Summary: Jesus won’t make you a better man - he’ll make you a new one.
I apologize this morning if you hear me coughing a bit – I’ve been suffering from some sort of the plague. Of course, I haven’t suffered enough to go to the doctor – I am, after all, a guy. I’d like to believe that my suffering has a purpose. That it makes me more of a man. And, when it comes to allergies, not going to the doctor really just makes me sick. Probably if I would just get over myself and go, I’d could be a new man.
Well, this morning, we have a text in which a very manly teacher wants to get better too. He’s a Pharisee – a good, religious man. If he were a Baptist, we would have called him a deacon. If he were an Episcopalian, he’d be on the vestry. He is sincere in wanting to be a new man in God’s own image.
And, being a good, religious man, he’s even figured out that this Jesus guy clearly knows a thing or two about how to be that better man. Unfortunately for Nicodemus, however, Jesus says, You can’t just be a better man – you need to become a new man altogether. You need to be born again, only this time, not as an earthly minded mass of flesh, but as Spirit.
And the news is going to get even stronger – if you want to be that new man, you are going to see a lot of suffering. But unlike my allergies, that suffering is going to have a purpose. Jesus’ prescription for Nicodemus isn’t to try to better man, it is to be a wholly new kind of man – not the sickly, fleshly kind, but to be the glorious kind who is born of the Spirit – born from above – born not as a man but born as a child of God.
And if you are going to be glorious Spirit, suffering will follow you from the cradle to the grave. But you know what? It’s going to be worth it. Your flesh will never amount to anything more than a mass of meat destined for death. But your Spirit, born as part of his Spirit, will be full of glory, if you’re willing to see the purposes he has for you.
Let me show you what I mean. Look with me, if you will at John 3. My plan this morning is fairly simple. I want to look at the purpose of suffering in the life of one born of the Spirit. John 3:3 – 6 is going to speak of the birth of the Spirit, 7 – 13 are going to speak of the day to day life of the Spirit, and verses 14 – 17 speak of the final hope of those who live in the Spirit. In each one of these moments, there is suffering – but suffering with a purpose. I am going to finish by contrasting that with the suffering of the flesh – suffering of a whole different kind –
Being Born in the Spirit
But, I need to start at the beginning, so look with me at verse 3: “Truly, Truly, I say unto you, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Again, you notice that it does not say, “Unless you are good enough and try hard enough, you cannot see the kingdom of God;” it says, “unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Our default way of thinking is that if we can just get clean we can get right with God. We think that it is incumbent upon us to make this relationship right. We think we can keep ourselves from stumbling, and present ourselves before the Throne of God blameless with great joy. It is almost is if we think we can swim the sea that divides us from God’s presence.
I mean – after all, we look at the guy next to us and say, “well that guy couldn’t even swim a mile – but I’m an athlete.” The only problem is that the sea that divides us isn’t a mile or 10 miles – it’s the entire Pacific Ocean. I don’t care how good you think you can make yourself – you can’t swim it. You need a boat or a plane – someone or something to carry you to other shore.
If you think you can make yourself holy enough to be able to stand in the presence of the Most Holy God, you don’t understand how Holy God is. Look back at the OT lesson if you would for a moment. It’s a famous passage – Isaiah’s vision of God, the one in which he is called to be God’s prophet. In a dream, Isaiah is brought by God into heaven, and his first reaction is the right one: “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the land of a people of unclean lips.” In other words – I am a sinner. There is no way that I can stand in the presence of God with this sin. If God is radiating Glory, he’s like the core of a nuclear reactor. My sinful flesh is so thoroughly torn apart by his goodness that I cannot stand.