Next week I will be celebrating a birthday. That is a day when I celebrate my birth. I will probably have a cake of some sort; I expect to have my cake and to eat it too.
Various people in my life will give me cards and gifts as well as posting celebratory and some sarcastic comments on my Facebook.
And it all started, on a Monday, 61 years ago. 61 years? How could it be 61 years? I remember when I had the same numbers, just in a different order.
I’ve always been of the mind that old is 15 years older than I am at any given time. So when I was 15, 30 was old. When I was 30, 45 was old. Today 75 is old but next week 76 will be old.
But it all started on a day, almost 61 years ago.
There will come a time, that I will die. And my life will be summed up with two numbers, the date that I was born, and the date that I died. I would suspect that there will be very few people alive then who will remember the day I was born, although I’ve been wrong before.
A number of years ago Angela and I were on Grand Manan, and we met a lady at the golf course. When we introduced ourselves, the lady told me, “Oh, we lived next door to your parents when you were born.”
And my first thought was, “She doesn’t really know who I am. I wasn’t born on Grand Manan; I was born in Chatham when Dad was in the Air Force.” So, I simply smiled. To which the lady added, “My husband Dennis was in the air force with your Dad.” Oops, you know what happens when you assume.
I don’t expect to have a gravestone. My wishes are to have my ashes spread in the Bay of Fundy off of Pettes Cove in Grand Manan. But even without a gravestone my life will be summed up with those numbers, the date that I was born and the date that I die.
But those numbers will really be irrelevant, they are just dates. What will be important will be the dash between those dates. Because the dash, or the hyphen, represents what we did with the years between those dates.
Not one of us choses to be born. Very few of us will get to choose when we die, but every one of us will get to choose what we do with the dash.
The philosopher Voltaire wrote, “God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.” And William Barclay reminds us, “There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.” That would be the day when we discover the purpose of our dash.
We are starting a new series at Cornerstone, for the month of June, and it will focus on our spiritual health.
We all know there is a vast difference between simply living a life and living a healthy life. Healthy in a physical sense and healthy in an emotional sense. And there are certain things we can do to help with our health, choices we can make. We can choose to eat right; we can choose to exercise, and we can choose to take care of our bodies. That isn’t always enough.
I read recently the most important thing that will determine how long we will live is our genetics, so we have to be very careful in who we choose to be our parents.
The scripture that was read for us this morning tells us how our spiritual life begins.
The story begins inJohn 3:1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. We don’t know a great deal about Nicodemus, but what we do know is very revealing.
We know that in John 19:39 that he provided seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes for the burial of Christ. Historians tell us that was enough spice to embalm a king and so we know that he was wealthy. It must have been difficult for a man of that type of wealth to stoop low enough to speak to a poor carpenter. We also know that he was a Pharisee, or a separated one.
The Pharisees have got a lot of bad press over the years, but we have to realize that they were the most righteous of all the Jews. You say “But pastor they were legalistic” sure they were they had to be, they had taken a vow to live completely under the law in every area of their lives, by definition that would make you a legalist. Like everything else in life, there were good Pharisees and there were bad Pharisees, and the bad Pharisees were the ones who got all the attention.
Nicodemus was a man who felt that the law was complete, and all he had to do was live by it, and it must have been difficult for a man of that religious training to stoop to asking an itinerate preacher a theological question.
We also know that he was a member of the Jewish ruling council, which meant that he was a Sanhedrin. The ruling council was made up of seventy members and they were the supreme court of the Jews. The Sanhedrin had religious jurisdiction over every Jew in the world. They were the group who examined false prophets, and they were the ones who ultimately tried Christ. It was surprising he would come to Jesus at all, even if it was at night.
Nicodemus was the member of the Jewish aristocrats. Someone who was unlikely to come to a homeless Galilean Carpenter to talk about his soul. But he did.
