Nicodemus, Part 1: Born Again

Scripture: John 3:1-5
Date: 01/05/2008 
This is the story of Nicodemus, a very wealthy man and a great teacher in Israel. Jesus exploded his world when he told Nicodemus, a Pharisee and guardian of God’s law that he needed to be born again.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

Good morning. I need to say that now because usually when I’m done with the message I have to say good afternoon, and happy New Year. I haven’t seen most of you since last year. We’re glad that you’re back. The Lord did bless Central Church. We just praise the Lord for your faithfulness in coming. This year we have some exciting plans for evangelism both here in this district and also with our new sister church plant in Granite Bay. I think the Lord has great things in store. Also some exciting things that we’ll be doing here in Central Church that continue to partner with Amazing Facts, projects in evangelism.

As the pastors get together and we consider the different subjects and things to share with the church family during the year we want to make sure that you’re getting a balanced diet. That had something to do with the choice of the message today, and probably what will turn into a series for a few parts. I remember hearing about a young man working his way through school at a Taco Bell working the night shift. Nicholas Zahn was very busy one evening trying to manage the desk and the drive through window, and a woman named Verna Andrews let out a shriek. She had been standing in the line within the Taco Bell. He turned and looked and could see quickly that she was great with child, and as you might have guessed she went into labor. He had to make some very important decisions right at that moment. He was there kind of managing the little Taco Bell.

He took off his headset, called 9-1-1, ran around, tried to make her comfortable, and before he knew what was happening, he was catching a baby that in his words “sort of popped out” in his hands before the rescue vehicles could get there. Now you might be thinking, if you owned that Taco Bell, “I did not hire that man to deliver babies! We had a lot of people waiting in line for their burritos and their tacos, a lot of people were lined up at the drive through window, and here he is delivering babies. He needs to get his priorities straight.” Now I don’t think most of you were thinking that way. Most of you were probably thinking delivering a baby was the priority at that time, more important than delivering beans, right? Human beings are more important than pinto beans. Can we all agree with that? Now I say that because sometimes we can come to church and we can get so involved in the routine, in the business of what we’re doing that we forget the priorities. The priority of everything we do as Christians is summed up in the new birth. There must be new creations.

We must be born again and that will be the focus of our talk this morning, our study this morning. I’ve titled the message today, well, for the next two weeks it’s going to be on Nicodemus. Today is part one, “Nicodemus, part 1, Born Again”. Now, you don’t need to wonder too much where I’m going because the only time you find any reference to Nicodemus is in the Gospel of John. This passage that is one of the most famous passages in the Bible is found in John chapter three. Please turn there with me. We’ll look at some other scriptures as you know. I want you to turn with me to Gospel of John chapter three and in a special sense we’ll be considering verses one through eight this morning in the story about Nicodemus. Of course it’s a good idea to begin at the beginning. Verse one, “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews…”

Now we’re going to take that verse apart and we’re going to learn about Nicodemus. You might be wondering, Nicodemus is mentioned five times in the Bible only in the Gospel of St. John. And he plays a prominent role there at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, sort of in the midst of Christ’s ministry and then ultimately at the end of Jesus’ ministry. Why is Nicodemus not mentioned by Matthew, Mark, or Luke? I think part of the key is that he is a Pharisee. Now the Pharisees were one of four Jewish sects that existed during the time of Christ. Those four divisions of the Jewish religious group were the Pharisees (the largest group), the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots. The Pharisees sort of evolved after the Babylonian captivity during the time of the Maccabees. They were the guardians of the religious ritual and the law. They believed that you were saved through faithfulness to observation of the Law of Moses and they were very critical of those who did not observe. There was a certain air of arrogance and self-righteousness among many of the Pharisees. You remember, of course, the Pharisee that went into the temple and prayed. Jesus told the parable. The Pharisee prayed thus with himself, “Lord, I thank you that I am not as other men,” by the way, this is Luke 18:11 and 12. He stood and prayed “I thank You that I am not like other men extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” the publican that was in the back of the church. “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.”

Pharisees were very self-righteous. They were meticulous about paying tithe of even their herb gardens. Now the Pharisees weren’t all bad. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, paul was a Pharisee. They were well acquainted with the word, but they believed that they were saved by virtue of keeping the law; they did not understand grace. If you were a Pharisee and if you were not only a Pharisee but if you were part of the Sanhedrin (I’ll get to that in just a moment), and you converted to Christianity, well, the other Pharisees and Sadducees would see that as a betrayal. It would be something like if you lived in Pakistan today and you were a Pakistani Islamic teacher and you converted to Christianity. Do you realize that the penalty is death? Are you aware of that? It’s right. There are some Pakistanis who have converted to Christianity that have been executed and they’re supported by the government in that when they are executed. If you were a Pharisee and part of the Sanhedrin and you converted to Christianity, did they try to kill Paul for doing it? So one theory is that Nicodemus, who we all know became a follower of Christ, at his high station when he converted he had a price on his head. The writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he may have still been alive during their time. John wrote his gospel last. Nicodemus had probably died at that point and it was safe to talk about him by name. There was no harm done at that point, but he was very prominent. The early church knew who he was. He sort of needed to live a little bit incognito because he may have had a price on his head because of what was seen as a betrayal by the religious leaders at the time. So Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a very religious man; he went to church, fasted, paid tithe. Keep in mind that the Pharisees were also missionaries. You remember in Matthew where Jesus denounces the Pharisees and He issues these scathing rebukes. He says, “You cross land and sea for one convert” so they believed in missionary work. They were very religious. But Nicodemus comes to Jesus because he knows something is missing.

