Ye must be Born Again!
It Is The Confession of The heart.
What is the gospel?
What is The Gospel? Nothing in life is more vital to know and understand as to answer the question, What is the Gospel? It is the very source of all hope and all joy, to know and to have secured for yourself eternal life. I cant begin to imagine anything more important that this, nor could I consider any joy greater.
To not only have the answer to the question What is the Gospel, is to have the answer to life, to not have the answer to that question is to continue to live in persistent darkenss where all seem far too confusing to ever understand.
The headline title to this sermon says it all, it repeats the very words of Christ, “Ye must be born again”, but what does that mean? What is the Gospel?
There has been some confusion over the years as to the exact meaning of the word Gospel in the English language, being originally translated from the Greek word ‘Evangellion’, it is a word only found in the New testament.
In Old English and Middle English it was a compound word “God-Spel”, which meant ‘Gods Story’. It was also referred to later as ‘Good Tidings’, sometimes ‘The Good News’.
The Entire Bible was known as ‘The Gospel’.
Jesus and the disciples went throughout the land preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. Both Gods Story and the Good News of it, is appropriate. Today we use the word ‘Gospel’ in the worlds setting as that which is ‘absolute’ and ‘true’. When we make a statement we might add that “its the Gospel truth” or in the negetive, “well its not Gospel…but”, but is that the Gospel? Is it just another way of saying the truth? If not, what is the Gospel?
In the Church setting it is the sharing of the message of hope and salvation for all people concerning Jesus Christ, who he is, why he came, why he died and why he rose.
It is indeed Good News and glad tidings and it tells Gods Story about man, his origin, his fall and, most importantly his redemption, that is, how man can be redeemed, or rescued, from the consequances of his sin.
1. God reveals the Heart.
3 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
There are a few things we can know firstly about Nicodemus just in the text before us;
- There was a man of the Pharisees.
- The Pharisees where simply an important and devoted Jewish sect that held to the Exact observance of the Jewish religion. Paul the apostle was a Pharisee, in fact he was also the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6)
- A Ruler of the Jews;
- This can be taken in two ways and both apply here;
- This clause is explanatory, IE the Pharisees were indeed rulers of the Jews.
- This clause is additional, not only was he a Pharisee but also a ruler.
- Member of the Sanhedrin. A group that served as the Judicial authority for the Jews. (Turn forward to Jn 7:45-52)
- This can be taken in two ways and both apply here;
Here we find Nicodemus defend Jesus; it tells us something important concerning a change in the life of Nicodemus.
45 Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him? 46 The officers answered, Never man spake like this man. 47 Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived? 48 Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? 49 But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed. 50 Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) 51 Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth? 52 They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet. 53 And every man went unto his own house.
This is a meeting of rulers, the officers, Pharisees and Chief priests which form the Sanhedrin. So Nicodemus was a relatively influential ruler in Israel.
- He came to Jesus by night;
- We see that it was not in the open light of day that he came to Jesus to personally enquire of him, but at night. Why at night?
- Fear of the Jews (See John 19:38-42)
- We see that it was not in the open light of day that he came to Jesus to personally enquire of him, but at night. Why at night?
The “Fear of the Jews” was not so much related to the people but the rulers, the expression is used in John 7:13 at the feast to which Jesus told his brothers he would go not up yet (οὔπω. Not yet) (Jn 7:8), where “no man spake openly of him for fear of the jews” (John 7:13).
The same is said of the Disciples in chapter 20:19 of John after the Death and apparent disappearance of Jesus.
19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
Might this also be a reason for Nicodemus coming by night? Is he not a ruler himself?
To consider it more take a look at the previous chapter, John 19:38-40
38 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. 39 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. 40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
So as we see Nicodemus’s early visit may likely have been precautionary, we see him a little bolder as he defended the Lord in the seventh chapter and then, together with Joseph of Arimathea, we see him as a believer, taking and dressing the Lord in Linen and spices then burying him in the sepulchre. In this Nicodemus came to have understanding of the question we began the study of, What is the Gospel?
Even though this was understood by him, even though he came to believe, we remind ourselves that the power of this Gospel was not fully realised yet, for Jesus was not yet risen. But also we consider that the actions of many of the disciples should not be harshly judged, many of which were confused due to Jesus death, whom most thought would be the promised physical deliverer of the nation.
What we can assume safely is that this night meeting between him and Jesus had impacted him greatly, particularly as he observed his ministry in the coming chapters.
The hidden things of the heart are known to God;
Turn back to Chap 3
Then what we note is something of great interest and that is how Jesus responds to Nicodemus. Nicodemus acknowledged an authority in Jesus “we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.”
