June 11, 2010 David Balzer

John 3: Born Again

CHRISTIAN JARGON. You know what I mean – those phrases and words Christians use without really THINKING about them. WE know what they mean. But unless you’re IN THE KNOW, they’re MEANINGLESS.

Sue was telling me/ at her Bible study a few weeks ago, they were using a particular phrase until someone asked “What does THAT mean?” And it was only then they realised it was Christian JARGON.

It might be a SPECIAL word – like “eschatology” or “Trinity” or “sanctification” or “propitiation” – that has absolutely NO MEANING outside Christian circles. That can be Christian jargon.

Or maybe it’s a word that means ONE THING to EVERYBODY ELSE, but has a whole EXTRA range of meaning for Christians. Like “justify”, or “redeem”. Even a simple word like “BELIEF” or “LOVE” can become JARGON.

Or it might be a phrase that just seems NONSENSE to others. Like “washed in the of the lamb.” That’s Christian jargon.

One of Ross’s bugbears is OLD HYMNS that use JARGON. Like “Rock of ages, CLEFT for me.” What does CLEFT mean?

Or Crown him with many crowns, which includes the classic lines “Crown Him the Lord of years, The POTENTATE of time, Creator of the rolling spheres, INEFFABLY SUBLIME.

Sounded good 200 years ago, but it’s next-to-meaningless today.

(pause) Some jargon seems to go in and out of fashion. One jargon phrase I haven’t heard for ages is “born-again Christian.”

It USED to be/ people said it to distinguish between REAL Christians, and those who were just SOCIAL Christians. The FAIR-DINKUM FUNDAMENTALISTS from the less full-on, more BALANCED sort of church-goer.

Many of you are old enough to remember Jimmy Carter. In the 1976 presidential election campaign, he created quite a stir by very publicly declaring that he was a BORN-AGAIN Christian.

I guess he wanted to distinguish himself from those politicians who would only go along to church if they thought they’d get some political mileage out of it.

Or maybe a non-Christian has said it to you, with a sneer in his voice “You’re not one of those BORN-AGAIN Christians, are you?” As if ANY OTHER SORT would be quite okay. But not a BORN AGAIN ONE.

But what we’re going to see from John Ch 3 this morning is that there’s ACTUALLY NO OTHER SORT. If you’re a Christian, then you’re a BORN-AGAIN Christian. There’s no such thing as a NON born-again Christian. Because being BORN INTO THE FAMILY OF GOD is the very essence of what it is to be a Christian. And the very essence of why Jesus came.

You see, in John 3 we meet a guy who makes the same mistake lots of AUSSIES make. The mistake – that when it comes to Jesus, you can take him as you please – without getting TOO SERIOUS about it. To observe FROM A DISTANCE. To be mildly interested in Jesus, but to do it on YOUR terms. According to YOUR ground rules.

His name’s Nicodemus. And v1 tells us he’s a Pharisee. And a member of the Jewish ruling council. And that puts him at the top of the tree as far as religious people go. The Pharisees were the religious ZEALOTS. They thought that if they could just keep all the rules. Every single ONE OF THEM. Then God would HAVE to take notice. And he’d send his kingdom. Bring in a NEW system, where Israel was TOP DOG once again.

Just try HARDER, and God would send his new kingdom.

But not only that – Nicodemus was a member of the RULING COUNCIL. The Sanhedrin. Made up of the most respected and and high-ranking religious officials.

They’re the guys who finally decide to put Jesus to . But at this stage, early in the story, Nicodemus is CURIOUS. He’s willing to give Jesus a go.

But he can’t say so IN PUBLIC. And so, v2 tells us he slips out to see Jesus after business hours. He comes to Jesus AT NIGHT. In the darkness. And between Nicodemus and Jesus there’s a very interesting conversation. Which, as you read it, is all about BEING BORN AGAIN.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus, and he says, “Jesus, you’re a good guy. He says, we’ve seen you do some great miracles, you’ve performed miraculous signs. I reckon God’s with you. I don’t want to come out in the open and say so, but I reckon you’ve come from God”.

To which Jesus says a very interesting thing. And you can read it in verse 3. The verse President Jimmy Carter was talking about when he said he was a BORN AGAIN Christian. Jesus says this. I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is BORN AGAIN.

In other words, you’ve SEEN THE SIGNS. They POINT to the kingdom. But you can’t SEE the KINGDOM / unless you’re BORN AGAIN.

Unfortunately, we miss a bit of the depth of what Jesus is saying. If you look down at the small print for this verse, at the bottom of the page. You can see that Jesus’ words can be taken TWO WAYS. The same word means TWO THINGS. He says You must be born AGAIN, or you must be born FROM ABOVE.

