[This one is quite a mouthful, about 20 pages. If you want something more bite sized, start with part one. You can also skip to part two, or part three.]

If someone asked you what it takes to be born again, what would you say? Is the concept limited to Christianity? What if the person asking is an atheist?

This happened to me. And, frankly, I didn’t know what to say, or what “born again” means, exactly, what it requires.

In my first batch of gospel essays, what I called Book One, I dealt with my ignorance on love, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion; what do these things mean, exactly? They are such simple terms, that I had long forgotten their meaning.

Just so, “born again” is a concept that I had stopped thinking about. My understanding of it fell out of my train of thought, and I had to go back to the source.

Book Two is about that journey. As usual, the answer is simple, but the reason why the answer works is complicated.

The answer is this: Humble yourself before the overwhelming might of the world, accept your insufficient, unarmed weakness, cleanse and purify your thoughts and actions with selflessness, and develop a system of symbols to remind you of goodness, for when badness brings panic and despair; surrender your anger, fear, and doubt; stop fighting battles you cannot win, wars that destroy not only your peace of mind, and sense of well-being, but everyone else who gets caught up in your war; in short, merge your will, surrender it to its rightful place, so that it joins with the will of all things: the will of God.

Simple, right?

But how does that work? Does the person need to believe in Jesus, that God took on human form, and died for our sins? And what does that mean, to believe in Jesus?

To discover how the answer works, we must return to the well, and drink the water of everlasting life.

“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”—John 4:14.

The story begins at night, in the darkness of ignorance. The man approaching the light, which is the light of the world, goes by the name of Nicodemus. But his name is your name too, and mine.

All of us hide in darkness.

“For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved [or discovered].”—John 3:20.

But the shadows swallow us; the darkness of sin devours our selfishness, our greed, until we become so damaged, so traumatized, that our own will becomes worthless: insufficient to justify our hatred of the light.

When our will is no longer enough to sustain us, we must swallow our pride, as Nicodemus did. We have to bolster our will in order to overcome the world. The only way to do that is to attain the will of all things.

The will of God.

“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: / The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.”—John 3:1, 2.

Nicodemus swallowed a lot of pride to go to Jesus. He was a Pharisee, which translates as “Separated One.” They believed the first five books of the Bible were the perfect word of God. They extrapolated a lengthy series of laws from this Pentateuch (in Greek, or Torah in Hebrew), because they also believed it contained reasons and answers for every possible situation.

The Pharisees separated themselves from normal, everyday life so that they could follow what they believed were God’s perfect laws. As strict as they were pious, they had no room for anything, or anyone, outside the law. That was one of the reasons why they hated Jesus, and his new doctrine, so much so that they conspired to kill him.

“Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.”—Matthew 12:14.

Nicodemus was also a ruler of the Jews: a member of the Sanhedrin. Consisting of 70 members, this brotherhood presided over, and enforced God’s laws on, the Jews. One of their mandates was to investigate, and deal with, any false prophets. Since Jesus did not strictly follow their extrapolated laws, he was, by their definition, a false prophet.

And, finally, Nicodemus was wealthy.

“And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes [to anoint Jesus’ body after his crucifixion], about an hundred pound weight.”—John 19:39.

That would cost a lot of money, more that the average person could afford. If you’ll recall the Rich Young Ruler, it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, that for someone to spend that much money on a wandering, possibly false prophet.

Nicodemus surrendered his will, his way of life, because it was not enough to sustain him. He needed something more.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”—Matthew 16:25.

This is a good time to pause for a moment, and consider what I like to call “Bible shorthand.” When Jesus spoke of “life,” he meant “what we love.” Our lives consist of what we love. And, as I’ve often quoted in these essays, God is love.

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—1 John 4:8.

So we must surrender our will, what we think we love (thereby losing our lives) in order to gain the strength that comes from the will of all things: the love of God.

To win the fight, we must surrender.

Jesus’ miracles impressed Nicodemus. Let us consider those for a moment.

He gave sight to the blind, enabled people who couldn’t walk to walk once more, purified the blood of a woman with a life-long blood disease, raised people from the dead, transformed water into wine, and multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish into enough to feed 5,000. He filled Peter’s nets with fish, when, before, the nets were coming up empty.

