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You Must Be Born Again (John 3:15-21)
Life:  God's Gift to Man
You Must Be Born Again
John 3:15-21
We began last week a study of the amazing gift of life that God has given to man.  We find its origins in the very first chapters of the Bible as God creates man in His image and breathes into him the very breath of God. 
And as those created in the image of God, we are given tremendous privilege and responsibility.  We were created to be the rulers of the earth and God designed that those who bear His image would bring forth life and others who bear his image would be produced through the union of a man and a woman, and thus the entire earth would be filled with humans. 
And true to the nature of God, He chose to bless those that were created to be like Him so he filled the earth with every good thing for them to enjoy.  But you know the story; Adam and Eve disobeyed God and as a result, the image of God was marred.  Sin entered the human race and has now been passed down from them to us. 
And we certainly don't have to look any farther than our own mirror to see the results of that sin.  And the most tragic consequence of all is that the eternal  relationship man once enjoyed with God has been affected.  God's decree was that those who sinned would die. 
Genesis 2:17
And when Adam and Eve sinned, for the very first time in human history there was added to glory and beauty and blessing of physical life, the experience of death.  God's judgment on sin means that life as they had known it in the Garden of Eden would no longer continue. 
What a solemn reminder of God's assessment of sin.  In the Garden of Eden, every sin was a capital offense.  When He gave the Israelites the law, there were just a few sins that brought death. 
And when we get to the New Testament, everyone seems surprised when Ananias and Sapphira lose their lives because they lie to the Holy Spirit.  And in our culture we think God just ignores sin and has no right to punish anybody.  But in the Garden, one act of disobedience and you die!
And by the way, we're talking, not just physical death, but eternal separation from God.  So this is a big deal!  Sin separates and if nothing is done about that sin, then the condition is not only terminal, it is eternal.
You do realize, don't you, that the message of Christianity has always been that without Christ, everyone in the world is headed for eternal hell to be punished forever for their sins?
No wonder Christianity is so hated and despised.  If for nothing else, it is because of our primary message to the world.  Nobody likes to be told they are sinners, especially by another sinner! But that's the message.  At least that's part of the message, and the rest of the message is there is hope in Christ alone through faith alone!
That has always been God's only answer to man's sin problem.  But just like Adam and Eve, man keeps trying to do something about his sin and separation from God on his own. 
Ivan the IV lived in the 16th century and was the first czar over all of the Russian empire. He was such a cruel and abusive man that he was given the name “Ivan the Terrible.” He had a well known reputation for being immoral and violent.
But when he died in 1584, historians record that he was prepared for burial by having his head shaved and being dressed in a monk’s robe. The intent was to make God think the czar was a monk, and thus He would allow Ivan the Terrible into Heaven.
That is not unlike Adam and Eve who realize they are naked and sew some fig leaves together and get ready to go to church!  But God lets them know their provision is inadequate and He provides coverings made from an animal.  They had to depend upon God.  They had to trust Him and live by faith in what He provided.
Fast forward through the history of mankind, and you will discover that man has always tried to deal with this issue of being separated from God.  It may be a totem pole or a sacrifice or some other pagan practice. 
It might be trying to live a good life and go to church and hope your good outweighs your bad, but there is built into the nature of man, because we are created in God's image, this understanding of our separation and sin.  And anything manmade is always inadequate to deal with the problem. 
So from the Garden of Eden, we fast forward several thousand years to first century Jerusalem and we discover this works-based approach to God is alive and well in Judaism.  The leaders of Israel at the time of Christ are promoting this idea of keeping sacrifices and Sabbaths and the law as the way to be right with God.
And because of the preaching of Jesus, they become His greatest enemies while He is on the earth. Here He was, the Son of God, the Messiah, the One they had all been waiting for and His greatest enemies were the religious teachers of Israel—the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the rabbis.
So what we encounter in John 3 when one of them named Nicodemus comes to converse with Jesus is quite remarkable.  Just to underline how unacceptable this was, Nick sneaks in under the cover of darkness. 
John 3:1
Now, according to history, he’s one of the three wealthiest men in Jerusalem. He is the teacher in Israel. He is the most elevated, noble, and maybe the most respected, of all the teachers of at that time. He’s a member of the Supreme Court of Israel.
But there is something going on in his life.  Even though he has religion, he has no assurance of heaven. He does not believe that he is reconciled to God and he comes to Jesus in the hope that maybe Jesus can tell him what’s missing.
And that brings up an intriguing point:  Why would someone like him come to Jesus?   
After all, Jesus is hated by these guys.  He is seen as a blasphemer and a rebel, nothing more than an ignorant, illegitimate peasant boy from Nazareth.
