Born of Water and Spirit
Jesus went forth proclaiming faith and repentance to the Jews. Beginning a new Jewish sect that offered a Messiah to save them, and that condemned the works of the current Jewish sects often made an uproar among the people and its religious leaders. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a leader of the Jews (probably a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews) came to Jesus at night. Why? Because he feared losing his position in his own sect, and as a leader. in the Sanhedrin The Pharisee and Sadduccee sects shared power, as the Sadduccees held power in the temple, while the Pharisees were popular among the people. They often had an uneasy peace between the two sects. They were, however, quick to protect their turf by challenging other sects, such as the Essenes and Zealots. For a new sect of Judaism to arise, especially during turbulent times, meant a new challenge that risked their power and the status quo.
Even though he was trained as a religious leader, Nicodemus could not understand Jesus’ requirement for salvation: a man must be born again. He imagined going again through the womb as an infant, but this is not what the Savior had in mind. Nicodemus was being lazy in his thinking, as he was very aware of John the Baptist’s baptisms and preaching of Christ, in which John baptized with water, but the Messiah would come baptizing by water and fire.
As the Lord explained to Adam, Enoch and Moses:
“58Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying:
“59That 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;
“60For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified” (Moses 6:58-60).
Symbolism is extremely important to the Lord. Symbolism was placed everywhere in the ancient temple of Solomon, and in the law of Moses, “every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal” (Alma 34:14).
Baptism in water does not save us. It is a symbol of our accepting the atonement and sacrifice of Christ. But that symbol is necessary for us to receive, as we must be born again of water (baptism), spirit (Holy Ghost) and blood (atonement of Christ. The water symbolizes our covenant with Christ. The Holy Ghost changes us so we believe and desire to follow Christ, while Christ’s blood cleanses us of our sins.
In the Book of Mormon, we find that the “Doctrine of Christ” is the concept that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are “one God” and we must become one as well through 1) faith in Christ, 2) repentance, 3) baptism by water (ordinances), and 4) receiving the Holy Ghost (2 Nephi 31-32, 3 Nephi 11-18). This unity we seek is greater than just being united in purpose. The Godhead is one in all things except their physical persons, and to become Christ-like means we must also become one with Christ and his disciples, so that we may become one with the Father.
Being born again is not a one time event, as some Christians believe. Instead, it is a daily event. We must continually grow in our faith and faithfulness. As we spiritually approach Christ, we spiritually discern that we fall short. Our faith leads us to repent of sins, and we are then ready to make a new covenant with God through the ordinance of baptism, the Sacrament (communion), and other ordinances we receive. Then, we receive the Holy Ghost, which justifies us to a higher level of faithfulness and righteousness. At that point, we are ready to develop greater faith, and repeat the process. It is through this process of the Doctrine of Christ that we are then able to perfect ourselves, going from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace (D&C 93).
The Gospel of Nicodemus
One old Christian text, entitled the Gospel of Nicodemus, describes events after the resurrection of Christ. It details the story of two deceased sons of the chief high priest, who resurrect and enter into the city of Jerusalem. They are questioned by the Sanhedrin (of which Nicodemus is a member) regarding how they can be alive when previously dead.
They tell of being in a Spirit World where they were held by the being Death. With them were the prophets of old and all good people, but they were trapped by Death. Satan showed up and boasted about his victory over Jesus, having slain him. When Death heard this, he protested, saying he did not have the power to hold Jesus. When the Lord arrived, the gates of Death were broken down, and all within were resurrected. For Latter-day Saints, this story relates rather well our belief in a Spirit World, the place where all the dead go while they await the resurrection.
Living Waters at the Well in Samaria
Samaria in Jesus time was located north of Judea, and covered much of the original territory of the original Kingdom of Israel, after the split of Israel into the two kingdoms in Rehoboam’s day. However, 700 years before Christ, the nation of Israel was carried off by the Assyrians, leaving just the poor in the land. Assyria brought many from other lands to dwell in Samaria, leaving it with a mixed genealogy.
When the Jews returned from their Babylon captivity, the Samaritans wished to help them build the new temple. The Jews refused to allow it, as they were not pure blood Israel. Josephus tells us that the Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Gerizim. Archaeologist Yitzhak Magen has been excavating the site for 25 years, and has found signs of its existence.
Still, even in the times of Jesus, the Samaritans were treated as second class citizens by the Jews. They were not allowed into the temple at Jerusalem, and their form of worship for God had changed over the centuries, a mixture of Israelite faith and pagan belief. In this environment, the Jew Jesus Christ went north to Samaria and sat by a well to speak with a Samaritan woman.
“9 Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”
She was shocked that a Jew would even talk with her. His response was wholly unexpected:
“10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.”
The Lord then explains to her that he is the living waters that save the soul. The Samaritan faith system was flawed, and needed major fixing. In speaking of these things, the woman notes that Samaritan belief looked forward to the Messiah, who would teach them all things. At this moment, Jesus noted that he was the Messiah, even the Anointed One, they sought.
Their temple works and faith were all fulfilled in Christ. He was and is the living waters that flow next to the Tree of Life, which both symbolize the Love of God (1 Nephi 11:25).
“God is a Spirit”
In talking with the Samaritan woman, the Lord explained to her:
“22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
“23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
“24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Verse 24 contains one of the few verses used by traditional Christianity to express that God is [a] Spirit. From this comes the development of the belief in the Trinity, established with the Nicene Creed three centuries after Christ. Then and now, it is a contentious issue. As discussed in New Testament lesson One in my blog, there were differing views on the Trinity/Godhead.
Discussing religion often in their later years by letter, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams discussed how they viewed Christianity. Both were Christian, yet differed greatly from ertain traditional beliefs. Jefferson was a Deist Christian, believing God wound up the universe and then pretty much left it alone to wind down on its own. Adams, known as a strong Christian of his day, still questioned certain issues. He wrote Jefferson once saying, “Ye will say I am no Christian” because he disagreed with the concept of the Trinity. He noted that Jesus said “God is [a] Spirit” and agreed with it. But then asked, “what does that mean?” The concept of Trinity expands further than what the Lord states in John’s Gospel. For John Adams, it meant that God is real, He lives, and he is our true God.
That God is a Spirit is true. The Bible also tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:16), and a “consuming fire” (Deut 4:24, Hebrews 12:29), This does not mean either of these statements is the only thing God is, but only descriptive of some of his attributes. For we also know he is the “father of spirits” (Hebrews 12:9), and Christ commanded us to call God, “our Father which art in Heaven.”
God is our true Father of spirits, and Christ is our Messiah, the living waters who will cleanse us, purify us, and bring us back into the presence of the Father.
Symbolism in ancient temple of Solomon: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/06/ot-gospel-doctrine-lesson-26-king.html
Gospel of Nicodemus/Acts of Pilate: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/gospelnicodemus.html
The Samaritan Temple, Yitzhak Magen, Biblical Archaeological Review: http://www.bib-arch.org/bar/article.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=36&Issue=6&ArticleID=2
The Trinity/Godhead in early Christianity, NT lesson 1 in my blog: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/12/gospel-doctrine-new-testament-lesson-1.html
“Ye will say I am no Christian” by Bruce Braden: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Ye+Will+Say+I+Am+No+Christian&x=0&y=0