John continues the narrative in verse two by saying John 3:2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. There are a couple of reasons why he might have come at night. The first might have been caution. He didn’t want to be seen with Christ. That wouldn’t be surprising. I mean, after all, the surprise was that he even showed up at all. And so maybe he was slinking around like a man with something to hide. Or there is another reason why he came at night.
The Rabbis felt that night was the best time for study because there were fewer distractions. And so maybe Nicodemus felt that if he came at night, it would give him more time to spend with Jesus without the crowds being around.
Whatever the reason why Nicodemus came at night isn’t important what is the important thing was that he came, and he starts off by telling Christ why he has come and in doing that he starts by laying down his definition of who he thought Jesus was. Carrying on in verse 2 we read that Nicodemus said in John 3:2 . . . “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”
What was Nicodemus doing? He was defining Christ in his own terms. That’s where most of us are at some time in our life. We are unable to accept Christ as who he says he is and so we try to define him in our own terms, saying “We know that you are a great teacher” or “we know that you are a good man” “we know that you are a prophet” or “we know that you are Michael the archangel”.
But what we have to do is to accept Jesus Christ for who he said he was and that was “God”, plain and simple.
We have to note that even though Nicodemus didn’t ask a question, Jesus answered a question. And that is the same question that has been asked over and over again.
The lawyer asked it inLuke 10:25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
The rich young ruler asked it in Mark 10:17 As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The jailer asked it in Acts 16:30 Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Nicodemus may not have asked the question out loud, but it was obviously on his heart. Otherwise, why would he have risked his reputation, position, and good name just to see a rebel preacher like Jesus? There must have been some discontentment in his life that was saying perhaps all he had done wasn’t enough, that there had to be more.
And so, Jesus answered the question that hadn’t been asked. John 3:3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
And so there we have the term “Born Again”.
Jesus is not apologetic about it at all. He is straightforward and very emphatic when he says, “I tell you the truth”. “This is it guy listen up”, and then he say’s “No one will see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
Not good people. Not religious people. Not sincere people. Only people who have been born again. Now they may be good, religious, sincere people, but that won’t be what gets them into the Kingdom.
Being “Born Again” isn’t one of many roads into the kingdom of God it is the only way into the kingdom of God.
So, let’s start with, What it Is
Now even though this is the first mention of being born again in the Bible, it would not have been a phrase that was unfamiliar to Nicodemus. When a heathen became a Jew, he was baptized and was then referred to as reborn, and at that point was treated as a child in regard to his religious education.
Now personally I think that Nikodemus was getting a little sarcastic here because he should have understood the concept at least in relation to Judaism. But instead of questioning it from that angle he says in John 3:4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
Maybe what Nicodemus meant was “how can a man’s personality and desires change when he is old? It would be as difficult as being born naturally a second time.”
Have you ever tried to change even one aspect of your life? Smoking, drinking, temper, gossip, negative thinking, eating habits? If you have then you know how difficult that can be.
Now think about how difficult it would be to radically change your entire life.
But being “born again” isn’t dependent on what we can or can’t do ourselves. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “You gotta get born again.” But that isn’t entirely accurate. Born again is not a verb, it’s not something you do, it is merely a description of something that has been done.
Next let’s look at What it Means.
This is the act is salvation. The result is a new birth.
Simply put, after asking Christ to forgive you and repenting, the change in your life is as if you were born again.
But why do we need to be born again? Good question I’m glad that you asked it. If we go way back to the beginning of the book, we read in Genesis 1:31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day. Now that would be a good place to end, but that isn’t where the story ends. Instead, in Genesis chapter three we read about how the original couple disobeyed God in what we call “the fall” and then chapter four tells us about the first murder and then finally we read in Genesis 6:5 The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.
Sound familiar? We still seem to be surprised when people do bad things. But, thousands of years after Genesis was written we are still caught up in that wickedness and there is no way around it.
From the time that we are mere children, that sinful nature surfaces. After all, what makes a child say no? What makes a child give you cheek? What makes a child rebellious? What makes a child hateful at times?
