Nicodemus Born Again John 3 v1-12
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Although when I was first asked to preach on the given subject tonight, I was delighted to do so. However over the past few weeks I have listened to such guest speakers as Tony the Chilean, that sounds a bit like a gangster doesn’t it but I forgot his surname, & David Baker who have covered a great deal of what I feel the Lord has laid on my heart to share from this passage. In a way it’s like picking the remains of the Christmas Turkey off the bones. I pray that there is still sufficient succulent meat left and not just the parsons nose. No pun intended Paul, honest! I make no apologies for this and it’s no excuse to dose off because just maybe, God is highlighting His message to us. I was also greatly encouraged by things that were said at a conference some of us went to yesterday. I am sure exciting time are ahead of us here at St Chad’s.
Apart from our wonderful good looks, trained vocal chords, our Faith, and of course our modesty, Cliff Richard and I have something else in common! …….No not our money, but our concern for the misunderstanding of the use of the terminology of ‘Born Again’ Frequently as I go to other churches preaching, particularly at those with a Pentecostal influence, someone will say something like “You obviously have been baptised in the Spirit, or Your Born Again aren’t you?” Although in one way there is a temptation to consider it a compliment, I do often query their interpretation and understanding of such statements. Let me read to you what Cliff says in his book written about 18 years ago………….READ p47
Although I believe there has been an improvement in the way churches are working together, and I thank God for what is happening here in Chadwell Heath, one thing that concerns me as I travel around with my itinerant ministry, is the amount of arrogance within denominations that still exists. Believe it or not Jesus wasn’t a Baptist, Anglican or a Methodist, in fact he was a Jew. One thing the Lord has revealed to Maggie & I as we travel around is that we mustn’t judge how people worship. Providing Jesus is in the centre, and the Holy Spirit is allowed to fulfil his purpose, Father God is happy. I don’t want to dwell on this this evening just to add it was mankind who invented denominations!
Here in our reading we have Jesus telling Nicodemus of the need to be Born Again. Nicodemus was an influential religious leader. He was most probably wealthy and as stated he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jewish Nation. He would have spent much time in the Temple praying and doing other religious duties as well as fasting a couple of times a week and almost certainly tithed his income. V 10 tells us he was a recognised religious teacher. As Billy Graham once said of him “He would have been considered a model Christian in some circles today”. Yet Jesus saw right through his religiousness and clearly told him it was not enough. What was needed was new birth, new spiritual regeneration. In verse 2 we are told he came to Jesus at night. I wonder why it mentions the time of day? In commentaries I have read there are different ideas why at night. A couple of things that come to my mind are, was he too busy during the day being religious that he never had time to come to meet with Jesus? …Or was he frightened to be seen in broad daylight speaking to the carpenter’s son who appeared to have such power. After all Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Not only did Jesus despise Pharisees but if he was truly the Messiah, Nicodemusâs job could be on the line! Initially we cannot tell how genuine Nicodemus’s words were when he said “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” maybe he was being a little patronising or sarcastic, after all in v4 he said “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” He was a well educated man and knew this was impossible, lets face it even us less academic people like me know it’s impossible!
Perhaps I am being a little unkind to him, but let’s be fair at least he came! For a man of his position and influence it could not have been easy. The good news is that if we were to follow his fortune he surely did succeed in being born again. It is almost certainly the same Nicodemus who spoke up for Jesus, although rather cautiously in John 7v51 whilst addressing chief priests & other Pharisees, and in John 19 v39 we are told it was the same Nicodemus who assisted Joseph of Arimathea at the burial of Jesus. Not only did he assist but brought with him a mixture of myrrh and aloes, both expensive ingredients, and neither in small measure, we are told it’s weight was the equivalent of 75lbs. I wonder if this was a religious act, or an act of sacrificial worship as he recognised Jesus for his real worth, priceless. History reveals it was the latter. Do we recognise Jesus’ true worth? Do we give sacrificially of time & money as an act of worship? Anyway that’s enough about Nicodemus for now, what about the message of Jesus.
. Billy Graham tells of a time early in his ministry when he arrived in a small town to preach at a meeting. He had arrived a little bit early to finish writing a letter for back home. As he finished the letter, he asked a young boy standing on the sidewalk of the location of the town post office. When the boy had given him the directions, Mr. Graham thanked him and said, “If you will come to the Baptist church this evening, you can hear me tell everyone how to get to heaven.” “I don’t think I will be there”. The little boy replied, “You don’t even know your way to the post office, let alone how to get to heaven.”
