Many years ago a man called Rabbi Ben Yosef was dying. Being a respected member of the Jewish community, many community leaders and other friends came to visit him in his last days. During the course of one of those visits, a man asked, "Rabbi, what will heaven be like?" He thought for a moment, and replied, "I do not know what heaven will be like, but this I do know; when I get there, I won't be asked, 'Why weren't you Moses, Why weren't you Abraham?' What I will be asked is, 'Why weren't you Ben Yosef? Why weren't you fully you?'"
We each come to this life with a tremendous challenge -- to achieve our potential. While it's true that what we have been makes us what we are, it is equally true that what we are includes what we can become. What we are is God's gift to us; what we become is our gift to God.
There is a story where:
A great and wise man once called one of his workmen to him saying, "Go into the far country and build for me a house. The decisions of planning and of actual construction will be yours, but remember, I shall come to accept your work for a very special friend of mine."
And so the workman departed with a light heart for his field of labor. Material of all kinds was plentiful here, but the workman had a mind of his own. "Surely," he thought, "I know my business. I can use a bit of inferior materials here and cheat on my workmanship a little there, and still make the finished work look good. Only I will know that what I have built has weaknesses."
And so, at last the work was completed and the workman reported back to the great and wise man. "Very good," he said. "Now remember that I wanted you to use only the finest materials and craftsmanship in this house because I wanted to make present of it? My friend, you are the one I had you build it for. It is all yours."
How much like man. We come to earth as strangers. We have our free agency and may build as we like. But on the morning of our resurrection we will receive what we have built for an eternal home and habitation.
Brothers and sisters, make no mistake; this life, and the things you do with it, or fail to do, will have an eternal impact. Do not deceive yourself into believing that you will have all eternity to work out your salvation. The prophet Amulek stated plainly in Alma, chapter 34:
This life is the time to work out our salvation. Now, that's not to say that all progression stops at death. In fact, the scripture leads us to believe that whatever we were doing in this life we will continue to pursue in the next; that whatever spirit we cultivate here will rise to rule us there. Our modern prophets tell us that whatever opportunities are not presented in this life will be offered in the next. However, the operative phrase is, "opportunities not already presented." There is an old Arabian proverb which states, "Four things come not back: the spoken word, the spent arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity." Do not cultivate a spirit of procrastination.
Brothers and sisters, the resurrection and judgment will come whether you are ready for it or not. I urge you to be doing in this life those things you will want to continue doing in the next.
Believe it or not, a decision very similar to that one is what brought you to this life in the first place.
Long, long ago in another time and another place we were created from elements of intelligence and spirit by a loving Heavenly Father who gave us a spirit world in which to grow, associate with one another, and learn. Eventually, the time came when we were ready to move on and learn what could not be learned there. So a great council was called in which the plan was presented by which we would be given physical bodies and placed on this physical world. The gift of free-agency was already ours, and we were to use it in making decisions that would move us along the path of eternal life. We were given other gifts and talents as well, so that we might be successful in accomplishing this plan.
But there were other voices who were opposed to the notion of free-agency in this life. Perhaps they felt it was too great a risk, or maybe they were already learning pride. At any rate, they went to war over the decision. So you and I, and every person who has ever lived or will yet live were led by our Lord Jesus Christ as we stood side by side and valiantly defended each other's liberty--the right to choose. And so, one-third of the hosts of heaven were driven out.
Sadly, many of those who valiantly fought at our sides then have come here only to lose their way. It is these of whom the sons of Mosiah "...were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble." (Mosiah 28:3) Brothers and sisters, whenever we speak of hell or those who have lost their way, we should at least do it with tears in our eyes.
The Prophet Joseph Smith testified time and again that:
The resurrection is the focal point of this entire life. Without it, there would be nothing beyond our deaths. Receiving a physical body is the reward for having been valiant in the pre-existence, and that reward will not be undone by death. The resurrection is but a milepost along the road of eternal life. Sadly for many, that milepost will mark the finish line, for having lived a telestial or terrestrial life, they will have no progression beyond those kingdoms.
Our Savior, Jesus Christ, made the resurrection available to all those who would come to him accepting his sacrifice on their behalf; a sacrifice which was not only greater than we imagine, but greater than we can imagine. Jesus did not have to come to this earth as our Savior. He could have been born in a palace as a King and ruler exercising righteous dominion. He could have come in a fiery proclamation, making us tremble in his presence. He could have come as a Judge to have us suffer for our own sins and wickedness. He was righteous and perfect, and in any of these things he would have been justified. Instead, he chose to overcome the wickedness of the world, not by overpowering it, but by descending beneath it. He had wickedness and injustice done to him without measure, yet he humbly bore it always praying, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do."
How often do we justify ourselves in taking offense with one another? We harbor a grudge over an action or a word or a slight, intentional or otherwise, and thereby rob ourselves; because you cannot hold a man down without staying down there with him. Could those who engineered Christ's death have treated him any worse? Could they have caused him greater physical suffering than by whipping and beating him and tearing his flesh with thorny branches? Could they have caused him greater humiliation, even the Son of God, than to mock him and spit upon him and force him to carry his own instrument of execution through the streets? Could it have hurt him more than to have even his friends sleep through his greatest hour of need, and then abandon him completely, leaving him to stand alone among his enemies? Yet even in the midst's of this, Jesus prayed "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." If you are a true disciple of Christ, can you do any less?
This forgiveness is given to all who come to Christ. It is a free gift given through his grace with no obligation other than to acknowledge it, and it entitles the bearer to an inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven. How great an inheritance depends upon the individual's own level of obedience and the good that they bring about in this life. But all inheritances are received through Jesus Christ. He is the gatekeeper; he knows his sheep and he employeth no servant there.
Many of the Lord's parables, proverbs and lessons dealt with the principle of forgiveness. It is said that he who will not forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass. Jesus has built a bridge for us into the eternities.
Christ taught that his way leads to eternal life. He taught that his way is forgiveness as he showed to sinners and those who slew him. He taught that his way is enduring adversity as he took of the bitter cup in Gethsemane. And he teaches us to walk in his way.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox once wrote in a poem titled Gethsemane:
Remember, God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering. The resurrection will come, but not without our own personal sacrifice. Suffering does not always come as a punishment.
I leave you with my testimony of the power which Jesus Christ stands ready to exercise on our behalves and in our lives. He is everything He ever claimed to be, and He stands waiting with arms open wide for us to turn from our everyday concerns and come to Him. I would like to close with the words of a song which was written as though Christ were speaking to you and I, saying: