You must be born again
Series: The Gospel of John
BIG IDEA: You must be born again
1. See that you need it
2. Look to the Son of Man
Citylight Manayunk | October 17, 2021 from Citylight Church on Vimeo.
– ESV Study Bible – Study notes on the Gospel According to John
– Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John – -Andreas Kostenburger
– Pillar New Testament Commentary Series – The Gospel According to John – DA Carson
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On January 26, 2017 at about 8am I was sitting at my desk at the church office. I received a text message from my very pregnant wife saying that she had a minor contraction. She said that it was no big deal and that she was still planning to take our kids to the zoo with Sarah Shutes and their girls. But about five minutes later, Andrea texted again and said that I should start to make my way home because things might be moving faster than she originally thought. Andrea was right. Things were moving faster than she originally thought. About an hour after her initial text, Andrea and I found ourselves at a red light, in the middle lane at Broad and Arch in Center City with Andrea yelling, “Matt, the baby is coming.” Seconds later, Andrea gave birth to our precious Sage Marie right in the front seat of our car, in the middle lane at Broad and Arch, and I got to catch. It was the most dramatic experience of our lives. And Jesus says that unless we experience something analogously dramatic, second birth, we cannot see the kingdom of God.
Think for a moment with me about birth. The moment of birth is unmistakable; it’s not a gradual process. At one moment you’re not born and the next, you are. No one has always been born. Birth is not the improvement of something old, it’s the dawn of something completely new. Without birth you cannot see the world. And, as Andrea learned quite well that January day, despite all of our technological advances, birth cannot be completely controlled or manipulated. And Jesus says without a second birth, we cannot enjoy eternal life now and forever in God’s kingdom.
Let’s set the scene so that we can see what Jesus is saying. This morning we begin a fresh chapter in our journey through the Gospel of John. The first half of John chapter three records a discussion between the Lord Jesus and a well-respected religious teacher and national Jewish leader named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was not a disciple of Jesus, but he was sympathetic toward and curious about Jesus, so if you’re burned out on religion, but are still curious about Jesus, you’ve come to the right place and the right passage in the Bible. Nicodemus approaches Jesus under the covert privacy of a dark night and begins the conversation by offering Jesus some polite flattery, “We know that you’re a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus lovingly cuts to the chase and responds to Nicodemus’ heart, rather than his words. “You say I am from God, listen, unless one is born a second time he cannot see God and enjoy eternal life in His Kingdom.” Nicodemus doesn’t get it. He wonders, “How can someone who is old climb back inside their mother’s womb and be born again? How can these things be?” To this Jesus responds, “Nicodemus, you’re a Bible teacher, you should know this. You should know that seeing God’s kingdom requires a new birth, not turning over a new leaf. And then Jesus says, “if you don’t know about second birth, then you definitely don’t know that just as the serpent was lifted up in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him will enjoy eternal life now and forever in God’s kingdom.” And with that, our passage ends, we’re all nearly as confused as Nicodemus, but Jesus’ curious words in John 3:7 ring in our ears – “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.” The “you” there is plural; youse, y’all. It refers to everyone. That brings us to the big idea of our passage: you must be born again. Like Nicodemus, the question this raises for all of us is “how?” How can we be born again? Our passage provides us with two answers. How can you be born again? 1. See that you need it. 2. Look to the Son of Man.
SEE THAT YOU NEED IT
Jesus tells Nicodemus, unless you’re born again, you will not see the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus doesn’t get it, but Jesus was exceedingly patient with him and he’s exceedingly patient with us. Interestingly, to help Nicodemus understand the concept of new birth, Jesus doesn’t really provide Nicodemus with a definition as he helps Nicodemus see that he needs it. John 3:5 – Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” With these words, Jesus is helping Nicodemus see that he needs new birth. Since Nicodemus was an expert in the OT, he would have understood Jesus. For us, these words are confusing and we wonder, “what does he mean by water and the Spirit.” Is he saying to see the kingdom of God we have to be born once physically (through water) and then spiritually? Is he saying that to see the kingdom of God we have to be born of the Spirit and be baptized? It’s not that. Jesus is helping Nicodemus see that he needs to be born again by drawing on one of the most important passages in the Old Testament.
Ezekiel 36:25-27 – “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 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. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” In these verses the Lord is promising a new birth for his people. Water and the Spirit refer to one experience. The Lord promises to cleanse human hearts with water and transform his people on the inside by his Spirit. The Lord is promising new birth; cleansing and renewal, water and the Spirit, new hearts instead of stony ones. Why do we need that? Why do we need to be born a second time? Why does it take something as radical as birth to see the kingdom of God? The answer to that question comes in the very next chapter in Ezekiel. Ezekiel 37:1-10 – The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
Friends, Jesus says “do not marvel that youse need to be born again” because we are the valley of dry bones. We are all dead in our trespasses and sins. We are spiritual corpses. Jesus did not come to make bad people good, he came to make dead people alive. Jesus did not come to gradually improve us into God’s kingdom, he came to make us new so we would love God’s kingdom. Jesus did not come to help us turn over a new leaf, but to give us a new nature! To see the world, Sage had to be born, not improved. To see the kingdom of God, we don’t need to be improved, we need to be born a second time. Nothing else will do.
Let’s begin to take this personally. Question: Do you see that you need it?
I want to speak to two different categories of people for a moment. First, I want to speak to those of you who are religious. You may even attend church, read the Bible, and pray. Maybe you don’t do those things, but you’re here because you want to improve yourself, grow, get serious about your faith, and experience peace and purpose. My dear friend, Jesus’ word to you is, “see that you need it.” See that you need so much more than religious fervor or passionate self-improvement. See that you’re a corpse. Corpses cannot get serious about their faith. And neither can you. You need something more. Jesus says, “you must be born again.” Do you see that you need it? Until you see it, like Nicodemus, you’ll get nowhere with Jesus. He did not come to make you better, he came to make you alive. Do you see that you need it?
Now I want to speak for a moment to those of you who have already been born again and are followers of Jesus. Jesus says, “you must be born again.” See that you needed it. Why?
- It’s true – you haven’t been a Christian your whole life
- Freedom – from legalism and sin
- Love for the unlovely
LOOK TO THE SON OF MAN
I want to read you an old, wild story.
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Numbers 21:4-9
Now, let’s get back to Jesus, the Son of Man. John 3:13-15 – No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Wow! Jesus is saying, I’m the true and greater serpent. Like God’s wandering people, we’ve all sinned and grumbled against God. We have all failed to do and be what God requires in his word. We’ve all disobeyed, ignored, and lived without reference to God in his world. We’ve all replaced the true God with ourselves. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We are spiritual corpses. And we are under the fiery bite of God’s judgment. But the Son of Man has descended from heaven. He took on flesh, lived the righteous life that we’ve all failed to live, and like the serpent in the wilderness, he was lifted up on the cross so that all who look to him with the eyes of faith, so that all who receive and rest in Him alone for salvation, have been born again and receive eternal life in God’s kingdom. My weary friends, look to the Son of Man, and never stop. Receive Him. Rest in Him. He will give you eternal life now and forever. You must be born again. See that you need it. Jesus did not come to make bad people good, he came to make dead people alive. And look not to your own efforts or to your own pedigree. Look to the Son of Man who was lifted up to rescue you from the bite of God’s judgment. Rest. Rejoice. Tell the good news.