Born Into God’s Kingdom
7 December 2014
A study in the series on the Gospel of John by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Born Into God’s Kingdom
When we were kids, our Dad used to take us along to this large oil field and cattle ranch. As he discussed business with the foreman, my brothers and I would go exploring. We almost always found cow bones, bleached white and dry by the sun. We’d collect the bones and try to put them back together to look like a cow again. But never once did those bones come back to life.
I can’t say that for Ezekiel. God gave this poor man quite a vision. Read from Ezek 37:1-11a.. Israel had turned away from the Lord and there was no hope of them ever being what God created them to be. It is more likely for a valley of dry bones to come to life than for sinners to ever be pleasing to God. But God showed Ezekiel that with God all things are possible. God can make dry bones live. And God can transform sinners into obedient children.
If John ended his gospel with chapter 2 it would be discouraging. Look at John 2:23-25. There wasn’t true faith. Is there any hope for mankind? Well notice how John transitions to chapter 3: “…for He Himself knew what was in man…Now there was a man…” Jesus now interviews three very different people: a Jewish leader, a Samaritan woman, and a Gentile official.
Many people are only entertained by Jesus’ miracles. But there are some who truly believe. What makes the difference? Religious expertise? Obedience to the Law? Being born to a religious family? Why does one person truly believe and another doesn’t? Let’s find out! First,
I. Nicodemus meets Jesus (John 2:1-2).
Here is a man with impressive credentials. If anyone could rightly interpret the miracles, he should. He is a Pharisee, considered the holiest and most religious. He is also a member of the ruling Jewish council, the Sanhedrin. And he is a distinguished teacher (v. 10). He is a cut above the rest.
Why does John point out that this man came by night? Maybe he’s afraid of being seen with Jesus. Graciously, Jesus doesn’t send him away though. Why wouldn’t a lost man fear what people think? Jesus can transform cowardice into courage. There is still hope for Nicodemus (7:50-51; 19:38-40).
Nicodemus recognizes Jesus as sent from God. Jesus’ miracles have caught his attention and he wonders if this is the Messiah. He is curious about what Jesus’ signs may indicate. Notice…
II. Jesus’ first reply (John 2:3).
Jesus doesn’t wait for a question. He cuts right to the chase, saying, “You’ve seen My signs but you can’t use this information rightly unless something happens to you. You must be born again.” What does this mean?
This can mean born again or “born from above”. Nicodemus seems to think it means being born a second time. But Jesus may have both ideas in mind, a second birth that comes from above. The other uses in John’s Gospel of this term “again/above” always mean “above” (Jn 3:31; 19:11, 23). Jesus is not talking about a repetition but an entirely different kind of birth. It is spiritual transformation. A new kind of birth produces a new kind of life. That birth must be of a different kind and source (from above). Only God can make this kind of birth happen (John 1:12-13).
We are born into this earthly realm by birth. We are born into the realm above, the spiritual or heavenly realm, also by birth. You must become what are you not. Is this required even for a man with impressive credentials like Nicodemus?
All sinners (including Jews) are born into the kingdom of darkness. It takes this spiritual transformation for them to get into the kingdom of God. Jews have been seeking that kingdom prophesied in the OT where the Son of David (Isa 9:1-7, 11; Zech 9:9-10), Yahweh’s Servant (Isa 42:1f; 49:1f) who is also Yahweh Himself (Isa 9:1-7; 33:2; Zech 14:9) will preside over God’s people forever (2 Sam 7:12-16; Isa 11:1f; Dan 2:44; 7:14, 27; 12:1-3).
Without this new birth, even someone with impressive religious credentials won’t see the kingdom of God. They will never experience it (John 3:36; John 8:51). In fact, as Jesus will point out, they won’t even be able to enter it. John’s interest in the kingdom of God is how to enter that kingdom.
While Jesus’ listeners were consumed with thoughts of God’s kingdom coming and them being set free from Roman domination, John shows his readers that the more pressing need is that they are not presently qualified to enter it. Leaders like Nicodemus taught the people that carefully observing God’s law will earn entrance into God’s kingdom. The point here is that no one—including devout, law-abiding Jews—can enter God’s kingdom without a radical rebirth. Now, onto…
III. Nicodemus’ first question (John 2:4).
Nicodemus didn’t think that Jesus was calling for something absurd, but he still didn’t understand what Jesus was getting at. Can physical birth be repeated (“born again”)? The concept of regeneration still eludes him. Physical rebirth is impossible.
