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Gospel of John: Life in Jesus’ Name – Born Again

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Ever watched a football game on TV and seen a guy in the end zone holding a sign up of John 3:16?
Football. Basketball. Baseball. And even golf!!
Why would someone hold up this sign?

What does it say?
John 3:16 ESV “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This has to be the most well-known verse in the Bible.

When I was 19 years old, I was confronted with the gospel of Jesus, and God humbled me and I believed in Jesus Christ. I found eternal life. But that first year or two of my new Christian life, I didn’t really like John 3:16. Not because I didn’t believe it. But because I had heard this verse countless times while I was growing up, and I don’t recall anyone explaining it to me. So the verse was just something I had memorized, but no more. It was rote. Just a mechanical repetition. And I didn’t want to be mechanical about God’s Word. So I found myself resisting this verse, as beautiful as it is.

It wasn’t much later, though, that I began to think more deeply about this, and realized how utterly profound and yet simple this is. I recently read what one well-known theologian, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote about John 3:16 and Matthew 22:37-39.
That verse says:
Matthew 22:37–39 ESV “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Lloyd-Jones said that these two passages together are “a perfect and complete synopsis of the Christian theology,”
Perhaps we can debate whether they are a “perfect and complete synopsis,” but it’s not hard to argue that they do form some sort of synopsis. The love of God can be understood only in light of certain crucial truths. And these two passages are simple yet deep.

We are in our 3rd week of a series plumbing the depths of the Gospel of John. Today’s text is John 3, which of course, includes this most famous verse 16. Not only vs. 16 is but the rest of the chapter contains a beauty and a majesty that makes me think of sitting on a rock in the Colorado Rockies, and staring at and soaking in the beauty and majesty of the mountains in front of us.

Open your Bibles to John 3.

Vs. 1-2
1 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.”

Why did Nicodemus come at night? Perhaps because Nicodemus was coming secretly because of fear of his fellow Jewish leaders. There is another verse in chapter 19 that makes me think that is his reason.
But in the end, we cannot be completely certain why he came at night.
What is the point of Nicodemus’ statement? He is not directly asking a question. Perhaps he is simply probing Jesus to learn more about who he really is. Most of the Pharisees hated Jesus, so the fact that Nicodemus came to Jesus alone indicates that he is seeking.

In any case, Jesus responds to him in vs. 3.

Vs. 3
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

First, Jesus says, “Truly, truly.” This is literally the words, “Amen, amen.”
“AMEN” is an expression of absolute trust and confidence. So it can mean “Truly.”

So when Jesus says, “Truly, truly,” is double-emphasizing that what he is about to say is absolutely true. He says “truly truly” 25X in John’s Gospel
Then he says, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He is saying, “Unless you are born again, you cannot be a part of God’s eternal kingdom.”
Jesus is not wishy washy. He is emphatic here, as he is throughout this gospel, that there is only one way to heaven. And whatever “born again” means, that is the way. And the only way.

We are in a culture that likes options. We like consumerism. Shopping where we want. Ordering food precisely the way we want. Getting clothes the color we want. Surely our religion can be this way, right? I want to decide what is right and true. I want to determine how to get to heaven. I have 10 religious views in front of me. I choose a little bit of Option #3, a spoonful of Option #6, and a sprinkle of Option #9.

Jesus simply doesn’t let us do this. I haven’t counted them all, but I’m guessing there are several dozen times and in a variety of ways in this Gospel that Jesus tells us, “There is only one way to heaven.” Vs. 3 is one of them.

So what does he mean here? First, Jesus’ words remind me of two verses we read two Sundays ago.
John 1:12–13 ESV “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
To all who receive Jesus, who believe in him, he gives the right and power to become children of God who are born of God.
It matters not our human ancestry. John is talking about a heavenly ancestry.
This is so radical it may strike us as blasphemous. And arrogant…. to call ourselves children of God.

Back to Chapter 3, Jesus told Nicodemus that the only way to be a part of God’s eternal kingdom is to be born again.
This is profound. It is profound for the seeker of God, one who isn’t sure yet what he thinks about Jesus but is seeking. It is profound for the believer in Jesus, one who already has eternal life.

Like I said two weeks ago,
“John’s Gospel is like a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant can swim.”
There is a simplicity for all of us to grasp. There is a profoundness that few of us can get to the bottom of.

So what does it mean to be “born again”? Let’s keep reading.

Vs. 4-6
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?”

I don’t think Nicodemus is being a stubborn skeptic here. I think he genuinely doesn’t understand what Jesus is saying.
This is the question we might ask. We simply don’t get what Jesus is saying. So we ask, “Are you saying I can be born from my mother twice?”

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.

First he said, “You must be born again.” Then he says, “You must be born of water and the Spirit.” And he adds, “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” He is pointing to the same thing.
We humans are of “the flesh.” We are mortal. If we are to be in the presence of God the King in his eternal kingdom, we need to be made new. We need to be born again. Born of God. Born of the Spirit.