Do you see a pattern here?

Nicodemus saw it.

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”—John 3:3.

At last we come to the only explicit mentioning of the term “born again” in the gospels. It is implied in everything that Jesus says and does, from his miracles, to his referring to the necessity that we be like children to enter heaven.

“…Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 18:3.

But only John’s gospel names this fundamental essence of Christianity. Of course, other New Testament books discuss it.

“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.”—1 Peter 1:23.

Nicodemus should’ve been familiar with the idea of the old becoming new. Abram became Abraham when he left his old life and agreed to follow God. Most every story in the Bible involves a rebirth, such as the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, or Noah building the ark.

Plus, one wouldn’t have to read too much into those stories, to see the emphasis on new beginnings.

All the Old Testament prophets wrote of being born anew, such as Ezekiel.

“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”—Ezekiel 36:26.

But Nicodemus didn’t seem to understand.

“Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”—John 3:4.

First, I want to say a quick word about the kingdom of heaven, then we’ll get back to Nicodemus’ very literal interpretation.

Another of my favorite Bible quotes, that you’ll find in almost every one of my essays is this:

“… behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:21.

Whether or not Heaven is actually a literal place, where we go after we die, Jesus said we will see the kingdom after being born again. So, unless we can’t be reborn until we actually die, then heaven is (at least) a state of mind, a perception attained by being born again.

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.”—Matthew 13:34.

Despite Jesus’ parabolic teaching method, or because of it, many people (then and now) insist on literal interpretations.

“The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”—John 6:52.

And….

“…How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.”—John 10:24.

And….

“…Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. / Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?”—John 2:19, 20.

And on, and on. We look for exact, specific knowledge in the Bible, as if spirituality were science. If we expect a fish to behave like a squirrel, then, in our ignorance and conceit, we’ll be severely disappointed when the fish doesn’t climb trees.

“The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”—Proverbs 16:4.

It is not for us to decide why things are, or what they should be. Concern yourself with yourself, and accept the natural state of all things: The combined will of which is the will of God.

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”—John 3:5.

We must be born again to “see” the kingdom, and born of water and of [or by] the Spirit to “enter” heaven.

At night, we see a light, far off, as Nicodemus did before approaching Jesus.

“I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. / And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”—John 12:46, 47.

When we see the light, then we must decide whether or not we’ll approach it, and then if we will enter into it, or abide in darkness. These are three very important choices, any one of which could change our lives forever.

Just so, in the last quote, there are three points that are open to interpretation. First, what does it mean to believe in Jesus?

Your answer will determine your journey. I cannot (and do not) answer for you. I choose my path, and answer for me.

Before answering, read the quote again. Note what Jesus said about belief in the first verse, and what he said about it in the second. The second elaborates on the first, clarifying its meaning.

This is a fundamental Jewish practice, in writing the Bible, called “parallelism.” We see it in the Psalms.

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”—Psalms 46:7.

The second part amplifies and explains the first. What does it mean to say the Lord is with us? It means God is our refuge.

We also see it in the Lord’s Prayer.

“….Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.”—Luke 11:12.

What does thy kingdom come mean? It means God’s will shall be followed in earthly life, as it is in heaven.

So what does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means that, even for people who don’t believe in the literal interpretation (that he was God’s actual offspring, that he historically died on the cross for our sins, etc.), and yet they follow his teachings, they will not be judged and condemned by God.

“For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”—John 3:17.

Therefore, even atheists can be born again, and maintain their skepticism, as long as they love as Jesus taught. This is how we see the light, and decide to approach it. We are born again when we believe in what Jesus called his “new commandment.”

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”—John 13:34.

There are other examples too. Jesus ate with sinners, much to the dismay of the Pharisees.

“And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”—Luke 15:2.

He told parables about how the chosen ones (the Jews) rejected him, and his parabolic wedding feasts. And, to have a full wedding party, he sent his servants to gather people off the streets.

“And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. // Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.”—Matthew 22:3, 9.

Jesus stated the purpose of Christianity, the reason for his ministry, by quoting Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”—Luke 4:18.

The purpose of Christianity is not to get dressed up, and go to the temple. Jesus cleansed the temple.

