Alive Again!”

“Alive Again!”

John 3:1-8; 16-17

April 16, 2017 — 11:00 AM – Dr. Jack Graham

[Dr. Graham, message, “Alive Again!”]

The greatest news the world has ever heard came out of an empty tomb in Jerusalem 2000 years ago and we have never been the same. He is alive! And He makes us alive again.

I heard about a lady that was walking down the street and she came by a pet store and there was one of those big talking parrots there and the parrot looked at her and said, “Hey you!” She turned and looked and the parrot said, “You’re ugly.” [laughter] Well, she thought it was just an accident and maybe he said that to all the girls, but the next day she’s passing at the spot; same thing happens, the parrot looks at her and says, “Hey you!” She turns. “You’re ugly!” She came back the third day and it happened again! This time “Hey you! You’re the ugliest woman on earth!” Well, she had had it. So she goes into the pet store and gets the managers, and says, “Your parrot is insulting me!” Told the manager what the parrot had said and said, “I’m going to turn you in to the Better Business Bureau. We’re going to report you. You can’t do this.” [He] Said, “Please, we’ve been have problems with this parrot. Let me take care of it.” He goes and gets the parrot, takes the parrot back and grabs him by the neck, chokes him a little bit, slaps him around and says, “If you ever insult our customers like that again, that will be the last thing you ever do! Don’t ever to do that again!” Puts him back on his perch, and the lady’s leaving the store. And as she’s leaving the parrot says, “Hey you!” [laughter] She turns around and looks and he says, “You know.” [big laughter] [pastor chuckles] “You know.”

Well, there are a lot of things you need to know. First and foremost, you need know Jesus is alive! There was some fake news running around Jerusalem those many years ago, and the news was Jesus is dead and He’s not coming back. But the real news was on the third day; He rose again; that’s the good news! What you need to know is [John 3:16] “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life!”

That sentence that shook and changed the world… John 3:16… is found in the midst of a conversation Jesus had with an individual. In fact, over the next several weeks we’re going to be talking about convos that Jesus had and conversions as well, with individuals… people He met, people with whom He came face to face and heart to heart. Jesus spoke to the crowds and cared for the crowds and loved people. And crowds gathered to hear Jesus. But ultimately it was all about the one.

It’s wonderful when we have great crowds to come to a service but here at Prestonwood… Prestonwood we want you to know that it’s not about the big crowd for us; it’s about you as a person; it’s about you as an individual. And Jesus always took time for individuals and spoke with them, and dealt with their needs and their issues. And it’s true in John chapter 3.

In fact, begin finding in John chapter 3, this story… His story which becomes your story. That’s our goal. And as Jesus singles out this one man and talks with him, it is a conversation that changed everything! I’m so glad the Spirit of God preserved this private conversation Jesus had with this man whose name is Nicodemus. Look in chapter 3, verse 1. We’ll read the first three verses initially:

 

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 (or miracles) that you do unless God is with him.”

We’re told that this man by the name of Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. Nicodemus… that’s an unusual name. Actually it is a Greek name and you can see the word Nike in that word… Nicodemus… Nike. Nicodemus is there. And it means conqueror. And he was a powerful man. Now he was Jew… Jewish man, but he had a Greek name. So in effect he is representative of all of us. He’s a representative of all people who need to come to Jesus. He was a Jewish man who represents us all, the very best of culture, the very best of education, the very best of morality, the very best of religion! He was an extremely, an extraordinarily religious man. The Scripture tells us he was a Pharisee.

Now many have a negative view towards the Pharisees, but there’s a lot to be said for the faith of a Pharisee, the religion of the Pharisee. They were committed to obeying the Law of God, the Ten Commandments. They spent their lives studying the Scripture. They were devoted in the most religious and the most structured and ritualistic way. Nicodemus was a Pharisee so he was a part of this elite band of brothers in Israel, studying the Law. And not only that but he was a teacher of the Law; a member of the Sanhedrin which in effect was the Supreme Court of Israel.

