Sermon by Gareth Dicks 15.05.2022

St Mark’s Farnborough — “Born Again” (John 3:1-21)

This morning I want to talk about what it means to be a Christian — that is the main theme of the message this morning, what is a Christian? Or, what makes someone a Christian?

Someone might say to you “I’m a Christian” - but how do you really know whether they really are or not?

In fact, you will get a different definition of “Christian” depending on who you talk to — let’s just say you went round the streets here in North Camp and you asked people “what is a Christian?” You would get a whole range of different answers, someone might say “A Christian is someone who goes to Church” or “Someone who is religious” or “Someone who got baptised as a child.”

I wonder, what do you think makes a person a Christian this morning?

In our Gospel reading in John’s Gospel we find out that a Christian isn’t so much about doing, but rather about being — it is not something that you or I can do

ourselves, but it is something that only God can do— a person cannot make themselves a Christian by going to church, or doing some religious things or being baptised as a child...

So what makes a person a Christian? Or perhaps to put it another way - how do I get to heaven?

1. RELIGION

Well that was the question that was troubling a very important and highly respected religious man called Nicodemus, and you might think that he would be the last person to turn up on Jesus’ door late one night, but that is exactly what happened...

Nicodemus was an impressive man, a influential man - a Pharisee who was part of an elite group of 6000 spiritual Jewish leaders, a part of the Sanhedrin - the Jewish governing council of 70 members, so not only was he outwardly morally very pure and a man of great intellect - a great Jewish theologian and scholar, he was also very influential, as a Jewish ruler on the Sanhedrin - the modern equivalent would be someone like a cabinet minister - a man of wealth, influence and social gravitas.

But for all of that, he was riddled with doubt - There was something vitally important missing in Nicodemus’ life, he was unsure of his salvation, he didn’t know if he was going to heaven or not and it was concerning and bothering him to the point that it drove him out of the house one night to find Jesus and ask Him personally about these spiritual things.

page1image65188992 page1image65186304

I wonder this morning - have you thought about where you will spend eternity when you die?

Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night, which the Gospel writer uses a clever double-meaning — you could also say that he was “in dark” in terms of his own spiritual understanding, for all his religious clout and knowledge, here was a man who had serious doubts and he was haunted with that nagging question — “I’m doing all these religious things, but what am I missing?”

2. REGENERATION

So Nicodemus comes up to Jesus and he says:

“Rabbi, we know you are special man from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him.” (v2)

But Jesus avoids the small talk and goes straight to the bottom line:

“Truly, Truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (v3)

Jesus is saying to Nicodemus “all that religious effort isn’t enough, it won’t get you into heaven — you’ll need to be born again!”

Now this would have completely floored Nicodemus, since he had spent most of his life carefully following the Mosaic law and rising up into important religious circles and he says to Jesus:

“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (v4)

Now Nicodemus was a smart man and he knew that Jesus was talking metaphorically — so his response was: “What do you want me to do?”

“How am I supposed to experience this new birth?”

“How can I start again with God?”

Maybe some of us here this morning feel a bit like Nicodemus did — “I thought I was doing enough, what am I supposed to do to get right with God?”

I wonder if you are here today and that is the question that is resonating deep inside you:

page2image65252032

How can I start again with God? I’ve done church all these years, I’ve taken part in all the church activities and services and volunteered for things, and yet despite all that I don’t know Him! I haven’t experienced the new birth, I am not born again!

I used to be that person who was brought up going to Church on a Sunday and yet wasn’t born again - I am forty-two years old and yet I have only been a Christian since I was twenty-three, when I encountered the Lord Jesus whilst reading Matthew’s Gospel in my room. I was so convicted by the Holy Spirit as I read the Word of God that I got on my knees and committed my life to faithfully following The Lord Jesus Christ.

God help us, because it is such an easy mistake to make and so many people make it — but oh what a costly mistake and how many people have met a lost eternity because of it.

So Jesus says to Nicodemus;

“Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit... The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (vs 5-8)

Jesus is talking about a miracle — Regeneration, a completely new birth that you have absolutely no control over — in the same way that you had absolutely no say in your physical birth and coming into existence... Regeneration is something that only God can do.

And being a true Christian means repenting of sin — that literally means to change direction — to turn to Christ, we hear that in the baptism liturgy “We turn to Christ” — and yet so many people say those words and have absolutely no intention of turning to Christ, because it means forsaking everything else and following Christ whole-heartedly.

