‘Rabbi’, Nicodemus brcam, though he did not really believe that Jesus was a Rabbi. After all, He held no licence to preach from the high priest. He had not been to the schools. But He was a teacher, so Nicodemus stretched a point. ‘Rabbi’, he said, ‘we know it is from God You have come as a teacher’. That ought to please Him. He continued, ‘No one otherwise could do miracles like You are doing’. So Nicodemus the Pharisee began.
He had come by night. Why is not really known. Was he afraid that someone might see him if he came by day? Was he a timid soul? Certainly later it required the death of the Lord Jesus to bring him out of secret discipleship, cf. John 19. 39. Did the night offer the opportunity of a more leisurely talk? Whatever the explanation, the important point is that he came. He came as a scholar to a teacher. The first lesson he had to learn was that he was a sinner who needed to be born again.
Nicodemus was impressed by the signs and wonders, but Jesus implied that the signs and wonders were not so important as such a change in a man’s life that it could only be described as a new birth. This was an important piece of information that He was imparting, so the Lord Jesus prefaced it with ‘Verily, verily’. On His lips the words signified that what followed was especially solemn and serious. ‘Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’. So, brushing aside signs and wonders, the Lord went straight to the heart of the matter.
To Nicodemus the whole thing was a physical impossibility. How could an old man like him be physically born again? But the Lord’s statement is clearly metaphorical. Entering into the womb has nothing to do with it at all. Did Nicodemus make the remark because he did not like the way the conversation was going? Or was it that there was a great unsatisfied longing in his heart? There were the mistakes and failures, the sins and transgressions, the regrets and foolishnesses of past years. Supposing one could start anew, be born again somehow? But physical rebirth is not possible. Is moral and spiritual rebirth any easier? How can the past be blotted out? Was it that Nicodemus was agreeing with the necessity of a fundamental change in his own life, but that it seemed so impossible that they might as well have been speaking of a physical rebirth? Was it not the desirability of the change that he questioned-that he knew only too well-it was its possibility? If so, he was up against the eternal problem, the problem of a man who wants to be changed, and who cannot change himself.
Again the Lord says ‘Verily, verily’. Something important, too important to be brushed aside, was now to be said. ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God’. Nicodemus was a rabbi, one versed in the scriptures. The new birth’ had been spoken of, and now ‘water’ and ‘the Spirit’. Would Nicodemus’ mind go back to Ezekiel chapters 36 and 37? Did the Valley of Dry Bones present an illustration of these once dead being born again? God’s Spirit was put in them, and they would live, 37. 14. Then, again, there was the figure of the wind, v. 9, and the wind was to be found in this conversation that night, John 3. 8, after the insistence ‘Ye must be born again’, v. 7. Chapter 36, verses 25-27 refers to ‘water’ and its cleansing power. Again, there is the promise of the Spirit and His work, v. 26.
In the New Testament we read of the figure of water being applied to the word of God. Water is a means of cleansing. Cleansing is by the word of God. ‘Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water by the word’, Eph. 5. 25, 26. ‘Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost’, Titus, 3. 5-7. ‘Ye arc clean’, said the Lord, ‘through the word which J have spoken unto you’, John 15. 3. Being born again involves the work of the Spirit, John 3. 5, 6 and the word of God. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God’, 1 Pet. 1. 23. The Spirit of God applies the word of God to the heart.
No, a person cannot be physically reborn, but for all that he must be born again. That is not a human possibility. It is the work of the Spirit of God. The stress is laid on a supernatural activity; it is nothing to do with the flesh, but is an activity of the Spirit, v. 6. Sinful human nature produces sinful human nature. ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh’. It can never rise any higher than the flesh. If the flesh is fallen, corrupt and depraved, that which is born of the flesh is likewise. Man enters into the world by a natural generation with a nature of sin, a fallen, corrupt nature. The whole race is unfit by nature to be in the presence of God, Job 14. 4. This sinful human nature cannot be changed into something better, and it is so evil that it can only bring forth evil. The root is corrupt and so must be the fruit. ‘They that are in the flesh cannot please God’, Rom. 8. 7, 8. Therefore an entirely new nature is needed. This nature is produced by the Holy Spirit. It is His sovereign work, vv. 7, 8.
Nobody on earth can direct the wind. It acts in complete independence. It cannot even be seen. Its source and ultimate goal and destination no one knows. The wind does as it pleases. So does the Spirit. His operation is sovereign, incomprehensible and mysterious. The Holy Spirit’s work is seen to be carried out in absolute independence of any human being or of any prevailing circumstance. Our being members of God’s family is entirely due to the sovereign grace of God and to the sovereign operation of the Spirit of God. There are many things which we may not understand about the wind, but the effect of the wind is plain for all to see. So, too, the Spirit. We may not know how the Spirit works, but we can see the effect of the Spirit in human lives. The new birth is a mystery none can explain, and a reality none can explain away.
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