PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
Today, four out of ten Americans claim to be Born Again. It’s a term people freely use. Politicians have employed the phrase to bolster their campaigns; athletes claim to be “Born Again” because it makes them marketable. Even the music industry has sung about a “Born Again” experience.
(Definition) I want to give you an idea of what Americans consider the Born Again experience does form them. This comes from the Barna Research Group: Born Again Christians are people that say they “have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.”
I can say “Amen” to that, but it still doesn’t explain what it means to be Born Again. And that’s what I want to talk about in today’s message. The term, “Born Again,” isn’t new. Jesus introduced the concept to Nicodemus centuries ago and I want to investigate three aspects of the Born Again experience.
(Transition) First, let’s note that according to Jesus the New Birth is essential for entering the Kingdom of God.
I. The New Birth is Essential for Entering the Kingdom of God
John 3 opens with Nicodemus approaching Jesus, “the light of the world” under the veil of darkness. John says, Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, probably when Jesus was at rest in someone’s home.
For years commentators have speculated why Nicodemus approached Jesus at night rather than during the day. The Bible gives us every reason to believe Nicodemus was a man of character and distinction, and since that is the case, why did he seek a nocturnal visit with the Savior? There are three prevalent views.
Some commentators believe fear motivated this nighttime appointment. Nicodemus was a member of the esteemed Sanhedrin Court, the highest governing judicial body of the Jews. Had Nicodemus visited Christ during the daylight hours, it could have brought his excommunication from that 70 member Supreme Court. I have my doubts that this is why Nicodemus approached Christ at night. And it’s because Jesus was never reluctant to rebuke fear or unbelief. Jesus had the perfect opportunity to scold Nicodemus for a fearful nightly visit; but He didn’t! Furthermore, at Calvary Nicodemus displayed unabashed bravery by asking Pilate for the crucified Body of Christ. There’s nothing in the Bible that indicates Nicodemus was fearful.
But there is another view: Some theologians presume a nighttime visitation ensured an undisturbed audience with Christ. During daylight the multitudes thronged Jesus—they even mobbed Him. The Rabbi’s used to say: “Night is the best time to study, one is free from the distractions of the world.” Perhaps Nicodemus confronted Christ at a late hour because he wanted time without distractions. This seems plausible to me.
Thirdly, some surmise Nicodemus’ pm visit was to avoid convicting Jesus as being a false prophet. The Sanhedrin was judicially empowered to prosecute heretics, and had Nicodemus publicly visited Christ some Jews could have construed that as convicting Him of heresy.
(Transition) We’ll never precisely know what spurred this evening visitation but whatever the answer, Nicodemus certainly experienced a dramatic, life-changing transformation. Let’s examine this encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus.
Nicodemus’ Encounter with Christ
1. First, I want you to notice how Nicodemus reverenced Christ.
“Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (3:2). He initiated the conversation by referring to Christ as, “Rabbi,” meaning, “Master.”
In verse one Nicodemus is described as being “a man of the Pharisees . . . [and] a ruler of the Jews.” History records him as a Rabbi, and as mentioned, a member of the Sanhedrin Court. One scholar says Nicodemus was one of Jerusalem’s three wealthiest men. And Scripture attests to his prosperity in John 19:39 when it pictures him bringing about seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes to anoint Christ’s corpse. Only an affluent man could afford such extravagance. But here, it’s this man of wealth, character, and nobility that refers to Christ as his superior, elder, and master when he calls Christ, “Rabbi.
2. Secondly, Nicodemus called Him “a teacher sent from God” (3:2). Rabbis were also teachers, but Nicodemus distinguished Christ as a teacher with a divine appointment—being “sent from God.
3. He then called Christ a miracle-worker (3:2). None of the Jewish leaders performed miracles when Jesus stepped on the scene. So Nicodemus recognized Christ as possessing a power neither he nor his contemporaries possessed. Any of today’s ministers would have relished the introduction Nicodemus offered.
I believe Nicodemus was being sincere with his accolades. There’s nothing about Nicodemus that indicates he was given to hype. I believe he carefully chose his words to glorify Christ. There’s heart-felt sincerity in this eloquent introduction Nicodemus offered. And Jesus took Nicodemus seriously. But without contradicting any accolade Jesus addressed the more pressing issue. Perhaps Jesus rose from the sofa where He reclined and said: “Nicodemus I appreciate your remarks, but here is why you came to see me: “unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3:3).
Now that’s strong! The only means of seeing and entering God’s kingdom is through the New Birth. And it’s imperative to notice the very person Jesus addressed to introduce this concept of the New Birth. Actually, it’s important whom Jesus wasn’t lecturing:
- He wasn’t addressing the self-centered rich man that ignored poor Lazarus.
