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John 3,1-17 Born Again

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John 3:1-21

You must be Born Again![1]

1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus,

a member of the Jewish ruling council.

2He came to Jesus at night and said,

“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.”

 3In reply Jesus declared,

“I tell you the truth,

 no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

 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!”

 5Jesus answered,

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God

unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

 7You should not be surprised at my saying,

‘You must be born again.’

 8The 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?

 11I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know,

and we testify to what we have seen,

but still you people do not accept our testimony.

12I have spoken to you of earthly things

and you do not believe;

how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

 13No one has ever gone into heaven

except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man.

14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert,

so the Son of Man must be lifted up,

15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

 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.

17For God did not send his Son into the world

to condemn the world,

but to save the world through him.

18Whoever believes in him is not condemned,

but whoever does not believe stands condemned already

because he has not believed

in the name of God's one and only Son.

19This is the verdict:

Light has come into the world,

but men loved darkness instead of light

because their deeds were evil.

20Everyone who does evil hates the light,

and will not come into the light

for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light,

so that it may be seen plainly

that what he has done has been done through God.”

There are times when life gets a little stale,

boring and empty,

when you do the same things over

and over and over and over again.

You go through the motions

but that inner drive or passion is not there.

       The fire in the belly has gone out.

It happens to us in so many different aspects of our lives.

In our jobs for example.

We go through the motions.

In many ways,

we go through parts of our jobs

over and over and over again,

for one year, two years, twenty years, forty years. 

Over and over again...

We shine the shoes of the boss

       To keep him off our backs and happy.

At one time, the job was quite exciting,

but time has gone by

and the inner enthusiasm isn’t quite there anymore.

Jobs can become stale.

You personally, not just the job,

But you can become stale on the job.

We can become washed out,

worn out, burnt out.

We all know that feeling…

Or the same thing can happen to you at school.

You know inside

when you are going through the motions at school,

when the inner enthusiasm isn’t there.

You have had the same teacher

for about nine months now

and the words all seem to be the same.

Your grades are dropping

       And you feel lousy about it.

And the same thing can happen in your marriage.

You know when you are going

through the motions of marriage.

At one time,

your marriage may have packed a romantic punch…

you occassionally stopped by the florist

on the way home from work

and bought her some roses and a box of chocolates…

but time has passed by

and that enthusiasm is no longer there.

Now your marriage is often like that little comic strip, where:

       Mr Pig and Mrs Pig are sitting across from each other

       at the kitchen table…

       He is grinning from ear to ear,

       And she looks very irritated and angry…

       The caption says: “Sweet and Sour Pork”.

Our marriages often become a little stale,

a little repetitious.

You end up being married a long time

and you get into this conversation with your spouse,

and within two minutes into that conversation,

you know where it is going.

You may even say something like,

 “O no, honey, not again.

We have had this argument some 10,000 times.”

The flame of love and romance is still flickering,

But it’s a far cry from the roaring fire

That once made your marriage unsinkable.       

The same can happen in your friendships

and with relationships in general.

The once well-trodden path

to the house of a friend is beginning to grow over,

and it’s becoming a real chore to keep up the friendships.

And, the same thing can happen in your religious life,

in your relationship with God,

where you go through motions with God

again and again and again.

You come on Sunday morning

and you experience the same old routines

and the same old prayers

and the same old announcements

and the same old sermons

said by the same old pastor,

with the same old hymns,

and you sit in the same old pew

with the same old people

who hold the same old bulletins.

It is the same old same old,

Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

And so there comes a time

in our religious life

where we begin going through the motions

but the inner motivation is no longer there

and the inner heart is not quite alive.

It is with these images in so many aspects of our lives…

job, school, friendships, marriage, religion…

that we approach the story of Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was a man

who had lost his passion for the word of God.

Nicodemus was a man possibly in his mid fifties or mid sixties.

He was a distinguished teacher of the law,

a professor of religion at the temple in Jerusalem.

He was a man who had pretty much seen it all.

In his relationship with God,

Nicodemus was a man

who was going through the motions.

He knew the law;

he was a teacher of the law,

but his inner enthusiasm for God

wasn’t there any more.

So Jesus showed up in town,

and Nicodemus had gone to hear him preach in the temple. Nicodemus sensed that Jesus had something inside of him

that he no longer had.

Nicodemus was touched by Jesus’ preaching

and he decided to talk to him.

So quietly, one night,

Nicodemus went over to the home of Jesus about midnight…

I guess he didn’t want other people to know

That he needed help.

He knocks at the door and Jesus opens:


“I know it is late,

but my name is Nicodemus.

I am a professor of religious law down at the temple,

and I would like to speak with you a minute.”

Jesus said,

“OK. Shall we go out for a walk?”

Nicodemus replied,

“O no. No, no, no, no, no.

We don’t want to be seen outside.

Do you mind if I would come in?”

Nicodemus came in

And Jesus invited him up to the roof of the house

where it was cooler and he offered him something to drink.

Jesus asked, “How can I help you?”

Nicodemus said,

“Things are not quite right with me.

They aren’t quite right inside of me.

I sense that you have something that I don’t have anymore.

I am tired... say… Burnt out… almost depressed…

My lectures are stale.

I am getting old and slow.

I am interested in what advice you would have for me?”

Lit. “We know you are a teacher who has come from God”,

       No one could do the signs you are doing,

       If God were not with him.

Jesus has this uncanny ability

to look right into a person’s heart, and he said,

“I know the problem that you are having Nicodemus.

It is not that you are old;

it is not that you are tired;

it is not that you are worn out.

The problem is this;

you are no longer close to God.

You have drifted away from God.

God is no longer living in the center of your heart.

Nicodemus, you need to be born again.”

Nicodemus replied,

“Born again?

