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Testimony of a New Birth

November 12, 2023 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Various Messages

Topic: Baptism Scripture: John 3:1-16

Sermon Transcript:

 

Good morning. I am excited that today, Lord willing, we will have two baptisms. I know that some of you came here this morning especially for that reason. One of the greatest blessings I get as a pastor is to participate in baptisms, not because of the baptisms themselves but because of what they represent. 

It is like when I buy my wife jewelry. I am always fascinated by the whole process because I am the type of guy who likes to pick something up, pay for it, and leave. But when you buy jewelry, it doesn’t work that way. They take the gold or jewels and put it in a little velvet box, then they put paper all around it and put it in a fancy little bag, and tie it all up with colorful ribbons.

All that special packaging on the outside indicates something beautiful and valuable is on the inside. The outward things we will see today are the paper and the ribbons, but the gold and diamonds are the new life in Jesus Christ that these outward acts proclaim. Baptism is an announcement. We don’t really celebrate the water, we celebrate what the water symbolizes, which is something far more precious than gold and jewels, because even gold and diamonds will eventually fade away but new life in Jesus is eternal. That is what we are celebrating this morning.

The key point of the message today is that 

Baptism is a proclamation that one has died with Christ and been born again.

In John chapter 3 there is a conversation between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus that teaches us just why this new birth is so important and where it comes from. Verse 1,

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 

The Bible tells us Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. The word Pharisee means “separated ones”. These were people who took following the law very seriously. They worked hard to be pure and holy and wanted everyone else to do the same. This is a man who took his religion very seriously.

It says he was a ruler of the Jews. He was an influential and well respected man that people looked up to. On the outside, he was probably one of the most holy people you could find. Many of the Pharisees were opposed to Jesus, but Nicodemus could see the power of God in the ministry of Jesus. He acknowledged that the teaching of Jesus and the powerful works he did could only come from God. So, he comes at night, when he is less likely to be seen to speak with Jesus himself.

3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 

Jesus gets right to the point. The longing of every faithful Jew was to be included in the kingdom of God. They knew that God’s deliverer, the messiah, was promised to come and conquer the kingdoms of the world and establish God’s kingdom on earth, where the faithful would be rewarded. The Pharisees, of which Nicodemus was a leader, believed that the way to bring this about was to meticulously follow the law of Moses.

At this time Israel was under military occupation by the pagan Roman army. Pharisees taught Israel was under a curse because they had not been faithful to the law and the way to bring about the defeat of Rome and the establishment of the kingdom was to get back to keeping the hundreds of rules God had given them. Nicodemus thought the blessings of the kingdom of heaven could be earned through obedience.

But shockingly Jesus says something else is required. He says, unless you are born again you can’t even see it. You cannot achieve it through discipline and outward obedience. Jesus says if you are not born again, you are still in darkness no matter how holy you look on the outside. It isn’t enough to add good things on top of your sinful heart. If you want to go to heaven, you need a whole new life, a whole new start.

4 Nicodemus said 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?”

Nicodemus is still thinking in terms of what he needs to do but he has a problem because he recognizes that this is impossible. How does one start over with a new life? How is that even possible? If being born again is necessary he wants to know how he can accomplish that. The problem is that this is something no person has the power to do. 

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 

Jesus explains, this isn’t something you do. It is something God does for you. First, he repeats that it is necessary to be born again, saying…

unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 

This is not two different births. The grammar makes it clear that this new birth is one thing composed of water and spirit. We will come back to that in a moment but Jesus is essentially repeating that a new birth is required. Then Jesus says,

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

This isn’t something anyone can do for themselves. Not even the great Nicodemus. Only God can do this. Everything we do in our own power we do in the flesh. We are flesh and blood, but this new birth cannot come from the flesh. It can only come from the spirit. It is something God must do. It is all of grace. It removes all pride and puffing up of ourselves because the only way we can get it is through the grace and mercy of God. 

