Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Jesus told Nicodemus, the Pharisee and ‘teacher of Israel’ that he needed to be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God. By this time Nicodemus had already been ‘born again’ in every way he knew how. In Jewish thought, as we said earlier, a man is said to be born again; on the day of his Bar Mitzvah, or on the day he is married, or should he be ordained as a Rabbi. Finally, should he fall away, on the day he fully repents he is said to be ‘born again’.
Jesus was obviously talking about something entirely unique to Nicodemus’ Jewish idea of ‘born again’. Nicodemus percieved that Jesus was saying that he would have to virtually renounce his role as ‘teacher of Israel’ , and assume the role of a child, and be willing to receive. This is why Nicodemus asked “Can a man be born when He is old ? Can he go back to his mother’s womb?”
The new birth presupposes the need to start over again. You can be born again. Your past can truly be past, your sins can be forgiven and by the gift of God you can live by a new principle of life from God, eternal life. As it is written, the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life.
Nicodemus was no fool, he wasn’t being sarcastic when he asked if a man could go back to his mother’s womb. He was saying, “Can a man as invested in biblical religion as I am really start all over again? Are you saying that I need to go back to square one? Must I, the teacher of Israel take on again the role of a learner? “.
It is one thing for the obviously ruined; prostitutes, drug addicts, pimps, and whoremongers , to see that they need a new start. To them, a message from heaven that we can be born again is truly glad news. What have they got to lose, but shame, sin, and remorse?
To someone as far along in biblical religion as Nicodemus, one so well esteemed among the proponents of that religion, to be told that he too has to be “born again” in the sense that Jesus was speaking, would require a tremendous amount of humility.
What would a Nicodemus have to lose?
Much in every worldly way . He would lose the honor and distinction of being a prime teacher of the only true religion on earth at that time, Judaism. The years he had invested in teaching, perhaps writing, and practicing Pharisaism the strictest sect of Judaism, and all of the honors and self satisfaction and sense of righteous accomplishment that goes with it.
Yet Jesus tells him he, Nicodemus must be born again to even see the Kingdom of God ? Nicodemus was considered an expert on the Kingdom of God, a guide to others, a Bible teacher.
Some time after Nicodemus, another Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, was rising rapidly among the sect, surpassing all the other Pharisees in zeal, and piety. But then Jesus found him and brought him to the same crisis as Nicodemus. Could he start over? Would he renounce his own “righteousness”? Here is his own account,
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:(Phillipians 3:3-9)
It is easy to let go of the ugly residue of sin; the shame, disease, reproach, etc. But other aspects of sin bring to mind the a verse about Moses, which involves renouncing the honors, the connections, the accomplishments and points of pride,”confidence in the flesh”.
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.(Hebrews 11:24-26)
It is not just the “bad” of our life, that we must renounce, but even the “good” , for none of our ‘goodness’ is sufficient. Those areas in our lives of which Paul said, we “put confidence in the flesh”, and hold to “a Righteousness of our own” are abominable to God.
This is the unique challenge to men like Nicodemus, renouncing self-righteousness. For many it is the great obstacle to submitting to and accepting the New Birth that Jesus offers. It is hard perhaps for all men to accept the fact that it is not just the obviously evil things we have done that estrange us from God, it is who we are in essence. We must be born again!
Therefore the answer to Nicodemus’ question, and to every other future Nicodemus, Saul of Tarsus, Mary Magdalene, Simon the Leper, CS Lewis, or any other sinner, great or small, “good” or evil, respectable or utterly ruined, is the same. Can a man be born when He is old?
The answer is Definitely! We can start over, we can begin anew, we can be born again, but only by receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life through Jesus.
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