Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | September 28, 2014
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews;2 this man came to Him by night, and said to Him, “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 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 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?”5 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.6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’8 “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.”9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?11 “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness.12 “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?13 “And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man.14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
- Have you ever been interrupted by God?
- That’s what happened to Nic. We learn in vv. 1-2 that Nic is a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews who came to Jesus at night.
- He was about to pose a question to Jesus – he was still in his introductory remarks –
- “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…”
- when Jesus interrupted him saying, 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
- Jesus must have known what he was going to ask, so He got right to the point.
- Does God ever do that to you?
- You’re plugging along in your life, and suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a Scripture passage drops into your mind.
- Or an incident happens that reminds you of a passage of Scripture, and you’re brought up short by the TRUTH of the Word of God.
- We often don’t want to face the truth, because sometimes it hurts.
- But Jesus – the incarnate Word of God – is still speaking to us day by day, through his written Word and by his Spirit into our hearts – reminding us of all that He said and did, and all that the prophets and apostles wrote about him, and about his kingdom.
- This truth gets us on the right path for the first time, or gets us back on the right path in our thinking, our being, and our doing as members of his kingdom.
- Because like Nic, our thinking is not always as spiritual as it could be, our hearts lose their first love, or we just go through the motions believing that our good works will earn God’s favor.
- We need to be reminded again of Christ’s work on our behalf, the Spirit’s working in our lives and how we can properly respond.
- In this passage we are reminded of the necessity of the new birth, the reason for the new birth, and the means of the new birth in order to enter into the kingdom of God.
The necessity of the new birth…
- First, we are told of the NECESSITY of the new birth – that we MUST be born again in order to enter into the kingdom.
- Jesus reiterates this three times vv. 3, 5, 7.
- First, Jesus tells Nic that the new birth is necessary for ANYONE to “see” or enter into the KOG in vv. 3,5.
- 3 “… unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “5… unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
- The new birth is not an add-on to your life.
- It’s not like adding a room onto the back of your existing house. It’s not doing good works or being a good person.
- Nic’s presupposition (like that of all the Pharisees) was that salvation came from careful observance of the Law.
- But Jesus counters that it’s by a radical rebirth, by the power of God to re-create what was destroyed in Eden.
- The new birth represents a fresh start, a completely different quality of life.
- It’s like the construction of a brand new building.
- But first, the old building must be removed.
- Like what’s happening right now with the old Clarion Hotel on Reynolds Road.
- The old building must be destroyed before new construction can begin.
- Likewise, the old life must pass away so that new life can begin.
- Also, J tells Nic that EVEN HE must be born again.
- Even those who are in places of privilege, or prestige or power like him, a member of the ruling class of the Jews as a Pharisee, appointed as a teacher of Israel.
- In v. 7 Jesus replaces “unless ONE is born again” with “YOU.” 7 “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
- It’s in the second person plural, so it appears J is likely addressing the entire party of the Pharisees including Nic.
- In our day as well, the new birth is necessary even for the rich, the famous, the intelligentsia, and people in positions of great power.
- There is only one way to enter into the kingdom – by being born again.
- As Jesus said, 15 “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all.” (Mar 10:15 NAS)
- And as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Co. 5:17)
The reason for the new birth…
- Second, we are given the REASON for the new birth – why we must be born again to enter into the kingdom of God.
- The reason for the new birth is because of who we are. Nicodemus was incapable of spiritual thinking.
- He couldn’t see past the natural to the supernatural.
- So he asks in v. 4, “How?” “How can a man be born when he is old? v. 4a.
- This is like the question of Zacharias in the temple when the angel Gabriel told him that he and Elizabeth would have a son named John.
- He asked, “How shall I know this for certain, for I am an old man and Elizabeth is beyond childbearing years?”
- In his unbelief, he couldn’t understand spiritual things.
- He couldn’t see past his old age and Elizabeth’s barrenness to the supernatural power of God. Nic could only think in “earthy” categories.
- So he asks further, “a man cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born can he?” 4b.
- Because he could think only in earthy categories, this concept of the new birth has to fit inside those categories somewhere, so he makes something up – a full grown man entering into his mother’s womb!
- Do you ever wonder where people get some of their heretical ideas?
- It’s because they can only think in earthy categories.
- So they make stuff up that fits in those categories.