This is not “turning over a new leaf,” but is a whole new nature. This is not about behaving better. This is about regeneration. There is an implication here that we are dead before God, and we must be made alive in a whole new way.

The rest of the NT speaks often of this.

Today, if you are a seeker of God…..you are not yet sure what you think about Christianity, you have to realize that Jesus is being emphatic. You cannot be a part of God’s kingdom without a radical transformation of who you are. This is not about trying to clean ourselves up. Trying to be a better person.
Because of our sin, we are dead to God. So we need to be made brand new. Born again. Born of God. Born of the Holy Spirit.

Today, if you are a believer in Jesus….you love him and trust him for the sake of your eternal soul… then be amazed. Worship God for the change he has wrought in you. This is your new identity. You will never be the same again.
You have been prepared to be in the very presence of God our Father as his son and daughter.
We often won’t feel this way. We often feel the same old way with similar temptations and weaknesses and sins. As long as we are in these mortal bodies, we will wrestle with our frailties. But we are different. God is the God of New Beginnings. And to be born again is the ultimate in New Beginnings.

This should radically change the way we view ourselves and one another. And this should dramatically affect the way we see the purpose for our life on this earth.

Vs. 7-8
7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus is using an earthly illustration to make a spiritual point. We know the wind is real, for we can feel it and see its impact, but we don’t know where it comes from. This, Jesus says, is like being born of the Spirit.
We may not understand entirely how this birth comes about, and we cannot make a formula out of it, but we can see its effect.
God simply breathes life into dead sinners. There is a mystery to all this, but the power of the Spirit to give new life is real.

Vs. 9-11
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

Again, Nicodemus just doesn’t get it. So Jesus rebukes him.

10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?
11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.

As a teacher of Israel, Nicodemus should have understand some things. There are some OT prophecies that speak, in a way, of new birth. Of God’s transformation through his Spirit. As a student of the Scriptures, Nicodemus should have caught on more quickly.

12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

What are these earthly things? Jesus may be referring to believing in him and being born again. These are things that happen on the earth. As for “heavenly things,” he may be referring to future events that will happen in God’s kingdom.

Vs. 13
13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

This is a profound statement. Jesus is saying that he was in heaven with God the Father beforehand. And he has now descended upon the earth. This is a bold, radical statement. Jesus is either a LIAR or he is someone special from another world. A heavenly world. This is no minor point in this Gospel. I found about 50 similar references just in John that Jesus came from heaven.
Jesus is no mere mortal.
Jesus’ heavenly origin marks him off from the rest of humanity.
The Apostle Paul said,
1 Corinthians 15:47 ESV “The first man [that is, Adam] was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.”
We are only in our 3rd week of this book, but we are going to find this thought throughout. Our faith can be strengthened. Jesus is no ordinary man.

Vs. 14-15
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

I love these two verses. To understand them, we have to turn to the story Jesus is referring to in one of Moses’ OT books called Numbers.

Let’s read the story.
Numbers 21:4–9 ESV
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses,
“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”
Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.
And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.”
The people humbled themselves, confessed their sin, and repented. So God showed mercy.
So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

This is a severe story of the OT, but this type of story is repeated countless times over the hundreds of years of Israel’s history.
Here the Lord is ready to bring them into this long-awaited Promised Land. But once again they rebel. They walk in unbelief. They complain in anger and resentment.
So the Lord is justified in his anger. And as we know from the NT, the wages of sin is death. So the Lord brings immediate judgment on them by sending “fiery serpents.” Some type of poisonous serpents.
The people finally humble themselves and repent.
So Moses calls on the Lord for mercy, and the Lord has Moses make a replica of the serpents out of bronze. Then place it high up on a pole. When someone is bitten but looks up to the bronze serpent, they won’t die.
Basically, they needed to believe that God would save them if they looked up.

I love this remarkable story. Back in John 3, Jesus tells us that this story from 1400 years earlier is a picture of the gospel message of salvation. What Israel needed to do to be saved was to repent of their sin and simply look up. Believing that God would save them from judgment, they simply needed to look up. If they refused to look up, they would die.

It’s that simple.

Likewise today, all of us are sinners worthy of judgement. But Jesus tells us to look up. Not to a bronze serpent, but to Christ on the cross….now RISEN from the dead. Whoever looks to the Son will live, and not just survive a serpent bite but will survive forever and ever. If we refuse to look up to Christ, we will die.

It’s a rather simple and beautiful way to speak of eternal salvation.

Vs. 16-21 tells us more about this. So let’s keep going.

Vs. 16-18
Now let’s look at vs. 16-18.
One brief point before we read. Ancient manuscripts of Greek, which the NT was written in, didn’t have literary devices like “quotation marks.” So it is up to translators to decide where to put quotes for us in English.
It is debatable whether Jesus’ quote from vs. 3 to vs. 15 continues on through vs. 21, or whether it stops at vs. 15 and John as the author picks up the theological conversation. Language scholars are divided where to put the end quote. My Bible shows it all in quotes. Others stop the quote after vs. 15.