So why would he come to Jesus?  He tells us in
verse 2
So he is admitting that Jesus is a better teacher than he is. If he’s the top dog teacher in Israel, then he’s supposed to have all the information. But for the questions he has, he doesn't have an answer that he believes that Jesus does.  He's benn watching and listening and observing and he's become convinced that Jesus is from God. 
So talking to Jesus is his opportunity to get some answers.  Maybe he's just looking to improve himself so he can be smarter than others; maybe he's genuinely searching for peace.  Regardless of the reason he come one night to talk to Christ.
Let's listen in as they talk.
verses 2-21
I find it interesting the Nicodemus doesn't even have to say why he has come.  No one needed to tell Jesus what was in the heart or mind of a man because He knew what was in man. So He reads his mind. Nicodemus believed, but his belief was insufficient.  He believed Jesus was a teacher from God, but that’s as far as his faith went and that's not enough to save.
Jesus immediately surfaces the issue when, in verse 3 He tells Nicodemus he needs to be born again and without that, you can't experience the kingdom of God.  Jesus understands his need and what it is he's looking for.  He wants to know God and live a kingdom life and be a part of God's family. 
But to do that, you have to be "born again".  And basically what he's telling him is you need something you can't have anything to do with.  What you need, you can't contribute to.  So first of all, being "born again" means
1.  It Happens as a Supernatural Act
Think about what Jesus tells Nicodemus:  Just as you made no contribution to your physical birth, you can't make a contribution to your spiritual birth. Something has to happen to you from above and you have no part in it.
That is what the world desperately needs to hear.  That is the heart of true evangelism. You need something you can’t participate in. You need something you can’t contribute to.  You need  a spiritual birth and unless you experience that, you’ll never enter the kingdom of God. God has to give you life. And all a lost sinner can do is receive what God offers.
And according to verses 9 and 10, Jesus is shocked that Nicodemus doesn't understand that.  But this information is rocking Nick's world!  His legalistic approach to God has just been destroyed!
Then, in verses 13 and following, Jesus reminds him that this information is coming to Him directly from God.  No one, other than Jesus Himself has been to heaven.  So what's he's hearing and what Jesus is sharing is from heaven! And the message is that
this new birth is
2.  Essential for Anybody to Get to Heaven
Notice that even though He's talking to Nicodemus, Jesus broadens the teaching to include everyone. The pronoun “you” stops being singular and broadens out, and now He’s talking to Nicodemus, and He’s talking to all the Pharisees who are part of Nicodemus’ group, and all the nation of Israel who are following the Pharisees, and the rest of the world that are caught up in religion and He is simply saying, “You had better listen to the One who came from heaven because only One has come from heaven with the truth.”
And I know it's obvious, but I am compelled to say again, the only truth from God about salvation comes through Jesus Christ and it is inherently linked to His death, burial and resurrection.  That's why the new birth is essential if you are going to make it into heaven.
Notice what He says in
verses 14
Nicodemus knew all about Moses and the lifting up of that serpent for healing.  But Jesus is telling him, not about Moses, but about His own death and crucifixion. 
And then, the critical statement:
verse 15
Now try to put yourself in the sandals of Nicodemus for a moment.  His religious world is in turmoil.  Everything he believes and teaches and represents has been blown out of the water. 
He snuck out to see Jesus one night trying to discover some secret for success in being a legalist.
And Jesus says, "There is absolutely nothing you can do". In fact, you’ve got to cancel out everything you’ve ever done. It has no value.  The only hope of heaven you have is a divine intervention.
And if that wasn't shocking enough, Jesus also says, "whoever believes" can have eternal life also.  In the estimation of the Jew, eternal life was only for them.  Eternal life is the life of God and it was reserved for God's people.  But Jesus says it is for anybody, but they must believe in what He did on the cross.
And while Nicodemus is trying to process what's happening, Jesus gives us the most familiar verse in the Bible.  And before we look at it, keep in mind, it is an explanation of verse 15.   It is within this conversation about the source of salvation and being born again and salvation being for everyone and being by faith in Jesus alone that it is made. 
So why does eternal life get to be given to whoever believes?  How can this possibly be?  Well, the answer Jesus gives to that question is
verse 16
I'm afraid our familiarity with this verse may have masked some of its message so let me give you a simple outline.  Let's begin with 
 - The Motive for Salvation
What is behind His decision to offer salvation to anyone?  God's love. That's the motive. 
For centuries, Jews had voiced and acted on their hatred for Gentiles and Samaritans and defended it on the basis that this is how God felt.  After all, they were the people of God. They were the recipients of His blessings.  They were the representatives of God. And here stands Nicodemus, their most notable teacher, who hated the world because God hated the world.
But Jesus says, "Not true." The reason God makes salvation available to anyone who believes and the reason anybody can believe is because God loves the world. There we discover
 - The Object of Salvation
Whoever believes can be saved because God loves humanity.  Someone says what about life on other planets. I don't know about life on other planets, but I know about life on this planet. 
