daily biblical sermons

Unless we are born again, we cannot see or enter into the kingdom of God that Christ established on earth
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, Second Week of Easter, April 12, 2021
Acts 4:23-31, Psalm 2, John 3:1-8

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 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.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ 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?’ Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and 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. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:1-8 NKJV).



Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a ruler among the Jews, very timidly came to Jesus by night for further instruction. He was a teacher in Israel, so apparently, he did not want his fellow Pharisees to know that he was coming to Jesus to learn more about his doctrine. Therefore, he came by night. He tells Jesus that he is coming to him because it is clear to him that Jesus is “a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs [miracles] that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2 NKJV).



He is also convinced that Jesus is not a deceiver, because of the nobility of his doctrine and his way of life, which is confirmed by his ability to work miracles, which he says is God’s seal upon his message. So, he wants to know more. He, a teacher in Israel, wants to be taught by Jesus privately. So, Jesus starts right off by giving gives him one of his most profound teachings, saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NKJV).



The word born again in Greek (anothen) is an ambiguous term that can mean either “again” or “from above” or both meanings at the same time. Nicodemus understands Jesus in the sense of again, for he asks, “How can a man be born when his old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4 NKJV).



Jesus tries to indicate to Nicodemus that he is speaking in a spiritual way, using a material image, and he doesn’t mean that an old man has to come out of his mother’s womb second time, but that he has to undergo a major change that is the equivalent of being born again to a new life, to a new way of life, to a new set of values, to new way of thinking, to a new morality, to a new motivation for living and acting, and to a new way of acting, no longer for himself and his own personal gain and pleasure, but for God, and for neighbor for the sake of God, as a way of expressing one’s love of God.



For one to undergo this radical change, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again. He must be born a second time, this time from above, from heaven, from God. And just as we cannot effect our own natural birth, so we cannot effect our own spiritual birth. It is a gift of God that comes through faith in Christ and sincere repentance for our sins, with a sincere intention of immediately amending our life.



When God sees this kind of faith, he justifies us, that is, he declares and thereby makes us ungodly sinners righteous and reckons to us his own righteousness so that we shine with the righteousness of God himself, not with a merely human righteousness that comes from doing good works.



Then this new birth, which takes place when we are justified, continues to mature as we are sanctified by actually living a life of good works for the love of God. When all this happens, we know that we have been born again and can now see the kingdom of God, which someone that has not been born again and lives in the same place that we do cannot see. To see the kingdom of God on this earth, we must be born again, we must be born from above by the power of God.



Jesus is not speaking here about heaven that we enter into after death, but about the kingdom of God that he himself is establishing now in this world. It is a kingdom of righteousness, heavenly peace, and divine love in our heart that affects our attitudes and our whole way of life so that we live in a completely new and different way than before. We live in the kingdom of God. We enter into the kingdom of God on earth by being born again, and only those that are born again through faith in Christ can enter into the kingdom of God in this world that Jesus Christ established.



To see the kingdom of God is to enjoy it, to experience it, to be a member of it, and to enter into it. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NKJV).



Jesus then explains further how we can be born again, saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5 NKJV). We know what Spirit means, namely the Holy Spirit, but what does water mean? Since baptism is the essential rite whereby we become a Christian, it seems clear that this is what Jesus is referring to. So, we are born again through baptism and the Holy Spirit by our faith in Jesus Christ.    



One could object that there are many that are baptized that in no way seem to be born again. They do not give any signs that they have been truly born again spiritually. Therefore, many have concluded that water could not mean baptism.



But I think a better way of understanding this is that God does give us this new birth when we are baptized, but one who is baptized as an infant must later actualize his baptism by a personal act of faith in Christ. When he does this, he activates his baptism and then it becomes real in him. The new birth that he received in baptism was held in a potential state until he activated it through a personal act of faith. He must then mature more in his faith as he grows in holiness (sanctification) by living a life of good works according to God’s will.



Then Jesus tells Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 NKJV). So, if we are just born of the flesh from our mother and father and not born of the Spirit through baptism, faith, and the power of the Holy Spirit, we remain just flesh, that is, natural, sinful, corrupt human beings, corrupted by the sin of Adam, which we all inherit, and so are born of the flesh as sinful.



St. Paul tells us that we were born corrupted by sin, because we inherited the sin of Adam, “For as by one man’s [Adam’s] disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s [Christ’s] obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19 RSV). This is precisely why we need a new birth, because without it we are sinners inheriting a fallen nature from Adam and contributing to it by our own personal sins.



We need to be made righteous by the obedience of the new Adam, Jesus Christ, who vicariously suffered our death penalty for our sins for us so that all that put their faith in him might be credited with Christ’s suffering and death on the cross as paying their debt of suffering and death that they have with God in punishment for their sins. Therefore, all that put their faith in Christ are declared and thereby made righteous (justified) by the Father. Or, in terms that Jesus is using here, we are born again, because of Christ’s atoning death on the cross for our sins, when we put our faith in him and are baptized.



But there are some who have no way of being baptized, because they live where there are no Christians who can baptize them. Yet through the Internet or shortwave radio or through books they read the New Testament or sermons on it and come personally in their hearts to have justifying, saving faith in Jesus Christ. They can be saved, justified, and born-again in this way, and as soon as a minister of the gospel appears, they can ask for baptism.



Remember that the good thief on the cross was promised that he would be in paradise with Jesus, but he was never baptized. So, exceptions can be made in unusual circumstances, but the normal way of being born again is through baptism and personal faith.



Without this rebirth, we remain people of flesh, that is, people that are not justified, not born again, not regenerated, not saved. This seems to be the meaning of “born of the flesh” – “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 NKJV). To be born of the Spirit we must be born again from above through faith in Jesus Christ and baptism.



Nicodemus must have had a puzzled look on his face as Jesus was explaining this, for Jesus next says, “Do not marvel [be amazed] that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:7 NKJV). We might translate this as saying, “Do not be surprised or puzzled that I am telling you that you have to be born again.” Jesus then compares the new birth to the wind. We all know that the wind exists. We feel it, we hear it, we see its effects, but we don’t know where it starts or where it ends up. It is a mystery. “So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 NKJV).



The word in Greek for wind and spirit is the same (pneuma). So, this is an obvious example to use to illustrate the mysterious nature of the Spirit that enables us to be born again. Just as we cannot understand the spirit-wind, so we cannot fully understand the Spirit-Holy Spirit that gives us a new birth. But just as we do not doubt the existence of the spirit-wind, we should not doubt the existence of the Spirit-Holy Spirit either.



Being born again “is not merely reformation, or amendment, or moral change, or outward alteration of life. It is a thorough change of heart, will, and character. It is a resurrection. It is a new creation. It is a passing from death to life. It is the implanting in our dead hearts of a new principle from above. It is the calling into existence of a new creature, with a new nature, new habits of life, new tastes, new desires, new appetites, new judgments, new opinions, new hopes, and new fears. All this, and nothing less than this is implied, when our Lord declares that we all need a ‘new birth’” (JC Ryle, 1816-1900).

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