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Gospel Questions. 1 – How can a man be born when he is old?

Have you ever noticed how many questions are in the Bible, and particularly in the Gospels? They are there to get us to ask the same questions, because they are important questions to ask! In this series, we will look at some of these questions, and try to offer some answers, or at least give you some material to enable you to come up with your own answers (or maybe your own questions…).

‘How can a man be born when he is old?’  John 3:4

This is part of the story of Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, or ruling council of elders, who comes to see Jesus at night. For the whole story, read John 3:1-21. We learn later that he helped Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus’ body after the crucifixion (John 19:39), so it’s a reasonable assumption to say that he became a follower of Jesus, and maybe after this conversation! The fact that he came to see him ‘at night’ suggests that he was being extremely careful not to be seen with Jesus by his fellow elders – while we go out in the evenings all the time, most first century inhabitants went to bed early, or at least stayed indoors once the light had faded. In those days you never knew who else might be hanging around.

Jesus has just told him that, ‘no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’. The phrase ‘a born-again Christian’ is very familiar to us, so it is worth thinking about in a bit more depth. But first it is important to clear up another point: there is no other kind of Christian! Many people in the world outside talk of such a person as if they were part of an extreme branch of Christianity (led by Cliff Richard), but Jesus makes it clear here that you can’t be a Christian (a ‘little Christ’, a part of God’s kingdom) unless you have had this experience. It’s another nail in the coffin for the idea that attending church, or being born in the UK, somehow qualifies you to write ‘Christian’ on your passport application.

What does it mean, to be born again? Nicodemus was stumped by it, but the concept isn’t difficult to grasp. How many people out there would love the chance to ‘start again’ with life, to get a second chance? Put in those terms, it makes perfect sense. When we give our lives to Jesus, we are saying, ‘I’ve lived my way up to this point, but now I’m going to let you be in charge. I have died to my old life, and am starting a new one with You.’ There’s also the element of cleansing from past sin, and that is literally ‘wiping the slate clean’.

Have you ever seen any of those programmes on TV where they show a woman in labour right up to the birth? Not everyone’s cup of tea, but a miracle nevertheless. Did this happen for you spiritually so long ago that you have forgotten that ‘being born again’ was also a miracle. Perhaps it wasn’t an easy journey, or an easy decision to make, or perhaps something drastic happened to prompt taking the step. Most labours are difficult, yet the end result is new life!

How have you been fed since that time? Every newborn needs nourishment, and plenty of it. Withholding nourishment leads to stunted growth, which can result in serious defects in later life. Jesus didn’t come to make converts, but He came to make disciples; people who sit at the feet of a teacher and learn from them, growing daily to be more like them.

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