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"Born from Above: What For?"

Feb.15, 2015 Jn.3:1-21


50 days after Passover when Jesus died and then rose from the dead, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those who believed in Jesus at Pentecost. The apostle Peter interpreted the strange phenomenon by quoting the prophet Joel: Acts 2:17 "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams."

Dreams, it seems, are important. Some dreams are obviously connected with life in God's Spirit. The Spirit gives new dreams. Dreams - whether God-given or otherwise - are a big reason we do what we do: on an earthly level, we may have a dream of paying off the mortgage on the house and helping the kids get through school and probably retiring sometime, so we go to work each day and try to keep the bills paid. But are our dreams larger than that? Is that a dream based in God, or just plain old earthly wisdom?

Lottery companies and investment firms know how to tap into our unspoken dreams, tempting us to buy that ticket or invest that money to make our dreams happen quicker. This past week a couple from Wasaga Beach, Gregory and Tammy Nikolopolous, won $50 million through Lotto Max. According to the news account, the couple "say a new boat is first on their list...Nikolopolous says the family are avid boaters and spend a lot of time on nearby Georgian Bay in the summer so they'll be shopping for a bigger boat.Otherwise, he says they plan to take some time for themselves with immediate family and make sure everyone is "worry free.""

I read that and thought, "Buy a bigger boat? Is that the extent of your dream?" Or what about making sure everyone is "worry free" - winning so much money may actually multiply your worries rather than diminish them.

That idea of buying a bigger boat reminds me of the "rich fool" Jesus talked about in Luke 12(13-21) who, when his crops flourished, figured he could build bigger barns and tell himself he had plenty of good things laid up for many years...But God had other plans for him, because he stored up things for himself but wasn't rich toward God.

How do your dreams measure up? Do they factor in God and His Kingdom, or are they short-sighted and earth-bound?

In John chapter 3 we meet a man who seems to "have it all together" - he enjoyed a status most others could only dream of. 3:1 "Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council." Dissect this and see how this fellow has a lot going for him on many levels. 1) He's "a man": in that culture, that alone conferred legal and social rights women couldn't have. 2) He's a Pharisee: NIV Study Bible comments, "The Pharisees were a legalistic and separatistic group who strictly, but often hypocritically, kept the law of Moses and the unwritten 'tradition of the elders'." They were largely admired and respected as the religious elite of Jesus' day - much more so than the Sadducees, who were "more worldly and politically minded, and were theologically unorthodox." The apostle Paul before his conversion was a strict Pharisee, keen to keep the smallest details of Mosaic law. While Jesus had some harsh criticism for them, generally they would have resonated with his calls for religious reform.

3) Nicodemus was "a member of the Jewish ruling council", literally a "leader" of the Jews. So not only is he part of the religious elite, he's at the helm politically, too, part of the select "inner circle" of those who "make things happen".

4) We see him later helping Joseph of Armathea bury Jesus' body after the crucifixion. 19:39b "Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds." From that detail we can deduce Nicodemus must have been RICH...He didn't need to win a lottery!

5) He has the gift of fine speech. V2 "He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God.For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."" Fine phrasing, shows respect for Jesus by calling him "rabbi", a classy opening sentence. Perhaps he'd honed his oratorical skill as a politician with much practice in the Sanhedrin. He speaks well.

6) He has some status as an instructor. Jesus says in v10, "You are Israel's teacher..." How many sectors does this fellow lead in? Religious, political, and now he's an educator too! John MacArthur comments: "The use of the definite article 'the' indicates that Nicodemus was a renowned master-teacher in the nation of Israel, an established religious authority par excellence. He enjoyed a high standing among the rabbis or teachers of his day."

7) Finally, Nicodemus has just what's needed to cap it all off for "The Man who Has It All Together" - the NAME! He's not called "Ed" or "Sam" but "Nicodemus": has a sort of classy ring to it, and what does it mean? "Conqueror!" Literally, "Victor over the people." How's that for a name to give you self-confidence?