Not only does it say he’s a Pharisee. It tells us that his name is Nicodemus. The word Nicodemus means victory of the people. I think that’s significant because Nicodemus sort of represents all of us who need to come to Jesus. He’s searching for truth and he finds it in Christ. One historian said that during the time of the Roman Emperor Vespasian there was a man by the name of Nicodemus who is the son of Gonium. He’s mentioned in the Jewish writings, the Josephus who wrote The Antiquities or The Lore of the Jews, different Josephus. He’s mentioned by him and it says that he was so wealthy that he could support all of the inhabitants of Jerusalem for ten years from his bank account. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it still gets the point across this man was very, he was Nicodemus bar Gates. No, very wealthy, a billionaire by the terms of the day. So we know that he’s a very religious man; he’s a man of substance, and by the way, it mentions that Nicodemus, when Jesus died he got a hundred pounds in aloes and myrrh to bury Him. That was extremely expensive. So we believe the historian that says he was very wealthy. We know that some of the Pharisees were.

Furthermore, it tells us that he was a leader of the people, I’m still in verse one, he was a ruler of the Jews. The rulers of the Jews were part of the Sanhedrin. Now there may have only been about eight or ten thousand official members of the Pharisees during the time of Christ. There were a number of Pharisees in training. But among the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the religious leaders there, seventy were chosen to represent the people. It was the supreme court of the Jewish nation. They were called the Sanhedrin. They were the rulers of the people. We know that Nicodemus sat with this group because it mentions him speaking out during one of the Sanhedrin meetings in defense of Jesus (and we’ll talk about that again later as well). So here you’ve got this man who has great possessions, great position, he is extremely religious. By the way, the word Pharisee comes from the Jewish word parush, and it means to set apart. They were the separated ones. He had heard Jesus teaching, and he knew that something was missing. There was a purity, there was a simplicity, there was a grace about what Jesus said that was so different from the pharisaical teachings of the day. He knew that Jesus supported Moses and the law and the prophets, and yet it was mingled with grace and the Pharisees were missing that. He saw the boldness; he saw the miracles and the works of Christ.

It says that he “came to Jesus at night,” during the darkest time. Maybe he didn’t want the scrutiny. It tells us that there is a sincerity. He does come to Jesus, but he comes when it’s dark. He’s timid about it, and he feels a conflict between this yearning and this sincerity and this timidity about having others see. I thought it was interesting that in all of the gospel of John (and you might jot these scriptures down because they’re going to come up again) where it talks about Nicodemus, he’s only mentioned five times, it says, verse 2, chapter 3, verse 2, “The same came to Jesus by night…” You go to chapter seven when it talks about Nicodemus it says, “He that came to Jesus by night…” Then you go to chapter nineteen, verse thirty-nine and John is again talking about Nicodemus “which first came to Jesus by night.” Three times there it says he came to Jesus by night.

You know we must assume that… when they came to arrest Jesus when did they come? Why did they come at night? They didn’t want the multitudes to see what they were doing. Nicodemus when he came to Jesus at night was trying to hide from other prying eyes. They didn’t have the streetlights like we have today. All they had was these little candle lights handheld lamps. They’re not very bright. You’ve got to get really close to a person to make out who they are with those primitive lights, not much better than a kerosene lamp. And he came to Jesus we also believe because the apostle John writes of Nicodemus, and the apostle John during the trial of Christ knew people in the priesthood that John may have even arranged the meeting. They may have had family members who were in the priesthood, John and James, and Nicodemus through his secretary, his administrative secretary, you know he was a very wealthy man, he’s got an entourage. He makes contact and says, “You know I would really appreciate a private audience with the teacher.”

John works it out, Jesus says, “I’ll be happy to talk to him.” And so they come at some point probably not far from Jerusalem and he has this visit with Jesus. He doesn’t want others to see, doesn’t want to create a spectacle, does not want it to be in the tabloids in Jerusalem the next day that one of the prominent wealthy Pharisee Sanhedrin members is interviewing with Jesus. It might send the wrong signal. So maybe he’s a little frightened, but he knows that Jesus has the truth so he comes at night.

You know I thought it was also interesting that when you read in the gospel of John he comes to Christ and he makes this opening introduction and he says in verse two, “Rabbi, we know…” Who is the “we”? Did he have a mouse in his pocket? Were there other members of the Sanhedrin that believed that Jesus might be the One? Well, you would think of all of these religious leaders out of seventy of them there must have been more than just one that had it right. I mean out of the twelve spies there were at least two that were faithful so out of the seventy there could have been a handful, five or six that believed. If you read later even some of the priests in Acts 5 believed on Jesus. So Nicodemus is not just representing himself. He said we. “…we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with Him.”

Part of the reason that they believed in Christ, he saw the works of Jesus. Now is there anything wrong with that? No, he saw the wonderful things that Christ was doing and he believed that this Man must be from God. Can the devil do miracles? Does that mean you’re never supposed to notice the wonderful works? Jesus said you’ll know them by their fruits. Works are one of the signs of the power of God. Jesus said in the gospel of Mark, “these works will follow those that believe” these miracles, these signs will follow. And Jesus said, John 5:36, “the very works that I do bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.” Can we see the works of Jesus in creation? That’s one of the greatest testimonies. Can we see the works of Jesus in conversions of people? When someone’s heart is changed?

