25.xii.06, Vienna, Austria
A couple of summers ago I spent some time in Jerusalem. One Friday morning I decided to explore Hezekiah’s tunnel, a rock-hewn shaft built by the Old Testament king Hezekiah to bring water into the city during the Assyrian siege. At a pool at the mouth of the tunnel, two elderly Jewish gentlemen were cheerfully performing mikvot — ritual Jewish washings. It was the morning before the Sabbath, and these two men were cleaning themselves physically and spiritually with the holy waters of the Gihon spring.
Cleansing by water has long been a spiritual rite. One thinks of Naaman the Syrian leper who washed himself seven times in the river Jordan. The water cleansed him from his leprosy but I imagine this act of submission to the prophet of the Hebrew God had even greater ramifications for the state of his soul. Water has power outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition too. In India, for example, pilgrims bathe in the river Ganges to receive forgiveness for their sins.
Baptism is one such ritual of cleansing, one so transcendent that it literally unlocks the door to the kingdom of God. Is it because the water is magical? No, this is just Viennese water with its requisite doses of chlorine and fluoride. The waters of baptism clean us not by magic but because we enter them as a sign of our rebirth as new people. We have declared our faith in Jesus and expressed our willingness to repent of our sins. In the water our old self dies as with the crucified Christ and is reborn in the risen Lord. Born again, we enter the kingdom of God.
In Joseph Smith’s revealed midrash known as the Book of Moses, we read how Adam — the prototype human — was baptised and how it symbolises rebirth (Moses 6: 59-60):
That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;
For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified.
So important is baptism that even Jesus submitted himself to John the Baptist at the river Jordan. After Jesus’ baptism we read that the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove. It is our opportunity to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Some time after baptism we are confirmed members of the kingdom of God and invited to receive the Holy Ghost.
This same Spirit — the Spirit of God — is promised upon all believers who become followers of Christ. The Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples at Pentecost in tongues of fire and turned these humble men from Galilee — who had fled in fear at the arrest of Jesus — into courageous men of God, workers of miracles, and missionaries for the Christian message. In Galatians (5: 22-23) we read of some of the fruits of the Spirit in our lives:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Paul wrote that the Christian is entitled to gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12: 7-11):
To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things.
The Jewish gentlemen at the entrance to Hezekiah’s tunnel walked with me through the 500m long shaft. They sang Psalms and praised God, for the water we walked through was holy to them, having literally saved Jerusalem during the Assyrian siege. At the end of the tunnel is Siloam’s Pool, where, instructed by Jesus, a blind man had washed his eyes and regained his sight.
It is Jesus who is the living water. Just as the blind man saw once again, so the water offered by Christ can quench our spiritual thirst and open our spiritual eyes. Baptism and the later baptism by fire are the symbols of that water — the redemption of Christ, offered freely to all of us who have the faith to follow him. Congratulations and Merry Christmas.