“And [he] said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”—Matthew 21:13.

The true house of God, like the kingdom, is within us.

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”—Matthew 18:20.

I cannot stress this enough. The Bible shorthand for “believing in Jesus” is “loving one another.” No one is saved by believing what they don’t (and can’t) know to be true. We are saved by love.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”—John 13:35.

We must have the mindfulness of faith, moment-by-moment: faith in ourselves, in each other, and faith in the whole picture, the ebb and flow of all things: the will of God. This is what Jesus meant by losing our lives to save our lives. We must surrender our self-important definitions, so that we see ourselves (and each other) as God sees us. That is how we see the light, and start a new life, as the children of one great purpose: love, which is God.

Once we’ve seen the distant light, and approach its warmth and comfort, then we must make the third (and most important) decision: to enter into that new life, to be “born of water and of the Spirit.”

Water has always been a symbol of cleansing.

“And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.”—Genesis 6:17.

When everyone became corrupt, except for Noah and his family, and humanity thought only evil all the time, God flooded the world. We can see this as an allegory, a symbol, foreshadowing what Jesus and his gospel would accomplish.

We think of God as destroying the world. How cruel he must be! But the world is still here; it was not destroyed. Humanity is still here; it was not destroyed.

“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”—Genesis 6:5.

We have to check our tendency to take the Bible literally. Remember, God is love; humanity, then, in this passage, is a symbol for wickedness, evil, sin. Therefore, the story of Noah’s ark tells us that love destroys sin, if we allow God (love) into our lives.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16.

“The Spirit” (with a capital S) should not be confused with “spirit” (and its lower-case S). The capital-S Spirit denotes a proper noun, an entity: the Holy Spirit, what (or to whom) John’s gospel refers as “the Comforter.”

A full analysis can be found here. To summarize:

“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter…. / …the Spirit of truth…. //…which is the Holy Ghost…. //…he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak….”—John 14:16, 17, 26; 16:13.

Jesus said that when he died, he would not leave us comfortless; but he would send people who, like him, would not seek to glorify themselves. Rather, their purpose would be to glorify God by reminding us of what Jesus said: his teachings minus the dogma that developed over the centuries, clouding his message of love.

We’re talking about the true Christian missionaries, whose doctrine is not their own, but God’s.

“I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. / If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.”—John 5:30, 31.

This is the final step in being born again: to not only be cleansed by love, but for you, yourself, to cleanse others with love; to not only be comforted, but to comfort others with a will that doesn’t seek personal gain. To enter the kingdom of heaven, to be born again of water and the Spirit, we must see and treat each other with everlasting love: unconditional, unending love.

The Bible shorthand for this is “everlasting life.”

“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life….”—John 6:40.

Remember, Jesus is life.

“…I am the resurrection and the life….”—John 11:25.

And:

“…I am the way, the truth, and the life….”—John 14:6.

And, as if to further complicate things, while also illuminating his entire ministry, Jesus said:

“I and my Father are one.”—John 10:30.

Since Jesus is life, and God is love, and since Jesus and God are one, then Jesus is love. Thus, the shorthand for “everlasting life” is “everlasting love.”

So let us look again at this time-honored quote, which Jesus said to Nicodemus, to explain what “born again” means.

“For God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16.

God flooded the world not because he was cruel and vengeful, but because he loved the world. He didn’t destroy the world or humanity. Rather, he washed the world clean of sin.

That’s what born again means. When we love, we cleanse ourselves of sin.

But sin, too, resurfaced, because we are weak and tend towards fear and anger, for which we attempt to compensate by sinning, hiding in darkness.

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”—John 8:44.

God sent his love, which is the true love, to this world, because we live in darkness, following lust instead of the truth. We look at each other as someone to cheat, or lie to, murder, or slander, rather than as someone with whom we can share everlasting love.

Life is love; death, the absence of love: more Bible shorthand.

Without following Jesus’ teachings (i.e., believing in him), we die inside, living lonely, hollow lives: filled with deceit, conceit, delusion, and illusion. This is who we are. We sin to hide our weakness in shadow, in a show of strength, which has no truth in it. Truth lives in the light.

And we must enter the light, by being reborn of water and of the Spirit, to rid ourselves of the lies and lusts.

