The pleasant smell of wood smoke wafts in the air; my grandson Malachi is sitting by the hearth, studying intently the golden-orange fire blazing in the fireplace. I see his dear silhouette against the dancing flames and think how much I love him. Malachi is seven; the subject of his approaching baptism comes up often. The Christmas season seems a good time to reinforce his parents’ teachings about the baptismal covenant to accept Jesus’ name and stand as His representative. What is the best way to explain to him what that really means?
Telling Stories of Jesus
One of my favorite Primary songs was (and is) “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus.” As I ponder the birth and life of Christ, I keep coming back to the beauty and compelling power of His example, and I want to tell Malachi stories of Jesus. Clothed with flesh and blood, Jesus did not just tell us how to live, He showed us through every word, action and choice. I can tell Malachi that promising to represent Jesus means to follow His example; it means choosing, one moment at a time, to be like Him.
In order to be like Jesus Malachi needs to knows what He was like! He is learning Jesus’ characteristics from scriptures, words of latter-day prophets, and the testimonies and experiences of others. I want to help by telling him stories of Jesus and what they mean to me. I can point out Jesus’ character traits that are illuminated by those stories.
Humility and Obedience
The strains of “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,” fill the room. First I will tell Malachi the story of Jesus, the great Jehovah, creator of heaven and earth, condescending to enter the tiny body of a helpless infant. This is the greatest story of humility ever told. There was “no place in the Inn” for this mighty spirit son of God, now His only begotten in the flesh. Consequently, the greatest of all was born in a stall, and laid in a manger. He, who had created the heavens and the earth, humbled himself to obey the Father’s plan to be born as an infant and grow as a mortal child grows – one inch at a time, line upon line, precept upon precept. Jesus experienced every pain and hurt of mortal life so He could truly understand and help us in our times of need. He who was the only person ever born who could rightly “Lord” it over all the rest of us, exemplified best the qualities of humility and obedience.
Early in the Savior’s ministry these attributes shone brightly when He, the only sinless man who ever lived, requested baptism of John, and said it was to fulfill all righteousness.
Jesus showed humility by going into the wilderness and fasting and praying for forty days. Perhaps He was so strong that only through an extended fast could He feel weakness. At the end of Jesus’ fast, the devil used his typical strategy – tempting a person at their weakest point. But Jesus overcame all temptations by obedience to the word of God, again setting the example for us.
Repent and Come Unto Me
I will tell Malachi how, immediately after his sojourn in the wilderness, Jesus began preaching repentance and calling disciples to follow Him. He is still calling to us today, to repent and follow Him, to love as He loved.
The story in Matthew 14 is compelling. Peter was bid to come unto Jesus, to walk on the water with Him. I will explain to Malachi the pattern that story symbolizes: after we accept the Savior’s invitation to come to Him, the winds of the world might blow fiercely and threaten to swamp our faith, challenging our ability to do as He did. If we give in to fear and began to sink, as Peter did, still the Savior stretches forth His hand – He will always catch us and keeps us from drowning in the waves of sin and fear as long as we reach out and accept His outstretched hand. In the midst of all the worst storms in life, we can invite Jesus to be with us on our ship. He will always come and when He says, “Peace, be still,” the winds will cease, the waters calm, our hearts grow quiet.
Stories of Jesus as Healer
I will tell the many stories of Jesus healing people from sickness, disease, torments. He consistently cast out devils. I want Malachi to understand that Jesus can heal us too and cast evil influences out of our lives. I want him to understand the symbolism in Jesus’ healing. In Matthew 11, Jesus reminds the people, and reminds me, that through Him
- the blind receive their sight (spiritual sight too!)
- the lame walk (How many times do I stumble spiritually and feel lame? I need His help to walk!)
- the lepers are cleansed (I need cleansing every day from the evils and grime of this world, from my sins, from the blood and sins of this generation.)
- the deaf hear. (how many times have I been deaf to the Spirit, deaf to the meaning of His words. I need my spiritual ears unstopped. Jesus says repeatedly, “He that hath ears, let him hear.” Do my ears hear His words?)
- the dead are raised (In mortality I am in danger of many kinds of death. I often need to be raised, to be lifted up, to have newness of life, to be spiritually enlivened – and in the end I will have need of Christ’s supreme gift – the resurrection.)
- the poor in spirit have the gospel preached unto them (Since the Restoration, the gospel message has been poured out in abundance. In these latter days I am blessed with numerous sources of gospel truth. It is up to me to recognize my spiritual poverty and to hunger and thirst after all these sources of gospel good.)
