Summary: A sermon on the neccessity and nature of being born again
HE CALLS FOR A NEW BIRTH
In Greenock the town where I come from in Scotland there is really only one big employer and that is the computer company IBM. IBM pay the best wages and give the best conditions to their workers so people are desperate to work for them.
One the members of the Church I was brought in was the personnel manager at IBM. I can remember him telling me that people on their applications exaggerated their qualifications and abilities so much, that the personnel dept had a sort of competition to see who could find the biggest lie each month in the application forms.
THE NEW BIRTH IS ESSENTIAL NOT OPTIONAL
If IBM had been recruiting in Jerusalem 2000 years ago it would have been hard, if not impossible, for Nicodemus, the central character, of that story we read together earlier, to exaggerate his qualifications or abilities. From the evidence we have in the Bible it is clear that Nicodemus was a success story in almost every area of his life.
He was a success story in politics and power, he is called by John a ruler of the Jews. That means he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the sort of parliament that ruled all Jewish people. He was what the press would call today a power broker.
From what we are told elsewhere in John’s gospel it is clear that he was also an extremely wealthy man. He was a financial success. Nicodemus was also a success in his religious life. He was a Pharisee. We tend to think of Pharisees very negatively as religious nitpickers, which is true in part. But the other side of that coin was that the Pharisees were serious about their religion. Today we complain a lot about once a week Christians, the one
thing you could never have said about a pharisee was that he was a once a week Jew. Nicodemus rose through the ranks of the Pharisees right to the very top. Look at verse 10, Jesus calls him “Israel’s teacher.” It seems that Nicodemus was the Billy Graham or the John Stott of Jerusalem. He must have been among the most popular preachers in Israel in Jesus day. From what the Bible tells us it seems that Nicodemus’ CV must have been quite a read.
What impresses me more about Nicodemus than his CV was that he was also open to God. He recognised that God was doing something extraordinary through Jesus and so he came to find out more. I don’t think it is fair to say that he came at night because he was afraid. I think the timing of the visit was more to do with the fact that it was the only time two busy men had time for a serious talk.
So this wealthy man, who was a pillar of society, and a top religious leader came to Jesus to hear what he had to say to him. But when Jesus did speak to him his words stopped him in his tracks. “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
And just in case Nicodemus hadn’t quite grasped it Jesus repeats his uncompromising words in v7 “You should not be surprised at my saying you must be born again.”
Think about what Jesus is saying here. He is saying that one of the top religious leader in Israel, a man who is absolutely serious about his religion can’t have a real relationship with God unless he is born again. What Jesus says in a nutshell here is that being born again is a not optional but esential. Bruce Milne has said of Nicodemus “There could have been few Jews, if any, in the entire city of Jerusalem, whose credentials were more impressive as far as acceptance with God was concerned.” Yet it was to that man that Jesus said being born again was a must not an option. Even he must have a spiritual transformation.
I can remember during my days at Bible College in Glasgow taking part in an evangelistic mission in a Church of Scotland in Glasgow having a conversation with a man who told me that he had been a member of the church for 30 years and was an elder and that we needn’t start any of this “born again” nonsense with him.
That man was voicing a wide spread belief that you can some how be a Christian without being born again. I wonder if there is anyone here who secretly agrees with him. You come along to Church week by week and you think that you can rely on that. You think that church attendance and trying to be as good as the next person and not as bad as others is what makes you a Christian. I have to tell you this morning that you are wrong. In fact it is Jesus who points out that you are wrong.