Sermon: “How Can a Man Be Born Again?”
Rev. Jim Carriere
Illustration: Setting the Stage Context: John’s Gospel: Purpose: “that you may believe” Exchange with Nicodemus: Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night Jesus is addressing his question: “How can a man be born again?” () “How can these things be?” Nicodemus is having difficulty grasping the heavenly things.
What does it tell us? Jesus explains “heavenly things” to Nicodemus:
- In doing so, Jesus reveals the whole purpose of his death.
- He offers the full scope of what it is to be “born again” in Spirit.
- He begins exactly where Nicodemus’ heart is: Moses
THE CROSS: Man cannot be born again without CHRIST CRUCIFIED v. Jesus must give his life for our sins. As Moses “lifted up” the bronze serpent () The Israelites were cursed by serpents. They were being bitten by snakes and dying. The LORD instructs Mose to build a brass serpent to save Israel from death the serpent a serpent without poison is lifted up. those who were bitten by snakes need only look to the serpent the people are healed. In the same way/manner, the Son of Man, Jesus, will be “lifted up” Israel is cursed by sin-stung by sin sin leads to death those who live in sin need only look to Jesus lifted up on the cross the people are healed/saved Jesus explains the end purpose for being “lifted up” - "... that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." This is not the image of the Messiah that Nicodemus might have expected. Like most Jews, he would have expected the Messiah to come with power and glory, and be honoured by men. BUT… Jesus had come to suffer and be hanged on a tree for all Israel, and all the world, to see. AND… the benefits of his crucifixion become our own. Eternal life is described in : "And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus whom you have sent." Eternal life is knowing God; but not simply knowing information about him. As in the OT, knowing God means "having a relationship with him, involving response, obedience, and fellowship" (Kruse, 114). The cross is intrinsically tied to rebirth. The cross is necessary to being born in spirit. Jesus' pending atonement (by being lifted up on the cross and in the resurrection) is the "way" by which being reborn is possible. Without rebirth, salvation is impossible. For a anyone to be born again, they must lay down all of themselves at the cross. No path to redemption walks around it. To be reborn is to walk to straight to the cross and look the pale, lifeless body of the Christ. He must give in to his own sufferings, so that he may bear the burden no more… but step forward in the light of hope.
CONVICTION: Man cannot be born again without faith is a most endearing passage. It’s our favourite. this is the basis for “justification by faith” - But it is love with a proviso (caveat). We tend to stress more of the love, and not enough of the caveat. First, God’s Love "God thus loved the world in such a way that his Son will be lifted up on the cross and that whoever believes in him should have everlasting life" The Son is lifted up for the world. Nicodemus likely thought that God's purposes of mercy were entirely confined to the people of Israel, and that the Messiah would appear for the benefit of Israel. The Jews didn't question God's love for Israel; they were readily aware of that (Morris, 229). But Jesus says here, that God loves the whole kosmos -the entire populace; saints and sinners, God loves them all, from Adam to now, with not distinction. His love is not limited to any nationality or spiritually elite. Says Ryle: "A more wonderful verse is not to be found in the Bible That God should love such a wicked world as this and not hate it,—that He should love it so as to provide salvation—that in order to provide salvation He should give, not an angel, or any created being, but such a priceless gift as His only begotten Son,—that this great salvation should be freely offered to every one that believes,—all, all this is wonderful indeed! This was indeed a 'heavenly thing'"(J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John) This clarifies the nature of Jesus mission. The force behind the cross is the immeasurable love, the agape, of God. It is because God loves that the Son of God is lifted up. Jesus was sent, will be slain, and will be raised again to bring life and salvation because of the agape of God. Second, The Proviso; The catalyst to all this is faith in Jesus. "believe" is instructive and used 5 times. v.15- Jesus exaltation on the cross precipitates belief and carves out of the darkness a way to eternal life. Whoever believes that Jesus is the Son of God receives ETERNAL life. v.16 - Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish: v.17 - Whoever believes that it is God’s own Son on cross, giving his life so that we will not be condemned. The word "condemned" in the GK means, simply, to "declare guilty." Jesus didn't come into the world to declare it guilty. Rather his coming from the Father is so that the world will be saved from judgement; from condemnation by guilt. BUT.. v. 18 - the cross does not automatically bring salvation. To avoid condemnation one must live by faith in Jesus. "No man is saved unless he believes" (Morris, 232). whoever believes in Jesus will not be condemned. They will escape judgement.
Review: How can these things be?
The cross: Jesus must be crucified Conviction: You must believe that the Jesus on the cross is the Son of God. and third… Conversion
CONVERSION: Man cannot be born again WITHOUT the TRANSFORMATIONAL WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT You cannot love the darkness and be born again. Here, the light metaphor is used to represent Jesus - the Son of God descending to the world (the darkness). There is no mind among the world to give up their sins. People love the darkness. They have no wish to be disturbed in their wrong-doing (Morris, 233). They are quite comfortable in their patterns of sin. They have a propensity to live away from the light, because the light will expose them. The darkness represents not a general atmosphere or mood or even an overall state of being. Rather, it means moral darkness, mental darkness, sin, ignorance, superstition and irreligion. Today we might identify some of these as crime, lawlessness, greed, envy, selfishness, a lack of knowledge of the Bible, belief in other religions, secularism, pluralism etc. It is manifest in anger, unruliness, a disregard for the sanctity of life, godless people in leadership and politics, godless policy, self righteousness etc. but to be born again is to live in the light… it is to live in Jesus. It means what Paul describes as “keeping in step with the Spirit” It calls for moral changes; a turning from the evil ways that stop the light from getting in. The Gospel is clear... Jesus is the gift for those who do what is true; bringing about in people the works not of evil, but of God (v.21). “Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that i may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” which means ‘to act faithfully’, ‘to act honourably’ (Carson, D. A.. The Gospel according to John. Kindle Edition). There is a moral conversion of the heart that takes place when one is born again. You are different, so you live differently.
Conclusion (What does it say again?) How is possible to be born again? Look to Jesus and accept the gift of the cross. Believe that Jesus is the Son of God, sent by God, out of God’s love. Live in the “light” (light=Jesus). The crucified Christ, lifted up on the cross, is the light that exposes the darkness of evil. Those who live in darkness are born of the flesh and have not experience s rebirth in spirit... so they cannot see him; the light of Jesus has not exposed the darkness in their hearts; the light of Jesus has not exposed the evil ways. It's not just that they haven't "seen the light," it's that they haven't seen what the light exposes. When we see the darkness in the world, it's because Jesus reveals it in his light. I cannot recall all the things I did that I thought were innocent because they were funny, or that nobody else is going to know so they didn't matter.... until I looked at Jesus on the cross - the Son of God lifted up - that I realized how contradictory my life was to the Word of God. Application (What do we do about it?) Those who live in darkness; who abide in their own self and sin are already condemned Conversely, those who live in the light are already saved. Those who have looked on the cross and believe that Jesus-the Son of God-has been given up because God loves us are born again in the Spirit. The cross is not a deposit to be cashed in later. Jesus saves today. Those who are born again by faith, are saved today. Those who are not are condemned today. The cross is a key that locks you in. It locks you away from the consequences of sin. when you look to the cross… despite the darkness of what happened there, it is actually light in the darkness of the world. The cross is your guarantee from God, that Jesus seals the deal (the covenant) for everlasting life. That God himself hung on the cross, being sin for our sin. That Jesus, as the Son of Man and the Son of God, wraps his love around repenting sinners