"Jesus answered ... "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.""
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, turned away from God and all of their natural descendants have been born in that rebel camp. Put at its simplest all men and women are born as sinners into the world – and for that reason none of us belongs automatically to the Kingdom of God.
This is the great problem of the human race and it is for that problem that our God graciously determined to provide a solution. In his gracious generosity God has done what needed to be done to enable rebel sinners to be reconciled to a Holy God. He sent his Son to die on the cross.This is the only way that we will ever be reconciled to God. Reconciliation must take place on his terms or it will not take place at all, never.
Do you want to admitted to God’s Kingdom? Then a radical change must be wrought your life. And it is a change that is so radical and so complete that only God is capable of bringing it about. For many that is not the message they want to hear. We would prefer to be told, in the words of advertising slogan, that somehow we are worth it or, at least, that we could make ourselves worth it if only we put our minds to it.
God will have none of that and again and again in the Bible he speaks of the change that is necessary using a variety of expressions that underline the radical nature of the changes that are needed, changes which he alone is capable of bringing about. Here are some of the ways the needed change is described:
Ezek.36:26 "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."
Rom.6:13 "Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness."
2Cor.5:17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."
1Pet.2:9 "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light."
At the heart and centre of the salvation package that God offers us is Jesus Christ for he is the One who enables the necessary changes to be applied to us. The evening we will concentrate our attention upon yet another and very familiar description of this absolutely indispensable change and it is found in the words of our text:
Jn.3:3 "unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Nicodemus came to Jesus by night
Jesus made his statement concerning new birth and the necessity of being born again to an important member of the Jewish religious establishment. Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin – he was a ruler in Israel. He was also a Pharisee and that meant he took his religion very seriously indeed because the Pharisees were ardent followers of the Jewish religion.
Nicodemus came during the night to speak to Jesus. His opening words were full of politeness as he told Jesus how positively he viewed him. This is what Nicodemus told Jesus he knew about him:
He was a teacher
He had come from God
And he went on to affirm that such an assessment was well founded because no-
It all sounded so positive and if we weren’t so familiar with the passage we would probably be surprised by the apparently curt manner in which Jesus responded to him. It seems as though Jesus wasn’t interested in Nicodemus’ words one little bit.
The words of Jesus’ reply would in fact put Nicodemus to the test: Did Nicodemus really believe what he had just said? If he did then how would he respond to what Jesus the miracle worker had to teach him with divine authority? Would he do more than listen attentively to what Jesus had to say? Would Nicodemus realise that he too in his own life needed the miracle that Jesus spoke about? Would he embrace that truth and plead with God for it be carried out in his life?
You see if Nicodemus knew things about Jesus it was also true that Jesus knew things about this Pharisee who stood before him.:
Jesus knew for example how confident Pharisees were concerning their own righteousness and their own standing with God.
He knew for example that the Pharisees had rejected the baptism of John the Baptist. John’s baptism had pointed the way towards the radical change that was necessary in a person’s life – it was a baptism of repentance and it was a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. But the Pharisees didn’t think they had any need of being baptised by John and so they rejected his baptism and in so doing they were rejecting God’s purpose for their own lives (cf.Lk.7:29-
Jesus’ words came as a surprising bolt out of the blue for this religious man because Jesus was saying that everyone needed to be born again if they were to participate in God’s kingdom, absolutely everyone and Jesus had made sure that Nicodemus knew that he was included!
But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s slow down and look more closely at just what Jesus said.
He began with an expression you are familiar with. In the old translation it is rendered: verily, verily and in the translation I read to you it is truly, truly. While you are familiar with this phrase did you know that it is only ever found in John’s Gospel? And there in that gospel it is only ever found on Jesus’ lips? He used it to introduce important statements and to make people sit up and take notice. It means something like this:
I assure you; I tell you for certain; I can guarantee this truth
And what was that so important declaration?
"unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God"
Jesus’ uncompromising statement to Nicodemus states that if anyone is to benefit from being under the rule and reign of God then being born again is not an option, not only is it desirable it is essential!
To see the kingdom of God means more than simply to observe the existence of something or somehow to look on from the outside; it carries with it the idea of entering in, of participating in and of enjoying this kingdom. If Nicodemus, or anyone else for that matter, wants to belong to that kingdom then this fundamental fresh start is necessary, a new beginning must take place, a new life must be begun and only God is able to bring that to pass.
Jesus did not say anything about a person trying to be nice, or trying to turn over a new leaf. What he was talking about was not to be understood as a moral equivalent of putting your house in order or of adopting some religious New Year resolutions. The problem of human nature is such that no amount of patching-
The phrase that we know as "born again" uses a word that elsewhere in John’s gospel contains the idea of from above, or on high. This new birth that we need is then a birth that comes from above it is a birth that will affect us from top to bottom. Who can do this but God alone? And when he brings about this birth from above it is radical going to the depths and root of our being and it is complete leaving nothing unaffected.
How wrong we are if we imagine that becoming a Christian is a small thing that simply adds a spiritual dimension to our lives. The new birth that is envisaged by Jesus involves a comprehensive change of nature, a change which as we have already seen is likened to a move from stony hardness to spiritual sensitivity, from darkness to light, from death to life – behold a new creation where everything is new!
This work of God is what takes place in the life of a person who becomes a Christian and no-
The implications of this are profound and far reaching:
We cannot make ourselves Christians by our own efforts
We don’t become Christians by adopting Christian standards of morality
We don’t become Christians by imitating other Christian or by the company we keep
We don’t become Christians simply by adhering to a certain number of beliefs
All of the above will find a place in the Christian’s life but only after God has worked his miracle of new birth. It is only when we have been born of the Spirit that we become spiritually alive before that we remain flesh having been born only of flesh.
In the Light of This
We should resist any and idea that suggests that a Christian is something other than the product of divine activity
We should pray for God to do the work which is his and his alone
We should ensure that all that we seek to do in proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ is done in a way that relies upon God
We should ensure that, as far as it lies within our ability, we are open and honest – deception and manipulation of any kind must be recognised as being counterproductive for why should God work in ways that seem to approve of human duplicity.
Men and women, boys and girls must be born again, born from above, and while this is something God alone can do he does nevertheless use means. The principal means that God uses to bring about new birth is his own word. In his first letter the apostle Peter wrote this:
1Pet.1:23 "you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;"
So we must make sure that this Word of God dominates everything that we do. In our meetings together the Word must be there. In our Sunday services it must be absolutely central. The public reading of Scripture is important and our preaching must be concerned to preach the Bible too. In our Sunday School classes it is this word that our children need. On Tuesday afternoons, on Friday evening specials, in any and all of our gatherings how we must be careful to keep the word central. In our discussions with others it is this Word that must season our speech. In our individual lives it is important for us not to become strangers to the Book.
It is the Bible and Bible truth that God will use to draw people to himself because it is a book that tells us about Jesus, who he is and what he has done. In particular it is a book that tells us that Jesus suffered and died and rose again from the dead and it is a book that explains the significance of it all. It is therefore the primary means he uses to bring about new birth and it is the primary means he uses to nourish our spiritual lives when once we have been born again.
This is not to say that others will necessarily share our views. We shouldn’t be surprised if the unbeliever shows no interest in the Word of God but that is hardly the point – he needs it, she needs it. May the Lord help us to so know, understand and love his word that we can share it winsomely and be able to say something appropriate on any and every occasion.
And may God be pleased to use us in sowing the imperishable seed of his word to the salvation of others.