To quote an American preacher Paul Washer:

“A lot of people think that Christianity is you doing all the righteous things you hate and avoiding all the wicked things you love in order to go to heaven. No, that’s a lost man with religion. A Christian is a person whose heart has been changed, and they have new affections.”

The new birth is when God removes our heart of stone and puts a heart of flesh put into us, so that we are then able to see the truth about ourselves — who we are and who God is, that we are sinners and that He is a perfect and holy God which means that we are hopelessly lost and in great need a Saviour.

It is recognising how desperately we need God and receiving His love and forgiveness.

The road to salvation begins with knowing that there is something badly wrong in our soul and that we can’t fix it ourselves.

3. REDEMPTION (v14)

So going back to Nicodemus — he’s still struggling to understand what Jesus is saying and Jesus says to him “you are the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (v10)

Nicodemus was utterly clueless which was really embarrassing considering that he was the one who was supposed to be the expert!

But look at how gracious the Lord Jesus is with him, he meets him at his level and uses an illustration that Nicodemus would have been very familiar with — Moses lifting up the serpent in the Wilderness. (v14)

This story can be found in the book of Numbers (21) when the Israelites spoke out against God and Moses and The Lord sent fiery snakes as judgement to bite the people so that many of them died and the people pleaded with Moses to pray for them, so God told Moses to make a fiery serpent and attach it to a pole so that anyone who looked at it would live.

Now this is just conjecture — as the book of Numbers doesn’t tell us and I wasn’t there either, but I would imagine that there must have been some of the Israelites who refused to look at the fiery snake that was held up in the Wilderness. They would have thought “why should I look at that snake? What difference will that make?” “What’s the point of that?” And they would have died, but the Israelites who did look upon the fiery snake that was held up - were healed and they lived.

In the same way, men who are dying in sin are saved by the broken, dead body of The Lord Jesus suspended on the Cross.

A true, born again believer comes to the Cross of Christ in faith and in obedience — believing that on a hill there is a Cross, and on that Cross there is blood, for me. The blood of Christ shed for my sin and rebellion so that all my sin could washed clean and I can be presented holy and blameless before God.

4. THE ONE AND ONLY SON

I want to go back to our Old Testament reading briefly just to show you something; in Genesis 22:1 when God tested Abraham He said to him:

page4image65197888 page4image65198080

“Take your son, your only son, whom you love...and offer him as a burnt offering...”

Now let’s look again at John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Now bearing in mind that God had stopped Abraham at the point of slaughtering his son as He wanted to test Abraham’s obedience,
God did send His only Son Jesus Christ who He loves to the Cross to die there as an atonement for our sin.

And when Isaac had asked his father Abraham “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” when they were on their way to the altar, Abraham said “God will provide for Himself the lamb”... and that is exactly what God did in Jesus Christ — “The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

That is how you and I are saved — by repenting and believing in The Lord Jesus Christ and His perfect sacrifice on the Cross for all our sin and shame and rebellion against God.

You will never be good enough for God by your own effort and merit, and if you are relying on religion this morning to save you I beg you to stop and instead put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ — coming to Church and taking communion on a Sunday will not get you into heaven! And you will have wasted a whole lifetime trying so hard to make it right with God and it will all be in vain because the only way that we can be saved is to be born again by Holy Spirit, to put our faith completely in the complete and finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

I love the words of the communion prayer in the Book of Common Prayer:

All glory be to you, our heavenly Father, who in your tender mercy, gave your only Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there by His one oblation of Himself once offered, a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.”

That is the most wonderful news that there is — God has made the way for your forgiveness and salvation that is offered freely to us — if we will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord.

But there is also a stark warning in John 3:18: “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

page5image65199616 page5image65199808

The one who believes in Jesus Christ is forgiven and redeemed, but the one who does not believe commits the greatest folly that there is and will have to face judgement and a lost eternity.

Being born again means that the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes to see who you are and who God is, your sin and His holiness, your need of His forgiveness and His offer of forgiveness which you have gratefully received. Being born again matters because it is the only way that we can enter into the Kingdom of God, it is the only way into a relationship with God and eternal life.

The Victorian Bishop J.C. Ryle:

“We need to be sent direct to Christ: we are all too ready to stop short of this; we want to rest in our union with the Church, our regular use of the sacraments, and our diligent attendance on an established ministry. We need to be told the absolute necessity of union with Christ Himself by faith; He is the appointed fountain of mercy, grace, life and peace; we must each have personal dealings with Him about our souls. What do we know about the Lord Jesus? What have we got from Him? These are the questions on which our salvation hinges.”

Are you born again this morning? Are you relying on Jesus Christ alone for your standing before God?