Nicodemus’ visit with Jesus is a perplexing exchange. In light of baptism it is easy for us to explain being born from above as the new life given in baptism. But at the time, Nicodemus would not have considered baptism as the explanation for such a curious analogy. If we took baptism out of the equation, what might Jesus mean by these words? Could he have meant that all of humanity has come from heaven and will one day return? Perhaps he meant humanity needed to put away the things of the flesh to focus on the things of the spirit. Or might he have meant humanity had to die in order to have new life in heaven?
One of the fun things about wondering is imagining the many possibilities, and perhaps even living uncomfortably in the unknown of it all. There are many mysteries to be wrestled with in the Bible. Could we accept that there will be some things we will never grasp, and other things that go out of focus as quickly as they came into focus? Could we let some of the mysteries remain mysteries, even as we wrestle with their many possible meanings? Maybe the struggle is the point. The not knowing, but seeking the truth anyway.
And in the midst of the mystery, a solid, unwavering nugget of truth, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just 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. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”