By W.W. Fereday
It was a severe set-back to Nicodemus when our Lord said to him, "Ye must be born anew" (John 3: 7). The circumstances were very remarkable. The Lord had but a little while before come up to Israel's stately city of ceremonies from the Galilean village in which He resided. Being indignant at what He beheld in the temple, He forthwith purged it before the very eyes of the authorities. After such an act it was a great thing for Nicodemus, one of the principal religious leaders of the people, to visit Him and say: "Rabbi, we know that Thou art a Teacher come from God." It was in answer to this greeting that our Lord insisted upon the necessity of new birth for every one, and for Nicodemus in particular.
The visitor was puzzled. Had the Saviour asserted that publicans and sinners needed to be born anew in order to enter the kingdom of God, he would have understood Him more readily; but the Lord made it a personal thing for himself -- "YE must be born anew." Was he not both upright and moral, and withal an instructor of God's people? What more could be required? Surely, such a man as he merited favour from God?
Many in this day are as perplexed as to this matter as Nicodemus. The human heart is slow to admit that we have all sprung from a corrupt stock; that we all entered the world morally tainted; in a word, that our very nature (to say nothing of our actions) is unsuitable to God and to His holy presence. Yet it is true. Every man, therefore; however excellent in the eyes of his fellows, needs a new and spiritual life from God. How is this life implanted in the soul? By the Holy Spirit's application of the Word of God, which is likened to water in John 3: 5, and to incorruptible seed in 1 Peter 1: 2, 3. Persons are spiritually begotten, not by ordinances, but by means of the Gospel (1 Cor. 4: 15).
And what is the Gospel? The Saviour presented it, as it were, in a nutshell to Nicodemus during their midnight talk. He announced himself as "He that came down from heaven" -- a divine person tabernacling in flesh. Then He declared that "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." He followed this up with the wonderful statement that "God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son." All is told out here. Our only hope is in the once-crucified Son of Man. His cross has secured life and healing for all who believe. The moment the eye of faith turns to Him there is wrought in the soul by the divine Spirit that new life of which our Lord spoke, which fits the soul for God and for the light of His sacred presence for ever.