Ye must be born again
Apologies for this one – out of order! No time to write something new today. So here’s one I prepared earlier….
As they all gather around the newborn, they coo and smile and remark “What a gorgeous little nose!” “What soft skin!” “Isn’t she perfect!?” Then uncle Alan butts in. With a frown and a cocked head he asks, “When was she born?” 10 days ago. “Hm,” he says, “Think she needs to be born again.”
It’s the height of rudeness isn’t it? How can anyone suggest that a person be “born again”? What was wrong with their first birth?!
Well in John chapter 3, Jesus is talking to a highly respected religious man called Nicodemus. And Jesus doesn’t just suggest that he be born again. He insists:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
Ye must be born again. (John 3:7)
I wonder what images come to mind when you hear the phrase “born again”?
For Nicodemus the images were particularly graphic!
How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? (John 3:4)
That’s one misunderstanding of “born again” – a fairly painful one too! But there are other misunderstandings.
What it doesn’t mean…
Many see “born again” as a brand of Christianity. For some, it’s a label to be worn if you’re seeking election in parts of America (and hidden if you’re anywhere else!) It’s a slogan to be emblazoned on placards and billboards. It’s owned by smiley, intense, exuberant Christians – the kind who keep bumper-sticker manufacturers in business. That’s “born again” the brand.
But Jesus is not talking about a new brand, but a new birth. As He talks to Nicodemus Jesus is sweeping away all brands, all labels. Because Nicodemus has a lot of labels. Good labels.
John chapter 3 opens by telling us he was “a man of the Pharisees” – a very impressive religious sect. He was called “a ruler of the Jews.” He was a moral, biblical, civic minded, powerful ruler. Verse 10 even calls him “a master of Israel.” This refers to his teaching post as the country’s foremost bible scholar. If entering the kingdom of God was about having the right labels, Nicodemus was in. But none of this matters to Jesus. He says “Ye must be born again.”
Jesus is definitely not starting a new brand, He’s demanding a new birth. And we mustn’t turn “born again” into one more label that we take pride in. Jesus doesn’t care about our labels, our natural giftings, our family connections, our ranks, our professions, our moral and religious achievements. When it comes to entering the kingdom of God, none of that counts. “Ye must be born again.”
Well in verse 5 Jesus sums up the whole history of the human race in 9 words:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh
In the bible “flesh” means frail humanity. And often it means failed humanity too. And such humanity cannot lift itself up by its bootstraps. It cannot transform itself into spiritual humanity. Flesh simply gives rise to more flesh. Just as lemon trees can only beget more lemon trees and puffins can only beget more puffins, flesh can only produce more flesh.
Imagine a flourishing pine tree – fresh and green and smelling great. But in November it’s chopped down, wrenched from its life source, taken away from its natural habitat. It’s sold to a family who bring it indoors and dress it up in beautiful decorations. Now it’s in the warmth, surrounded by family and celebrations and it still looks and smells great. But there’s no life in it. And soon it starts dropping needles, and turning a little brown. The family hoovers up the decay and keeps celebrating. But then at some point in January, we throw this dry, decaying, lifeless firewood onto the rubbish heap.
And Jesus says, That’s us. We began life in the Garden of Eden. We were fresh and green and alive. But we decided to go it alone. We were cut off from our life-source in the Lord and ever since we’ve been perishing. We’ve been flesh – frail, failed flesh. And the clock is ticking.
Oh we can pretty ourselves up. Like a Christmas tree, we can look nice and fancy. We can adorn ourselves with all sorts of good looks and good works – like decorations on a Christmas tree. We can surround ourselves with family and celebrations, but we’re just flesh, giving birth to more flesh. We have no life in us. And we’re destined for the rubbish heap.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh…
But wonderfully Jesus continues verse 5:
…and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Here is our hope. There is another kind of life: Spirit-life. It’s a life that comes down from above.
You see Jesus reminds us “no man hath ascended up to heaven” (John 3:13). We don’t have it in us to climb the ladder to God. But He has come down. And He “was made flesh” (John 1:14). He stepped down into our flesh-life. He joined our family tree. He summed up our frailties and our sufferings. And on the cross He summed up our sins too. Wrapping up all flesh-life in Himself, Jesus put the whole sorry mess to death.
And as the Apostle Peter says, Jesus was…
put to death in the flesh, but [made alive] by the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)
So then, think about it this way: At Christmas, Jesus was born into flesh-life. On Good Friday He put flesh-life to death. And on Easter Sunday, He rose up to Spirit-life.
Therefore on Easter morning Jesus was born again. He’s the One to go through flesh-life and into Spirit-life in that ultimate sense. He’s the Pioneer of the new birth. He was born once from the virgin womb, and born again from the virgin tomb.
How do we benefit?
In our flesh-life we are perishing. But by His Spirit, Jesus offers real life – everlasting life. He says to Nicodemus and He says to us all:
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
Do we want to cross over from the perishing of flesh-life? Do we want the everlasting life of the Spirit? It’s clear what needs to happen. We must look away from our flesh – look away from our pedigree and performance – and look to Jesus.
Don’t look at your goodness and don’t look at your badness. You can’t lift yourself an inch from the life of the flesh. But, thank God, Jesus came down. Look to Him and here’s what will happen: He will give you His Spirit and you will share in His new birth – now and forever.
You must be born again.
You can be born again.
Trust in Jesus and you are born again!
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