You Must Be Born Again

Bible Book: John  3 : 1-17
Subject: Salvation; New Birth, The; Born Again
Invitation

Today we come to one of the most impressive chapters in all the Word of God, the third chapter of John's Gospel. I am sharing a very simple message with you today, but one that is extremely important. Charles Colson, one of the Watergate conspirators, came to Christ before entering prison. He used his life in prison and after prison as a means of helping prisoners to trust Jesus and live for Him. Colson wrote a best selling book entitled, Born Again. His book created a national discussion on the subject of the New Birth. There is not a lot of discussion about being born again today, but it is as relevant now as when Jesus first spoke those words in the passage we are considering for this messages. We find the use of the words that Colson used in the title of his book right here in John 3:1-17.

In this passage we discover Jesus in Jerusalem with his disciples as night is falling. Christ preformed the wedding miracle in Cana of Galilee, went back to Capernaum for a few days and then proceeded to Jerusalem for the Passover. It was there, in Jerusalem that he cleansed the Temple by chasing the animals out of the outer court of the Temple and by turning over the money-changers tables. Word of these things was carried all over the city, especially to the Pharisees and members of the Sanhedrin. Pharisees were men who took a vow to obey the law implicitly. That would have been good, but they became committed to words about words rather than being committed to loving God and people.

In his book on the gospel of John, William Barclay gives an example of the foolish way that the Pharisees held to the letter of the law. There were pages and pages of laws written about the one commandment regarding the Sabbath day. In those pages were rules regarding what constituted work on the Sabbath and what one was allowed to do and not allowed to do on the Sabbath Day. Among those discussions Barclay reminds us of the long discourse on tying knots on the Sabbath. A person could not tie or untie a knot on the Sabbath day. Therefore, he could not tie or untie a camel. He could not tie a bucket to a rope and let it down in a well for water for that would be work and work constituted breaking the law of the Sabbath. A woman could tie and untie knots that involved her clothes and she could tie her apron, her dress, etc. Now here is where the foolishness began. If a man wanted water he could tie one end of his wife's apron to the bucket and the other end to a rope and let it down for water. That was not a sin since tying and untying a woman's apron was approved by the law.

There were thousands of such laws which Pharisees sought to keep to the very letter. By keeping these laws they thought they were acceptable to God. Being a Pharisee meant deep commitment and dedication; however, it was the reverse of that that which God desired. The Pharisees were working to be acceptable to God, whereas, God desire was for them to be obedient and good because of faith! In other words, obedience follows faith and not the other way around. We love Him, therefore we obey Him! Abraham believed God (had total faith in God) and God credited to him as righteousness.

Jesus was sitting in the twilight that spring evening when one of those Pharisees came to see him. This one was, in fact, a member of the Sanhedrin. Now the Sanhedrin was a special group of 70 dedicated Jews who served as a kind of Jewish Supreme Court. The one who came was named Nicodemus. The air was cool and the wind blew briskly that night as he approached Christ. When this Pharisee approached, if in fact his disciples saw him coming, they must have said, "Uh oh"! You can imagine that the Pharisees, especially those of the Sanhedrin, would be very upset with Jesus for His activities in the Temple court. But this man did what seemed to be astonishing, he spoke to Christ and said, "We know you are a teacher sent from God, for only one sent from God can do the things you do." What a moment that was. A Pharisee acknowledging that Christ had come from God!

Jesus began to speak with Nicodemus about the New Birth. Surely this must have been difficult for Nicodemus to comprehend. I want you to see the nature of the New Birth in this message, and why it is absolutely necessary.

I. THE MAN

The first thing we need to investigate is the man who came to talk with Jesus. Looking into his character and background will help us see just how necessary it is for a person to be born again in order to be part of God’s family and the kingdom of God.

A. Religious

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, thus he was a very religious man. He knew the Old Testament Law and he knew all the laws that were written to explain those laws. This required great attention to detail and a deep commitment. But, notice something very important. This man was not saved by being religious, nor was he saved by being a “good man.”

