[This was a talk I gave in Sacrament Meeting on Sunday, April 19, 2015.]
The purpose of this preparatory space is to give us adequate time to feel and experience the gift of God’s Spirit which was given to us after baptism, so that when we enter the temple we are sufficiently pure in spirit that we can understand and enjoy the words of eternal life.
In ancient Israel before anyone could enter into the tabernacle in the early days or temple after it was built, they had abide by a stringent list of requirements before they could be declared ritually pure. In the book of Leviticus we can read about the rules governing all types of impurities. In there the people of God are commanded to separate themselves from all things that are impure. This includes different types of food, dead bodies, diseased bodies, and bodily fluids usually associated with sin, death and illness.
If anyone, especially the priests, were to come into contact with these things then they were ritually impure and they were not allowed into the temple, which is to say, they were not allowed into the presence of the Lord. They were unclean, impure and unfit to enter into the presence of God.
So here we see that the people of God were separated from the presence of the Lord due to their impurities, that is, because they had been made impure by things associated with death they could not abide the presence of the Lord. Because they had broken the commandment they were forever separated from the presence of the God of Life. As the prophet Alma taught,
“For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.” (Alma 12:14)
“But behold, an awful death cometh upon the wicked; for they die as to things pertaining to things of righteousness; for they are unclean, and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God; but they are cast out.” (Alma 40:26)
The great sin of this world is Death. Because all men must die we are consigned to this awful state. We not only die with respect to our bodies but also with respect to things pertaining to things of righteousness. The righteous and just must also suffer this death. President Joseph F. Smith saw in vision an assembly of saints who waited for the advent of their Savior. He said,
“I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just.... For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage.” (D&C 138:11-12,50)They knew that they could not escape from that prison called death, nor could they cleanse themselves from sin. And that is the awful state that we all find ourselves in.
If death were the last and final state of man, and the end of our story then there would be no hope. But in His infinite wisdom, God has prepared a way for us to escape. Because we have yielded to temptation, the Lord has provided for us a savior that we may be brought forth by the power of the redemption and resurrection, and brought back into the presence of God.
In a vision, the prophet Isaiah found himself before the throne of God. Upon realizing where he was he proclaimed,
“Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)Isaiah was overcome because he knew he was impure and covered with the blood and sins of his generation. But Isaiah continued his story,
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)In that moment Isaiah was cleansed from his sins and he was made pure. The holiness and purity of God cleansed and purified Isaiah. He was given the Spirit of the Lord, as a gift, and it purified him and made it possible for him to enter into the presence of the Lord. Because of this Isaiah was able to say,
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;” (Isaiah 61:1)Herein is the essential thought. Before we can receive the good tidings of great joy we must first be washed and anointed and cleansed from the blood and sins of our generation. Only then can the Lord bind up our contrite spirits and broken hearts. Only then can those who are in bondage, either through physical or spiritual death, be set free. And herein lies our faith and our hope.
As President Smith saw in vision,
“And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality; And who had offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God.… They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death…. [when the] Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful; And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.” (D&C 138:12-19)Although we may be unclean and impure, we can become clean through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. During Jesus’s life time he went about touching and healing people who were sick. He did not shy away from those with leprosy. A woman who had an issue of blood came and touched him and was healed. When he went into the room where Jairus’s daughter’s dead body lay, he took her by the hand. When Lazarus had been dead three days Jesus went to the tomb where he lay. In all these cases according to the Law of Moses, Jesus would have been ritually impure, and therefore ineligible to enter into the presence of God.
The only problem was that Jesus was God, and the one who gave the Law. According to the Law of Moses a man was made unclean by coming in contact with death, but if by that contact the dead return to life, is that man still impure? It was the ultimate Jewish legal paradox. In all these cases Jesus was not made impure by the illnesses and death, but rather His purity overcame their afflictions and they were healed. His power and holiness overcame the things of death that separated these people from the presence of God.
By showing us that he could overcome physical ills and death Jesus showed us that He can also overcome spiritual death. There was a man who was paralyzed and his friends brought him to Jesus to be healed.
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately [the man] stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.” (Luke 5:20-25)So as we prepare ourselves to enter into the temple, we must remember that we must first become clean. And we are “cleansed by blood, even the blood of [God’s] Only Begotten; that [we] 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” (Moses 6:59)
Each of us must first be baptized by water, and then receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. Then the blood of the Lamb of God, which was offered as a sacrifice for our sins, will cleanse us from the impurity of death, both physical and spiritual. “For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified”. (Moses 6:60)
May we all apply the atoning blood of Jesus Christ and prepare to enter into God’s presence. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.