Trinity B, Lent 2A: Nicodemus and Born Again - Gospel Analysis
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 25.
BASIC THEMES FROM THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
- The Gospel of John is much more philosophical than the first three gospels. John prefers philosophical categories such as life, light, and logos/logic.
- The Gospel of John has long theological discourses rather than short pithy teachings and short parables.
- The Gospel of John is the Book of Signs. In John, the miracles are called “signs.” This is the Book of Signs, the miraculous events which are usually followed by a lengthy teaching discourse. The words “sign” and “signs” are used seventeen times in the Gospel of John.
- The Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness. This gospel consistently provides little touches and details of historical anecdotes that make this gospel more alive.
- We remember that the Gospel of John is very different than the first three gospels in theology, chronology, geography. As students, we don’t try to reconcile the differences (the call of the first disciples, the placing of the cleansing of the temple, number of Jesus’ trips to Jerusalem, omission of significant stories, inclusion of significant stories, etc.)
#27. The Discourse With Nicodemus
-Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. From earlier lessons in this class, we know about Pharisees. Pharisees were lay men who were part of a religious and political party in Jesus’ day. They emphasized being “separate” from the Hellenistic culture of the day. They thought of themselves as the purists, the loyalists and the traditionalists who kept the traditions of Moses alive.
Repeatedly in the Jesus story, the Pharisees were symbols of hypocrisy and hard-heartedness. They were the ones who plotted to kill Jesus.
In other words, Nicodemus had many friends who were plotting and instigating the death of Jesus. Knowing who Nicodemus’ friends were, it would have been incredibly risky for him to come to see Jesus by night. His friends would not have liked that because at the same moment, his friends were beginning to plan for Jesus’ execution and death. Jesus had just cleaned the temple and overturned its money tables and the Jewish leaders would have been conniving in their minds what to do with this Jesus.
Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews. That meant that he may have been part of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body in Jerusalem. In other words, Nicodemus was a political leader of his day.
Nicodemus was probably wealthy. At the end of the Jesus story, we will find Nicodemus bringing a hundred pounds of spices for Jesus’ burial. To bring that size of a bundle of spices to anoint Jesus’ body for burial indicates that Nicodemus was rich.
-He came to Jesus by night and said to him, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because he didn’t want anybody seeing that he was interested in what Jesus was saying and doing.
Later in this lesson, we are going to see paintings of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night. In those paintings, Jesus will be pictured in a home. In later studies in this course, we will discover that Jesus stayed overnight at the Mount of Olives when he was visiting Jerusalem.
My suspicion is that the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus occurred at night on the Mount of Olives rather than in a home in Jerusalem. Jesus had no home in Jerusalem. In our studies, we realize that Jesus “camped” overnight at the Mount of Olives when he was in Jerusalem.
If we accept that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, our imaginations go to work and we can hear Nicodemus’ footsteps walking up the dirt path to the Mount of Olives. Jesus’ ear would have been cocked, hearing the footsteps of someone approaching in the quiet of the night.
-"Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Nicodemus called Jesus “Rabbi.” The word, “rabbi,” means teacher. Nicodemus was aware that Jesus had come from God because no one could do the signs/miracles that Jesus did if he weren’t from God.
In other words, that was an initial level of belief in Jesus within Nicodemus. He believed that Jesus was more than a good man because of the signs/miracles that Jesus had already done (water into wine at Cana and his signs/miracles when Jesus was in Jerusalem.) Nicodemus’ level of believe was just beginning. He wouldn’t “get it” that he needed to be “born again” or “born from above” until later in the story (John 7) when Nicodemus defended Jesus. At the end of the story of Jesus (John 19), Nicodemus brought a large quantity of spices to anoint Jesus’ body for burial which was an indication of his true faith in Jesus. But here in this moment of the Nicodemus story, that night when he came to Jesus quietly and secretly, his faith was just beginning.
Nicodemus is a symbol of a searcher, of a person who was searching for the truth about God and the ways of God. Nicodemus felt that Jesus was an authentic voice from God or Jesus would not have been able to do the signs/miracles that he had done. Nicodemus came to Jesus, perhaps because he was searching for an authentic voice from God.