We received a lot of Christmas cards. We’re very grateful for those of you who sent Christmas cards, and let me officially thank you in behalf of the Batchelor family. It’s hard for us to keep up with sending cards to everybody that sends cards to us. We did send some cards out to a number of people. One of the cards we got included a letter of incredible testimony of a conversion of somebody who would have seemed totally opposed to this message, but through the power of the word they were transformed. You can see the power of God is there because of conversions. Nicodemus was probably in the background observing some of the teachings of Jesus, the miracles of Jesus. Maybe firsthand he beheld some of these things. Keep in mind in the gospel of John chapter nine there is a man who was blind from birth. He is brought into the Sanhedrin and in front of the whole Sanhedrin he says, “I was born blind and I don’t know who it was, but all I know is I was blind and now I see.” They heard, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, they heard about the miracles of Jesus.

They had messengers that were coming back reporting to them. So he knew about what Christ was doing. It was turning their religious world upside down. He knew. He said we know You’ve come from God. No one can do these things. He begins with giving respect to Jesus. Jesus was a carpenter. He’s poor. His apostles are largely poor and yet he still shows respect to Christ, and maybe he’s trying to butter him up with a lot of platitudes and the flowery language that they’ve got. Jesus, when He begins to respond, He cuts through all of that and He goes right to the heart of what Nicodemus wants to hear. He makes first things first.

We talked not too long ago about priorities. Before you get to the gospel of John chapter three, it’s preceded by John chapter two, we all knew that, right? You know what it says there? John 2:24, one of the last verses in the gospel of John chapter two, I think you need to get the context. “Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because He knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for He” Jesus “knew what was in man.” One of the definitions of God is God and God only knows the thoughts of your heart. The devil might place something in your mind, but he doesn’t know what you’re thinking. He can try and read your body language and your facial expressions and just all of the external evidence and the devil can guess, he can make a lot of educated guesses about what you’re thinking about his temptations, but he can’t read your mind.

When you pray in your heart, the devil can’t hear those prayers. Don’t hesitate praying out loud; the Bible supports that, in your private prayers. Jesus prayed out loud. Don’t pray to be seen of men, but only God can see your heart. God knows what you’re thinking. Man looks on the outside; the Lord looks on the heart. So the end of chapter two it says only God can look in the heart. Jesus knew what was in man. So then you talk about Nicodemus in the very next passage and Jesus looked right into his heart. It gives you an example, an exhibit of Him doing that. He says no man can do the things You do, except God has sent him.

What does Jesus say to him? You need to be born again. John 3:3, “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly…’” Now that’s the strongest definite language. King James “verily, verily” I’m telling you for a fact, don’t miss this, get this straight. This is the truth, what I’m about to say. That’s what He’s saying when He says “Verily, verily.” I’m telling you. You can count on this. Take it to the bank. And so He’s using very strong terms when He’s speaking to Nicodemus. “…unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Now, that really exploded his world because every Pharisee was waiting for the kingdom of God which they thought was going to be on earth. They thought when the kingdom of God did come that the first ones that would lead out in that new kingdom would be the Pharisees because the Pharisees prided themselves on being guardians on the Law of Moses, the constitution of the kingdom, if you will. So for Jesus to say to a Pharisee you don’t even have a chance of seeing from a distance the kingdom of God unless you’re born again, took his breath away.

It left him dumbfounded and Jesus did not even open their conversation with any trivia or kind remarks. You know sometimes you open a letter, especially if you’ve got something tough to say in a letter, it’s considered diplomatic to say something like “How’s the family?” or “I trust this letter finds you in good health” and you’ve got all of these little, you know, the fluff that you put in there. He doesn’t even have any of that. He just looks right into his heart and says, “Nicodemus, if you want to see the kingdom of God, there is no way you’re even going to see it unless you take care of this first thing: you must be born again.” Wow. And to say that to somebody who is in the most religious group in the kingdom, who is sitting on the supreme court of that religious group and to tell them, and they’re looking for the kingdom of God, and saying, “You don’t have a hope unless you are born again.”

Now you know why I thought this message was important? Sometimes you can go to church for years and not be born again. Nicodemus was in church. I don’t know about you, I’d probably vote Nicodemus in as an elder at Central Church, wouldn’t you? A good man, by all earthly measurements, he would have been a great candidate. Anybody who baptized Nicodemus would have said, “Praise the Lord! We’re glad we got him in the church. He’s got leadership skills, he’s rich, and he’s religious. What a combination!” But according to Christ you might have power, intellectual skill, leadership power, great possessions, very religious, dedicated, devoted, reads his Bible, knows his Bible, lost unless you’re born again. Is it possible that we could have all of the trappings of religion, our lives could be festooned with all the religious paraphernalia, but the heart is not born again and we’re lost? It’s like, I’ve got this watch here and it’s a Casio watch. I like them because the batteries last for years, but eventually they do die. Occasionally I’ve replaced one.

If all of a sudden the light goes out and the battery dies, if I polish this watch and dress it up and tighten the band it’s not going to help me one bit. Everything about it is in perfect working order except it has no power. It needs a new battery. It needs a new heart. I think a lot of us go to church like watches with dead batteries. It looks great on the outside. Most of you, I could probably wear this watch for a year, not have it running and unless you ask me for the time, you’d never know, would you? It looked good to you. Doug has got his watch on. You don’t look close enough to see if it’s ticking or not. In the same way, a lot of people go to church and on the outside it looks like everything is okay, but on the inside the battery is dead. Jesus cut right to that. If you’re going to be a Christian the most important thing is, you must, not that it be a nice addition, you must be born again. The new birth is crucial for salvation. If you’ve got everything and you don’t have the new birth, you have nothing.