And I know God loves what He created and placed on this planet so much that He sent His Son to die on a cross.  He didn’t do that with the angels that sinned.  The will spend eternity in hell.  They have not experienced God’s love since their rebellion. But God chose to love the world.
And that love shows up across the world in common grace.  That’s the broadest sweep of God’s love. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. The sun rises on the just and the unjust. People fall in love, have children, enjoy the beauties of life and the world, the satisfactions, the successes, the wonderful things that God has placed in man’s care in this world are all evidences that God has a general love for humanity.
And He gives them gospel opportunity. The gospel reaches to them. He demonstrates Himself and who He is inside of them. He writes His Law in their hearts and He makes Himself accessible to human reason so that you can look at the world that is and determine there’s a God behind it and know something of His power and eternal Godhead.
But there’s a special love that He has for His own in the world and they’re all over the world. In fact, when you get a scene in heaven in Revelation 4 and 5 and 6 and 7, all the way through there, you see all the saints gather around the throne, eventually you find out they’re from every tongue and tribe and people and nation, not just Israel.
So this racism that was true of Nicodemus and others was not a reflection of the heart of God. Nicodemus is all messed up in his theology.  First of all, God loves the world that he hates and He offers salvation to all who believe. 
And second, God makes salvation accessible by faith when he always thought it would be by works.  So he can’t earn His salvation. It has to come from heaven.  So next we see,
  - The Action for Salvation
The motive is love. The object is the world. The action is He gave His only begotten Son. So what does it mean to be "only begotten"?
It's a word that the English languages struggles with a little bit.  It comes from the Greek word "mon-og-en-ace'" which comes from a word meaning one and a word meaning genes. 
And what the word actually means is to be unique or one of a kind.  It describes being one of a kind.  God gave His unique and one-of-a-kind Son.  Elsewhere we read that He was the beloved Son of God.  So Jesus is the unique Son of His love.
But equally important to see is the little word "so".  For God "so" loved the world. What does “so” mean? It means “to the degree that” or “to the end that.” So to what degree did God love the world? To the degree that He gave His only Son.
In other words, the extent of His love is measured by the extent of His gift. The most magnanimous thing that God could possibly do would be to give the thing He loved the most, the One He loved the most, the Son of His love. He gives the person that He loves the most, the Son of His love, and that shows you the extent of His love. He loves the world so that He gives His one of a kind, unique, beloved Son.
Fourth, we see
  - The Means of Salvation
There is only one requirement for salvation and that is belief.  A person must believe.  That is the means of salvation.  Now at this point it becomes critical that we understand what must be believed. 
So belief is the means but that belief must be in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul instructed the Romans to confess with their mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead.
So the belief that saves is specifically that God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus is telling Nicodemus he needed to believe in Him and what He would accomplish through the cross and the resurrection. And the offer wasn't just for Nicodemus but for whoever. 
God's offer of salvation is broad enough to include the worst sinner who believes and at the same time it is narrow enough to exclude the most moral religious unbeliever. The most wretched and corrupt person on the planet who trusts only in Christ is included in the offer and at the same time, the best and most moral and religious person in the world who relies on human goodness rather than the finished work of Christ on the cross is excluded. 
In fact, the verse continues by describing that condition as "perishing".  That's the word in the New Testament that is used to speak of eternal ruin.  It's talking about hell.  So on the negative side, those who believe do not perish, and on the positive, they have eternal, everlasting life. 
What a fantastic verse! 
And you know, if we just removed all the emotion out of it and approached the situation that sinful humanity finds itself in before a Holy God, it would be expected that Scripture would teach that God chose to bring us to our knees and punish us until we confessed Him as Lord. 
But instead we discover it wasn't God's anger that sent Jesus to the cross, but His love.  Christ didn’t come to judge the world. He came to saved the world.  What motivated God wasn't His anger.  It was His compassion and mercy and love. 
That's what we read in
verse 17
God wanted to save the world. God sent Jesus to save the world. Jesus came to save the world.  And it was all a demonstration of His love for the world. That is the good news of the gospel.  However, and this is very important,
verse 18
The key to understanding that verse is the word “already”.  Follow the thought line that Jesus presents: God loves the world so much that He sent Jesus as Savior.  Jesus loves so much that He came and willingly gave His life.
If you choose to believe that, all the charges against you will be dropped and you will be saved and given eternal life.  You're status before God will be changed from guilty and deserving of hell to no condemnation, full pardon, declared righteous and granted eternal life.
However, if you do not believe, if you choose to reject Christ's claims as the Messiah, if you choose to reject the only hope you have, then you are judged to be guilty before God. 