In the end, it doesn’t matter much. The truth is all from God.

So let’s read:
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Here is that most famous verse in the Bible. John 3:16. Let’s start there.
God’s love for sinners in this world….sinners deserving of his wrath….compelled him to give his only Son for us. Then whoever would believe in him, wouldn’t perish….wouldn’t fall under God’s condemnation… but would live forever and ever and ever. Whoever will look up to Christ on the cross and believe will be saved. They will be born again. Born of the Spirit. Born of God. Ephesians 2 says that we are changed from children of wrath to children of God.

This salvation is a deeply theological truth revealing that we have a problem before God that only he can remedy: we are sinners and we need a Savior.
Jesus’ word with Nicodemus might come to mind now. We have a spiritual “deadness”, and we need life. We need to be “born again” in order to enter into the kingdom of God. This eternal, heavenly, glorious kingdom where God reigns supreme forever and ever.
And the simple word perish is a terrifying and descriptive thought, that without God’s intervention we are utterly doomed for eternity.
As a 19-year old when I was confronted with the gospel, it was this warning of “perishing,” of God’s judgment, of hell, of missing out on the kingdom of God, that compelled me to seriously consider Jesus.

The outcome of all this for the one who believes is that he/she will live forever and ever.

Vs. 17 is intriguing.
Jesus’ primary purpose in coming was not to condemn the world. He came to save the world. To rescue them from hell.
Jesus didn’t come merely to be a prophet or teacher or good moral example. He was all of that. But simply, he came to die in our place and then rise from the dead, that we may live. And live forever.
His second coming will be as Judge to bring wrath upon all who have rejected him.

Vs. 18 is another stark statement.
We are left with no middle ground.
1. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ is not condemned. There is no more wrath and judgment.
2. But whoever does not believe….who rejects Jesus… is already condemned.
They already stand under judgment. Their position is worse than awful. It is abject terror.
Over and over again, Jesus offers us no third option.

I want to talk about the word “believe.” This is one of the key words in this Gospel, used more than 90 times.
What does it mean? As we read through the entire Gospel, we will find that the Lord speaks in a variety of ways that seem to be synonymous with believing in Jesus Christ is.

Here are a few of those ways.
• look up to him. John 3:14-15
• receive. John 1:12 Instead of rejecting him, we receive him.
• drink of him. He is Living Water, and we are to drink of him. John 4:13, 7:37
• come to. John 6:35
• eat of him. Like we eat bread made of wheat to sustain us for life, so we are to eat of Jesus, the Bread of Life. And we will live. John 6:50-51
• He is our Good Shepherd, and we are to follow him. John 10:1-5,27
• He is the Gate into his sheepfold, and the only way into the fold is to enter through him. And we are to listen to the shepherd’s voice. John 10:7-9
As you read these passages, all these expressions seem to be synonymous with believing. When we think of believing, we think too quickly of just an intellectual assent. Like, “Oh sure, I believe that fact.”
We are called to believe in a Person. To trust. To cling to. To rely upon.
I grew up going to church, and if you had pressed me, I would have declared, “Oh, sure I believe all those things,” but it didn’t get past the intellectual acknowledgement. Jesus calls us to trust him if we want to live.

Vs. 19-21
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

I think often about Vs. 19 and 20 because they help me to understand myself and our world so well.
Jesus is the light of the world. But because mankind loves the darkness (that is, we love our sin) ….. we hate the light. Why? The light exposes our deeds. It exposes our guilt and shame before God. And we hate being exposed.
This is incredibly sad. The God who so loved the world that he gave his Son to die in our place for our sins is utterly despised and ignored. Someone so good and beautiful and holy and merciful is so hated. It shows how dark our hearts can be.

This is grieving. But it can help us understand the fight we feel inside us. And it can help us understand the fight we see in the world.

Application

Let me wrap up this morning with three brief but important applications.

BELIEVE
I don’t know everyone in this room. And I don’t know everyone’s heart. But surely some of you today have not believed in Jesus Christ, and you are not yet part of God’s kingdom. You will perish for eternity if you die.
Simply put, you need Jesus. As the people of Israel looked up to the serpent on the pole in order to live, so you need to look up to Christ on the cross in order to live.

WORSHIP
For you who have believed, you were dead but now you are alive forevermore. You were headed for destruction but now you are part of God’s eternal kingdom. Sit back even today, open your Bible to John 3. Read it. Consider it. Be amazed. Rejoice. Worship. Give thanks. Forever and ever and ever you will be in glory.

GAIN PERSPECTIVE
Considering your eternal future, gain perspective in your trials.

2 Corinthians 4:17–18 ESV “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Paul had more trials than most of us. Yet he called them “light momentary afflictions.” How?
By comparison. By comparison with the eternal glory that awaits all who are born again. Who are born of the Spirit of God and are part of God’s glorious, eternal kingdom.
Take heart in your trials as you gain perspective. Your future glory will far outweigh even the worst trials of this life.

For everyone who looks up to Jesus, this is his hope.