AGCC Sun. a.m. 10/7/2001
#4 (The MUST Series)
"YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN!"
TEXT: John 3:1-21
INTRO: We all know what "FALL" means, winter is coming. Most of us hate winter … a time of dark days, very cold weather, very few signs of life outside -- can't ride my Harley anymore! Most everything outside dies in the winter. Imagine what we would think if we had no idea about seasons!!? Our hope would be gone, we wouldn't even know about the new birth in the Springtime, but hope is not gone because we all know that life will be born again in the Spring.
When sin entered the human race it was the "fall" of man, and we all know what follows "fall" … the death of winter! This spiritual winter is observable in the world around just like the natural winter is … we can see death all around us. Sin expresses itself in evil all over the world, recent events like the World Trade towers in New York City being hit by terrorists is only one example of evil in the world.
What brings about rebirth after the natural winter? The rising SUN restores life to the earth … and what brings about the possibility of rebirth to a dead soul? The risen SON of God and His light!
For all of mankind's greatest achievements nothing can restore the soul of sinful man except the Son of God, as Jesus put it, "YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN!" (3:7)
The world resists this idea, yet it is the only hope for mankind, the very concept of rebirth is found everywhere in nature and even culture … so why do we resist it in the spiritual realm?
ILLUS:When translator Des Oatridge, working in Papua New Guinea, came to the words "born again" in John's Gospel, he asked his native co-translator to think of a good way to express it. The man explained this custom:
"Sometimes a person goes wrong and will not listen to anybody. We all get together in the village and place that person in the midst of us. The elders talk to him for a long time. 'You have gone wrong!' they say. 'All your thoughts, intentions, and values are wrong. Now you have to become a baby again and start to relearn everything right.'"
It was the answer Des was looking for. Today the words of John 3:3 in Binumarien reads "No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he becomes like a baby again and relearns everything from God's Word." -- From In Other Words (Mar/Apr 1993). Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 6.
PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches us that we MUST be born again if we ever hope to experience Heaven in eternity, we must become a new creature in Jesus Christ.
I. ACKNOWLEDGING GOD'S POWER 3:1-2
A. Real Privilege 3:1
1. Nicodemus had all the best credentials for a man in Israel:
a. He was a Jewish male
b. He was educated
c. He was a Pharisee
d. He was a member of the Sanhedrin
e. He was a prominent teacher
f. He was highly respected
g. HE ALSO WAS A SINNER!
2. Being a good man, a religious man, an educated man did not change the fact that he was also a LOST MAN!
a. So many today are privileged people … but still lost in their sins!
b. So many of Nicodemus' friends expected the people's interest in Jesus to simply fall away … they could not have been more wrong!
c. There are still those voices today that say Christianity is a passing fad, it is archaic and not relevant to our culture anymore.
ILLUS:From the things-we-wish-we'd-never-said category: "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." Who said it? A bigwig at the Decca Recording Company, in 1962. And who was he talking about? The Beatles! I wonder how long that guy kept his job ... -- "Strange World," Campus Life, Vol. 55, no. 2.
3. No position on earth or privileges on earth will get us access to God or Heaven … the only way for that to happen is for us to experience a complete rebirth!
B. Religion Practiced 3:2
1. Notice that Nicodemus is ok with Jesus as a "Rabbi" … he calls Jesus this.
2. Nicodemus is even ok with accepting Jesus' miracles and that He was truly sent from God.
3. Nicodemus could even go to the level of accepting Jesus as a prophet …
a. So far all this can still fit into his existing religious beliefs.
b. Nicodemus was willing to find a place for Jesus in his life as long as it fit into his existing structure, his practiced religion.
4. Nicodemus however was about to get a shock, Jesus won't let Nicodemus off easily, He won't just fill the expectations of his existing religion, only a new identification will do!
a. Jesus is about to shock Nicodemus by demanding that he change identities … he can no longer remain as he is, he will have to be born again!
b. This will require a new identification … but it will take that to truly be free!
ILLUS:In September 1989, ten thousand East Germans fled to West Germany; some by train or bus but many by car through Austria. In Europe every car has a decal with a letter designating its country of origin: A for Austria, F for France, I for Italy. The letter for West Germany is D and for East Germany DDR. The minute those East Germans crossed into Austria, they stopped and crossed out the first and last letters leaving only D for West Germany, their new home. Of course so simple an act did not make them citizens of West Germany. Nor is our conversion a simple matter of changing our name from unbeliever to believer or from sinner to saint or from secular to Christian. It is so complete a change, the Bible calls it a new creation. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
5. This is still true, no matter how hard mankind tries to ignore the fact that they need MORE than just religion, MORE than just education, MORE than just good deeds, they will still be without hope UNTIL they are BORN AGAIN!