And whichever one you decide Jesus meant, it doesn’t actually matter. I think Jesus probably meant BOTH. It doesn’t matter because, to be a Christian – to see the Kingdom of God – you have to be born FROM ABOVE. AND you have to be BORN AGAIN. Because only GOD can make you one of his children.

Which is just what we saw back in Ch 1. In v12, talking about Jesus;

12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become CHILDREN OF GOD- 13 children born not of descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but BORN OF GOD.

That’s God, making someone new ON THE INSIDE. Giving them a new heart, a new orientation. A new desire to live with God as the goal and the centre and the focus of their life.

And it’s change that only GOD can bring.

You can no more give yourself a new birth from above than you can give yourself a heart transplant. To see the Kingdom of God takes more than just turning over a new leaf, trying a bit harder, getting a fresh start, and putting the past behind you.

It’s BIRTH only GOD can bring about when he makes you a child of HIS.

It’s the difference between a RENOVATION/ and a KNOCK-DOWN REBUILD. You can see it all over the place in Blacktown. People decide they want to make some changes to their house. One option is a renovation. Rip out a few walls. Add on some extra rooms. Pull up the carpet and polish the floorboards.

And what you have at the end is an OLD HOUSE/ FRESHENED UP.

But the other option calls in the bulldozers, the cranes and the jackhammers. It pulls down the OLD house. And builds a NEW ONE in its place. New foundations, new brickwork, new timber, new tiles – new EVERYTHING.

When it comes to seeing the kingdom of God, a renovation is never enough. It’s got to be a complete knock down / rebuild. Where the demolisher, architect and builder is God himself.

It’s a distinction that’s completely lost on poor old Nicodemus. He got lost way back at you must be BORN / AGAIN. Which just doesn’t compute. Look at v4.

4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

And so Jesus tries to explain it again. v5. Same reality, different WORDS. He says “You talk about ENTERING – I’ll tell you about ENTERING.”

“I tell you the truth, no one can ENTER the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” 9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. 10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

Born AGAIN. Born from ABOVE. Means born of WATER and Spirit.

Which people have taken to mean ALL SORTS of things. But I think the answer’s pretty obvious. And the clue is that Jesus thinks it should have been obvious for NICODEMUS TOO. See it there in v7.

7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

And then again down in v10.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

In other words, Jesus is saying, You’re the expert in the Scriptures – and it’s right there– exactly what God said he’s going to do. You should have been expecting it.

And sure enough, he’s right. Back in Ezekiel Ch 36. Why not flip over to it – p 614. The people are exiled in Babylon, and God promises to bring them back to the land. But that’s not all. Listen to what else he’ll do. Ch 36 v 24.

24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I WILL SPRINKLE CLEAN WATER ON YOU, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and PUT A NEW SPIRIT IN YOU; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 AND I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT IN YOU and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

God’s talking about doing ONE THING. But describing it different ways. He’ll put his Spirit in his people and forgive them. Just like washing them clean with water.

And he’ll take out their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. A spiritual HEART-TRANSPLANT. And actually give them the DESIRE and the ABILITY to follow his laws.

That’s more than just a RENOVATION. It’s a complete knock-down rebuild.

Why – it’s like …. being BORN AGAIN.

It’s a picture God fills out in the very next Chapter of Ezekiel. Ch 37. It’s a wonderful image of BONES COMING TO LIFE. Of God breathing his Spirit into them. And COMING TO LIFE. AGAIN. Look at v5.

5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'”

And a few verses on God explains what the picture MEANS. Down to v11.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live,

God had PROMISED it. Israel was HOPING for it. And so, Nicodemus should have been EXPECTING it. That he needed to be BORN AGAIN. Born by God’s Spirit. Made into a new person.

How can this be? (9)

But all he can do is ask the question (v10 of John 3) HOW CAN THIS BE?

Which Jesus goes on to answer. How does it happen? How can someone be BORN AGAIN. By BELIEVING in Jesus. Which Jesus goes on to explain.

First, V11 to 13. Believe his WORDS. That when it comes to the things of God, Jesus is the one with the inside information. He’s got the GOOD OIL.

But then in v14, we see that it’s about believing in the WORK of Jesus, LIFTED UP for your life. V14.

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

And then the verse that’s pretty familiar

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

But what is it with Moses and the snake? Jesus is thinking about ANOTHER OT story. One Nicodemus would know WELL. It’s from Numbers Ch 21. Israel is in the wilderness, and like they did pretty often, they were grumbling. V5.

“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.

Pretty scary. Snakes in the desert. Like that new movie SNAKES ON A PLANE. And people are dropping like flies. So the survivors come to Moses and ask him to pray that God would take the snakes away. That he’d SAVE them. GIVE THEM LIFE.

