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1st April 2001

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Scripture Reference

JOHN 3:1-17

The newly appointed Roman Catholic Archbishop, Dr George Pell, met with a hostile reception this week. As Piers Akerman wrote, under a Daily Telegraph heading: "Snarling Wolves Circle Shepherd" "Some reporters with very large axes to grind, have decided that a re-focus on basic Catholicism is a bad thing. The charge against Dr Pell has been led by the Sydney Morning Herald's leading homosexual activist David Marr, the author of a book that makes numerous charges against the church. Both the paper and the ABC have been absolutely dishonest in not disclosing Marr's clearly conflicted views when publishing his opinions."

Frances Costa said it succinctly in The Sydney Morning Herald: "With the Herald, the ABC, homosexuals, an ex-priest and a few trendy nuns against Dr Pell, I am for him!" Dr Pell is criticized for his belief that being Christian means a person lives a totally different life style. The public always water down the high demands of Jesus. But we who follow Him have no option but to be different. The followers of Jesus were never meant to be just nice, inoffensive people no different from other citizens. They were to be totally different! Jesus said they would be completely changed, as if they had been "born again!" When Jesus said: "No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again" John 3:3 he used a term better understood as "begotten". As a father is responsible for fertilizing an ova to produce a baby in the physical world, so only our spiritual Father can produce spiritual life in the spiritual realm. Spiritual birth does not come from the efforts of man, but by the result of God's intervention. "Born again" means "born from above", or "born from God." 

When Jimmy Carter was elected President of the U.S.A., it was quite amusing to see spiritually ignorant newspaper journalists try to explain what "born again" meant. They did not have the faintest idea that Jesus invented that term which Christians have used ever since. They had no knowledge of the thorough transformation involved in spiritual regeneration ? a transformation of a person's life, attitudes, will, directions, relationships - so total that it can only be described as being "born again"! This key teaching about being born again is found in a discussion Jesus had with a Jewish leader. Nicodemus is introduced, not with pride, as a leader coming to talk with Jesus, but as just another spiritually lost and ignorant person. This was to illustrate the first point Jesus wanted to make:

Our colleague from our Samoan congregation, Rev Mautofu Fuimaono, preached a brilliant sermon to about 150 staff at our communion last Tuesday on the theme: "The Sin of Being Good." He is precisely right! The enemy of born again Christianity is the Christianity accepted by so many people of just being good, of behaving and being just nice. The spiritual leaders of Jerusalem were good living men but whose hardness of heart and legalism turned people away from faith. They could not understand the teaching of Jesus about the new temple that would replace the magnificent Temple of Herod the Great. JOHN 2:23?3:2 Jesus taught a new relationship with God could exist outside any Temple. They could not think of a spiritual relationship with God outside of a physical place and so rejected anyone who questioned the role of the Temple. 

It was one of these leaders who visited Jesus at night to talk with Him without the pressure of the crowd and without being observed. 3:1-2 "Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night." It was to this significant man that Jesus stressed the need of spiritual rebirth. Nicodemus was wealthy but to God he was spiritually poor. He was educated but to God he was spiritually ignorant. He was the ruler of the Jews but to God he was a nobody. He was a religious leader but to God he was lost. Jesus wants us to understand that business, educational, religious and political leaders can also be spiritually lost. 

Nicodemus said, "Rabbi, 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." Jesus was not interested in exchanging pious platitudes. He went straight to the point: "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." v3. Nicodemus thought such a thing beneath him. After all he was a respected leader: "the leader" is the phrase that is used. Jesus went to the heart of the matter: spiritual life begins with spiritual birth. "No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." No one! Here is the utterly radical nature of Christianity. You cannot grow up a Christian. You cannot be educated a Christian. You cannot reform to be a Christian. You cannot become a Christian by joining a church or by being baptized or by making a vow or by donating money. You cannot be a Christian just because you are good. You must be born again! 

This being "born again" is not an option that we chose, nor is it a requirement for only bad people, nor available only for the poor and ignorant. Jesus said "You must be born again." All of you! It is His command for all who would enter God's Kingdom. It is a requirement not an option. "You must be born again." Just as spiritual life begins with spiritual birth, so only those who have been spiritually reborn can enter the Kingdom of God. V4-7"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again." 