II. ACCEPTING GOD'S PROVISION 3:3-15
A. Rebirth Priority! 3:3-8
1. Just how important is the rebirth concept? Jesus couldn't have made it clearer than this: "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (underline for emphasis mine)
a. That about states it as clearly as you can!
b. In 3:7 it is clear also: "You MUST be born again." (emphasis mine)
2. No amount of politics, religion, education, finances, or any other cultural device will save you!
a. Our hopes for salvation does not rest in the social things of humanity,
b. it rests in the spiritual things of God!
3. For all the good Nicodemus could do in the world, for all his kindness and actions, his life would be empty without a real change spiritually, a rebirth.
ILLUS:One night Canon Hay Aitken preached to a large audience in Bristol, England, on the text, "You must be born again." There in the congregation was a brilliant young man named Horatio Bottomly. He listened intently. He heard the preacher at the end of the sermon call all who were there to trust in the grace of Christ and to commit their lives to Jesus Christ, and he knew the call was addressed to him, too. He was deeply moved, but he said, "Not now, I'll run my own life." And he did.
He made a fortune and a name for himself as the champion of the people's rights. He was a lawyer; he exposed swindlers and prosecuted criminals with great vigor. When Bottomly was 63 years of age, this one who had exposed the crimes of others was himself convicted of a crime and sentenced to seven years in prison.
While he was there, another man visited him and asked to pray with him. Bottomly said that would be fine, and in the course of the conversation, the other man told his story. He said, "Yes, many years ago, I was in Bristol, and I heard a preacher, Canon Hay Aitken, preach on the text: You must be born again. I was so deeply moved that I committed my life to Christ, and ever since then, Christ has been my all in all."
Bottomly was silent for some time, and then he said, "I, too, heard that searching message. I, too, was deeply moved. I knew my need of Christ, but I rejected him." And then he said remorsefully, "A life without God is a wasted life." -- Donald W. McCullough, "Now is the Time," Preaching Today, Tape No. 73.
4. Flesh can only give birth to flesh … only God's Spirit can give birth to our Spirit … and until our Spirit is made alive in Christ we are truly dead in our sins!
a. Hence Jesus' emphatic, "You MUST be born again." (emphasis mine)
b. Nicodemus cannot get this anywhere else except from God!
5. IF Nicodemus' good life, and faithful religious service had done the job then why was he here at night to see Jesus?
a. Because he was still empty inside.
b. Because he knew that there was something still missing even though he was the finest example of being a Pharisee.
c. He knew he was still in his sins, he just didn't understand what he needed, but no doubt he hoped to find out from Jesus.
B. Ridiculous Possibility? 3:9
1. Nicodemus didn't get it!
a. He asks Jesus how it is possible to be "born again?"
b. Nicodemus is thinking only in the natural realm … how odd for a religious leader!
2. His life was God, religion was his whole life … yet he couldn't understand the basic idea of salvation!
a. He cannot grasp the idea of being "born again."
b. So often we fail to grasp the true meaning of spiritual things!
ILLUS:Our pastor has been frequently frustrated by the owner of an automobile shop next to our church. After the latest run-in, the pastor asked for prayer for the cantankerous man. "Why don't we just buy his body shop?" I asked. "Then we can truthfully advertise that our church can transform a person's body and soul." -- Anna Zogg, Salt Lake City, Utah, Christian Reader, "Lite Fare."
3. Nicodemus may have resisted the idea for the same reason we do, it means "change."
a. So often we get comfortable with the way our life is, even with the sins of our life.
b. Real change can be frightening … even though it may also be liberating!
4. The world says that you may need tons of therapy to change, Jesus said it was possible to be born again in a moment!
a. That doesn't mean all therapy is bad, sometimes we still need that to get the victory over habits, but we can be changed by God's Spirit in a moment.
b. We need a new birth certificate to enter a heavenly kingdom!
C. Righteousness Possible! 3:10-15
1. Jesus tells Nicodemus, "You are Israel's teacher, … and do you not understand these things?"
a. Finding Christ's salvation is not a matter of a good education, it is a matter of faith and simple acceptance of Christ's offer of salvation!
b. Nicodemus like everyone else will have to put their faith in Christ if they want to be born again.
c. Just as the serpent was lifted up in the desert in order for the afflicted to be healed so must Jesus be lifted up on the cross for all of afflicted humanity to have the possibility of their sins forgiven.
