For a few weeks now we’ve been looking at the words of unbelievers and learning some valuable lessons from them. Today we’ll look at one of the more famous unbelievers, or pre-believers more accurately, in Scripture. A guy named Nicodemus.
His nighttime conversation with Jesus has been dissected and analyzed by scholars, theologians and the rest of us since it was recorded, yet it still yields fresh insights. Hopefully, we can gain a few today.
You’re no doubt familiar with the conversation. Nicodemus begins, “Teacher we know you are from God.” But Jesus cuts to the chase. “You can’t enter the kingdom of God without being born again.”
Born again. How ridiculous.
Isn’t that essentially what Nicodemus says? “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Aside from the theological discussion about our sin nature and its needful regeneration, this discussion touches on some points that we as believers still struggle with at times.
Being born again implies not only starting over, but giving up reputation, position, advantage, and progress. It is going back to square one, erasing all our hard work.
Being born again also means we have nothing, no resources, nothing to contribute, nothing to fall back on, and nothing to hide behind. It is an exposure of our helplessness.
Jesus doubled down on this idea later in the gospels. In Mark 10:15, He says, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”
Nicodemus voices our resistance to that exposure and that surrender.
Let’s confess we sometimes operate under the notion that we will eventually reach a point where we don’t need God’s help so much. We figure someday we will have enough practice or experience to handle things, the way our kids eventually learn to feed themselves and tie their own shoes. Yes, we grow in knowledge and understanding. Our relationship with Jesus strengthens and deepens. However, we never reach independence. Being part of the kingdom of God necessitates our admission that we are powerless, that we have no agency and that we are helpless.
Nicodemus didn’t like it when Christ confronted him with that. We don’t care for it much either. But Nicodemus’s protests remind us how much we need Jesus and the power of the gospel to transform us, and not just at the moment of salvation.