As a preacher, I have conducted many funerals through the years. I have heard one statement made again and again by family members of the deceased. Someone in the family will say, “My daddy was a good man. He paid his bills. He was a good neighbor. He never hurt anyone. If he isn’t in heaven, nobody is going to heaven.”

The problem with these statements is that they have nothing to do with salvation. In fact, we are all sinners – even a good father is lost! Being good is not the answer. Nicodemus as a very good man, but Jesus told him that he “MUST” be born again. He wasn’t giving Nicodemus advice – Jesus was pointing out a necessity!

There are many religions and millions of religious people. In fact, the people who frustrated Jesus the most during His earthly ministry were the Pharisees, who were extremely religious. They needed salvation, not more religion!

I was preaching a revival one night in Forest City, North Carolina. On Wednesday evening the choir sang a rousing song. We had been in a state of awakening and revival that week and the people rejoiced when the song was completed. I stepped up to the pulpit, laid my Bible down on the podium and was about to speak when a lady stood up and asked if she might say a few words. I thought she was going to testify and I told her to speak. She was a young woman, sitting about three or four rows back on my left. The church was full of people that night and an air of expectancy surrounded us all. She spoke something like this: "All of you in this church know me. I work with the youth in our church." Then, she broke down and began to weep. A couple of women stood up and went to her. I told her to compose herself and continue. After a few moments, she spoke through tears saying, "I am not saved. My mother brought me to church faithfully. One night as we went to church my mother told me it was time for me to join the church. She said that we should forward during the invitation. I went down with my mother and the preacher asked me why I was coming forward. I told him it was time for me to do so. He presented me to the church, I was later baptized and I went forward. Honestly, however, I never asked Jesus to saved me. I never really trusted Him. Oh, I want to receive Him now." I asked the minister of music to come forward and I invited others to come to Christ as well. The invitation went on and on. Many people came to make various decisions. That night seven people were saved, some joined the church and others renewed their commitments to the Lord. I never did get to preach that night. God had been working all week and things just came to a peak in that service. How many religious people are in our churches but have never truly trusted the Lord for genuine salvation? To be it bluntly, religion will not save you. You must have a relationship with the Son of God. You must personally receive Him and commit to Him.

B. Ruler

Nicodemus was more than simply a Pharisee; he was a member of the Sanhedrin. To be part of that group, he had to be a superior man of highest morals who adhered to the letter of the Law. He was part of the ruling body of the Pharisees. Yet, this did not get him into the kingdom of God.

Some years ago, a preacher friend of mine called me to describe an unusual experience he had while driving to the hospital to make a visit. Along the way, his wife told him that she had something to tell him and that she was afraid to tell him about it. All manner of things went through my friend’s mind. Did she have a disease that he did not know about? Was she having an affair and wanted to leave him? He pulled the car over and reached out to her. He said, “Honey, I don’t care what you have to say. I love you and nothing you say to me is going to change that. What is wrong?”

After a few moments of convincing her that she was free to tell him anything, she spoke, “I am not saved! I have been a preacher’s wife all these years and I am not saved. I joined the church as a little girl and never really trusted Christ.” As she shared these words, she wept.

My preacher friend spoke to his wife and said, “Oh, darling, this is easy to fix. We can handle that right here – right now!”

His wife was worried about what the church members might say. He convinced her that they would rejoice in her decision, and besides it didn’t matter what anyone thought – it was the right thing to do.

She made her complete and totally commitment to Christ. The following Sunday she stood before the church and told them. The people ran to hug her. They wept with her. They rejoiced with her!

You see, this woman was not saved by being a preacher’s wife. She was not saved by being a church member. She was not saved because she visited people in the hospital. She was only saved when she was born again – when she fully trusted Jesus for her salvation.

Nicodemus was introduced to this truth when He spoke to Jesus that night. Though he may not have understood at that moment, history seems to indicate that he eventually came to trust in the Lord. One thing is for sure, being a Pharisee or religious leader was not enough for Nicodemus to have a relationship with God.

