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As I watch Jesus interact with people as recorded for us in the Gospels, I am delighted to see how he personalizes his approach. He meets each one where he or she is; he speaks in ways that are designed to make him and his message accessible to each he speaks with.

Although contemporary Christians may overuse the phrase “born again,” when Jesus used it with a Jewish religious leader, Nicodemus, it was tailor-made for him and fit the conversation Jesus was having with this man

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? (John 3:5-9)

Why would I conclude that the “born again” language was tailor-made for Nicodemus? In part, because of the questions Jesus asks.

As in a few earlier posts, I am thinking through the questions Jesus asks of others. Those questions help me understand what Jesus is after in his exchanges, and they help me see afresh what Jesus wants of us, of me.

In this passage, Jesus has insisted that Nicodemus is in need of something far more than mere physical birth. He needs new life, a recreative work of the Spirit, he needs to be “born again.” And that idea is so striking and startling to Nicodemus that he balks at it. In pressing further, Jesus asks Nicodemus a couple of questions.

Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?

If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

What is Jesus driving at with these questions? It seems to me that there is a similar intent behind both. Jesus wants Nicodemus to build on what he already knows, what he already understands, in crossing the bridge into what Jesus wants for him. In other words (and not because Jesus’ words are inadequate, but only that he spoke these words to Nicodemus in such a way that he “got it” when he heard it and we might need to reflect a bit on what Jesus’ said in order to “get it”):

“Nicodemus, as one of Israel’s teachers you can’t tell me you don’t know about God giving new life can you?”

“Nicodemus, can’t you understand what I am saying in using natural analogies? You aren’t going to stop with just that are you?”

Jesus intends for Nicodemus to build on what he already knows in listening to what Jesus wants for him. It isn’t that we can get to Gospel truths merely through natural, rational process. But Jesus does not typically come to us and begin his exchange with us from where we are not! He begins with me, with us, where we are, what he already knows we understand, what we have embraced of the truth.

When I am struggling understanding the journey I am on with Jesus, when it seems that this “life of faith” is not making much sense nor working out very well, I am so glad to know that Jesus intends to lead me forward by beginning with what I do know of him, starting with what I do understand, leading from where I am and not demanding that I start out of my depths.

We get to move forward with Jesus from where we are today, right now, in the midst of it. He doesn’t expect us to know what we don’t know, see what we don’t yet see, start from where we haven’t yet arrived.


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