“God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”—John 4:24.

Since God is a Spirit with a capital-S, then, when we are born again, through the Spirit, we are reborn through love, and being truthful with ourselves.

The truth is that we are born of flesh, as Jesus told Nicodemus.

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”—John 3:6.

Love is selfless; lust is selfish. Therefore, flesh is selfish, and spirit, through the Spirit, is selfless.

This is how we know if we are loving or lusting. Ask yourself, is this all for me? Be mindful, truthful with your answer.

The light shows the way; mindfulness shows the truth; and love gives us life.

“…and the truth shall make you free.”—John 8:32.

I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve thought it too, as did Jesus’ followers.

“Many therefore of his disciples, when they heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?”—John 6:60.

Don’t worry. Any magician’s trick seems impossible, until you learn how it’s done. And this is no trick. It is the truth of life, the key to living without fear, anger, or despair.

What we can’t see in the dark becomes easily discernible, when we stop hiding from the shame of our selfishness, our willful ignorance.

“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.”—John 15:22.

This shame is as old as Adam and Eve.

“And [Adam] said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”—Genesis 3:10.

But there’s no need to be afraid, the judgment and condemnation we feel does not come from God, but from ourselves.

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”—John 3:17.

We judge ourselves by our reaction to the light, and the new commandment, that we love one another. When we show mercy, compassion, and empathy, we are saved. But when we hate, practice exclusiveness, and judge others, then we condemn ourselves to the hell that is the absence of God.

While Jesus’ lessons on love might seem confusing, and hard to hear, we don’t necessarily need to know how they work; we just need to have faith that they do work.

As Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whiter it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”—John 3:8.

Talk about hard to hear! What does that mean?

It means that we don’t have to know the intricate details of how something works, to use it. In our technological age, this holds true even more than it did in Palestine 2,000 years ago.

I don’t know how a car engine works, but I drive daily; I don’t know how a refrigerator works, or a coffee maker, a light bulb, cell phone, computer, and so on. Still, I use those things all the time. If I want, I can learn how they function. My curiosity isn’t required, but faith is: faith in the maker, the designer, the engineer.

At the end of the day, none of us can really know God’s will.

“….no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son….”—Matthew 11:27.

Imagine an infinite refrigerator, an unknowable coffee maker, an engineer who is designer, Father, the sound of the wheels turning, smell of its fuel, the very life and heat of its work, as it creates life and light.

Best I can tell you, for sure, is that God is love. And if you love your enemies, as well as your friends, then you will be doing God’s will.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; / That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven….”—Matthew 5:44, 45.

You don’t have to know the wind’s origin, or destination. You don’t have to believe in what I call God, or what anyone else calls God. You don’t have to know how the engine works, to drive the car: just so long as you drive it.

Love everyone and everything. Surrender your will, which calls for suspicion, hatred, and despair. And, instead, accept the will of all things with patience, mercy, and forgiveness.

This is your covenant, your agreement, your peace treaty with life: You will stop hating it, and it will stop hating you; you will love it, and it will love you. When one of you should falter (and it will happen, at least 490 times), then you must forgive them and yourself.

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? / Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”—Matthew 18:21, 22.

It helps me to have a symbol, a keepsake to remind me of my covenant with life. This is what I think of when life overwhelms me:

“And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but [Jesus] was asleep. / And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. / And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.”—Matthew 8:24-26.

For Nicodemus, Jesus offered another story, one that a Pharisee would know.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”—John 3:14.

Jesus concluded his dialogue with Nicodemus by referencing this bizarre, but strangely typical Old Testament story. Occurring in the fourth book of Moses, well into the Israelites’ time in the wilderness, the weirdest thing happened.

“And when King Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners.”—Numbers 21:1.

So the Canaanites busted the Jewish spies, and imprisoned them. God had kept the Israelites wandering in circles, in the wilderness, waiting for them to learn what they needed to be reborn in the Promised Land.

What’s funny and tragic about their time in God’s school is this: They learned the lesson, only to immediately forget it.

“And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.”—Numbers 21:2.

As with all my essays, whether or not this really happened is beside the point.

“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other….”—Luke 16:13.