Although I think we will be surprised when we get to heaven who is there and also who is missing, the bible tells us not every one who calls Jesus Lord will enter, I am convinced Billy will be there! Not because of his great and very significant works for the Lord but because he has a heart for Christ. One of the greatest tragedies in religion today is the fact that many church members including a lot of religious leaders do not know how they can go to heaven when the Bible tells us how to do so.
Jesus clearly states in v5 that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. The water of baptism and all it should mean are important but unless we allow the Holy Spirit full control of us it has no usefulness. Baptism alone is no guarantee of salvation (being saved). Maggie & I were privileged to go to the Holylands back in 1990 and the highlight for us was reaffirming our baptismal vows in the river Jordan close to where Jesus himself was baptised. I know in the Church of England we reaffirm our vows by confirmation, as I have done, and found it a wonderful experience to publically declare my love for the Lord and I am sure this is honouring to God but can I encourage you to consider reaffirming your vows by full emersion as an act of worship to the Lord, I know like Maggie & I, you will be truly blessed. I know this church has in the past encouraged believer baptism and I hope it continues to do so. I have spoken with Paul the vicar and he tells me that those going for confirmation will receive baptism either from the font or full immersion at a latter date. Jesus himself was baptised, not because he had any sin what so ever, but as an example for all Christians. But do not forget Jesus himself had to be filled with the Holy Spirit at the commencement of his powerful ministry, and thought his ministry and that we too must continually allow the Holy Spirit to fill us so we can effectively minister in the name and power of Jesus.
It never fails to amaze me the way that Jesus uses illustrations to get home his message. I am sure if they had been invented he would use an OHP! Some of us may be like Nicodemus and not understand his teaching immediately, this is why it’s so important to allow the Holy Spirit to help us. I can remember a few years ago being at a seminar where Gerald Coates was preaching, I know some find him a bit brash, but I think he is brilliant, well most of the time. We all get our off days! You’ll probably think I’m having after this talk! In front of about 200 people he held up his bible and said, “Of course this isn’t sufficient, is it?” You could see bottoms wriggling on seats as a hush came about, “Well” he said “Who agrees with me?” Eventually after repeating his question a couple of hands went up as the rest of us gazed at those who dared agree. Gerald then went on to explain that the word of God by it’s self is useless. Many churchman know it inside out, including Bishops, one of which he mentioned. But unless they allow the Spirit to reveal the true meaning and most importantly allow the message to be acted upon in the power of the Spirit, itâs just another book. Just as water and Spirit goes together so must the Word and Spirit. We need to put words into action.
v6 “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” I am sure that all of us know, whether told the facts of life by our parents or we found out ourselves, physical birth comes about because of sexual intercourse. Hopefully, although sadly not always an act of love between two consenting people of the opposite sex. This by the laws of reproduction produces something `after it’s kind’ Although as Nicky Gumbel points out in his book `Questions of life’ “New birth isn’t the climax of a period of gestation” In other words our relationship with parents grows and deepens, with time. How do young babies learn to talk and do things? they observe and follow the example of others. What a responsibility being a parent, again sadly many give wrong examples, no wonder so many lovely innocent new born babies don’t stay that way long!
I believe that is why Jesus was emphasising the importance of being born of the Spirit, and not of the flesh. You can not be born by the Spirit because of religious ritual and tradition, or by our own actions, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to bring us into intimate intercourse with the Lord, in other words we need to have a personal relationship, we need to have a love relationship with Jesus. We need to allow ourselves to become impregnated with his love and Holy Spirit. I hasten to add, not a nine months pregnancy, but a lifelong one for both sexes. David Baker last week told us we need a passion for Christ.
I am extremely grateful for the teaching of one of my past vicars from a previous church. You see when I first started seeking, like Nicodemus, I went to church and I thought that all I had to do to be a Christian was to go to church on Sunday say a few prayers, sing a few songs or hymns, wear my Sunday best and believe in God. But I was told” “No” the only right I had to call myself a Christian was when I had entered into a love relationship with Christ. At first I struggled with this, me a macho policeman having to have a love relationship with another man, and a man I couldn’t even see or touch. But how I thank God that the wind of the Holy Spirit blow on me, convicted me of the need, and brought me into that love relationship. Now not only can I feel his touch and presence but I can clearly see him as well!