Who was it that said, “He that is only born once will die twice” second death; “he that is born twice will die once.” Matter of fact, in keeping with that thought I found a quote here from A. W. Towser, “There are two spirits abroad in the earth: the spirit that works in the children of disobedience and the Spirit that works in the sons of God” the Spirit of God. They can never be reconciled in time eternity. You’ve got the spirit that dwells in the once born; it’s forever opposed to the spirit that inhabits the heart of the twice born. In the church you’ve got both groups. Some go to church for years and they’re still only the once born. Do you know what I’ve discovered? Just my own personal observation, I could be wrong, but most of the personnel problems you have in a church congregation is between the once born and the once born.

Sometimes you’ll have conflict between the once born and the twice born. I don’t remember ever having any real conflict between the twice born and the twice born. They usually are willing to do whatever they think Jesus wants them to do and they’re both on the same wavelength. You can eliminate a whole lot of problems in a church when you’ve got a church full of people that have new hearts because they’re born again. So I’m just trying to make my job easier, which is why I’m preaching this message, and that of our associates. Man, won’t it be wonderful, pastors, to pastor a church with everybody really born again? Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that be wonderful to have that fellowship of people who all have new hearts? Jesus said unless you have it, you cannot see the kingdom of God. I don’t know about you, but I want to see the kingdom of God. I want to know that I have a new heart. We’re going to talk about that this morning. By the way, this wasn’t a totally new concept. Even though Nicodemus seemed to balk at what Jesus was saying, it wasn’t a totally foreign concept. Ezekiel 18:30-32 “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.”

That’s what Christ was talking about. The new birth is a new heart and a new spirit. Do you agree with that? Is the new birth something different from the new heart? No, it’s the same thing. Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. “For why should you die, O house of Israel?” Here, even in the Old Testament, without the new heart, without the new spirit, without the new birth, you can’t see the kingdom of God. “‘For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord God. ‘Therefore turn and live!’” So a new birth represents a turning, it’s a repentance. I remember… you ever heard the expression lock, stock, and barrel? Lock, stock and barrel. I said that for a long time because you hear other people use things, you hear them use it in context, you sort of get the idea of how to use this cliché, but you don’t know where it comes from. During the days of the pioneers in the old west and farmer who wasn’t too bright went to the gunsmith in town and he plopped down his rifle on the counter and said, “I need you to make some repairs.”

So the gunsmith picks up the rifle and he examines it and the barrel is worn out and the stock is worn out and the lock, you know, the trigger mechanism, it’s worn out and he said, “Well, what do you want me to do?” And the farmer said, “well, the way I got it figured, if you replace the stock and if you could replace the barrel and you replace the lock it would probably work pretty well.” The gunsmith said, “Well, it seems to me if you want a new lock, stock, and barrel, you’re better off just buying a new gun.” Some of us I think in our Christian experience, we’re wanting to repair it in pieces. We’re wanting to fix this piece and that piece, and the Lord says, “Look, you need a new heart, lock, stock and barrel.” It’s like this person who had an old house for sale and an investor came by. He said, “I’d like to buy your property.” The man said, “Alright, well, I’m going to fix up the windows. I know there are some broken windows here. I’m going to replace those boards on the porch steps, and see those shingles missing on the roof? I’m going to replace those shingles on the roof.”

The buyer said, “Don’t bother. I’m going to bulldoze it and build another house.” When we talk about the new birth, it’s not an appendage the Lord sews into our heart. It is a heart transplant is what it is. He makes us new creatures. Have you seen somebody experience the new birth, and you say, “Boy, they’re just not the same person. They’re all new.” If you’re only born once, you’re born in the devil’s family. Even these cute little babies, I mean, they’re cute, and I’m not saying that babies have a record of sin. They don’t. Not until they reach the age of accountability. But I know that some of them, the devil pinches them or something happens, especially during church those cute little babies are at least temporarily deamon possessed. Those of you who are parents, you know those moments. If you’re only born once, you’re devil born. I’m not teaching the Augustinian view of the fallen state of man, but Adam did fall and we’re all born of those selfish hearts; until we are born again you can’t have a heart that’s motivated by love. If you’re born once, you’re born in the devil’s family. If you’re born twice you’re born in God’s family.

Oswald Chambers said, “You must be born again. This is not a command. It is a foundational fact.” When Jesus said you must be born again, He wasn’t shaking his finger at Nicodemus and saying, “So, be born again!” He’s saying something that had to happen, and He’s saying it to you and me. You must be born again. That’s a fact that all of us need that new heart. “The characteristic of the new birth,” I’m still quoting Chambers here. “The characteristic of the new birth is that I yield myself so completely to God that Christ is formed in me.” And it’s no longer you, but when you are born again you are born after the new parent. You take on the image of the new parent which is Christ. You find examples of this in the Bible.

Some of you remember King Saul. By the way, who chose Saul to be king there in the Old Testament? Did he volunteer or was he chosen? Chosen by God, anointed by God. When he started out he started out right. One example of that would be I Samuel 10:6 “The Spirit of the Lord,” God said. I’m going to read verses six and verses nine, this is I Samuel 10. “…the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.” “And so it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day.” Saul who was very timid when they first chose him to be king, he was hiding in the baggage, hiding among the baggage and the stuff. Do you remember that? He was so timid. God gave him a heart of courage and he became a great king, but ultimately he surrendered to pride and selfishness and he lost the Holy Spirit, and what was once the new heart turned into an old heart. That’s why Paul said, “I die daily.”

