Most of us find people who can't get to the point rather annoying. They take 30 minutes to tell us what most people can say in five. There are also the people who beat around the bush because they don't know how to ask what they need to ask, whether from embarrassment or avoidance. Then there are the people who will never say what they are thinking even though you can sense that there is something wrong between us and them. The leader Nicodemus was somewhat like this as he came to Jesus under the cover of darkness. He had some questions for Jesus but wasn't sure how to approach him so he started trying to ease into it. One thing we know about God is that he knows our heart.
Jesus was not one who beat around the bush. He said what had to be said, whether it was with direct and clear language or through story telling. Those who needed to understand what he was saying understood it clearly. In Nicodemus' case Jesus went right to the heart:
“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3)
Today we take this for granted, even though few in the Church understand it and fail to walk in it. However for Nicodemus this was the very first time he had encountered such a thought. Of course in the natural it sounds ridiculous and that was Israel's problem, all the leaders thought in the natural because they did not have spiritual minds. So Nicodemus' response was not a strange one nor a surprise to Jesus:
“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4)
Come on now, in the natural that is exactly what Jesus was saying, but Jesus wasn't talking in the natural. I caution you here that I differ in my understanding of the text that follows from other teachers but I don't want you to get lost in this. What is important is that we understand the significance of the need for re-birth. Jesus reply was straight to the point:
“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit." (John 3:5)
Now here is where I differ from some people. The water Jesus is talking about is not baptism but our natural birth. Jesus is talking about two births in this passage. I believe in baptism because Jesus told us to baptise. I do not believe that baptism has an effect on our salvation because it is only a symbol of what happens spiritual to us. It would be like the Jews saying you have to be circumcised in order to be saved. Look at what Jesus said next:
"Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." (John 3:6)
You should be able to see this in the context of the entire conversation; Jesus is talking about the birth of the flesh and the birth of the spirit; a physical birth and a spiritual birth. The "water" birth is not as significant here as understanding that a transformation must happen before we can enter into the Kingdom of God. Even on this earth we are in the Kingdom because the Kingdom is in the hearts of men and women; the Kingdom is a matter of the heart.
In this day and age this passage is vital to understand. We have far too many people who do not understand the need for this second birth and they think that simply changing their morality is all that is needed. They fill the church, teaching right from wrong, getting involved in all the activities, seemingly a good Christian, yet all that has changed is the outward appearance while the inside remains untouched. We must understand that everything hinges on our encounter with Jesus and the second birth that is offered to us.
The Word is clear on the importance of this matter:
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
This is not the only passage that makes it as plain as this.
We have to stop treating the Church like some business that is selling a product that makes people feel better. The Bible cannot be found in the self-help section of the book store. The pastor should not be preaching the psychology of man. There is only one solution, one hope, one way and it is found in our re-birth in Jesus Christ. We need to understand that the Spirit lets us know after this re-birth that the only life we have is in Jesus because we are made alive in Jesus. Aside from Jesus we are dead because eternal life is not found by our flesh but instead in our spiritual re-birth. The Church is not a matter of the natural but the spirit.
Jesus tells Nicodemus:
"You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7-8)
And so it is with all those born of the Spirit. This world has lost it's hold on us. We are not chained down by the values or thinking of this place. We are lifted to a higher plain of understanding that everything must be obedient to the authority of Jesus Christ. How can we hope to minister to the lost of the world if we do not understand the result of the transformation that takes place in our re-birth? We are a new creation. The same old rules no longer apply. God can do incredible things through us because we have been freed from the restraints of this world. Darkness no longer has a hold on us. Demons must flee at our command. Illnesses must leave. Health must come in. Circumstances must change. This is who we are in Jesus and the world needs to see this authority to know it is real.
The second birth is not a poetic imagery that Jesus gave us. It is an actual event that takes place when we encounter Jesus and accept his sacrifice for our sins. It is the moment that the Holy Spirit moves in and writes the law upon our heart. It is the moment our minds are renewed so that we can comprehend the things of God, with a new perspective. We no longer see people as we used to. Let's stop teaching morality in an attempt to change from the outside in, and let us preach the need for the second birth so the Spirit can change us from the inside out.