We can’t focus on the infinite reality of divinity, or treasure hunt through history and geography, while also paying attention to the lessons we need to enter the light, our land of milk and honey.

And there are two crucial lessons here: what happened to the Israelites, and Jesus’ larger point. To grasp the latter, we must first understand the former. No small feat, since, according to the gospels, most of the Jews never learned to live in God, in love, or to recognize their Messiah when he came.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”—Matthew 23:37.

Again, please don’t take this literally, as a slight against the Jewish people. I interpret the Bible as stories so that I can get to the point easier. And, whether we’re talking Old or New Testament, the Israelites represent us. We must be mindful of the warning that we tend to not recognize our good fortune, our personal messiahs.

Since the Jews symbolize us, and our struggle to follow God’s will, their time in the wilderness is our time on earth, as we learn and then forget, in times of trouble, the lessons we need to be born again.

The Canaanites, then, symbolize sin. As God’s people fought one army after another (sometimes winning, sometimes losing), so do we struggle with the benefits of loving one another, versus the self-gratification of following our own will.

“And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities….”—Numbers 21:3.

It was as if the Jews prayed, “Give us the strength, and, with your love, we will conquer our sins.” No matter how many times they asked for help, and got it, they were immediately ungrateful, and went right back to sinning. That’s why they were kept in the wilderness for so long.

Even after God, through Moses, parted the Red Sea, allowing them to pass, and then destroyed Pharaoh’s army with that same water, the Israelites complained right away. They had the nerve to mutter against God and Moses, even after singing a happy song about the miracle and their deliverance.

“And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?”—Exodus 15:24.

Ungrateful punks! I would’ve left them in the wilderness right then and there. But, where everything about us is finite, everything about God is infinite, including patience.

“In your patience possess ye your souls.”—Luke 21:19.

That’s not to say a loving father won’t spank his wayward child.

“And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.”—Numbers 21:5.

God just delivered the Canaanites into their hands, giving the Jews strength to overcome their sins. It was a miracle: divine intervention. By the way, that “light bread” they complained about was manna. Yes, that miracle food from God, which fed them when there was no other food in the desert. They whined about that. It wasn’t the first time, either.

“We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely: the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: / But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.”—Numbers 11:5, 6.

Isn’t their reaction almost comical? I think it’s hilarious. Then I remember that they represent us. That is how we react after being blessed.

Here’s where the heavenly Father spanks His ungrateful child.

“And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.”—Numbers 21:6.

I can’t stop laughing as I write this. God didn’t just send venomous snakes to punish the Israelites. That would’ve been bad enough. No, he sent “fiery serpents.”

What does that even mean? Were the snakes on fire, but not burning up, like the bush?

“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.”—Exodus 3:2.

I think that’s it, exactly. What an image, one of my favorites in all my Bible studies. Just imagine, hundreds and maybe thousands of fiery serpents…slithering at top speed, God speed…biting, and injecting not venom (perhaps), but fire!

“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”—Matthew 3:11.

It’s all a big joke until a bunch of people die from fiery serpent venom. That’s enough to humble anyone. Humility brings about repentance. To enter the kingdom of heaven, we must admit we were wrong to be selfish, weak in our greed, foolish to think we could take on the whole world.

That’s what John the Baptist preached.

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, / And saying, Repent ye: for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matthew 3:1, 2.

Jesus began his ministry by teaching about repentance.

“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, / And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”—Mark 1:14, 15.

Unfortunately, we arrive at repentance the hard way. We are so hard-headed and willful, that we require utter failure and ruin before bending our knee to God, as learned from the parable of the Prodigal Son.

“And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”—Luke 15:21.

We think that we can’t possibly be forgiven. After all, we wasted our prodigal inheritance, rejected our father’s love, and crucified him, and complained about the miraculous manna, that nourished us when we were lost in the wilderness. But we forget that we are finite, with limited patience, rushed into hasty reactions, due to our short, painful lives. However, God is infinite.

“Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.”—Numbers 21:7.

God’s love is infinite; God’s patience is infinite; God’s ability to feel everything we feel is also infinite.

“And the Lord said [to Moses, from the burning bush], I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows.”—Exodus 3:7.

