“Y’all must be born again.” That’s the Judgment of God, delivered by the Word of God, to Nicodemus the Pharisee and, apparently, another Pharisee named Paul.
“The perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality,” wrote Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. . . You must be made in the image of God.
It’s a message not often heard in the institutional church, for we pastors can give you knowledge of Good and evil and teach folks how to judge, but on our own we can’t give birth; at best, we can preach a Word, that is an imperishable and eternal seed and trust it will take root in the soil of our broken and dirty souls.
Well, we’re all conceived in this womb of a world and born into another.
Thirty-four years ago, my firstborn was born after 24 hours of grueling labor. I had never witnessed a person in such pain. I remember thinking to myself, “Appreciate this baby, for this baby is the last you will ever have; there is no way that Susan will go through this again.” But the moment she got a good look at our son, she just blurted out, “Oh! I want another one!”
The night before he was crucified, Jesus said to his disciples, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow for her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish for Joy… your sorrow will turn into joy.”
We (Adam, mankind) all give birth to the “Son of Man.”
And we’ve learned that that man is somehow, also, our new man.
So, our old man, is giving birth to our new man, that is also the eschatos man—the Super Man.
We’re giving birth AND being born.
I had never witnessed a person in such pain, up to that point. But then my son was born.
He had a black eye, bruises all over his body, and his head was the shape of a cone.
Giving birth hurts, and being born (first time or second time) does as well.
Imagine the trauma of being born: Your entire world turns against you and expels you. You pass through a dark tunnel into a blinding light. You’re born utterly naked. Then someone takes what seems to have been the most vital and important part of you—that part of you that attached you to the womb world, that part that brought life to you in that womb world: the umbilical cord—they cut if off and throw it away.
When my son was born, he wouldn’t stop screaming. The nurse wrapped him in swaddling clothes, placed him in my arms, and then said, “Talk to him. He knows your voice.” The moment I spoke, he fell silent: He was home . . . as if his sorrow had turned into joy.
How did he know my voice? We preached on that seven months ago in Romans chapter one. Every night, I’d speak to my wife’s belly; I was not a thing in Jon’s world, but everything in that womb world would vibrate to the sound of my voice. Our Father is Love and Light, and his Word is Life, Truth, Reason, and Logic.
Perhaps it’s important to learn to trust our Father’s voice here, that we would rest in his arms there.
Jonathan heard my voice, and he even received breath from my world in that womb of a world through that umbilical cord. It was actually a thing in his world, yet it brought Spirit, breath, oxygen, and life to Jon from another world… a bit like bread and wine in this world that can bring spirit in blood from another world. The bread and wine will perish, but the Spirit is eternal.
It was about a year later that Jonathan said “abba.” He said “Daddy.” It was my spirit in union with his spirit, returning to me as a word of Love. I think it’s one of the greatest gifts that I’ve ever received. I did not set him down and say, “You are unworthy to speak my name.” Yet speaking my name gave him a sense of worth that shaped him into an image of who I am.
Well, if a baby in a womb could reason, surely that baby would wonder, “What are these hands for? What is this mouth for? What are these lungs for? These things are pointless . . . but this umbilical cord– it’s everything!”
Imagine the trauma of being born. Imagine the trauma of watching a birth from inside the womb. Imagine being a twin watching the birth of a big brother. You would feel pain, experience trauma, and then watch your sibling lose your entire world. You would want to say, “Surely there is no such thing as a mother; there is no father (what father would allow such suffering?); and whatever you do, dear brother, hang on to that cord and DON’T go toward the light!”
So, what’s the meaning of the cross? That if you don’t find a way to make yourself worthy, what happened to Jesus will happen to you, but for all eternity—endless travail? OR does it mean, that you too must be born as Jesus, the firstborn, was born?
Paul tells us that Jesus is “firstborn from the dead; firstborn of all creation; firstborn of many brothers and sisters.” That means that on a Friday we watched him being born from this womb of a world, and on Sunday he returned saying, “My Father is your Father . . . when you pray, say ‘Our Father.’ Say, ‘Abba.’”
Romans 8:15 “When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God… for creation was subjected to futility (pointlessness), not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it in hope.”
There is a point to all the pointlessness. Perhaps it makes us long for the Point? Perhaps knowledge of evil prepares us to be known by the Good? Perhaps the reason for sin is the revelation of the glory of Grace, which joins us to a communion of sacrificial Love, which is eternal Life. Perhaps lungs in a world of water prepare us to breathe Spirit in another world?
Romans 8:21 “Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay (That’s death and our bondage to time) and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now and not only the creation, but we ourselves… In this hope we are saved; we are delivered.”
When my last son, Coleman, was born, we were prepared with a great party. But we didn’t hear that wonderful cry, and the doctors looked terrified. Coleman’s head was blue; the umbilical cord—the thing that brought him life in the womb—was wrapped twice around his neck and choking him to death. Thankfully, the doctors soon cut the cord. Coleman screamed; blue turned to pink. They placed him in my arms; he was home.
But just think: What brought him life in the womb world was killing him in this world.
It is ironic, but seizing control, hanging on to this world, and trying to save yourself (with your knowledge and will-power) … it’s those things; it’s hopelessness, that traps us in death. And it’s trusting the Father’s Word and surrendering control that set us free… and all creation with us.
“You must be born again.” And, “In this hope, we are saved.”
You can’t help people hope by proclaiming that it may not happen.
Sometimes people ask, “Why preach the Gospel, if everyone is delivered in the end?”
And I want to answer, “Because, it sounds as if you’re not . . . right now, but trapped in hell and sinking ever deeper.”
Without hope, you may lose your physical body but be stuck in your soul in the depths of this world of space and time . . . but only for a time. For even there, the judgment of God will find you.
Isaiah 26:19 “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake, and sing for joy! …For the earth will give birth to the ‘raphaim’ [the ghosts].”
Don’t wait until then. Receive the Word now. You must be born again.
Gaze at your naval. Then look in a mirror. Speak to your shriveled old (or soon to be shriveled, like an old umbilical cord) body and say, “You used to be everything to me, but I’m predestined for freedom in another world.”