Thursday, September 17, 2009

What does it mean to be born again?

I recently had the opportunity to preach on short notice, and I wanted to share my sermon with you.

"Born Again: The Ultimate Metamorphosis."
September 6, 2009 at State Street Baptist Church


The Gulf Fritallary caterpillar is bright orange with black spines all over its body, indicating to predators that it is poisonous. This caterpillar looks incredibly ugly, almost alien or evil. Amazingly, however, as this bizarre creature matures, it finds a quiet and safe spot on the bottom of a leaf, for example, and it forms a chrysalis or cocoon. Inside this hard external shell, the Gulf Fritallary caterpillar undergoes an amazing transformation, changing from an ugly, poisonous, crawly critter to a beautiful butterfly. This amazing transformation is called metamorphosis. Today we will examine Jesus’ teaching in John 3:1-15 in an attempt to understand what it means for someone to be born again.

John 3:1-15:
3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered 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? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” 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. 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 its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 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.

"What does it mean to be born again?"

I. A New Covenant Requirement:

In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that "unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
  • First, who was Nicodemus? He was a Pharisee, one of the most religious people of Israel, and he was a member of the Sanhedrin. The Chief Priest was a member of the Sanhedrin, and it was the group of seventy men that ruled Israel under Rome's watchful eye. They had jurisdiction over both civil and criminal matters.
  • How did Nicodemus approach Jesus? Nicodemus called Jesus "Rabbi" or "Teacher," and he seemed to recognize that Jesus was sent by God. He considered Jesus to be at least a peer, since Nicodemus (we will see shortly) was also considered a "teacher of Israel." Nicodemus, however, failed to see that Jesus was God's anointed one, the promised one sent to establish the kingdom of God on the earth.
  • How did Nicodemus respond to Jesus' statement about being born again? Nicodemus completely misunderstood Jesus. He had absolutely no idea what Jesus was talking about. This new birth Jesus referred to should not have been foreign to Nicodemus, however.

II. An Old Testament Expectation:

In John 3:5, Jesus clarified his statement for Nicodemus (and us): "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
  • "Born again" in verse 3 relates directly with "born of water and spirit" in verse 5.
  • "Seeing the kingdom of God" in verse 3 relates directly to "entering the kingdom of God" in verse 5.
  • Furthermore, in verses 6-8, Jesus explains that new birth is spiritual birth.
  • Once again, Nicodemus could not understand how Jesus could require such things for entrance into the kingdom of God. What about the Temple and the sacrifices and the Law?
  • Jesus, however, rebukes Nicodemus in verse 10. He calls Nicodemus out for not knowing his Bible well enough. Jesus criticizes him for not knowing what Jesus is talking about.
  • Ezekiel 36:25-27 is essential for understanding Jesus' statement in verse 5.
25 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.
  • According to the Law of Moses, the Israelites were required to wash their clothes and take a bath any time they became ceremonially unclean. In the new covenant, God cleanses his people and gives them a new heart and a new spirit.
  • Jesus understood from his Bible that this new, spiritual birth was the only way to see/enter the kingdom of God, and he chastised the "teacher of Israel" for not knowing what he was talking about.
  • In verses 11-13, Jesus addresses Nicodemus and his peers in the Sanhedrin and among the Pharisees regarding their failure to believe; they lack the faith required to enter the kingdom of God.

III. An Old Testament Example:
In John 3:14-15, Jesus describes the faith that is required for one to be born again.
  • Unlike the unbelieving Pharisees and Jewish leaders, the one who will see/enter the kingdom of God will exercise faith similar to the faith required of the people of Israel in Numbers 21:4-9.
4 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.
  • This is the faith required to be reborn; you must look to Jesus.
  • "Just as those who looked upon the bronze serpent were healed, so those who look by faith to the Christ crucified are saved" (McFall, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, p. 774).
  • "That bronze snake on a pole was the means God used to give new (physical) life to the children of Israel if they were bitten in the plague of snakes that had been sent in as punishment for the persistent murmuring. By God's provision, new life was graciously granted." (Carson, 201)
  • Just as the bronze serpent was lifted up for the healing of God’s people, so Jesus was lifted up; both crucified and exalted. The double meaning of lifted up is intentional. By way of suffering, Jesus is glorified and seated at the right hand of the Father, and all that look to Jesus for healing from the venom of sin will be healed/born again (v. 3)/see the kingdom (v. 3)/enter the kingdom (v. 5)/have eternal life (v. 15).

"What will it take for you to be born again?"

1. A Clear Vision of Jesus Christ
  • Nicodemus came to Jesus in respect, believing that Jesus was a teacher come from God. He honored Jesus, and he believed true things about Jesus, but he did not see clearly who Jesus truly was.
  • Are you like Nicodemus? Do you believe Jesus was a great teacher, worthy of our respect?
  • That's not good enough! Jesus cannot be a great teacher, worthy of our respect, if he lied about who he was!
  • Jesus said he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through him! (John 14:6)
  • Jesus is God! (2 Peter 1:1; Titus 2:13)
  • Jesus is alive and seated at God's right hand! (Hebrews 1:3)
  • Jesus lived a righteous life and died to pay for your sins!

2. A Regenerating Work of the Holy Spirit
  • But you will never believe unless God's Spirit opens your eyes to see, opens your ears to hear, and gives you a new heart!
  • (Here I prayed for God's Holy Spirit to work on the behalf of unbelievers)

3. A Simple Faith in the Exalted Savior
  • If God's Spirit is working within you, you will simply look in faith to Christ; you will depend on Jesus to pay for your sins and give you his righteousness. You will be declared not guilty and adopted as heirs to the kingdom of God!
  • If you believe that Jesus is able to save you, and you stake your life on that fact, he will save you!
  • You must accept the pardon that God offers!
  • Repent and believe the gospel!
  • Then you will experience the ultimate metamorphosis; God transforms enemies into family, wicked, rebellious sinners into people bound for glorious perfection. You will become a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

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