2018-5-13 The Necessary Incarnation of the New Birth

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          May 13, 2018

“The Necessary Incarnation of the New Birth”
John 3:14-21

For four consecutive Sundays, we have been in this nighttime conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.  We, with Nicodemus, learned of the necessity of the new birth (John 3:1-3), for we will not see the Kingdom of God without it.  We also learned of the nature of the new birth (John 3:4-8).  The new birth is spiritual and supernatural; it is neither physical nor natural.  We also learned of the necessary revelation of the new birth (John 3:9-13).  We cannot deduce the new birth by our own devices; it must come to us from outside us and above us.  Today we come to learn of the necessary incarnation of the new birth.  Let us look at this more as we look at today’s text, John 3:14-21, more closely.


Recall that Nicodemus, after asking Jesus, “How can these things be?” speaks no more in this exchange.  Jesus, in verse fourteen, continues explaining how these things can be.  In the rest of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, we see that He is the One Who both reveals the new birth and comes to earth the embodiment of it.  Jesus begins to show us this with an Old Testament illustration—one that Nicodemus recognizes.

God’s Old Testament Church was a rebellious people in Numbers 21:4-9.  For complaint against God, against His servant Moses, and against His provision of manna, God gave His people over to the fatal bites of fiery serpents for a time.  Yet God, in His mercy, instructed that a bronze serpent be made and that the people, once bitten, look upon it and be made whole.  Thus, the remedy for the temporal judgment came from Him Who effected it in the first place.  Alas, like too many of God’s good gifts, the means of rescue later became an idol—thus necessitating its destruction in the time of King Hezekiah (r. 715-687 B. C.).  Similarly, the Son of Man—a favored self-reference of Jesus—must be lifted up (and that upon a cross to draw people to Himself, John 12:32) in order that the believing one may have eternal life.

Michael Card, in his 1990 contemporary Christian song “Lift up the Suffering Symbol,” shows with words and music both the illustration in today’s text and its fulfillment.  Note the words of the chorus: “Lift up the suffering symbol.  Place it high upon a pole.  Tell the children to look up and be made whole.”[1]  The Lord Jesus, lifted from the earth on a cross, does us more good even than the bronze serpent did during the wilderness wanderings—for Jesus not only heals our earthly, bodily troubles, but He foremost heals our souls, redeems them from the pit, and reconciles them in Himself to our Father.

Indeed, what a loving gift of our loving Father is His only-begotten Son—our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus tells us today that the Father sent Him because He loves the world.  The Father sent the Son also because through Jesus the elect—that is, the ones believing in Him—perish not for themselves in sin, but have eternal life through Him, with abundant quality now and forever.  Jesus tells us, moreover, that the Father sent Him not to condemn the world, but in order to save it through Him.

By world, we do not mean every soul ever created—for that would be universalism, and Scripture nowhere teaches this.  By world, we understand both His redeemed elect from every place, people, language, and age (cf. Revelation 7:9) and His created order—as evidenced by its description after Satan’s final vanquishing (Revelation 21:1 ff.).  These, in the fullest sense, will be saved.  Jesus reiterates this, saying that the one believing is not condemned, but the one not believing stands condemned already, because he has not believed in the Name of the only-begotten Son of God.  Here are two pieces, then, of good news: first, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), and, second, though the unbeliever stands in a position of condemnation, that condemnation does not this instant stands unalterable—for the unbeliever, by the Spirit’s work—may be persuaded concerning Jesus and place his faith in Him, with all the exquisite good that entails.

Jesus concludes His remarks to Nicodemus with what He calls the judgment.  Jesus, by His inerrant, infallible judgment, declares that light—embodied in Himself, the Light of the World (John 8:12) has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  Furthermore, those in darkness hate the light and do not come to it, lest their deeds should be exposed.  Yet, on the contrary, there are those of the Light of the world who both do the truth and display clearly (by God’s displaying) that the truth has been wrought in God.  When we walked in darkness, before meeting Christ, we aimed to cover our dark deeds (and, to lesser degree, as believers we are tempted similarly when we sin).  Now, as children of our Heavenly Father, we display our deeds wrought in God—but, in this display, we agree with the Psalmist, “Not unto us, O Lord, be the glory, but to Your Name give glory” (Psalm 115:1).

We see now that, not only was it necessary for the Lord to reveal His new birth, but also it was necessary for the Lord Jesus to become incarnate to effect it.  Jesus’ atoning work is both essential and prerequisite to our new birth.  We have no relationship with God without it, and the work of Christ precedes it.  The author of Hebrews, led by the Spirit, noted that Jesus, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and He now sits at God’s right hand (Hebrews 12:2)—and for this atoning work accomplished we praise His Name.  Moreover, the work of His Spirit passes us from darkness to light and from death to life (John 5:24).  It had to be this way—and, praise God, He did it: both for His own glory and for our eternal good.


[1] “Lift Up the Suffering Symbol,” from the album The Beginning (1990).  Words and Music by Michael Card (accessed at http://www.newreleasetoday.com/lyricsdetail.php?lyrics_id=50522, May 11, 2018).