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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:We must all be born again
Text:John 3:3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Repentance
 
Preached:2015-03-01
Added:2015-04-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise

Bible Translation: NKJV

Hymn 47:1,2,5

Psalm 25:2

Psalm 139:7,8,13

Psalm 51:4,6

Hymn 2:3

Read:  Numbers 21:4-10; Ezekiel 36:22-28; John 2:23-3:15

Text:  John 3:3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In 354 AD a little boy was born to a heathen father and a Christian mother, and they named him Augustine.  Augustine would grow up to become a great leader in the Christian Church, whom the Lord would use powerfully for the growth and the preservation of His people.  But for the first years of his life Augustine lived far away from God.  As a young man his life was characterized by loose living and a search for truth and the meaning of life in worldly philosophy.  For 16 years he lived a life of sin and debauchery until one day in August 386 AD, at almost 32 years of age, his restless soul found rest in his Saviour Jesus Christ. Concerning that day, he wrote the following in his Confessions:

“I flung myself down beneath a fig tree and gave way to the tears which now streamed from my eyes … All at once I heard the singsong voice of a child in a nearby house.  Whether it was the voice of a boy or a girl I cannot say, but again and again it repeated the refrain, “Take it and read, take it and read.”

. . .

“So I hurried back . . . seized [the book of Paul’s letters] and opened it, and in silence I read the first passage on which my eyes fell:  “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”  (Romans 13:13,14).  I had no wish to read more and no need to do so.  For in that instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.”

Augustine was converted.  He was made alive in Christ.  He was born again.

But what about you?  Are you born again?  Let us be clear here:  Not everyone who is born again has such a dramatic conversion experience as Augustine had.  Nor can we in this life fully understand the way in which God does this work. John 3:8 says,

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

But the question remains:  Are you born again? 

What is this being born again all about, anyway? 

Perhaps some of you are feeling uncomfortable with these questions.” “Where is our minister going with this?” you might be asking.  “Is he suggesting that we all need to have our own story, a dramatic conversion experience where we can pinpoint the time and the place where it happened?”  Isn’t it Arminian to say that you must be born again – that is, that somehow you need to do this yourself?  And doesn’t this question take away from comfort that we have in the sure promises that God has given to us in His Word and confirmed to us in our baptism? 

But the Bible does talk about the need to be born again.  And since the Bible teaches this, so do our confessions, in particular the Canons of Dort.  And the liturgical form that we use whenever someone is baptized in our church also reminds us that we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we are born again.  It is true that what God’s Word teaches us about being born again has been misused and confused to the point that we can only conclude that Satan himself wants to put up a smoke screen and cloud our understanding.  But this does not take away from the fact that unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.  And so I preach to you the Word of the Lord under the following theme:

We must all be born again.

  1. Why we must all be born again.
  2. How we must all be born again.

1. Why we must all be born again.

It was night time when Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, a teacher of Israel, came to see Jesus.  We don’t really know why he came at night.  Perhaps he wanted to avoid the prying eyes and the gossiping tongues of those who would not approve of such a visit.  Perhaps it is just that the night time would give him a better opportunity for a long and learned discussion with this One called Jesus.  Whatever the reason might be, it is clear that Nicodemus was most interested in learning more about this Jesus, who He was and what He had come to do.  And so Nicodemus said to Jesus in John 3:2,

“Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Perhaps Nicodemus thought he was being charitable when he said this.  Perhaps he thought that Jesus would appreciate it, appreciate being called a Rabbi by a man as important as Nicodemus.  Perhaps he thought this would set a good tone for the discussion: stating up front that this Jesus of Nazareth had come from God, was sent by Him.  It is not that Nicodemus was lying when he said these things: no doubt he really did believe that Jesus had come from God.  For Nicodemus too had seen the signs, the miracles that Jesus had done, and he could conclude nothing else but that God was with Him.  Nicodemus, therefore, was one of those people that John 2:23 speaks of:

 “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He did.”

Along with others of the people of Israel, to a point, Nicodemus believed in Jesus, he believed that He had come from God.  But this “believing in Jesus” was not a true faith in Jesus.  For neither Nicodemus, nor the others that John 2:23 spoke of understood who Jesus is or what He had come to do.  And so Nicodemus too was included in that number that John 2:24 refers to,

“But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men.”

These people – including Nicodemus – believed in Him because they saw the miracles.  They believed in Him so much that even Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a ruler and a teacher of Israel, come out and tell him, “You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.”

  But Jesus knew that those who claimed to believe in Him – including Nicodemus – did not truly believe Him, did not receive Him as the Messiah, the One who had come to save them from their sins.  And therefore the Lord was not flattered by the attention He was receiving from Nicodemus, nor was He honoured when Nicodemus approached him as a colleague, an equal among equals, with him he could discuss theology and the finer points of the law.  For the Lord Jesus, who knew all men, knew Nicodemus and the state of Nicodemus’ heart.  And so Jesus answered Nicodemus and said,

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus might have come to have a religious discussion with Jesus, to hear what He had to say.  But the Lord Jesus cut to the chase.  Seeing Nicodemus for who he really was, He said to Him,

“Nicodemus, I know who you are.  I know what you are like.  I know your heart.  And Nicodemus, unless you are born again, you will not see the Kingdom of God.”

