knowing Christ: the ultimate ENCOUNTER

Born Again? 

Professional golfer Paul Azinger was diagnosed with cancer at age 33. He had just won a PGA championship and had ten tournament victories to his credit.

He wrote, "A genuine feeling of fear came over me. I could die from cancer. Then another reality hit me even harder. I’m going to die eventually anyway, whether from cancer or something else. It’s just a question of when. Everything I had accomplished in golf became meaningless to me. All I wanted to do was live."

Then he remembered something that Larry Moody, who teaches a Bible study on the tour, had said to him. "Zinger, we’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living."

Golfer Paul Azinger recovered from chemotherapy and returned to the PGA tour. He’s done pretty well. But that bout with cancer deepened his perspective. He wrote, "I’ve made a lot of money since I’ve been on the tour, and I’ve won a lot of tournaments, but that happiness is always temporary. The only way you will ever have true contentment is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that nothing ever bothers me and I don’t have problems, but I feel like I’ve found the answer to the six-foot hole."

In the 1970’s Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter announced that he was a born-again Christian. As I remember this happening it caused quite a stir and gave the country something to talk about.  

It is an interesting phrase that has often been lost in churches that have existed for more than a hundred years. For some reason it becomes unfashionable and almost embarrassing. The further a person or church drifts from daily adherence and connection to the Word of God the less likely they are to embrace this very clear teaching by Jesus Christ. 

As a culture we have allowed this concept to be smeared and diluted and even totally secularized. Larry Flynt, publisher of the pornographic magazine Hustler proclaims he was born again. Another young woman claims to be a born again stripper for Jesus using the “gift” she was given at birth. In January of 1980 Forbes magazine carried a feature article entitled “Born-again Companies.” The Los Angeles Times printed an article about a football player that made a comeback. The article was entitled “The Steeler who was Born Again.”

I assure you it is a biblical term and a concept that every one of us in this room need to know and experience. 

 It was nighttime and Jesus had a late visitor.  It was a man but not just any man. His name was Nicodemus and he was a prominent Jewish religious leader. He opens with a statement and courteous greeting. There is no record of Jesus returning the formal greeting.  He just launches into a confrontational statement that leads to a discussion and dialogue resulting in one of the most quoted scriptures of all time. 

Curiosity in a Man

1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” John 3: 1-2 NLT

Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He was a serious and earnest Jewish leader. He would have been educated and a bit of an aristocrat. These things – his earnestness, his position, his education coupled with the fact that he ultimately did respond to Christ (John 7:50-52, 19:38-39) – make his life a perfect case study of someone discovering and responding to the message of salvation. 

Those who come to discover Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers generally start with a curiosity. It is a desire and a curiosity to know more. For Nicodemus there was a chance to learn something about this man that had aroused his curiosity. 

I would venture to say that everyone in this room is here because you have or now have a curiosity about Jesus Christ. 

Notice that Nicodemus used the term Rabbi. He believes that Jesus is a religious teacher and uses this term respectfully. He came to Jesus ready to engage in a philosophical exchange of ideas but was totally unprepared for what followed.
Jesus cut him off. He didn’t engage the small talk pleasantries that Nicodemus greeted Him with. He confronted him with the basic message of Christianity. Jesus goes right for the heart. 

Confronted with a Mandate

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the 
Kingdom of God.”

I would just like to lift out the phrase “unless you are born again” for a moment and hold that out in front of you to ponder and think about.

You have to start there. You and I are given the offer by Jesus Christ to start new and fresh with our lives. Depending on your age and experiences this mandate will have varying degrees of meaning. 

For years, church leaders have heard the claim that nearly nine out of ten Christians accept Jesus as their savior before the age of 18. If that statistic was accurate in the past, it no longer depicts U.S. society. The current Barna study indicates that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. One out of eight born again people (13%) made their profession of faith while 18 to 21 years old. Less than one out of every four born again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their twenty-first birthday. 

Perhaps the most significant outcome of the research, in Barna’s eyes, is the prevalence of decisions made during childhood. "Families, churches and parachurch ministries must recognize that primary window of opportunity for effectively reaching people with the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is during the pre-teen years. It is during those years that people develop their frames of reference for the remainder of their life - especially theologically and morally. Consistently explaining and modeling truth principles for young people is the most critical factor in their spiritual development."

It is critical that our children our confronted with this message and allowed to grow naturally into Christfollowers. We need to talk about it often because just like Nicodemus we can be confused by the message. 

Confused by the Message

 4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”  5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. John 3:3-6 NLT

So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
 9 “How are these things possible?”
Nicodemus asked.   John 3:7-9 NLT

This is a great question that some of you may be thinking today. How are these things possible? 

I believe that there is in the heart of every man and woman a desire to change their lives. Tennyson described this feeling and desire with these words: 

O for a man to rise in me
that the man I am
might cease to be.

This is the heart cry of people everywhere. We desire to change. We long to be different and to overcome our weaknesses. We want new minds and new personalities. It is critical that you understand the concept of being born again today.