Spiritual birth requires the aid of the Holy Spirit. He was the creative power that moved over the face of the waters at creation and later came into the physical creature God had made with the breath of life and made him man as we know him. But what does Jesus mean by "water"? Nicodemus could have thought of the baptisms that John was performing right then in the River Jordan. Salvation only comes following cleansing from sin then grace through the Holy Spirit. Ministers since have usually referred to the "water" as Christian baptism. Nicodemus would have not understood that as Christian baptism was not initiated until Pentecost three years later. However Nicodemus would have thought of something quite foreign to our understanding. The term "water" was used to refer to male semen as required for a natural pregnancy. 

He would have understood Jesus to say a person enters the Kingdom of God through natural birth as a creature of God and spiritual birth as a child of God. To enter the Kingdom requires both physical and spiritual, the human semen and the Holy Spirit. So Jesus continues: "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." Jesus is clearly stating that the only way into God's kingdom is through the action of God in making us not only His physical creatures, but by rebirth His spiritual children. This radical change is described as a second birth: being born again. 

The basic requirement for being "born again" is our faith in, or belief in, Jesus. The one thing that Nicodemus could not do is to believe in Jesus. He could admire Jesus as a great teacher sent from God in the same way that many modern people do. He could believe that Jesus was a miracle worker in the same way that many do today. But like many moderns, he would not allow himself to believe in Jesus as God's Son and Messiah. So Jesus says to him: v10-12 "You are Israel's teacher, and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony." Belief is the key requirement for spiritual life, for new birth, for entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus must say to many Australians like Nicodemus: "You do not understand" belief is the central requirement for a spiritual life. "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?" Belief in Jesus makes you a Christian and brings to you a totally changed life-style. 

Jesus sums up the focus of belief: v13-15 "No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." We need believe Jesus is God's Son who came from heaven to suffer and die for us on the Cross of Calvary to forgive us of our sin, and that everyone who believes in Him is born again and enters the Kingdom of God forever. John brought our belief all together in a great statement that has become the most preached-on text in history: 16-17 "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him." That is clear. Belief in Jesus alone enables you to be born again and so enter the Kingdom of God as a child of God forever. Without that belief, regardless of your status, education, or religious practices, you are lost! 

With that belief you will be born again and enter the Kingdom of God. Everybody who is born once will die twice, but those who are born twice will die only once. Those who are born physically will die twice ? physically and spiritually. But those who are born twice ? physically and reborn spiritually, will only die physically, for spiritually they will live forever. "You must be born again." That was the favourite text of the great Methodist evangelist, George Whitefield. When asked why he preached on that one text so much, he replied: "Because you must be born again." Christianity is a lifestyle that sees you totally changed.

The answer for Nicodemus lay in spiritual rebirth. One night he came to Jesus and listened, but he never responded. What of you? You have come to hear the words of Jesus. You have heard them. Will you respond? Being born again means to be changed completely, as coming from darkness to light, from death to life, from Satan to God, of getting rid of an old humanity and putting on a new humanity; of being a new person, of dying to yourself and your ways and rising to life in Christ. That was the Gospel Paul preached. He had experienced it personally himself. He knew it was true.

The story of the church is the story of twice born people. Zacchaeus, Matthew, Paul, Lydia, Constantine, Francis the sensual who became Francis the Saint; Luther the legalist Monk who became Luther the proclaimer of grace and who turned from working our salvation to accepting it by faith; Wesley the runaway failure who became one of the bravest of all; David Livingstone who opened up Africa; Albert Schweitzer who inspired my generation with his genius and his humble missionary service; Malcolm Muggeridge who turned from being an atheistic critic of the faith to one of it's most able writers; C.S Lewis, the agnostic Oxford Don who became the passionate apologist for Christ; Chuck Colson who knew the power of the White House but found God's greater power in his Watergate prison cell. You cannot understand the church outside of those who have been converted to Jesus Christ. Conversion lies at the heart of our ministry at Wesley Mission. Have you been converted? Unless there has been a complete change of heart and life then you too should seek to be totally changed - born again!


Rev Dr Gordon Moyes


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