“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.” (Jn. 3:3-5)
One of the reasons we baptize babies is because Jesus told us to let the little children come to Him. And the reason the little children are to come to Jesus is not because they are cute and cuddly, but because they are the model citizens of the Kingdom. Jesus says that in the first instance it is not the children and infants who must grow up and learn to believe and have faith like grownups, but just the opposite: we must somehow figure out how to become young again and become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.
But even here, when we say this and believe this, we can still end up like Nicodemus, trying to figure out exactly how we are supposed to get back into our mother’s womb.
What exactly does Jesus mean? How do we become like little children?
Perhaps the greatest story that illustrates what Jesus means is Israel after the Exodus in the wilderness. God had promised Israel a glorious inheritance in the land of Canaan. He promised to go before His people and drive out the occupying nations, and to give His people cities and vineyards and blessings on every side. But Israel, seeing the giants in the land told God that He could not give the land to them. They are too big, we are too small. It’s just not possible, they said.
And so God said that since they did not believe His promises, since they did not believe His Word to them, He would not give them the land. Instead of bestowing the promised land on the generation that came out of Egypt, God said they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years until a new generation had grown up and the old generation had died away. And this is what happened: over the course of 40 years Israel became children again. And the children inherited the land of promise. The children believed the word of God and crossed the Jordan. And they took Jericho like children, marching around the city until it fell down.
And this means at least two things. First, every generation is a death and resurrection. Every child is the human race reborn. Every new child is a family reborn. Every new child is parents reborn. The centrality of children in the kingdom of Jesus has to do with the centrality of the resurrection. The only way to get into the promised land is to find some way to cross generations. The only way to escape dying in the wilderness under the curse of God is to find a way to re-generate.
The problem is that even children grow old. In the flesh that we have inherited from Adam, even the new generation eventually becomes the old generation. And so we come back to the question of Nicodemus. How can we become like children forever? How can we stay in the regeneration? How can we stay young?
The answer is believing the Word of God. The difference between the first generation and the second generation was faith. The second generation believed the promises of God. They saw the giants and the fortified cities, but they place their faith in God’s promises to their fathers. It was not their faith that gave them the land of Canaan it was God’s grace and might. But they believed God’s word and crossed the Jordan and headed toward Jericho. It’s not that their faith was great. It was that they believed the Word of God and knew that their God was great.
And so James and Alberta, this is not an exhortation to try harder or to hold your breath or bear down. The exhortation is to believe God’s promises that the salvation of offered in Jesus is here solemnly promised and sealed to you and to your son by the Almighty God. And it’s pictured wonderfully in the baptism of an infant. How could this infant possibly save himself? He can’t. At this point, he is completely at the mercy of God. If this child is going to inherit the land of promise, God will have to carry Him in and give it to Him. And Jesus says: exactly. And He calls to believe.
So believe these promises, looking not to faith which is not great, but to the God who is great. And model this faith before Charles, teaching him to look to this same Great God who is giving Him life and forgiveness and the world in King Jesus.