“You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘you must be born again.'”
These words that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus brought something to the surface this morning that was neither comfortable, nor complete, it was an unsettling and unfinished thought.
I think, at least it makes some measure of contextual sense, that Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he “should not be surprised” in a way that could be stated as a question. In fact, and I’m just an armchair Bible scholar talking here so give me some room to wreck the house, I think Jesus could have said, “Are you really surprised that I told you that you must be born again?” If you place the emphasis on the pronoun “I” and read it again it syncs up with what I believe Jesus might be saying here.
I don’t know that Jesus is so much scolding Nicodemus as much as He is pointing at His own character and history and asking Nicodemus to consider the source. You see Jesus made quite a habit of upending the current notions and ideas of holiness, righteousness, and propriety. In fact, in the very next chapter in John, Jesus would have an incredibly scandalous conversation with a woman, a Samaritan who also happened to be a social pariah in her own society, much less His. Jesus seems to constantly assault the modern, mainstream notions of religiosity and buck the popular acceptance of who God is and what He wants. For Jesus to say something controversial to Nicodemus’ thinking should not have been “surprising”, after all it was Jesus talking.
I guess what I wonder has to do with our own notions of popular religion, righteousness, and propriety. It occurs to me that as we look down through history there is a pattern where the church, and Christians, become so enamored with their ways, their cultural expressions, and their historical moment that they lose sight of the Jesus of the Bible and the shocking things that He actually said and expected of His followers. I was a little frightened this morning as I thought to myself, “what has Jesus said to me lately that would encourage Him to add the qualifier, ‘hey, I know this is a little shocking, but don’t forget that it’s Me who’s talking here…I am known for this.”
The problem that I see is this, if Jesus’ message is no longer scandalous, if I / we begin to believe we’ve got His teachings nailed down then the odds are good that we aren’t hearing Him at all. The message of Jesus, in its undiluted, unsanitized, untamed substance is always unsettling to our innate, human sensibilities. I cannot think of one single major move of God from the first century until our current day that was not propelled by a re-understanding of the teachings of Jesus. Not a new truth, but new ears to hear the old truth. Nicodemus had read Ezekiel and Joel, and yet it was like a foreign tongue in his ears when Jesus began talking about receiving new life.
Friends I don’t believe for a second that we ever get to the place where we can rest our weary spiritual bones on our current understanding of the words of our Master. He is the Word that has been, if you will, spoken from eternity past. Do we really arrogantly believe that we have fully comprehended His timeless insights? Today I would suggest that if we have stopped being surprised every now and then, maybe it’s because we are no longer listening.