Yet here we have the Lord cut straight to a point that he seemed to have an insight, respecting the heart behind the enquiry;
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
The two statements seem not to relate to one another. Jesus was explaining the spiritual truth behind the Gospel even though Nicodemus did not seem to be enquiring about the Kingdom of God, yet this is exactly the response Jesus Gives him likely knowing the deepest desire of the heart of Nicodemus.
Wonderfully what we find with God is that he knows the heart, his concern is always with the heart.
It’s there where belief is to be found and it’s there where unbelief begins.
Matt 9:3-4 And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. 4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?
The apostles also acknowledged that God knows the hearts of all men when it came time to choose an apostle to replace Judas; (Acts 1:24)
24 And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen,
Jesus saddened by the lack of sincerity of many confirmed the words of God spoken in Isaiah saying;
7 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, 8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
Brethren it is what is in our hearts that hinders even our prayers;
Psalm 66:18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear me:
Note also that the tenth commandment is against Coveting, an act ONLY done in the heart!
God Knowing our hearts and our thoughts is a good thing, this is why when answering the question What is the Gospel, we must conclude that it is the answer concerning Christ that is made within the heart, faith is from the heart, it is the heart which changes the mind, and it is there where the Gospel is wither accepted or rejected.
Prayer from the heart.
But it’s also the secret prayers of our hearts that can save us, the Lord knowing our hearts even hears when we pray within it;
Turn to Gen 24:42-45
When the servant of Abraham went to find a wife for his son Isaac, many are unaware that the entire conversation he had with the Lord was done in his heart;
42 And I came this day unto the well, and said, O Lord God of my master Abraham, if now thou do prosper my way which I go: 43 Behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass, that when the virgin cometh forth to draw water, and I say to her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water of thy pitcher to drink; 44 And she say to me, Both drink thou, and I will also draw for thy camels: let the same be the woman whom the Lord hath appointed out for my master’s son. 45 And before I had done speaking in mine heart, behold, Rebekah came forth with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down unto the well, and drew water: and I said unto her, Let me drink, I pray thee.
We know the Lord answered his prayer exactly as he asked.
In the beautiful passage of 1 Samuel 1:12-15 we have Hannah by the temple praying for a son;
13 Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken.
Verse 15 tells us that she had “Poured out her soul before the Lord” in that heart heard prayer.
You see, It’s what is in the heart of man that concerns the Lord,
- it’s the heart that believeth unto righteousness,
- it’s the heart that seeks after God,
- it’s the heart that confesses Christ,
- it’s the heart that believes the Gospel.
- It’s the heart that came unto Jesus by night in this passage.
It’s your heart that Jesus desires to quicken to eternal life and it culminates in believing the Gospel.
2. Jesus reveals the way
4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
The passage before us here begins with a question from Nicodemus, not an illogical question but a question that springs to all our minds when we hear of the New Birth.
Jesus gives to Nicodemus the clearest condition for entrance into heaven that any man can have.
This is not one of many options, but one condition alone, one way to heaven.
There may be “all roads that lead to Rome” when desiring a certain City in Italy;
There may be “many ways to the top of Mount Fuji” when desiring a view in Japan;
But there is only one way to the Kingdom of God and eternal Life and Jesus makes it plain;
“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
To which Nicodemus asked in the only way he knows how, from a perspective of Earthly things;
How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
To most Christians even today, the New Birth is a side issue, they turn away the notion that “except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” yet this is the culmination of the Gospel, this is that spiritual change that occurs when belief in the Gospel is found.
Its one of the rare things spoken of today without which hinders heaven, actually makes it impossible; “except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”.
In the years that led up to the revivals in England and the USA in the 1700’s the New Birth was also a strange doctrine.
Most believed just like today that as long as your Church attendance was at a high level; that you were baptized, some as a child, others as adults; that you were a member of a Church body; that you have received a certificate with your name; that you did run well in community service; that you said grace at meal time and catechized your children in the doctrines of the Bible; then the kingdom of God is a given for you.
But it is Jesus himself who said “except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”.
George Whitefield in the 1700’s brought this understanding in England where he preached to all, from the Poor to the aristocracy, from which rolling revivals broke out.
He brought it to the shores of the United States that the essential message to all mankind was “Ye must be born again”.
He drew crowds of thousands, tens of thousands. He preached to a crowd in Scotland estimated at One hundred thousand people. Imagine the MCG Full.
Benjamin Franklin claimed to have heard him at a miles distance, this is before the years of amplification.
What was his message that helped transform two great nations and inspire many a preacher?
