Today in John’s passage, we encounter an all too familiar verse. Well, some is familiar, and other parts tends to be forgotten. John 3:16 most notably. If you remember, Nicodemus visits Jesus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a leader among the Jews, highly educated and respected. Jesus confounds the situation by declaring that, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
“How can this be?” retorts Nicodemus. And it is a good question. Jesus then explains being born of the flesh and being born of the spirit as two different concepts, declaring one must be born from above, born again. It is hard for our 21st Century ears to realize how radical a concept that was. Remember that for Jews of the time, their whole identity surrounded their identity as Jews, which was a physical sign of the flesh. To dismiss that and say one must be born of the water and the spirit is already troublemaking! This is why Nicodemus is asking a good question.
Later Jesus declares, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Not the Jews? The whole world? Again Jesus is moving the bar. Here Jesus continues his radical inclusiveness.
You heard me right. This is about radical inclusiveness! Some in Christendom want to use this passage to beat, scourge, and attack non-Christians, guilt them into believing, and threaten them with eternal damnation. It has been so often misused. And it is sad that a few crack pots at sporting events have ruined this passage for so many.
And that is unfortunate, because it is a beautiful reassurance of hope and God’s presence. They seem to miss the point completely. It is about radical inclusiveness! It is about a great love affair that God has with the world. No longer is the focus on the law and punishment, but on self-sacrifice, grace, and overwhelming salvation. For ALL the world!
It is ironic that this passage is misused for hateful purposes, because it talks about “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” THE WORLD! This is an all inclusive kind of love!
The passage goes on to say that those who don’t believe are “condemned” but it does not say they are not part of the salvation of the world.
Later in this gospel, Jesus defines what eternal life is: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:2) Now that makes it really interesting! Eternal life, in and of itself, is knowing. Eternal life is not living forever.
This means being born from above is being born into Christ, grafted into the very heart of Christ.
This passage is so rich. He was talking to a Pharisee, and we got a “Pharisee answer,” a complex and rich answer, almost as rich as the abundance of grace that Jesus alludes to here – a grace that means a self-emptying and self-sacrifice at the cross, the very heart of God, skewered to a piece of wood.
That is a lot of love. And I am thankful.