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Sermon August 5, 2018

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1360

August 5, 2018 John 3:1-15

Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


Born Again to Eternal Life”



How many of you remember the song “Blowin’ in the Wind”? [singing] “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” It was written by Bob Dylan and I have no idea if Dylan knew anything about John 3 or the wind of God or the Spirit of God. But I found a portion of an interview where he said of the song,

There ain’t too much I can say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind. It ain’t in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group. Man, it’s in the wind – and it’s blowing in the wind. Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down some …But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know . . . and then it flies away.1


As much as we can believe the internet, that would indicate he did not know or at least did not believe that the answer to the problems of the world in the 60’s was found in the Wind of God. Jesus indicates to Nicodemus that the answer to his questions are indeed blowin’ in the wind, blowin’ in the Wind that God sends from above to give birth from above.



  • This Man Came by Night John 3:1-2a


Let’s take a look at the story of John 3. The first thing we might notice is the setting under which Nicodemus came. It is night. It is dark. It is secret. He comes when few, if anyone, can see him. Still, we have to give some credit. At least Nicodemus was coming to Jesus. But, his coming was cloaked in darkness. He is not yet courageous to come by day in the light. His possible faith, if faith at all, is tentative, unsure, yet searching. He is curious about this man come from God. His questions may not be fully satisfied because, not only has he come in the darkness of night, but his mind is also darkened.


If I were to give Nicodemus my personal testimony of new birth I might say something like,

I was born in 1959, November 30, and born again in 1979, May 10. Nicodemus would have been confused by that assertion. How can you be born twice? But his thinking was blinded by the physical biological definition of birth. Jesus was opening a new spiritual understanding and a new birth narrative. In Christ we begin anew in life and for life eternal. Our life is no longer seen as a journey that only goes from birth to death, but as a journey that goes from birth to death to eternal life. That is why the world is in anxious turmoil most of the time and why people are seeking meaning in drugs and addictions and materialism and all the alternate philosophical junk the world has to offer. It’s because they only see birth to death. It all will end. There is nothing else. It is part of the futility of life and the desire to make life in our own image through distorted sexuality and twisted truth and sinful passions.





  • Jesus - Come From God John 3:2b



Nicodemus comes in the night but he is quite aware of the signs Jesus has done. The first sign recorded in John is the turning of water into wine at Cana. John’s gospel focuses heavily on the signs Jesus performed: healings, feedings, walking on water, you know, those kinds of things! Nicodemus speaks of signs but Jesus jumps right into new birth. Jesus is not interested in signs at the moment. Jesus controls the conversation. Signs are great, but people so often see a sign and they want more signs, more miracles, more proof. Jesus could do millions of signs and still there would be unbelievers. People are stubborn. People can be hard-hearted and hard-headed. What people really need is not signs but rebirth. What the world has always needed is new life in Jesus Christ.

Nicodemus also comes with a level of respect that most Pharisees did not share. To state that Jesus is a teacher who has come from God is to grant respect. This is a powerful comment coming from one who was responsible to teach the Jews about the Torah and to lead the Jews in the ways of God.


  • Born of the Spirit John 3:3-6


When Jesus speaks, He gives no response to what Nicodemus has actually said. I think that Jesus knows what Nicodemus needs to know before Nicodemus knows himself. So Jesus launches into this teaching on new birth. “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” We go, in an instant, from “teacher come from God and signs performed” to being born again. What is the connection? There is none. Jesus and Nicodemus are on different plains. Jesus is talking about spiritual matters and Nicodemus is stuck on signs that can be seen. This was a common occurrence with Jesus, He would be talking at one level and everyone else was at another level. It is why there was so much confusion and some went away from Jesus for that reason. The disciples would listen to Jesus teach something and come away more confused than ever. Then Jesus would bring more clarity for them later. It is the same pattern here with Nicodemus, but one difference is that Jesus believes Nicodemus, as a highly qualified religious thinker, should understand these things (v. 9). And Jesus goes on from this point to clarify what Nicodemus should see, even citing Moses as evidence that Jesus is the One in whom we shall believe for new birth. Jesus is saying in paraphrase, Nicodemus, here is one of our larger than life figures in the Jewish faith and tradition. Just as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, so it is with the Son of Man.” Could it be that Nicodemus began to see? Later in John’s gospel it is Nicodemus who pleads with the religious leaders to give Jesus a fair hearing (17:50-51) and it was Nicodemus who bought myrrh and aloes for Jesus’ burial (19:39).

