“Born again” –Unfortunately this term has been cheapened and even maligned, used in our generation to designate a certain type of Christian, which doesn’t make much sense because according to Jesus this is the only kind, it is what belief in him is all about, it is what happens when we accept the answer. I always think of Jimmy Carter who was ridiculed mercilessly by the press when he proclaimed himself a born again Christian when he was running for president back in ‘76.
This hasn’t changed, the world looks at born again believers as ignorant, do goody good, losers who are just out of touch with reality. I like to blow that image out of the water, last week at work a guy told me; “You’re more like that preacher from the movie The Pale Horseman,” I said, “Well, I do have a pistol in my truck.” I wasn’t really after the Clint Eastwood persona but I could think of much worse.
Like I said, the born again thing was Jesus’ idea, it was the answer he gave to that all important question about getting right with God.
He gave this answer to a Pharisee who came to Jesus one night. An influential Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. So he knew the law— the law of God. The law was what the Pharisee’s lived and breathed, in fact they made laws to make sure they were keeping the law.
So if anyone would know the answer to the question it should have been this Pharisee—Nicodemus—yet he came to Jesus asking, because he knew there had to be more than just words. Nick knew— just like every other man woman and child who had ever lived and had taken an honest look inside of themselves— that there was a big empty spot inside, in fact, it just seemed kind of dead. There has to be more— please, let there be more!
So Jesus meets him, and before he even really asks the question, Jesus tells him the answer.
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
We must be born again.
The first birth; Born of water, is a reference no doubt to natural human birth, which is indeed a very wet proposition, and possibly an allusion to water baptism. The Hebrews were masters of word play like this. And then the second birth; born of the Spirit— our sprits made alive, the empty hole inside of us filled with life.
But why? Why did it take such a dramatic thing like all the horror surrounding the trial, torture and execution of the loving and gentle Son of God?
I remember when I was a kid being very disturbed by the movie, The Greatest Story Ever Told. An epic movie filmed in 1965 about the life and passion of the Christ. For years it was shown on network TV every Easter weekend—at least through the seventies. It’s pretty tame by today’s standards, especially compared to Mel Gibson’s version of the Passion, but it wasn’t the violence that disturbed me, it just seemed like such a sad ending.
Yeah Jesus comes back to life in the end, but there was just so much suffering and sadness as soft spoken, tall handsome, blue eyed, European Jesus was being accused and beaten— then nailed to a cross? Why, why did he have to die like this, he was such a wonderful person, he just loved everyone and wanted to tell everyone about God, he healed people and did miracles, it just didn’t make sense. Why did he let them do this to him?
I remember asking my Dad that same question: “Why did Jesus have to die?” I honestly don’t remember the answer he gave me but I know he tried to explain it.
It wasn’t until years later that it clicked, not until I really understood how sinful I was and how futile and frustrating it is to try to earn your way into heaven. When I woke up one day and realized that for the past several years I had let myself indulge in everything my flesh had demanded while at the same time claiming to be a born again, spirit filled Christian- when I looked at how far I had fallen all the while justifying just a little more, just this one time— what can it hurt? I’m still a good person… no, I wasn’t.
And just a little more had become way too much and had affected everyone around me and everyone I loved— “I’m fine, just leave me alone, pass that joint and break open another cold pack, let’s get blasted out of our minds— again.” Anything to cover the emptiness.
My prayers were hollow and timid, my Bible was dusty and all my fellowship was with those who dragged me farther down. Who am I? Not who I wanted to be that’s for sure.
And that’s when I understood why Jesus had to die.
That’s what Nicodemus— the expert in the law of God— was discovering, and that was the question and frustration that Jesus was answering to; The cry of Nicodemus’ heart; “Who am I? No matter how hard I try, no matter how hard I want to do what is right, to keep the Law that I know so well, I still feel like a miserable failure. It’s just so hard to be good and God just seems so far away, I still feel empty and dead inside.”
That’s why Jesus had to die, because it is impossible to be good enough, there is just too much going on in here (the heart) and up here (the head) that we seem to lose control of on a regular basis. Jesus was the only one who was good enough so he was able to die in my place, simply because, he had no sin of his own to die for. And by virtue of being the Son of God, his sacrifice was especially significant, for reasons the human mind cannot even comprehend, as the Father was himself making the sacrifice that divine justice demanded.
But he busted out of Jail and is giving us the keys to do the same.
We can be born again, never to die, never to face execution or accusation, the jury had been sent packing— thank you you’re dismissed, your services are no longer required, there is no accused.
Jesus made that possible, his death made that happen. And those who put their hope in him will be, and are, born again.
And carried on the wind, soaring free on wings like eagles.
Happy Easter my Friends! Because he lives, I can face tomorrow!