A person can see signs and miracles and still not have genuine faith. If fact, in other stories about Jesus, the large “crowds” that followed Jesus were often people who were initially attracted to Jesus because of the miracles. “Crowds” often followed Jesus for the wrong reasons. Such “would be disciples” often fell away when they gradually discovered what it meant to follow Christ.
-Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God Underline the phrase, “kingdom of God.” Those words, “the kingdom of God,” are only used twice in the Gospel of John. This is one of John’s references to “the kingdom of God.”
John normally uses the word, “life.” Life and kingdom of God are the same reality for John. It is critically important that all of us see the kingdom and enter the kingdom of God. It is critically important that all of us have life and are born again into new life.
A person cannot see or enter the kingdom of God without being born again/born from above.
-Without being born from above/born again." Underline the phrase, “born from above/born again.”
In American Christian culture, the most important part of the Nicodemus story is the phrase, “born anew.” It is also translated “born again” or “born from above.” It is interesting that the New International Version of the Bible translates this Greek word to be “born again” and the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates the Greek phrase to be “born from above.” Both translations appeal to different religious constituencies. Many readers of the NIV like “born again” language and theology; many readers of the NRSV do not appreciate “born again” language and theology.
The phrase, “born again,” occurs three times in the Bible: John 3:3, 7; I Peter 1:23.
John defines what it means to be born again: to be “born again” is to be born of the water and the Spirit.
What does it mean to be born of the water? To have our sins washed away. We never outgrow the need for having our sins and imperfections washed away daily and continuously. The water in baptism reminds us of our need for daily cleansing and washing.
What does it mean to born of the Spirit? To have the Spirit of Christ living inside of us. It mean to have the love of Christ, the joy of Christ, the peace of Christ, the patience of Christ, kindness of Christ, the goodness of Christ, the faithfulness of Christ, the gentleness of Christ, the self control of Christ living inside of us. It is having the Spirit of Christ taking up residence in us and living within us.
There are three references in the Bible to being “born again;” whereas there are 245 references to the word, “faith.”
If a student takes the Logos computer program and inserts the words, “born again,” the computer will turn up three references. If a student takes the Logos computer program and inserts the word, “faith,” in either the New International Version (NIV) or the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), there will be 245 references to “faith” in the Bible.
In other words, the word, “faith” is a much more dominant Biblical word and concept than the phrase, “born again.”
If a student types in words like “faith, believe, believes, believing,” there are then 421 Biblical references to faith/believe/believes and believing.
Some Christians work themselves into a theological lather about the phrase, “born again” whereas the words “faith/believe/believes/believing” are much more dominant in the Bible.
“Born again” simply means to have “faith” or “believe” in Jesus Christ.
Historically, there are four components to the word or experience of “faith.”
TOKY = Trust, Obey, Know and say Yes.
We are to trust Christ and trust the promises of Christ. An infant learns to trust his/her mother or father and that infant will feel secure in the loving arms of his/her mother of father. An infant will naturally feel insecure with someone whom the infant does not trust.
A second component of faith is obedience. We are called to obey Jesus’ one commandment of love, to love as Christ loves.
A third component of faith is to know. We are to know Christ, knowing Christ in a personal way and not simply having knowledge of Christ or the Christian religion. A man is to “know” in woman and that “knowing” means sexual intimacy. That is, I know my wife sexually and therefore intimately, and know her in a way that I do not know other women who are friends. In the Christian life, there is an intimate familiarity and closeness with Jesus Christ.
A fourth component of faith is to say “yes” to Christ. We are to say “Yes” to Christ, as a person says “Yes” to one’s spouse, children, and to life itself.
TOKY = trust, obey, know, and yes. These are four components of faith.
Historically, there have been three components of faith in Latin: notitia, fiducia, and assentia. Know, trust, assent. This class has added a fourth component of faith: obey the one commandment of Christ which is to love as Christ loves.
The Holy Spirit creates “faith/belief” or being “born again.” The Holy Spirit is like the wind which you cannot control. The wind blows where it wills, and you are not sure where it comes from or where it goes, but you know when the wind is blowing in your life. Martin Luther wrote: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, gathered me with other Christians, enlightened me with his gifts and helped me to grow in holiness and wholeness.”
