Summary: We need a better birth if we want a better future in heaven.
Have you been following the U.S. presidential election campaign? It’s kind of hard not to with the likes of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders running for president. Perhaps you caught this news item then a couple of years ago. It has to do with Senator Ted Cruz who is also running for president. Did you know that Senator Cruz was born in Canada? Yes. He was actually born just down the highway in Calgary. But that fact was judged to be a liability by the senator so two years ago he formally renounced his Canadian citizenship. I suppose he wants to assure his fellow Americans that he really is one with them and doesn’t have divided loyalties.
In this day and age it shouldn’t seem to matter where a person is born. For example you don’t have to be born in a palace to be someone important. If you work hard enough, you should be able to make your mark on this world…or so the theory goes. The reality is that it does matter where you are born, or at least where you are born still has a big impact on your future. I’m reading a book right now about an Afghan girl who was the daughter of a rich man. You’d think that would be good for the girl’s future except this girl’s mother was not the rich man’s wife; she was a household servant. Because of that, the girl was not allowed to grow up in her father’s house. Instead she and her mother were banished to the outskirts of town where they lived in a shack and only received weekly visits from the rich man. If that girl would only have been born from the “right” woman, she would have had a much easier life.
Perhaps you’ve felt that way too. You’ve thought that life would be much easier if you would have been born into a family that has lots of money. Then you’d get to live in a mansion and maybe even have servants to make your bed and pick up after you. Or if you were at least born into a family with brains, school wouldn’t be so difficult for you. You could count on getting good grades, getting into a good university, and landing a good job. But what’s done is done. You can’t be born again into another family…can you?
Today we’re beginning a new sermon series on the sacrament of baptism. And we’re going to learn that through baptism we are born again. We’ll also learn that this new birth is a better birth. Listen to the words of our text from John 3:3-6. “Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ 4 ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’ 5 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.’”
Do you remember the context of these verses? Jesus was speaking to a man named Nicodemus—a respected religious leader among the Jews. While most of those religious leaders were hostile towards Jesus, Nicodemus was curious about this rabbi or “teacher” from Nazareth. So he arranged a meeting with Jesus, but at night because he was perhaps concerned about what his fellow religious leaders would say about such a visit. Although Nicodemus had come to find out more about Jesus, he also learned plenty about himself.
It was Jesus who got the conversation going when he addressed the unspoken question that was on Nicodemus’s mind: how do I get to heaven? Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). Nicodemus of course was confused. How could he be born again? How could he climb back into his mother’s tummy? And why was that even necessary? Hadn’t he been born a Jew? Wasn’t he therefore one of God’s chosen people by virtue of his birth? Wasn’t heaven automatically in his future? That’s what many of Nicodemus’s fellow religious leaders implied when they would later tell Jesus, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone” (John 8:33a). But what these Jewish leaders failed to realize is that your first birth doesn’t count for anything. Sure, it will determine whether you have blue or brown eyes, whether you can draw, or whether you can sing like a rock star. Your first birth will also have a bearing on whether you grow up in a mansion in Vancouver or in a two-bedroom house in St. Albert. But your first birth also guarantees that you come into this world as an enemy of God. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh” (John 3:6a).