Good morning. We continue today with our study of the book of John. Turn if you would to John chapter 3:1-13. This text will be the base of our study for today. I have entitled my lesson, “The Miracle of a New Life”.
How many of you are parents? Let me see the hands! How many among you could recount the exact details of your child’s birth?
There are many things we forget in life, but the birth of our child is not one of them is it? I bet all of you recall the day, the time, the place, the name of the doctor. But it’s more difficult to remember your mother’s birthday isn’t it? You know if I had to use one word to describe a child’s birth what would I use? A miracle. My brother couldn’t describe childbirth as anything else after he had become a father. I bet all of you fathers agree don’t you? Let me see all the hands of the daddies who would have preferred to be anywhere but there when the child was born? Raise your hands if you don’t think that was an extraordinary experience?
You know what I did last week? I asked 2 men to write about their children’s birth and I want to read you what they said. (…) A child’s birth is a miracle indeed! Hence the title of my lesson: the miracle of a new life.
But was does all of that have to do with John chapter 3:1-13 you ask. Let’s read together. You see the focus of the whole text, the underlying subject, is the new birth in Christ! I want to expound on that but to do so let me set this context up for you.
It’s nighttime and Jesus has just finished celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem. Remember he has overturned the tables of moneychangers in the temple and he has confronted the temple rulers. He has taught many people at this point. He’s even performed a few miracles. So, in a way, now is like the end of a revival meeting. Jesus has withdrawn for the night, but a man named Nicodemus comes to him.
There are a few things to know about this Nicodemus. First, in verse 1 he says that he was a Pharisee. Do all of you know what a Pharisee was? Being a Pharisee meant that you belonged to one of the strictest religious groups among the Jews. You see, the Jews were a lot like us today. By that I mean the Churches of Christ today. Today in the Churches of Christ you have the one-cuppers, the non-institutional churches, the instrumental churches, the premillennealist churches and the mainstream churches. They all are Churches of Christ, but they are divided by opposing views on some issues. Well, it was the same for the Jews. They had the Sadducees, the Pharisees, The Herodians, the Zealots and the list continues. They were all Jews but had opposing views on some issues.
You see the Pharisees were one of the strictest at the time. I was known as the Oaburah or the brotherhood. The Pharisees never accepted more than 6000 men in their order. This exclusive practice allowed the Oaburah the ability to choose the best men of the country for their order.
To enter the brotherhood, a man had to pledge in front of 3 witnesses that he would spend all of his life observing every detail of the law. These laws were numerous, let me tell you. They had an infinite number of rules and regulations which governed every conceivable situation in life.
For example let’s take a look at their view of the Sabbath day. All that the bible says is that people had to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. That means that no man could work or actively travel on that day. The Jews spent hour after hour, generation after generation defining what that meant. In the Talmud, a book in which the Jews wrote their laws, there are 24 chapters on the Sabbath day. The commentary of these chapters number no fewer than 156 double sided pages. We are told by documents that a rabbi once spent 2 ½ years studying just one of the 24 chapters. This can still be applied today.
Lisa, a friend of ours, was telling me that when she went to Israel the elevators worked 2 ways. Between Sunday and Friday the elevators worked as they do in the United States: you push the button for the floor you want. On the Sabbath however, the elevators go into automatic mode. You don’t need to push any button, and it stops at each floor. Don’t make the mistake of pushing the button manually because you would break the law that says no man can lift a burden on a Sabbath day. If you push the button you lift yourself. Stupid isn’t it? Bad application of a bible law that was given so that no man would carry goods to the market on the Sabbath!
The Jews of the time went so far as to say you couldn’t wear a brooch, a wooden leg or dentures on the Sabbath! They had arguments as to whether or not these things were a burden! The law defined burdened as: food; surpassing that weight of a dried fig, wine; exceeding what could be held in a glass, milk; that which surpassed a swallow, oil; an amount which exceeds the amount needed to anoint a person. Of course the Pharisees were the first in keeping and enforcing these laws. Their name alone attests to that. You see, the name Pharisee means, “separated one”, one who separates himself from all ordinary life in order to keep every detail of the law of the Scribes.
Nicodemus was one of these men. Funny he would come to Jesus who tore apart those laws isn’t it? Let’s not forget that most of them lived their lives as they did because they loved God! They really loved God! They were just misguided.
Verse 1 says that he also was a ruler of the Jews. The word means he was a member of the Sanhedrin. Wealth and power were therefore present in his life. The Sanhedrin was a court of 70 members, older men of the Jewish nations who made up the Jewish Supreme Court. Only the king and the high priest were above them. The Sanhedrin had religious jurisdiction over every Jew in the world. This power was still a bit limited during Roman rule, but it was still quite extensive. So Nicodemus was part of the elite. People came to him for advice and direction; funny how he went to Jesus for advice and direction isn’t it? Why did he go to a homeless trouble maker who opposed everything he represented for advice and direction? The answer is found in verse 2, because he saw Jesus as a rabbi of God. He recognized him as a prophet because of the great miracles he had seen and heard word of.
