Every sporting event you see on TV, somebody is always up there in the stands waving a sign that says “John 3-16” I always used to wonder what that meant, but was always too lazy to actually look up the verse in the bible. But one day, I did. And I found that the verse was that famous verse you hear all the time about God so loving the world that He gave His only begotten son, etc. I happen to think it’s a pretty verse. But people always take this verse out of context, and when you do that, you can pretty easily twist meanings around.
That particular verse comes at the end of a conversation that Jesus is having with one of the officials of the temple, a guy who was interested in Jesus, but didn’t want anybody to know. There are a lot of people who are interested in religion but don’t want anybody to know. There does seem to be a bit of a stigma about believing in something. Just try saying you believe in something around your friends and see what happens. And it doesn’t matter what you believe, either. They will think you’re nuts no matter what you believe in. I really don’t know why anybody would care what people believe as long as they don’t push those beliefs on you. Anyway, this official comes to Jesus in the middle of the night.
John, Chapter Three:
There was a man, one of the rabbis, by the name of Nicodemus, an official of the people of Judea. This man came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, I know you are a teacher sent by God, because you would not be able do these signs if you were not from God.”
Jesus answered, ”In truth, In truth, one is not able to perceive the Kingdom of God, unless one is born from above.”
This threw Nicodemus off a little. First of all, he comes at night. He doesn’t want anybody to know he has come to visit Jesus. Nicodemus is a closet disciple. He wants to understand Jesus. He’s already seen enough and heard enough to know that this Jesus guy in not your average itinerant prophet. Judea had seen her hundreds of those. Not one was the anointed deliverer for which they yearned. And he tells Jesus that he knows he is sent by God and Jesus replies that if a person hasn’t been “born of above”, he or she wouldn’t know the kingdom of God if it bit him or her on the ass.
Nicodemus replies, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter again into his mother's womb and be born?”
Many people take that little remark of Jesus out of context and use it for biblical proof of reincarnation. There is some biblical evidence of reincarnation, but this isn’t it. Most translations put this verse as being “born again”. You sure as hell hear that phrase often enough. People talk about being “born again” Christians. But, in the original Greek, the phrase is “born of above”, not born again. The againess is implied. So this does not literally mean that you have to go through several lifetimes. It is clear that Nidodemus was not taking it to suggest reincarnation in any way. Jesus never talks about reincarnation one way or the other.
Jesus continued, “One who is not born in water and in wind cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
This word, spirit, is in the Greek, Pneuma, which means wind, breath, or a breeze. The idea of spirit is implied, but not stated. And in the original Greek, that word might have meant all three at the same time to the reader. “That born of the flesh, flesh is, and that born of the wind, is wind. Don’t be amazed that I say you must be born of above. The wind (pneuma, again) blows were it will. You hear it, but you don’t know where it comes and goes. So it is with everyone who is born of above.” Sometimes the translators choose to translate that word pneuma as wind and sometimes as spirit. Spirit is implied. It is interesting to note here that the Chinese Taoists, who spent thousands of years studying the human body and how it works, believe that the life force is contained in the chi, which also is translated as air, or currents of air, as is wind. Feng Shui is the study of how this “air” flows around living spaces and effects the ones living in those spaces. So Jesus says basically air currents and so do the ancient Chinese. Whaddya think? Is there are connection there, or what?
Nicodemus says, “How can this be?”
And Jesus replies, “You are a teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? In truth, we bear witness to you of what we know and have seen, but you don’t receive that witness. If I tell you earthly things and you don’t have faith, how can I tell you heavenly things?” This really makes a lot of sense. But this also means that Jesus must be considering the things he has told Nicodemus to be earthly things. He is, no doubt, talking about all the things he has said about how we shouldn’t worry, and God will take care of us, and how to be good to one another, those things he had been teaching the people, because talking about being born of the wind is not so terribly earthly, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
Jesus continues, “Nobody can go up to heaven unless that one has come down from heaven, the son of man (in other words, a human). Just as Moses raised up a snake in the desert, it is necessary that the son of man also be raised up so that all who have faith have life eternal.”
And this is where Jesus says those immortal words that are flashed all over the place. “For thus God loves (agapao) the world (cosmos) for this reason, that son, the only begotten, He gives so that all who faithe (pisteo) in him not be lost but have life (zoe) forever. For God does not send (apostello) the son so the world (cosmos) is made separate, but to make the world (cosmos) whole through him. Those that faithe (pisteo) in him are not separated, but those who do not faithe (pisteo) are now separated, because they do not faithe (pisteo) in the name of the only begotten son of God.”
So what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus here is a big deal, but not because of the way we think of it. It is a big deal because Jesus tells Nicodemus that God loves THE WORLD, the cosmos, all of creation—NOT JUST ISRAEL. Up until this time, the people of Judea had considered God to be the God of Israel. They believed that they were the chosen people, the only ones God gave a shit about. Jesus uses that agapao-love word, the word that means unconditional love, and applies it to God’s feelings for all of creation.
Jesus also destroys right there the image of a judgmental, condemning God who punishes his creation for not being holy enough. Jesus points out that God does not condemn the world, but rather makes the world whole. In other words, God fixes a broken world. How does God fix a broken world? Through us, that’s how. You and I are the hands of God. And in every act of kindness, you worship and praise God, even if you didn’t know you were doing it. And as soon as you become one with love, as soon as you share your love, you become born of above, born of the wind. Because without that spirit, you would not be capable of love. Your love proves your connection to God.
The original Greek language also shows something that English cannot. We have a present tense, but the Greek’s have two. The aorist tense suggests instancy. And all those verbs about believing and being a part of the kingdom of God are in the aorist tense. This means that very instant in which you love, you are now and forever connected to God. And when was that? At birth? Before birth? I don’t know. But everyone who loves is a part of the God spirit. And when you share your love, you share that spirit.
The word Gospel means “Good news”. Well, if, as those bible-thumpin’ evangelist preachers, say, the message of Jesus was to repent of our evil ways or else God’s gonna dump us all into eternal sorrow and agony, that falls short to my way of thinking of what I would consider to be good news. I would more or less consider that to be really fucked up news. Jesus said to spread the good news, and the good news is that we are all a part of the divine spirit of love, that we are love, and that if we have faith in that idea and share love, we can be very happy. Jesus tells us that God is not our punisher, some kind of cosmic tyrant, but a loving parent, a creator. Look sometime at the love between a parent and child and tell me that love isn’t born from above, born of the wind. So spread the news; spread the love.