Born of the Spirit

Born of the Spirit

Home Church Service 3/19/2022

Life & Light Community Church began in the early months of 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. What began as an opportunity for me, my wife and step-kids to continue to worship together, has now evolved into a ministry that has expanded to include close friends, family and those who are simply hungry for the word of God. You can find us on Facebook, so please, feel free to reach out and join us.

When our small group meets for worship, we like to discuss what we are learning, in the moment. Sometimes that happens right after the message and at other times we will address something during the message. These messages are designed to be interactive, discussing what we are learning right after I have addressed each point of the message. You will find the questions at the end of each section. In most formats they will appear in bold. Use these questions as a guide to meditate on the points being discussed. Allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart and above all, be honest with yourself and the Holy Spirit. After all, He knows any way!

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”

                                                                                      John 3:1–15 (NASB95)

Before I get into the message, I want to share a bit of background to help us better understand what is happening with this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. The enter text of the document we know as the New Testament was written by Christ following Jews. We have been told this document was written in Greek, particularly koine Greek. Koine meaning common, and it is true that koine Greek was the common multi-lingual form of Greek spoken and written done during this time period. However, the Jewish writers of the New Testament wrote in a language that is accurately described as koine Judeo-Greek. Why the distinction?

Judeo-Greek is a form of Greek used by Jews to communicate. This language retained many of the words, phrases, grammatical structures and patterns of thought characteristic of the Hebrew language. It is Greek but it is Greek that inherited the patterns of Semitic thought and expression, thus it is written in Greek by people who thought Jewishly, and perhaps more importantly, multi-lingually. So, if we English speaking Christ followers truly want to get the most out of the Scriptures, we must grasp the Jewish thought behind the Greek language the New Testament is written.

Nicodemus is named as a ruler of the Judean Jews, he is a Pharisee, and a member of the Sanhedrin, though he has an uneasy connection with the Judean Jews. The name Nicodemus means “conqueror of the people.” In a twist of irony, the “Conqueror of the People,” is consistently afraid of the Judean Jews of the Sanhedrin, a closed group of people of which he is an honored member as long as he complies with the agenda and follows their rules. 

There are many theories as to why Nicodemus came by night to visit Jesus. First, Nicodemus came by night as a symbol that he was walking in spiritual darkness. This doesn’t seem likely as Nicodemus came to Jesus – though why he really came, we do not know. Second, Nicodemus came by night because he was afraid to be seen with Jesus. We do know that Nicodemus has several confrontations with the ruling group, yet at the same time, “we know” seems to indicate there are others in the ruling body who feel as Nicodemus does. Finally, Nicodemus came by night because of the busy schedules both Nicodemus and Jesus. This is plausible because Nicodemus would be hearing cases throughout the day and Jesus was teaching during the day. These three theories have the most support – any of the three could be right…or any of the three could be wrong.

The greeting of “Rabbi” extended by Nicodemus is cordial and leans towards being warm. However, it also shows that Nicodemus has no idea of the true identity of Jesus – Jesus is no ordinary Rabbi, He is the Rabbi of all Rabbi’s. In His previous visit to Jerusalem, many saw the miracles and believed in Jesus, thus it is easy for Nicodemus to conclude that Jesus is a teacher who has “come from God.” These comments from Nicodemus remind us of the last two verses from chapter two – Jesus “was not entrusting Himself to them…” Nicodemus is representative of one of these groups – one’s Jesus would NOT entrust Himself to or the contrast of one whom Jesus COULD entrust Himself. With this background in mind, we can dig into the rest of this passage.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, comes to Jesus by night to acknowledge he knows Jesus is from God. Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be Born of the Spirit to see and enter the Kingdom of God. The confused Nicodemus cannot believe the testimony of Jesus, even after Jesus tells him the Son of Man must be lifted up, giving eternal life to those who believe in Him.

Like Nicodemus, we too recognize Jesus only when it is safe for us to do so. We have been Born of the Spirit, able to see and enter the Kingdom of God, even though our faith is still confusing at times. By turning to the cross of Jesus and believing in Him, we have been given eternal life.

In this message we seek to answer the question, “What is the purpose of being Born of the Spirit?”

The purpose of being Born of the Spirit is for the Christ follower to be able to see, hear, and understand both earthly and heavenly things.