That must have shocked Nicodemus!  Nicodemus had not expected this, he did not think that he would be talked to in this manner.  For Nicodemus was a good man.  He knew the Scriptures.  He knew the law.  Nicodemus, we can be sure, was a man of integrity, a man of high morals.  As far as his outward appearance is concerned, he was a man to look up to.  But Nicodemus had a problem.  Like so many in Israel at that time, Nicodemus thought that he was good enough just as he was.  Nicodemus thought that the Lord would be pleased with him, he thought that the Lord would welcome him into His kingdom with open arms.  Nicodemus did not see himself as one who needed to be saved, as one who needed to be changed.  We can safely assume that he had not gone to the River Jordan to be baptized by John, for he did not see the need to receive the baptism of John, the baptism of repentance.  After all, wasn’t he was a law abiding Pharisee?  Wasn’t he first in line, ready to receive one of the best seats in the Kingdom?  What then was this talk about being born again?  Nicodemus did not get it.  And so he asked the Lord,

“How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  (John 3:4)

I do not believe that Nicodemus was being facetious here:  he really did not understand.  What is the Lord talking about: “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God?”

You see the problem with Nicodemus is that while the Lord Jesus saw straight through Him, Nicodemus did not.  Nicodemus did not truly know himself.  He did not understand that not only was he not good enough in and of himself to enter the Kingdom of God, to inherit eternal life, but he was in urgent need of a radical transformation, he had to become a new person.  Put simply, he had to be born again.

And that is something we need to hear also.  We can not ignore what our Lord Jesus says here.  We can not think that this applies to others, to non-Christians, but not to us who are members of this church, baptized and heirs of the covenant.  Because in and of ourselves we are no different to Nicodemus.  And if Nicodemus, a covenant child of Abraham, a Pharisee and the teacher of Israel, a gifted man who knew the law, who could recite the first five books of the Bible off by heart, a man who was highly esteemed and a man of integrity, if this Nicodemus could not enter the Kingdom of God unless he was radically changed, yes, unless he was born again, then what about you and me?  Is it any different for us?

  We need to be careful, we need to beware.  There is the danger that we think that we are ok.  There is the danger that, like the Jews in John 8 we say “We have Abraham as our father” that is, “We are covenant children!  We are OK!  We don’t need to change!  We don’t need to think too much about all this talk about being born again.”  There is the danger that we think that there is not too much wrong with us, that we just have to change a little bit here, change a bit there and be more committed, a little more faithful.  There is the danger that we think that so long as we do the right things, that all will be well on the last day.  But brothers and sisters, that is not true!  The Bible teaches us clearly and plainly that we all must be born again. 

Nicodemus did not understand, he could not get his head around what the Lord Jesus was saying.  Nicodemus asked how can a man be born when he is old?  And, “How can these things be?”  But what about you?  Do you understand what it means when the Scriptures say that you must be born again?  Do you start feeling uncomfortable, uncertain, when the need to be born again is being preached?  Does this bring you into unchartered waters?  We can so easily be like Nicodemus. We can so easily – and happily – hear sermons and talk about theology and the great doctrines of the Christian faith.  But what about when the Word presses not on your head, your intellect, but on your heart?  What then?  The Bible teaches us that unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. But how does this function in your life?  Do you understand this?  Do you believe it?  And do you know how one is born again?

2. How we must all be born again.

We hear it every time a person is baptized in this church.  When we read the form for holy baptism, we hear the words,

“First, we and our children are conceived and born in sin and are therefore by nature children of wrath, so that we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we are born again.  This is what the immersion or sprinkling with water teaches us.  It signifies the impurity of our souls, so that we may detest ourselves, humble ourselves before God, and seek our cleansing and salvation outside of ourselves.”

It is important that we understand this. It is important that we realize that it takes a lot more than a change of behavior to enter the Kingdom of God.  It takes a lot more than trying to be a good person.  We don’t just need a bit of a change here and there, a bit of a push-start to get us going again:  we need to be renewed, we need to be born again!  But how?  How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?  It was in answer to this question that Jesus said in verse 5,

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

To be born again, therefore, is not something for you to do, but it is something that God does in you.  He is the One who causes you to be born again.  And the Lord describes this rebirth as being “born of water and the Spirit.”  And to be born of water and the Spirit is to be made clean, it is to be made new.  It is to be born again not in an earthly manner, but to be born from above.

There are many who see the words to be “born of water” to refer to the water of baptism and in one way that is true since baptism teaches us about the need to be born again.  But the sacrament of holy baptism was given to the church after Christ spoke with Nicodemus, not before.  And yet when Nicodemus asked “How can these things be?”, Jesus responded to him saying,

“Are you the teacher of Israel and do not know these things?”

