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RADICAL TRANSFORMATION

Who He Really Is

John 2:23-3:21
29th February 2004

One of the greatest advances in medical science over the past two decades has been in reproductive techniques developed by Australian medical scientists. The success of I.V.F. — in vitro fertilization — has resulted in many couples, unable to have children, conceiving and giving birth to a new baby. The miracle of mixing sperm and ovum outside the body and implanting it into a prepared womb so that a birth results to an otherwise sterile person, is a wonder of science. The process is very selective, very expensive, and still has a high failure rate, but where successful, it brings great rejoicing.

What is now required is spiritual I.V.F.. New people are needed for God’s kingdom. People are spiritually born, not as a result of human effort, but as a result of God’s intervention into our otherwise spiritually sterile state. So many people cannot do anything about their spiritual situation by their own effort. Education does not help as it is irrelevant to spiritual lives. Frantic effort does not help because effort is inconsequential. Social standing makes no difference for status is immaterial. Spiritually sterile people are spiritually fruitless, spiritually ignorant, and spiritually frustrated. Spiritually, they don’t even know what they don’t know! As physical IVF can only proceed through the intervention of highly skilled doctors, so spiritually we can be born again by the action of God. Jesus said: “You must be born again” John 3:3 As the father is responsible for fertilizing an ova to produce a baby in the physical world, so only our spiritual Father can produce spiritual life. Spiritual birth does not come from the efforts of man, but by God’s intervention. “Born again” really means “born from above”. People have difficulty in understanding what this really means.

When President Jimmy Carter was elected to the U.S.A. Presidency, it was quite amusing to see spiritually ignorant newspaper journalists, guided by equally ignorant newspaper editors, trying to explain to their readership what “born again” really meant. We have had the same ignorance in film reviews of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”. They have not the faintest idea of the significance of the suffering of Christ, what blood atonement means and how accurate the film was to what happened in Roman scourging. I heard one ignorant ABC radio reviewer say the whipping may have been any number of strokes, perhaps only three. I counted to see if there were the required 39, and there were. Many journalists do not understand what Jesus meant when He used the term “born again”, and have little knowledge of the thorough transformation involved in spiritual regeneration a transformation of a person’s life, attitudes, will, directions, relationships — so radically that it can only be described as being “born again”!

Last Monday I interviewed for my national television program next Sunday, Mad-dog Mudford. Mad-dog has been a friend for many years. Mad-dog is a huge man, shaved head, tattoos cover his body, tattoos cover his arms and hands totally and on his face a black tattooed spider comes out of one eye. He was known for his violence, out of control aggression, criminal activities and alcoholism and drug addiction. He spent 26 years of his life in 42 prisons and psychiatric institutions. He was regarded as totally depraved and to be avoided both by other prisoners and by guards. His name Mad-dog brought fear into the hearts of all who dealt with him. After his last release, he entered a church.

A man by the door said to him, “If you come in here, your life will be changed”. Normally he would have punched that man senseless. But he went in, listened to the preacher, gave his life to Christ and was totally, incredibly born again! He has never touched alcohol or drugs since that night over 20 years ago. In place of violence he has become a man of peace. His big size, his huge fists, his leathers and chains still makes people cross to the other side of the road. He still goes to prison, but these days only to preach Christ. The prisoners listen! Everyone pays heed to Mad-dog. He walks the roads all over Australia carrying a huge wood cross. People stop and photograph him, have a cup of tea on the back-up truck his wife drives, and when he moves on, Mad-dog leaves a string of new Christians behind him. In every town, from his first night there, he preaches in some public hall or pub and people are born again! He has been born again! And if you meet him, you just forget your arguments! The key teaching about being born again is found in a discussion that 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.