“Ye Must be born again”
I had a wonderful opportunity to share the Gospel briefly with a young man who owns a popular business here in Sunbury, he shared with me how he had his business blessed by a local pastor, he told me how he gives and donates to many causes and he does many good works.
I told him that Jesus simply said “Ye must be born again”, he stopped and thought a while, I then quoted the former verse “except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”.
I then explained it to be a spiritual work of God to all who’s heart will believe the Gospel.
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:5-6
Every man is born physically, born of water, born of the flesh; but the Bible teaches we are not yet born spiritually, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Friends there is no such thing as a Christian who is not born again, no man can be a “Christ-One” unless he is born of the Spirit of God.
Most who call themselves Christians are NOT BORN AGAIN, they are nominal (In Name Only) and we know they are many for these are who Christ refers to in Matt 7, those whom he does not know
What is it then to be “Born again”, what is it to be “In Christ”, Jesus goes on to say
7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
It is a work that comes from a destination unknown to us before it arrives. Just as we can sense the wind through our hearing, but cannot tell from where it comes nor can we know its destination, so too is this mysterious work of God upon everyone that is born of the Spirit.
That we must be born again is plain in scripture, that we can truly understand how it happens is a mystery.
What is certain is that it changes our lives completely. It is the result of believing the Gospel.
What we can know is that it tells of a New nature; our Old nature also known as our old man, is crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6), that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 Cor 5:17).
And “so is every one that is born of the Spirit”.
A true change has occurred, it is not only a wiping of the slate of our lives; yes Jesus indeed gave his life as a ransom for us (Mat 20:28), yes Jesus truly was made to be sin for us, he who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor 5:21),
Yes it is true that a legal transaction had occurred, our sin and filth exchanged for his righteousness and glory; but MORE had occurred;
WE OURSELVES ARE CHANGED, BORN ANEW, NO LONGER DEAD IN TRESSPASSES AND SIN, BUT ALIVE IN NEWNESS OF LIFE.
THAT IS THE GOSPEL, THAT IS THE “GOOD NEWS”.
Friends, to be Born Again is not a feeling, it is a work of God that transforms our lives;
This is what makes a Persecutor of Christians to become the greatest evangelist in History, Paul the Apostle.
This is what made plain men preach with boldness, leaving their old lives behind, even willing to die for their faith in sharing the gospel for what they KNOW to be true;
Peter; James; Andrew; Matthew; Thomas; Phillip; Bartholomew; James son of Alphaeus; Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite and Mathias.
This is what changes a Slave trader to pen one of the greatest Hymns ever sung; John Newton WITH Amazing Grace;
This is what inspires men and women all over the world to tell of the “good news” and hope of eternal life to all people. This they do with no hope of earthly gain, no earthly kingdom, willingly persecuted, willingly beaten and killed, as lambs led to the slaughter.
This is what inspires so many to risk their lives just to get a copy of the Bible into lands starved of the Gospel.
This is what inspires the selling of all things for that pearl of great price.
And this is what will inspire you through the hard times that may come. It is not a feeling, not something good to do, not a benevolent fund to dedicate toward, but a changed life through the New Birth of the Spirit of God. what is the gospel? it is life everlasting through faith in jesus christ, a faith performed in the heart.
The Gospel of the Kingdom of God is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for the saving of your soul.
The New Birth is the effect of the Gospel believed in the heart.
3. Man confounded by the answer.
Well perhaps you might feel a little like Nicodemus in our final verse this morning
9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
Here we have a Pharisee who perhaps had thought he lived his life well; he had worked a good work, he prepared his life for heaven, he reached the highpoint in the very effort of eternal life, he set the laws for others, taught them how to live virtuously, a good life.
He cared for his family, honoured his parents, tithed of all that he had, kept the Sabbath day, and washed the outside of the cup diligently ensuring that in every way those who compared themselves among themselves would see him as one to aspire to. He bettered many of his peers in the work of God.
He was, in his own eyes, just.
And now to be told by this relatively young preacher (Jesus) who he acknowledges in the text is “Sent from God”, that Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
I am sure this was a stumbling stone for him, all that he ever believed and lived for was essentially an error. “How can these things be?”.
To think of the humility it must take for a grown and successful man to acknowledge a lifetime of error.
Yet he came to Jesus by night to enquire of the truth.
Perhaps you too have thought you lived a good life, better certainly than most. You have behaved with virtue to those around you. You lived honestly, not defrauding those you trade with, not scheming to steal or cheat or lie. You have worked hard, had a difficult life but cared for those around you.
You have certainly laid your plans out well, thought your plan good and fit for heaven, even deserved.