So Nicodemus should have known and understood.  And so we should not immediately think of the water of New Testament baptism when we read those words, but think back to the water of cleansing as it is found in the Old Testament.  And then when we think of this water of purification or cleansing in connection with the Holy Spirit, our thoughts will be directed to one Old Testament passage in particular, to Ezekiel 36.  In Ezekiel 36 the LORD gave the promise to the people of Israel who were in Exile in Babylon or a time of future renewal.  It says in Ezekiel 36:25-27,

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”

But do you see what the Lord promises here?  He says “I will sprinkle clean water on you.  I will cleans you.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.  I will do it!”  And that is the miraculous blessing of rebirth.  A lot of people get that wrong.  A lot of people think that being born again is something that you have to do, a decision that you have to make.  But it is not like that:  just as you did not cause yourself to be born the first time, so you can not choose to be born a second time.  Turn with me to the Canons of Dort, to chapter III/IV, article 12 where the work of regeneration or rebirth is described:

“This conversion is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, the making alive, so highly spoken of in the Scriptures, which God works in us without us.  But this regeneration is by no means brought about only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a mode of operation that, after God has done his part, it remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not regenerated, converted or not converted.  It is, however, clearly a supernatural, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, marvelous, mysterious, and inexpressible work.  According to Scripture, inspirited by the Author of this work, regeneration is not inferior in power to creation or the raising of the dead.  Hence all those in whose hearts God works in this amazing way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectually regenerated and do actually believe.  And then the will so renewed is not only acted upon and moved by God but, acted upon by God, the will also acts.  Therefore man himself is rightly said to believe and repent through the grace he has received.”

To be born again, to be born from above, is, we confess, a supernatural, a most delightful, marvelous, mysterious and inexpressible work.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit. 

And that also means that although we must all be born again the way we experience this rebirth may not always be the same.  Whereas Augustine could point to the day and month of his conversion it is very possible that you can not.  Further, we do not go by a certain experience to determine whether or not we have been born again, but we may be assured of our rebirth by its fruit, by the ongoing dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new nature that we experience every day again.  John 3:8 says that

Just as the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

We can not see the wind, nor can we fully explain it, but we can feel it, we do experience it.  In the same way we can not see the Spirit nor fully explain how He works in us, but we do experience the effect of His work in us.  For it is our being born again that causes us to grieve with heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sin, and more and more to hate our sin and to flee from it.  And it is our being born again that gives us a heartfelt joy in God through Christ, and a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.

And so I ask you brothers and sisters:  are you born again? 

Nicodemus asked Jesus “How can these things be?”  And Jesus gave him the answer:  “Nicodemus, these things can be – can only be – through Me, your Lord and Saviour.  You can not enter your mother’s womb to be born again.  Nor do you have the ability in and of yourself to be born from above, to be born of water and of the Holy Spirit.  But then the Lord Jesus went on to say something else in verse 14,15.

 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

That is where Jesus was heading when He told Nicodemus that he must be born again.  For while Nicodemus could not bring about his own rebirth, this is what the Lord Jesus had come to do.  He came to be lifted up so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

And that is the call that goes to me and you and to all our loved ones, indeed to all people, also those who are not yet born again.  Since we cannot save ourselves, we need to look to another, we need to look to Jesus Christ.  It is not hard, really.  It is not a difficult message, not a difficult thing to do.  Just look to Jesus, to the One who bore our sin, to the One who was lifted up for the salvation of His people.  That is what Augustine did when he read from Romans 13 to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”  And that is what we must do also.

We must all be born again.  What Jesus says here is not so hard to understand.  It is simple really.  It is the devil who wants us to be confused about what it means to be born again.  All we must do is to stop looking at ourselves and trying to change a little bit here and a little bit there in the hope that we might somehow scrape in to heaven when all the while we are going the wrong way.  All we must do instead is to look to Jesus and to believe in Him for our complete salvation.  Brothers and sisters, can you do that?  Do you do that?

When the people of Israel were in the wilderness, bitten by snakes and crying out in terror, afraid that they were about to die, the Lord commanded Moses to make a snake out of bronze and to put it on a pole for all to see.  And all that the people had to do was to look at that snake and they would be healed.  But imagine for a moment if one of the children of Israel, on hearing that would say, “Yes, but is it really true?  The pain is too great, the poison is too deep, I feel that I am about to die.”  To which Moses would have replied, “Trust me.  No, trust God who said this to me.  Just lift up your eyes and look at the bronze snake!”  But then the Israelite goes on to say, “Yes, but how can I be sure that this is for me?  How can I be sure that when I look at that snake, that I will be healed?”  And then Moses would have answered saying, “It is not because of you, but because God has promised this to you! He is the One who has made it possible for you to be healed.  And you can trust Him at His Word.”

  And brothers and sisters, if God could heal the people of Israel when they looked up at the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness, will He not heal you, will He not save you, redeem you, and make you new when you turn in faith to the crucified Son of God?  Do not be afraid, do not be uncomfortable with the question “Are you born again?”  But rather lift up your eyes and behold your Saviour.  Trust Him.  Believe in Him.  For whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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