“Born from above”
Today’s text is a very well- known text and the message is very simple: the kingdom of God is at hand, and one cannot enter into the kingdom of God unless he or she is fathered anew from above. I am sure you have caught my wording here “fathered anew from above” instead of “born again” we are so used to hear. Let’s study a bit to understand the text clearly to know what God is saying to us through the text today.
We see from verse 1, Nicodemus, who was a Pharisees and a leader of the Jews, a member of the Sanhedrin. He came to Jesus by night.
In Jewish custom, people usually engaged in philosophical discussions or in-depth religious discussions at night. So, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night was not something out of the ordinary, but in John’s gospel, night and darkness are associated with evil and separation from God, so we can say that John’s gospel portrayed Nicodemus as someone who was separated from God or had not come to the light yet when he first came to Jesus. Nicodemus was in the darkness not knowing about God.
First of all, the knowledge of Nicodemus about God or God’s kingdom was elementary. In verse 2, Nicodemus said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Nicodemus recognized Jesus as a teacher from God because of the signs Jesus was performing such as turning water into wine and healing the sick. Nicodemus was marveled at the signs Jesus was performing on earth. That was good enough signs to know about God. He was curious about God and God’s signs done for humans living on earth but did not know that he needed salvation for himself. If he did, he would have asked Jesus how he can be saved. He was just amazed about the signs Jesus performed as if they were everything. To that, Jesus answered to him, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born from above”. Jesus was in a way saying to him that recognizing or getting excited about the signs of God done on earth does not mean much when it comes to entering into the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “unless they are fathered from above.” The Greek word for “being born” has two meanings: 1) fathering a child 2) giving birth to. The word we are so used to translate as “again or anew” as in “born again” also has a meaning “from above”, so “born from above”. Obviously, Jesus meant spiritual rebirth by that, but as we know that Nicodemus took it as a physical sense saying that “how can we enter into mother’s womb again”. It was not because he did not know the concept of spiritual rebirth but because he did not know that he needed that spiritual rebirth. Spiritual rebirth was not a new concept for Jewish people. The Jewish people consider gentile proselytes to be reborn upon their conversion to Judaism. So, in Nicodemus’ mind, spiritual rebirth was for gentiles who did not know the law, or God before, not for Jews, –the God’s people. He might have found it especially difficult to imagine that a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews, would need to be born again from above.
In his mind, God’s plan of salvation revolves around keeping the Torah law, and as a Pharisee, he was far excelled at that. He never questioned his salvation. To him, Jesus says in verse 5, “No one can enter into the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” In verse 7, this time Jesus says to him directly, “You must be born again from above”. “How can this be?” he replied in verse 9. What do you mean, sir? Do I need spiritual rebirth? He was confused! Jesus answered in verse 10, “You are the Israelite’s teacher and you do not understand this? Vss.14 and 15, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
In Numbers 21:4-9, looking up at bronze snake lifted up on a pole was the agent of salvation for the Israelites who sinned by grumbling against God for bringing them out of Egypt into the wilderness. God punished them with a plague of fiery serpents, killing many Israelites. The Israelites confessed their sin and begged for mercy, so God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and hold it high on a pole. Whoever looked up at the bronze serpent was saved from dying by the fiery serpents. Jesus was explaining to Nicodemus that Jesus, the Son of Man, as the symbol of the curse, resulted in death from sin, will be lifted up on a pole and whoever believes that Jesus the Son of God as the atonement for sins for humanity will have eternal life.
The “pole” here also means “sign” in Greek. Jesus taught Nicodemus that this is the sign of God he should be marveled about, –that the Son of God will die for sinful humanity and whoever believes in him will have eternal life, instead of other signs done for people in their lives on earth. There are many people who are interested in God for hoping to get blessed while they are living on earth, with money, fame, health or with the relationship, but not interested in salvation or eternal life with God in heaven. I am surprised to see many Christians who do not have much interest in God, salvation or eternal life with God. What good is it if we have everything on earth but our soul being lost eternally. Our life on earth is nothing but a breath in the span of eternity, yet we tend to focus on this life only.
Another important lesson Jesus gave to Nicodemus was that salvation cannot be earned by what we do, keeping the law or knowing of God. But it takes faith in Jesus the Christ that he is the Son of God died for our sins paying for the death penalty with his life. It does not matter how long we have been Christians or born in the Christian family or how much we know the bible and try to live rightly unless we believe that we need Christ’s blood covering for our sins and that only in the name of Jesus there is salvation.
Lastly Vs. 16 is the essence of the Christian faith. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only begotten son and whosoever believes in him will have eternal life.” God so loved this God-opposing world enough to die for our life eternal. The question is whether we have accepted his love. Do we know God’s love, his self-sacrificial love? If we know God’s love, we cannot help but love God also in return. Do we love God? Every day, I am so ashamed of my shallow love for Jesus. I do say that I love God, but I know how stingy I am toward God with my time, with my material possessions, with my devotion to God. When it comes to giving to God we tend to be so stingy toward God but so generous toward ourselves. We barely give our money or our time to God, but we can spend so much money on our toys or for our vacation or for our personal things. How many of us are giving the tithe with our time to God? Do we know God’s love? Do we love God as much as God loves us? “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only begotten son and whosoever believes in him will have eternal life.” Thanks be to God!!!