But now you are as incredulous as Nicodemus; “How can these things be?”
Man desires self-righteousness.
All your life it’s been about you; your righteousness you have judged to be far superior to that of most people, in fact you have judged most people according to the standards you have set for them.
You have not been consistent in keeping that same standard yourself but manage to justify yourself in breaking it. You laid your plan well.
Self-righteousness is what most people desire, they want to be remembered for their OWN goodness.
But; Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
The Stumbling bloc
Now you stumble at that stumbling stone, Jesus has suddenly become a rock of offence to you; “how can a man be born when he is old”.
The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but there you are, thinking what foolishness is this….born again!
Foolish things of the world seem to confound the wise.
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence. 1 Cor 1:27-29
The way of peace not known
There is perhaps a hardening of your arteries even now, that the Gospel of his grace will not easily flow into the deep recesses of your heart. The way of peace will you not know and there is no fear of God before your eyes (Rom 3:17-18)
You have considered the commandments of God and you think you’ve done well enough.
- No other Gods before me; Surely what I think God should be like IS what God is like, that’s not another god is it?
- I’m not making a graven image am I, I’m not creating a god out of my own likeness am I? Its not like selecting the things I like from other religions to come up with one “I” am happy with is IDOLATRY is it?
- I haven’t blasphemed him lately, I’m not calling myself a Christian but living another life for all to see.
- I go to Church most Sundays, keep that day always free of work, don’t often separate myself from the assembly of the brethren.
- Hey, I can’t dishonour my parents if they’re not alive anymore, so I’m good there aren’t I?
- I haven’t Hated much, or too often thought my life better served if ……didn’t exist.
- Not Lusted toward the opposite sex I’m not married to lately.
- I haven’t stolen….. much
- Haven’t lied…today!
- What’s coveting mean anyway?
Perhaps you have thought your plans well, prepared a place in heaven for yourself but now, like Nicodemus, for the first time hear,
“ye must be born again”
You will notice that in the text we have before us, verse 3 says Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
It does not say he shall not enter into the Kingdom of God, it says he cannot.
This is not a permissive thing but an impossibility, Unless a man is born again, born of the Spirit.
To be convinced reasonably of the necessity of a complete alteration of the person in order to inherit the Kingdom of God, lets look at some logical consideration.
Speaking of God;
- Habakkuk 1:13 says Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, And canst not look on iniquity:
- Job 15:15 says Yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight
- Job 4:18 says And his angels he charged with folly:
Man is described as Having
- no good thing dwelling in him (Rom 7:18)
- Shaped in iniquity, conceived in sin (Ps 51:5)
- Abominable, filthy, we drink in iniquity like water (Job 15:16)
- Minds at enmity with God (James 4:4)
- The thoughts of our heart is only evil continually (Gen 6:5)
Tell me then logically, when we look into the perfect law of God and we truly reflect on our own nature according to what is true rather than what we like to think of ourselves; since there is such infinite disparity between us and God, can we conceive of how such corruption in man can dwell eternally with an infinitely pure and Holy God, before we are changed into his likeness?
Can he who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity dwell with it?
Can the one in whose sight the heavens aren’t clean dwell with uncleanness itself?
Is it at all possible that light can dwell with darkness?
YE MUST BE BORN AGAIN!
Its not a change of ACTION, but a change of the HEART that dispels the old to gain the new.
Its not a near death experience that suddenly brings a new insight to life that changes a man, but believing in the heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, ransomed for YOUR SIN.
Can I ask you, would you want to be with God in heaven for eternity when you can’t endure Godliness now for a short time?
Think of how much change needs to be made for a deaf man to enjoy the most harmonious music, think of the complete alteration that needs to occur for a blind man to enjoy a sunset.
But if it delights you to converse with God here, it will be magnified infinitely with the sight of his glorious majesty hereafter.
If you love to commune with the saints on earth, it will be of the purest delight to commune with the angels and the ‘spirits of just men made perfect’ in heaven.
Nicodemus is given by Jesus a further explanation of the Gospel in the coming verses (which we will consider next week).
But this, and beholding Jesus in the few years to come, wrought a change in Nicodemus that he desired Christ more than he desired his old life; so much so that together with Joseph of Arimathea anointed the Lord and rolled the stone on his tomb.
We don’t hear any more of Nicodemus in the Bible, but it will not surprise me to meet in heaven a man so humbled by Christ to have given all his prior learning, his governing authority, his societal status and even his wealth, and would have said with Paul;
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things,
and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ (Phil 3:8)
What is the Gospel? Ye must be born again