Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Born [again] Ultimatum

Today we conclude the discussion of the born again experience as framed by the Bourne Trilogy. Our last investigation is the Born [again] Ultimatum.


I am sometimes overwhelmed at the intricacy of the Bible. The interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus is tight with word choice use and counter-use. It is beautiful and powerful to see Jesus using Nicodemus's words to move him from a very imperfect understanding of spiritual truth toward illumination. Several volumes could be dedicated to this literary quality of the Bible and the incarnation as Jesus works it out in his use of language in human interactions. The word play of interest here involves the original words for "no one," "no one is able," "know/perceive and see," and "enter." This whole section (John 3) "fleshes out" John's introduction: "In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it...He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." John 1.4-5, 10-13

Finally, I find it interesting that Jesus chose a multi-layered word like ανωθεv which can mean "again" or "from above" as in the NIV footnote. Jesus had to discuss it repeatedly before Nic understood he was offering more than a Mulligan.

{end digression}

We find the Born [again] Ultimatum in John 3.1-8, Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again [John 3:3 Or born from above; also in verse 7 ]." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit [John 3:6 Or but spirit] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You [John 3:7 The Greek is plural] must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

You MUST be Born [again.]

In verse seven, Jesus specifically and clearly states the Ultimatum, "You must be born again." This is the offense of the Gospel in our post-modern world. Jesus has declared it necessary, not optional, to be born again. In a society celebrating multi-culturalism as its religion and tolerance as its rule, those who call themselves Christ-followers, must clearly continure to declare His message. It is His, so any problems with the exclusivity of it should be addressed to Him.

The Born [again] Ultimatum repeats thoughout the New Testament. In John 10.7-9, Jesus claims to be the gate for the sheep and that all others who came before Him were thieves. In John 14.6 He declares himself "the Way, the Truth and the Life" and that "no one comes to the Father but through me." The first Christ-followers echoed this claim when they preached that "there is no other name...whereby men can be saved...'

There are not many roads to God. There is just Jesus. Besides, when you get to God you will be arriving at Jesus -- He is God. He is not a man pointing the way to God, He is God incarnate bringing us back to Himself. This we declare to the post-modern, multi-cultural society with the humility of servants of Christ, not with the arrogance of those who know more than others.

You must be Born [again.]

...otherwise we don't have the ability to see. Nicodemus told Jesus, "we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." Jesus challenges the collective perception by saying no one can see [perceive] unless he is born again. Without the radical re-orientation being Born [again] brings, we cannot even see the door to the spiritual realm, let alone claim to understand God's will and way. Nicodemus counters that no one has the ability to enter the womb a second time.

Jesus shifts Nic's perspective on the Born [again] experience from a "do-over" to a radical overhaul. Nic cannot understand how to enter the womb to be born again. Jesus offers him more than a Mulligan when he suggests the new birth empowers us to enter the kingdom of God. Like John 1, the birth here is from above, God invading our space to bring His rule and its peace.

For illustration and emphasis, Jesus likens the elusive nature of God's work in the world to a simple breeze. We can appreciate and benefit from the blowing wind. But we cannot say with certainty the direction from which it came or to which it is going. Only those born of the Spirit are able to flow with this breeze.

It is the new birth that give us access to the kingdom of God. John 1, "he gave the right to become children of God." Only then can we see and enter this blessed life.

Y'ALL must be Born [again.]

The you in this ultimatum is plural. Good Appalachian dialect would translate it, "Y'all must be born again." Jesus was not just speaking to this individual named Nicodemus. Nic had identified himself as a representative of several individuals when he began, "...we know..." Jesus made this ultimatum to seekers like Nicodemus, skeptics like the Council and to humanity as a whole. The universal ultimatum must be addressed by all people: white, black, asian, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Gentile...

We must all choose what to do with this ultimatum. Unlike the God-father, Jesus does not give us an offer we can't refuse. We just don't have any positive alternative to the One Way declaration. It's His way or no way to God, for everyone.

What's Your Verdict?

Jesus concludes his discussion with Nic by saying, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

The verdict is already in. Our destiny is already assigned. We now only await transfer to where we will serve out our sentence. Those who do not believe (and become Born [again]) will be separated from God forever. This is not God doing something TO us, this is us rejecting what God has done FOR us in Jesus. This is why "You must be born again" really is an ultimatum. If we trust (believe) God to create in us His life, we will continue in it for all eternity.

So what is your verdict? What will you do with Jesus and the Born [again] Ultimatum?

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