Reframing New Birth | John 3:1-21
Topic: Gospel Passage: John 3:1–3:21
*Note: Audio quality is slightly lower than usual.
Christopher Rich – October 14, 2018
Reframing New Birth | John 3:1-21
Introduction | What’s a Christian and how do we change?
Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work,Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we are continuing our series REFRAMING JESUS: Portraits of Glory from John’s Gospel.In Reframing Jesus, our desire isn’t to reinvent Jesus into someone He is not or make Jesus into an image we are more comfortable with. Instead, we seek to have our portrait of Jesus reframed by John’s Gospel to see Him as accurately and glorious as possible.
Last week ended with many people who were “fans” of Jesus because of what he was able to do namely the signs he performed (specifically driving out the casino petting zoo from temple). And yet, while there was many who “believed in his name” There is this tension presented on the true nature, not of the passion of their belief in Jesus, but in the authenticity of it. There was outward profession, proclaimed excitement, but then there is this haunting commentary in 2:24 that Jesus did not entrust Himself to these people for this reason. Because he knew what is inside of them. Jesus knows the condition of their heart and soul, and it’s not sufficient. It’s lacking. So somehow we need to reframe our understating of what it means to be a Christian, disciple, follower of Jesus in order to discern the difference between being a fan and a follower, to know are we part of God’s kingdom or are we exiles? This leads us to ask, How do you understand what a Christian is? How do we comprehend the necessary change that happens as Christians?What is the irreducible essence of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus? In a pluralistic and biblically less than literate culture we need clarity on what being a disciple IS and is not. We need understand there is a distinction between interested in the teaching of Jesus and trusting Jesus as your savior for your sin and king of the universe and your life for no other reason than to avoid this place of these people who are supposedly excited about Jesus. In John 3:1-21 we will be Reframing New Birth seeing what it truly means to be “born again” why this matters/what it produces, we’ll see “how” God has accomplished this and the “why” that drives it all.
PART I | Reframing “What” New Birth Is | v1-8
John 3:1-8 | 1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus is a Pharisee and member of the ruling council over every Jew in the world, and is “the teacher of Israel” this is a complex and comprehensive role. He was important, influential, and intelligent. He may have been a bit of a fan of what Jesus was doing. He’s not actively hostile, but he is intentionally hesitant to engage with or certainly affirm Jesus publicly. He comes in darkness hidden from what others might think or want to call him out on. Because of who he is, he knows he’s someone who is under scrutiny so he comes at night seeking…. We don’t know what, and maybe he didn’t know, but there is a clear yearning that has come up in his soul that says, “I want to see some change, change in me, change in the world and I’ve heard and seen about Jesus and I wonder if this is the place I can have that yearning met.” He’s seeking something and looking for it in/from Jesus and is granted this very personal one-on-one dialogue with Jesus. Being curious about Jesus is not the same as confession of Jesus and conversion to be a disciple of Jesus. You need to know who Jesus is and understand the nature of who you are in relationship to him.
Jesus isn’t just a great teacher - Nicodemus starts by asking (or declaring) who Jesus is.Hey Jesus you’re a great teacher just like us! We know God is with you in what you’re doing. Hey we really like the direction of things you’re teaching (we’ll maybe). He is a fan of Jesus, but he assumes that Jesus is just a slightly more empowered version of himself. Like “I could be Jesus with just a little more time, effort, power.” Jesus cuts him off and changes the conversation. Jesus asks a question he wasn’t asking, hadn’t asked, or didn’t know to ask. If you start to listen to Jesus, He’s going to take the conversation in a different direction that you planned or expected. You’re coming to me because you think I am a good teacher, but you know I’m a bit controversial, so you came in the dark of night. Let me tell you why you’re really here. Jesus replies by teaching him the importance of being born from above.We’re gunna talk some theology so you understand… Jesus confronts him with some clear theology to present him with the comfort of real hope that true foundational change is possible and can lead to true communion with God now and forever.
Truly, Truly….In verse 3, Jesus ties together to mega concepts of your identity and His Kingdom. Who you are at your core is what is going to determine what your engagement and experience with God’s kingdom will be. The “unless” makes new birth necessary. To “See” the Kingdom is to understand it, enter it (v5), and experience it. You cannot see it unless you’ve been born again. To know this is necessary, is to understand that without being regenerated (born from above/again) we are in a state of exile from the Kingdom of God. To yearn for change properly we have to understand our present condition. Without Jesus because of sin, we are exiles. What we’re yearning for is the effect of sin to be removed in our lives to be made new and to have peaceful communion with the God who made us. Yet we know we’re not there.This would be challenging for Nicodemus for several reasons. 1. I am born already into the kingdom, I am Jewish. I have an inheritance I know I’m going to see the kingdom of God what are you talking about?2. How can such a dramatic change happen for old men like me. What you’re talking about makes as much sense as a guy crawling back into his (even older) mother’s womb. Not only does it seem impossible but also quite unpleasant. He could be merely as confused by what Jesus said as we can be reading this. You don’t understand the kingdom of God, let me teach you, to see the kingdom of God you need to be Born Anothen.Born anothen (grk) means “again”, but also (and is usually used in the NT) to mean “from above” you need a birth that comes from “above.”