When you’re born again, you’ve got this new life within, and you’ve got to crucify the old man. Otherwise he’s going to try and resurrect. God is calling us to be new creations. II Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,” so what does a new birth mean? That we are born in Christ. “…he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” You and I become new creatures when we’re born again. Psalm 51:10 “Create…” You notice it doesn’t say repair. “Create in me a clean heart,” you know what that means? Can you and I create life? Scientists that don’t believe in creation, I always like to get down to the most basic common denominator, as much as they can manipulate what God has made, they cannot create life.

You know, years ago, allow me to take a little sidetrack here just to help you understand the miracle of the new birth. When the theory of evolution was born the most powerful magnifying glasses could not see very much of a simple cell. When they looked at a simple cell of life they could see the cell wall and they could see the nucleus and they could see the material that was swimming in the cell. An egg is a simple cell. You’ve got the shell, you’ve got the yolk, and you’ve got the white. They could see what was in the white of the cell, so to speak. They saw that there was something happening there, but it was conceivable to them that somehow through… they were very amazed with electricity back during the time of Louis Pasteur and Charles Darwin. They thought maybe if electricity hit some primeval sludge somewhere that it could make a cell.

They didn’t know how these single cells could form. They called it spontaneous generation. Do you know where they also got that idea? They noticed if you took a piece of meat and if you left it out too long pretty soon worms crawled out of it and they thought that these worms spontaneously were born out of the meat. For years people believed in evolution because they said, “We can see evolution and spontaneous generation. These worms are crawling out of this decaying food or meat, and so we’re surrounded by evidence of evolution.” What they didn’t know is that before maggots could crawl out of something dead flies had to lay eggs on it. Before the mold could grow on something, the spores had to land on it. They didn’t have microscopes powerful enough. Louis Pasteur did an experiment. He took some meat, put it in a sealed vacuum, didn’t let any flies lay eggs.

It never had maggots! He proved spontaneous generation was a myth. It never existed. There is no spontaneous life. Now with our powerful microscopes, you look at any single cell of life. I can’t remember the doctor’s name, but he made a statement I’ll never forget because I grew up in New York City. The doctor said, “We now know that the simplest cells of life, looking through our hyper-powerful microscopes, have more complexity going on than New York City at rush hour.” Picture that. New York City, the subways and the busses and the electric things and the people and the buildings and the elevators, New York City at rush hour, one single cell of life has more complexity than that. The idea of that happening by accident, do you think that’s possible? The only way you can get spontaneous life is by the word of God. The only way that you can get a new heart is as a creative act of God. It is the word of God that creates a new heart within us; it’s a miracle.

You and I, I sometimes wish that I could take people and shake them into a new birth. We’d be called the shakers, a new denomination. Well, actually an old denomination revived. How many of you remember hearing about the shakers? They didn’t last long. They all got dizzy, and… no, I’m joking. I’d start by shaking myself. That would start other rumors. You can’t shake a person into the new birth. I can’t do it to you; you can’t do it to me. I get phone calls every now and then from parents and their hearts are yearning over their loved ones, and they’ll say, “I live far away, but my relative, my child, lives in Sacramento. Could you go convert them for me?” That’s kind of heartrending because sometimes they say they’re interested, they want Bible studies. We can do that, but it’s only the Holy Spirit that can create a new heart. Pastors can’t do it.

It’s something that God does. He does it for us; he does it for you. It’s an act of creation. Deuteronomy chapter 10, verse 16, Moses said, “Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart and be stiff-necked no longer.” They were so preoccupied with the external part of the religion Moses told them even back there in the Old Testament that these rights really pointed to a change in the heart. Paul makes that real clear when he says in Galatians 6:15, and by the way, Nicodemus knew these verses, didn’t he, in the Old Testament? “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” is what God wants. A new heart. Are you born again?

Why is it necessary to be born again? Why born again? Because the old man or the old nature cannot be changed. I think most of us who are at all privy to the news heard about a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo. I guess all of the details aren’t in yet, but something was going on after hours and three young men were there at the cage and for whatever reason, I don’t know. I haven’t read all of the stories. I don’t know if they were taunting the tiger, if they were just looking or what excited the animal, but the tiger leapt out of its cage, killed one young man and mauled two. I think it was Christmas day. That would be terrible. But as far as they can tell, the tiger did not go crazy. As far as they know, the tiger was a healthy tiger that for whatever reason was just acting like a tiger and tigers are predators and they eat things bigger than people in the wild.

He was fulfilling his nature. I’m not defending the tiger. I’m not taking any political positions. I’m just saying, the Bible tells us, can a leopard change his spots? Can an Ethiopian change his skin? Matter of fact, you don’t need to be Ethiopian. Most of us can’t change our skin. Isn’t that right? You know we kind of are jealous a little bit of animals that shed their old fur and develop a new coat every year. Caterpillars will slough off their old skin. Even reptiles, snakes look prettier when they shed. They all kind of get a new fresh skin. You and I are kind of stuck with what we’ve got, aren’t we? Now you might get a sunburn and peel a little bit, but it doesn’t look new afterward, does it? It just gets freckles or something. We sometimes wish we could put on a new coat, but we’ve got these hearts. The Bible tells us in the book of Jeremiah the human heart is desperately wicked, who can know it? That’s why we need to be born again because the old heart is unconverted. It’s unregenerate and it cannot, Jesus said, The way you are now, Nicodemus, you cannot enter the kingdom of God. It’s not enough to be a Pharisee, it’s not enough to be part of the Sanhedrin. It’s not enough to be a child of Abraham. You may have been born in the church, you may have position in the church, you may have evidence of prosperity and God’s blessings. You’ve got all of that, but if you don’t have a new heart you can’t be saved. I want to make sure we have our priorities straight this year. You must be born again.

