At the Feet of the Savior
JeffreySwinton
Jeffrey C. Swinton
Laie Hawaii Temple Visitors’ Center Director
Devotional
February 16, 2016
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Brothers and Sisters, Aloha.

I suspect that many of you have walked into the Laie Hawaii Temple Visitors’ Center. My first experience there was exactly one month ago today—the first morning after our arrival to serve as the Director of the Temple Visitors’ Center.  

Like most such centers around the world, visitors immediately come face-to-face with an oversized representation of the risen Lord, Jesus the Christ. In our Temple Visitors’ Center the 5 ton, 10 foot marble statue, standing 14 feet in the air is called simply, the Christus.  

It has been given voice, in 31 languages—sharing some of His most precious and comforting teachings, like:

“Behold, I am Jesus Christ. . . .  I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. ” [3 Nephi 9:15]

“ . . . I came into the world to do the will of my Father . . . My Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the Cross . . . that I might draw all men unto me . . . “  [3 Nephi 27:13-14]  and, 

“Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet . . . behold I . . . have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent . . .“ [D&C 6:37; 19:16]

What have you thought about when you have stood in front of the Christus? Why do you think it is there?

My hope today is that you will never look upon the Christus in the same way again; that your appreciation for the Savior’s Atonement will be expanded; and, that your understanding of your responsibilities will be made more clear.

This morning I want to take you back in time to some experiences we shared in our pre-mortal life. I don’t know how far back. Some day we will see our past more clearly.  

We were living at that time as spirits with distinct and unique identities. We wanted to become like our Heavenly Father and learned that the only way to do so was to experience mortality and return home to His presence with a resurrected body.  We also learned that there were certain conditions that must be satisfied before we would be qualified to return to His presence. 

President John Taylor has taught: 

“There are certain eternal laws by which the Gods in the eternal worlds are governed and which they cannot violate, and do not want to violate. These certain principles must be kept, and one principle is, that no unclean thing can enter into the Kingdom of God.” [Journal of Discourses 25:165-166]

What that meant to us back then is that we would not ever be able to become like our Father in Heaven unless we could return from our mortal life unblemished from our experiences on earth.  

As a practicality, I imagine that seemed to us to be virtually impossible, because once we sinned we would no longer be eligible to return. Without living a perfect life on earth we could never come home to live in our Father’s presence.  

I believe we realized then how improbable it was that we could live a perfect life on the earth. I suspect that was discouraging to us, but we learned that our Father in Heaven had a solution for us. From latter-day revelation we have been taught that we all participated in a Grand Council in Heaven. 

In that setting we heard details of our Father’s plan that included granting us agency with all the associated personal growth that would come to us through our proper exercise of that agency. It also included a means for any disqualifying sins or transgressions to be removed from the record of our lives, thereby enabling us to return to our Father in Heaven without blemish. 

We learned that if one of His children could live an impeccably perfect mortal life and then willingly suffer for the sins, pains and afflictions of every one of the rest of us, that child of our Father in Heaven would have the authority to share the eternal rights he had earned with us and allow us to escape the inevitable punishment of our own sins if we kept His commandments. It was, in the words of Jacob, to be “an infinite Atonement”. One stepped forward and accepted that role. We know Him here on the earth as Jesus the Christ.

It was explained to us that in some miraculous way, blessed by being born to a mortal mother but at the same time having an immortal Father, the firstborn spiritual son of our Father in Heaven would be able to overcome the odds, live that impeccably perfect life and then, if He was still willing, take upon Himself all of our sins, our pains, our sufferings and, yes, even our very bad days, and then, after all of that, freely allow His life to be brutally taken.  

We have been taught that an alternative plan was introduced for our consideration by one of our siblings whom we now call Lucifer. He appealed to us by pointing out the risks we would be assuming by accepting our Father’s plan.  Among those risks were whether Jesus Christ would or even could really do everything He promised to do and also whether we would have the personal strength to exercise our agency in a way that would entitle us to be exalted.   Inexplicably Lucifer promised we could all be saved through a plan of compulsion controlled by him—abandoning our agency and the associated growth and experience it would bring us--and for which we would give him all the glory.

Each one of us here today made a decision to trust in the promises of our Father and of Jesus Christ as distinguished from those of Lucifer. That was our first lesson in exercising faith. We made that decision knowing full well that our Father’s plan would only be successful if Jesus Christ did everything He promised He would do. If He failed in any particular, our eternal future would be in jeopardy.  

When we voted to accept the Father’s plan, we were expressing faith in our Father in Heaven---and we were expressing faith in our spiritual brother, Jesus Christ.  

Reflect with me on one of many prophecies of the coming of Jesus Christ that was received and written here on the earth long before His birth.  Remember when King Benjamin was speaking to his people at the temple erected in the land of Zarahemla approximately 124 years before the birth of Jesus Christ?  

