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Monday, July 18, 2011

A Limited Exchange

Just about anyone who is a Christian has read about the exchange between Nicodemus and Christ in the Gospel of John. It starts out like this:
Now 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 him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:1).
Does that opening conversation strike anyone as a bit odd? It does me.

Here's Nicodemus saying "We know you're from God because of the miracles you've done" and Jesus replies "You can't see the kingdom of God unless you're born again." Where's the connection? Where's the continuity? Was Jesus merely being obscure and random, or was there a reason that He answered Nicodemus's opening statement with that particular remark? I think that Jesus was not random or illogical, so I would want to look for that reason. I would want to make that connection because it indicates the meaning behind Jesus's words.

In this exchange, Nicodemus claims to know something: "You are a teacher come from God." It appears, then, that Jesus is letting him know at the outset that he's missing the point. "You think you see something in me, but, in truth, you're blind." It seems to me that Jesus was saying, "You're looking at things from a physical world, a world of flesh, but in order to actually see what's going on here, you need to come from the spiritual world, the world of the Spirit." Jesus says a moment later, "Truly, truly, 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 flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:5-6). He is saying, "Nicodemus, you are a teacher of the Jews and you think you understand what's going on, but you can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God. You can't recognize it nor arrive at it. You're lacking a key event -- spiritual birth."

While there is no indication in this exchange that Nicodemus ever caught on, there are indications later that he did receive that "born again" event, that he did "see the kingdom of God." But the statement from Christ begs the question. If we are giving people today less than signs from heaven, if we are giving them good arguments and ardent calls and good presentations of the Gospel, and they're not yet born again, on what would we base the idea that our arguments and calls and presentations would succeed in making them see the kingdom and come to Christ? Doesn't Jesus's statement require that "born again" must precede "see the kingdom"? It seems to me that Jesus here is clearly saying that in order to truly recognize the truth of who Christ is, you must first be born again, that regeneration precedes faith.

If not, what else is Jesus saying?

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