II. THE MISSION

Now, let’s note the mission Nicodemus was on when he came to Jesus. I am sure the disciples felt that Nicodemus was on a mission to trap Jesus. That is what all the other Pharisees had tried to do. But, Jesus spoke only and freely with him. Jesus loves you. He will never tell you anything but the truth, and he did that with Nicodemus.

A. The Hour He Came

Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night. We need not see that as nefarious in any way. Perhaps it was a time when Nicodemus was free to approach the Lord. Maybe he wanted to see Jesus without fanfare. Perhaps Nicodemus feared what others might say, and that is always a problem for people coming to Jesus. That is what the preacher’s wife was worried about – what would the people say about her decision? Don’t ever let what others think of you affect your decision in regard to faith in Jesus.

B. The Honor He Expressed

Nicodemus honored Jesus when he called Him a teacher sent from God. He made that statement in a unique way. He said, “We know that you are a teacher sent from God.” He didn’t say, “I know,” he said, “We know.” Nicodemus was not alone in regarding Jesus with respect. Others felt the same way, perhaps even some of the friends of Nicodemus. Where were they? No doubt fear caused many of them to stay away from the Lord. What a shame. Don’t let fear keep you from the Lord. Someone here today has a conviction that Jesus is exactly who He said He was. That is called faith. If you act on that faith, you will receive the New Birth and eternal life.

III.THE MYSTERY

Jesus spoke to Nicodemus concerning a subject that was mysterious – the New Birth. Nicodemus had never heard anything like this in his life. To him it was a mystery.

A. The Proclamation by Christ

Jesus said, "Unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." See how simple Jesus expressed things. He did not speak like a theologian. He was not trying to impress Nicodemus with intelligence. He gave him a simple statement of fact.

Also, note the authority with which Jesus spoke. He said it as a matter of fact. Jesus is the authority – the only authority – on the matter of being born again.

Also, do you see how kind Jesus was? He did not berate Nicodemus for being part of the hypocritical Pharisees. Jesus doesn’t speak to condemn you. He did not come to condemn but to save (John 3:17). Jesus did not list all the sins that Nicodemus had committed. I am sure that in the presence of Jesus, Nicodemus felt the conviction of his own sins. Yes, Nicodemus was a sinner. So are you and so am I. Jesus died to save us from those sins, but He doesn’t come to you in order to beat you over the head. He comes to you to enter your heart and forgive you!

B. The Perplexity of Nicodemus

Nicodemus was perplexed by what Jesus said. Was Christ proposing some miracle of gynecology? How is it possible for a man to be born a second time. Surely, this was not easy for Nicodemus and it isn’t easy for a lot of people today. Jesus was speaking in spiritual terms not physical ones. The Pharisees had begun to look at God only in physical terms. Their lives were wrapped up in multiple physical expectations of observing the Law. They had lost sight of the fact that God is Spirit and those that worship Him must do so in Spirit and in Truth!

IV. THE MUST

Jesus told Nicodemus that he “MUST” be born again. No exceptions. No other doors were open to him. No other way was provided for him.

A. You Must - In order to enter the Spiritual Family

There is an old Arab story I read about some years ago. I don’t remember all the details but it is a chicken-little kind of story. A man came along and saw a sparrow with wings uplifted as if under a great strain. He asked the bird what he was doing. The bird replied that he was holding up the sky to keep it from falling. The man said, “How are you doing that?” The sparrow replied, “I’m doing the best I can with what I have.”

A lot of people think that is the way one can be right with God. Just do the best you can with what you have. My friend, what you have is not enough. You must be born again. You need a new life – a life that only Jesus can provide for you. A bird has a better chance of holding up the sky than you do of being saved without Christ. It simply can’t be done. He alone died for the sins of man. He alone rose from the dead to provide justification before God. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me.”

