be endured without an eternal perspective or concept of reuniting with loved ones in a joyful afterlife.
In 1995, my wife’s uncle, Captain Paul Carey, and seven others were tragically killed when their Air Force C-21 Learjet crashed after experiencing an in-flight emergency. The immediate families of those servicemen were flown to the Pentagon for a memorial service. I remember my mother-in-law recounting an experience she had on the flight to the service. I asked her to record her experience. I share the following with her permission.
“A week after my brother’s accident, I found myself on a similar aircraft, flying to the Pentagon for a memorial service with some of my siblings, the father of the co-pilot and other family members. As we sat facing each other, grieving over the loss of dear family members, we reminisced and quietly talked. Both pilots were relatively young and in the prime years of life. Both had promising careers. My brother was a husband and a father of three. We shared immense sadness and broken-heartedly talked about what had been and what would never be. The father of the other pilot was in complete and dark despair. He had no hope for a future reunion in a life after this one. His belief was that when a life ended, it was final. There was nothing more—no eternities to be contemplated—just that he would live out his life in complete loss of a relationship with his beloved son. No hope of living and embracing his son again in a resurrected state. The tears flowed freely, and I could not imagine how my grief would be compounded if I did not have the knowledge, hope and faith that one day I would see my brother again and that his body would be made whole –restored to the brother I knew and loved.”
Testifying before King Noah and his wicked priests, Abinadi prophesied boldly of the Savior and His Atonement. Of Jesus Christ’s resurrection Abinadi said,
“And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection.
But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.”xi
Because Jesus Christ literally gave His life and then took it again on the third day after being laid lifeless in the sepulcher, all who live on this earth will be resurrected. Because of the gift of the Atonement, we will live again and with those we love. Thank you to Jesus Christ, death does not mark the end, rather a new beginning. How grateful I am for this knowledge.
Brothers and sisters, in conclusion, I testify that because of Jesus Christ, we can receive sweet succor for our pains, temptations and afflictions of every kind;i we can be freed from sin and change our very nature to be new creatures;vii we can accomplish things beyond our own capabilities and we can overcome the sting of death. For these reasons and many more my heart rejoices, “Thank you for the Christ.” I say these things humbly in His sacred name, even Jesus Christ, amen.
i Alma 7:11-12
ii Alma 7:11
iii John 14:18
iv Alma 7:13
v Alma 7:11
vii 2 Corinthians 5:17
viii Alma 36:20
ix Matthew 14:23-32
x “Christ Is Risen; Faith in Him Will Move Mountains”, Russell M. Nelson, April 2021 General Conference
xi Mosiah 16:7-8