How many of you remember the movie “City Slickers” released back in 1991. Do you remember the character Phil, played by Daniel Stearns, he had gotten himself into some trouble through adultery with a young lady and his wife had left him, yet he and his buddies embark on their annual vacation living out their childhood dreams on a dude ranch and an old fashioned cattle drive. While on this trip, Phil has a full melt-down and becomes deeply distraught as the sins of his past overwhelm him. With his life in shambles, the pressure and guilt are too much and finally, when he is ready to end it all, his buddies begin to talk with him. And as they talk with him, they remind him of their childhood games and how when they would err or foul in a ball game, they all would cry out “do over!”
Oh, how many of us would cry “do over” as the banner over our lives. We all have regrets, passions and failures, yet although it may be our hearts longing to change our past, it’s beyond our own ability to “do over” any part of our lives. This was the hearts cry of Nicodemus, yet unspoken, this was the desire of the Jewish leader who came to Jesus by night to find God and be saved. The Bible says;
“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:1 – 3)
Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t answer the words of Nicodemus, but the thoughts of Nicodemus. The answers of Jesus often look rather to the thoughts of the questioner rather than to the form of the question. Nicodemus came seeking to know something about the kingdom of God, and Jesus went right to the topic. Jesus replies with an idiom, gennaō anōthen palingenesia; literally” to experience a complete change in one’s way of life to what it should be, to experience new birth or rebirth; “to be born again.”
I like what Martin Luther, theologian of the Great Reformation, had to say about being born again, “My doctrine is not of doing, and of leaving undone, but of being and becoming … but the being new created—not the living otherwise, but the being new-born.”
Many commentaries paint Nicodemus as a theological dummy. But Jesus would not have confronted a dummy with this high thought. Nicodemus knew exactly what was going on when Jesus said he needed to be “born again.” The rabbis had a saying: “A proselyte who embraces Judaism is like a newborn child.” All things were thought to be completely new, and old connections destroyed. When Nicodemus heard Jesus’ words, he knew what Jesus was saying. Paul the apostle, a former Pharisee and rabbi picks up this same thought when he writes to the believers in Corinth;
“if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation, old things pass away, behold, all things become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
“All things become new” what a grand concept and a huge reality in the life of the believer who chooses to truly believe and grab hold of this promise. I’m confident much of the victory I experienced early on in my own Christian walk and life can be accounted to the teaching that re-creation and a new life is possible and available to anyone who comes to Christ in faith.
Nicodemus says to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4).
Interestingly, Nicodemus did not ask, “Why a man should be born again?” He asked, “How can a man be born again?” Nicodemus already knew his life needed an “extreme makeover” or “do over” but the how is the question.
So far as he could grasp the meaning of Jesus, Nicodemus saw himself barred forever from the kingdom by an impossible requirement. For although he was religious, as a Jew, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus knew that he was in fact a sinner, and no matter how many hills he climbed, no matter how many bulls or calves he slaughtered and offered up as sacrifice, he would remain a sinner unacceptable not attaining the righteous requirement of God. However, God has a plan and like many, Nicodemus needed to learn that God asks of us nothing that is impossible; that, on the contrary, the yoke is easy and the burden is light and when Jesus says “you must be born again” he will provide the means to do so.
I wonder how many nights Nicodemus had fallen asleep with the unspoken desire in his heart to begin life all over again; to do things differently—to love God more fervently, to serve his family more humbly, to treat people more gently. Oh, for a fresh start! And here was this Rabbi, offering him just that chance. Truly, I believe his inquiry was not the challenge of a hardened skeptic, but the question of a wide-eyed seeker.
It was with wistful yearning that Nicodemus said, “You talk about being ‘born again,’ you talk about that radical, fundamental change that is so necessary. I know it is necessary, but what I question is how. There’s nothing I would like more. But you might as well tell me that as a full-grown man I need to go back inside my mother’s womb and be born all over again.
Oh, how I long for the new birth! Oh, how I desire that.” Tennyson caught the idea when he wrote:
Oh, for a man to rise in me, that the man that I am might cease to be.
That is the heart-cry of mankind. We desire to change. We want to be different. We want new minds and new personalities. We want to be born again, but it is as difficult as going back into our mother’s womb.
Are you like Nicodemus in need of a “do over?” Do you want to change? Do you want your life renewed? Do you want to know what it means to be born again, to understand how it can really happen? For us to find this out, we need to earnestly seek him through His Word.
The apostle Peter refers to being “born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23).
If your life’s in need of a “do over” and you need a fresh start. It can only be found in Jesus Christ. Cry out to Him and seek forgiveness through Him today, and there you will find new life.