As we study the gospel in this class, the Holy Spirit will come to us through the gospel that we are studying. We are gathering with other Christians to study and we will be enlightened through our studies and conversations and we will grow in wholeness and holiness and righteousness.
In the story about the virgin birth, Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit miraculously impregnated her. So it is with us. The Holy Spirit overshadows our lives and miraculously penetrates our hearts. The Holy Spirit creates the “new birth” or “faith” in us. Like the miracle of the virgin birth, when the Spirit penetrates our lives and Christ is born in our hearts, this is a miracle, a miracle as grand as the virgin birth itself. We then become “Christ carriers,” for we carry Jesus Christ within us, just as Mary carried the Christ in her.
What did you and I do to deserve to be born? Nothing. To be born is a pure miracle and pure gift. There is nothing that I did in order to be born. Being born was a pure gift from a miracle between my mother and father.
Similarly, to be born again is a pure miracle and pure gift. There is nothing that you and I did in order to be born again. Being born again is a pure gift from a miracle of the Holy Spirit.
-Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" Nicodemus takes Jesus’ comments literally, suggesting that a person had to enter a mother’s womb a second time to be born again. Obviously, Nicodemus did not grasp the meaning of what Jesus was teaching.
-Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. John wants us all to enter the kingdom of God. That is the issue here. We are to enter the kingdom of God and no one can do that without being born of the water and the Spirit. Being born of the water and Spirit is what it means to be born again.
-What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Underline the phrase, “born of Spirit.” Humans give birth to flesh. The Spirit of God gives birth to the Spirit in us. When the Spirit of God is strong in us, it is because God’s Spirit has enlarged our Spirit.
-Do not be astonished that I said to you, "You must be born from above.'
-The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Underline the phrase, “born of the Spirit.” The wind blows where it blows. You can hear the wind but you don’t know where the wind comes from. You can see the effects of the wind blowing in the trees, bending the trees, whistling through the leaves of the trees; but you cannot actually see the wind. Likewise with God. Like the wind is invisible, so it is with the Spirit of God. You can’t see God but you can see the effects of God. You can see the effect of the Spirit on a human being’s life but you cannot actually identify or see the Spirit of God. You can’t control the wind anymore than you can control the Spirit.
-Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" We as human beings often ask this question: How does this happen? HOW does one be born from above? HOW does one be born again?
-Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? " A person can be well educated in the Christian religion or any other religion, and still not understand “the things of the Spirit.” A person can be a church leader, a church pastor, a congregational president, etc. etc. etc. and not be touched by the Spirit of God/Spirit of Christ in one’s heart and mind.
In the initial sentences of this event, Nicodemus addressed Jesus as “teacher.” Now Jesus addresses Nicodemus as a teacher. Nicodemus was not only a Pharisee, not only a political ruler, not only wealthy, but was a teacher. That meant that Nicodemus was well schooled in his knowledge of the Old Testament.
A person can be well educated in factual knowledge about both the Old and New Testament but still not know God and God’s love for our neighbors. Nicodemus could have his Ph. D. in Biblical Studies but still not know what it meant to have faith, to be born again, to know the Lord God and God’s love as a way of life.
In the following pictures, notice two people locked in deep conversation about God. Sometimes, a person is penetrated by the Holy Spirit during an intense conversation with another human being who has already experienced the birth of the Spirit.
What do you see in the following pictures (Ask the whole class to observe the pictures and share what they observe.)
PAINTING AND IMAGINATION: NICODEMUS
-Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? Nicodemus apparently, at this moment, did not comprehend Jesus and what Jesus was talking about. By the end of the Jesus Story in the Gospel of John, Nicodemus helped prepare Jesus’ body for burial. In between that sacred night of a sacred conversation with Jesus and Good Friday, Nicodemus came to understand what it meant to be “born from above.”
What do you think it means to be "born again?" Are you born again/born from above? What does "born again," mean for your life?
-No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. Repeatedly in the Gospel of John, it is reported that Jesus was sent from God to earth, that the Son of man (Jesus) came down from God, from heaven.
