Let’s study one of the most well-known sections in the Bible. Please read it in your own Bible or click on this text and open the link – John 3:1-21.
As I said, this is one of the most well-known sections of the Bible, parts of it anyway. Everyone knows John 3:16. Everyone has heard about being “born again.”
We’re going to work our way through this conversation of Jesus and Nicodemus, but don’t think that you’ve actually heard everything that’s there. You may not have heard enough.
John says Nicodemus went to see Jesus “at night.” He’s telling us that Nicodemus was in the dark. So there are things he cannot see. No doubt about that. He’s aware of Jesus’ work – teaching and performing miracles – but he doesn’t really understand it; he hasn’t been able to make a personal connection with it. He sounds very official – “we know” this and that – not “I,” it’s not personal. He’s being very logical – Jesus’ miracles are obviously signs that he’s doing God’s work. Nicodemus knows the right things about Jesus, but it’s all very shallow. He has knowledge without experience. He still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. Nicodemus is in the dark, but he’s searching for the light.
How about you? Are you in the dark about God, about Jesus Christ? Maybe you don’t know much of anything about it. Or, maybe you know a lot, but do you really know? Have you gone beyond the shallow level and really made a deep connection with God? It’s okay to be in the dark, as long as you’re willing for some light to come.
Jesus interrupted Nicodemus’s speech. It’s time to get real. Let’s cut to the chase, Nic. Here’s the bottom line: you’re not going to see the kingdom of God unless you’re born again. The kingdom of God. That means God’s work in you and your part in his work; it means God ruling over your life and changing it; it means living in a faith and love relationship with God. The kingdom is the environment consisting of the things of God which influence, motivate, and support new life and new living. It’s the system of God’s Spirit and God’s word and God’s purposes and God’s mission and God’s resources shaping how we live. It’s where disease is healed, death is overcome, and Satan is defeated. The kingdom is where greatness is measured in terms of humility, reconciliation, and forgiveness. It’s the environment of righteousness, peace, joy, and power. It’s where morality and ethics and justice and goodness and beauty thrive. It’s where the royal law is love. It’s where all things are possible with God. It’s the system that will replace all other systems and there will be no end to it. The kingdom is God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. Sounds exactly like what we need. You’re not going to see that, you’re not going to experience any of that unless you’re born again. You have to go back to the drawing board. You have to reboot. You have to start life all over.
Nicodemus – still in the dark – doesn’t get it. So Jesus explains. He’s not talking about a physical rebirth; you don’t become a baby in your mom’s womb again. This is a spiritual thing. You start over inside. You reboot your beliefs and ideas and feelings and values. The core of it is that God’s Spirit does something in you. The Spirit makes the rebirth happen. The Spirit takes you back so you can start over, this time as a part of God’s kingdom.
You don’t do it yourself. You don’t add something to what you’ve already got. You don’t add religion to your way of living. You don’t add faith onto all your other characteristics. You don’t add Christianity to the beliefs and values that you’re already living by. No, you don’t add to what you’ve got. You get born again; you start over. The Holy Spirit takes you back to nothing and makes you a new person in God’s kingdom. God put it this way, in Ezekiel 36:26-27: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you…”
Nicodemus wants that, but he doesn’t know how to get it. “How can this be?” How can I get born again? What does it take for me to start over? What button do I push to reboot? He’s really in the dark. He sees something of God’s kingdom, but he doesn’t know how to get there.
Ever been there? You can see something of what God wants, but you don’t know how to make it happen. Oh, yeah, still in the dark. I’ve been there many times.
All I can say is do what Nicodemus did – ask. Then listen. I’ve noticed that in the gospels people don’t go on and on telling Jesus what’s wrong and what they need and what he should do for them. By far, Jesus does most of the talking. People ask then Jesus answers – sometimes very long and detailed. So we have to listen – more listening than talking. Ask, listen, then wait, for as long as it takes, for the answer.
Jesus told Nicodemus the answer. How can you be born again, start over? Here’s how.