You say, “But preacher my children were never like that” If that is the case your particular instance falls into one of three categories, A) you have selective vision and were so caught up in the wonder of parenthood that you didn’t see your child behaving that way. or B) ) You have selective memory and have blotted those memories out of your mind, or C) The Holy Spirit needs to convict you about your lying.
A child may come to fear repercussions and hold their rebellious nature in check, but someday they’ll be big enough so that you can’t or won’t punish them. Fear may cover our sinful nature, but it won’t destroy the sinful nature.
If that is the legacy of the first birth, the only solution is a rebirth. Now let’s look at What it Does
David recognized what was needed when he cried out to God in Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart. The question still remains, how do you get a pure heart?
Paul tells us in Titus 3:5 He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. Part of David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51:7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
But how does the washing take place? Well, first of all we need to recognize the fact that we need to be washed, the fact that we need a pure heart. And that what is explained in Who it’s For.
1 John 1:8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. And Jesus told the disciples in Mathew 18:11 And the Son of Man came to save those who are lost. Jesus repeats that thought in Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
Christ didn’t come to find the found, or even to find those who thought that they were found, he came to find the lost, and if you don’t think that you are lost then Christ can’t help you. But listen to the promise that Jesus makes to those who are lost but want to be found, it is given in John 10:10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
Jesus doesn’t just promise us life, he promises us a rich and satisfying life. Life that is exciting, life that is fulfilled, life that is bubbling over with potential.
O.k. we’ve admitted that we need cleansing, now we need to seek cleansing. Acts 3:19-20 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah. Did you catch it? Not only are your sins wiped out, but times of refreshing will come from the Lord.
We begin by confessing to God that we need his forgiveness, confessing that we are sinners, yes sinners. Then we repent. That simply means that we are so sorry for our actions that we turn from them. Remember Peter’s words in Acts 3:19, Repent then and turn to God?
Repentance is a turning from wrong to right. And after your confession and repentance Christ forgives us, listen to what David says about God in Psalm 130:4 But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you. And listen to what John tells us about God in 1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
It’s at that point that we are reborn, or born again, or born anew. It doesn’t matter what you call it, remember “Born Again” is merely a description of what has happened. So often people are identified as being a “Born Again Christian” according to the Bible that is a redundant statement. If you are a Christian, then you have been “born again”.
And if you have not been “born again” then you can’t be a Christian. And so with the new birth comes a fresh start, a clean slate so to speak. David, that great king of Israel who was guilty of Adultery, murder and treason came pleading with God for forgiveness and listen to what he says about the forgiveness of God, Psalm 103:12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
And at that point we are blameless, we have been washed whiter than snow, our sins have been forgiven, and it is as if we had never sinned. What an incredible thought.
But it can’t stop at the salvation experience. In1 Corinthians 3:1 new Christians are referred to as infants in Christ, and the thought follows along in Hebrews 5:12-14. Galatians 6:15 talks about us being new creations and in 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
But you can’t stay an infant forever, Steven Wright said, “I kept a diary right after I was born. Day 1: Tired from the move. Day 2: Everyone thinks I’m an idiot.”
Being born again is a change that takes place in your life and when that happens there are other things that need to take place in your life.
Baptism is one of them, throughout the New Testament conversion was followed by baptism. Not that baptism has any saving power, but it is an outward sign of an inward action. I don’t want to get into any great theological debates, but I would suggest that baptism is something reserved for believers after they have made the decision to follow Christ not before. It has been called the first step of obedience.
One of the other things that needs to happen is a new lifestyle, you’ve been given a chance, a life to lead over again and there are things expected of you in that new life, listen to 1 John 2:6 Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. Christian just means follower of Christ, but the question is: How close are you following?
Have you been born again? Have you had a radical change of lifestyle? There shouldn’t be any doubt after all you know for sure that you were born and, in most cases, you can even tell us when and where. If you got it and didn’t know when then can you lose it and never know how. In my obituary I want it to say, Denn Guptill Born June 13, 1960, Born again September 2, 1979, and then the reference John 11:26 Jesus said “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” How about you?