And not only a Rabbi, a teacher, a devoted Pharisee, but he apparently was one of the primary teachers of Israel. Jesus would later say of him, [John 3:10] “Are you the teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things?… the teacher of Israel?” He may have been the most important personality in all of the Jewish culture. Very respected individual! Highly committed! He was famous. He was a VIP! If Nicodemus walked down the street and you saw him, you would say, “Hello, sir, Dr, Nicodemus.” He was a big cog in the synagogue, is what he was!

But something was missing in his life. He was restless and he came to Jesus. He had seen and heard about the miracles… the signs and wonders, the crowds were following Jesus, and so he wanted to investigate. And so he comes to Jesus by night. And it’s interesting that John, the author of this Gospel, tells us twice in the Gospel that he came to Jesus by night. Not only here, but at the end of the Gospel. So there was something unique about this man coming to Jesus by night. And so we can only speculate really as to why he came by night. Some, of course, suggests that it was because he was afraid or ashamed, being a high level extraordinary religious leader in Jerusalem, it wouldn’t have been good to be seen with this Galilean, itinerant carpenter, preacher who was claiming to be the Messiah. And so it’s suggested that he came under the cloak of darkness [clears throat] because he was afraid to be seen with Jesus in the daylight.

I don’t believe that’s why he came to see Jesus that night. In fact, I believe it was really the opposite in one way. There were questions that Nicodemus had when he came to Jesus by night that couldn’t re… couldn’t wait for the next day! He was on a spiritual search in his life, and he was moved and motivated to find out if the claims of Christ and the power of Christ was real! Is Jesus the Messiah? So Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, and therefore, he was the original Nick at Nite. [laughter] I had to get that out; I really just had to. He was religious but restless because his religion was not enough to satisfy the deepest needs of his life. He knew on the inside there was no spiritual life; there was a spiritual void… a vacuum, not in his head, but in his heart.

And so he begins to discus openly with Jesus these things. He said, “We know…” Now notice he kind of comes on a mind to mind level initially. “We know…” It’s sort of philosophical. “We know… we know…” There’s a little pride in there. “We know…” Have you ever noticed how some people are always quoting others for themselves? “We know…” “They said…” “I’m asking for a friend…” Nicodemus said, “We know that You are a teacher come from God because no one could do these things unless he came from God.” And he’s getting closer but… but he’s not there because Jesus is not a teacher that came from God; He is God who came to teach!

You have a decision like Nicodemus to make regarding the identity of Jesus Christ. Is He an imposter? Someone who claimed to be God but is not; a liar! Was He insane? Was He someone who thought He was God; really truly believed He was God and said He was God, but was not God? C. S. Lewis said, “Insane? On the level of a poached egg?” Or was He as He claimed to be incarnate God? Or to put it another way, it’s been said many times, “Was He Lord? Was He a liar? Or was He a lunatic?” But ultimately it comes down to the person of Jesus Christ. Who He is, and what He has done! The resurrection of Christ, the living Christ… that’s the Christian faith! Without the resurrection we have no faith!

So he says, “You must be a teacher come from God because you’re performing these miracles, and we know this.” And at that point Jesus had had enough and He cuts right to the chase, and therefore, in verse 3 He says:

3) … “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you are born again you can’t see the kingdom of God.”

In other words, you can’t go to heaven, you can’t experience My reign in your life today! He had religion but his religion wasn’t enough! Look, you don’t need more religion! You don’t need religion! More religion! You need Jesus Christ! You need to stop enduring religion and start enjoying salvation through Jesus Christ in your life! [applause]

I’m not a fan… You say, “Wait a minute! I thought you’re a preacher, Jack! Isn’t that all about religion?” Well, frankly, you know, I’m not a big fan of religion. First of all, religion is so often so dead; it’s so lifeless and ritualistic, and just going through motions regardless of what kind of religion it is. And religion is often so judgmental and cruel and harsh! Some people even kill in the name of their religion. Religion keeps many people from the kingdom of God. Religion keeps many people from experiencing the reality of God in their lives. Religion! Nicodemus had more than enough religion! But it wasn’t enough; it wasn’t enough for him and it certainly wasn’t enough for God!

