Born Again? Readings: 1 Peter 1:22-2:3 and John 3:1-21
John 3 is a very familiar chapter to most Christians. It has the famous words of Jesus in chapter 3:16 that are known around the world: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The majority of John’s gospel gives us information that the other gospels do not. Most agree that John’s gospel was written last, some time after Matthew, Mark and Luke. Some think that by the time John wrote, many if not most of the people who had known Jesus personally had already died or were killed.
When Paul wrote what we call 1 Corinthians he mentions that you could still talk with people who had seen Jesus after His resurrection. 1 Cor. 15:6.
John records for us a spiritual look at Jesus that focuses on His divinity. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God, He was in the beginning with God, all things were made through Him, and apart from Him nothing was made that is made.” “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” What is this saying? God became one of us. Matthew calls Him, “Emanuel” which means God with us. But John’s language is of a nature that intensifies the spiritual aspect of Jesus’ presence. Then John selects personal encounters and records much more of the conversations of Jesus than the other gospels, particularly does John give us the words of Jesus himself. If you have a red letter edition you will see how John records where Jesus talked a lot to people in private. John tells what Jesus said in those conversations with an unusual amount of claims and intensely spiritual instruction.
In these personal encounters and discourses of Jesus we hear Jesus inviting people into a spiritual awareness and a spiritual life. Not that the other gospels do not do this, but John’s gospel does so in a unique way. Just as in John Jesus makes divine, spiritual claims about Himself that the other gospels do not record for us, in these personal encounters between Jesus and singular individuals, we are allowed to overhear God’s Son calling them into a saving, spiritual kingdom relationship with Himself.
Let’s walk through this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus together and hear the voice of Jesus instructing this teacher of Israel.
Verses 1-2 gives us part of the setting for this profound spiritual instruction of the word of God. (Read text).
What motivated Nicodemus to come see Jesus? Where did this take place? Chapter 2:23-25 tells us that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Jewish Passover and had done many miracles. Many saw and believed, was Nicodemus among them? Nicodemus says, “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
This is an expression of faith, but is it a saving faith? John 12 gives us insight here. Look with me at John 12:37. Now look at verses 42-50. (read all)
Jesus defines His spiritual mission: I have come into the world as a light so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. I did not come to judge the world but to save it. My words will judge those who reject them. I say just what the Father has told me to say.
Back to John 3. Jesus has come as a light in this dark world. Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. There’s a reason the gospel tells us this. Nicodemus believes that Jesus is a teacher from God, but he still can’t see the kingdom. He needs more light. It will take a new birth for him to have this light.
John 3:3 – Jesus makes this point clear, but with a statement that Nicodemus can’t or doesn’t want to understand. No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. What do you do with those words of Jesus? How do you understand them? Do you understand them?
Nicodemus replies, “How?” How can this be? How can an old man be born again?
He’s asking the questions and Jesus gives the answers. Here is an important point of faith. Faith in Jesus is not based on fully grasping all Jesus says. Throughout the entire gospel of Mark, the disciples… and I mean the people closest to Jesus who devoted themselves to following Jesus, were constantly misunderstanding Jesus. It’s a major theme of Mark. But did they have saving faith? Yes, many did. Faith reaches beyond our understanding into the spiritual world of God’s kingdom.
Jesus gives the next piece of instruction and it’s another big one. (read John 3:5-8).
“No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”
Notice, in verse 3 Jesus said no one can see the kingdom of God, but this time Jesus says, “No one can enter the kingdom of God…” both seeing and entering require a birth. In the first case, born again, and in the second case, born of water and the Spirit.
Jesus explains that flesh gives birth to flesh and the Spirit gives birth to spirit. Then Jesus chides Nicodemus saying, “You should not be surprised at my saying you must be born again.
Jesus further explains that the wind blows where it wills, you hear it, but you don’t know where it came from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.
*Now, can I see a show of hands for all who fully grasp and understand what Jesus just said? I looked at about seven good commentaries and found that as simple as these words are, they are not easy.
When Jesus says these words Nicodemus repeats his question: How?
Jesus chides him again: You are Israel’s teacher, yet you do not understand these things?
John’s gospel often records where Jesus says things that leave people scratching their heads. They have ears, but can’t hear. They have eyes but can’t see. Let’s go back to John 12 again and let’s pick up in verse 37 and read through 43. How does this help us understand chapter 3? What’s the problem?
Being born again of water and the Spirit is necessary if we would enter the kingdom of God, right? Is that not what Jesus said? What do born again people look like? Back in John 3 we left off where Jesus was about to explain.
Listen as John creates a kind of literary echo, it seems to me, to explain Jesus’ kingdom words to people in need of being born of water and the Spirit. Words that can’t be heard unless there is a heart that can have faith. And not just believing in Jesus faith, but a confessing Jesus faith that does not let other fears silence its confession. Saving faith, born again faith, is a born of water and the Spirit faith. This is what Jesus came to give us. This is what God’s love for the world bestows.
Look at verses 11-21, now listen to John’s testimony in verses 31-36. Now compare this with John 12:44-50.
Jesus has revealed the Father to us. He has spoken God’s words to us. He has called us to a new birth that only He can perform for us. This birth must be received. We are not able to MAKE this happen. We can only accept it by faith and receive it through the Spirit. It comes with water and the Spirit. That’s what baptism into Christ is and does for us. God does the work, we receive the spiritual work done to us. Colossians 2:11-14, Titus 2:5, 1 Peter 3:21, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 4:4-6, etc., etc., etc.
Do you have a saving faith? Or is your faith one that is silent, afraid to confess Jesus Christ is Lord to any and all who will hear it? John 12:42-43 or Romans 10:9-10. A baptized person who is not confessing their faith is one who has a form of godliness, but denies it’s power. A baptized confessing Christian who humbly obeys Jesus walks in the Spirit and receives God’s continual saving grace.