New Birth is necessary and we cannot do it on our own- Clearly Jesus explains that we are not people in need of a little reforming but radical transformation. Jesus is talking about a transformation that is so significant that it can only come from God! It by nature has to be “Super Natural” because it can’t happen through even the most extreme amount of physical (personal) effort. There is a distinction between the birth we experience physically, and the new birth Jesus is talking about that comes “from above” it is spiritual in nature. It makes us new by renewing who we are at our core identity and nature. New life comes from new birth. So it’s not turning over a new leaf but it’s being transformed into a new creation.
Regeneration: The mighty work of God by which unbelievers are given a new nature and born again. -Greg Allison.
“The simple reality is this: everyone who is truly a Christian is born again. There are no other kinds of Christians. There is no such thing as a non-born-again Christian or an unregenerate Christian. Yes, there are plenty of unregenerate church members and plenty of unregenerate people who profess to be Christians, but a person cannot be in Christ unless he or she is regenerate.” – RC Sproul
So we’re clear, there is not an expression of life that is “Christian/In Christ” that does not include the new birth. We recently had a person visit that “secret shops” churches and then writes reviews of what they experience and hear.They seemed bewildered that we would appear to emphasize a personal conversion to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. That more than anything else we saw our mission as calling people to be disciples of Jesus, and that faith in Jesus as the Son of God was necessary for salvation. Yea, that’s sorta our big idea. But it’s not one we came up with. Here is Jesus breaking down as THE necessity for entrance and experiencing the kingdom of God and it’s not charity work, or even tons of study (Nic was a learned guy) being a good person (or not a bad one), or even status and power. It’s new birth.
What does the new birth produce? Why is it necessary? It produces a new worldview you look at things in terms of the kingdom of God in relation to everything else. It produces new desires (you don’t want the same things because you have an entirely new heart.)It produces growth, just a birth does you’re not born as an adult. It’s a process, that includes a removal of your old nature of sin and being imparted with a new nature. Jesus says this is how it’s always been, so don’t marvel Jewish Teacher of the OT because the concept of “regeneration” fundamental transformation is not a new age or never discussed until Jesus shows up this concept has been well flushed out in several instances in the OT. But most clearly here:
Ezk 36:25-27 | 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Old Testament prophets emphasized that people needed two things: 1. They had to be purified. 2. They had to be resurrected by the power of God. Both are implied by Jesus. So the new birth makes you clean from sin and empowers you to new life with God. Water and Spirit = Clean/Purifying and Change that is Powerful.This is the depth of transformation, old is taken out, dirty is made clean new is put in. Jesus explains that Israel needs more than a teacher with new information. They need a new heart. It’s ok to not understand how it all happens, just like the wind we can feel the reality of what’s happening in our lives.
PART II | Reframing “How” New Birth Happens | v9-15
John 3:9-15 | 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
How does this work? I get it’s the Holy Spirit working in the lives of people to bring them new life and it’s from above, but how will we experience this? Are we given anything as a sign or symbol know see or know that God has been at work in healing people from sin and giving them new life?
Reframing new birth requires understanding heavenly things. Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus’s first question confuses him, and this he asks a follow-up question essentially, “How can this happen?” Jesus answers by rebuking Nicodemus for not understanding the Old Testament and for not believing Jesus’ testimony – after all Nicodemus had already (3:2) testified that Jesus clearly was a teacher sent from God. As religiously trained and societally empowered it’s not enough to enter and enjoy the Kingdom. Jesus gives His credentials for discussing the kingdom of God. He’s from Heaven. He’s the only one. He has authority to tell us how life and death and heaven and hell work. Understanding New Birth begins with knowing who Jesus is.
God has given a symbol look at to understand how the new birth happens. Jesus uses the story of Moses and the lifted serpent as an illustration. Numbers 21. People who have actually seen mighty works of God have deep heat level distain for God even speaking out against God. Pride, ingratitude, disobedience, rejection of life with God. Sin leads to pain and death. A plague of poisonous snakes (Boom Snakes perhaps) comes, many people get bitten and several die. The people in sin are suffering and need salvation. People repented of their sins (they were specific in their sin and their need) and cried out to God for salvation and God tells Moses to make a bronze snake and place it on a pole lift it up saying “and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” There life of repentance was shown with faith (looking to the lifted-up snake) lived out in obedience to God’s specific prescription for where life will be found. The bronze snake on a pole was the means God used to give new life to the children of Israel. Here is this scene of great pain and suffering, but great glory as well. This new life was an upgrade (ie not dying from a snake bite) but it’s not eternal and it only mitigated suffering and didn’t produce flourishing and joy. Jesus is better than a lifted-up bronze snake. In the midst of a world bitten stung and dying from sin is a God who has made provision for healing and that provision is the cross lifted high over this wrenched scene leading to salvation.Jesus is the means that God would uses to give new life to all who believe. But Jesus is saying, Him being lifted up (allusion to the Cross) is how God has prescribed for faith to be demonstrated in obedience to trust the saving work Jesus did (will do in this case) by dying on the cross for sin. Looking to Jesus and His work in your place is what grants eternal (New Birth/Born from Above) life. This story is import because it both precedes and illuminates (reframes) the next very familiar verse.