That is a difficult thing for a proud person to hear. You can’t earn it. You don’t get it because you deserve it or have worked for it. You have to receive it as a gift of grace. If you think you need to get it started or complete it then you don’t understand it. We are no more able to bring about the new birth than we could bring about the old birth. Jesus says,

7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 

Jesus says, don’t be surprised by this Nick. We tend to have a small view of sin but Jesus says that what is necessary for us to overcome sin, which separates us from God, and to be brought back to God so we can see his kingdom, is nothing less than a sovereign act of Grace. If we are to be saved, God must initiate it. Sin separates us from God and so if sinners are going to be reconciled to God, then God has to be the one to make that happen. That is true of us all because we are all sinners. Romans 3:10–12 says,

10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

We were all going our own way. Maybe this morning you are still going your own way. We have turned aside and unless God shows us our need for him and opens our eyes we will continue further and further down the wrong path. His grace in us isn’t a response to our goodness or our potential, it is sheer mercy. Jesus says the Spirit is like the wind. You don’t see it coming or where it is going but you see and feel the result when it blows on you. 

God opens our eyes to the truth of our need for him and our inability to reform ourselves. He shows us that if we want to see heaven our only option is to put our faith in him and trust in his work. We are not in control, we need to become spiritual newborns, admitting we can’t do anything without him

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

What Jesus has just told him upends his whole religious way of thinking. In fact, it upends all religious thinking. Grace always comes before obedience. We cannot earn God’s blessings. We can only receive them as a gift of his grace and mercy. The life we were leading separated us from God so our only hope is that he gives us a new life so he gets the glory not us.

 

We don’t deserve to see the kingdom. Keeping the law outwardly, as Nicodemus was trying to do will never work. If we try to go that way, we will end up condemning ourselves. We tend to think we are pretty good. Most of us do far more good things than bad things. So we think maybe we just need a little bit of fixing up. Like these people that flip houses. Clean it up a bit, some new paint and carpet and it's ready to go. We just break a few habits, try a little harder to be nice, all set. But God says, if you want me to live here you have to knock the whole thing down and start over. 

 

When we compare ourselves to other sinners, we are measuring with a crooked line. When we measure using the true standard of God’s holy law we quickly see the problem. What kind of people are we really? Let’s do this together, not out loud, but silently.

 

Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever taken anything that didn’t belong to me? Have you ever looked upon another person lustfully? Have you ever failed to be thankful for what you have? Have you ever felt that you should have anything that belongs to someone else? 

 

I like to think I am pretty good but the perfect law of God shows me what my heart is really like. The truth is that apart from grace I am a lying, thieving, adulterous, ungrateful, and covetous man and that is only a few of the commandments. The Bible says to even break one of them is like breaking them all because it means that we have placed ourselves above the law. 

 

Rather than submit to God, we follow our own desires. That is why we need a whole new heart and life if we are to be citizens in God’s kingdom. We need hearts whose desire is to serve the king rather than ourselves. Our selfish hearts cannot create that and so God promised that he would do it. 

 

Nicodemus should have known this. Jesus says,

Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

Nicodemus knew the Jews had failed repeatedly to keep the covenant God gave them through Moses. Pharisees like Nicodemus responded by insisting everyone try harder but God had promised a New Covenant with better promises. Jeremiah 31:31–33 says,

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

When Jesus references water, spirit, and wind he is pointing Nicodemus to this promise of the new birth in the establishment of the kingdom. Nearly 600 years earlier in Ezekiel 36:24–27 God said,

24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

This promise begins by addressing God’s promise to establish his kingdom. As part of that we have this promise of a new birth. God will cleanse them and give them a new heart. God’s commands will no longer be followed as an external law, but out of love, because his spirit will be within his people. This is a description of the new birth. The cleansing water of baptism is a symbol for this cleansing work of the Spirit working with the word in the heart of those who come to faith.

This promise is followed in Ezekiel by a vision of wind blowing upon dead bones and making them alive again through the preaching of the word. This is what Jesus means by being born again by water and spirit and that it is like the wind. We cannot see God’s work in our heart but we see the effects of it.