But even with all this going for him, Nicodemus senses something's lacking. This new rabbi may have the answer to what's missing in his life. So he came to Jesus at night, demonstrating discretion, sensitivity, and tact: there'd be no negative association by being seen together; there would be no crowds around, and he'd be able to have an undisturbed interview with the Teacher. But instead of Jesus supplying just one missing piece, Nicodemus gets told he has to undo it all - go back to square one.


Jesus didn't waste any time in small talk, but got straight to what Nicodemus needed to hear. V3 "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." Let's cut to the chase and spare the flattery: regardless of how highly people esteem you, to be part of God's realm you have to be born again, born from above. You've done very well for yourself, Nick, but your earthly accomplishments just don't count for eternity: you've gotta hit RESET.

This isn't what the respected teacher expected to hear! V4 ""How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"" The Pharisees emphasized externals of religion so much, it's going to take some adjustment for Nicodemus to start thinking in terms of unseen spiritual realities rather than outward visible physical ones.

The phrase Jesus uses can be also translated "born from above" (NRSV) - likely this is the better rendering as it has that sense 3 other places where it's used in John's gospel (3:31; 19:11,23). And Jesus' following clarification shows He's not talking about "again in time" so much as "from above in source". Vv5-8 NRSV "Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.""

The same word in the Greek "pneuma" can mean wind or breath or spirit. What's involved in this new birth?

One must be born "of water" - cleansing, confession, repentance, as reflected in John the Baptist's symbol of water baptism. "Reset" includes "repent" and confess.

It's also a matter of being "born of the Spirit" - God's Spirit, free and unpredictable, uncontainable like the wind, sovereignly blowing wherever He chooses.

To become part of God's Kingdom, one needs to be born anew, born from above - born of the Holy Spirit. It's both a MYSTERY and a MUST. No exceptions. All your good works, all your riches, all your polished social skills, all your religious law-keeping - NONE of that qualifies you for the kingdom. It's as personal and relational as a woman giving birth.

Jesus is not actually inventing some totally new doctrine, but something that was revealed in OT prophecy. Ps 51:9f "Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Is 44:3 "For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants." And Ezek 36:25-27"...I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."

In vv 9-12 Jesus chides Nicodemus for being a respected teacher yet not understanding these things which were clearly in the Scriptures. Jesus was just bearing witness to what should have been obvious. He supplemented the concepts like any good rabbi with symbols and illustrations, earthly parallels like birth, water, wind, in hopes that Nicodemus might start to get the picture.


Here Jesus shifts gears and starts to bridge Old and New Testaments: He lets Nicodemus in on how what was prophesied centuries before is about to become fulfilled and effective in Jesus' own person and story. That "cleansing" foretold is about to become available because of His own substitutionary, sacrificial death.

Jesus declares He, the Son of Man, is the absolute, uniquely qualified SOURCE of truth. V13 "No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven-- the Son of Man." No other founder of a world religion originated by virgin birth. Jesus has the corner on heavenly truth because - Col 1:16f "by Him all things were created...He is before all things". If you want to know about heaven, talk to someone who actually CAME from there!

Jesus relates that He is the SAVIOUR. Here He reaches back into a story from Israel's earliest days, the desert wanderings in Numbers 21(5-9) when the people became impatient and discontent, and the Lord sent venomous snakes amongst them. When they confessed their sin, God told Moses in Num 21:8, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." What a great foreshadowing of the cross of Jesus! You have to turn (repent) and look (believe) in order to live (be saved, have eternal life). Jesus says in v14f, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." Already, this early on in His ministry, Jesus is aware crucifixion - being "lifted up" on a rough wooden stake - awaits Him. He will defeat the serpent (Satan) by taking the place of the bronze serpent Moses lifted up - actually taking YOUR place, and mine, as sinners.

V16 echoes v15 about believing in order to have eternal life, but adds the note that this being made possible through the sacrifice of God's holy unique Son is a sure sign of God's great love for people. 3:16 (together!) "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." God's dream for you, God's desperate rescue mission, required Him to sacrifice what was most precious to the Father - His only Son - in order to make new, spiritual birth possible for grungy, rebellious, stubborn, selfish sinners. Rom 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Eternal life isn't something that we have to wait until we die to enjoy; eternal life starts here and now, a personal relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. Jesus in Jn 17:3 defines eternal life as knowing "the only true God" AND Jesus Christ whom God sent. John wrote in his first letter to the church, 1Jn 5:12 "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." Do you have the Son? Do you believe in Jesus? Then, according to the Bible, you HAVE "life"! It's not about your status or wealth or achievements or social standing...It's a matter of, "Do you have Jesus?"