In fact, you are already condemned.  Let me tell you what the “already” means. It is very typical of people in the world to say, “I’m living my life, I think I do more good than bad, and God will never send somebody like me to hell. 
Now their assumption is that God’s keeping records, and they're going to be okay because the good outweighs the bad.  Can I tell you something? That’s irrelevant. That argument makes no difference because of what we read in this verse.
You have no hope based on what you've done or not done because you’ve been judged already. So when did that happen?  When did the gavel fall that condemned you?  It happened at the moment you arrived on God's earth. 
You entered this planet as an unbeliever and if you have any spiritual sense at all, there came a day when you realized you were a sinner, and thus, accountable to God for not believing in Christ. 
Therefore, the gavel fell and the verdict was rendered and sentence was passed and you were declared guilty and condemned.
That means nobody is checking your record or keeping count of your good versus your bad.  In fact, heaven could care less about you record.  It means nothing because you have been judged already.  That decision has been made and there is no hope for parole or probation. 
The divine Judge has already ruled, the gavel has come down and you have been condemned and sentenced to hell.  And you are going there, listen, not because of something you did, but for something you didn’t do.  Here's the final thing I want you to know:  Being born again
3.  Comes Down to a Choice
Listen again to the verse:
verse 18
The only way that verdict can be reversed and the slate cleaned and the sinner forgiven is by believing in the unique Son of God.  That is the only hope. 
Now for those of us who are in church all the time, it is almost inconceivable that anyone would refuse the opportunity to be saved.  Right?  I mean, why would anybody chose hell over heaven?
Listen to this,
verses 19-20
There’s only one reason people don’t believe in Christ and that is they love their sin and they don't want to get anywhere near Christ because He exposes their sin and things get very uncomfortable. 
Sweet, precious wife, don't take it personal when your husband doesn't want to come to church with you.  It has nothing to do with you.  It has everything to do with having your sin uncovered.
Sinners love sin and they don't want to give them up.  It’s not ignorance. It’s not lacking the ability to be reasonable.  It has nothing to do with logic or intelligence. 
Sinners prefer moral darkness. They’re like roaches that run for the dark when you turn on the light.  That's what Jesus says here. 
Sinners love darkness; they hate the light. They don't want to come to the light because if they come to the light they’ll be exposed for what they are.
 So they resent the truth, they resist the Scripture, they hate the church, they avoid Christians, they run from the preacher because we represent what they are not. 
That's why it I think it is illogical for us to present the gospel with psychological appeal.  It's foolish to say to a sinner, "Come to Jesus!  He'll give you purpose and meaning!  He'll make you happy and give you a better life!"
That produces false converts because it never deals with the issue of sin. It uncovers nothing!  What we need to do is shine the light of the pure righteousness of Jesus Christ as brightly as we can on the sinner and see if the sinner runs. The issue is to confront sin in all its horror and all its ugliness.  And when we do, sinners will either reject Christ because they love their sin or they will run to the truth to be saved. 
No wonder we have so many who are convinced they are saved with no fruit or evidence of salvation.  They came to get a better life and never found forgiveness of their sin!  They made a decision about Christ, but never repented!
So how do we know if a conversion is genuine?  Listen to what Jesus said in
verse 21
Do you want to know the difference between the sinner and the believer?  Those who are saved love the truth of God's Word and wherever you turn on the light, believers show up!
If you want to come to church and feel good about yourself and justify your sin and try to have the best of both worlds, kind of be a believer on Sunday and live like the devil on Sunday, then you will look for a church that doesn't preach the truth or you will avoid it as much as possible. 
But people who practice the truth are drawn to the truth of God, and as a result their lives are filled with  assurance and comfort and encouragement. 
If you’re one of those who practices the truth, the light comes on and you take a look at your life in the light and you say, “What’s going on in me is that God is at work!"  We come to the light, we love the light, we welcome the communion with Christ. And there’s no fear; there’s complete acceptance and security and joy and protection and love.
I heard about a little boy who had just gotten saved.  He was so excited, he was just sharing his faith with everyone he saw.  One Sunday he sat down next to an old man who looked upset, and he said to the man, “Sir, do you need to get saved?”
The man was taken back and said abruptly, “I want you to know I have been a deacon in this church for over 30 years and chairman of the deacons for 15 years.” The little boy responded, “Sir, it don’t matter what you’ve done… Jesus loves you, and He’ll still save you!”
It’s really not about being young or old… in church all your life or never at all… being good all the time or so bad you have a prison sentence… having everything you want or nothing you need… being the life of the party or all alone in this world. It’s about being born again-a miracle that changes your life now and forever. And it’s yours for the asking.
Jesus said, "You must be born again!"  It happens as a supernatural act, it is essential if you will go to heaven and it comes down to a choice.  God's offer is eternal life!  And if you want it, you can have it! 
Let's pray.
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