B. You Must - In order to have a Spiritual Future

Getting to heaven is no mystery. Jesus is the way to heaven. He redeems those who come to Him admitting that they are sinners, believing that He died for their sins, rose from the dead and confessing Him as Lord and Savior.

V. THE MEANS

But, how can this happen? Jesus explained it to Nicodemus.

A. The Spirit

You can only be saved when the Spirit of God calls you. Jesus spoke of the Spirit of God as being like the wind. God’s Spirit blows where He wishes. The Spirit of God comes to you and impresses you that you need the Savior. Just like you can feel the wind without seeing it, you can sense God’s call on your life without seeing Him. Someone here, at this very moment, is sensing the Spirit of God telling you that today is your day to accept Christ and have the New Birth. You can’t determine when God will call you, so you must respond at the moment He does. To delay is dangerous. The wind of God may not blow across your heart tomorrow the way He is moving today.

Some years ago, when I was a very young preacher, a man called me to his home. He was very successful. He had a business that was thriving. He told me that many times in the past he had felt an incredible conviction that he should surrender his life to Christ; however, he said that he had resisted again and again that loving call for God. He said, “Preacher, I don’t feel God’s conviction any more. I’m afraid that I have shut my heart up so deeply that I can never sense His call to me again.” I prayed with him and talked with him on more than one occasion. One day he cried bitter tears and said, “Oh, what I would give to feel God’s call in my heart one more time. I would fall on my knees immediately, if only I could sense His call.”

I don’t know if that man ever came to trust Christ. He certainly didn’t do that during the times I spoke with him. Numerous people were coming to Christ in our church, but this man’s heart had grown cold and dark. I will not argue theology in regard to this issue, but I can tell you that some 45 years after talking with that man, I cannot get his sadness out of my memory. I can still see this healthy, successful and handsome man, who had a beautiful family, weeping in search of a call from God to his heart. My dear friend, if you sense the wind of His Spirit, if you can hear the call of God on your heart, do not delay. Come to Him now! His Spirit will not always strive with you. Your heart can harden so concretely that nothing can penetrate it. Come to Him now, while your heart is tender. Yield to Him today.

Two men were arguing one day about the best time to cut a walking stick. One said it was best to cut a walking stick in the spring when sap was rising in the wood. The other said it was best to cut a walking stick in the fall when the sap was receding. They agreed to ask and old farmer who was wise in matters of this kind and let him settle the disagreement. The old farmer said, "The best time to cut a walking stick is when you see it, for it may not be there when you come back."

That was wise advice to those old country boys about cutting a walking stick, but it applies even more to your salvation. Come to Christ when He calls you, for you may sense that call when you come this way again!

B. The Sacrifice

Jesus talked to Nicodemus about the cross. Jesus said, “The Son of Man must be lifted up!” He was speaking of His own death that would take place at Calvary. Your salvation is not free – Jesus paid for it! It may be free to you and to me, but it was not free to Him. God requires a perfect life for us to come to Him. We don’t have one to give Him, sense all of us are sinners and imperfect in every way. But, Jesus gave a perfect life for us and became our substitute. Jesus took my old wicked life and it was nailed to the cross. He gave me his righteous life. In this way, I am acceptable to God. The New Birth is releasing your old life and receiving a new life. It is letting go of your sins and accepting His sacrifice.

Conclusion

Sadly, some of us who have experienced the New Birth are not living like people of the kingdom of God. Many here today need to renew your commitment to the One who saved you. Often we become like the Pharisees. We think we have all the answers. Listen to me, your moral life is not what saved you – it was the Master’s life that saved you. We need to commitment our lives to living and loving like Jesus lived and loved.

There are some here today who have never trusted Jesus as your Savior. Oh, yes, you are religious. Maybe you have a church membership somewhere, but you are not saved – you have not been born again. Come to Jesus today. Now is the time of salvation. Today is your day. Don’t you feel it – don’t you feel the wind of God’s Spirit blowing across your heart? He is saying, “I love you. I died for you. I am alive forevermore. Come to me and I will give you rest!”