Becoming Kingdom People is an act of God
- Today we have an incredible passage in front of us, John chapter 3, most of us know it well in that John 3:16 is probably the most well known verse in the Bible. We will not be getting to John 3:16 today, but I am very excited to bring us into the context and beauty of what John chapter 3 has as a whole. Yes, John 3:16 is the heart of the passage but we can’t truly appreciate it in its full beauty without the whole picture ; let’s go and read John 3:1-15
- Read John 3:1-15, “
3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus[a] 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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again[b] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”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?” 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.[c] 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ 8 The wind[e] 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.”
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? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you[f] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 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.
- Now, before we proceed I want to paint the picture of what verses 1-15 is doing. Without these verses the 2 other primary “big picture” verses are going to be lost. The 2 “big picture” verses that will be unpacked in the weeks to come are John 3:16, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him may have eternal life” and the other, I believe, is John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease”. These both are incredible high points of John 3 BUT they must be remembered in the place of how Jesus starts out talking with Nicodemus.
- So, as we come to these first 15 verses remembering that they are setting the stage for these verses, we should be shocked that Jesus does not go straight to “eternal life” language as we would assume He would; instead He starts by mentioning “the Kingdom of God”. Now, this is probably, for me, one of the trickiest terms in the Bible for us to understand. Many in this room probably disagree on what “kingdom of God” language means. So despite what you think about the Kingdom of God is now, kind of now but mostly later, or just later, we can definitely agree that Jesus is bringing into the discussion with Nicodemus that God’s rule and reign is real and has something to do with being “born again”. So to get our minds around what the kingdom of God is referring to and what it has to do with salvation and the Gospel, I would love for us to watch this 5 minute video to get a better grasp on what the Kingdom of God is and what it means for the Gospel:
- So as we go forward in this passage of John 3:1-15 we have to examine the effect of Jesus’ words here that it is not just that being “born again” means we will live forever and have eternal bliss, that is an effect of faith in Jesus don’t hear me wrong, but that salvation includes the fact that Jesus rules as our king and that we lay our lives down as His Kingdom people, or as I would put it in your main point: that He transfers us from the Kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His son and makes us a new Kingdom family.
- So, now that we understand what this “Kingdom” language is about what do I do to become a kingdom subject? Do I do something? Do I have to write a letter? Well, of course not, we know that, but the language here that Jesus uses is outlandish and weird….
- Jesus says, “truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”. We should, if we come to the text with fresh ears and eyes, hear Jesus and say “Woh, woh, Jesus, I get you want me to come under your rule and be with you in the Kingdom of God, that’s cool, but what is that you will need me to do? Be born again? What does that even mean??”
- You see it would be easy for me to think that I may do something to enter into the promise of the “Kingdom of God” but Jesus makes it clear in these opening verses that this is something that God does. Nicodemus asks “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” notice that Nicodemus is making this about human action and what he can do but Jesus turns it around and says “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God”.
- Before we move on to the main thrust of the passage, on what it means to be a kingdom person, we have to repeatedly remind ourselves that God is doing a miracle here. There is no way that someone can be “born again” on their own, Nicodemus’ shock in verse 4 should tell us this and then Jesus’ rewording of “being born” in verses 5 tells us that this is not a natural birth but that this new birth is a work of purification (water) and of the Holy Spirit.
- So, as we enter into listening and sitting under Jesus’ words, we have to sit under 2 things prevalent on our minds and hearts 1) God is doing the work and 2) the Kingdom of God is the point; what does it mean to become a “Kingdom People”. What does it mean for us, as Paul says in Colossians 1:13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption , the forgiveness of sins”?
Point #1 (1-8)- Becoming Kingdom People requires radical Inward transformation
- As we sit under the weight that becoming a Kingdom citizen is an act of God, we realize it is an act of the Spirit transforming one’s heart from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Nicodemus comes onto the scene and it is no coincidence that John writes in John 2: 24-25, “But Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to THEM, because He knew all PEOPLE, and needed no one to bear witness about MAN, for He Himself knew what was in MAN.” and then writes “Now there was a MAN”; John wants us to read it all picking up on the clues that tell us “awwww, this guy is no good”. Therefore Jesus is about to throw Him some shade. As Nicodemus comes onto the scene he acts all “good” saying to Jesus “AWW, I think your a “teacher from God””, your not so bad Jesus. But, since John already told us that Jesus already knew the hearts of men we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus sees right through this guy and throws his world upside down. So what does Jesus mean by His responses in verses 3 & 5? You see throughout the Old Testament the prophets repeatedly talk about how the Israelites are “hard-hearted” and are in need of a new heart. Jesus gives us 3 phrases that are supposed to blow us away: Born again, Born of Water, and Born of Spirit” He is alluding to Ezekiel 36:25-27 which says turn there very quickly with me, “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.”.
