To Be Born Again

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.   The Pharisees and religious leaders in Jesus’ day, just as in our day, were stuck in their old garments of religious ritual, routines, rules and laws for how they could relate to and understand Yahweh.   They knew who was in, and more importantly they knew who was out.  And they had they had their bible verses to prove it.

Then along comes this rabbi, this carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth, who just ignores all their rules and regulations regarding who was clean, who was unclean, their table etiquette, their appointed fasting times, their whole way of understanding of how to get right with God.   In fact, Jesus just comes right out and says it – “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.” Luke‬ ‭5:31-32‬ ‭MSG‬‬.  I really love how the Message translation puts the next verse – “They asked him, “John’s disciples are well-known for keeping fasts and saying prayers. Also the Pharisees. But you seem to spend most of your time at parties. Why?” Luke‬ ‭5:33‬ ‭MSG‬‬.   Jesus comes right out and tells them that he’s come for all those who’ve always been rejected and cast out by the religious establishment of the time.  And not only that, he hasn’t come to call them to follow rules for fasting and praying, he’s come to feast and party with them!!??

This is why the religious establishment has such a problem with Jesus.  (And yes, they DO have a problem with Jesus).  Jesus does not follow their rules.  Jesus does not endorse their rituals.   And he certainly does not use rituals and rules to exclude sinners.   In fact, he sits right down with them exactly where and as they are.  No requirements to be fulfilled. No burdens laid upon them.  Remember what Jesus said about burdens?   “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” Matthew‬ ‭11:28-30‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  No burdens, no requirements, no rituals.  Just a God who desires to sit down and share a meal with those He calls brother and friend in the Kingdom of God.

Back to that thing I said before about this passage saying the exact same thing as John chapter 3 where Jesus tells Nicodemus he needs to be born again.  “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” John‬ ‭3:1-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.    Now Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and not just any Pharisee.  Jesus refers to him in this same passage as the teacher of Israel.   “Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” John‬ ‭3:9-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   So Nicodemus was an exceptional Pharisee, one who taught all the rest, and the people as well.  And Nicodemus just couldn’t understand.  He saw the signs, the miracles, the power that Jesus had.  And he was honest enough to know by whose power  Jesus was doing all these things.  But Nicodemus just couldn’t get past his own religion to get to Jesus.  He knew Jesus had the power of God, but he also knew that Jesus did things like sitting down and eating with sinners, touching leper’s, and healing on the Sabbath.  Jesus broke all the rules.   And Nicodemus, the teacher if Israel, liked the rules.  He didn’t just like the rules, he lived the rules.  He taught the rules.  The rules were scriptural.   The rules were how Nicodemus and his people had come to know and love their God.  It’s how they were set apart from the pagan people and religions all around them.  It was the rules that let them know they were a part of the Kingdom of God.

And here comes Jesus telling him  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.   Nicodemus has been living and teaching the Kingdom of God his whole life!!   And Jesus is telling him he has to be born again to see what he’s lived for his whole life??   And don’t think Nicodemus wasn’t picking up exactly what Jesus was laying down.  Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?   This is a rabbi to rabbi conversation,  and one thing every good rabbi understands is the use of metaphor to illustrate a point.  Jesus uses the metaphor with Nicodemus, and Nicodemus understands perfectly what he means.  Nicodemus is wearing his old wine-skin of perfect Jewish religion.   He had his understanding of how to come to God.  He knew and lived by every rule which the Pharisees lived by, those that came directly from the Torah and those that did not.  He didn’t just know  this way of life, he taught it, passed it down as a cherished institution.  

And this young miracle worker with the power of God is telling him none of it is any good.  He’s got to lay down those old wineskins and out new wineskins on.  He’s got to re-think everything he’s ever known and taught.  Not only that, if he doesn’t re-think everything he’s ever known, if he’s not born again, if he doesn’t trade in his old wineskins of ritual and rules and regulation for Jesus’ new wineskins of love, mercy, relationship, and self-sacrifice, then he will never even see the kingdom of God.   It’s a lot to take in for this old rabbi, because after all, How can a man be born when he is old?   How can an old man just re think, re examine everything he’s ever known? 

John Lewis

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