- They can’t think in spiritual categories because they haven’t experienced the new birth.
- But the new birth enables us to think in spiritual categories as well as earthy categories.
- As Jesus says in v. 6, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
- We are not limited to understanding the universe and the God who created it with only our five senses.
- As someone has said, we can “think God’s thoughts after him” because in the new birth we are enabled to understand what we read in the word of God.
- We are not like Ethiopian Eunuch before he met Phillip. Seeing that he was reading the prophet Isaiah, Phillip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
- The eunuch said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” (Act 8:30-31)
- Rather, we are like the eunuch who after Philip, beginning from Isaiah, preached Jesus to him, asked for baptism as a response of true faith in Christ. (Act 8:35-37 NAS)
- And because of the new birth we are like the slave trader John Newton who wrote, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”
- Because of the new birth we are enabled to respond like Mary, who when Gabriel told her that though she was a virgin she would bear a son by the power of the Holy Spirit, said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luk 1:38)
- The reason for the new birth is not only because of who we are but also because of what the KOG is.
- It’s not something external, but relational.
- It’s the “kingdom OF GOD” in vv. 3, 5. The KOG is not something that can be merely externally joined like an immigrant becoming a citizen of the U.S., or even like a person becoming a member of a church.
- These can be done with no relationship at all.
- But entering into the kingdom is about entering into a relationship thru the new birth.
- It’s a restoration of God’s relationship w/ Adam and Eve in Eden. It’s God walking with his people once again saying, “I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people. (Lev 26:12 NAS)
- The restoration of relationship is found also in 13. “And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man.”
- Jesus came as “Emmanuel, God with us” to restore God’s relationship with his people.
- Pastor David on “Christy” – to a dying woman who wants assurance of heaven – “no one has ever been there to us what heaven is like…” Jesus has!
The means of the new birth…
- Third, what are the MEANS of the new birth – how we can be born again in order to enter into the KOG?
- How it was accomplished is found in vv. 14-15. It is accomplished by the substitutionary death of Christ for his people. Like when the fiery serpents bit the Israelites.
- God promised through Moses that those who looked to the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up would live. A type of Christ.
- 14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.
- By his substitutionary death, he grants eternal life to all who trust in him.
- What are some of the modern misunderstandings of the means to enter into the kingdom by self-effort?
- “going forward”
- “saying a prayer”
- Keeping the 10 commandments
- Doing good works
- Giving up bad habits
- Going to church or Ss
- Begin a good person
- “communing” with God in nature
- Participating in mystical experiences
- Reading the bible
- Regeneration is IMPOSSIBLE. But with God all things are possible through Christ.
- Also, how the new birth is applied to the individual believer is found in vv. 5, 8, “…One is born of water and the Spirit” in order to enter into the kingdom.
- Two ways to think about “born of water and the Spirit”
- One way, “born of water” refers to natural birth.
- Or “water” dew, or rain, can refer in Scripture to the seed of man which brings for life.
- Better to think of “born of water and the Spirit” as referring to the seed of the Spirit which brings forth new spiritual life in a person.
- The Spirit’s working is mysterious, like the wind as in v.8
- 8 “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.”
- We don’t know exactly how the Spirit applies to us the work of Christ, but we can know its life giving effects in our lives.
- Eternal life is a quality of life that is appropriate to the new age to come given as a gift of God not thru human achievement.
- Finally, how it is the new birth received – how we respond to what God has done – is by repentance and faith, as we see in vv. v. 15, 16.
- 15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.
- 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
- Born again for what purpose? What should I expect next?
- Capable of spiritual thinking.
- Therefore we can see or understand what God’s purpose is in the world, and we can enter into that purpose.
- When we’re born again, we’re not only justified and adopted into the family, but also sanctified.
- We can pursue spiritual growth because babies are to grow up.
- Spiritual babies are to grow into the character of Christ and the ministry of Christ.
- We are to grow both by beholding Christ in the Scriptures and by reflecting Christ to the world.
- The more we behold him, the better we reflect him.
- God has initiated the new life within us, and he enables the growth to continue by his Spirit.
- We are learning how to function, and to thrive in the new life we’ve been given and the new kingdom reign of God that we’ve entered into.
Radical or Vital 180’s
NOT God’s plan for my life, BUT my life for God’s plan.
NOT God’s vision for the church, BUT our church for God’s vision.