- This is the pointedness of this narrative, that Nicodemus is exactly like you and me, we want to come at night where no one else can see us talking to Jesus. As usual with the Bible we must allow it to be a mirror to our lives and ask “do I come to Jesus on my own terms?”, “Do I want to earn my salvation rather then giving up my life to receive it” or even “Do I want to pay lip-service and outward service to God rather than actually be transformed by Him from within?” And of course, that is a very specific question that many of us have probably never asked, but think about it, America is known as a “Christian” nation; “Christianity” makes up, depending on where you look, possibly more than 70% of Americans. Yet, at the same time we know this is not true, other polls tell us most Americans would rather have coffee than read the Bible, or if 70% of Americans are Christian why aren’t we sending more missionaries out? You see, “Cultural Christianity” is so dangerous, it will acknowledge the same thing Nicodemus says in verse 2, “Rabbi, we know that are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him”. Christian, If all you can say to Jesus is “I think you’re pretty swell” then perhaps you’re in a dangerous spot; if you are trying to meet Jesus at night and never being radically transformed then you are in a dangerous spot… To also say this is important. Do you come to Jesus merely morally. I did this when I was a young youth minister and I remember people saying “how are you doing spiritually” or even once I was asked “how do you know you are saved” and I said, “I am a youth pastor”. That’s hog-wash. I will never make the King known by stating what I do or anything I have done. You cannot come before God and say “I am a good church member!”, “I am a good person!”, “I am a good American!” because that makes nothing of Jesus. He says, your heart being changed means everything
- John wants us to hear this shocking news of “the Kingdom” in an extraordinary way, Just like how He wanted Nicodemus to hear it, that God’s kingdom would not look like the typical Kingdom of the world that enforces its will by external force and fury, but that this Kingdom’s subjects would need a inward heart change.
- I finished a painting on Thursday that I think will perhaps shed an artistic light here. It is supposed to depict the heart of stone and the heart gripped by the Spirit. You will notice that the heart of stone is cold, hard, and thorny. There is no life given out of that heart. BUT when this heart is changed by the new birth it beats with new life and that new life goes out and breathes NEW LIFE into everything. The Spirit is the key to that life giving change, the new birth
- Vs 6, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit”. This does not mean that we no longer care or worry about our physical bodies but instead we are now transformed from being fleshly sinful children of Satan to being Spirit-filled redeemed children of God. Paul puts it in Romans 8 vs. 13-14, “for if you live according to the flesh, you will die but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God”. Therefore what Jesus is not saying is that flesh doesn’t matter but that our identity and orientation changes from the sin nature, worldly selves, aka children of Satan to heavenly minded, Spiritually guided, completely transformed children of God. This is why another way of translating “born again” is “born from above”. This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit called “Regeneration” is the immediate work of the Holy Spirit on the unbeliever to regenerate, or rejuvenate, their heart, mind, soul from sin and death into life and newness; or as Paul will say in 2 Corinthians “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come”
- As an example of this new life regeneration, one can look at John Perkins. John Perkins was born in Mississippi in 1930. As a black man born, he was raised in poverty and extreme prejudice around him and after his brother was killed by a town marshal at the age of 17, he fled, hating white people and the racism he experienced. Dr. Perkins while living in California came to know Jesus as his king and experience regeneration and the new birth. You can see this quote on the back of your hand out, Dr. Perkins talking about his conversion said, “Almost immediately God began to do something radical in my heart. He began to challenge my prejudices and my hatred toward others. I had learned to hate the white people in Mississippi. . . . And if I had not met Jesus, I would have died carrying that heavy burden of hate to my grave. But he began to strip it away, layer by layer.”
- This newness done by the Holy Spirit is the inbreaking of new creation, literally Christ making a new humanity with new hearts, new minds, etc that may fellowship and love God; a “first-fruits” of the new creation you could say. Without this new creation done through regeneration our hearts and minds would never come to God, our very nature of sin and death would be gripped for eternity by the serpent of Eden, Satan.
- This inward change must happen for any person to move from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, as Ezekiel prophecies about this moment that, in Ezekiel 36:25-27, as I said before, we will be given a new heart toward God and that God Himself will put His own Spirit within us that we may “walk in the statutes and be careful to obey God’s law”, but what is amazing is that verse 8 of John 3 tells us that “the wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from…so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit”; this is also an allusion to Ezekiel 37 where the Spirit breathes life into the valley of dry bones! What we can’t tell from our english translations is that the same word for Spirit is the same word used for “Wind”, so that John is using a play on words here in verse 8 telling us just as the Spirit AND the wind are similarly mysterious in what they do and we can’t see either of them, we can see their effects and the life that they give. So we are now energized in our regeneration to move and be guided by the Spirit to do what someone that has not experience the second birth cannot: see the king of the kingdom.Moving on, the 2nd description of becoming Kingdom people is:
Point #2 (9-14)- Becoming Kingdom People requires looking upward
- You see, we as believers have something that unbelievers cannot have: New spiritual eyes to see the glory of God and be in relationship with Him. This is why Nicodemus is dumbfounded in verse 9 saying “How can these things be?”. It is not that he wouldn’t understand the allusions to the Old Testament but that he cannot see with a new heart to what Jesus is talking about. Jesus returns saying “how can you not understand?”. Jesus is honestly trying His best to give Nicodemus what he needs to understand the good news of the Kingdom. So Jesus says “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Jesus knows that unless Nicodemus experiences the new birth that he will not know these truths and he moves on to give him more explicit words:
- Jesus makes it a point that He is “from heaven” and He paints 2 big pictures here about Himself that we should stare at awe about. These 2 pictures are 1) The son of Man and 2) being “lifted up”
- First, what is so important about Jesus calling Himself “the Son of Man”? Well, this is alluding to Daniel 7:13-14, which requires us to look and see His glory and accept Him for who He is, as the one with all authority, power, dominion, and sovereignty. Jesus is not a mere man but is the one who comes with all power and sovereignty. Every time, it seems, in the Old Testament when the Son of Man is seen in His full glory by prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, they fall down in FEAR. And I think that we see a greater picture of this glory, albeit not the actual glory of God, but as John says in chapter 1 when the Word came and dwelt among us it was “glory as of the only Son from the father, full of grace and truth”. What glory is this? It is the glory of the exalted King. Just exalted in a way no one expected.
