Sometimes we have to go back to the basics. There’s a gap in our understanding. There’s a flaw in our work. And where we are presently with whatever it is can’t be corrected moving forward. Therefore, we need to go back. We need to find where we went wrong. Then, from there, we begin again.
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? – John 3:9-12, ESV
Nicodemus was lost. Though Jesus’ words were the truth, Nicodemus couldn’t understand their meaning. There was a flaw somewhere in his foundational knowledge about God, sin, and salvation. The problem was he didn’t see it. He didn’t know where it was. That’s likely what brought him to Jesus.
So he asked. Jesus asked him a rhetorical question in return. He knew why Nicodemus was struggling. The God-centeredness of the Scriptures had been replaced with a theology centered on man. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, part of an elite group who believed that they could keep a list of behaviors and actions in order to earn salvation and be acceptable by God. He was immersed in man-centered thinking. This is where Jesus began.
The rhetorical question served a purpose. It called out Nicodemus’ position. But it also called out his teaching, which was consistent with the religious thinking of that time. If it wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. Jesus was pointing the finger there. He was telling Nicodemus where to start looking for the problem.
Then Jesus expounded to help Nicodemus even more. He explained how Nicodemus and the other religious leaders were going away from the testimonies about God and His hand at work. They weren’t focused on the divine. They weren’t even paying attention to God at work in the mundane. The leaders wouldn’t hear such testimony. They wouldn’t believe. It clashed with the mindset that they had created. After all, why did they need God when they had figured out how to do it themselves?
That’s where Jesus wanted Nicodemus to start. That flawed assumption, that heresy (because it was), was where Nicodemus went wrong. And Nicodemus needed the rough shake-up. So Jesus gave it to Him. It worked. We know it worked because when others failed Jesus, Nicodemus was one of the two men who retrieved Jesus’ body from the Cross and took care of it. Nicodemus listened and he began again. As a result, he corrected his path and moved forward, towards God.
If we must return to the basics, so be it. If in our lives we need to start over somewhere spiritually, in relationship, in our knowledge of something, in whatever it is, if the possibility exists and it’s the only way to correct our path, we can’t be afraid to do so. God is a God who has encouraged many men and women to start again. Being born again is a restart. So is confession and repentance. It is better for us to go back and start again than to continue forward in the wrong direction. Let us do so when we realize what we have done. Let us begin again in our pursuit of God rather than continuing to wander away from Him.