(1. Only those who looked up at the brass serpent were healed, though it could of healed all.
(2. Only those who look to Christ will be saved, though Christ's death can save all.
2. Christ is the way, the only way, the truth, the life … no one comes to the Father except through Him!
a. Strange that a student of Scriptures can't see the connection.
b. Here was a teacher of the Word who failed to understand the connection between the sacrifices of the Old Testament and the offer of Jesus to die for our sins, to be our sacrifice for sins.
3. Nicodemus must not see Jesus as simply a "prophet sent from God" … he must see Jesus as the ONLY and BEST gift to humanity from God, the savior of the world!
a. Jesus was better than a prophet!
b. This was God's best!
ILLUS:In 1944, C.E. Goodman of Hallmark Greeting Cards wrote a slogan: "When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best." Ever since, that motto has been used to sell greeting cards. When we look at Jesus Christ, we know that God cared enough to send the very best. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
4. God sent His best to mankind, His name is Jesus!
a. His love was so powerful, His desire to save man from his sins so great that He would spare nothing to make it happen!
b. Nicodemus was speaking with more than a "RABBI" … he was speaking with the very Son of God Himself!
c. He has the opportunity to be BORN AGAIN, will he take it?
d. Will you take it?
5. For all the rules the Pharisees had with the hope that someone might attain righteousness the real possibility for righteousness was simply faith in Christ!
a. The only thing to do was to simply accept the provision God has made.
b. This is still true after these many thousands of years!
III. ANNOUNCING GOD'S PLAN 3:16-21
A. Reconciliation Provided! 3:16-18a
1. Jesus simply announces the free gift, in a verse of Scripture so well known that most people who don't even know Christ know this verse!
a. "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."
b. Nicodemus did not have to be alone, Christ was His gift for salvation.
2. Sin makes us alone, even among so many people … but Christ takes that isolation away when He comes into our life, we don't have to be alone in our sins anymore.
ILLUS:From 1986 to 1990, Frank Reed was held hostage in a Lebanon cell. For months at a time Reed was blindfolded, living in complete darkness, or chained to a wall and kept in absolute silence. On one occasion, he was moved to another room, and, although blindfolded, he could sense others in the room. Yet it was three weeks before he dared peek out to discover he was chained next to Terry Anderson and Tom Sutherland.
Although he was beaten, made ill, and tormented, Reed felt most the lack of anyone caring. He said in an interview with Time, "Nothing I did mattered to anyone. I began to realize how withering it is to exist with not a single expression of caring around [me]. ... I learned one overriding fact: caring is a powerful force. If no one cares, you are truly alone."
Christians, who are never truly alone, are also fortunate to receive God's gracious care through the church. This care can provide the strength to endure. -- Lynn H. Pryor, Snyder, Texas. Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 1.
3. Nicodemus does not have to figure it out, he does not have to make it happen by his many religious rules, he does not have to work to earn his salvation, he only needs to accept Christ as His lord and savior.
a. Christ provides everything that is needed.
b. No one can gain salvation by their own effort, it is impossible, we must come through Christ.
c. God has made reconciliation possible through Christ.
B. Rejection's Penalty 3:18b-21
1. Failure to be born again means living in darkness!
a. Not believing means being condemned already.
b. Jesus is the only way, we MUST be born again!
2. It is interesting that Jesus used the analogy of light to explain His presence in the world … to a Pharisee like Nicodemus such an image of Jesus as the "light" would hold great significance:
ILLUS:Among the Jews of Jerusalem, the dawn of the Day of Atonement was eagerly awaited. A watchman stood on the walls watching for sunrise. When he saw the first rays he would shout, "Light! Light! I have seen the light!" -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
a. Will Nicodemus accept the light of Christ?
b. Tragically, we are not told what decision Nicodemus made, but there are hints later about what he did:
(1. In John 7:50-52 he is seen to be defending Christ before the Sanhedrin, an outward act of support for Christ.
(2. After Christ's crucifixion is was Nicodemus who helped provide for Jesus' burial needs (see Jn. 19:39-42)
c. Surely Nicodemus' life was never the same … but was that enough to find salvation? Did he accept Christ as the Messiah? Only this would free him from his sins!
3. What about you? YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN … there is no other way!
CONCLUSION: One day we all MUST stand before God. It won't be how religious we were that gets us into Heaven, or how good our deeds were, or how much money we gave to good causes, or even how sincere we have been. The only ticket into Heaven is IF you are BORN AGAIN! Jesus said it clearly in 3:7 "You MUST be born again!" (emphasis mine). Have you been, and if not … will you now?