For centuries, the Nephites had been anticipating the end of the Mosiac law. My guess is they felt constrained by its reliance on performances and ordinances and its archaic animal sacrifice. In fact, soon after the signs of the Savior’s birth, there was a rumor that the law was already fulfilled. But Nephi, the prophet, put an and to that errant speculation.
While in the darkness, the voice of Christ announced to the people the end of the law of Moses. But they were perplexed at what was to replace it. They were told that sacrifice was replaced with bringing forth a “broken heart and contrite spirit.”
Now, what did that mean?
Animal sacrifice was easy to understand. The animal on the altar represented the Savior who would offer Himself as a willing sacrifice for all our sins. But, a broken heart, a contrite spirit, what is that?
For many years I asked myself the same thing. How can I demonstrate to myself and to God my heart was broken and my spirit was contrite? Did God want me to walk around constantly depressed and discouraged? That concept seemed to fly in the face of finding joy in this life.
In his October, 2005 conference address, Elder Bateman said the following that helped me realize the nature of having a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
For many years I thought of the Savior’s experience in the garden and on the cross as places where a large mass of sin was heaped upon Him. Through the words of Alma, Abinadi, Isaiah, and other prophets, however, my view has changed. Instead of an impersonal mass of sin, there was a long line of people, as Jesus felt “our infirmities”, “[bore] our griefs, … carried our sorrows … [and] was bruised for our iniquities.”
This image of “a long line of people” spoke to me. I envisioned this long line including all of God’s children standing directly across from the Savior as He personally suffered for their sins. I can imagine each of us having a turn to look the Savior in the eyes as He suffered for our sins.
I can see myself pleading with the Savior to stop begging Him to set aside my sins. I wasn’t worth the pain.
Then, in the midst of my protestations, the Savior looked at me and said, “You are worth it.”
This intimate view of the atonement taught me that I need to constantly remember the awful feeling of watching the Savior suffer for my sins. That feeling of causing Christ pain breaks my heart. But when I realize that Christ willingly atoned for all of my sins, I am humbled and my spirit is contrite.
I am convinced this personal and intimate relationship with Christ is at the foundation of coming to God with a broken heart and contrite spirit. Christ did not suffer for an impersonal mass of sin; rather we suffered with Him as He atoned for our sins.