One of the most challenging exchanges Jesus had was with one of the religious leaders of the Jewish people. The story is found in John chapter 3. A Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus came to Jesus because he had questions about what Jesus was teaching. As a learned man, Nicodemus was well-versed in much of the philosophical and theological knowledge of his day. But there was something about the way Jesus taught that caused him to come late one evening to find answers.
Nicodemus begins his conversation with Jesus by acknowledging that what Jesus was doing both in his teaching and in the performing of miracles marked him as someone having been sent from God. But this is not enough for Nicodemus. Part of the reason for Nicodemus’s struggle was that what he saw in Jesus seemed to be in conflict with what he had learned through his many years of study.
In this passage, Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order for anyone to enter into the kingdom of heaven they must be born again. Another way of saying that is they must experience a rebirth. And this was where Nicodemus began to struggle. Let’s take a look at what Nicodemus asked Jesus that night.
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”John 3:4 ESV
Jesus immediately identifies the problem with the question. Jesus did not consider the question to be asked with an ulterior motive. Jesus realized that for Nicodemus the connection between the physical life he was living and the spiritual reality Nicodemus was being invited into was difficult for him to understand. Therefore, Jesus makes a connection for Nicodemus, and for us. In the same way that we all must experience a physical birth in order to enter into this world, we must also experience a spiritual birth in order to enter into a spiritual kingdom.
The challenge we face is recognizing that the way one is born into the world and the way one is born into God’s spiritual kingdom is not achieved by the same means. And while it may seem apparent to some how this is the case, the reality is it is much more difficult to fully understand and appreciate. I think this is why the apostle John records the story. For if a man as educated and informed as Nicodemus struggled to understand this connection, we should not feel like there is something wrong with us when we also struggle to make the connection as well.
So how do we respond to this situation we find in John chapter 3? We must accept what Jesus said to Nicodemus for ourselves. We must realize that what Jesus is calling us to is a new commitment to living according to the spiritual realities he initiated through his ministry while on earth.
When we try to understand the peculiar and particular mechanics of salvation we have entered into the realm of trying to know what only God knows. But if we trust in what Jesus has said about how we become children of God, we do not have to understand how God accomplishes it. We can find comfort in the fact THAT God accomplishes it.
One of the important purposes of commemorating the season of Lent every year is precisely to remember that God has called us to a new kind of life. This new life began when we gave ourselves — mind, body, and soul — to Jesus when we believe the gospel. And now that we have been born again we must learn to live out the principles and characteristics of God as taught to us by Jesus.
As we continue our March toward Easter morning I pray we will learn to accept our rebirth in Christ. And also that we might celebrate the gift that it is for our good.