John 3:1-17 You Must Be Born Again WC McCarter
George Whitfield, a contemporary of John Wesley in 18th Century England, is known as one of the greatest preachers to ever live. The Lord used him in mighty ways. He gained wide renown in England, but he turned away from it in 1738 to come and preach in the small, American colony of Georgia. When he came here he expected persecution, but was instead received as a messenger of God. His fame spread here about as quickly as it had across the ocean, and he made several trips back and forth between the continents during his ministry. Whitfield was good friends with Benjamin Franklin who once did an experiment about Whitfield’s voice. Franklin calculated that Whitfield’s voice could be heard by 30,000 people at one time out in the open air (without any kind of sound system). And, the content of his preaching was even more powerful than his voice. Like many preachers during the Great Awakening, Whitfield stressed Christian conversion. In this way, he was one of the founders of modern evangelicalism. A lady once asked the preacher why he preached so often the words: “You must be born again.” Whitefield replied, “Because, Madam, you must be born again.” It is to that subject that I would like for us to turn our attention today as we look at John 3.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
Nicodemus most likely witnessed the events of chapter two (the overwhelming of the traditional institutions of Judaism: ritual vessels (2:6) and the temple (2:15) were both instruments of ritual cleansing now trumped by the Lord Jesus; Jesus Christ did not come simply to replace religious establishments, but to bring life that those institutions could never give). Nicodemus even represents another institution of Judaism, the Pharisees who were teachers of the Old Testament law/Scriptures.
The end of the previous chapter (John 2:25) sets up the Nicodemus account fittingly, “For He knew what was in man” and then the next verses, beginning the section on Nicodemus, says, “there was a man of the Pharisees.” Jesus knows what is inside of man and then a man shows up to inquire of Him!
Nicodemus inquires of the teacher which allows Jesus to further explain. The point here and in many of the discourses through this Gospel account is that there is generally a deficit that needs to be met in order to have a deeper understanding of Jesus words (most often faith or the Spirit).
1. Member of the Pharisees (v1)
2. Member of the Sanhedrin (v1) – Jewish ruling council
3. Reputable Rabbi (v10) – ‘The’ teacher of Israel
[B] Born Again
1. Nicodemus wants to start on simple terms and discuss Jesus’ signs. Jesus thwarts that idea and gets directly to the point- ‘You want to be in the Kingdom? You must be born again.’
2. You cannot even see the Kingdom of God unless you are born again. And “seeing” many times means “understanding.” You can’t even begin to understand unless you are born again. It certainly means “experience” here.
3. Nicodemus then asks a question with an ironic misunderstanding.
a. The word used can mean “again” or it can mean “from above.” Nicodemus takes it to mean “again.”
b. Because Nicodemus inquires farther with misunderstanding Jesus can now explain that being born again (from above) is to be born of water and the Spirit.
[C] Water and Spirit
Several Interpretations have been offered:
1. Water Baptism
- Acts 10:43-47 “Then Peter answered, ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’”
2. Water Symbolizing the Holy Spirit
- Thus “born of water, even the Spirit.”
3. Water Symbolizing the Word of God.
- Ephesians 5:26 “that He might sanctify and cleanse her (the church) with the washing of water by the word.”
4. Water as physical birth and the Spirit causing spiritual birth.
- Though not a common understanding of physical birth.
5. Water meaning John the Baptizer’s baptism and the work of the Spirit afterward.
6. OT imagery of “water” and “wind” to refer to God’s work from above.
- Isaiah 44:3 “For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants.”
- Ezekiel 36:25-27 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean…I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.”
* I would now lean toward the Old Testament imagery as the true meaning of what Jesus said. It makes perfect sense and is rooted in Scripture. It is that the water and Spirit refer to one event (from above). The one thing that I would combine with it is baptism because what better time is there for God to cleanse you and put His Spirit in you? In fact, scripturally, the only guarantee of the Spirit is in baptism.
[D] “So is Everyone Who is Born of the Spirit”
1. The Spirit comes to all who believe, but the work of the Spirit is mysterious as it comes and goes and does as it wishes.
2. No one and no thing can contain the Spirit and the work of the Spirit.
3. The only way to have a true understanding, the only way to know God, and the only way to see much less enter the Kingdom of God is for the Spirit to do something in your life and He does in the life of every believer. And the Spirit can only work because of what Christ has accomplished.
[E] Loving the World
- It is agreed by most who have studied this passage that vv. 16-21 are John’s words as commentary of what Jesus said.
1. It speaks of the work of Christ in the past tense.
a. “loved” b. “gave” c. “send”
2. The phrasing is certainly John’s.
a. “only begotten” b. “believed in the name” c. “he who does the truth”
- God loving the world may be surprising.
1. Jews rarely, if ever, spoke of God loving more than Israel.
2. In other places, John tells his readers to not love the world.
(1 John 2:15-17)
3. D.A. Carson has said, “There is no contradiction between this prohibition and the fact that God does love (the world). Christians are not to love the world with the selfish love of participation; God loves the world with the selfless, costly love of redemption.”
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) Many are religious but lost. Have you been born again?