Now is the real important part of the issue. Born again. How? How are we born again? Verse four. Nicodemus says to Him, how can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? Well, I don’t know of any story where a baby has been born and the doctor said, “You’re not ready,” and put the baby back. Kangaroos right after they’re born they go into their mother’s pouch and they come out and they come out more and more as they mature until they finally, they finally go out on their own fulltime. If any of you have been to Australia or maybe you’ve seen nature films it really is funny watching an almost full-grown Joey, that’s what they call the baby kangaroos, that thing is about half the size of the parent trying to get back in the pouch.

Nicodemus knows that’s absurd, but he’s really trying to find out from Jesus, “What do You mean being born again?” And the older we get the less likely it is. Right now Stephen came home, some of you saw him with the Fountain View group. He’s back up in Canada now, back in school. Just since he left and joined the school, between that time and the time he came home he passed his mother in height. Every parent, I think most mothers at some times in their quiet moments they muse within themselves and they think, “How in the world did this big strapping kid ever come out of me?” and they’re not going back. This is what Nicodemus is saying. This is absurd. How can you be born again? When you’re younger, ah, but when you’re old?

You know it is true that there is a golden age between the time of, well, it’s usually between the time of about eight and twelve that children are old enough to understand the concepts of the gospel and if people are surveyed and they say, “At what time in your life did you make a decision to accept Jesus?” The majority of people will say somewhere between the ages of eight and twelve they made that decision to be a Christian, to accept Christ. By the way, this year Amazing Facts is doing something we’ve never done before. We’re doing a NET evangelistic meeting just for children and we’re targeting the children that are in the age range between eight and twelve or thirteen. We’re going to do this Kids-angelism program. It’s evangelism especially for kids. We’re up-linking from Texas next September. I hope you’re going to pray. I hope we participate here at Central Church. Part of the reason we did that is there’s that golden age when they accept Christ, their hearts are sensitive, they’re tender. They haven’t hardened them yet against the conviction.

Nicodemus is saying, the concrete is set. I’m old. When a tree is young and it’s a sapling you can actually bend it. There is this place on Highway 101. I drove it just a few weeks ago. It’s called Confusion Hill. I don’t know if any of you have ever driven down Highway 101. People get all excited. The advertising is not as good… you used to drive for miles and you’d see, “You’re twenty miles away from Confusion Hill” and “You’re five miles away from Confusion Hill” “Don’t miss Confusion Hill.” They built it up and you think what is Confusion Hill? People turn in and they take you on this tour and they sell you redwood curios and artifacts and I think the bottom line is up there on the hill there somewhere years ago some Indians had taken some redwood saplings or some trees and they tied them in a knot and they grew like that.

They just turned that into a big attraction. It’s not that exciting. You can’t do that with a redwood when it’s ten years old, when it’s twenty years old. Matter of fact, the Bible says, “As the twig is bent so is the tree inclined.” As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined. When you’re young, but when you’re old… you know what I like about the story of Nicodemus? Some of us are thinking there is no hope for me. The concrete is set. The tree is too big to bend. Jesus says you can still be born again. How? How does it happen? It’s a miracle of the Spirit of God. I Peter 1:23. This is very important. I Peter 1:23, “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible,” not being born of human seed, not human genes, but the incorruptible genes of God “through the” what? Did you open your Bibles? I know I put the scriptures up and sometimes you get complacent. “…through the word…”

We’re not that far into the new year, do you read your Bible every day? Unless you’re born again you will not see the kingdom of God. How are you born again? Born again through the word. If Christ is the word, you’re born again through Christ, but how does Christ change our hearts? Through the word. For the umpteenth time, December 31st I read the words “even so, come Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” Do you know where that’s found? Revelation 22 the last verses in the Bible. It always feels good. I get a little choked up after the year of reading through the New Testament where… what I do is I read through the Old Testament, I’m starting that this year, and then I read through the New Testament. You get to the end and then I start again. Every day, that’s our only hope of becoming like Christ.

We’re changed by beholding through the word. There’s something miraculous about the word. It causes creation. How did Jesus create the world? He spoke and it happened. As you read the word you get this new heart, and as you read the word, you’ve got to allow the word to do its thing. That’s part of the how still. Philippians 2:5, I’m telling you how to be born again. Let this mind, by the way, the Bible says as you think in your heart… so when it says let this mind, it means let this heart. “Let this mind” let this heart “be in you which was in Christ Jesus. You notice it says let it. You know why Paul says let it? Because it’s possible sometimes that we won’t let it happen, we resist it. As we’re reading the word, the Holy Spirit is working on us, and we feel that connection we push away. We close our hearts. He says open your heart. Let the word have its work in your heart. I hope that you’re reading your Bible; I hope you’re praying for the new year. You might say, Pastor Doug, I’m going to have to wait until next year. It’s already, see?

