Born Again/From Above & Born of Breath/Wind/Spirit

Our gospel reading today for many is the most important passage in all of scripture. The scripture shows Jesus in the beginning of his ministry laying out from the get-go the reason he is here. Jesus in this passage gives us the heart of the matter, the gospel in a nutshell.

The Nutshell's Tree

That said, it's important to remember that the nutshell comes from a tree. John 3:16 comes from a passage of scripture. The whole of that passage of scripture gives us the tree from which the gospel in a nutshell came. As we will see, the full tree is really a wonderful one.
Do you know how in the Bible we have a book name, the chapter of that book, and the verse or verses? For example, we have the book of John, chapter 3, verses one through sixteen. Well, this sectioning into chapter and verse makes it easier to reference things consistently. So, I can say go to John chapter 3 verse 16 and you’d know where to go. And I could have said this 200 years ago, and people would know the same thing.
Well, the sectioning for easy reference is not original to the Bible itself. The dividing of the Bible's books into chapters and verses was added hundreds of years after the original writing was complete. Even punctuation and paragraphing were added.
Anyway, the gospel in a nutshell's tree begins at the end of chapter 2 and continues through chapter 3, verse 21. 

The Context

At the end of chapter 2, we read that it is Passover and Jesus is in Jerusalem. It is Jesus' first Passover of three in his 3-year ministry. The third Passover we will remember during Holy Week.
So, the context is Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem for Passover.
John 2:23 tells us that Jesus during this holiest of weeks is performing signs and miracles and the many people crowded into Jerusalem see these amazing miracles. Many are, as the verse says, “believing in his name" though not following him. It is sort of like someone seeing a magician and saying, wow, he is really good… I am a fan. 
Jesus, however, wants more than this kind of fandom. He wants more than citywide fame. He wants more than belief in the popularity of his name. Jesus wants people’s full trust and he wants them to follow him. Jesus wants disciples of God’s love to join him and follow him in realizing God’s kingdom.
We see this call to full trust as Jesus teaches Nicodemus.  The point of the passage is the essential call to place one's full trust in Christ.

A Short Subtext

There is an important subtext. Jesus in his ministry encounters continual tension and conflict with the religious hierarchy of his day. In our passage, however, we have the rare occasion of Jesus and a member of that religious hierarchy, an important member named Nicodemus, having an amicable private discussion. The private discussion shows Jesus teaching this powerful teacher of religion the way of God.

Nicodemus' Pride

Note how Nicodemus doesn’t meet Jesus in public or in the daytime. He comes to Jesus in private and at night. Is he too proud? Is he ashamed of being seen with this country preacher from Nazareth? Is he not humble enough to publicly be seen as learning from someone deemed lower than he?
Jesus knows the answer - of yes, yes, yes - to these questions. John 2:24-25 talks about Jesus knowing how people think, knowing what makes them tick, knowing their hearts. 
He knows Nicodemus is battling between the pride that comes with his high position and the humble desire to know God and know more. Jesus knows that the only way to face this internal battle and overcome pride is to be internally transformed. 

Nicodemus's Need

Nicodemus needs a heart-transformation.
And what transforms the heart? Being born of the Spirit of God by trusting Christ, the Son of God, the one born of the Spirit from the very beginning.
In verse 3, Jesus makes the central claim, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” or as some translations put it, born again.
Nicodemus doesn’t get what Jesus is getting at. So he asks well, how can someone born years ago be born again as an adult?
Jesus in effect says, you were born of water - the waters of the womb - upon your birth as a baby. But there is a need for another kind of birth, spiritual birth.
Then Jesus uses the metaphor of wind. We know the wind is real. We feel it ruffle our clothing and hair, we see it rustle through trees, we hear it whistle through windows. But we can’t really know where it comes from or how it is born. 
Knowing it all and experiencing God in faith, these two states do not need to go together. If we knew it all, there would be no need for faith or trust, and no need for the vulnerability that comes with taking a leap of faith or placing our trust in someone. Faith and trust require letting go of self and security and letting God into our hearts to transform us. This letting go and letting God is difficult work, but necessary for the heart to be transformed.

Jesus the Poet

I ought to mention that our passage shows Jesus using really creative, even playful language. Jesus often does this. He used parables to the same effect: To get us out of our head and into our hearts. 
In some translations, we read "born from above," and in others, "born again." Well, the word in Greek is anothen. It can mean either "from above" or "again. Jesus is playing with his words in speaking with Nicodemus.
Then there is the word "spirit." The Greek word is pneuma. It can mean spirit, or breath, or wind. So if I said my spirit was lifted when he took his first breath in August when the wind was warm, it would  read, my pneuma was lifted when he took his first pneuma in August when the pneuma was warm.
Jesus is saying to be born again and from above means taking into our breath, into our spirits, the Spirit, the Breath of God.

Wind As Teacher

The wind through the trees is a beautiful image of this. We take into our spirit the Spirit of God like the tree takes in the wind. We are touched, we are enlivened, we are moved, we are made to dance. That is what being born from above means. 
The wind again and again moves in the trees, enlivening them each time. That is what it means to be born of the Spirit, of the wind, of the breath of God.

Entrusting Is the Point

Lastly, what about believing in him? A better word for the Greek word pisteuo, sometimes translated "belief," is the word to trust or even to entrust. Jesus is asking Nicodemus to trust him. More than this, Jesus is asking Nicodemus to entrust himself to Jesus and the new way he is teaching. 
Jesus wants commitment not just a visit at midnight
Why? Because the true life is a life connected and committed to goodness, a life connected and committed to God. And whatever life is connected and committed to God, whatever life becomes wrapped up in  God’s life, becomes eternal with God. 
An everlasting, true life is a life committed to and enveloped by God who by nature is truth and everlasting.

The Departing Question

We’re not told how the story ends. What did Nicodemus do with this important moment with Jesus? We don’t know. Things are left open-ended.
So I close with a question, an open-ended one. What will you do with your important moment with Jesus?


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