A man and his wife went for an afternoon drive in the mountains. As the sun began to set, the wife mentioned to her husband that they were low on gas. She pointed out that gas stations in the mountains were not a numerous in the mountains as in the city. She suggested they go back to the gas station that they just passed. Like most husbands, this man refused to listen insisting he knew when and where to get gas.
After several miles, he spotted an old country store with a single antique gas pump out front. It was so old, he wondered if it still worked. The husband went inside to ask about the pump and was relieved to discover that the old pump worked just fine. The husband thought, Everything is working out great. My wife was wrong. I was right for once. Sure I was lucky, but sometimes being lucky is better than being good. When he paid for the gas, the husband said to old mountaineer working the register, "It sure is good to be alive, isn't it?" The mountain man responded, "Can't say, I ain't never been any other way!"
The message of John chapter three is about "being another way." Some of you now what is to be lost and then to be found. You know what it is to be dead in your sin and to be made alive by a new birth in Christ. Others can experience this new birth today. The Gospel of John is arranged around seven miracles that John calls signs of Christ's glory.
The encounter with Nicodemus is not listed as one of the miracles because he does not accept Christ's offer of eternal life in the context of chapter three, but the majestic promise to be born again qualifies as the greatest miracle. It is great because of the magnitude of the gift and the fact that this miracle is still being performed today for those who receive Christ's offer of eternal life.
I. Inquiring man
This encounter with Jesus reads like a three act play beginning with a description of an inquiring man named Nicodemus. Act two consists of dilemma where the main character is presented with an interesting mystery. In the third act, Nicodemus is invited to resolve the mystery by responding to the invitation of Christ. Though we find several harsh criticisms of the Jewish religious establishment in the gospels, the Scripture describes Nicodemus as a devout leader who is genuinely seeking divine truth. As a practicing Pharisee, we can conclude that Nicodemus was religious, politically active, educated, financially secure, and a respected leader. For his day, Nicodemus had everything the world had to offer. But, he was lost. He was unsaved. He possessed a sin-sick soul that needed God's amazing grace to deliver him from sin.
The Bible says that God has set eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:10). The world and the experiences it offers testify of God's glory, but the world can never satisfy the deepest desires of the soul. If we are hungry, we can find food to satisfy our hunger. If we are thirsty, we can find water to quench our thirst. If we desire companionship, we can find relationships to help our loneliness. If we desire mystery or adventure, the world offers an unlimited supply. But, there is only one source that can satisfy the longing of the soul, which is to connect with almighty God. The philosophers called this desire a God-shaped vacuum that could never be filled with any created thing or person. Only the Creator himself can fill a heart or soul made for eternity.
One of my children's favorite stories that I have read numerous times to my four children at bedtime is Are You My Mother. In the story a baby bird hatches while his mother is out gathering food. The baby bird goes to different animals and even a tractor asking, "Are you my mother?" It is a funny children's story, but don't' miss the eternal truth. We instinctively know that we are meant for a relationship that is bigger and beyond ourselves. We are made to experience a relationship with or heavenly Father, the Creator of the universe.
II. Intriguing mystery
Jesus responds to the inquiry of Nicodemus with an intriguing mystery of being born again. Many of us have heard the phrase all of our lives, so we fail to grasp how strange the words would have been to Nicodemus hearing it for the first time. In the Gospel of John, several illustrations are used to describe eternal life. In addition to born again, John refers to eternal life as light, living water, and living bread. The terminology is an illustration that communicates spiritual principles that Nicodemus should know as a teacher of the Scriptures.
The concept of being born again reveals the spiritual principle of Unseen Reality. Jesus proclaims that a man needs to born twice-once by water referring to a physical birth and a second birth by the Spirit of God. We all experience a natural birth, but only those who believe in Christ are born again. While the terminology may have been new to Nicodemus, he was familiar with the biblical teaching that God is spirit. God is not in nature as pantheists believe; God is greater and transcends nature. Relating to God is not just an academic exercise. It includes the mind, but knowing God is a spiritual experience of the soul.
Jesus directs Nicodemus to consider spiritual issues, then reveals the Urgent Responsibility of the message He is teaching. Jesus makes perfectly clear what upsets many people in our culture when He declared one must be born again by the spirit of the one true God, or a person will not enter the kingdom of God. Dr. Joseph Stowell, former president of Moody Bible College, was asked to participate in a community prayer breakfast shortly after 9-11. He describes in his book The Trouble with Jesus the disappointing experience of listening to speakers "undersell Jesus and strip Him of His rightful claim to supremacy." Stowell accurately describes the distinctive claims of Jesus Christ, "Let's face it. While not exclusive in the wideness of His mercy, Jesus is exclusive in His claim that He is the only solution for our sin problem and the only way to God. And that He is God. Jesus is the central issue that separates me from Hindus, Muslims, Jews, New Age adherents, and the advocates of any other religion. His claims are unique. Without shame He claimed to be the way the truth and the life; no on can come to the Father but by me" (Stowell, The Trouble With Jesus, p. 17).
III. Inspiring message
Jesus' teaching on the exclusive entrance into the kingdom is not an arrogant claim; it is a bold and inspiring message. His invitation to be born again is Available To All. Jesus would explain a few verses later in the text by saying eternal life is available to "whosoever believes in Him." Jesus is the ultimate equal opportunity employer. He joyfully accepts all races, men and women, rich and poor, young and old. Jesus saves the sin-ridden and self-righteous.
Not only is being born again available to all, it is Accomplished by God. A person does not birth himself. The use of this metaphor communicates the biblical truth that without Christ we are dead in our sin with no hope of saving ourselves. We need God to do for us what we cannot do. The Greek verb translated "born" is an aorist passive, which is a fancy way so saying that something happened to us. God is the one performing the action upon the person who is born again. The aorist tense of the verb also communicates that a person does not have to get saved multiple times. You only need to be born again once. Often aorist verbs are translated in past tense. You may have heard a country preacher talk about "being borned again," which is poor English grammar but great theology. God accomplishes our salvation. He performs a creative work to give us a new spiritual life, a one-time, good for eternity, entrance into the kingdom of God.
As you consider the encounter of Nicodemus with Jesus, How would you describe your spiritual condition? Are you interested in spiritual things? Are you questioning the exclusive claims of Christ? Are you willing to honestly consider the consequences of rejecting Christ? This incredible encounter illustrates that we all need to be born again. The Bible says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The world will never meet the deepest hunger of your soul. Will you accept God's offer to be born again today? Will you receive the greatest miracle?