There are many people that make the claim to have prayed a prayer and they say that they are born again yet nothing seems to change in their life. Why is this?

Why is it that while the number of people claiming to be born again has increased so has sinful behavior in our world and especially in the USA?  Sinfulness and a preoccupation with things like sexual perversion, corporate immorality, greed and other destructive behaviors are rampant.

Let me tell you a couple of reasons I believe this is happening.

First we are plagued by biblical ignorance in the church. Overall there has been so little connection made to the word of God that it essentially has little effect on those who attend church and claim to be born again.

Second there are people who would claim to be following Christ that really know very little about repentance. Repentance is a change of mind and heart. It is a genuine sorrow for the way you have lived and a desire and resolve to change your ways through the salvation offered by Christ. 

You may pray a prayer but a prayer without genuine repentance will not bring regeneration or transformation to your life. Being born again is a radical change that place in a person’s life and it will affect every area of that person’s life and relationships.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come!” I Corinthians 5:17 Jesus said it to Nicodemus: 

6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 

If you try to live a “born again” life without really allowing Christ to live in you and through you each day and in every circumstance of your life all your efforts will be in vain. 

An Arabian Chicken Little type story tells of a young man riding down a road on his donkey and coming across a small furry object lying in the roadway. He dismounts to get a closer look and discovers a sparrow lying on its back with is scrawny legs thrust skyward. He first thinks it is dead but soon discovers it is very much alive. The young man asked the bird if he is all right. The sparrow replies, “Yes.” Then the young man asks, “What are you doing on your back with our legs pointed to the sky?” The sparrow responded that he had heard a rumor that the sky was falling, so he was holding up his legs to support it.” The young Arab replies, “You surely don’t think you’re going to hold it up with those two scrawny little legs do you?” The sparrow, after a very solemn look, says, “One does the best he can.”

But of course our best will never suffice. That is what Jesus is trying to say to Nicodemus and what He is saying to you today. Humans can produce human life but only the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.

All of this means we all have a choice to make. Today in our church we will baptize ?? people. By doing this they are saying to all looking on that they have been born again and are declaring their faith in a public way just as Jesus taught and even experienced himself. 

Choice to Make

“ 10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. John 3:10-15 NLT

This is a reference to a story found in the Old Testament and Nicodemus would have been very familiar with it. We find it in Numbers 21: 

 4 Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom. But the people grew impatient with the long journey, 5 and they began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!” 

 6 So the LORD sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died. 7 Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people. 

 8 Then the LORD told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” 9 So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!

This story intentionally points to a coming Messiah that would be lifted up. Jesus Christ was and is that Messiah who came to give life to all you look to Him. 

 16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
 18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.
 John 3:16-18 NLT

Have you believed in Christ? Have you repented of your sins and for trying to run your own life minus the leadership of the Creator of all things?

Billy Graham was once attending a dinner in his honor & found himself seated by an archbishop of a dominant denomination in an African country. During the evening he asked this man how he had become a Christian. This is his story:

He had already been installed as the archbishop in his country when he was invited to Chicago to give a lecture in a prominent theological school. One afternoon while sightseeing, he boarded a city bus. No sooner had he taken his seat when a big finger tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to look into the full, round, ebony face of an obviously poor woman seated behind him. In a wonderfully rich voice, she asked, “Mister, have you ever been born again?” He frowned, thinking for sure he had misunderstood her question since English was his second language. With polite reserve he asked, “Excuse me?”

The deep, rolling voice repeated, “I say, have you been born again?” The archbishop stiffened his back, straightened his shoulders, and replied with the greatest dignity, “My dear madam, I am the archbishop of the church in my country I am here to give a lecture at the theological seminary.”

As the bus rolled to a stop, the woman rose to get off. She looked at the proud, religious man dressed in his flowing robes bearing the insignia of his office & said bluntly, “Mister, that ain’t what I asked you. I asked you, ‘Have you been born again?” Then she turned and walked off the bus and out of his life.

But, the archbishop said, her words rang in his ears and burned in his soul. He went back to his hotel room, located a Bible in a dresser drawer opened it to the Gospel of John, and read the familiar story of Nicodemus. With increasing clarity & conviction, he knew that even with all of his religious training & devotion & service & recognition, he had never been born again. So he slipped down on his knees, & that night, in a Chicago hotel room thousands of miles from his home, God answered his heart’s cry, and he was for the first time born again.

God so loved the world. You can’t get over those words if you really hear the love found in them. The songwriter F.M. Lehman wrote it this way:

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants. John 3:19-21 NLT

Remember the words of the golf chaplain to Paul Azinger: "Zinger, we’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living."

ƒÞ Recognize that God loves you and has a plan for your life.
ƒÞ Recognize that sin separates you from God and others.
ƒÞ Recognize that Jesus Christ died and rose again for our sins.
ƒÞ You must repent and ask God for forgiveness.
ƒÞ Place your trust in Christ and receive Him as your Savior.