Jesus is and was a mystery. He just kept doing things that people didn’t expect and couldn’t deserve. He treated the adulterous woman at the well as if she were royalty. He frankly forgave the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee. He honored as righteous the publican who professed to be a sinner. He healed a man at the pool of Bethesda who He knew would violate His trust. He forgave the Roman soldiers who crucified Him. He made the fisherman who thrice betrayed him the president of His post-Resurrection church.
The mystery of Jesus includes the observation that Jesus was aloof towards the civic and religious leaders of the time. He stonewalled Herod. He defied the Pharisees. He challenged the Sanhedrin. Their positions meant nothing to Him. He made personal friends of the worst class of people: publicans and sinners. He treated lepers with more personal warmth than He treated kings. His ministry was packed with such violations of religious discipline and social order.
Jesus is a mystery. How do we explain His reckless disregard for decorum? How do we make sense of His dispensing goodness to people who were so patently undeserving while acting without regard for those who claimed to be good and powerful?
Jesus is a mystery. How can we design the formula that will explain His unexpected behavior?
Actually, He has already given us the formula: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Those who come unto him are blessed with rest. Those who do not come unto him do not enjoy His unique and life-changing peace. That is the formula that explains His mysterious behavior.
The challenge for earthlings is that we tend to act according to standard spiritual practices rather than according to His example. Following the counsel of Satan, we hide ourselves after we sin—just as Adam and Eve did. Before we let him in, we want to get our spiritual houses in order. The problem is that everywhere we go, we make things dirtier. So, as we rush around working ever harder, our houses get ever more uninhabitable—until we collapse in spiritual exhaustion. Try as we might, we cannot make ourselves clean. But we, like our First Parents, can go to Him.
He is Mr. Clean. He is the One who is able to set things right. He does not ask us to make our own houses completely clean. Of course He expects us not to throw dinner on the wall, and He encourages us to keep farm animals outdoors. He asks that we do our best to keep things in order.
But only He justifies. Only He sanctifies. Only He perfects. He says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are burdened by the dead weight of sin. I will give you rest. I will set your house in order.”
There is no other way, no other means, no other path, no other name under heaven whereby we can be saved. We must come unto Him.
Who could have supposed?
But something inside us objects to this wanton goodness. How can He possibly make friends of those who are tainted? Shouldn’t we be noble and good? Shouldn’t we push sin out of our lives? The woman at the well at first thought so—as did Simon Peter. But Christ invites all to come unto Him, no matter how unworthy.
I hope not to be misunderstood—we must cheerfully do all that we are able to do. We must. But we must not be confused. We will never cleanse ourselves nor save ourselves. After we have done all that we are able, we must “stand still with the utmost assurance to see the salvation of God and for his arm to be revealed” (D&C 123:17). He is the One who does the miracle of saving.
The key is coming to Him. That matters more than anything else. It changes everything. Ask the woman with the issue of blood, or the woman taken in adultery—or anyone you know who glows with quiet hope. Coming unto Christ changes everything.
His personal invitation to us
Consider His sacramental invitation:
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14–16, emphasis added).
Think about His invitation to come boldly to the throne of grace anytime we need healing or cleansing. Satan prefers that we hide. But Jesus invites us to come to him! He is able and willing to give the needed blessing.
Running from goodness
Maybe every sin is, ultimately, the sin of resisting God. We may resist God because we want to be self-sufficient. Or maybe we resist him because we find a perverse comfort in our sins. Whatever our reason for resistance, we cannot heal until we go boldly to the throne of grace and receive mercy in time of need.
But how can we come to him when we are filthy? He cannot tolerate filth one whit.
The good news is that the very act of turning to him and putting ourselves in His hands is the requisite act of humility. When we come to Him, He cleanses us as He embraces us. What a friend!
Two kinds of pride
So it turns out that one of the greatest enemies of righteousness is not sin itself but spiritual self-sufficiency. President Benson called it pride. He also said it was the universal sin. It is the state of mind that keeps us working on ourselves endlessly and fruitlessly while Jesus beckons: “Come unto me. I can set you right. I can renew a right spirit within you. I have already paid for your sins. Please let me toss them to the side and make you clean.”
Pride has another face. The people we usually call proud are those who are too self-sufficient to have faith in Christ. Yet pride also includes those exhausted do-it-yourselfers who know their houses are filthy but do not want to come to him until they can make the place presentable. We can never do it. So it is not enough to be humble—we must be humble and also go to him for help. Anything that keeps us from going to him is sin.
Christ’s spiritual prescription is to fill ourselves with Him. Study the stories of His healings. Cherish every experience of His goodness. Celebrate His willingness to pay the price of sin.
When we study the scriptures with new eyes, we see that, at the heart of every great story, Jesus is giving someone something that they didn’t expect and could never deserve. And He does it just because they came to Him.
Collapsing into His love
I compare my own spiritual plight to experiences with little Vivian, our beloved, curly-headed granddaughter. She will toddle and play all day long. We laugh with her. At some point she needs rest. But she fights it. She tries to keep going. She gets cranky. We put out our arms, but she runs from us. She toddles and flops and whines until she can go no farther. I pick her up and hold her close. She immediately nestles her black curls against my shoulder, and I rejoice in the love I feel for this little one. I put a blanket over her and we sit in Grandma’s chair and rock. I whisper love in her ear.
And finally she is at rest.
“Come unto me.”
Let’s all go to him where He sits ready to hold us close, speak words of love, and rock us toward eternal life. The greatest surprise of my life is that, when I go to Him, He welcomes me, besmirched as I am. He doesn’t ask me to go through a hundred decontamination steps. He grabs me and pulls me close, leaving me weeping with the mystery of His love.
I join my testimony with that of Ammon, a believer whose sense of the mystery of Jesus led him to rejoice:
Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.
Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?
Behold, we went forth even in wrath, with mighty threatenings to destroy his church.
Oh then, why did he not consign us to an awful destruction, yea, why did he not let the sword of his justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair?
Oh, my soul, almost as it were, fleeth at the thought. Behold, he did not exercise his justice upon us, but in his great mercy hath brought us over that everlasting gulf of death and misery, even to the salvation of our souls.
Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people . . . I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land.
Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen. (Alma 26:16–20, 36–37)