I never heard of that…

(no wonder, besides this passage, I only found reference

To this phrase in one other passage in the entire Bible,

In 1 Peter).

You mean, take and push me back into my mother’s womb?

Come on, now, I’m not a Doctor,

But even I know that’s impossible.

I can’t be born again.”

Jesus said,

“You don’t understand Nicodemus.

You need to be born anew,

to experience a rebirth in your relationship with God.

You need to be born of the water,

the cleansing waters of God.

You need to be born of the Spirit,

you need to be born from above.

You need to experience rebirth.”

So the conversation ends,

       And Nicodemus leaves

       Probably with more questions than answers.

But, we wonder,

How does this story end?

Did Nicodemus become born again?

Was Nicodemus born anew?

Did he experience a rebirth?

How does the story end?

The Gospels don’t exactly explain what happened to him.

We have to fast-forward through the Gospel of John

to hear the very end of the story.

The story comes from the events of Good Friday,

after Jesus had been crucified.

John 19:38

38Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.

Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly

because he feared the Jews.

With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away.

39He was accompanied by Nicodemus,

the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.

Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes,

about seventyfive pounds.

 40Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it with the spices,

in strips of linen.

This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.

41At the place where Jesus was crucified,

there was a garden,

and in the garden a new tomb,

 in which no one had ever been laid.

 42Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation

and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.


Here is Nicodemus for this most sacred ritual.

This old man Nicodemus…

He was there attending the dead body of Jesus.

This Good Friday story about Nicodemus

reveals that he had become a disciple of Jesus Christ. That he had been born again,

born anew, born from above.

Yes, Nicodemus was reborn in his relationship with God.

What happened?

How did he figure it out?

What does it mean to be born again?

What is God’s lesson for us today?

Well, far too often in life,

we have drifted away from God.

In our relationship with God,

we are going through the motions

without the inner motivation.

You can be a person who is fifteen or eighty-five…

and you have drifted away from God.

Things aren’t quite right.

Maybe you can identify with the Nicodemus

       Who comes to Jesus in search of some answers

       Under the cover of darkness…

Maybe you start to develop some habits of faith

       That over time grow into a traditionalism

That is far removed from a living relationship with God.

Then it is time to find your way to Jesus

       And to say to him:

       “Lord, my love for you is growing dimm,

I need your help.”

And Jesus will look deeply into your heart and say,

“You need to be born again,

to be born anew,

to be born from above,

to experience a rebirth of God’s love in your heart.

You need to be born of the water and the Spirit.”

In order to be spiritually alive,

you must be cleansed by the waters of God forgiving grace. We need to have our sins washed away daily.

Because we are sinful by nature,

we need to be constantly washed of our sins,

cleansed…, purified...

We are in need of the cleansing waters of God.

To be born again, Jesus says,

“You must be born of the water.”

We must come clean before God when we have failed,

We must repent of our wrong doing,

And ask Him to make us “zestfully clean”.

To be born again also means to be born of the Spirit.

To be born of the Spirit is not just to have a religious high,

kind of like having religious champagne…

becoming all spiritually bubbly inside.

Do you know what happens to even the most expensive

bottle of champagne when you leave it open overnight?

What does it taste like the next day?

I’m not a connoseur, but I would guess that it get’s flat.

And yesterday’s religious mountain-top experiences

are often flat as a pancake by tomorrow.

Have you ever been to a super exciting event,

       Like a concert or evangelistic rally,

       Or a Mission Trip to the inner city of Chicago or Cincinati,

       Or sitting across the table

from former guerrilla leaders in Colombia…

Have you ever been up on the mountains,

       Where the sky is blue and the air is so pure

       Your heart could pump for a whole day

on just one breath of that hi-octane air…

Many people have experienced such a spiritual high as well.

       These can be life-transforming times in our lives,

       And I’m sure that Nicodemus experienced them as well.

But, the reality is that you can’t stay up there forever.

To be born of the Spirit means

to have the Spirit of Jesus Christ living inside of you,

and to allow the Spirit of Christ to rule in your life daily

especially also when you’re down in the valley.

When we are born of the Spirit of God,

our heart, our mind, our hands, our feet,

our entire Being is filled with a passion for Christ.

To be “born again” should never become a confusing label,

that smacks of a spiritual superiority…

as in “I’m more ‘born again’ than Jim-Bob down the Street,

so, I’m obviously a better Christian.”

That is never how Jesus intended this conversation to end up.

John 3:17

17God did not send his Son into the world

to condemn the world,

but to save the world through him.

Jesus did not come to make us feel bad about our failings,

       And to tell us that we are not good enough…

Jesus came into the world to give us new life…

To restore that “fire in the belly”

       That we once had, when we first believed…

       Or, that passion to live every ounce of our life for Christ.

To be born again opens us up

       To be loving and forgiving,

       To care for those who suffer around us,

       Because our faith is deeply rooted

in the love and compassion that our Saviour has for us.

To be born again means to wake up

from the slumber of our halfhearted spirituality…

and to let our lives be a daily proclamation

of our thanks to God, who has set us free

from the shackles and chains that held us captive.

Too often we have used this label to put non-Christians

       Or less spiritually mature Christians in their place.

But Jesus intended us to look inside ourselves.

He challenges us, like Nicodemus,

       To break free from the mechanical same old same old

       Of our physical, emotional, relational and spiritual life.

My friend,

       If you are at the point today where you feel

       That life is becoming bland and boring,

       I invite you to hear the words of Jesus:

       “You must be born again!”

Don’t waste another minute of your life just existing…

       Without any goal or direction in your life.

Break free from whatever chains are holding you captive

       And be born from above

with the cleansing water of God,

       And with the Spirit of Christ

that gives power and new life.


[1] Edward F. Markquard

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