On May 26th, 2019 I preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Florida. Here is the transcript of my sermon below.
Timothy Keller writes in his book Center Church, “Christians typically identify two ways to respond to God: follow him and do his will or reject him and do your own thing. You can reject God by rejecting his law and living the way you see fit. And you can also reject God by embracing God’s law so as to earn your salvation. The problem is that people in this last group look as if they are doing God’s will. There are not just two ways to respond to God but three: irreligion, religion, and the gospel.
Irreligion is avoiding God as Lord and Savior by ignoring him altogether. “Religion”, or moralism is avoiding God as Lord and Savior by developing a moral righteousness and then presenting it to God in an effort to show that he ‘owes’ you. The gospel, however, has nothing to do with our developing a righteousness we give God, so he owes us; it is God’s developing and giving us righteousness through Jesus Christ.”[i]
Today I would like to spend some time in the Gospel of John. The account in the passage that was just read is one that many of you are probably familiar with. In the text we read about an encounter between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus. The goal of this message is two-fold.
Our text for today is John 3:1 – 7
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?”5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
Verse 1: Nicodemus – Very little is known about Nicodemus because there is little written about him in the Gospels. However, we do know that Nicodemus was a Pharisee who was a member of the Sanhedrin and he comes to Jesus in the night hour to have a conversation with him.
(Background info) The Pharisees were men who prided themselves on keeping the laws of God to the “T”. They may not have been overly moral in character, but they were fastidious in knowing and enforcing the law. The law was their “righteousness”. They believed they were “more holy” than others because they understood and enforced the laws of Moses.
Verse 2: We are unsure exactly as to what Nicodemus’ motives were in talking to Jesus that evening. Some have suggested that since he was a respected Jewish leader (an older man) he didn’t want others to know he was going to Jesus to learn from him or even associate with him. Others have said he met with him at night because he was afraid. Some believe he went in the evening because this was the time Rabbi’s and teachers studied. Some even think that the night meeting was symbolic of his spiritual state and He may have come at nighttime because he was living in spiritual darkness and wanted to inquire of the light (Jesus). All of these are plausible possibilities, but truth be told we do not know why he met with Jesus, but we do know it was a divine and sovereign meeting.
As their conversation starts Nicodemus says, “We know you are a teacher who has come from God…” This meant that the consensus among the some of the Jewish leaders was that he was a teacher who had the hand of God on his life and in his ministry. Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus was a man with God’s hand on his ministry because of the miracles and wonders he saw Jesus perform. The rulers knew there was something special about Jesus but they (Nicodemus) certainly were not proclaiming that Jesus was a prophet, THE Prophet or even the Messiah. Regardless he knew there was something unique about Jesus and this may have been the reason he wanted to talk to Him.
Verse 3: Before Nicodemus can even ask a question Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter (quite possibly because he knew Nicodemus’ motive, inquiry or he just needed to tell him the truth right up front). Jesus says, “Truly, truly unless a person is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” By saying, “Truly, truly” Jesus is emphasizing that what he is about to say is absolutely true.
There are two items we need to look at in order to understand the absolute truth Jesus spoke to Nicodemus… They are “The Kingdom of God” and “Born again”
Kingdom of God
This term only exists in the NT, however much of the OT points to the concept, reality and anticipation of the Kingdom of God. In the OT the implication of the Kingdom of God was a future day when God is the sovereign ruler of all nations and over all of creation. The prophets longed for the day when God would physically bring peace to the nations of Israel and Judah (They would be one again) and justice, peace and mercy would spill over to all nations and over all of creation or in it’s finality the Kingdom of God is Heaven… The abiding place of God the Father and Son Jesus Christ.
“Seeing the kingdom’ is equivalent to the more familiar expression in (the Gospel of) John of eternal life.[ii] The kingdom or eternal life is the central message of Jesus Christ in NT. It is mentioned twice in John (3:3,5 & 18:36) and is defined as the rule, reign and sovereignty of God over all creation. So in short the Kingdom of God is equivalent to eternal life and the future reign of God as sovereign king.
At the time of this writing, Jews and Christians lived under Roman rule and the Apostle Paul, Peter and Jesus all say that the world is in the grasps of the evil one (often times Rome was considered all that is evil and other times the devil). This does not mean that God is not the true ruler of the world, it just means the world is in bondage to Satan and evil because of sin and the fall of humanity. We live in a sinful world where it seems as though evil is running rampant and Satan seems to be the god of the world. However, this is a false perception in part because God is sovereign (Supreme Rule) today and his Kingdom has already begun on earth through us (those who believe in Jesus and are obedient to His call). This Kingdom was inaugurated in the person, works and message of Jesus Christ. Eternal life starts the moment you trust Jesus as Lord and Savior thus God’s Kingdom is now.
This, however, does not negate the reality that there will also be a future day when Jesus physically returns to set up His Kingdom here on earth and rule and reign sovereignly over all nations and creation. So in order for one to receive, enter, or be part of the Kingdom of God, one must be born again.
So what is Jesus saying when he says one must be “born again”? This statement is just as confusing to some today as it was to Nicodemus back then. Some may even respond as Nicodemus does… “Can one be born a second time? One certainly cannot enter the womb (as a grown adult) and be reborn!”
There are two interpretations to Nicodemus’ response…
Jesus said, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Entrance into the Kingdom, Heaven or more simply salvation is not attained by keeping, enforcing and living the law; it was about being re-born (or as the Greek states, “Born from above). Rebirth or regeneration means repenting of your sins, responding to Jesus and trusting in him for salvation, being cleansed from sin, and the result is a transformed heart and one becoming a new creation in Christ.
Regeneration is not individuals trying to be a better person by cleaning up his act and becoming a moral person. Regeneration is not about become a better version of yourself (Jeff 2.0) it means that you are a brand-new version of yourself that is transformed by Jesus Christ.
In short, Jesus tells us that unless one is cleansed from sin (through confession and repentance) and reborn in the Spirit of God (faith in Christ and becoming a new creation) one cannot enter or see the Kingdom of God.
Verses 7: “Do not marvel…” Jesus’ words are clear you (the you is actually plural which properly interpreted is ‘you all’ or in the south Y’all) MUST be born again. This is THE central message of Jesus in this passage and it is certainly a central message for us today.
The challenge for today is simple… Ask yourself… Am I born again? Have I trusted or put my faith in Jesus Christ? Is He my Lord and my Savior? Have I been washed and cleansed by the blood of Christ? Do I have a transformed heart and am I a new creation in Christ? Does God have complete (not just some) but complete rule and reign in my life? Have I experienced the new (second) birth in Christ? I don’t care how young or old you are. I don’t care how long you have been a member of this or any other church. I don’t care how many church or Christians functions you attend a week. Have you been born-again? If you say, “yes!” then, by all means. enjoy the life God has given you, continue to love and serve in your church, and be edified at all your Christian and church functions. But if you can honestly say that either you are not sure or you definitely are not born-again then I pray you would not hesitate and do so now. If you are still unsure how you would do this, please feel free to talk to me afterwards and I would be happy to pray with you.
Today is one encounter with Christ that you must respond to in your life. I have preached the central message of Jesus Christ today. Jesus came to give you life, and He came to give it in abundance, and it is available to all who believe. The Kingdom of heaven is at hand… Are you part of His Kingdom?
[i] Keller, Timothy J (2012). Center Church, p.63 Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
[ii] Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) (Jn 3:1). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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