PART III| Reframing “Why” New Birth is Given | v16-21
John 3:16-21 | 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
For in this way… God gives and God sends.Not exactly the degree of God’s love (though infinity costly) it’s talking about the means of God showing His love to the world. So it’s not “how much” but “in what way.” In the same way God showed His love and care for Israel (one nation/tribe/family) in the midst of their sin. God shows His love for the WORLD by His sent and given Son. New birth comes by the work of the Holy Spirit who points people to faith in Jesus (work in their place) God the Son (who was at great cost of enduring the cross given as a sacrifice), for the purpose of both revealing the depth and nature of God’s the Father’s reconciling love for His people are in every tribe, tongue, and nation in the world.
So whomever looks to Jesus (like the snake bitten Israelites to the snake pole) will not perish from the bite of sin but will have rich full abundant life with God and His people now and forever. Belief means not perishing. Not being cut off from the blessings and joy of life with God. Instead there is a new life that is born “from above” in the Spirit experienced imperfectly now and perfectly in the age to come.
The driving force behind God’s mission of salvation through the sending and giving of His only Son Jesus is the Love that God has for the WORLD. This is a difficult thing for a Jewish leader to hear. God loves people so much that despite their sin and rejecting of Him he has made salvation available to all. All means all. Not All unless…. It’s incredibly universal more universal that we typically think. The Gospel of Jesus is both radically universal AND radically specific. Gospel is BIG open to all people, Gospel is Narrow exclusively through Jesus alone. There is a big qualifier. Whoever…. Fill in the blank with something besides Jesus alone. No! Whoever,… believe in Him (the Son Jesus) Just as Israelites looked at the snake you are to look at Jesus. Eternal life and Kingdom life are tied together. It’s not forever exiled life. Eternal isn’t just endless life (it is endless) but it’s new life that means some parts of your life will end. I wouldn’t want an endless life that includes everything that hinders my joy and flourishing forever. Some things need to end.
There is condemnation without Jesus- Why? Because it’s a rejection of God. More than that it’s also a receiving of darkness. Darkness, life without God/Jesus is more welcomed than light and life with Jesus. Light/life is present, and light and life have been presented as an alternative to death and darkness without God and people choose the latter. They know there is sin and they’re hoping that darkness will cover and conceal it. They hate the existence of light because it can expose them and they would be without refuge. I say this not be fatalistic but to be clear some people are presented with life with Jesus and they do not receive but they reject. In this case quite bluntly when people receive judgment and eternal separation from God it’s not only that they get what they (really all of us) deserve it is that they get what they desire. Judgement and condemnation are still a reality and they are inevitable if you continue to walk opposed to Jesus.If this is you, come to the light and life of Jesus. Because in the light, yes you are exposed and not concealed but you are comforted in/with Jesus who is your refuge. My and your works are evil and bring suffering and death, but His works are good and perfect and bring joy and life. We know we have hope!
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.The words of Jesus are challenging, but they are clear. As sure as there is condemnation for sin without Jesus the is not condemnation for those with Jesus.
Jesus is given and Jesus is sent. The purpose of this mission is not one of condemnation and judgement but is a mission of mercy to all of us who stand condemned for our sin when we don’t reject but rather receive.
There is a verdict as people hate Jesus because He is light that expose sin. We need to know the verdict against us is nailed to the cross in Jesus so we can have life. Confess and repent of your sin. Look to Jesus for salvation, place your hope in him. Know if you do/did it was an act of the Holy Spirit. Be baptized in the water signifying what Spirit has already done to make you new.
Nicodemus has this critical conversation with Jesus where Jesus is clear what work is done and who does it. And that tension is allowed to sit in him for some time. Later we’ll hear that some of the leaders of Israel were or became disciples of Jesus (it’s a vague reference to Nicodemus for sure) but after the cross (Jn 19) when Jesus is being buried we see who is there helping to prep the body? Nicodemus! A disciple who spent a good Friday looking at up at the lifted-up Jesus and recalled a conversation he had 3 years earlier with that same Jesus. His journey took a while and when from question, seeking, private affiliation, to public allegiance showing anyone and everyone that he is born from above to simply Trust Jesus.