Maybe your religion is keeping you from Jesus today. “Oh, I’m a Baptist” or “I’m a Presbyterian”, I’m an Episcopalian”, “I’m Jewish”, “I’m an Islamic”, “I’m Buddhist”. Christian religion. But do you know Jesus? We don’t need more religion; we need resurrection! The resurrection power of Jesus Christ!

Well, when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You, Nicodemus… you must be born again”, it is as though He was saying, “You… even you and you… everybody you!” Because regardless of your class, your character, your conduct, your code of ethics, your religion, “You must be born again!” They once asked John Wesley, the great Methodist preacher, “Why are you always preaching about, “You must be born again!”? And Wesley with a smile said, “Because you must be born again!” [laughter] You must! It’s not an option. It’s not a pick and choose religion. “You must be born again!”

Sometimes people say things, “Well, you know, I’m a Christian but, you know, I’m not one of those born again kind of Christians”, meaning some kind of Jesus-freak kind of Christian. Well, news flash! The only kind of Christian there is, is a “born again” Christian! Jesus said, “You must be born again!”

And something happens when we are born again, that is so radical, so life-altering, life-changing, that we are revolutionized. [The] Theological word is we are “regenerated!” We are alive again! The Bible says [1 Peter 1:3] “We are born again unto a living hope by the resurrection.” We are alive in Christ! His deity inhabits our humanity. This is what it means to be born again, to be born from above. Born from above. In other words, it’s not something we do climbing spiritual ladders to get to God… that’s religion! But we are born from above. This is the… this is the spontaneous and sovereign work of God in our life, when He moves within us and He changes us from the inside out! Religion and reformation and resuscitation or whatever you want to call it, that’s all exterior! But what God does is interior and eternal.

My first car was a 1960 Rambler. I bought it from a friend for $75. A 1960 Rambler. It was beauty. It was faded out gray and maroon; it was really ugly. And… but it was the best that I could do. And not only was it ugly, but it had a big huge rusted out hole in the fender, the left driver- just rusted out! And then the floorboard was rusted out, too. I had to put cardboard down on the driver’s side, because you could look right down at the pavement. How this thing passed inspection I have no idea! And I would drive that thing around. I was so proud of it. I… you know, Frankly, you know, some of my friends had GTO’s, Muscle cars. You know, I see my buddy O. S. Hawkins here today. He had a Mustang, you know, driving around, cool. I didn’t need a cool car to pick up girls actually. [laughter]

One day I decided I was going to paint that car. I had a buddy who said, “Yeah, for $20. I’ll paint your car.” I said, “Great! Do it! Couldn’t hurt!” So he took my car and it came back painted. It was the worst looking thing you have ever seen. It was painted… it was all, you know, it went from gray to some deathly color and maroon to… It was painted. You know, he fixed the exterior but the interior was still falling apart. It was still a hunk of junk!

Religion without Jesus Christ is just working on the exterior. Put a coat of paint on it… try harder, be better, keep the rules, take communion, go to confession, go to church! That’s all religion! And it means absolutely nothing when it comes to your relationship with God! That’s why Jesus said, “Nicodemus, you must be born again!”

So Nicodemus… he’s stunned. I mean this hit him like a bombshell. It was an M-O-A-B [laughter], I mean it… it knocked him to his knees. And so he says in verse 4, look at verse 4. It says… This is Nicodemus speaking:

4) 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) And Jesus (verse 5 said) answered, “Truly, I say to you, unless one is born of the water…

That is physical birth. That’s clear. It’s a simple illustration. You don’t need to do theological tricks with this passage, in my view. Born of the water. Most every man has had the experience… if you’ve had children of hearing your wife say, “My water just broke.” Our teaching pastor Jarrett Stephens heard that in the middle of the night on their first born. “Honey, Jarrett, my water has broken.” He jumps up and passes out right there! [laughter] That’s not fake news; that is real news. [laughter]

So that which is born of the water, that’s physical birth, but this is birth of the Spirit. “Don’t marvel…” he repeats it, “Don’t be amazed that I say to you, You must be born again.”

