He stood amazed, looking into the eyes of a man that moved him like no other man.
He was used to being around power-brokers and pseudo-intellectuals. He had never seen a man display so much power, with humility or that possessed this depth of knowledge with such grace. These were stunning contradictions, yet perfectly matched in a beauty that was difficult to articulate.
He, himself, was an expert of the law.
He had spent most of his life studying the Torah and plumbing the depths the Talmud and was considered by his peers to be a master. But, this… Who had ever heard such a teaching? “You must be born again.” What kind of gibberish was this new rabbi speaking?
“Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things,” Jesus asked him? The honest answer? No, he did not understand.
There have been seasons through the centuries that religious leaders did not understand these words of Jesus. It appears we have come to such a time, yet again.
In an effort to be relevant and to contextualize the message, it seems we are forgetting or avoiding the message that is most relevant to this post-modern, post-Christian culture.
Three times in His conversation with Nicodemus Jesus used the Hebrew form of emphasis, “Truly, Truly I say unto you” or in the King James “Verily, verily, I say unto you.”
Nicodemus understood clearly what Jesus was saying: I am telling you the truth to the second power. It is absolutely the truth. Jesus wanted this teacher of Israel to grasp a truth that had been over looked by his forefathers and his peers.
Abraham understood it. Moses understood it. Now his eyes, and the eyes of many of his colleagues, must be opened to the mystery of the ages.
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The words were a riddle to this teacher of the law. How could someone go back into their mother’s womb and be born all over again?
That was the mystery being uncovered.
Jesus used the Hebrew emphasis a second time. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
There is the rub, isn’t it? Even in this generation.
For Nicodemus and his religious system it was all about pedigree, lineage, and religious order. In the American culture it is all about mankind is basically good; is the product of his environment, and has the right to choose truth according to his own bent.
But to God it has always been about the heart condition. If Nicodemus had read King David just a little closer he would have understood the message Jesus was sharing with him.
“Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me. 6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You” (Psalms 51:4-13 NKJV).
The root problem of man is found in his heart. God, Himself, said it. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:9-10 NKJV).
Every human being is born a sinner.
That is why it is imperative to teach and train children to tell the truth, to share, to be kind, and to not steal. Left to themselves, children will naturally be selfish, lie to protect their own interest, take what is not theirs, and hurt others to advance themselves.
Have you noticed a baby does not say to its mother, “Mom when you have time, please, come change my diaper and bring me a bottle? No hurry now, just when you get time.” Have you seen a small child does not naturally say to the parent, “Yes, I am the one who broke your favorite vase.”
Indeed, even among adults on the job, in the corporate board room, or at the state legislature, what is the number one problem? It is the heart of mankind. That is why families are in such trouble? That is why STDs are pandemic?
The human race has a heart problem.
If being spiritual or religious was the answer, mankind would have resolved the problem long ago.
That was the message Jesus was sharing with this religious leader of Israel. We have a heart problem. Unless a man, woman, boy or girl is born again they will still be living in their fleshly condition.
It is being born again that will cause a white person to love and value a black man.
It is being born again that will change a thief, deliver from narcotics and transform an alcoholic.
It is being born again that will cause a man to stop being immoral and woman to love her husband.
It is being born again that will restore honesty to the person in our White House and the people in our Congress and Supreme Court.
Jesus used the Hebrew emphasis a third time. ”Verily, verily, I say unto you, We speak that We do know and testify that We have seen and you receive not Our witness” (John 3:11 KJV). Take careful note, it is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit emphasizing this point of the lesson.
Like Nicodemus, many in America do not understand and many do not want to hear what Jesus Christ is teaching.
It does not matter how many prophetic words are spoken over an individual telling them what a wonderful purpose and destiny God has for their life. If they have not had an authentic born again experience, they will not see the Kingdom of God.
The heart of a person must be changed. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, renew a steadfast spirit in me,” King David wrote. That can only happen by the power of the Holy Spirit and the washing of the blood of Jesus Christ. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7 NKJV).
This is the message post-modern America must hear if we are to change the violence in our streets, heal the bigotry, bring integrity back to our leadership, restore the damage in our families, and bring freedom from fear, anxiety, insecurity, and rejection in our children.
The preacher can proclaim the goodness of Almighty God, for He is the good God. He can teach the love and grace of God, and He is the gracious God. His mercy endures forever. These things are true. It is the goodness of God and His mercy and grace that leads a person to repentance because a person must be made a “new creature” if they are to live the blessed life and have eternal life.
Mankind is a sinner by nature. “There is none righteous, no, not one… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:10, 23).
It is only by being born again a person can become a “new creation.” That is why the Apostle Paul wrote, “In man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and all things are become new.”
I like how Keith Green used to say it. “Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to McDonalds makes you a hamburger.”
The apostle and prophet can declare over a person all day long the good things God has for them. The person can believe God is love and go to a worship concert sing about it for hours and get good feelings all night. But, if they have not been authentically born again, they are still in their sin and they are eternally lost.
The church has lost all relevance to a post-modern and post-Christian culture if does not articulate well a person must be born again if they are to enter the Kingdom of God. The church must communicate clearly the steps taught in the Word of God that leads to the born again experience.
1) I am helplessly and habitually a sinner and I cannot change myself no matter how spiritual and religious I may be in my life.
2) I must confess my sin to Almighty God, renounce my sin and turn from it. That is repentance.
3) I must ask Jesus Christ to wash my heart pure and clean in His blood and receive Him into my heart as the Lord and Master of my life.
4) The Holy Spirit will come and transform the heart and make the person a new creation.
If Jesus gave such emphasis to this message, what makes the church think it is not relevant today?