Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 May 6, 2018
“The Necessary Revelation of the New Birth”
We have seen, over the past few weeks, from John 3, the necessity of the new birth (i.e., being born again or born from above). This new birth is both necessary for relationship with God through Christ and necessary for abundant, eternal life. We also have seen the nature of the new birth; it is not physical, as Nicodemus wondered, but it is spiritual—and, consequently, somewhat unpredictable. Today we see the necessary revelation of the new birth. We cannot discern it, nor can we calculate it, by our own devices—no matter how able or how desirous we are to do this. The new birth must be revealed from outside and from above us. Let’s look at this a bit more as we examine today’s portion from God’s Word. May the Spirit indeed teach us what He would have us know from this text.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Let’s look at Nicodemus’s view of Jesus’ Person and works at this instant in the conversation. Nicodemus, upon arrival to Jesus, esteems Him merely a great teacher and worker of signs. Nicodemus, after Jesus’ declaration of the necessity of the new birth, thinks of it in natural terms only—as his question reveals. Now, his question “How can these things be?” reveals that he still does not understand how the supernatural new birth comes. Hence, Jesus instructs Nicodemus further.
Jesus wonders, in effect, how Nicodemus can instruct Israel properly without acquaintance—and firsthand at that—with the new birth. Jesus’ implication is clear: Nicodemus simply cannot instruct Israel properly without this knowledge that Jesus imparts. Jesus then continues His teaching, and He begins this portion of it with His solemn formula, now uttered in Nicodemus’s hearing for the third time: “Truly, truly, I say to you…” Jesus, referring to Himself and to His followers, tells Nicodemus that we both speak what we know and testify to what we have seen. Jesus then speaks of Nicodemus and his fellow rulers of the Jews—saying that y’all (the Greek pronoun is plural for the rest of today’s text) receive not our testimony.
Then Jesus utilizes an argument from the lesser to the greater. He says of Nicodemus’s band of Jewish rulers that if y’all do not believe, based on earthly illustration of spiritual truth, how will y’all believe the higher, heavenly things? Jesus’s question appears to have no solution, but with His next words He provides a hint toward it: “No one has ascended into Heaven except He Who descended from Heaven, the Son of Man.” In this elliptic reference, we have the solution—namely, that the Lord Himself must reveal and work the new birth. This is necessary due to our limitations; the new birth cannot come to us by any other way.
Scriptures illustrates this claim elsewhere. When Peter confessed Jesus the Christ of God, Jesus said that flesh and blood revealed this not, but his Father in Heaven (Matthew 16:17). The Apostle Paul, led by the Spirit, teaches the Ephesian Christian households, and us, that God, when we were dead in sins and trespasses, made us alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-7, cf. ibid, 1-10). Hence, Jesus came to do what we cannot do for ourselves; He came to declare this new birth and all it entails. It is the Holy Spirit, since Jesus’ ascension and until His glorious return, Who makes the things of Jesus—including the new birth and all it entails—real to us. Again, we lack the ability to know this new birth apart from both Jesus’ earthly ministry and the Spirit’s ongoing ministry. Yet the Lord, in His sovereign mercy, gives to His redeemed this new birth. He gives the new birth because of Jesus’ earthly atoning ministry—the benefits of which the Spirit applies effectually to our needy souls by His secret work.
There is a certain pleasure—perhaps not sinful—in figuring things out. We rejoice—or at least express relief—when we (say, finally) solve a problem in mathematics. We take pleasure in the solving of a mechanical problem—say, with one’s lawn mower or dishwasher, for example—and, it appears to me, the less the mechanical aptitude, the more joy and praise to God expressed. It gratifies us to solve a problem in the lives of our loved ones—whether the problem involves the broken toy of the broken-hearted child, or the broken hearts occasioned by broken relationships at any age, or some other problem. When we can solve, it delights us—and this may not be sinful per se.
There are certain things, however, that are beyond our ability to figure out, due to our divinely-ordained limitations. This offends many—at least to some extent. We want the point of pride that being of help to solve a problem brings. In the case of the new birth, beloved ones, be not offended that we cannot effect this with our human abilities and drives. Rather, rejoice, for Jesus has come, and the Spirit continues to minister, in order to reveal this new birth and to dispense it lavishly at His pleasure.
Many of us have received new birth from God’s good hand—and are eternally, profoundly glad. This is both good and right. May the rest of us, in God’s good providence, both sense His drawing of us to Himself and respond with God-given saving faith. If you respond today with faith in Christ to His drawing of you to Himself, then you too—with the rest of us—may be eternally, profoundly glad.