The Character of Christ

I’ve been having a challenging time lately. Sometimes I feel the real temptation to shake my fists at the heavens and question God, “why! I know I’m a decent person; I know I work hard, and I really try!” For about a month, I really have felt like I’ve been plummeting, hitting road block after road block, feeling stunted in too many ways. My brother, working hard in the Mission Training Centre, pitched a talk to me: The Character of Christ, by Elder David A. Bednar (BYU-I devotional 2003). I had barely begun reading when I recognised I was being chastised by the Lord. Bednar quotes Brigham Young:

“I will take the liberty of saying to every man and woman who wishes to obtain salvation through [the Saviour] that looking to him, only, is not enough.” I knew that I’d spent much time looking to Christ, and that was good! But merely looking isn’t what this religion is about: it’s about action and faith. I’d been swept up in my cave of troubles, and I was rarely able to look up from them. I was looking inwards, always.

As I read on, Elder Bednar introduced the question of his address: what made Christ different? How was He the best fit to perform the atonement? Why are we asked to be like Him (3 Nephi 27:27)? Bednar studied the statement of Elder Neal A. Maxwell: “Jesus’ character necessarily underwrote His remarkable atonement. Without Jesus’ sublime character there could have been no sublime atonement!

As I reflect on the characteristics of Christ, I marvel at their consistence in moral footing. He is faithful, prayerful, honest and fair; willing to serve, a good friend, sacrificing, kind, benevolent, humble, meek, stong, knowledgeable, wise, dedicated- the list really is endless. Bednar wanted to find the crux of the list; a way to sum it all up somehow and define the character of the Saviour of the world. As he deliberated, he suggested the following:

“His character is such that He “[suffered] temptations of every kind” (Alma 7:11), yet He gave temptations “no heed” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:22).

“Perhaps the greatest indicator of character is the capacity to recognize and appropriately respond to other people who are experiencing the very challenge or adversity that is most immediately and forcefully pressing upon us. Character is revealed, for example, in the power to discern the suffering of other people when we ourselves are suffering… Thus, character is demonstrated by looking and reaching outward when the natural and instinctive response is to be self-absorbed and turn inward.”

Bednar taught this concept using examples from Christ’s life. He begun with the story of the Jesus, who after being baptised by John, retreats to the wilderness to fast for 40 days in preparation for his ministry amongst the people who he knew would some day reject and crucify Him. I pondered on the times when I turn to fasting. I fast for selfish reasons: to seek answers to questions for myself, to get closer to my Father in Heaven and feel the peace and quiet of the Holy Ghost. I’m sure the Saviour sought after the same things. What He met in the desert though, was far from peace. He endured the temptations of the devil, who taunted Him and challenged His godhood. I tried to fathom the toll of resisting such taunting for such a great period of time. How drained and weary He might have been. In Matthew 4, we learn that on leaving the wilderness after the forty days, angels were sent to minister with the Christ: to bear up His burden and to strengthen Him. I imagined the relief and gratitude I would have felt if I had been Him.

In the Joseph Smith translation of this same scripture, added insight into this event is given. As He leaves the Wilderness, He feels and knows that John, His cousin, baptiser and faithful comrade, has been captured and sent to prison. Those angels who were sent to uplift Him, He sends to John’s side instead, to comfort and aid him.

Bednar continued, retelling the story of the last supper, an evening with His disciples who became sad as they realised their Lord would soon leave them alone. They, looking inward, mourned the absence of His great teaching and holiness. Bednar said, “Recognizing that He himself was about to intensely and personally experience the absence of both comfort and peace, and in a moment when His heart was perhaps troubled and afraid, the Master reached outward and offered to others the very blessings that could and would have strengthened Him.” Jesus taught them of the Holy Ghost, and gave that gift of companionship to them, explaining that his presence would be a constant guide to them, as good as His own presence. He comforted them.

Bednar recalled the intercessory prayer, uttered on the way to Gethsemane, where He would solely atone for the sins of the world. In this prayer, He pleads with the Father to watch carefully over His faithful friends.

Upon exiting the garden of Gethsemene, after that taxing and gruelling mission, and faced with the crowds of soldiers and angry vengeful men, after being betrayed by his associate, He notices through the chaos one of his accusors has been attacked, and his ear cut off by the sword. He races to heal the man.

From the cross, he searches for His mother, and bids his disciple John look after her in His absence. He pleads with the Father to forgive the very soldiers who nailed him to the cross that He carried, and he comforts the sinner, the thief on the cross next to His.

“Throughout His mortal ministry, and especially during the events leading up to and including the atoning sacrifice, the Savior of the world turned outward–when the natural man or woman in any of us would have been self-centered and focused inward.” (Bednar)

Reading this, I felt great awe, and great shame. Was I so terrible at seeing outside of myself? Bednar’s observation was that Christ’s example was to look outside of Himself, particularly in the moments of His greatest personal challenge. Have I ever recognised my moments of greatest strife to be indicators that now was the time more than ever to look outward?

It was comforting to read this apostles encouragement that perfection like this was not expected to happen over night, “We can in mortality seek to be blessed with and develop essential elements of a Christlike character… We cannot obtain such a capacity through sheer willpower or personal determination. Rather, we are dependent upon and in need of “the merits, mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8). But “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30) and “in [the] process of time” (Moses 7:21), we are enabled to reach outward when the natural tendency is for us to turn inward.”

My study of this talk left me inspired to work harder to look outside of myself. I reflected on the times when I’ve learned the most about myself, and when I’ve drawn closest to my Saviour and Father in Heaven. Those moments are the ones when I’ve pushed myself to serve others and be prayerful of others.

The added blessing of trying to practise looking outward was the most humbling side effect. Almost as soon as I put my new strategy into play on the heels of studying Bednars words, my difficult month made a turn. And Heavenly Father wasn’t interested in being subtle about it. Almost every hour, I received a message, text, phone call or email from someone random in my life- some from people I had never even met- who expressed their love for me and gratitude. I felt lifted, strengthened and loved. Heavenly Father was accepting my resolve to try harder, to ACT rather than to just look to Christ; to try to be like Him.

THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST (lesson hand out)

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