- Jesus alludes to Himself being “lifted up” like the story of Moses and Israelites in Numbers 21 that the Israelites were rescued out of their rebellion if they looked upon this bronze snake that Moses put into the center of the camp. Jesus points Nicodemus and us not only to His identity as the divine Son of Man but also forward to His crucifixion. Jesus is careful in using the allusion to Numbers 21 as a metaphor for salvation and as a type looking to His crucifixion.Jesus as we have established is sovereign and grand as the Son of Man, yet Jesus alludes to His humiliation on the cross. Jesus, full of splendor and glory, uses the cross as his inauguration and exaltation as King. So when Jesus says, speaking about upward heavenly things, “no one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” Jesus is telling us that the exalted, humbled servant king is here to take His rightful place over His Kingdom People. So when I say “becoming a kingdom person requires looking upward” I mean it as both we must look heavenward but also looking in awe to our sovereign king who rightfully owns all things. As a small child who looks at his or her father towering over them, not with fear, but with awe and happiness we too as kingdom people may look in awe and glee to our exalted king Jesus. This is only done as we become kingdom people, which comes to our final point:
Point #3 (15)- Becoming Kingdom People is about faith
- Vs. 15 says, “that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life”. Now that’s easy for us all to think “all I have to do is pray a prayer or just take a moment and believe” but what does Jesus mean in light of the previous verses? He does not mean that when we take a moment and believe that Jesus is King that we will spend eternity in a heavenly cloudy bliss. No, Jesus is saying that we will eternally stand with Him, our King, as we were meant to by putting our full trust in Him and what He has done. Trust is never merely intellectual, it is life giving. This is what Jesus meant in Luke 9:24, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
- Jesus as our Savior brings us into this new life by faith, this is why, though faith is a moment where one turns to Christ as their Lord and Savior trusting Him alone for salvation, to portray faith only as a mere moment that we experience at a certain time is incomplete if we don’t see it also as a life altering, lifelong drawing of our own lives toward our King as supreme.
- Jesus is not wanting us to proceed into a life of bland faith but into a faith that grows from Genesis 1, trips over Genesis 3 and expects Jesus and exalts Him for what He has done. Faith is intellectual yes, but if we don’t have our whole lives given to that faith we are missing out. What will you do with this faith? With this trust that Jesus is who He said He is, did what He did, and that is not ok with you only having a relationship with Him on Sundays.
Conclusion- Next week as we proceed into probably the most well known verse in the Bible, John 3:16. But we must look at this statement of eternal life in all its glory. Jesus makes eternal life a Kingdom agenda, therefore becoming Kingdom people is not merely about living forever but about living forever as part of something new and something we could have never thought possible. Nicodemus comes in verse 1 thinking that Jesus is just a teacher from God and then his whole world is flipped upside down when Jesus tells him he must be born again, this was an incredible statement and it must be an incredible statement for us.
I would love to use an example from my life, hopefully this helps…. As most of you know that Grace and I are expecting our first child in October, our little girl is coming. She has not experienced yet the “first birth” but I tell you that when she does it will be earth shattering. She will come from a place that she has known her entire life and enter into an entirely new world that she could in know way comprehend. She will learn in these next few years to eat, walk, talk, play, laugh, smile, etc. She will be awakened into a new life that she might not want to enter. She will no doubt be confused why she is no longer warm and safe in her home of 9 months… But she cannot stay there. And you can bet she will trust Grace and I with her life; I know this because she will eventually stop crying and cuddle up to us and be happy. We have chosen to name this little girl Evangelina Story which means “good news story” or “Gospel story” because maybe, I pray, one day she can also experience the good news of exiting her old kingdom of Darkness, though it might seem safe and comfortable, and entering into the Kingdom of life and light where she may know and love King Jesus.
Christ bringing the Kingdom, does not let us sit comfortably in our Christianity where we can live as people who are waiting for eternal life but instead we must be full John 3 Christians who live as transformed, heavenly looking, Christ showing, light displaying Kingdom citizens who live that way right now. Because if our new-birth is not as exciting and bold as our firth birth then maybe Jesus hasn’t made a difference after all.