In the Book of Acts chapter 3, Peter is preaching, and he says to the crowd,
‘Repent and be converted’. Converted means to be turned around to turn from going one way to going another way.
The Hebrew word for conversion is teshuva which means to turn from ‘going away from God’, to turning to ‘going to God’.
And it’s at the heart of the message that all of us have sinned and truly the glory of God therefore all of us need to convert to turn from our sins. Not to convert from being Jewish to being Christian but convert from being a sinner to being a saved person in the name of Jesus.
We have the famous passage in John chapter 3 where Jesus is speaking to a very religious and high up Jewish man called Nicodemus and telling him that he and we all must be born again.
Let’s have a look at John chapter 3 and see what we can learn from it.
Praise the Lord! A wonderful scripture!
It contains the best-known verse in the Bible, John 3.16 and one of the most well-known incidents in it.
Who was Nicodemus? We are told that he was a ruler of the Jews. That means he was an important Jewish religious leader. Just as if a chief rabbi wanders in to have a chat with us at Bridge Lane and we have the opportunity to explain to him the Gospel.
This is what happened with this man called Nicodemus.
A little word about the use of the word ‘the Jews’ in John’s gospel before we get into it.
The word which is used in Greek is ton Ioudaion, (I think that’s right, is that how you pronounce it?) We have some Greek experts here. That’s the Greek word. The Hebrew word is Yehudim.
The Greek word which John uses here is a transliteration of the Hebrew Yehudim. The word Yehudim is taken from the word for the 4th son of Jacob Yehuda/Judah, and it refers to the people who lived in the area of Judea.
The area of Judea is around Jerusalem and, in the basic sense of the word, yehudim refers to the people who live in that neighbourhood as opposed to the Galileans from whom Jesus came and from people who lived in other parts of the Promised Land.
Therefore, one the first basic uses of the word is ‘the Judeans’, because Judea was the capital so to speak and Jerusalem in Judea was the capital and the place where the Temple stood. It was the centre of Jewish religious life where the Sanhedrin sat.
The term ‘Judeans’ or ‘Jews’ in the Gospel comes to also mean the Jewish religious leadership.
When you look in the Gospels, you find that the opposition to Jesus came from the Jewish religious Leadership, and so, there are passages in the Book of John where Jesus speaks about the Jews in what appears to be quite a negative sense and this has been used in antisemitism since that time to say that the Jews were against Jesus who was not a Jew and so on.
Of course, that is not true. Jesus was Jewish and He was born in Judea, in Bethlehem. He lived in Nazareth, in the region of Galilee but he was thoroughly Jewish as were all his disciples.
In fact, in one place in John’s Gospel it says that He went from being among the country of the Jews to the city called Ephraim. Ephraim a place where there were no Jews? No. Ephraim is the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Therefore, what is meant here is that Jesus went from one part of Israel to another.
When you read John’s Gospel, you’ll find there are places where it can be used to say that Jesus was against the Jews which is not the case.
There were Jewish religious leaders who were against Jesus and that’s what is recorded in the Gospel.
Nicodemus was a Jewish religious leader who was coming to ask Jesus and was seeking him for revelation, for understanding because he had seen Jesus doing these miracles, and he said to himself ‘no one can do these miracles except God has sent him and God is with him’.
He has seen Jesus doing things which no one else can do and he recognizes that the hand of God upon Jesus who’s doing these miracles. Nicodemus is investigating the obvious implication of the fact that Jesus is doing miracles and that, if He is sent from God, then Jesus must be the Messiah.
So, behind this you’ve got a question about whether Jesus truly is the Messiah.
We read that he came by night and is there significance in that did he come to see Jesus then, because he was afraid of being seen openly, publicly with Jesus.
Of course, there are people who are seeking Jesus but a bit afraid of what the consequences would be if they were seen to be seeking Jesus, seen to be associating with people who belong to Jesus.
There are people who, in their hearts, may be looking for Jesus but they’re worried about what the neighbours will think, especially if they come from another religion, if they are seen to openly look for Jesus.
Once, I talked to a very religious Jewish man around here who was interested. We had a good talk about Jesus, and I said, ‘you know, you could come along to one of our services if you like’. He said, ‘I couldn’t be seen dead going into your church, I’d be excommunicated from the whole community if I was seen going in there.’
That’s the kind of problem they face and it’s a problem many people have, especially religious people from another religion or even from forms of Christianity which are not really Christian. They’re trapped in their religion and their religion tells them ‘Don’t go to Jesus’.
There was that kind of spirit here about him (Nicodemus) coming by night to see Jesus.
So, he comes to Jesus, and he says he’s seen these miracles and asks Him ‘Is He the Messiah?’ saying ‘no one can do these miracles except God sent him.’
And Jesus cuts him short, and He says,
Jesus not interested in having a religious debate. You do meet a lot of people out there who want to have a theological debate.
What Jesus is saying really is, ‘Do you want to have a discussion about where I come from, what I can do, or do you want to know God?’
