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The Process of New Birth
A reflection from Mark's Gospel
“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mark 1:4-5, ESV)
We have five kids—four boys ages 13, 11, 9, and 7, and a girl who just turned 1. Along with my lovely wife, they are the delight of my life. I was blessed to be in the room with all of them when Corinne delivered each one. I will always be amazed by the birth process and the miracle of life, both inside and outside the womb!
Now, if you ask when a baby was born, there are a couple of ways to think about the answer. Looking at a birth certificate, you’ll see a timestamp.
Born: October 6, 2022 at 12:03 a.m.
It marks the moment the baby came out of the womb. But the actual birthing began many hours earlier when the mother began labor. When was the baby born? The baby started being born 13 hours before the timestamp!
Sometimes, our new birth into Christ seems like that. In Mark 1, John the Baptist is out in the wilderness, calling people to repent and baptizing them. A lot of people came out to hear him preach, and a lot of them were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But what happened to those people? Many of these people were the same people who came out to hear Jesus preach, see miracles, and perhaps be healed by him. We know Jesus traveled the countryside and often drew crowds of hundreds and thousands. Yet this was the same group of people who came to Jerusalem for the Passover and stood before Pontius Pilate’s headquarters chanting, “Crucify him!” These people from Judea and Jerusalem were also among the people that Peter preached to on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 responded to his message and received Jesus as God and Savior. Many of the same people were being saved day by day, impressed by the lifestyle of the new Christians, and even a large number of Jewish priests chose to follow Jesus as Messiah!
Many of these people had been baptized by John the Baptist, had seen Jesus’s miracles, had heard Jesus’s message, had called for Jesus’s crucifixion, had heard the Apostles preach that Jesus was resurrected, had seen miracles happen among the first Christians, and now were impressed by their way of life and care for widows, etc. How many times did they need to hear, see, and experience!
When were they born again? From one perspective, there’s a timestamp marking their new birth. From another perspective, they were in the process of being born again from the time they heard John the Baptist.
As I was reading these opening verses in Mark’s Gospel and listening for the Lord to speak, the thought came to me that I need to be careful to avoid judgmentalism. The process of new birth isn’t always as clean as a timestamp. We come to repent with John but often turn our back on Jesus and must be called to repent again. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love,” as the old hymn says. It’s easy to write people off when they stumble—as if they never had faith. Instead, let’s show and tell the love of Jesus and stay with them through the process! And when we wander, may the Lord send someone to us who will lovingly guide us back to Jesus.