Born Again/Born from Above

John 3:1-17

June 6th, 2009


            He came to Jesus at night.  Possibly it was because he wanted to have an extended discussion with him, something that could not be done in the day time with many crowds.   Maybe at night under the cloak of darkness because he didn’t want his fellow Pharisee’s to know that he was one ruler who was intrigued by this Jesus fellow.    It was at night the Pharisee’s often did their intense study of the Word, and so it is natural that he would come and “examine”, inquire about the Word Jesus.   He came to Jesus to get a little more insight, to let him know that while others may have thought less of him, he truly thought he was from God himself.   After all he saw or heard of the miraculous sign of him turning water into wine, his cleansing of the temple which probably took place twice once at the beginning and another time at the end of his ministry.   To say he was intrigued was an understatement.

            So what does Jesus do, he first confuses him?   He takes Nicodemus in a direction he never expected, the birth, being born again/or born above.   Jesus has tendency to take assumptions about him, and salvation, and challenging them.  He makes he makes things, confusing, and then he clarifies.  He does three things.  First he makes a radical statement.  Second this “new birth” teaching becomes impossible for Nicodemus to fulfill on his own.  Thirdly this statement shows the “beyond” comprehension” mercy that he provides through his Spirit.

            First, the radical nature of the statement.   Usually when we think of changes in our life, we think of slight modifications.  You know a little more self discipline here, an extra card or phone call here and there to show our concern, a bit more love, a bit more patience.  It’s the kind of thing, that while maybe challenging, most of us think we can pull off.  Jesus says no in order to get to the kingdom of God, which is really what it all about, you must be reborn.   That is a fresh start, a new you, a complete changing.  After all the text says “flesh gives birth to flesh, and spirit gives birth to flesh”.   He is saying to Nicodemus, all that education, all your understanding in and of itself gets you nowhere before God.   The bible says that all our righteous acts are like filthy rags, in other words, it isn’t just a surgical improvement, but a complete new person that needs to come out of the old you.  

            Nicodemus then figures something out, it is impossible on his own.  Can I enter again my mother’s womb?    Recently there was a movie titled the “Curious case of Benjamin Button” , the story of a man who aged backwards.   His outer life was in reverse, while on the inside he aged naturally.  Even this fictional movie, can’t pull of what Jesus is talking about.  An inner and outer complete transformation, new start, new you.       Then in the midst of confusion, Jesus tells Nicodemus, about something called the water and the Spirit.   The Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is there to bring us the reality that Jesus rebirths us.  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.    Jesus calls forth here a radical transformation.  It is a transformation that is impossible for Nicodemus to pull off, and finally this mercy is beyond comprehension. 

            As some of you may know we spent a portion of our time off with family in North Dakota. Two additional babies have been added since our last visit.   My sister has a 14 month little girl, and my brother has a 4 month old little baby.  These two babies were the life of the party, and whatever minimally they did there was a lot of oohing and awing.   There were smiles all around, and grown ups acting downright silly when these recently born children were in the room.   While I know full well how exhausting, and trying young infants can be, at the same time they sure bring immediate joy to many of those around them.   They are also “at their best” when held or paid attention to by someone older.  1 Peter 1:23 says this “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, thought he living and enduring word of God.   We are not, and I repeat not, self made Christians.   Our Lord is reminding us that our identity is not primarily found in what we do for a living, our particular personality, our birth order, our health or lack thereof, our abilities, our family connections, but rather it is found through the Spirit who through Christ resurrection, and his word, allows us to be born ”from above”, or born again.   John 1:12 says “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name he gave the right to become the children of God, children born not of natural decent, nor of human decision or a husbands’ will, but born of God.   1 Peter 1:23 says “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of the imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  

            On occasion we will hear about someone who was a born again Christian.   This is short hand for those who through some sort of  “experiential event” have come to rely on or know Christ in an ever deeper day.    Translation, tehose who are “born again” tend to be really Christians.   The problem with this language, while not discrediting the further strengthening of their faith in Christ, is that the Spirit, Water, and the Word tend to be in the background.  What is at the forefront is our will.   The problem with  our will is the same as Nicodemus, we simply can’t will ourselves to be born again.    We need this complete transformation, through the Spirit who brings Jesus resurrection power.   The scriptures say this happened through water and the spirit.  MMMMMM, sounds like something called baptism to me?    Titus 3 says “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 Savior. 

            Nicodemus had a real curiosity about Jesus, and Jesus responded by reminding him and us, that what he brings is absolutely radical, a complete transformation.   He takes sinners, and makes them righteous.  He takes death and brings life.  He brings hope in the midst of despair.   Obtaining all of these baby shower gifts is impossible on our own, which is why God gives to us the Spirit.   You may not feel like one of those true Christians, and frankly your assessment may be right.  However, there is always another factor to consider, a real and sure factor and that is the Spirit.  Anyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ  has been born again/born from above. 

            Trinity Sunday, is not about mere formulas, but rather how this living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work to keep us in their care.   This is an active, living God, who today says to you and me remember who gives you birth who changes life, and believe the reality that where the Spirit is there is life and salvation.   Amen.