Nicodemus said to 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?…
I. Nicodemus did not deny the doctrine of the new birth; he merely started a difficulty. He was a literalist, and doubted the exactness of the term born: it was too specific in its common meaning to be literally applied to anything else. Christ's answer was consistent with His whole method of teaching. The strangeness of His language excited attention, provoked thought, and awakened controversy, and so through a process of inquiry and strife men entered into the mystery of His rest. It seems as if every one must at some time have doubts and anguish of heart respecting Christ and His kingdom.
II. Nicodemus was one of those persons who always ground their course on facts. The facts which he had observed led to the conclusion that Christ was a teacher come from God, because of His miracles: an admission of the utmost importance. If the works are from God, what of the words? Yet important as the admission was, Christ returned an answer which apparently had no bearing on the subject of miracles; and yet He did not evade it. He showed incidentally the true position and value of His mighty works. They were symbolic of one great miracle, and unless a man is the subject of that miracle, his belief in other miracles will not admit him into the kingdom of heaven. Other miracles were to be looked at, were public, material, gave new views; the miracle of regeneration was to be felt, was personal, moral, and gave new life.
III. This call from outward circumstances to the deepest experience of the soul naturally suggested the question "How can these things be?" Christ's answer does not clear the original mystery. His meaning is that we are not to deny results because we cannot understand processes. We may see a renewed life, but cannot see the renewing spirit. In His metaphor Christ found a common law in nature and in grace; the Spirit is the same whether He direct the course of the wind or renew the springs of the heart. Man occupies an outside position. There are limitations to his knowledge. He does not understand himself; The atom baffles him. The wise man only knows his own folly.
IV. These considerations show the spirit in which the subject of the new birth should be approached — one of self-restraint, of conscious limitation of ability, of preparedness to receive not a confirmation of speculative opinion but a Divine revelation. The shock of this new life comes differently.
1. Sometimes on the intellectual side, as in the case of Nicodemus, throwing into confusion the theories of a lifetime.
2. Sometimes on the selfish instincts, as in the case of the rich young man who cannot give his possessions to the poor.
3. Sometimes on the natural sensibilities, as in the case of Bunyan. Hence the folly of setting up a common standard. A man only knows the agonies of the new birth by giving up what be prizes most.
V. What Jesus Christ has left a mystery it would be presumption to attempt to explain. We hear the sound of the wind, we cannot follow it all the way. Can we explain how a child is born? when the child is displaced by the man? the origin and succession of ideas? Yet as the sound of the wind is heard, so there are results which prove the fact of our regeneration. These of course may be simulated, just as a watch may be altered by the hands and not by the regulator, or as the ruddiness of the cheek may be artificial and not natural. The re-generate man is known by the spirit which animates his life.
1. He lives by rule, but it is the unwritten and unchanging rule of love.
2. He advances in orderliness, but it is the orderliness not of mechanical stipulation, but of vigorous and affluent life.
3. He is constantly strengthened and ennobled by an inextinguishable ambition to be filled with all the fulness of Christ.
(Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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?