I love King Benjamin. I love the message he shared with his people on that occasion in chapters 2, 3 and 4 of the Book of Mosiah. His message was given to him by an angel. We know that so many people came at his request to hear him that he built a tower on the grounds of the temple on which to stand so his voice would carry over a longer distance. That effort proved inadequate and, to quote from the record:

“. . . therefore he caused that the words which he spake should be written and sent forth among those that were not under the sound of his voice, that they might also receive his words.“  [Mosiah 2:8]

Now, I don’t have any unique insight into the number or nature of the records that Mormon had in his possession 500 years later as he completed his abridgment of what has become known as The Book of Mormon. Because King Benjamin’s words were written at the time they were spoken, Mormon may well have had a copy of King Benjamin’s talk.  

It makes sense to me that Mormon may have merely included the entire talk the way it was originally written, without abridgment—in the first person--in King Benjamin’s own words, in the early chapters of Mosiah.  

Listen to what King Benjamin said and imagine that you lived and were present on that occasion—124 years before the birth of Jesus Christ:

“1 And again my brethren, I would call your attention, for I have somewhat more to speak unto you; for behold, I have things to tell you concerning that which is to come.

 2 And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God. And he said unto me: Awake; and I awoke, and behold he stood before me. 

 3 And he said unto me: Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy.

 4 For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy.

 5 For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.

 6 And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.

 7 And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.

 8 And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.” [Mosiah 3:1-8]

That is one of the very clear prophecies of what the Savior would do for us—given by a prophet of God to a people living 124 years before Jesus Christ was even born. Remarkably, the people listening to King Benjamin “cried with one voice, saying: Yea we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us”.  (Mosiah 5:2)  

Put yourselves in their place. Imagine the Savior had not yet come to the earth and we were listening to a prophet today telling us that a Savior would be born 124 years from now—in the year 2140. Would you believe all the words which he spoke to you?  

Gratefully we don’t have to worry about how we would respond to that hypothetical because we have the benefit of looking back.  Christ has come.  Even so, with the perspective that we have, ask yourself, how much do I really believe? What do I really feel about Jesus Christ? 

Throughout this talk I want you to reflect upon your own personal testimony of Jesus Christ as your Savior and Redeemer.   

My testimony of Him and His role in my life has evolved over the years. When I was young, my seminary teacher, Richard Chidester, quoted from the 13th verse of the 46th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants as he was preparing to bear his testimony of Jesus Christ.

He read from verse 13:

“To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.” [D&C 46:13]

He then bore his testimony that he was one of those to whom it was given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

I remember sitting there in a classroom in the innocence and honesty of youth saying to myself “I don’t know that”.

He then made me feel better by reading verse 14 in that same Section:

“To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.” [D&C 46:14]

That gave me some comfort and for years thereafter I viewed my seminary teacher as, what I called, a “Verse 13 guy”—one who knew for himself through the Holy Ghost. At the same time I viewed myself as a “Verse 14 guy”—one who believed on his words.  

Over the years as I have come to recognize how the Holy Ghost communicates with my spirit---and how my spirit communicates with my body, I have learned to recognize certain feelings and impressions as coming to me directly from the Holy Ghost. With that uniquely personal insight, the time did come when I became a Verse 13 guy. When it was given to me by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  

Later in life when I was called as an Area Seventy I read in the 107th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants that the Seventy are called to be “especial witnesses” of the name of Christ. I was comforted by the reality that I could fulfill that assignment with authenticity. I already knew and could honestly testify of my personal witness.

Where are you on that continuum? How strong is your witness of Jesus Christ?  Are you struggling to even become a Verse 14 brother or sister—to even believe in the words of someone else? Or are you already a Verse 14 brother or sister with a belief that is founded upon the words of another?  

Wherever you are, contemplate what stands in the way of your becoming a Verse 13 brother or sister?  One to whom “it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”. You can be, you know.

We often refer to verses 3 and 4 of the 10th Chapter of Moroni as the key to obtaining a witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon where we are taught that: “having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost”.  

Let me encourage you to read a bit further.  In verses 5, 6 and 7 we learn:

5  “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.  

6  “And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.

7 “And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost. . . .” [Moroni 10:5-7]

The “he” spoken of in Verse 7 is Jesus Christ. This is not a privilege reserved for apostles and prophets. It is a scriptural promise to each of us; each of us in this room today. Each of us may know that Jesus Christ is, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Now, continue to listen with your heart as we talk more about Jesus Christ today.

I want you to imagine in your mind your pre-mortal life. Contemplate what you might have been feeling in the Heavens at the time the Savior was on the earth and coming to the end of His mortal life.   

Remember, we all took a huge gamble at the time of the Council in Heaven. We put all our future in the hands of Him who would be known as Jesus Christ.  We expressed faith in Him by accepting our Father’s plan.  Our future was literally placed in His hands.  

Earlier we read a prophecy of his Atonement made 124 years before His birth.  Read now in the 22nd Chapter of Luke of the actual experience as it took place in the meridian of time. This was the moment for Him to make good on the promise He made to each of us. 

“39 And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him.

