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?…
Our Lord's sermon was delivered —
1. Not to the multitude, as were His other discourses, but to an audience of one. But the smallness of the auditory did not affect the sublimity of what Christ said, or His earnestness. The elder Beecher was called upon to preach in a country chapel where, owing to the weather, he had but one hearer. Twenty years after Mr. Beecher met this person, then an eminently successful preacher, and the instrument of hundreds of conversions, as a result of this sermon. Preachers should never despair because of small audiences.
2. This solitary hearer lacked two very desirable qualities in an inquirer — boldness and quickness. Yet on the other hand he was teachable, and was convinced that Christ was qualified to teach.
I. THE NATURE OF REGENERATION. The figure indicates the radical character of the formative process of Christianity over the moral nature of its subject. There are other figures equally forcible: "Creation," "renewing," "workmanship." Our Lord's term had peculiar significance for a Jew, inasmuch as all His privileges were secured to Him by birth. The others are St. Paul's terms, who wrote to Gentiles, who would be more familiar with artistic and mechanical operations. Both describe the same process, but represent two distinct truths respecting it. Creation has a wider meaning than birth. Every new existence is a creation, but that of Adam, e.g., was immediate — but the production of a new man in Christ Jesus is mediate, viz., by birth.
II. ITS SPHERE "from above." The source of the new principle is outside the earthly. Natural birth ushers into a conscious life only on an earthly plane; but spiritual birth ushers into a conscious life on a heavenly plane. Its starting point is from above, and it maintains its spiritual elevation along its whole course.
III. ITS METHOD.
1. By the breathing of the Spirit. The same method is adopted to quicken the new man as was employed to quicken the old. "God breathed into his nostrils," etc., etc.
2. The breathing of the Spirit assumes the form of a voice. In Adam's case God breathed into his nostrils; in our case the Spirit breaths into the ear. "Of His own will begat He us," etc.
3. This exercise is —
(1) Sovereign — not to justify arbitrary selection of subjects, but to show God's right and purpose to extend the exercise of His grace beyond the limits set down by the exclusive notions of self-righteous men (Romans 9:15). Our Lord was explaining the kingdom: one of its most glorious features is universality.
(2) Mysterious. Life in its physical form has ever defied every attempt to solve the mystery of its origin. So with the life spiritual.
IV. ITS ESSENTIALNESS. The new birth is essential to seeing and to entering the kingdom. "Seeing" is that power of deep spiritual insight into spiritual things, the absence of which our Lord deplored (Matthew 13:13-17), and which Paul declares to be necessary to understand the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). To see the kingdom of God means to obtain a sympathetic apprehension of its nature and aim. To enter means actual participation in its blessedness. This entering, however, is conducive to the seeing. A building viewed externally is seen, but in a very incomplete sense. We must inhabit it to realize its use, comfort, and protection.
(A. J. Parry.)
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?