When we go out in evangelism, you have people who come, and they sometimes want to have a discussion with you to put their point of view about God across. They want to hear your point of view, they want to discuss it, but they don’t want to get to the heart of the point which is ‘you must be born again‘.
They want to test their ideas about God on you, they don’t mind discussing your ideas, but they don’t want to meet God. They don’t want to change their lifestyle, they don’t want to be born again, they don’t want to come into the Kingdom of God, they just want to talk about it.
Jesus, by cutting Nicodemus here, is saying ‘I’m not going to have a discussion with you. I’ve got to tell you how you can enter into the Kingdom of God’.
Ultimately, what God wants us to do is not just to discuss it, not just think about it, but to do it, to put it into practice and enter into the Kingdom of God.
We can do that only by being born again.
And so, Nicodemus says, ‘What are you talking about? How can I go into my mother’s womb again and be born? It’s not possible!’
He’s thinking on ‘the horizontal level’, on the natural level but Jesus is not talking to him about natural, horizontal things, He’s talking about spiritual things, about things which come from above, about being born from above, about receiving a new life.
In verses 5-8, Jesus gives the answer:
Jesus says, ‘you’ve got to be born of water, you’ve got to be born of the Spirit in order to enter into the Kingdom of God.’
Question: What does He mean by being born of water?
Some have said it means baptism, and you get baptized in water, you get baptized in the Spirit, then you enter into the kingdom of heaven.
In this context, I don’t think it is about baptism. Of course, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t be baptized when you believe in Jesus.
And being born of the Spirit, to be born of the Spirit, you have to be born you have to be a human being in the first place. Everybody on the earth is born of the flesh, everybody is born into the world. They have a natural life; they have a ‘flesh’ life.
Everybody on the earth has the potential to have a spiritual life because we’re made in the image of God. If we’re made in the image of God, then, we have something which is different from what animals have. We have the ability to relate to God and have the Spirit of God living within us.
But whether we have the Spirit of God living within us or not, this depends upon us making a decision to follow Jesus and to be born again.
It doesn’t happen naturally. You must be born again.
Jesus is saying here that something must have happened to you to cause you to change from your first birth to your second birth.
He’s saying that your first birth is not good enough and I’d say to you all that your first birth is not good enough. Not to insult your father or mother – they may have been very good people, or they may not have been good people, it doesn’t make any difference.
Your first birth is not good enough because your first birth means you’re born in sin and you go back to your first parents who are Adam and Eve who sinned against God and through whom sin came into the world and has affected every human being who lives on the face of the Earth.
That is why you must be born again, because your first birth isn’t good enough. And it doesn’t matter how outwardly religious you are or how outwardly good you are. In fact, in the Gospels it seems that the outwardly religious people have the greatest difficulty in coming to Jesus.
Jesus had most of His followers amongst what they call the am erets meaning ‘the people of the land, the common people’ who are often looked down upon by the religious.
You’ve got pictures in the Gospels where they actually mock the followers of Jesus because they say they’re ‘of the common people’ who know nothing. What, in Hebrew, was called the am erets, ‘the common people’.
The religious people had difficulties with Jesus, and, in fact, you’ll find that often religious people have the biggest difficulty coming to faith in Jesus.
A lot of people who are religious are trapped in their religion and find it difficult to believe in Jesus. Often, people who are high up in the social system also find it difficult.
Paul wrote about this in 1 Corinthians 1.25-27. He said
So, if you’re one of the foolish things and the base things don’t feel bad about that because God has chosen you to be a child of God.
And you don’t have to be religious to receive Him. You don’t even have to be good to receive Him.
In fact, you have to recognize that you’re not good if you want to receive Him, you have to recognize that you’re a sinner and that you’re lost, and that you don’t know Jesus and you want to turn from your sins; you want to know God.
John chapter 1 verse 10 says,
Everybody needs a second birth. People in the world, they can cope with the first birth but not with the second birth.
As we come to the time of Christmas, I think you know people can get quite sentimental and religious about baby Jesus in the in the manger, but they don’t want to be confronted with the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ who’s calling them to repentance and faith. They don’t want to be confronted with the Lion of Judah coming with power and glory from heaven to change this world.
They’re happy to keep Him in the manger but not to see Him as He really is, and they don’t want the second birth.
Hopefully, you do want the second birth, so that’s good!
He says that,
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The word for wind and spirit in Greek are pneuma, the same word in both cases.
In Hebrew רוּחַ they are also the same word in both cases.
There’s a connection between the wind which blows and the spirit which blows from God.
He says, ‘you don’t know where the wind comes from’, you can’t tell the origin of the wind, but you can see the result of the wind.
We’ve just seen pictures on the television of the tornado in America and seen the terrible results caused by the fierce wind blowing down the houses.
But you can also see the good effects of the wind bringing gentle breezes and bringing nice weather.
You can see the effects of the wind around you, but you don’t know where it comes from, you don’t see where it’s coming from but you do see the effects of it.
The wind comes and you see a change as a result of the Spirit coming into your life and the influence of the Spirit in the life of the believer.