Summary: We’ve all heard and used the phrase "Born Again" but just exactly what does that mean?
Born Again! What a neat, overused, misused, abused, redundant, nonmeaningful term. If you google “Born Again Celebrities” you get a wide range of folks. Some like Amy Grant and Johnny Cash you might suspect, others like Mr. T I had forgotten about. I had heard that Jane Fonda had made a commitment a number of years ago. Others like Jane Russell and Gary Burghoff I hadn’t thought about but apparently they profess to being “Born Again.” George W. Bush says he is, John McCain says he isn’t and Barack Obama says he is. In Canada Stockwell Day said he was and it cost him his job and so Stephen Harper for the most part is keeping mum about whether he is or isn’t. It would appear that if your records don’t sell, if you need votes or you want a fair trial then what you need is to be “Born Again”.
But the question remains what is “Born Again”? Well the first time that the term is used is in John’s Gospel chapter 3. The story begins in John 3:1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. We don’t know a great deal about Nicodemus, but what we do know is very revealing. We know that in John 19:39 we are told that he provided seventy five pounds of myrrh and aloes for the burial of Christ. Historians tell us that was enough spice to embalm a king and so we know that he was wealthy. It must have been difficult for a man of that type of wealth to stoop low enough to speak to a poor carpenter. We also know that he was a Pharisee, or a separated one. The Pharisees have got a lot of bad press over the years but be have to realize that they were the most righteous of all the Jews, you say “But pastor they were legalistic” sure they were they had to be, they had taken a vow to live completely under the law in every area of their lives, by definition that would make you a legalist. Like everything else in life there were good Pharisees and there were bad Pharisees, and the bad Pharisees were the ones who got all the attention.
Nicodemus was a man who felt that the law was complete and all he had to do was live by it, and it must have been difficult for a man of that religious training to stoop to asking an intenerate preacher a theological question. We also know that he was a member of the Jewish ruling council, which meant that he was a Sanhedrin. The ruling council was made up of seventy members and they were the supreme court of the Jews. The Sanhedrin had religious jurisdiction over every Jew in the world. They were the group who examined false prophets, and they were the ones who ultimately tried Christ. It was surprising he would come to Jesus at all even if it was at night.
Jewish history tells us a little bit about the name Nicodemus. In 63 B.C. there was a man named Nicodemus who was an ambassador between the Jews and Romans. And in 70 during the dying days of Jerusalem the diplomat who negotiated the surrender was a man named Gorion who we are told was the son of a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was the member of the Jewish aristocrats. Someone who was unlikely to come to a homeless Galilean Carpenter to talk about his soul. But he did.
John continues the narrative in verse two by saying John 3:2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. there’s two reasons why he might have come at night. The first might have been caution. he didn’t want to be seen with Christ. That wouldn’t be surprising, I mean after all the surprise was that he even showed up at all. And so maybe he was slinking around like a man with something to hide. Or there is another reason why he came at night. The Rabbis felt that night was the best time for study because there were fewer distractions. And so maybe Nicodemus felt that if he came at night it would give him more time to spend with Jesus without the crowds being around. Whatever the reason why Nicodemus came at night isn’t important what is the important thing was that he came and he starts off by telling Christ why he has come and in doing that he starts by laying down his definition of who he thought Jesus was. Carrying on in verse 2 we read that Nicodemus said, John 3:2 . . . “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”