A birthday that doesn’t make you any older
• You may be old if…the twinkle in your eye is only the reflection of the sun on your bifocals.
• You may be old if you sit in a rocking chair and can't get it going.
• You may be old if you say, “if god had wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.”
• You may be old if people call at 9 pm and ask, 'did I wake you?'
• You may be old if you sing along with elevator music.
• You may be old if your secrets are safe with your friends because they can't remember them either.
The truth is that we are all getting older. I have good news for you, however. There is one birthday that won’t make you any older.
There was a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee. In other words, he was as religious as a person can be. In addition, Nicodemus wasn’t just a Pharisee; he was a leader among the Pharisees. Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the Jewish Supreme Court. They were the group that condemned Jesus to death.
Therefore, Nicodemus did all of the things that a good Jew would do. In fact, Pharisees dedicated their lives to following the law perfectly. They went the extra mile to make sure that they didn’t violate any of God’s commandments or laws in any way. They were very strict about the Sabbath, about ritual cleansing, about dietary laws and fasting, about being in the temple, and about attending all the festivals. To look at a Pharisee, you would think that they were the most religious people around.
• However, who did Jesus condemn as hypocrites? Pharisees.
• Whom did Jesus describe as whitewashed tombs? Pharisees.
• Whom did Jesus argue with more than any other group? Pharisees.
His problem with Pharisees was they were hypocrites. Rather than focusing on being right with God, they focused on putting on a show for God.
A great example of the hypocrisy of the Pharisee is their Sabbath behavior. Exodus 16:29 says, “Let no man go out of his place on the 7th day.” Sounds pretty clear to me. Stay home on the Sabbath. The Pharisees, however, said, that means that I can’t go any more than 1000 yards from home on the Sabbath. That’s almost a quarter over 1/2 of a mile! That’s what it means to stay at home, to stay within a 1/2 mile. In addition, they said, “If I tie a rope across the end of the street, that makes the whole street part of my house so I can go a half mile from the end of the street.” Or “if I store food 5 miles from home on Friday, that means that location is also part of my house, so I can go a half mile past that 5 miles. See how they made loopholes in the law? They wanted everyone to think they were so religious, but they were really just religious chiselers or cheats.
I think that makes a lot of sense out of the conversation Jesus had with this powerful Pharisee.
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night… probably because he did not want any of his friends to see him associating with Jesus. He comes and flatters Jesus. “Teacher,” he says, “We know that you are a teacher that has come from God. No one could do these miracles if they didn’t come from God.” See how he is buttering-up Jesus?
Instead of saying, “Thank you,” and moving on, Jesus says the strangest thing. “Unless a man is born again from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus is totally confused. So Jesus goes on, “I tell you, unless a man is born of water AND the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Born again. What a strange concept. Born …again…
Although Born Again is a perfectly good Biblical concept it has not always been popular or rightly understood.
When Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States, he described himself as a “born-again” Christian. As more and more candidates started claiming to be “born-again.” Political satirist Mark Russell suggested, “This could give Christianity a bad name.”
“Born-again” has become part of our vernacular. This doesn’t mean people necessarily understand it. For instance, on CNN a politician was once described as a “born-again Socialist.” Gore Vidal described himself as a born again atheist. While this may suggest a personal shift in ideology, it has nothing to do with the third chapter of John.
Even the Church seems confused by this perfectly legitimate Biblical term. Some Christians think that the “born-again” label belongs exclusively Charismatic or Fundamentalist Christians. For that reason, even though I consider myself to be born again I hesitate to use that language because it is too often associated with a simplistic and judgmental perspective with which I do not wish to be associated.
The fact is that being “Born again” is a teaching straight from the pages of Scripture, straight from John chapter 3. It is an essential truth of our faith, and critical to our understanding of salvation. So let me try to illuminate it for you.
First, none of us is going to make the mistake that Nicodemus made. He says, “How can a person return to his mother’s womb a second time and be born.” We all understand that we can’t. Obviously, Jesus is not talking literally here. He is using an illustration to help us understand a spiritual reality.