My battery is new. It’s the fifth. Too late. Oh, you can catch up. Start now and read until next January fifth. But I hope you read your Bible every day. You don’t have to necessarily read through the whole Bible. I told you what I do is I read through the New Testament one year and then I read through the Old Testament in two years, and I take my time. Otherwise I found out I was trying to read nine chapters a day plus all of my other study that I was just racing through and I wasn’t getting anything so I needed to slow down where I could really read it and enjoy it and study it and do research, but read something, right? I mean, granted they might be some crumbs, but you bring your crumbs to Jesus, He’ll multiply them. Get some bread of life, and I hope that you’ll read, and not just the Bible. God has given us other inspired things to strengthen our faith. We’re born again through the word. Let it happen.

John 3:5 And Jesus answered, and He says it again emphatically, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” We need to be born of the water. That water represents the cleansing that God affords that comes with baptism and born of the Spirit. Now there is a big argument that’s many years old, and some argue that when Jesus said here you need to be born of the water that that’s the physical birth. You know a baby is in an envelope of water. That’s where he’s born, and if you hear a pregnant woman say, “My water broke,” she usually doesn’t mean she’s got plumbing problems at home. It means you’d better get her to a hospital or at least to Taco Bell, right? So they can help her. But you start talking about that water birth. It’s talking about baptism. Gospel of John begins with John the Baptist baptizing. It says, “Except you’re born of the water, and of the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” Water birth is your choice to surrender your life. The Spirit is God’s choice.

The world was baptized in water in the days of Noah, and it’s going to be baptized in fire when Christ comes again. Our world is going to be born of the water and born of the fire of the Spirit, and God creates a new heaven and a new earth. We need both. The children of Israel went down through the Red Sea, water baptism, born of the water, baptized in the water. And then the pillar of cloud, the fire baptized in the Spirit, the fire. Both baptisms. It’s not talking about being born of a woman. You’ve probably heard it that way. That would really be redundant to say that. Let me just do a test here. How many here have been born of a woman? I mean, why even say that? Unless you’re born of a human, why even include that? Everyone is born of a human. He’s saying unless you’re born of the water, your choice to surrender. Why does He say that?

Because God doesn’t force Himself on anybody. Did even Paul on the road to Damascus, did he need to choose to be baptized? He did. God didn’t force him. He made a decision. God met him on the road to Damascus, but Paul had to surrender. It was his choice. So you choose to surrender yourself and say I’m going to be baptized. You might be baptized by the Holy Spirit before you get your water baptism like Cornelius and his family. You might be baptized by the Holy Spirit, get that new heart at the time of your baptism. Jesus, the Holy Spirit came down at the time of His water baptism, where the apostles, they got baptized by John the Baptist, but they weren’t born of the Spirit until Pentecost. It happens different ways that’s why it’s God’s doing. But we need both, and if you’ve been baptized in the water, but you’ve not been baptized in the Spirit then Jesus is saying the same thing to you that He’s said to Nicodemus. Don’t miss the most important part. You must be born again. I think it’s something to pray for, to pursue.

You know I see the clock, and I may not get through all of my assigned verses. It’s okay. I want to cover this well. I wanted to share something with you. One of my heroes, I study the lives of great preachers… Oh, by the way, Ezekiel 36:25, God says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean. I will cleanse you from all your filthiness of your idols. I will give you a new heart.” Here he talks about God sprinkling water on them. Born of the water and born of the Spirit. “I will give you a new heat and put a new Spirit within you.” He’s talking about that inner cleansing. Any of you ever been really dirty? Don’t raise your hands.

I don’t watch a lot of television. I always feel it’s out of place to even talk about TV in church, but I do watch some of the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and they’ve got this program I sometimes have seen called “Dirty Jobs”. I guess you could say Pastor Doug was watching dirty television. It talks about this man that does all these different jobs that people do usually necessary jobs that the guys get just really dirty. I kind of resonate with it because I’ve done some of those jobs. Any of you do mechanic work? I remember I worked in a logging barn, and no air conditioning through the summer fixing the trucks and the chainsaws for loggers. By the end of the day I was covered with solvent and sweat, sometimes blood, usually my own, even grease from greasing the trucks and the flies and the chainsaw fluids and it just at the end of the day, sixteen hour days because during the logging season, it’s seasonal. You need to work when... the trucks went out in the morning and they came back. I couldn’t wait to get home and to clean up. It felt so good to be clean. This is what Jesus is saying. We get both cleansings, a cleansing of life and a cleansing of heart. We need both for sanctification.

I was telling you, I like to study the lives of great preachers. One of my favorites is George Whitfield. He reminds me a little bit of Nicodemus in his experience because he tried so hard to please the Lord through the external things and he finally experienced the new birth and it ultimately transformed him. Listen. George Whitfield at the age of sixteen became convicted. He was an actor. Had a tremendous voice. They called him the trumpet of the Lord. He would speak and Ben Franklin once said he could hear him distinctly a mile away, no amplifier. That’s an incredible voice. Converted, age sixteen he became deeply convicted of sin.

He tried everything possible to erase his guilt through religious activity. He wrote, “I fasted for thirty-six hours twice a week, I prayed formal prayers several times a day, and almost starved myself to death during Lent, but I only felt more miserable. Then by God’s grace, I met Charles Wesley,” John Wesley’s brother “who put a book in my hand that showed from the scripture I must be born again or eternally lost.” Finally by the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart, reading and studying the word, Whitfield came to understand Jesus’ words in John chapter three. He believed and he was gloriously saved. Afterward he became a preacher and spoke at least a thousand times on the subject of being born again and the new birth, the new heart. I like Whitfield also, it says that he died kneeling with an open Bible. The last night before he died, he knew he was getting weak. He used to preach outside four or five times a day. The people gathered at his door and they said, “Pastor Whitfield, could you preach to us one more time?” He was so tired, probably died of heart failure.