1). The first purpose of being Born in the Spirit is for the Christ follower to be able to see and enter the Kingdom of God.

Spiritual rebirth comes from God the Father, after we acknowledge His calling.

Nicodemus comes with the best of credentials, a member of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee and a highly regarded teacher in Israel. But Nicodemus is immediately rocked back on his heels as Jesus completely reverses the conversation. Regardless of the translation you use, the words that open the reply of Jesus mean you need to pay close attention to what Jesus is about to say. “Truly, truly,” or “Amen, amen,” and “I tell you the truth,” all mean Jesus is getting serious – SO PAY ATTENTION!! Jewish life is marked out in stages – birth and circumcision, to coming of age and so on until death and burial. So, when Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again to see the kingdom of God, Nicodemus is rocked to his core.

Nicodemus is in his final stage of such a life cycle and now this teacher tells him he must be born again. Nicodemus and his contemporaries believed that all Jews would enter the kingdom of God through resurrection on the last day – the exception being those who denied the faith. To be born a Jew was to be an heir of the kingdom of God. The Greek word translated “again” can also be translated as “from above.”

If the word is translated as “again,” the emphasis is on the nature of the experience into the kingdom – this relates it to the process of physical birth. If the word is translated as “from above,” the emphasis is on the origin of the experience – from the heavenly realm, a supernatural experience. As a devout and well-taught Jew, Nicodemus anticipated the arrival of the kingdom at the end of history. Nicodemus is confused and doesn’t understand Jesus is speaking spiritually, while Nicodemus is thinking literally.

Nicodemus questions how an old man, such as himself, can enter the womb to be born once again – a second physical birth. Jesus uses two examples to help Nicodemus understand. The first is water and Spirit. Here again, we find several interpretations of what Jesus is saying. The first is physical birth and spiritual birth. Here the water is associated with the amniotic fluid of physical birth. The second is the water of baptism and spiritual rebirth. There is a clear example of this in Ezekiel 36:25-27 which refers to the new order of the Messianic age in which there will be a new experience of cleansing. Finally, there is the thought that both words refer to the Spirit. The Greek word translated as “and” can also be translated as “even.” So, Jesus could actually be saying “one is born of water, even the Spirit.” I want to read the Ezekiel passage for you because I believe it helps put things in context.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”                                                                                       Ezekiel 36:25–27 (NASB95)

This is clearly the new covenant God has established by placing His Spirit within us – within our hearts. If Jesus is referring to the new order and the new cleansing of the Messianic age it is the Spirit who brings the cleansing. Water baptism is the symbol of our death to the old life and while it is important, the other two positions seem to give water baptism a place and importance not supported by Scripture. We must be careful not to place too much importance on the act of baptism. Yes, it is important, but water baptism does not bring us cleansing, that comes from the Holy Spirit.

The second example Jesus uses is the wind. We can hear the wind; we can feel the wind, but we do not see or know where the wind comes from or where it is goes. The Greek word here is pneuma, it can be translated as “wind,” or as “breath,” or as “spirit.” It is easy to see what comparisons can be made. What Jesus wanted Nicodemus to see is that God’s Spirit is an unbridled personal cosmic force that submits to the authority of God alone.

For the Christ follower, it is this personal cosmic force that brings about the new birth allowing us to be counted among those who belong to the kingdom of God. Therefore, no one who is relying on their own merits can see the kingdom of God – not the Jews, not the pious Pharisees or the Sadducees. It is also a reminder for us not to tie our experience of being born of the Spirit to a particular “Christian formula.”

For many, seeing and entering the kingdom are, essentially, the same thing. However, I think we need to clarify how we understand seeing the kingdom and entering the kingdom. I do agree that there is a sense in which seeing and entering are the same thing. The kingdom of God is the sphere of God’s rule in heaven and on earth. Jesus reveals that this kingdom is personal, not national or ethnic and the entrance requirements are the same for all – repentance and spiritual rebirth. So, to see the kingdom of God means, in part, to have a special perception or insight concerning God’s absolute sovereign control. In addition, there is also sense of belonging, or citizenship, included.

