It is easy to feel lost at the hint of mystery when someone is broadening themselves or religious or spiritual concepts. We have mental faculties that seem more natural to us in arts, math, physical sciences and even to a great extent the social sciences. But in ones conversion, faith is critical and distinctly difference because we launch it at a point where reason leaves off.
In the semantics of early Christianity there was the recurring theme of Christ being the Way. “Followers of the Way” or other semantics of it are mentioned several times in the book of Acts. That is because salvation in Christ was with him being “The Way” (John 14:6) and Jesus is the way, hodos, tied to exhodos where we get exodus like Israel brought into a new covenantal relationship in going through the Red Sea miraculously. Moses took Israel through the water in the exodus, the way out, and Joshua took Israel on the “way in” through the Jordan where later Yeshua was baptized. It was a default part of the Christian conversion experience for someone to concert in a context that is kinship in the Son of God but unto covenant and of that covenant it would be reinforce as a holistic experience since man is made as spiritual and physical. Thus I do not say as a Christian that I have a physical thing called my body in a detached way but that I am physical and spiritual completely. It is a lack of faith and openness to God being faithful through the timeline of salvation history that put the religious, privileged leader os Jesus day a faith that was set in “neutral” and prone to seeing the spirit and body of a man as split.
However, in conversion as a Christian, a classical argument is that the convert and ongoing intentional disciples is more free than ever because the person is able to be connected by faith to both realms as an individual and in the experience of Christian community that Christ establishes.
Spirit and water, heaven and earth, Christ and the Church, belong together. And that is how “rebirth” happens. In the sacrament, water stands for the maternal earth, the holy Church, which welcomes creation and stands in place of it (Pope Benedict VI, Jesus of Nazareth: From Baptism to Transfiguration). Jesus would introduce early in his ministry the fusion of the spiritual with the work of the Holy Spirit and the matter of water by which one is born again.
This can be comprehended in the mortal mind but only in part. Jesus spoke to an educated man of religious reason and calls him to faith also. This call is to complete that reason on what it is to enter into this kingdom of God.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicode′mus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicode′mus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.” Nicode′mus said to him, “How can this be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:1-15).
Now there was a man – – – There is irony here. Just a few verses before (and books of the Bible were not written with chapter and verse separations) it shows a godly skepticism Jesus had in his human experience among humanity. It says, “he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:25). What you are about to see is a man of privilege approaching a fellow Jew who could still have calluses on his hands from carpentry. Jesus will address him by his experience but give him no true dignity than any other human being. Though Jesus could be skeptical of motives, he regarded all of equal value whether supposedly higher or lower in manmade social class. Likewise the Christian who shares the faith can be like an ethical doctor that sticks to the same “standard of care”.
Nicodeumus- – His name means “victory of the people”. His name is ironically Greek while he is a respected teacher of the religious class. As this encounter unfolds, we can surmise this conversation was originally held in Greek and not Aramaic Jesus had just turned over the tables in the temple because they were polluting the court from being a decent place of worship for the ethnic Greeks and other Gentiles for even a second-class worship. This was likely a man who had one foot in Jewish theology and one foot into the nations.
This man came to Jesus by night- – – Though timid, he really had a lot to lose as do many on the first side of conversion.
no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him- – Here he implies an openness and humility combined so that Christ would reveal himself and his agenda. Frequently it says in the Old Testament that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. He is struck by the beauty and goodness of those miracles as being God’s expression of special presence. So it is only natural he goes to the next step of seeing Jesus as a Rabbi (teacher) and holding the third theological transcendental of truth.
Truly, truly– – Jesus is saying “Amen” with some Aramaic mixed into this Greek conversation. By saying this frequently he is continuing a solemn teaching position like that of Moess but signifying how a pivotal point of salvation history is happening here. Jesus is introducing the new covenant and thus uses this very frequently in this discourse.
so it is, so be it, may it be fulfilled. It was a custom, which passed over from the synagogues to the Christian assemblies, that when he who had read or discoursed, had offered up solemn prayer to God, the others responded Amen, and thus made the substance of what was uttered their own (Strong’s Concordance g281).
unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God– – – Here Jesus points to how there is a result of this new birth but expressed in being a part of more persons that God and the convert. This goes back to the heart of why Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom. One may want to point to this a stressing the chance to make it to heaven. However, salvation does not work towards that as the only end. Baptism is a divine beginning and there is a lot between that and the final end.
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew– – – The indication here is that unlike many conversations in the gospels this is not originally in Aramaic translated into Greek but held in Greek. This is due to the double meaning in what can be translated “again”. Even many English translations write “above” instead because it can mean either depending on the context. Nicodemus stirs the conversations as an interlocutor of Jesus like the rabbinical tradition to pars down to what is eliminated.
The wind blows where it wills…but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit- – – Jesus is showing that the entry into this kingdom is unlike what is typically quantified through medical, legal or political forums or records. All those prime examples start and end on human terms. The birth that is anchored in heaven is also permanent.
Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?– – In the Greek, the definite article is used so he is really the teacher of Israel.
we speak of what we know…… but you do not receive our testimony– – – Here Jesus introduces a shadow of things to come after the fulfillment of the cross and resurrection: baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Also in this statement is the third time in the same conversation where he says “truly, truly” which is the Aramaic sneaking into the Greek conversation with the word “Amen, amen”. One could almost imagine Jesus counting with his finger up to three.
how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?- – -Jesus sometimes wets our appetites by speaking to us first in the natural realm and consequences. But if we grind against those obvious signs of God, he suggests we are not ready for the faith to what is unseen.
No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man– – – Jesus points now how not only baptism in the Spirit and water is mysterious but he himself is mysterious. Or in other words, he offers heavenly salvation because he is from heaven.
Jesus first used the title Son of Man when he promised believers that they would see him as the place where God dwells among humanity, reveals himself, and opens up heaven to them (1:51). …only the Word made flesh can reveal the Father and speak of heavenly realities because only he has come down from heaven and will return there (The Gospel of John, Francis Martin and William Wright IV, 2015).
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up– – – There is a double meaning here. The lifting can be translated as a physical lifting but also as being exalted in an elevated sense. Here he is dropping a hint ironically of how the message of the cross is the effective weakness and strength, a loss but a gain.
that whoever believes in him may have eternal life- – – And here he shows that God’s healing power is present but to be sustained from the poisons of this life would take an ongoing beholding and relationship with Jesus and his saving work. It would be to behold him not only as that snake but “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. He is the eternal lamb to be consumed but in the households of our hearts and bodies. This is the grace of the gospel that is emphasized to bloom one person at a time but towards a greater whole. But for some specifics of salvation to a greater whole beyond the individual, Jesus revealed some of that and his identity not to the lofty and educated but the marginalized grasping for even the fundamentals of truth: a divorcee at a well.