Believers, God, in his grace, has called us out of the world and into his kingdom. He has cleansed us from our sin and displaced the idols of our heart with a love for the true God. Our old hearts that were as spiritually insensitive as a stone have been replaced with hearts that beat with love for Jesus Christ and desire to please God. Believers don’t need to earn God’s approval, we already have it because of what Jesus did for us. 

When Dianna and Nolan are baptized today they are showing us in external symbols what they claim has happened inside their heart. They are telling us that who they used to be is gone. That old person they were has died and they are now something different, born again with a new heart. Romans 6:3–4 (ESV)

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 

This is all to the grace of God. As Nicodemus understood, we cannot cause our own rebirth. All glory must go to God for what we see here today. That through the Holy Spirit God has called these two to himself. That he has washed them clean in his sight, adopted them as his own children, and made them heirs of his kingdom. Baptism is a testimony that God keeps his promises. It is to say what the apostle Paul says in Galatians 2:20, 

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 

When my wife and I were married, we exchanged rings. The rings are not the marriage itself, we are still married if we take off our rings, but they are an outward symbol of our changed identities. That is how it is with baptism. It is a badge that proclaims that we are identified as followers of Jesus because God has poured out his grace on us. We love Jesus because he first loved us. Jesus tells Nicodemus,

13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus makes it clear he alone can bring us to God. Every other pathway is a dead end. Sometimes I hear people say that all religions lead to God. That is foolish. Nothing important works that way. If you are sick will some random pill heal you? When you are cooking it matters if you use salt instead of sugar. When you are driving it matters which roads you take. Jesus came from heaven to find us and tells us there is only one way back to God. The reason we were lost to begin with is because we decided to go our own way. Lots of people tell us they know the way, but we need to listen to the one who lives there. He knows the way.

 

Jesus says that he will be lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness. This is another reference to the Old Testament to help Nicodemus understand. At one point, recorded in the book of Numbers, poisonous serpents attacked the people and God told Moses to make a bronze snake and lift it up on a pole. Those who looked at the serpent were healed. Jesus is talking about his crucifixion. He is saying all those who look upon him, lifted up on the cross, will likewise be healed.

 

God’s grace would be displayed in the suffering of Jesus on the cross and the kingdom would be made available to any who have faith. Unlike the Pharisees who were trying to become good enough to receive God’s blessings, the promise would come to those who set aside attempts to become good enough, and accept the kingdom as a free gift through faith. Jesus said he would be lifted up,

15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

What must we do to be included in the kingdom of God? Simply look upon Jesus in faith. Our old fleshly heart is filled with pride but if we repent of that pride and trust in what Jesus has done we will be with him forever. Verse 16 is probably the most famous verse in the Bible and with good reason because it sums up the gospel so clearly.

 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God the Father sent his son to pay the penalty for the sins of anyone who will believe. He came and lived a perfect life, fulfilling all the requirements of the law. Then although he had no sin of his own, he died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe in him, offering himself as a substitute to be punished in our place. He was crucified and died and then three days later, he rose from the grave. The price was paid, the life that was in him was greater than the penalty and now salvation is available to all who will stop trusting themselves and trust instead in what he has done.

 

God promises that whoever believes in Jesus will not perish. There is no condemnation for those who believe in Jesus. All our shame and guilt are taken away because Jesus paid the debt we owed. If you are not yet following Jesus, it is not an accident that you are here. God is offering forgiveness through Jesus right now. Repent and believe in him. Ask God to transform your heart and let the perfect righteousness of Jesus be your testimony.

 

For those already following Jesus, he calls you to proclaim this new covenant promise of salvation by grace through faith to all the world. That isn’t just for missionaries in faraway places, that also means in our own families and neighborhoods and workplaces. In Matthew 28:19–20 Jesus says,

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We are together today to do just that. To give glory to God for the grace he has given Dianna and Nolan. Let this day be a reminder of the glorious grace of our loving God. Let’s celebrate the salvation of the Lord and give him glory.

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