It was a startled old man who asked the question: "How can a man be born when he is old?" The young prophet from Nazareth had shaken him to the core. We gather some information about the man right from the start. We know he was rich, respected, and religious. Edersheim tells of a Nicodemus who is mentioned in the Talmud as one of the richest and most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem. There is no actual proof, however, that he as this Nicodemus. Still, our Nicodemus was rich enough to lavishly supply costly spices, later on, for the Lord's burial. Moreover, he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the selfgoverning body, which under the Romans was allowed to make and administer certain civic and religious laws.
Nicodemus came to Jesus, which was a daring thing to do. The Lord had just cleansed the temple of is concessions, an act that was tantamount to an open declaration of war with the Jewish authorities. Nicodemus was even willing to go so far as to own (I'd say agree that He was) "a teacher come from God" (John 3:3), but he could not have been prepared for Jesus' uncompromising and revolutionary reply to his opening remarks, "Except a man be born again," Jesus said, "he cannot see the kingdom of God" (v.3). A dozen words and Jesus swept away the very foundations of this man's hopes of heaven. "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. Jesus' words, though they startled Nicodemus, nevertheless struck a responsive chord in the old mans' soul, and awoke in him a recognition of a deep need of something better than the legalism in which he had been raised. So instead of arguing about it, he at once asked how a man could experience a new birth. The Lord had put an unerring finger on his deepest spiritual need. It was a need he felt, but one that hitherto he had not been able to express. "How?" Nicodemus asked.
How indeed? Later on, when John wrote his gospel, he reduced the Lord's answer to a formula (John 1:11-13). In it, he first tells us what being born again is not. It is not of blood. That is to say it is not of human descent. Spiritual life is not something we inherit from or parents, however, godly they might be. All we inherit from them is a fallen Adamic nature. Moreover, it is not of the will of the flesh. That is, it is not of human desire. A desire to be a member of God's family does not make on a child of God. A desire to be born a member of the royal family does not make one a child of a king. Then, too, it is not the will of man. That is to say, it is not of human determination. No amount of resolve can bring it to pass. A person might say, "Resolved; I consider myself a member of the British royal family." Similarly, to be a child of God, one must be born into God's family. One must be born again.
Now look at what being born again is. First, there is something we have to believe. We must "believe on his name." And that name simply means, "Savior"—one who saves His people from their sins (Mt 1:21). That is what we need, someone who can save us from sin's penalty, from its power, and ultimately from its very presence.
Then comes the next step. It is not enough to "believe." We also must receive. It is one thing for me to believe that Jesus is the Savior; it is another thing for me to know Him as my Savior. That happens when I "receive Him," by asking Him to come into my life.
I believe! I receive! That is our part. Then God says, "Become!" That is His part. The believing and receiving is what we have to do. Then God does what He alone can do: impart to us spiritual life. His life, the life of God; and we are instantly born into His family. We become a child of God. His Holy Spirit comes into our human spirit, and we are born again, born of God.