INTRODUCTION – Many people in America today have been attracted to and have nibbled at the fruit or blessings that result from people around them operating in the kingdom of God – – whether that be seeing citizens of the kingdom of God feeding and ministering to the poor; or seeing them care for unwed mothers; or seeing them care for their own families and clans with unusual sacrifice and selflessness; or seeing them do their job at work with excellence and integrity; or seeing them heal the sick; or seeing them love the unlovely or fathering the fatherless.
Most people have seen or at least heard of the fruits and blessings – – the good things that result from people operating in the kingdom of God or living under the rule and reign of the risen Christ – – but very few of these people have seen the kingdom itself, much less entered it. Some of these people attend churches all across America from time to time. They love the good feelings that come from being among a group of loving people. They love the presence of God though they may not know that is what they are feeling and experiencing when they gather with the saints. But few of them have seen and entered the kingdom of God; and all of them are living on borrowed time – as we have seen so grievously in the last two months – with the untimely deaths of a handful of our Los Osos residents.
The Bible states unequivocally, “…you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” James 4:14 . It also says “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Hebrews 9:27
While we live in a world that increasingly embraces pluralism or the idea that there are many ways to God; Jesus Christ never minced words about the reality that He alone will determine who spends eternity with Him and who spends eternity in the fires of hell. Listen to His words from Matthew 13 – “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:49,50
Now many people in America would hear or read that passage and go, “Whew well I think I’m ok. I may not be the most righteous person in the world, but I am certainly not wicked…” And that was exactly the reaction Nicodemus – one of the greatest Jewish religious leaders ever to live in Jesus’s day – had – – or that was evidently the way he looked at himself. Thankfully he dared enter into a private conversation with Jesus Christ late one night wherein he got a much needed reality jolt; and there may not be a recorded conversation in existence today that is more important for you and I to listen in on than this one recorded for us in John chapter 3.
To appreciate the significance of this conversation we need to back up a bit and remind ourselves of the context. Jesus had been ministering for a while by this point and the news of the many signs and wonders and miracles He was routinely doing were known far and wide. Ch.2 vs. 23 says, “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.” I’m sure this was thrilling to the disciples following Jesus, but John wants us to know Jesus wasn’t that thrilled – because of what He knew about the nature of man. Listen to John’s explanation: “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” (2:24,25) Most likely these well intentioned disciples of Jesus saw the crowds of followers increasing and assumed they were all disciples as well and would follow Jesus to the end, but Jesus knew better. Enter Nicodemus – “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,…” 3:1,2a The Jews had elevated Nicodemus to a very coveted status. In their eyes he was the cat’s meow – religiously speaking. Jesus’s disciples were already thrilled with all of these new followers joining their parade. But when Nicodemus walked in the door, they probably were literally beside themselves! What a catch!
But can you see John’s careful ironic wording here – – tying Jesus’s piercing supernatural insight into the very inner corridor of the heart of every man in 2:25 and then referring to Nicodemus twice in vs. 1 & 2 merely as a man? Well this man – greatly esteemed by everyone – but Jesus – greeted Jesus with what seems like a wonderful compliment – – “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” (3:2) No doubt Nicodemus was hoping and thinking Jesus would in turn greet him with a similar compliment, but that was not what came from Jesus’s lips.
“Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (3:3) Whoa….! I didn’t even bring up the kingdom of God,…… and why are you so abrupt with me Nicodemus was probably thinking?
Well Nicodemus should have brought up the kingdom of God! Of all people – he should have been very familiar with all the prophecies of a soon coming kingdom and a Messiah who would be both Savior and King; Shepherd and Master. And besides this – The very first words out of Jesus’s mouth when He began His ministry were, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17 And Matthew goes on to say later in vs. 23, “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom,…” Matthew 4:23 This wasn’t done in a corner. Everyone was talking about it. And the main thing Jesus talked about wherever He went was the kingdom of God. Was Jesus a teacher? Well He certainly taught truth everywhere He went. But that was not the emphasis of the many prophecies about Him in the Old Testament. Nor was it the emphasis of John the Baptist’s preparatory ministry concerning Jesus. Nor was it Jesus’s emphasis regarding Himself.
Far more important and earth shattering than that there was a new teacher sent from God traveling throughout Galilee was the fact that a new kingdom had invaded planet earth and its King was revealing it and describing it and demonstrating it and offering it to those who would listen and enter it on His terms and by His enablement; and this new King came to destroy the works of the devil – the only other king on planet earth that really mattered; and this King’s kingdom – that is the kingdom of God did not have automatic entry; there was no amnesty being awarded; and the kind of qualities or deeds that might get you appointed to the Sanhedrin or the Rotary Club were totally irrelevant to getting into this kingdom.
And the reality is – while people were observing and enjoying the signs Jesus was doing – especially when He healed their sicknesses and diseases or fed their tummies – while they were enjoying the fruits and blessings of Jesus’s kingdom – – they weren’t yet seeing the kingdom itself. They couldn’t see the kingdom because as Jesus said to Pilate , “My kingdom is not of this world….My kingdom is not of this realm.” John 18:36 The kingdom of God – though as real and present as the chair you are sitting in – – cannot be seen with natural, sin tainted eyes. And guess what – – you and I are stuck with the natural sin tainted eyes we were born with. The apostle Paul explains this situation this way, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” I Cor. 2:14
Thus you and I must be born again! No brainer huh? Not to Nicodemus and not to many today unfortunately. Let’s look at his response. “Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” John 3:4
Now if you know your Bible, you know that while Nicodemus of all people should have been expecting and looking for the kingdom of God, this phrase “born again” does not show up in the Old Testament – – none of the prophets ever uttered it….. or did they? Well they didn’t, but actually they did – just with different terminology.