He wasn’t talking to a crook on the Jericho Road.
He wasn’t confronting an adulterer, or murderer, or a flagrant violator of the Ten Commandments.
He wasn’t dealing with a cruel Roman prosecutor.
He was talking to Nicodemus, an honest, religious, truth seeking man.
And Jesus said: “Nicodemus, you’re an outstanding man, but you must be Born Again. You worship at the Temple frequently, but you must be Born Again. You’re respected, reputable, and religious. You even associate with honorable people. But you must be Born Again.”
(Insight) Jesus divinely chose Nicodemus to represent the whole human race, to reveal regardless of our stature, or what credits attend our name, we cannot enter God’s Kingdom without being Born Again. Nobody enters Heaven on the basis of human merit, water baptism, church attendance, spiritual ancestry, or associating with Christians. Every person must have a personal relationship with Christ to enter Heaven. And that comes only through the New Birth.
I know those outside the Christian Faith brand this thinking as narrow-minded and even foolish. They don’t understand how Christians can stand by Christ’s words when He said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That statement sounds arrogant and exclusionary to those outside the Christian Faith. But nobody should complain that there aren’t many passages to Heaven without being grateful for the one way to Heaven.
(Transition) Now that I have emphasized the necessity of the New Birth I want to take time to define it.
II. Explaining the New Birth
At times, the best way of defining something is by first describing what something is not. I want to take that approach here:
The New Birth is not “godly sorrow.” 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “godly sorrow works repentance toward salvation,” but this is not the New Birth.
Neither is it repentance. Repentance is a change of mind; a 180 degree change of direction. But that’s not the New Birth.
And it’s not the confession of sins either. All of this is what man does in the act of salvation.
There are two parts in the plan of salvation: (1) Man’s part, which I just mentioned, and (2) God’s part. And the New Birth is what God alone does in the plan of salvation. God can’t confess our sins or repent in our behalf. Only man can do that. But neither can man enact the New Birth. That’s God’s sole responsibility. Because the New Birth is all God that means it is heavenly, supernatural, and divine. There is even something incomprehensible about it. That’s what Nicodemus found out.
When Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be Born Again,” Nicodemus replied, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” Jesus responded, “[You’ve misunderstood Me Nicodemus]. That which is born of the flesh is flesh [It’s human. But]; that which is born of the spirit is spirit [it’s of a completely different nature].” Jesus likened the New Birth to a natural, human birth. And just as nobody has control over their natural birth no one has control over their Second Birth. The New Birth is initiated and consummated by the Spirit of God. When man does his part and believes on Christ as His Savior, God faithfully does His part and enforces the work of regeneration.
Do you realize that only the Holy Spirit can create life? Man can kill, murder, and abort. Man knows how to destroy and tear apart, but only God can create life. I know science has developed ways to enhance and clone life; but not from scratch. Man has never created new life from that which is dead. When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden man’s spirit died. It became totally dead—a corpse. And the New Birth is when the Holy Spirit revives and transforms our lifeless spirit and puts us in right relationship with God. This is why our works can never revive our dead spirit. It takes a supernatural work of the Spirit.
(Illustration) When I was a freshman in College I drove a 1969 Firebird. One evening when I was on a date with a young lady, the engine in that Firebird blew up. I was so embarrassed! As much as I wished I could get that car running again, I couldn’t. It needed a new motor. I could have said, “You know, I’m going to get new tires for it, repaint it, and buy new points and plugs for it.” But that wouldn’t have remedied the situation. I could have had that Firebird hauled to the Mercedes Benz dealership and parked it among the finest luxury automobiles in the world. But had I done that the car would have never cranked. What that car needed was a new motor. Or the old one totally transformed.
You see, a person can make many improvements in their life. They can stop frequenting worldly places and terminate bad habits; they can associate with outstanding Christians; but there is only one way to change a defective spirit of man. And this comes by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. How does all that happen? How is the New Birth fully described? Theologians will admit the answer to that question is unexplainable. Remember, Jesus chose Nicodemus, a brilliant scholar, to introduce this concept, but even Nicodemus failed to comprehend the depths of regeneration. Nicodemus said, “Lord, how can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb?”