The Son is SINGULAR.He is the ONLY litmus test. v18 "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." Accept no substitutes, no counterfeits! Only Jesus "is the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15), "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being" (Heb 1:3). Christianity is by definition 'exclusive' - but so are most of the other major religions when you really look at them.

The Son is the STANDARD. V19 "This is the verdict: LIGHT has come into the world..." Jesus lives a holy, sinless life - Heb 4:15 He was "tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin." In terms of moral flawlessness, no one else who has ever lived even comes close!

So the SON (of Man) is: the SOURCE, SAVIOUR, SINGULAR, the STANDARD. Contrast SIN with the SON. Sin CONDEMNS, CODDLES, and COWERS.

Sin CONDEMNS, because it stubbornly rejects Jesus' credentials, His worthiness. V17 "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." But those who reject Jesus thereby reject God's saving offer and thus condemn themselves, cutting themselves off from God's help. V18B "...whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." CS Lewis in The Great Divorce wrote: "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it."

Sin CONDEMNS, and sin CODDLES. To "coddle" means "treat in an indulgent or overprotective way." Sin sucks you in and then keeps you there, engrossed in your habit, the short-term pleasure. See "coddling" take place in v19: "Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." One article I read this week said: "EL James' novel Fifty Shades of Grey is now the best selling book in British history, has sold more than 100 million copies globally...This success has been surprising, in that the books are unabashedly pornographic...the book glorifies a sado-masochistic relationship containing rape and sexual violence against women." I'd say that illustrates v19 rather well: "men loved darkness instead of light..." Sin CODDLES us in evil deeds.

And sin COWERS, or rather, makes us cower when we sin. Contrast the attitudes in vv20-21: "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." Sinners tend to cower before God, hide from the light - we don't want our evil deeds exposed, seen for how base and selfish and wicked they really are. When we believe "into" the name of Jesus though - give ourselves to Him - He makes us bold to come into the light, so God is glorified as it becomes obvious what He's accomplished in our lives.


V21 is intriguing: rather than NIV's "whoever lives by the truth", more grammatically correct would be NRSV's "But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God." Are you a "truth-doer"? Or are you just following the motto "Do Your Own Thing"?

The verse says "what he has done has been done through God." To 'do truth' then requires DISCERNMENT: finding out what God's will is, then doing it. Jesus says in Mt 12:50 "For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." A lot of people are just spending their time "going about", whereas Jesus "went about doing GOOD...for God was with Him." (Acts 10:38) When we are doing what God wants, we're eager to DISPLAY it, to "come to the light" unashamed of our accomplishments. That's how God's goodness and glory become shown through His people.


Nicodemus learned from Jesus he had to press "reset" - let go of all his status and accomplishments and wealth, and be born afresh from above. Jesus challenges each one of us to savour the Son instead of sin; to believe in Him, be born of the Spirit and God's vast love, so we may discover eternal life, a life better than any earthly dream.

Focus on the Family is bringing a movie to theatres March 4-5 called The Drop Box. It features a pastor in South Korea who installed a 'baby box' on the side of the church, so mothers can leave unwanted babies there to be saved instead of in a dumpster where they'd likely die. Over 350 babies have passed through that "Drop Box" on the way to adoption in many homes. Pastor Lee Jong-rak and his wife themselves have adopted 15 babies, often handicapped. They require constant care, and Pastor Lee's wife is concerned her husband's health might fail. But one can see how he comes alive pouring his energy into caring for his charges. His plea is, "God, let me die for these children."

So he is "doing truth", letting it be seen plainly that what he does is being done with God's help. And in Pastor Lee's giving, we see reflected a Heavenly Father who loved the world so much He gave His only Son to save many. Let's pray.