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At the time of Malachi the prophet, many of the Israelites were wicked. And though wickedness was found everywhere, much of the preaching of Malachi was directed towards the Levites. The Levites were the ones who bore the priesthood and took care of things in the temple. It is significant that the Lord spoke to them so directly.
7 Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible.
8 And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts.
Essentially the Lord is saying, “Your offerings are unacceptable.” As part of the Law of Moses, the priests were supposed to be offering lambs that were unblemished, and it was probably a good idea to offer good bread. Their sacrifices were not pure.
The fact that the Levites would offer polluted sacrifices in the temple was a big deal, and it was a big deal for two reasons.
First of all, it showed where their hearts were. It’s easy to give away something that doesn’t serve you. That can’t possibly teach faith, gratitude, or devotion.
But what I actually want to talk about is the second reason.
Offering polluted sacrifices was a big deal because of what it represented.
Let’s imagine for a second that Heavenly Father held the same attitude as these Levites. What would He have offered to us? It certainly wouldn’t have been Christ.
If Heavenly Father had offered anything less than perfect, the entire Plan of Salvation would have come apart at the seams and we all would have been damned to a dim and joyless eternity. There would have been no eternal families. There would have been no real progression. We would have been stuck in a fallen world, forever trying to overcome the despair that often accompanies this world. I’m not even sure the world would stay standing because God would cease to be God if He was imperfect. Where would we be if He gave us a half-effort?
Because Christ was perfect, He was the only One that could save us. Heavenly Father gave His very best. Christ gave His very best. They gave everything.
As part of the Law of Moses, Christ had asked the priests to make a sacrifice back. In comparison to what He sacrificed, the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb was unmentionably pathetic. Literally unmentionable. What’s even more? He wasn’t even asking for His own gratification! He was asking us to do it because of what it would do for us. Christ did not find excitement over a dead lamb; He found excitement when the Israelites took a step towards applying His atonement more fully. The lamb was a tool to make that step more tangible.
The fact that they would offer a blemished lamb was offensive. It mocked Christ (whether or not they were doing it intentionally), and it was robbing the Levite priests of their ability to benefit from Christ.
The terms of Christ
If we’re being totally realistic, there is no such thing as a perfect lamb because we live in a fallen world. Even if the priests had been trying, they wouldn’t have been able to offer a “perfect” lamb (depending on your definition).
That’s kind of the interesting thing about the atonement though. All of us have this debt that we are subject to. We agreed to come to earth to have this experience even though we knew we would incur some debt that we couldn’t pay off. We agreed to this.
So we are subject to this debt, and it keeps us from heaven.
Christ comes in, makes a perfect sacrifice, and completely erases that debt. There is no sin that is not already paid for. We are no longer subject to an eternity of guilt and regret by the demands of justice.
No. We are subject to Christ. He paid for it; He is our debtor. He gets to set the terms and let me tell you…they are incredibly unfair. What we offer as sacrifices in this life do nothing to pay Him back for that debt. It is merely what He is asking for. That’s what He wanted in return for what He did.
None of us can truly offer a perfect lamb like He did.
So what are His terms for our sacrifice?
Interestingly enough, He doesn’t actually ask for a perfect lamb. He asks for an unblemished one. There is a difference.
We can’t offer perfect. We can’t really even offer unblemished. All of us make mistakes that we know we shouldn’t make. All of us are making mistakes that we probably don’t even recognize as mistakes yet. Lamb=blemished.
The only way to offer Christ an unblemished sacrifice is to accept, internalize, and utilize His sacrifice. The only way our sacrifice becomes unblemished is if we accept His sacrifice.
And that really is all He asks! He wants us to use His atonement, and He wants that process to draw us closer to Him. He wants the process to make us more like Him. He wants that process to enable us to approach Him. Pretend this is all a tangible lamb. You approach the Savior, ask Him to change it, and then you give it to Him.
What does it really look like to use His atonement? We talk about it all the time. We talk about bringing Christ into our life. We talk about repentance and changing. We’ve all said sorry for mistakes we’ve made, but is that it? Is that all there is to “utilizing” His atonement?
No, my friends. There is so much more.
Utilizing the atonement in my life has included every step I’ve taken that has brought me a more heavenly life.
Have you ever taken a minute to truly picture heaven? What does it feel like? How do you feel about others? How do you feel about yourself? How does it feel to be with Someone who loves you so deeply that it fills in all the cracks that came from mortality?
For me, utilizing the atonement manifests in a million different ways.
Utilizing the atonement means that my home can be sacred. It can be a safe haven for my family. It means that no matter what storm is raging outside, I can find a celestial feeling here. Utilizing the atonement means that I’m practicing focusing on others rather than focusing on what they think about me. Utilizing the atonement meant going to therapy to correct some of my faulty thinking I had developed. Utilizing the atonement meant becoming a wife and mother as I learned how much deeper my love could be and therefore how much more real His love became.
The atonement came when I decided to offer the same mercy I had been offered. The atonement came when I gained a testimony of the fact that one day I would be able to stand with my brothers and sisters in heaven and we would all understand each other. The atonement came when I learned about people who were different from me. The atonement came when I learned how blessed I was to be born into the home I was born into. It came when I realized that I’m not as great as I thought I was. It came with facing my fears and becoming aware of my flaws and temptations. It came when I decided that I didn’t have to be ashamed of those flaws and temptations. It comes more and more each time I’m not afraid to be open about those flaws and temptations.
If there have been moments in your life where you have glimpsed heaven, that is what it means to experience the atonement.
I also want to testify that it all starts with spending time with Him. If you want to step into heaven more often, I am convinced (like I wish I could express how convinced I am) that utilizing the atonement starts with sincere prayer and reading the scriptures. That is how you speak to Him and hear Him. And as you get to know Him, it brings about all the other feelings. The freedom, peace, security, joy. All of those things simply come as you make the effort to develop a relationship with Him.