It is important that we see Jesus’ play on words here. The word translated “born again” literally means “anew” and “from above”. We are born anew because we are born from above. It is God’s work of begetting. It is not up to us to be born physically, nor is it up to us to be born spiritually. This is God’s doing. We can see that Nicodemus does not understand this business of rebirth because it is a question that can only be understood through the very Spirit that makes that birth possible.


  • Born Again John 3:7


John 3:7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’


The Greek word used here for born again involves the father’s role in having a child. The baby does not make that decision. Jesus is indicating that we need the heavenly Father to give us new birth. Peter gives us the same kind of thought in 1 Peter 1:22-25 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for

All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

Peter’s language is like that of physical birth, one it perishable seed, but the birth from above is imperishable seed. And Peter adds this wonderful phrase of born again through the living and abiding word of God. There is this connection of the Word become flesh, Jesus Christ, and the creating Word of God and the power of the Gospel to speak things into existence, like being born again.

Everything about life with and in Jesus Christ bids us to give thanks for this work of God in our lives. As we might thank our parents for bringing us into this world, giving us life, we even more give thanks to God who has brought us into eternal life as our Heavenly Father. Give thanks, worship, nurture a personal relationship with Jesus. On the negative side, eliminate anything that blocks us from this spiritual awakening, anything that blocks us from God’s kingdom, anything that blocks us from a personal relationship with Jesus, anything that prevents our hearing the Spirit, reading the Word, or yielding ourselves to service. Eliminate the things that prevent our full participation in the kingdom of God, the God-bathed world of love and hope and faith.

Presbyterians have not been known to use the term “born again” as much as other traditions. We may want to rethink that practice, because it helps to define whose we are and who we are as followers of Jesus, filled by the Wind of God.



  • The Wind John 3:8-9


It is through the metaphor of wind that Jesus seeks to help Nicodemus see what it means to be born again.


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.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”


The wind is the Greek word pneuma, from which we get things like pneumatic tools, powered by air pressure – wind! Pneuma has several meanings, wind, spirit, and breath. We know that meaning only by the context of the text. Here Jesus is using it is the two ways of wind and spirit. The wind blows. It comes and goes and we don’t see it. The Spirit blows in a similar manner, we don’t see it, but like wind we see the effects of the wind and the Spirit. This too is the mystery and majesty of being born again. God moves in our lives like a wind, invisible, powerful, refreshing, bending, even breaking, but always moving. I love the analogy of hoisting a sail to catch the wind. We catch the Spirit that He would lead us across the waters. We live in the Spirit that is unseen by the world and by those who cannot discern spiritual things, that is, until God does a work in their life.




  • Born Again to Eternal Life John 3:14-15



The effect of this birth from above is eternal life. It is not just life to come, but life right now because the kingdom is at hand. Born again to eternal life begins the moment we come to know Christ as our Savior and Lord. This is what Nicodemus has not yet experienced and so he is filled with these questions of being born again as an old man. This is the moment Jesus may have revealed more for Nicodemus than anything else He said,


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.


One observer notes some of the parallels and differences between Moses and Jesus:

• The people were in danger of death because of their sin.

• God provides the agent of salvation—the bronze serpent in the first story and the Son of Man in the second.

• The agent of salvation is lifted up—”the deepest point of connection between the bronze snake and Jesus was in the act of being ‘lifted up’ ” (Carson, 201).

• The people are saved by looking at—or believing in—God’s agent of salvation.

Two significant differences:

• The bronze snake was only a piece of bronze, having no saving power in itself. When Israelites began to make offerings to the bronze serpent, treating it as an idol, Hezekiah destroyed it (2 Kings 18:4). Jesus, however, is invested with saving power and is worthy of our worship.

• Looking at the “lifted up” bronze snake gave the Israelites extended physical life. Looking upon the “lifted up” Jesus gives us eternal life.2


We don’t know what Nicodemus made of the statement from Jesus, but it would have certainly caught his attention above all the other things Jesus said. Nicodemus may have also remembered that Abraham believed and it was reckoned to him as righteousness when Jesus says this phrase, “whoever believes in Him may have eternal life”.

To be born again is to have a Heavenly Father, to have a relationship with Christ, to begin the immediate journey in the kingdom of God, and the immediate life for eternity. It is a spiritual life, empowered by the Holy Spirit and the living Word. Let us lay claim on this new birth and eternal life and hopefully we can have some encounters with a “Nicodemus” or more and share the Good News of birth to life eternal. Amen.