I will tell Malachi the story in Matthew 9, where Jesus heals the woman who had suffered for twelve years with an issue of blood. I want him to understand that no matter how long-standing a problem, Jesus can heal it. This woman was healed simply by touching the hem of his garment. Others experienced this miracle too. In Matt 14:36 it says, “And besought him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched were made perfectly whole.” There is great meaning in that sentence. I will share with Malachi the story of a conference where we were each given a white satiny piece of a hem. We were told that our greatest need is to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment – to reach out to Him, to have faith in His restorative powers, to know that He can assuredly make us whole. I will tell Malachi of times when I had that need, reached out to Him, and felt restored.
I’ll tell him too about Matthew 14, where Jesus raises a girl from the dead – I want Malachi to know that nothing is too hard for the Lord, that Jesus is the Greatest Healer, that even if we are not healed in this life, the promise is sure – there will be no more illness or infirmity in the next life.
How glorious that will be!
Strength in the Sermon on the Mount
In a society where false values are rampant, where evil is touted as glamorous and Christ-like qualities are often portrayed as weakness, I want to tell Malachi what Jesus said when the people gathered together on a grassy mountainside and listened to one of the greatest sermons He ever gave. Surely the characteristics Jesus speaks of in this famous sermon were His own that He wants us to emulate – such as being meek, pure in heart, peacemakers. Many scripture verses verify this idea, such as Matthew 11, where Jesus proclaims: “I am meek.”
What does it mean to be meek as Jesus was meek? I want Malachi to understand that Jesus’ meekness consisted of gentleness and humility. He had no ego, no agenda, no need to defend or be right or be in control of others or to coerce others to have things “his way” – even though He was the Way! When it mattered most, he said “Thy will be done, and meekly submitted to the Father’s will. To follow Jesus’ example of meekness we, too, must be submissive to the Lord’s will, which is a very different thing than being submissive to the whims and expectations of others.
Since submission to the Lord brings strength, Jesus’ meekness was not a weakness, but was the very key to His strength. To be meek is to humbly recognize weakness – to know that only being yoked with the Savior can give the strength to be like Him. In Matt 11:29 Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you.” I will tell Malachi about the Sunday School lesson when I learned that Jesus’ yoke is easy and light because it is not a single yoke he burdens me with – it is a double yoke that He invites me to join with Him. I want him to understand that whenever we submit to His will, become part of His work, we are yoked with Him, and His strength makes up for our weakness.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus invites me to do as He did – approach God for spiritual strength when I am poor in spirit. In Matt 14:23 I am told that Jesus went up into a mountain apart to pray. If Jesus in all His strength and perfection had need to draw himself apart and pray, how much more so do I?
Jesus tells me to let my light shine in a way that brings glory to God. Jesus did that so perfectly that the whole world continues to receive light from His example. Later Jesus explains that if your eye is single to His glory, then your whole body will be full of light! (as His was) What a promise!
How to Find Rest for the Soul
In Matthew 11, Jesus says He is lowly in heart. What does that mean? The footnote refers the reader to “contrite heart” in the Topical Guide. So to be lowly in heart is having a broken heart and a contrite spirit – the sacrifice that is required of us all. The Topical Guide continues on to tell us that this is the path to rest of soul – to be meek and lowly of heart, recognizing our need to come unto Him. There is nothing I want more for myself or for Malachi than this rest of soul.
Jesus’ Example In Regard to Speech
Matt 12:36-37 gives a message that, “Every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Jesus never spoke an idle word. He never gossiped, never teased, never used vain repetitions or tried to impress, never needed to “vent,” never talked just to hear His own voice. I will tell Malachi that trying to be more like Jesus means we must use fewer words, be more willing to listen, talk less, and when we do talk, try our level best to speak only truth.
The words Jesus did speak were the most important words we could ever hear. In John 6:63 we read, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” Jesus’ words are living manna – we need to gather them daily, nurture our spirits with His example moment by moment. Yesterday’s effort will not nurture us today, will not keep us following in His footsteps.
To Be Like Jesus is Life’s Greatest Goal
In Relief Society recently, the lesson was “Developing a Christlike Character.” Pres. McKay’s said, “Man’s chief concern in life… his aim, the highest in life, should be the development of a Christ-like character.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church, David O. McKay, p. 220; quoting from Conference Report, October 1926, 111)
The fire is burning down to glowing coals and it is time to get ready for bed. I have not even begun to list the stories I want to share with my grandson. But it is enough for a start. I put my arms around Malachi and tell him how important he is in our family and how thankful I am that the Lord sent him to be my grandson. I promise myself to take every opportunity these next few months to tell him the stories of Jesus. By doing so I hope to contribute to my grandson’s understanding of the goal to become like Jesus as he prepares to make the covenant of baptism.
This Christmas may we all review the covenants we have made with Christ and think about the fact that the best way we can keep them is to become more like Him every day. May this Christmas be a sacred reminder to each of us of the Savior’s perfect example, perfect love. And for the New Year, may we choose that high aim that President McKay spoke of. We don’t need a long list of resolutions. Only one. To develop a Christ-like character. That says it all.