I. TODAY'S LESSON
The subject is: 2 Nephi chapters 2 & 9. These are clearly Atonement chapters.
First we will go through WHAT is the Atonement. Then we will address the question Bro. Hechler asked last week -- WHY did He have to die?
II. WHAT IS THE ATONEMENT
Have a class member describe the "War in Heaven."
Pass out and discuss the Atonement Matrix.
Pass out and discuss Joseph Smith's 1943 Ode on the Plan of Salvation. Note especially stanzas 18 and 19.
III. WHY DID HE HAVE TO DIE?
I am not aware of any official pronouncement that would answer this specific question. I will defer to such a pronouncement if we can find one. In the mean time, let me give my personal thoughts on the issue.
I believe the general Christian world has perverted the meaning of the Crucifiction and those perversions muddle our own Mormon thinking about the atonement.
The Atonement is so much more than the Crucifiction, and to focus on the Crucifiction is a serious distortion. In the most narrow sense, the Atonement consisted of three actions--suffering for our sins in Gethsemene, being crucified at Golgotha, and the resurrection in the Garden.
So, for example, I believe that in the Sacrament Prayers when it refers to Christ's "blood that was shed for them" it is refering to the blood sweat in Gethsemane, not the blood that dripped from his hands and feet and side on the Cross.
Moreover, he was not "killed" in the normal sense of the word "kill," nor did he "die" on the cross the way we normally think of dying. What did Christ say?
John 10:17-18 -- Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
Cross reference with Nephi's commentary:
2 Nephi 2:8 -- Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.
To use the same word "death" to describe what we do and what Christ did is a source of confusion. We should use a different term, like "death-prime" or "pseudo-death."
Let me rephrase the question. "Was the Crucifiction pseudo-death an inevitable requirement from the beginning? Could the pseudo-death have been some other form of torture--such as disembowelment, or impalement, or hanging? Why couldn't Christ just have wandered off after suffering in Gethsemene and laid down his life quietly?"
I think the form of torture was chosen by the Father and Son. I think they could have chosen whatever form they wanted. I believe they chose crucifiction for a number of reasons--most of which I do not know.
I suspect that the the Crucifiction was mostly for effect. The apostles and the rest of the world would only believe he was dead, if he appeared to die in a way people could understand. Thus the resurrection seemed more miraculous to those who had to bear witness of it afterward.
I believe the Crucifiction was also to allow Christ to empathize with all those who have been tortured in this life.
I believe the Crucifiction was also designed to seal the fate of those who conspired against him.
The Crucifiction also provides us with great spiritual metaphors. (Moses/Serpent, bear your cross, lifted up, look up, etc.)
Any other thoughts from the class?
The most important point about the antonment for me is that it give me hope, through repentence, that I can return to our Father in Heaven. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.