IV. Jesus’ second reply (John 2:5-8).
One thing Nicodemus is getting right: rebirth is impossible for men (1:13). Jesus says that flesh can only produce fleshly babies. It takes the Spirit to produce spiritual babies. What does being born of water and the Spirit mean? Some think water refers to Christian baptism. But this is not a picture of baptism. Baptism is a picture of this! So what is this?
Jesus’ phrase, water and the Spirit, describes what happens in the new birth. Turn back to Ezekiel 36. Think back to the dry bones coming to life in Ezek 37. That vision illustrated for Ezekiel what God promised to do in Ezek 36. This is one of the promises of the New Covenant. [Ezek 36:25-27].
The New Covenant provides cleansing from sin (pictured by water). It also provides the ability to obey God. These provisions are brought about by God’s Holy Spirit working in us and applying the work of Christ to us (Heb 8, 9). Jesus encourages Nicodemus to not marvel, to not stumble over this and turn away. This is an absolute requirement: you must be born again.
Jesus plays here with the Greek word pneuma which can mean wind, breath or Spirit. They are invisible. We don’t know where wind starts from or where it will ultimately blow. In that way, God’s Spirit is sovereign in salvation. We may not know when He will move, but like wind, we can see His effects. We can hear the sound of the wind and know it is there. And we can know when God’s Spirit has caused a person to be born again (fruit of the Spirit). When the winds brought breath to what had been dry bones in Ezek 37, they stood on their feet, showing that they were alive.
V. Nicodemus’ second question (John 2:9).
Nicodemus isn’t questioning whether Jesus is telling the truth. He’s wondering how regeneration is even possible! Notice now…
VI. Jesus third reply (John 2:10-15).
As a distinguished teacher, Nicodemus ought to have known because new birth is in the OT: Jer 24:7; 31:31-34; Ezek 36:22-38. Nicodemus ought not to have been surprised that entrance into God’s kingdom has to be a work of God transforming the sinner into something entirely different.
Nevertheless, Jesus provides a witness that these things are true. It is one thing to not understand but it is far more serious to not receive Jesus’ witness. Jesus testifies that He and His father speak of what we know (John 8:26, 28; 12:49). Yet not many receive it. Jesus used earthly images to help Nicodemus understand, but at this point he still doesn’t get it. If he can’t grasp these earthly pictures of heavenly things, how will he understand the heavenly truths? What better source of truth than Jesus? No one has gone up into heaven then returned to earth to explain heavenly things. However the Son of Man, has descended from heaven to declare God’s truth.
OK. So how does Messiah fit into all this? Jesus turns to another OT passage (Num 21:8-9). God’s people had complained about the manna. He sent deadly snakes to punish them. There was no cure. When they repented, He had Moses raise a bronze serpent on a tall pole. All who looked upon it were cured. If not, they died. Using this OT story, Jesus said that in similar fashion the Son of Man must be lifted up. Of course this points to His work on the cross (John 12:32-34). Sinners must look with faith upon Jesus who died for them. These and these alone will be born unto eternal life.
What is eternal life? While we experience it now, it is the “life of the age to come”. It lasts through eternity but isn’t like earthly life. By a new kind of birth, we enter into a new kind of life. Those who are born from above will be characterized even now by the obedience of that future age.
Why is regeneration (re-born) so important? Jesus said that He came that we might have life. Regeneration is where life begins. On our own, we are dead dry bones, unable to please God. If you think of our inner man as a sort of command center, the main influence in that command center was sin. In theology we call it our governing disposition. It was the ruling principle that motivated us to want, to choose, to act. Sin is a cruel master that motivates us to disobey.
What happens when God regenerates us is that He transforms us. That includes replacing the main influence in our command center. Sin is dealt a mortal blow and is severely weakened. God’s Spirit becomes the ruling principle. We now have the ability to please God. His Spirit energizes new desires that He has given us. God can make dry bones live. And God can give sinners new life.