And Nicodemus us wondering, you see,… I mean, this is no dummy; this is not theology for dummies. This man was a brilliant theologue. Rabbi teacher! So when he says, “Can a man go back to his womb [his mother’s womb] and born again?” It’s really not about thinking… He now knows they’re on a spiritual plane here, so he says, “How is this possible? What are you talking about? Born again! Can I go back…?” He’s really asking, “Can I really change? Is it really possible for this to happen to me? Can a person like me…” Apparently Nicodemus was an older man at this point. And he’s thinking, “No, I’ve been down this road a long way and I don’t know if I can change.”

There are people today… Psychologists and students of personality and so on, who say, you know, it’s really impossible for people to change. Basic personality is set; your DNA… your destiny, your genealogy, it’s all in there. Really people can’t change that much. The Bible says, [Jeremiah 13:23] “Can a leopard change his spots?” And so this is a good question. Can I really change?

You know, older people don’t like change that much. Right? They listen to their old music… “Like it! Love the sixties!” “Oh man, the forties! That’s where it was at!” [laughter] Go to the same restaurants at the same time, sit in the same place, order the same food. Drive the same old car. Come to church, sit in the same place every week. You know who you are; I see you every week. [laughter] Because it’s difficult, once you get set in your ways, once you, you know, get moving in your life, it’s really difficult to change! You know you’re getting older when you reach down to… to straighten out your socks, and realize you’re not wearing any socks. [laughter] When the only kind of weightlifting you’re doing is when you’re getting up out of the chair. Or you know you’re getting older when happy hour is naptime! You know you’re getting older when you wake up in the morning with some sleep-related injury. [laughter]

Nicodemus was older and he said is it really possible to change? Is it? Fact is, most people come to faith in Jesus Christ before the age of 21. If we surveyed this congregation today, I dare say big percentage would say, yes, I came to Christ before I was 21; I was a teenager, I was a child. Jesus said, [Matthew 18:3] Unless you come like a little child (and be converted) you’ll never see the kingdom of heaven.” So many older people… they… they don’t come to Christ. It’s glorious when it happens, and we see it happen on a regular basis at Prestonwood and ministry. And while, you know, we got a lot of baby-boomers, my generation, that are getting older and older, and many don’t know Christ! And we’re praying that we would have a strong outreach and ministry to people of all ages! But the fact is, it is more difficult to change when you’re old. So Nicodemus is saying is this possible?

And, of course, some people really don’t want to change, do they? “Leave me alone! I’m good. Why do you keep inviting me to church? Why… why do you keep telling me about Jesus? I… It’s good for you, but I’m good with my life! I’m not going to change that much.” And many people, of course, don’t want to change because they like what they’re doing and refuse to change.

But I can tell you there’s a big change coming for all us, and that change is death. Death is a reality. Life has a expiration date. Last time I checked the death rate was still 100 percent. I noticed in the paper this week that the oldest person on earth living in Italy just passed away… a lady who was 117 years of age. One-seventeen, and that’s a long life. Most people don’t live that long. And therefore, when we stand in eternity, because we were made to live forever… It’s not that you live your years and then you die like an animal and are forever gone. You are a living soul, created and made to know God. And you will spend eternity either with God or without God.

In John 3:16 as we quoted earlier, Jesus spoke of those who perish and those who have everlasting life. Perishing means to live forever without God, perishing and never dying in a place call hell. You say, “Good grief, Jack, don’t bring up hell on Easter!” [laughter] “Why would you bring up hell on Easter?” Well because there is a hell, and it’s the bad news that makes the good news so good. There is a hell and… You say, “Well, why would… Why would God send anyone to hell? What kind of monster God would send anyone to hell forever?” Well God doesn’t send anyone to hell. The Bible says that [Matthew 25:41] “Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels.” Jesus came to earth so that you wouldn’t have to go to hell! God doesn’t send people to hell; God saves people from hell! [Amen] And that’s the new birth! [applause]

And this new birth… You say, “Well, what is it?” You know, it’s been said that if you’re born once, you’ll die twice. If you were just born physically… Jesus talked about physical birth here… If you’re just born physically and that’s it; you’re never born again, then you’ll die twice. You’ll die physically and the second death. The Scripture describes as an eternal death which is separation from God. But if you’re born twice… born from above, born again, then you’ll die just once because He is the resurrection and the life, and if you have His risen life in you… if the life of God… the life of a risen Savior is in you, you will live and never die! That’s what the Bible says.