That’s one of the most touching lines about God from the Old Testament. God knows our sorrows: hence, the infinite patience. When it says that God knows our sorrows, keep in mind how the Old Testament normally uses the word know.

“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.”—Genesis 4:1.

As loving couples know each other, so God knows our sorrows: intimately, personally. Far from judging us, God empathizes with us.

After the Israelites repented, and Moses prayed to Him, God devised a fascinating cure for the plague of fiery serpents.

Keep in mind, Nicodemus pictured this whole story, as Jesus concluded his lesson on being born again.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.”—Numbers 21:8.

For easy reference, here’s what Jesus said, to give Nicodemus a keepsake, a symbol to help his faith during troubled times, to strengthen him with God’s love, and be reborn.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”—John 3:14.

With symbols, as with the Bible’s poetry (and most everything in life), there is an obvious, surface-level meaning; and there is the deeper, more thoughtful meaning. Our imaginations work on an involuntary level, as well as voluntarily.

A Christian sees a cross, and their imagination pictures Christ’s crucifixion, ascension, and rebirth. A musician sees a note on staff paper, and their imagination pictures middle-C, defining, relatively, every other note, and all the possible music. Married couples have their wedding rings; patriots, their flags; mathematicians, their operators; and on, and on.

Everything stands for a greater idea, even us, even Jesus.

“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”—John 13:15.

God’s empathy shows us how we should relate to each other. Jesus’ selfless, courageous love shows us how we can find peace: both within, and without.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace….”—John 16:33.

So Moses followed God’s will, and made a symbol that cured those poor, hard-headed Israelites.

“And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”—Numbers 21:9.

The hardcore literalist might think this was idol worship, violating one of God’s commandments.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image….”—Exodus 20:4.

However, God told told them to do this. Plus, it’s not the image that is important, but what it represents. The brass serpent symbolized God’s love: That’s what cured the people.

God sent the fiery serpents because the Israelites were thinking selfishly, instead of thanking God for their victory over the Canaanites, the conquering of their sins. They panicked during a crisis. Recall the Parable of the Sower.

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; / Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”—Matthew 13:20, 21.

We all get tired, hungry, and weak form enduring the trials of our days. But that’s when we tend to sin. So stay mindful, even when you’re exhausted, and needing rest.

At such times, if we raise Jesus’ lessons in our hearts, when we picture him washing his disciples’ feet, calming the storm at sea, raising Lazarus from the dead, being lifted up on the cross, and lifted into the imaginations of people throughout the millennia…those of us who were lost, become found; those who can’t see how to love or forgive, see once more; those who can’t walk in the light, find renewed energy in their limbs; our blood, our thoughts are purified; we conquer the unbeatable Goliath, the powerful Canaanites, our habitual sins.

“But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”—Matthew 19:26.

We must plan ahead. We will panic; it will happen. At the worst possible moment, we forsake love, compassion, and forgiveness.

“And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.”—Luke 22:34.

We declare war on each other, instead of fighting our sins.

“Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite….”—Luke 6:42.

This is a natural projection of our weakness and fearful imaginations, involuntarily done, unless we stay mindful of God.

To remain aware, we need a symbol of God’s love, so that we remember to love each other as Jesus loves us, as God loves Jesus, as God loves the world.

“At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.”—John 14:20.

Choose an image, and make it a part of your personal covenant. Keep it close. Pray for this symbol to be revealed to you. Meditate on it. Be mindful of it. Chances are that you already know what it is: whatever makes you smile, feel safe, warm, and secure, whatever makes you feel loved, and feel like sharing love.

Find your heaven. It’s there, your land of milk and honey, waiting to welcome you home. Find it now, because your greatest trial is still to come: your revelation, your apocalypse, your day of judgment.

“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”—The Revelation 1:3.

Learn to call on your symbol. Learn to call on love, now, before you panic and sink into despair.

“But when [Peter] saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.”—Matthew 14:30.

Humble yourself. Admit your weakness, your insufficient will. Make every day the first day of school. Learn like a wide-eyed child. Love and accept everything around you. There is no separation. We are all of God, born of love.

This time of thoughtful light is Jesus’ gift. Embrace it. Listen to the Holy Spirit within you, as it guides you towards mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, and away from temptation.

Be born again.

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