In essence Jesus said: ‘Nicodemus I know you don’t understand how the New Birth takes place. It’s divine and mysterious. But here is what I want you to know: It’s a miraculous work of My Spirit. And even though you can’t visibly see it take place; it happens! Nicodemus, it’s like the blowing of the wind. “You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
(Illustration) Some years back, I drove through the southeastern United States after a storm had swept through. Seventy mile per hour gusts of wind had ripped off roofs and snapped pine trees like school boys break pencils. I saw cement slabs where houses had once rested until the wind swept them away. It doesn’t take much discernment to realize that wind is one of the most powerful forces on earth. And that’s what Jesus likened the Spirit to.
Saints of God, when you were Born Again, the powerful wind of the Spirit sovereignly ripped the sin nature from your innermost being; He then swept those sins into the deepest sea; and He then imparted the life of God. How? I don’t know. But that’s certainly what happened! And when it comes to any mystical doctrine of the Christian Faith I would rather know what happened to me than how it happened to me:
Like Nicodemus, I don’t need to know all the theological intricacies of regeneration in order to accept it; I just want the confidence of simply knowing the Blood of Jesus Christ cleanses me from all unrighteousness. I don’t need God to tell me how He miraculously dismisses cancerous cells and then reconstructs new ones; I’m satisfied with knowing that 1 Peter 2:24 that says, “By His stripes I am healed.” I don’t need post-graduate studies in angelology or demonology when it comes to claiming deliverance from evil; I just need a workable “Knee-ology” that looses angels, binds demons, and enacts the “abundant life” in Christ. It was the Holy Spirit that brought about the conception of the sinless Christ in Mary, and if man is to become righteous, we must have a New Birth wrought by the Holy Spirit! The fact that the New Birth is all God certifies its divine nature. And I’m glad God does a divine and sovereign work of grace in those that trust on Christ for salvation.
(Transition) Then thirdly, I want to note that the New Birth “makes all things new.”
III. The New Birth Makes All Things New
2 Corinthians 5:17 describes the New Birth beautifully: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” This verse describes two aspects of the New Birth:
1. First, Paul says when we are born again we are a “new creation. I know the first time you looked in the mirror after you were saved your physical features had not changed. Maybe you were disappointed. Being Born Again doesn’t grow hair for baldheaded men or trim pounds from overweight bodies. These things won’t occur until we are transformed at the Lord’s Second Coming.
But here’s what does happen at the New Birth: The deepest, inner-most, substantive nature of man is suddenly transformed. Someone might say, “If that’s the case, then why do I continue to sin? Since I’m a new creation in Christ why do I continue making mistakes and yielding to temptation?”
Let me describe the difference between a sinner who sins and a Christian that sins. In most cases, sinners transgress without any intention of avoiding sin. They pursue evil, and they often pursue it in an unrestrained fashion. On the other hand, Christians sin against their intentions. Christians don’t seek to sin, they’re praying and hoping to avoid it!
2. Secondly, 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares that the old sinful nature of the spirit of man is gone. When Christ forgives He completely removes every sin from your past. David said in Psalm 103:12, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
One of Satan’s chief tricks is reminding Christians of their past sins. He tries to convince them that they haven’t been forgiven. But let me tell you something: When your sins are forgiven, your sins are forgiven! When Christ forgives your sins He destroys the records! Let me pause again to say, I don’t completely understand how God can will to forget and destroy the record of our sins. Like Nicodemus I don’t fully understand the depth of the regeneration of our spirit which we call the New Birth. It’s divine and mystical. But not understanding the New Birth should not keep us from accepting it.
(Illustration) Thomas Edison is given the credit for inventing the light bulb. But he, nor anyone else, could explain the full and precise manner of how electricity works. But nobody is going to sit in the dark until somebody figures it out! No, we are going to enjoy the benefits of electricity even though no one fully understands it. And even though no one fully understands the breadth of the New Birth it shouldn’t prevent anyone from receiving it and enjoying its benefits.
I repeat the words that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, “You must be Born Again.” It is the only way of entering the kingdom of God, “You must be Born Again.”
(Illustration) Before personal computers, laptops, and iPads became popular, I scripted my sermons with a typewriter. Can you believe my generation was so primitive? A typewriter! One of the features on a late model typewriter was this. It came with sticky tape that was used to lift mistakes off documents. On one occasion, I remember typing my Sunday message on the topic of regeneration. As I was typing I sensed the Holy Spirit speak to my heart and say, “Go back and re-type that.” It seemed strange, because I hadn’t made a typo! But I knew the Holy Spirit had spoken, so I obeyed. When I pressed the erasure key on the typewriter, it removed the old mark from the page and allowed a new mark to replace it. The Lord immediately spoke to me and said, “That’s what the New Birth is. I take away the old and give the new!”
Have you experienced this? Have you been Born Again? Has Christ removed the old sinful part of your life and replaced it with the new? You can be born again today!