Nicodemus and Jesus locked horns over an interesting theological issue. Jesus, while he raised other issues in his conversation with the wannabe disciple, insisted that Nicodemus be born from above, which in the context obviously means “born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus couldn’t fathom this phrase because of his world view – he didn’t have room for spiritual things. He would fit into the category we call “rationalists” today. His response shows that rationalism is not confined to the last couple of centuries. Most rationalists from any era would ask Jesus, “How can a man have a second vaginal birth when he is old?”
Can you see the irony, here? Here is Nicodemus, a spiritual leader and he can’t even think in spiritual terms. It is like a musician claiming to know nothing about music and still calling himself a musician! I think Jesus is asking that Nicodemus become spiritually attuned – learn to listen to the illusive winds and turns of the Spirit because one cannot know the Father, who is spirit, without having a spiritual birth, which by definition is by faith rather than by reason.
The tribe of Nicodemus is alive and well today. People, even spiritual leaders, want to be disciples without a spiritual life. To be born of the Spirit is a way of saying that one would be saturated with prayer, attuned to spiritual movements in everyday life and clearly initiated into the world of personal relationship and conversation with the Father. In other words, one cannot be simply a theologian, wise leader or a manager on a rational level but must have the personal spiritual experiential component as a central piece to be a disciple of Jesus.
Have we missed this central thought? If you don’t actually know the Father through Jesus but simply admire him, then you may not be a disciple of Jesus. If you aren’t willing to follow boldly and with faith, coming out from the crowd then maybe Jesus is confronting you with a spiritual reality. Jesus came to reveal the spiritual reality of the Incarnation. Jesus requires rationalists to admit and embrace that spiritual realities are as real as rational thought. An encounter with Jesus makes you choose between believing that he reveals the Father as the God man, which can only be accepted by faith and leave pure rationalism aside. Jesus will not have disciples who do not accept the spiritual as born into the very core of their beings. Disciples of Jesus will be as comfortable as the God man with both spiritual and rational realities. Their world view includes both elements.