Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 April 22, 2018
“The Necessity of the New Birth”
Doubtless we have many woes in our time—both individual and societal—and well-meaning folks (not to mention some less well-meaning) offer many possible solutions to them. Some offer that more money would solve our problems, and, while I admit that this will solve a few problems, it won’t solve every problem—and it doesn’t solve our fundamental problem. Others offer that less inter-personal and inter-group anger would solve our problem. This would be welcome in our near-toxic current civil discourse, but this won’t solve every problem. Nor will it solve our fundamental problem. Still others assert that what we need for the solving of our every problem is more information and education. These, too, are good—and they do occasionally solve certain problems—but they don’t solve every problem, and they don’t solve our fundamental problem. We still need a better solution.
Happily, one avails in Jesus Christ. God’s solution for our fundamental problem—and His solution framing every other problem we face individually and collectively—is this: regeneration of our souls via the new birth described in this part of John’ Gospel. Let’s examine this new birth more in Nicodemus’s nighttime visit with Jesus; hear now the Word of the Lord.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
The Apostle John, led by the Spirit, introduces Nicodemus at the outset of today’s text. Nicodemus is a Pharisee; that is, he is a member of one of the most devout of all first-century Jewish groups. His group is noted for scrupulous adherence to their understanding of Old Testament Scripture—especially the Law. More than this, Nicodemus is a ruler of the Jews. That is, he is a member of the Sanhedrin—the supreme Jewish ruling council at the time, consisting of seventy members plus the high priest. Nicodemus, then, is a leading figure in the Judaism of his day. Yet something about this Man, Jesus, draws him to Him for an interview
Nicodemus comes not in broad daylight, but by night. A number of answers present themselves to satisfy the question, “Why did Nicodemus come at night?” Some think Nicodemus came at night due to fear—or, at least, to discretion, for he may not have wanted his visit to Jesus to be or to become well known. Others think that Nicodemus came at night due to the prospect of a leisurely interview with Jesus. Apparently, in some Pharisaic documents, their authors assert that night is a preferable time to study the Law—presumably because interruptions and distractions occur less often then. In any case, Nicodemus comes to Jesus, and Jesus receives him.
Nicodemus’s speech is somewhat cautious, even restrained. He addresses Jesus as Rabbi, an Aramaic (or late Hebrew) word meaning my great one. Rabbi was a term applied to approved Jewish teachers in those days—a term neither too effuse nor too dismissive. Then Nicodemus confesses to Jesus, “You are come from God a Teacher; for no one is able to do the signs which You surely do, unless God may be with Him.”
Notice that Jesus is indeed a teacher, but He is much more. He is a miracle worker, but not a mere miracle worker for show or applause. He performs signs, which, in John’s Gospel, are miracles to a purpose. Among those purposes are the revelation of His glory and the eliciting of saving faith from His elect. Jesus is still more. Nicodemus’s statement, “…unless God may be with him,” drips with irony, for Jesus is God incarnate. The Holy Spirit, through John, leads us to believe that Nicodemus, as yet, knows nothing of this.
Now note Jesus’ reply to His nighttime visitor. He begins, “Truly, truly, I say to you,” which is formulaic for a solemn declaration of the truth. This formula, which begins, “Verily, verily,” in the King James Version, is rendered in the original Greek by amen, amen (truly, truly or so be it, so be it, amhn, amhn)—the same word we use to close our prayers.
Then Jesus makes His astounding, yet true, claim, “Except one be born again….” Born again also may be translated born from above (Greek gennao anothen [gennaw anwqen]). Perhaps the Spirit intends a double meaning through John, for this happens often in John’s Gospel. Or, possibly, we should render the Greek phrase idiomatically, such as made new for born again (cf. Louw/Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). In any case, there comes such a total transformation to the soul in Jesus’ salvation that the person may well be said to be born again, or born from on high, or made new.
Jesus continues, saying that unless a person be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. In short, he will not be admitted to relationship with the Father through the Son save through this new birth. Nor will he be admitted to Christ’s society, the Church, apart from the new birth. Moreover, one without this new birth here required by Jesus will partake neither of eternal life nor abundant life. This astounding claim may well repel others—and terminate the interview—but Nicodemus, presumably spurred by the Spirit, replies to this and the passage continues.
Our purpose today, in these first three verses of John 3, is to note the necessity of the new birth. Without it we have no relationship with God. Without it we have no abundant, eternal life. Without it we have no special mercies from God’s hand. In short, without the new birth, we see not God.
Hence, it behooves us to have this new birth—and to know that we have it. How may we know that the new birth is ours? First, do you notice a hunger for the things of God—such as the Bible, prayer, and worship attendance? Do you have desire to forsake sin and cling unto righteousness? Do you receive special mercies from God (such as supernatural joy, peace, insight into His will, et al.) along life’s providential way? Do you sense the Holy Spirit bearing witness with your spirit that you belong to Him? Are these things increasing over time in your life? If the answer to these several questions generally is, “Yes,” then it is reasonable to infer that you are born again—and may this engender praise to God from your lips and life.
This new birth sounds most attractive, and doubtless we desire to have it and rejoice if we do. What do we do if, however, we sense we don’t have this new birth? If you don’t have it—and since you cannot grant yourself this new birth—then cry out to God for it. Our God looks most favorably upon sincere cries for the granting of His good gifts. What if you are unsure if you have this new birth? Then pray either for confirmation from on high that you have it or for revelation that you don’t, and then cry out for it. In either case, may you have this new birth, and may you know you have it.
The new birth in Christ Jesus is the sole hope. It is the sole hope for our very life in Christ, as mentioned earlier. This new birth is the sole hope for the highest and best for our families. The new birth in Christ Jesus is the sole hope for our other relationships, for our local area, and for our state, nation, and world as well. Indeed, may our great God grant new birth lavishly in these days—both for His glory and for the good of His covenant people.