I’ve been continuing some of my studying on John. I don’t suspect I’ll have too many profound insights that will knock your socks off, but maybe I can give you something to think about as we take a stroll through the Gospel of the “Disciple Whom Jesus Loved”.
Let’s start by taking a look at the text in John 3:1-8:
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, 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 and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus 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, “Most assuredly, 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 again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
I find it interesting how many people interpret “born of water”. It seems odd to me that Jesus would say that in order to be born-again, you must first be a homo-sapien who came out of the womb of a woman as a qualifier. Yes, this is how many would interpret the passage in order to juke the sacramental interpretation, which is that Christ was referring to baptism. I personally find the sacramental interpretation makes more sense, especially considering the text that comes after the Nicodemus dialogue, where John the Baptist is questioned. It also just makes more logical sense within the sentence structure.
St. John Chrysostom spoke a lengthy sermon on this topic and he points out the reasoning for baptism as it relates to the rebirth through the Spirit:
In Baptism are fulfilled the pledges of our covenant with God; burial and death, resurrection and life; and these take place all at once. For when we immerse our heads in the water, the old man is buried as in a tomb below, and wholly sunk forever; then as we raise them again, the new man rises in its stead. As it is easy for us to dip and to lift our heads again, so it is easy for God to bury the old man, and to show forth the new.
He also points out that the Spirit usually comes before baptism and baptism is a way of confirming what the Spirit is already doing, but also it’s a mystical rebirthing process. In essence, it is a proclamation of faithfulness and a seal of a covenant with God. I recognize there are still even further ways one could take that, so I won’t say much more on baptism right now.
As for when Jesus compares “the wind” to “the Spirit” – He’s making an interesting play on words, because He’s using the Greek word pneuma for “the wind”. Pneuma is often translated as the word for “breathe”, meaning God’s breathe. So, God can breathe on whoever He wants to.
Further on down (John 3:9-21) Jesus says the following:
Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
Now, as I was reading John Chrysostom’s homily on this passage, he goes into some length explaining the reference in v. 12 to “earthly things”. I think the Orthodox Study Bible has a better summary of how Chrysostom explained it.
According to St. John Chrysostom, earthly things refer to grace and baptism given to man. These are earthly, not in the sense of “unspiritual,” but only in the sense that they occur on earth and are given to creatures. The heavenly things involve the ungraspable mysteries of the eternal generation of the Son from the Father; they relate to His eternal existence before all time and to God’s divine plan of salvation for the world. A person first must grasp the ways in which God works among mankind before he can even begin to understand things that pertain to God Himself.
Then, we have the infamous passages where Jesus shows the “type and shadow” regarding Moses’ lifting of the bronze serpent to heal the poisonous bites that were plaguing the Israelites in Numbers 21:4-9. It’s another distinct bridge between the Old Testament and the New which Christ does multiple times throughout the book of John. Just as God used an image of a serpent to defeat the work of a serpent, God used a human to overthrow the work of another human (Adam). He used the Cross, an instrument of death, to defeat death.
Of course, everyone knows John 3:16 and the subsequent verses but I think the phrase in verse 21, “But he who does the truth comes to the light” is quite striking to me. Christ seems to show that it is not just cognition (mental ascent, belief via communicative thought, etc.) that brings us to the light, but action (specifically, using our will unto God).
This philosophical distinction between our head and our heart isn’t really in the scriptures. When the heart is referred to, many of the thoughts and actions come from there (Psalm 119:36, Luke 2:19, Proverbs 3:1, James 4:8, Romans 10:10).
Likewise, the mind is sometimes referenced using the Greek word nous (Rom. 12:2) and is understood as being a part of one’s intellect, consciousness or intuition. So, the lines are a little blurred from what we understand between our feelings and thoughts in scripture. Faith, belief, etc. is an act of will. Cognitive faculties are less important as being in a state where one’s soul is directed to God. It’s “walking in the light”. We so often fail to comprehend the light with our mind, but we know down in our soul that it’s something we want to get close to. In a sense, knowledge in the head doesn’t save you, but knowledge in the heart or nous does. It doesn’t equate to cognitive certainty, which is what makes faith so hard to explain in the naturalistic sense.
Evil comes when we run from the soul-yearning to be a part of the light. When dive deeper into our own pride and selfishness and refuse to struggle against the tidal waves of sinfulness. Many actively find ways to escape the light, so their actions will not be exposed. But if we walk in the light, we will want to keep our hands and our hearts clean before Him. We will continue to take up our cross and die for Him, realizing that we are made most fully alive in the light (Christ). Our inner being is then renewed and can walk towards Him.
I’ll have a lot more to come and I might go back and cover some of this text, but for now, this is what’s on my mind. I hope you found it edifying.