Can you see the comparison between this and Nicodemus? I have no doubt he believed in God, I have no doubt he did what seemed right? But he needed the wind of the Spirit to transform, to regenerate his life. I hate it when some people say to me “Your religious aren’t you?” I often reply “No, but I am someone who has a love and personal relationship with God through Jesus” Jesus was telling Nicodemus to stop being religious and start to personally know and experience his love & power. Francis Frangipane a senior pastor from a large church in America states this in his amazing book ‘In the Presence of God’
This book should have a warning label, read it at your peril! Reading it will drastically change your lifestyle. It may stop you being religious and find the fullness of God!
Let’s go back to v4 for a moment “How can a man be born when he is old” says Nicodemus. This reminds me of an old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. I find it very sad that often when the Holy Spirit chooses to move in a church there is such resistance. Not always, but often from the older members, after all most of us find change difficult. I guess the same could be said about worship. It should be honouring to God not divisive. It must break Godâs heart where churches have been fragmented not by the Holy Spirit, but the way in which, people have tried to manipulate Him and the fellowship. Notice the Holy Spirit is a him not it. I believe it is crucial that fellowships learn together how to help and to encourage one another to understand more about regeneration by the Spirit. Nicodemus at first didn’t understand. Was Jesus gently rebuking him in verse 10 when he said “You are Israel’s teacher and you do not understand these things?” Nicodemous was a teacher an expert on the Old Testament scripture but couldn’t relate what Jesus was saying to such passages as Ezekiel Ch.11 v19 which says “I will give them an undivided heart, and will put a new spirit in them.” and other such verses that talk about Spirit kingdom and Spirit Life. I think Jesus was making it plain enough to him that without this definite personal experience, no person can ever hope to enter God’s kingdom. No one becomes a Christian just by birthright or because they live in a Christian country. You see the grace of the Holy Spirit is not distributed by the law of heredity. As Jesus explains to Nicodemus we cannot control or manipulate the work of Holy Spirit. He works in ways that we cannot predict or sometimes understand. Although we cannot control it, I believe we can hinder it’s progress. Doesn’t Paul give us a warning in 1 Thessalonians 5 v19 “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt”. Yes he does go on to say test everything, and rightly so, but too often it’s quenched by the testing of our fear, stubbornness, or resistance to change, not by Spiritual discernment. How often do we hear Church members say âwe donât do things that way hereâ or when someone suggested something new “that will never work” without seeking the discernment of God by his Spirit, that person’s idea may well have been Spirit inspired.
I can remember about 16 years ago attending Canon Michael Cole’s church for a series of training seminars on healing ministry. Each week as we all learnt more about the power of the Lord, the Holy Spirit seemed to come in more power, at times especially whilst at worship the building itself seemed to shake. Although this was a tremendous experience I still at that time had reservations about those over the top charismatic there who were either singing in tongues or being laid out or as some say slain in the spirit. I vowed I would never allow myself to lose control and be laid out. By at one of the sessions I began to sway backwards and forwards with an ever increasing degree of movement, until I could resist no more, out I went. In this situation the Lord spoke to me very clearly that he would not except half measures neither from me or my church. I tell you, you know when it’s the Spirit that puts you on your back! It’s only happened to me a handful of times but those times have been the most exhilarating in my Christian life. I purposely use the word exhilarating, because my dictionary defines the word as ‘affect with great liveliness or joy; raise the spirits of’ The Holy Spirit had certainly raised me to a new height of Spiritual awareness, and a closeness to the Lord. May I appeal to us all, if the Holy Spirit chooses to work in this way at any time, even if it confuses us, or inconveniences us, Praise the Lord, because it means someone is receiving a real blessing. That’s why it saddens me when I have seen what I believe to be counterfeit collapses or human manipulation, I tell you, you won’t need a human hand to push you if it’s genuine! I once went to a different meeting where someone was ministering to me and I was grateful for my police training in self defence because he was virtually putting me in an arm look to force me to the ground. Believe me you don’t always have to be slain in the Spirit to receive a blessing. Likewise I don’t go along with the teaching that unless you speak in tongues or have other super spiritual gifts your not born again, however don’t resist them when it comes from God not man. Again I once went to meeting where they were trying to teach people how to obtain tongues and we were told to go home and practice in a warm bath. Rubbish listen if God gives you a gift there will be no need to practice. Yes put such gifts into practice but not to practice! I hope you see the difference.