1. EVEN GOOD PEOPLE CAN BE LOST.

John wrote of the spiritual leaders of Jerusalem who were ignorant of the teaching of Jesus about the new temple that would replace the magnificent Temple of Herod the Great. They could not think of a spiritual relationships with God outside of a physical place and so rejected anyone who questioned the role of the Temple. Their spiritual ignorance and personal vindictiveness was such that “Jesus did not trust Himself to them because He knew all men.” v23

Jesus knew that unless a person is spiritually begotten by God, they are dominated by unworthy passions and unseemly motives even though they were officially spiritual leaders. “He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” v25 One religious leader, like those shown in “The Passion”, visited Jesus personally one night, so he could talk with Jesus without being observed. “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and 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.’” v1–2. It was to this significant man that Jesus stressed the need of spiritual rebirth. Nicodemus was wealthy but to God he was spiritually poor. Nicodemus was educated but to God he was spiritually ignorant. Nicodemus was the ruler of the Jews but to God that meant nothing. Nicodemus was a religious leader but to God he was lost. In spite of your business, educational, religious and political achievement, you can be lost!

2. LIFE BEGINS WITH SPIRITUAL BIRTH.

Jesus was not interested in continuing pious platitudes and exchanging traditional greetings. He went straight to the point of Nicodemus’ need: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” v3. Nicodemus thought that matter was beneath him. After all he was a well known and respected leader: “the” leader is the phrase that is used. Yet Jesus went straight to the heart of the matter in a phrase that was used to introduce an important teaching: “I tell you the truth.” The truth was that spiritual life begins with spiritual birth.

Jesus said, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Here is the utterly radical nature of Christianity. You cannot be educated a Christian. You cannot reform to be a Christian. You cannot become a Christian by joining a church, being baptised, making a vow or by paying a fee. There is no evolution from the physical to the spiritual. “No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again”.

3. ONLY THE BORN AGAIN ENTER GOD’S KINGDOM.

This being “born again” is not a option we can chose, nor a requirement only for bad people, nor available only for the poor and ignorant. Jesus said “No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.” To emphasise the point Jesus repeated: “You must all be born again.” It is His command for all who would enter God’s Kingdom. It is a requirement not an option. “You must all be born again.” Spiritual life begins with spiritual birth, and only those who have been spiritually reborn can enter the Kingdom of God. “I am telling you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” v5 Spiritual birth requires the aid of the Holy Spirit. Salvation only comes following cleansing from sin then grace through the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus would understand 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 required both physical and spiritual, the human and the Holy Spirit. Jesus continues: “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” v6 Jesus clearly states God’s kingdom is open only to His physical creatures who by rebirth become His spiritual children. This radical change is being “born again”.

4. BELIEF IN JESUS IS REQUIRED FOR SPIRITUAL LIFE.

The basic requirement for being “born again” is our faith in Jesus. That became the one thing Nicodemus could not do. He admired Jesus as a great teacher sent from God in the same way that many modern people do. He knew Jesus was a miracle worker as even Muslims do today. But like many today he would not allow himself to believe in Jesus as God’s Son and Messiah. So Jesus said: “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. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? v10–12

Belief is the key to spiritual life, for new birth, for entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus says to Australians like Nicodemus: “You do not believe me? That is the requirement for a spiritual life. If you do not believe me when I tell you things of this world; how will you ever believe me when, when I tell you about the things of heaven?” Jesus sums up the focus of belief: “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.” v14 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. “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.” v16–17 There is no clearer statement of the Gospel.

That belief alone enables you to be born again and enter the Kingdom of God. Without that belief, regardless of your status, education, or religious practises, you are lost! With that belief you will be born again and enter the Kingdom of God. That is why Mel Gibson is correct in presenting the passion of Christ, the suffering of Christ, the blood of Christ, the Cross of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, because it is our belief in what Jesus did for us that enables us to be born again. 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 all be born again.”

When friends asked the great Methodist evangelist, George Whitefield why he preached on that one text so much, he replied: “Because you must be born again.”

Christianity is the most radical of all religions because it demands a complete rebirth before you can enter God’s Kingdom. Human kingdoms are built on the frustration of human effort. Ultimately they all fail because unless people are changed from the inside out there can never be lasting change in their world. Communism fails because it exhausts people in striving to be different. Humanism fails because it is unable to change the world without changing people. But Christianity survives because it changes people within, then they can change their world about them. 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? Now?

 

Wesley Mission, Sydney.