And so God comes up with a plan.

8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can LOOK at it and LIVE.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and LOOKED AT THE BRONZE SNAKE, HE LIVED.

Trust God’s promise. If you look at the snake on the pole, you’ll LIVE.

And what Jesus is saying / is it’s the same with HIS WORK. HE’S God’s solution to the problem of rebellion and . Just like Moses was in the desert. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, SO MUST THE SON OF MAN BE LIFTED UP”.

Lifted up – nailed onto a cross. Dying the that WE DESERVE. It’s by looking at HIM, and trusting the solution, that God will forgive us, wash us clean by his Spirit. And make us BORN AGAIN.

You know, I reckon one of the most exciting things that’s even happened to me was being there for the birth of our first child; it was awesome. By the time you go through it four times, you’re a bit of an old hand. But the first time: it’s INCREDIBLE.

It was grand final day 1990. Can’t remember who played, but I remember Alex. I picked up little Alex, all thick black hair, and squashed face. And I said g’ day. It was one of the most exciting moments in my life. Being there when a NEW LIFE came into the world.

Let me tell you something just as exciting as that. And that’s seeing someone born into the Kingdom of God.

I love it. Someone like Rob Campbell. Who spent MOST of his life thinking he was doing all right. But gradually it dawned on him that he was a sinner who needed God’s forgiveness. And that it was only by looking to Jesus that he could RECEIVE it. And so he was BORN AGAIN.

Or someone like Peter Williamson who didn’t think he NEEDED God, he was quite happy making his own choices. Until, in his late teens, things came to a head. And he was forced to take a good hard look at Jesus. Which he did. And he BELIEVED in him. And so he was BORN AGAIN.

And things have never been the same for either of them.

But what about for you? Maybe it’s been a dramatic turning point. Maybe it’s been just gradual. But whatever it is, coming to the point of faith in Jesus marks a whole new birth to a whole new life.

Now it may be you’re thinking to yourself, well, I WONDER IF I REALLY AM A BORN AGAIN CHRISTIAN. I mean, maybe you can’t remember a point in time when something dramatic happened. Maybe there’s been no goosebumpy sort of spiritual zap experience. And I want to say to you, that’s okay.

Let me give you the simple test. A simple test question you can ask yourself so you know whether or not you’re born again. Want to know if the Spirit’s been at work in you? Well, ask yourself this. HAVE I BELIEVED IN THE ONE WHO WAS LIFTED UP TO THE CROSS FOR MY SINS? HAVE I PUT MY FAITH IN JESUS?

Trusted HIS work, not mine.

Because you see, it’s possible to be a fully signed up religious person, it’s even possible to be a fully signed up Presbyterian, and to still be trusting in YOURSELF. In your goodness. In your own basic decency. And not have put your faith in the Jesus who came and died and rose. So you could be forgiven and washed clean and brought into the family of God.

And in the end you’re just like the very decent, very religious NICODEMUS. Who comes and goes in the night. And never really makes up his mind.

And if you think your answer to THAT test question is YES. Then let me give you a FOLLOW UP question. One that will help you test the REALITY of your trust. Because if you’ve been BORN AGAIN, then you’ll never think, or speak, or act the same way again.

It comes out of the next paragraph; Here it is. Do you love the light? And are you leaving behind the darkness? Look down to v19

19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (Here’s the TEST) 20 Everyone who does evil s the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed 21 BUT WHOEVER LIVES BY THE TRUTH COMES INTO THE LIGHT, SO THAT IT MA Y BE SEEN PLAINLY THAT WHAT HE HAS DONE HAS BEEN DONE THROUGH GOD.”

That’s the test. People who are trusting Jesus are leaving behind the darkness – the evil deeds and thoughts that USED to occupy them. Because they’ve been BORN AGAIN. And, instead, they start living in the kingdom of LIGHT where Jesus rules. Speaking and acting and thinking the way HE wants.

That’s the sort of PROOF that someone’ s been BORN OF GOD.

Is that the sort of evidence YOU’RE showing? Have you been BORN AGAIN? Has God washed you clean on the inside with his Spirit? And made you a new creation?

And is that new birth PLAIN FOR EVERYONE TO SEE? I asked this question a of months ago. If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Is it OBVIOUS that there’s something different about you? Because if God is doing a work in you, then there SHOULD be changes.

You should be a born again husband. A born again wife. A born again son or daughter. A born again employee. A born again father. A born again thinker and speaker. A born again giver and server. A born again TV watcher. A born again book reader. A born again church member. A born again pray-er.

Is your life showing the EVIDENCE of being born again? Evidence of following your king and saviour into the light. Evidence of being a complete knock down rebuild, or just a renovation?

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