I also want us to consider that if the Spirit blows like the wind where he chooses, let us never assume that anyone is beyond the saving grace that comes when the Spirit convicts and leads people to repentance, repentance a turning around from sin. God wants to and will touch the most unlikely people, he chose me! So letâs never give up on anyone in prayer or outreach! I believe the country is ready for rebirth, revival, regeneration. Can you remember a few years ago when a Headmaster Mr Lawrence was murdered. His widow campaigned for changes to be made in society. Let me read to you a part of Frances Lawrenceâs manifesto…Read
The church is of paramount importance in influencing and directing people back to how God would want us to be. I believe the Church, and I mean the Church in general has failed in itâs duty. Christians themselves let alone unbelievers are often unsure what the church stands for anymore on certain moral issues, such as divorce and homosexuality. What an advert for Christianity when there is so much confusion, criticism and backbiting taking place often publicly.
I believe God wants to prepare us to reach out, to bring healing and salvation to those around us. To achieve this we need to be united in Spirit and purpose. People need to see the fruit of the Spirit in Godâs people. The fruit of love that encompasses joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. We all need to work at these attributes, I know I do!
Believe it or not many people are searching for a meaning to life, they want a spiritual experience. Many people have said to me âI wish I had your faithâ but are unwilling to take that step of faith that is required. A step that is there for all regardless to their past. Yet they may be willing to get involved in new age philosophy, star gazing, horoscopes etc. You know it amazes me how people believe in crystals & rocks and yet think Iâm mad for believing in the power of Jesus. If only they would concentrate on the facts of the resurrection and the empty rock from which Jesus rose, and stand on the rock, Jesus, they would then find true power and healing. I read recently how many youngsters are becoming involved and interested in the occult because of such TV programmes as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We need to introduce them to the light of the world not the fright of the world!
Let us all, and I include myself, ask ourselves right now, have we been re-born, or do we need new birth?….Are we religious like Nicodemus was, or are we a Christian. At a Christian Viewpoint For Men Conference I went to a few years ago I heard a moving testimony from a man in his eighties who stated he had been a churchgoer for most of his life but only became a Christian a few years ago! Praise the Lord his place in the kingdom was assured before death robbed him of the opportunity. If you donât have a relationship with Christ whilst alive donât expect it when you die!
Even if we are confident that we are Christians, that we have been born again, that’s not the end of the story. Just as infants are born with a potential that they realise only through growth towards maturity, so we too who come through faith into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, must grow as Christians, none of us have reached full maturity yet! And no one is past there sell by or best before date! We were reminded yesterday there is no retirement for Christians!
Paul says in his letter to Titus Ch.3 v4-6 “But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour”. Rebirth and renewal. We may feel confident about our rebirth, but what about renewal? both in our own lives and the life of this church. Infants as we know don’t stay still for long, soon they are crawling then walking then running. Where are we in our walk with God? Have we become static or are we moving forward? A child will frequently fall over as it learns to walk, and we too will fail and fall as we stumble through spiritual infancy. But we have God’s promise that, because God has shared his nature with us in spiritual rebirth, if reborn, we will grow; we will ultimately overcome our weaknesses, to become more like Jesus.
Jesus is still at the right hand of the Father generously pouring out the Holy Spirit to regenerate us, to transform us, to guide us , to heal us, to council us, the list is as enormous as his love, let us not put out the fire of the Spirit, but fan the flames. Do we really want to see a Pentecost experiences in our lives and in this His church, to see people added to our number daily, do we want to portray Jesus. I know Jesus want this of us!
Father God of all creation, we thank you for the many gifts you have given us to understand your will and purpose in our lives. We thank you for your word, we thank you for your Holy Spirit but most of all we thank you for Jesus. We thank you for his sacrifice teaching and example. Help us not to just give lip service but allow the Holy Spirit room to move in our lives, to bring healing, restoration and wholeness as Jesus told us to expect. I pray for this church as we are prompted by the Holy Spirit, I pray for those who find change difficult and I pray for sensitivity from those who are eager for change. I pray for wisdom and discernment for the leadership as we face new challenges & opportunities and last of all I pray for a really sense of unity and expectancy to abound in our lives and the life of this church. Amen.