So are you born again? The new birth is personal; you must make a decision. You must personally respond. It doesn’t happen by chance or osmosis. And when it happens… many of us meet the Lord at different times and seasons in our lives and have various kinds of experiences. Some emotional, some not so emotional. If you are born again, you will know it! God’s Spirit bears witness with your spirit that you are a child of God! You will know because the Spirit of life is in you! You… your whole being is alive!

Will Rodgers once was going somewhere [and] needed a passport. They said, “Give us your passport.” The Oklahoma humorist said, “Why do you need my passport?” They said, “For proof of your birth.” They said, “It’s your birth certificate.” He said, “Well, I’m here, ain’t I?” Ought to be proof enough. [laughter]

And so if you are born again you will know it. And my prayer is that when … before this service is over… before you walk out of here today, those of you watching online, before this service is finished, that you will know that you have eternal life! The risen life of Christ! You will know that you are born again. It’s personal, it’s powerful, changes your direction in life, gives you a purpose and meaning. It changes your disposition, the way you live, the way you respond to people. It changes your destiny… where you will spend eternity. It’s personal; it’s powerful.

It’s also permanent. I mean, you’re not born again and again and again and again and again. I was born one time physically into the Graham family. I could never not be Graham. Many people study their genealogy… that’s the ancestry thing that’s going. And we find out, you know, typically our ancestry, well, it’s kind of a mixed bag for all of us. But ultimately I had two parents, Tom and Emogene Graham; I am their child. I could never cease to be their child.

And when you become a child of God… when you are born again, you can never be unborn! In other words, you are secure! You’re in the family of God forever! Sometimes people think, “Well, I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can live the Christian life.” You can’t! But Christ living in you and the power of His resurrection will enable you to live this life! And you’re in, and you’re in forever when you come to Christ! God is not like United Airlines. [laughter] He will never overbook you! [laughter] He will never drag you out, and I promise you according to God’s Word, you’re getting to your destination! [applause] And it’s all because He lives!

So Nicodemus asked the how question. A lot of people ask the why question, and that’s an important question. Why things happen. Maybe you’ve been asking that kind of question. You know, why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there suffering? Why does God allow pain and… The why questions are big questions for people, and there are answers to the why questions. But that wasn’t Nicodemus’ question. His question was a how question. He believed in God but he wanted to be born again.

So how are you born again? John 3:16. That’s when Jesus laid it on us.

16) For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son (Jesus) that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life. 17) God didn’t send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him the world could be saved.”

And that means you. For God so loved you, insert your name. A man by the name of Richard Baxter… a man who live along time ago, a pilgrim actually, once said, “You know, when I read that… “If I had read ‘For God so loved Richard Baxter that He gave His only Begotten Son… I would have assumed that He meant some other Richard Baxter. But when He said, “For God so loved the world that whosoever believed in Him…” I know it includes me! And this includes you!

So if you want to be born again, how do you do it? Number one, admit your need for Jesus: that you religion is not enough; that your baptism is not enough; that your rituals are not enough; your church attendance is not enough; that you don’t need more religion, but you need Jesus in your life! That you’ve sinned and broken God’s commandments; that sin has disconnected us from God. Jesus died to bridge the gap between God and man and made it possible at the cross. Because Jesus not only died for you on the cross, He died as you! He became sin for us! He took our sins on the cross. And, therefore, admit your sin and your need for the Savior! And then believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! Believe! The Bible says, [Romans 10:9] “If we confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead, we will be saved!” This is what we believe: We believe in a Person!

Again, the Christian faith it’s not a cause… not a cause, not code, not creed! It is Christ; and Christ alone! So to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ… who He is and what He has done for you in dying on the cross, and demonstrating His power over death and hell and sin and the grave by coming out of that grave!

And then confess Him by calling on His name. The Bible says [Romans 10:13] “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.” So call upon His name. And one more thing. Do it right now. Do it today. Be born again.