When you realize who Jesus is, you can’t help but come to him for advice. It doesn’t matter what you know, it doesn’t matter how rich you are, it doesn’t matter what you have the power to do, the answer is not in you, it’s in Jesus. If you took the smartest man on earth, who had learned all things there are to know, had all the doctorate level education possible, he still wouldn’t be as smart or wise as Jesus. Jesus is the answer to the world’s problems today. A man’s way is not in him, it’s in Jesus. “I am the way the truth and the life.” Have you realized that today?
Now I find something very astonishing in the text. That is the way Jesus reacted to Nicodemus’ comment. Nicodemus said, “I know you come from God, you are no fake”. You would think that Jesus would answer, “Thanks Nic. I appreciate your trust and words of encouragement, especially in view of what those words mean to you, especially because it might cost you to come see me, especially because all your friends in the Sanhedrin think otherwise!” But He doesn’t respond this way. He doesn’t lose anytime or hide his message in a heap of compliments. Jesus has an opening and he uses it to say something that will go right to the heart of Nicodemus, that will lodge itself forever in the memory of Nicodemus.
You know they say it’s the first 3 seconds in a conversation that a person remembers for a long time. Jesus uses these 3 seconds to talk about new birth. Was new birth important to Christ? Was it essential in his mind? If my illustration regarding the 3 seconds doesn’t convince you, take a look at his words in verse 3. More than anything what does Jesus want? He wanted men to be saved, men to live at peace with God. He wants you to go to heaven and therefore accept him.
But let me ask you, what is the thing you want most in this life? Is it the same thing that Jesus wanted for Nicodemus? Do you want to go to heaven?
But what does Jesus say here? Though he wants us all in God’s kingdom, unless we are born again we will not enter it. We will not see it.
These are strong words. These are essentials if you ask me. No new birth; no heaven! No new birth; no part with God!
Listen to me well today, you may be the best man in the world, you may be part of the elite, you may be a religious person, who does his best to serve him, but if you aren’t born again, you can’t make it to heaven. I haven’t said it, Jesus did! No “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” about it. Nicodemus had everything! He was rich, he was educated in the scriptures, he was part of a group of believers, but if he didn’t obey he would not make it.
Believe me when I say I wish it were different! I wish I could change it all, but I am not the Judge. I only serve the Judge. I preach what God has shared with me through His word! Jesus today is standing before you. He looks you straight in the eye and he says, in the first three seconds of his encounter with you, as he said to Nicodemus, “you must be born again!”
A star was being interviewed by a journalist once and she was claiming to be a devoted Christian. Leading the interview was the famous Christian Journalist Cal Thomas. This man is known for his conservative views. One of his colleagues looks at Cal after he had finished interviewing this star proclaiming to be a born again Christian and says, “Cal, you’re a born again Christian aren’t you?”. Cal though about it for a second and then answered with a question, “What do you mean by that?” The colleague was unable to answer. He was willing to use popular terminology, but had no idea what these terms meant. I have found it is often this way even in the religious world.
Its funny how many ways people will explain being born-anew. The word, “anew” in the Greek is the word “anothen”. It meant 3 things for the people of the time.
It meant again, in reference to “a second time”. It meant “from the beginning, completely or radically”. And finally it meant “from above or from God”.
Translators couldn’t find a word to match this Greek conceptually structured idea, so they put “anew”. When Nicodemus heard Jesus say this, it seems that he only made reference to the word in its literal sense, “how can anyone enter their mother’s womb again?” And Jesus explains what he means.
To be born anew meant to be born from above, completely in a figurative manner. To be born anew he says is to be born of, “water and spirit”. Acts 2:38 explains that part. When does water and spirit appear together in the scriptures? At baptism. Let’s read Acts 2:38 as well as Hebrews 10:21-22 and Titus 3:4-5. “…”
Are you convinced? Let scripture interpret itself. Nothing here says, “the water refers to the birth water from the water pocket of your mamma!” Jesus was saying to Nicodemus, “Keeping the Law is not enough!” It’s not enough to hear about me. You need to be purified from your sins and you need the power of the spirit to lead a new life. You need the experience of baptism.
I want to tell you today, it’s what we all need. And oh how beautiful it is when a man is born anew! God watches from above with all the tender feelings of a father when his child is born. Can you imagine the angels above this place looking through heavens window and seeing you answer the call of Jesus? Will they feel the excitement of a new birth today?
Let me say that this concept that Jesus was sharing shouldn’t have been difficult for Nicodemus to understand. The rabbis taught that when a man from another faith became a Jew, he had to accept Judaism through circumcision, sacrifice and finally baptism. Then he would be, according to their words, as a new born Child! The change was supposed to be so radical that they, theoretically, could have married their own mother or sister. All previous connections were broken.
The Greeks also talked much about the idea. They had a ceremony where candidates were put in pits. Then, on top of the pit they laid a grid. A bull was then sacrificed over this grid. The throat of this animal was slit and the blood poured over the initiate bathing him in blood. When he came out he was born again for eternity. In some other rites they fed this man with milk after the initiations as if they were a new born baby!
I am out of time, but in conclusion, let me ask: do you want to change today? Have you done some things that keep you awake at night? Do you hate yourself?
Today you may want so badly to be free, but feel it is impossible to be freed! That’s not true! Listen to Jesus’ words. You can become a new creation! You can become like a little child again! All you have to do is be a born again! Will you answer his call? Will you walk out of here pretending you don’t understand?! Nicodemus tried to, but Jesus saw right through him.