Thursday, July 21, 2016
P1 Jesus' teaching on the New Birth in John 3:1-21
John 3:1-3 "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 have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Today's post aims to consider what Jesus meant when he spoke of being "born-again". This phrase "born-again" is referred to by a couple of other similarly related titles, such as the "new birth" or God having "begat us" (James 1:18). Peter of course uses the term "born-again" to refer to the beginning of salvation (1 Peter 1:23). The Apostle Paul uses phrases such as "washing of rebirth" and "regeneration" (Titus 3:5); "new creation" or "new creature in Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17). To be sure, the Old Testament had a less-potent version of the miracle of regeneration in what it called "circumcision of the heart" (Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4). Such a lesser-version of the change of heart indicated that salvation still operated in the same ordering fashion: God's grace alone through faith alone in His Promise of salvation. The Old Testament prophecies of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 pointed to a time when the much fuller and more robust version of a Divinely wrought change of heart (i.e regeneration or the New birth) would occur.
These introductory remarks will serve to give us background to all that Jesus and Nicodemas would discuss in their evening conversation about the miracle of the New Birth. The Baptist Faith and Message gives the following definition of regeneration or the New Birth: "Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace."
So having defined the New Birth and its synonyms, we can now enter briefly into John's narrative of the Master teaching Nicodemas about the nature of the New Birth. We will consider what Jesus has to say about the new birth by noting what the new birth enables or makes possible with respect to salvation.
1. The New Birth enables one to see the unseen Kingdom. John 3:1-3
By the time we reach this point in John's Gospel, Jesus' private world and public life have fully splashed onto the canvas of 1st century Jewish life. Jesus has already done His first miracle, was announced as the Lamb of God by John the Baptist and has cleansed the temple within the first two chapters. It is clear that Jesus has captured the watchful eye of the Jewish authorities. Nicodemas' meeting with the Lord under the cloak of evening is as much intentional as it is for fear of being noticed by his peers. At bear minimum, Nicodemas recognizes the Divine favor that rests on Jesus miracle working power, something of which he could had said about Old Testament prophets such as Moses or Elijah.
But Jesus is very quick to point out that Nicodemas' seemingly profound insight falls far short. In essence, Jesus exposes what are the limitations of the religious mind and the reasoning intellect: namely what one can gather through the five senses. Jesus states in John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” When a person experience the miracle of salvation - regeneration - in saving faith through the Gospel, the eyes of understanding are opened. The Apostle Paul writes concerning natural-minded inability to perceive correctly the things of God in 1 Corinthians 2:14 "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."
The Kingdom of God is God's pervasive influence and Sovereign reign in the affairs of men, over the whole universe and in the hearts of His people. The Kingdom is by nature unseen. Only a converted, regenerated heart can see the unseen and grasp such by faith. For poor old Nicodemas, this bit of news unsettled him in his religious posturing and caused him to inquire Jesus further.
So, the New birth enables one to see the unseen Kingdom. Now notice secondly...
2. The New Birth enables one to access the inaccessible Kingdom. John 3:4-5
Nicodemas attempts to discern Jesus' statement regarding "born again". Surprisingly, Nicodemas, a theologian of the Old Testament, misses the connection between Jesus' statement and the predictions of the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36-37. Nicodemas takes Jesus' statements literally and proposes that he might mean some bizarre form of a fully-developed person crawling into his mother's womb. Jesus wasted no time in mildly rebuking Nicodemas and referencing back to those New Covenant texts in the Old Testament.
Without going into much detail, the Old Testament predicted that the New Covenant age would be marked by the Holy Spirit indwelling His people and changing them from the inside out. The power to live Godly lives would be granted. Such images as water, wind and other word-pictures were used by Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other prophets to convey to their Jewish audiences about the pending reality of the coming New Testament era. Jesus indicated by his words and ministry that such a New Covenant age had dawned in His arrival and Person. The miracle of regeneration or the New Birth would enable entry into the invisible Kingdom. We could say that one could enjoy and experience God's invisible Kingdom rule and power in a manner hither-to-fore unknown by the Old Testament saint.
The Apostle Paul references the miracle of the New Birth with respect to the Kingdom of God in Romans 10:6-10 that sheds light on Jesus' comments:
"But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
So the New Birth enables one to see the unseen Kingdom and to access this otherwise inaccessible kingdom.