-And just as Moses lifted up theserpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. The phrase, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” is from a story in the Old Testament about Moses lifting up a bronze serpent onto a pole in order to be protected from the serpents. (Numbers 21:4-9) Similarly, Jesus’ body would be lifted up onto the cross (and ultimately into heaven.) People will look at Jesus being lifted up onto the cross and many will believe and receive eternal life.
The phrase, “whoever believes in him,” is one of the most important phrases in the Gospel of John.
The phrase, “believes in him,” occurs here for the first time in this gospel. It also occurs eleven more times in this gospel. This is what God wants to happen to our lives: that we believe in Christ.
Scan the phrases, “believes in him/me,” within the Gospel of John:
John 3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:18 He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
John 3:36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.
John 6:35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
John 6:40 For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
John 7:38 He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"
John 11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
John 11:26 and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
John 12:44 And Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.
John 12:46 I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
John 14:12 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.
The most important event that can occur in our life is to believe in Jesus Christ.
We remember our magic word that defines what it means to believe: TOKY. Trust, Obey,
Know, Yes. These are the four components that help us define the word, “believe.”
We remember that the word, “believe,” occurs 245 times in the New Testament. The phrase, “born again,” occurs only three times. To be born again/born from above means to believe in Christ.
The purpose of believing in Christ is to know and experience eternal life.
This is the first time in John’s gospel that he uses the phrase, “eternal life,” which is so dominant in his gospel. The words, “eternal life,” occurs seventeen time within his gospel.
Scan the Biblical references to “eternal life” in John’s gospel:
Joh 3:15 - that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Joh 3:16 -"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Joh 3:36 - Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God's wrath.
Joh 4:14 - but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."
Joh 4:36 - The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.
Joh 5:24 - Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.
Joh 5:39 - "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.
Joh 6:27 - Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."
Joh 6:40 - This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day."
Joh 6:47 - Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.
Joh 6:54 - Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;
Joh 6:68 - Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Joh 10:28 - I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.
Joh 12:25 - Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Joh 12:50 - And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me."
Joh 17:2 - since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
Joh 17:3 - And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
-"For God so loved the world The following are paragraphs from a sermon on John 3:16:
"The Greek word for SO is the Greek word, houtos. The Greek word for the word SO is the Greek word, houtos. Like in English, the word, houtos, can be used in many different ways. For example, “Are you going to the movies today? Houtos am I.” SO am I. Or, “I read a page or houtos in a book. I read a page or so in a book.” Or, “Houtos what. So what.” In Greek, the word, houtos, can be used in many different ways like the English word, SO, can be used in many different ways.
BUT, only rarely in Greek, is the word, houtos, ever used to express deep feelings. Only rarely in the Greek language would the word, houtos, ever be used to express deep feeling. Only rarely would a Greek person ever say, “Lorna and I are houtos in love. The cinnomon rolls were houtos good. I am houtos mad.” Only rarely in the Greek language is houtos ever used to express deep emotion.
In fact, there are only two places in John’s gospel and all of Johanine literature where houtos is used to express deep and intense emotion. In both Bible verses, it is the same: John 3:16 says that “God SO loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not die but have everlasting life.” The second is found in I John 4:11, “God sent his son to die on the cross for us. My friends, if God loved us SO much, ought we not also love one another?” If God loved us SO much, should we not love one another? The same thoughtful intensity is expressed in the book of Ephesians where the Apostle Paul says, “God’s love for us is SO abundant and God’s care for us is SO great.”
Now, what if I say to you, “I love my wife SO much. I love my children SO much. I love my grandchildren SO much.” Would not that reveal the inner intensity of feeling that I have for them? You just don’t say those words to anybody. Or, what if I said to you, “I love you SO much.” Wouldn’t that make you feel somewhat uncomfortable? A little uneasy? A little squeamish? Why? Because we both know that we don’t love each other that much. I mean, we love each other, but not that much. The phrase, SO MUCH, is reserved for very special people and very special relationships. You don’t say, “I love you SO MUCH to just anyone. You reserve that phrase for very special people.
Similarly, in the Bible, when God says “I love you SO much,” those words are reserved for very special and sacred relationships.