40 And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.” [Luke 22:39-40]

I don’t know if we were watching as Jesus Christ walked across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemene. I don’t know if we saw Him kneel or heard his prayers—but I like to think that perhaps, because of the importance of this singular moment to our eternal futures, we were allowed to observe Him from the Heavens. If so, imagine that singular moment.   

Perhaps we sensed how hard it would be for Him to complete the atonement and were doing our best at a distance to cheer Him on--hoping He would not quit. Perhaps we voiced renewed faith in His promise.

Again in Luke we read:

“41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,

42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me:” [Luke 22:41-42]

I wonder if we worried that the plan would be interrupted. 

And then we heard Him say:  “nevertheless not my will but thine, be done.” [Luke 22:42]

At that moment I can imagine that we must all have cheered at His expressed resolve to complete His promised mission, while ominously sensing that we certainly could not personally feel what He must have been experiencing or would experience in the coming hours.  

And then something very tender occurred. We only find it in the account of Luke:

“43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” [Luke 22:43]

I love this representation of that moment.  The Danish artist, Frans Schwarz, envisioned and painted this masterpiece in 1898.  Look at the anguish in the face of our Lord.  

Look at the angel. I even like the wings. I believe our Father sent someone to His Son whom Christ knew well and whose mere presence would have given Him strength and comfort.  That visit was tender, important, and yet short lived, as the angel must have departed to allow the full impact of the Atonement.

Now think about what came next:

“44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” [Luke 22:44]

He completed that portion of His ministry—for us. That first and perhaps most difficult step in the events leading up to His death.    I imagine I would have both wept for Him as I watched Him suffer, and shouted for joy that the plan was working. 

And so it occurred.  I know it occurred.  We can’t ever comprehend how difficult it was for Him, but we have heard Him reflect upon it as recently as 1830.  

In March of 1830, 1,800 years after He had fulfilled His role in the Atonement, Jesus Christ graphically recalled the pain He suffered in the Garden and on the Cross in a revelation directed to Martin Harris and given through Joseph Smith.  We find it in the 19th Section of the Doctrine & Covenants.  Perhaps what the Savior said to Martin Harris could also be said to each of us at one time or another in our lives:

“13 Wherefore, I command you to repent, and keep the commandments which you have received by the hand of my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., in my name;

14 And it is by my almighty power that you have received them; 

15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;” [D&C 19:13-17]

Now listen to how pointedly He described his suffering 1,800 years after the event; how fresh the experience was in His mind.  He said to Joseph Smith:

 “18 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—

 19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” [D&C 19:18-19]

Because He did finish His preparations, every one of our Father in Heaven’s children born on the earth will be resurrected. There is nothing more you or they need to do for that to occur. Jesus Christ opened that door. We may have seen it occur from the Heavens.

We knew from what we were taught in the pre-earth life that for us to return to the presence of our Father and live with Him and His Son forever, we needed to be worthy, to continually repent, and to receive every saving ordinance and enter into significant covenants with our Father in Heaven. That is required for you and for me—for every one of our Father’s children.   

For those of us born at this time the additional responsibility has been given to identify individuals who have lived without having the blessings of baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Priesthood, and the temple and then to receive every saving ordinance and enter into every required covenant vicariously for them.   

Without us ultimately engaging in family history and temple work, the purpose of the Savior’s atonement for all of our Father in Heaven’s children cannot be fully fulfilled. He is relying on us now.  

We live here in Laie on sacred ground. You know it. You can feel it. There is a reason you have come here, and it is not only to obtain an outstanding education.  

You are blessed to live and study so near to a Temple; and, are doubly blessed to have a Temple Visitors’ Center nearby. Only a handful of Temples in the world are blessed to have a Temple Visitors’ Center on their grounds. A Temple Visitors’ Center is designed to focus our attention on the blessings of the Temple. It is a unique place to learn about the Temple and those promised blessings; to connect with the Spirit; to contemplate the purpose of your life; and, to share that spirit and knowledge with others.

I can’t walk into the Temple Visitors’ Center and face that magnificent marble Christus without sensing the pain of His suffering for us; feeling His love; and being overwhelmed with gratitude. It both humbles and motivates me.

I can’t listen to the narration of some of our Savior’s teachings from the text of Holy Scripture while sitting at His feet without wanting to personally hear His voice, to see His face, to be better, and to be entitled to live forever in His presence.  

How about you? Come to the Temple Visitors’ Center frequently. No recommend is required. I promise you that if you come seeking, you will be blessed.

Now, in my later years I look back with deep gratitude at the choices I made while your age to strengthen my testimony of Jesus Christ.  

I am now a “Verse 13 brother.” And you can be so as well. Everyone of us may know by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the only Begotten Son of the Living God.   

If you are not there yet, then trust in Verse 14 and believe on the words of those who do know, while continuing to seek to know for yourselves. Nothing for you will ever be the same once you really know Him and understand His role in your life.  

I witness that I know that Jesus Christ lives and is our Savior and Redeemer; and, I share that witness with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.