Jesus came from Heaven and was “lifted up.” That’s talking about the cross. Jesus was lifted up on the cross and died for the sins of the world. Anyone who believes in him will have eternal life. God sent his Son in love for that to happen. Through Jesus, God pulls us to himself instead of pushing us away. If you believe in Jesus, he’ll save you, give you eternal life, take you into his kingdom, put a new heart in you.
Now, don’t stop there. Jesus didn’t. Don’t stop before you get to the end of the conversation. There’s more, and it’s vitally important.
It’s time for a reality check. We think that there’s not much to it: Jesus comes, dies on the cross and rises from the dead, and all we have to do is believe – so simple, so easy. But wait. Here’s what really happens: Jesus told him, “ This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.”
See that word “verdict” – “condemnation” – “judgment” – it’s our word “crisis.” When Jesus comes into the world and dies on the cross and offers to take you into his kingdom and give you a new heart, you face a crisis, a crucial decision
Jesus is the light that came into the world. To be born again, to start over and be part of God’s kingdom, you have to come out of the darkness into the light. But we don’t want to do that because we know what will happen: our evil deeds will be exposed. We’re afraid of that. We’re afraid for the things that are wrong with us to be brought out in the open. So people hate the light; they stay in the dark where you can’t see how bad your old heart is, can’t see how much you’re hurting. People think if believing in Jesus means exposing my wrongness and weakness, I won’t do it. Some people try to believe without coming out of the dark. They try to accept Jesus so they can go to Heaven without turning their lives over to him. They want to keep the bad stuff in the dark. They won’t come into the light to be born again.
Jesus tells us how it can be: “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done through God.” You come into the light with the evil. You know the evil is there in you, but you need to come out of the dark. You come to Jesus with everything that’s wrong with you. You come to Jesus with all the ways you’ve been hurt and all the ways you’ve been trying to take care of yourself. You bring it all into the light.
I bring him my evil, everything that’s hurting me – my anger, my self-centeredness, my pride, my fear – and I know he hates it; I know he despises my evil. I bring it all to him. He hates it, yet he takes it as his own. That’s what him being lifted up on the cross is all about. Jesus takes my evil as his own! He hates it, he despises it, it repulses him, yet my old heart becomes his old heart. Whatever I’m willing to bring into the light, whatever I’m willing to bring to Jesus, he takes it as his own and kills it on the cross.
So, when I’m in the light, I don’t see my wrongness and weakness. That’s dead. I see what “has been done through God.” I see life. I see love and grace. I see rightness and wholeness. I see power and wisdom. I see freedom and joy. Finally, I see the kingdom of God.
When you come into the light with your wrongness and weakness, you get born again. Jesus takes away the evil, so you go back to nothing. You start over. Only this time you have the Spirit of God working in you. This time you’re in God’s kingdom. This time you have eternal life. You start over and this time you have a new, good heart.
So, we have hope. If there’s a chance to start over, then we’re not stuck with what we’ve got. We’re not stuck with our wrongs and failures. We’re not stuck with our weaknesses and limitations. We’re not stuck with our addictions and routines. We’re not stuck with trying to make it on our own or with the boring and senseless ways of a world still in the dark. We have hope. We have promise. We have confidence. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is the glory of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
When you start over by faith in Christ, you start to live in his Kingdom, in God’s environment. So you have the possibility for shedding your guilt and condemnation and becoming the person God created you to be. You have the possibility for letting go of your self-centeredness and taking up a life of genuine love. You can break out of your fear and self-protection and live in freedom and joy. When you start over in the Kingdom of God your marriage and family can be shaped by God’s kind of goodness and rightness and most of all by God’s kind of love. Even your job and your school and your daily responsibilities can have holy, transcendent purposes. Your decisions can be chances to receive God’s wisdom and guidance. In the Kingdom, your struggles and challenges and needs can be opportunities to experience God’s love, power, provision, and blessing. There’s hope.
You can start over, anytime – come to Christ with your evil, with whatever is wrong with you, whatever is hurting you, and trust him to take it, kill it, and bring you into his Kingdom.