So for you students taking notes, if point one of the sermon is that God SO loved, then point two of the sermon is that God SO LOVED the WORLD. Not just the church. Not just Christians. Not just good people who stay out of trouble. Not just you and me. But killers and rapists and murderers. And Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus. And Americans and Russians and Iraqis. And Catholics and Presbyterians and Baptists and Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. And the deaf, and the blind and the lame. For God SO LOVE the WORLD, the whole cosmos. Good people and bad people. White people and red people and black people and brown people and yellow people. God SO LOVED THE WORLD.
I love that Negro spiritual, “He’s got the whole world in his hands, he’s got the whole wide world in his hands.”
It is not merely, God so loved me. It is not merely, for God so loved you. But God loved the whole world. That is what is so amazing. That God loved people who don’t like him, who don’t believe in him, who could care less about him. God loves the world, and the world does not love God. That is what is so absolutely amazing.”
The Bible says, “For God SO LOVE the world. The world. People who don’t love God. People who could care less about God. People who reject God. People who snub God. People who say, “I don’t need God.” The Bible teaches that God SO loved the world, and the world doesn’t love God in return. That is what is truly amazing, that the intensity of God’s emotion is not just directed towards Christians. That the intensity of God’s love is not just directed towards church people. The direction of God’s emotion is for the world.”
See this sermon, Trinity, For God So Loved The World, John 3:16
-that he gave his only (begotten) Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. " God SO loved the world. God loves this world in which we live.
Jesus is the ONLY Son, the “mono-genesis.” This phrase is found in John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; I John 4:7. Jesus is the only-begotten Son, and the Greek word suggests that Jesus was the “only-genesis” Son of God. Our word, “genetics,” comes from that same Greek word. “Mono” means one. We Christians today are the adopted children of God; only Jesus is “mono-genesis.”
When we believe in Christ, we are given eternal life.
-Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. God did not send Jesus to condemn the world and neither are Jesus’ followers to condemn the world that we live in either. God loved the world and so did Jesus and so do Jesus’ followers.
At the same time, we disciples know that we are to be “in the world but not of the world.” Followers of God and God’s ways are forever tempted and enticed to follow the values of theculture around us.
There are layers to the meaning of the word, “world.” This is “my Father’s world” and we, like God and Jesus, love the world. But there is also a dark side to the world in which we live and Christians are not to be part of the dark side of the culture that surrounds us.
The purpose of God and the purpose of Jesus and the purpose of Christians is to save the world. That is, people and institutions around us that have fallen away from the Lord God and the godly values of love, justice and goodness and their consequence of peace.
Lent 2 Please read this sermon.
Born Again, John 3:1-17
Here ends the gospel text for Trinity Sunday and Lent 2A.
-Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. Underline the phrase, “those who do not believe (in the Son) are condemned already.”
What does that mean? Does this mean that Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus are condemned to judgment/hell because they don’t believe in Christ?
Does this verse and the Gospel of John condemn people who do not claim the name of Jesus?
Yes and No.
Yes, Jesus is the only Son of God. Yes, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life; and the only way to the Father. Yes, there is no other name by which a person can be saved. Yes, Jesus is the only way of salvation.
No, we are not to be the judge of human hearts. No, it is not our responsibility to draw the lines as to who is saved and who is not. No, it is not our responsibility to judge who will be in heaven or not.
In the past, certain Christians have damned their theological opponents to hell and everlasting damnation e.g. the Catholics, the Lutherans, the savage Indians, the primitive black slaves, the Asian Japs; the Mid-Eastern Muslims, etc.
We human beings are not to judge or condemn any person of any religion, denomination or belief system that is different than ours. We may disagree with their religion, their denomination and their belief system, but we are not condemn that person to hell or everlasting death. We love that person as another child of God. At the same time, we share with them the love and knowledge of the true God, revealed through his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Many Christians are aware that there are various and numerous legitimate interpretations of Scripture.
Most Christians think that “our own” is the truest interpretation of Scripture.
Most Christians are aware that the love of God/Christ trumps religious knowledge and human interpretation.
Can devout people who are part of other world religions (e.g. Muslims) be saved? Why or why not?
-And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
-For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."
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