… If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." (Jn 3:7-15)
In many cultures, the serpent is seen as positive and powerful, though dangerous. In some other cultures they are worshiped. In Jewish and Christian traditions, the serpent is as a strong negative force, symbolizing the evil in the world and in all of us.
The present passage looks back to the incident described in Numbers 21,5-8. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, they grumbled against Moses. So they were punished by poisonous snakes which killed many men. Moses was asked to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. Anyone who looked at the serpent on the pole would live. This was the remedy proposed by God. The bronze serpent was stored in the Tabernacle as a sacred object. It was King Hezekiah, who discovered that the people were worshiping it and broke it to pieces. (2Kg 18,4)
Here, in the gospel passage, it points clearly to the death of Jesus. Mankind is saved only by looking at the man dying on the cross. John is not saying that Jesus is like the poisonous snake that killed many people. John is saying that the evil that was and is in the world, was allowed to take full force on Jesus. What we look at the cross is the result of the evil in which we are all stuck. We see what God has done about it. When Jesus died on the cross, what we see is the dramatic display of God’s love. In the cross we realize who God is. The cross is the ladder set up between heaven and earth.
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews…
Jesus answered and said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."…
Jesus answered, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (Jn 3:1-8)
The dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus is one of the in-depth discussions Jesus has in this gospel. This discussion makes the reader to think about the moment of his spiritual birth. Every believer should have had a spiritual birth. It is often forgotten or neglected. One has to review the moment of his spiritual birth.
For a Jew what mattered most was being chid of Abraham. This was the basic thing for a Jew and certainly was so for Nicodemus. But Jesus is bringing in a new idea. He is speaking about a new family. In this family ordinary birth was not sufficient. One needs to be born all over again. One needs to be born ‘from above’.
When we say ‘born form above’ we mean that the initiative is from God. Born of water and spirit might mean a double Baptism (some say so). Baptism in water would mean entering into the kingdom-movement began by John the Baptist and continued by Jesus’ disciples. (Jn 3, 22ff and 4,1-2). Baptism in the spirit which is the new life that comes from within and it is the one which Jesus offers. In the early church both were closely linked.
Baptism that Jesus gives was required for the membership in God’s kingdom. Without this one cannot even see the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is open to anyone and everyone. It is like the wind (spirit) that blows. No family or tribe or class or caste or organization or system can take control of it. The wind (spirit) moves where it wills.