He was carrying a candle into his house. He set the candle down, he said, “I will preach until the candle goes out, then I must retire.” He died the next morning as he was kneeling reading the Bible. He used to read the Bible on his knees. He wrote a letter that we have recorded to Ben Franklin. 1752, George Whitfield wrote to Benjamin Franklin. They were friends. “As I find you growing more and more famous in the world of letters…” Ben Franklin of course became very famous as a scientist and inventor in Europe and North America. “…I recommend to your unprejudiced study the mysteries of the new birth. It is a most important study that if mastered will abundantly repay you and I bid you, dear friend…” They wrote together a lot. You can read about George Whitfield in Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. I recommend to you, “dear friend, that He before Whose bar we both must soon appear, He has solemnly declared that without it” without the new birth “you shall in no wise see His kingdom.” Benjamin Franklin used to be a deist earlier in his life, but by the end of his life he had given up deism for Christianity again. Most historians don’t tell you that, but you read his autobiography and it’s very clear.

We must be born again. You know what I like about this story? Nicodemus, as you read his life, he came to Jesus. He defended Jesus and His teachings, and at the end of His life when Christ was on the cross Nicodemus was there, wasn’t he? I think Nicodemus did get the new heart, that he was born again. It says, “He came to Jesus.” He came at night. He did come. If we would be born again we need to come to Christ. We are born of the word. I’d like to close this sermon by inviting you to sing the song written by Ralph Carmichael who is still alive today. It’s called “The Savior is Waiting”. In your hymnals it’s 289. Let’s stand together.

Now there’s only two verses in this song, but I’d like to ask as we sing, I don’t want to assume that because we go to church and do churchy things and our name might be on the church membership rolls that means that we all have new hearts, that we all have been born again. Do you know that you have a new heart? Has Christ given you a new heart, a new spirit? Have you experienced a new birth? Without it we shall not enter His kingdom. If there are some this morning, maybe you’re just visiting church, you’ve never accepted Christ before, then especially in those cases I’d like to invite you to make a decision to come to Jesus right now. You can start that work, we’ll talk more about that in our next study, of recreating your heart from the inside out and making you a new creature. If you’d like special prayer and you’d like to come and ask for that right now then as we sing verse one in the song, come. We’ll have prayer for you. “The Savior is Waiting” 289.

The Savior is waiting to enter your heart, Why don’t you let Him come in? There’s nothing in this world to keep you apart, What is your answer to Him? Time after time He has waited before, And now He is waiting again To see if you’re willing to open the door: O how He wants to come in.

Before we sing the last verse, I just want to extend the appeal a moment longer. There may be some of us who like Nicodemus are saying I’ve been in the church for so long, maybe even old now, how do I know whether or not I’ve been born again? Well, who has your heart? Are you led by the Spirit of the Lord? Have you surrendered everything to Jesus? Has He given you a new direction in your life? Do you have that sweet assurance that Jesus lives inside? That’s how you know. You’ve got to have it if you want to see the kingdom of God. It may not happen in a moment. We’ll talk about that next week. it’s a process, but it begins with your coming to Jesus. Maybe you’re going through a dark time right now. It’s okay. Nicodemus came at night, didn’t he? You come to Jesus just like you are. If there are some who don’t have that, are you wondering if you have that in your heart and you want to come now as we sing verse two and we’re going to pray together, please come to the front.

If you’ll take one step toward the Savior, my friend, You’ll find His arms open wide; Receive Him, and all of your darkness will end, Within your heart He’ll abide. Time after time He has waited before, And now He is waiting again To see if you’re willing to open the door: O how He wants to come in.

Now before we pray, I’d like to also ask how many of you would like to say I want to know the Lord better this year and to renew a commitment to read His word, take time every day for personal prayer, personal quiet time with the Lord? You may have your own closet, your own way of doing it, but, friends, you can’t do it… someone asked the question last night, is it possible to have a vital relationship with Jesus if you don’t have a devotional life? My answer would be no. You’ve got to have that personal relationship. Take the time, make the time. Also I’d like to add, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be part of a church where everybody has been twice born, they have that Christian love for one another? I’d like to have that experience in my own life, and in our lives together too. Let’s pray.

Father in heaven, we realize from the words of Jesus, cannot be misunderstood, that we need the new heart, we need the new birth. We need to be born again, born of the Spirit, Lord. We’re coming to Christ and we’re asking for that. Lord, we know that You would never tell us that something is required, that something is mandatory, You wouldn’t tell us what the essential ingredients are without making them available. Lord, we pray that we can come and let Christ be in our hearts. Do through the power of the word as we read whatever needs to be done. Work that new creation within us. We know all of our promises are like ropes of sand. Do for us what we are totally incapable of doing for ourselves. Forgive our sins, and give us that new heart and new minds. Help us to experience the new covenant that we might be a church of people who represent Jesus because we’ve been born twice. Bless each person. Help them to experience this miracle and then the sweet assurance that comes from knowing that Jesus is in their hearts. Also, Lord, at the dawn of this new year I pray that we will make a resolution, and that You will help us keep that determination to have regular devotions with Jesus every day. In His name we ask, and we thank You. Amen.

God bless you. You may be seated. Those who have come forward, if any here have some special needs for prayer, the pastors and our elders will be happy to meet with you or you can see us at the door. God bless, and drive careful on the way home, friends. It looks like it’s raining again.

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