Remember this prophecy of Jeremiah’s? “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Jeremiah 31:33 God says there will come a day when HE will do something supernatural in the hearts of mankind that will make all the difference in their ability to know and walk with HIm. Or what about Ezekiel’s prophecy, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you…” Ezekiel 36:25-27
Jesus knew Nicodemus knew these scriptures. And He knew that Nicodemus up to this point was not putting his hope in some new supernatural work that God would do in his heart and mind. Rather his hope was in his religious accomplishments and his good deeds and attaining to the religious standard that he and his fellow religious leaders had developed. So let’s look at Jesus’s response to Nick in vs. 5 and following: “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into 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 be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 3:5-8
Nicodemus of all people knew well what King David said in Psalm 14:2,3 regarding the nature or fallenness of man, “The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Psalm 14:2,3 Nicodemus of all people knew well what King Solomon said in Eccl. 7:20 re: the lack of righteousness among men, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and who never sins.” Ecclesiastes 7:20 But somehow he had come to a point in life where he thought this didn’t apply to him.
Because of the fallen, sin tainted nature of man, Jesus says every man, woman, young person and child must be born again or recreated spiritually – – a major spiritual overhaul from the inside out is the only prescribed solution for every person that has ever lived on this planet – regardless of the hoops they have tried to jump through to somehow earn God’s favor.
First we have to be cleansed from all the defilement of sin, which is what the water in vs. 5 represents. And then we have to receive new eyes and ears and a new heart so that we can see what God wants us to see and hear His voice and feel what He wants us to feel, and only the Holy Spirit can bring that about.
This is what the apostle Paul is talking about when he said, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” II Corinthians 5:17 Jesus Christ wants to populate His kingdom with men, women, young people and children from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, but before He can do that He has to – by His Spirit – recreate them. Augustine the great church father was in Milan when he was born again and transformed by the Spirit of God. He left his former life of license, which among other things had produced an illegitimate son. When he returned home, his former girlfriend called out to him, “Augustine, Augustine, it is I!” He turned to her and said, “Yes but it is not I.” No Tim Robbins seminar or New Age yoga routine can bring about that kind of transformation. But the Holy Spirit of God specializes in such things.
One scholar put it this way, “When a soul is regenerated, it is changed fundamentally in moral and spiritual quality. The quality it receives is a reproduction in man of the qualities of God. We are made partakers of His divine nature.” His very life is imparted to us.
So my question to each of you this morning is: Have you been born again? Jesus Christ – the King of Kings and Shepherd of our souls – wants to deliver you from Satan’s evil grasp and place you forever into the safety and security of His eternal kingdom, but you have to admit first of all that He is King and Savior; and second, you have to admit that you need a spiritual overhaul; and third you have to ask Him to come into your life and do what only He can do.
Still fuzzy? Well so it was to Nicodemus. Let’s look at his response and then Jesus’s to him. (vs. 9-16). Allow me to make a few quick observations and then we will look to the Lord for what He wants to do in our midst before we leave.
1. A word about nicodemus. On the one hand, this was an embarrassing night for him. For someone of his stature and long time religious leadership of the Jews – – he clearly should have known better. And he should have been far more humble and malleable – especially in the very presence of Jesus Christ. Indeed it was Nicodemus’s pride that was the major stumbling block at this point. Again Nicodemus of all people knew what Isaiah the prophet said in ch. 55 about God’s ways being higher than the heavens from the earth than our ways and thus how He looks and responds to those who recognize this and thus are humble and contrite of spirit and who tremble at His word (Isa. 66). But there is something about Nicodemus that I really admire in this story. He stayed in the conversation. And he spoke to Jesus directly about his questions and misgivings and confusion. And while Nicodemus only was willing to talk with Jesus at night when no one was looking in this early incident, we know he finally gave in and was one of the two brave men at the end that asked to be able to bury His body. His eventual conversion reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s, who also entered the kingdom of God kicking and screaming, but he did humble himself and enter.
2. A word about the biblical word “believe” translated from the greek word pisteuo. This word is very different from the English word believe, which is more mental assent to something. Pisteuo has the idea of “adhere to, trust in and rely on”, which is how the amplified bible translates it when it appears 3 x’s in ch. 1 and then in vs. 15,16 of our passage today. Jesus wasn’t just calling Nicodemus to believe in a doctrine intellectually. He was calling Nicodemus to put his full trust and confidence and security in Jesus for everything He needed – especially for being able to be forgiven of his sins, and to be brought into a relationship with the living God and to be able to fulfill God’s call and destiny on his life.
3. When Jesus spoke in vs. 14 that He must be lifted up and then in vs. 16 that God gave His only Son – – both were pointing to the sacrificial death on the cross that was His ultimate destination. What Jesus accomplished on the cross for you and me solves every problem, heals every spiritual, mental and physical disease, forgives every sin, cleanses us from every defilement, and imparts to us the very life of God to fulfill our destinies. It is the ultimate demonstration of the consuming love of God for you and for me. But for you to experience that – you must be born again.