For the Christ follower, to “see” the kingdom is to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to understand both earthly things and heavenly things. It is to have a perception or insight into what God is doing and where He is working, both within us and in the world around us. To “enter” into the kingdom is to be a citizen without yet being able to exercise all the rights and privileges of that citizenship – we have them available to us in a limited scope. We must be careful because people can come near the kingdom and yet not see or enter into the kingdom. Those who have not yet experienced spiritual rebirth or have not fully submitted to God’s authority cannot assume citizenship.

Questions for discussion/reflection:

How often do you find it difficult to pay attention to Jesus as He speaks to you?

How do you sense the Holy Spirit working in you today?

What personal insight have you gained recently concerning the kingdom of God?

The purpose of being Born of the Spirit is for the Christ follower to be able to see, hear, and understand both earthly and heavenly things.

2). The second purpose of being Born of the Spirit is to give the Christ follower eternal life.

We lift our eyes to Jesus, the One who reveals both earthly and heavenly things.

At this point it appears as if Nicodemus is completely out of his depth. “How can these things be true?” His question to Jesus indicates that, while Nicodemus knew the Scripture, he clearly did not understand them. Nicodemus is one of the most respected teachers in Israel and he misses the points that are clearly taught in Scripture. Jesus came into the world to make His Father known, to testify to the truth, and to offer eternal life. When Jesus spoke of these things, He does so because He is uniquely qualified to speak of them, for He is speaking from His own experience.

Jesus has already spoken of earthly things, the need to be born of the Spirit – an earthly experience and the condition for entrance into the kingdom of God. Jesus identifies Himself as the heavenly figure of sovereign authority, the Son of Man, who came down from heaven and is therefore qualified to speak with authority of heavenly things. Jesus does this by turning to a figure Nicodemus should be very well acquainted with – Moses. Jesus points to Numbers 21:4-9, a wilderness experience where God sent serpents into the camp of the Israelite people. These venomous snakes bite the people and many of them died. God instructs Moses to make a snake, put it on a pole, and lift it up before the people. Anyone who has been bitten only needs to look up at the snake and live.

The “lifting up” of the snake is God’s provision for salvation to those who have been bitten by the snake – it is salvation for the rebellious Israelites! So too, the “lifting up” of the Son of Man will be God’s salvation from eternal death for people from all nations. God has now provided salvation from the consequences of sin for all peoples by the death of His Son and those who put their faith in Jesus will have eternal life. The Son of Man came from heaven and became flesh in order to die – but His death would have special importance. Jesus used this incident to picture His coming salvation work on the cross.

Salvation happens when we “lift up” our eyes to Jesus, believing He will save us. God has now provided the way for us to be healed of sin’s deadly, poisonous bite. Those who believe in Jesus are spared destruction and given eternal life. There is no other way to be healed and to be given eternal life than taking our eyes off of self and the world around us and lifting our eyes to Jesus.

Those who have been given eternal life have experienced spiritual rebirth through the power and cleansing of the Holy Spirit, and they have “lifted up” their eyes to Jesus and His work on the cross. These have been given spiritual insight that they may “see” the kingdom of God and will now “enter” the kingdom of God by putting their faith in the Son of Man.

Questions for discussion/reflection:

Is there an area of your life that needs healing from sins poisonous bite?

How often do you need to remind yourself to “fix your eyes” on Jesus?

When did you first realize you had “entered” the kingdom of God?

The purpose of being Born of the Spirit is for the Christ follower to be able to see, hear, and understand both earthly and heavenly things.

Nicodemus had a searching heart, he believed that Jesus had some answers. We need to remember that no matter how intelligent or well-educated we may be, we must come before Jesus with an open mind and heart so He can teach us the truth about God. Is your heart searching? A searching heart is a humble heart, seeking and admitting personal need. A searching heart is filled with perseverance to overcome obstacles that may keep us from coming to Jesus. The searching heart has insight that the gospel message relates to our lives even today.

A searching heart has a willingness to submit to the authority and lordship of Christ Jesus. A searching heart is obedient in going beyond the mental assent to achieve dependence on God’s promises and guidance. If we are hungry, God will be the source. He has provided His Word, His presence, and the freedom of prayer to place any question before Him. Jesus is more than a topic of discussion – He has answer for our soul!

We do all things to the glory of God through Christ our Lord.

Amen and amen,

Next Week: John 3:16-21

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