About 600 years before the birth of Christ, an angel showed a young man named Nephi a vision. By way of introduction, he asked Nephi if he understood what the condescension of God meant, and Nephi admitted that he didn’t (1 Nephi 11:16–17). In response, the angel declared, “Look and behold the condescension of God!” (v. 26) and showed him the ministry of Jesus, beginning with his submission to baptism at the hands of John the Baptist.
Often, the word condescend has a negative connotation; I think of it as someone talking down to me or being patronizing in their treatment of me. The other person thinks he or she is on loftier standing. But the phrase “the condescension of God” means much more and is much more positive.
I sometimes refer to the 1828 edition of Webster’s Dictionary while reading the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon at that same time, so I like to see what a particular word meant then (almost 200 years ago). Webster defined condescend as follows:
1. To descend from the privileges of superior rank or dignity, to do some act to an inferior, which strict justice or the ordinary rules of civility do not require. Hence, to submit or yield, as to an inferior, implying an occasional relinquishment of distinction.
2. To recede from ones rights in negotiation, or common intercourse, to do some act, which strict justice does not require.
3. To stoop or descend; to yield; to submit; implying a relinquishment of rank, or dignity of character, and sometimes a sinking into debasement.http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/Condescend
To understand how this applies to Nephi’s vision, it helps to remember that in most cases, when Old Testament prophets and others used the words translated as “God” or “the Lord,” they were referring to Jehovah, who was Christ. So how did Jesus meet these definitions of condescending?
- Descend from the privileges of superior rank or dignity: In our premortal life when we lived with Heavenly Father, Jesus was the greatest among us. He followed the Father’s will there as He did on earth and therefore had the Father’s complete trust to complete the mission to provide salvation for the rest of us. But Jesus had to lay aside his standing in the premortal world to be born as a baby to family of limited means in a small kingdom dominated by the Roman Empire.
- To do some act to an inferior: In many ways, we can consider ourselves as lesser than He who came to teach and pave the way back to Heavenly Father’s presence.
- To do some act which strict justice does not require: Jesus kept the commandments of Heavenly Father without fail. Though Satan tried his hardest to tempt Him to step off the path even once, Jesus resisted in every instance. Therefore, He met every requirement of justice for Him personally; He was exempt from punishment and from estrangement from the Father. However, because of His love for us and His desire to have us as His joint-heirs (Romans 8:17), He went beyond justice’s demands for Him and stepped in to meet its demands for us.
- To yield, to submit, relinquishing dignity of character and sinking into debasement: Perhaps the prophet Abinadi described this aspect of Christ’s mission best when he taught, “after working many mighty miracles among the children of men, he shall be led, yea, even as Isaiah said, as a sheep before the shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father” (Mosiah 15:6–7).
In the Parable of the Man from the Hill, the titular individual represents Jesus Christ Himself—setting aside a well-earned position of prominence, putting on “worn, borrowed clothes” (a mortal body), and coming down to our level to share our experience and thereby earn our acceptance so that He can help us. For in His condescension to earth, Jesus came not only to save, but also to understand.
In recent years, the Lord has planted this concept in my mind as a way to connect with my children. “Seek to understand.” I can stand there and look down from six feet up at one of my kids, which lends itself to seeing only through an adult’s perspective, or I can sit or kneel to get at her level and try to find out what’s going on in her mind. Guess which approach yields better results! And I wish I could say I’ve been better at it than I am.
It’s a comforting truth that “we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15) because “he [took] upon him [our] infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12). Throughout His mortal life and especially during His final hours, all Jesus suffered gave Him true understanding of all we suffer and brought Him that much closer to us.
It’s up to us to come the rest of the way to Him.
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