In fact, it is likely that the illustration is the only way to describe the truth Jesus is trying to communicate. Notice at the end of the passage, Jesus is talking about how the “wind blows where it will. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” In other words, Jesus is talking about a mystery here. Jesus is as much as saying, “Don’t take this literally. You have to accept the mystery and the miracle of what I am saying.” That makes preaching on this passage quite a challenge for the preacher as we try to put that which is beyond understanding into understandable words. But let me try.
So, let’s just go with Jesus’ image.
“You must be born again.” Are you responsible for your first birth? Can you take credit for it? Did you cause it, or choose it, or have anything at all to do with it? Of course not. Being born physically is something that happened TO you, completely out of your control. It was all up to your parents, your mother, and nature.
Jesus then expands the image in verse 5, stating, “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” It is widely thought that the “water” refers to physical birth, the fluid released at birth when a mother’s “water breaks,” and the “Spirit” to a second, spiritual birth. This answers Nicodemus’ question and clarifies his clouded understanding. Jesus goes on, restating this in the next verse: “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” Humans can reproduce, giving birth, but only God can cause rebirth.
The first point of our Lord’s analogy then, is simply this: being born is not something that you have anything to do with, and being spiritually born is something that happens to you completely out of your control as well. In your first birth, your parents could give you life, but you need a second birth because only God can give you spiritual life. In the spiritual sense, being born again is an act of God by which He recreates you. It’s a new birth. And that’s the point of the simple analogy. Salvation is a work that God does, not something that you do.
Ah, there’s the connection to Nicodemus, the Pharisee who believed that his salvation rested in his ability to perfectly follows all of God’s laws. In Nicodemus’ mind, his salvation was dependent on his ability to do something right. Jesus is saying, “NO! That’s wrong.’ What you do has nothing to do with making you right with God. God does that all by himself on the cross.”
The second point of the analogy is that salvation is not just something that happens to us. It is something that happens in us. We are not only made right with God on the outside, but we are made new for God on the inside.
This we call the sister doctrines of justification and regeneration. What does that mean? Justification is the great work, which God does for us, in forgiving our sins, while regeneration is the great work which God does in us, in renewing our fallen nature.
Justification is for us, regeneration in us
Justification makes us right with God. Regeneration gives us a completely new start as new creatures in Christ. Nicodemus should have been familiar with Ezekiel, to whom God said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (36:26). That’s exactly what Jesus is talking about when he says, “You must be born again.”
When we are saved, God not only forgives our sins… that part most of us get… (God not only forgives our sins) but the makes us new which is new birth, a new life, a new nature, a new disposition, a new character, a new mind from God.
The New Testament extends the image by often calling new believers “children.” We mature by “feeding” on God’s word. Rebirth is the starting point of our spiritual life.
It comes down to a choice.
The significance of a willful decision is implied throughout this text but stated clearly in John 3:16, the most well-known verse in the Bible. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that whosoever believes in him shall have eternal life...” Notice… WHOSOEVER BELIEVES
“Born again” points to an experience separate from the first birth. It does not happen automatically by birthright or by compulsion. We have to decide to choose Jesus, and He takes it from there.
What does it mean to be born again? It means to be saved by grace through faith. It means to be forgiven and free, with a new future. It means to be made a new person and to have a new purpose. It means to be right with God and to belong to God. It means Heaven is home, and death is a doorway.
There’s a story about a little boy who had just been saved. He sat down next to an old man who looked upset, and he said to the man, “Sir, do you need to get saved?” The man was taken back and said abruptly, “I’ll tell you that I have been a member of this church for over 30 years and chairman of the board for 15 years.” The little boy responded, “Sir, it don’t matter what you’ve done... Jesus loves you, and He’ll still save you!”
It’s really not about being young or old... in church all your life or never at all... being good all the time or bad enough to have a criminal record... having everything you want or nothing you need... being the life of the party or all alone in this world. It’s not about any of those things. It’s about being born again—a miracle that changes your life now and forever. And it’s yours for the asking.