CHRIST THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE: Robert Murray McCheyne


“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” JOHN 14:6

 

IT is the saying of an old divine, that God often orders it, that when He is in hand with the greatest mercies for us, then we are most of all sinning against Him; which He doth to magnify His love the more.

In the words I have read, we find an example of this.  At no time did the heart of Jesus overflow with a tenderer and more sovereign love to His disciples, than when He said, “Let not your heart be troubled.”  They were troubled by many things.  He had told them that He was going to leave them; He had told them that one should betray Him, that another should deny Him, that they should all be offended because of Him that very night; and perhaps they thought He was going from them in anger.  But whatever the cause of their trouble was, Jesus’ bosom was like a vessel full to overflowing, and these words were the overlipping drops of love: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me.”  Surely such words of confiding tenderness were never whispered in this cold world before; and oh, then, think how cold, how dark, how dull is the question with which Thomas breaks in upon the heavenly discourse: “Thomas saith unto Him, Lord, we know not whither Thou goest; and how can we know the way?”  And yet how condescendingly does Jesus bear with their cold-hearted dulness!  How lovingly does He begin the very alphabet of salvation with them, and not only answers, but over-answers Thomas, – gives him more than he could ask or think.  He asked about the way and the place; but Christ answers: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.”

Regarding this, then, as a complete description of  the gospel salvation, let us go over the different parts of it.

I.   Christ is the Way. – “I am the way: no man cometh,”  etc. The whole Bible bears witness that by nature we have no way to the Father.  We are by nature full of sin, and God is by nature infinitely holy, – that is, He shrinks away from sin.  Just as the sensitive plant, by its very nature, shrinks away from the touch of a human hand, so God, by His very nature, shrinks away from the touch of sin.  He is everlastingly separate from sinners; He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.

(1)  This was impressively taught to Adam and the patriarchs.  As long as Adam walked holily, God dwelt in him, and walked in him, and communed with him; but when Adam fell, “God drove the man out of paradise; and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden, cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”  This flaming sword between the cherubim was a magnificent emblem of God, – the just and sin-hating God.  In the bush, He appeared to Moses as a consuming fire; in the temple, He appeared between the cherubim in the milder glory of the Shechinah; but here He appeared between the cherubim as a sword, – a just and sin-hating God.  And I beseech you to remark, that this flaming sword turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.  If it had not turned every way, – if it had left some footpath unglared across, – then Adam might have stolen in by that footpath, and made his own way to the tree of life. But no; whatever avenue he tried, – however secret, however narrow, however steep and difficult, however silently he crept along, – still this flaming meteor met him, and it seemed to say, “How can man be just with God?   by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh living be justified.”  Well might Adam sit down, wearied with the vain search for a pathway into life; for man by nature has no way to the Father.

But Christ says, “I am the way.”   As He says in Psalm xvi., “Thou wilt show Me the path of life.”  No man could find out this path of life; but Jesus says: “Thou wilt show it Me: in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.”  Jesus pitied the poor sons of Adam vainly struggling to find out a way into the paradise of God, and He left the bosom of the Father, just that He might open up a way for us into the bosom of the Father.  And how did He do it?  Was it by escaping the vigilance of the flaming sword?  No; for it turned every way.  Was it by exerting His divine authority, and commanding the glittering blade to withdraw?  No; for that would have been to dishonour his Father’s law instead of magnifying it.  He therefore became a man in our stead, – yea, became sin.  God caused to meet on Him the iniquities of us all.  He advanced in our stead to meet that fiery meteor – He fell beneath its piercing blade; for He remembered the word of the prophet, which is written: “Awake, O sword! against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts.”

And now, since the glittering blade is bathed in the side of the Redeemer, the guiltiest of sinners – whoever you be, whatever you be – may enter in over His bleeding body, may find access to the paradise of God, to eat of the tree of life, and live for ever.  Come quickly, – doubt not; for He says, “I am the way.”

(2) The same fact – that man has by nature no way to the Father – was impressively taught to Moses and the people of Israel.

When God condescended to dwell among the children of Israel, He dwelt peculiarly in the holiest of all – the innermost apartment of the Jewish temple.  There the visible token of His presence rested between the cherubim, at one time described to us as a light inaccessible and full of glory, at another time as a cloud that filled the temple.  But this innermost apartment, or holiest of all (or secret place, as it is called in the Psalms), was separated from the holy place by a curtain or veil; and through that veil no man was allowed to pass, lest he should die, except the high priest, who entered in once in the year, not without blood.  Now, no picture could express more plainly that the way into the holiest was not made manifest, that no sinful man has any way of coming into the presence of God.

But Jesus says, “I am the way.”  Jesus was grieved that we were shut out from the holiest of all – from the presence of God; for He knew by experience that in that presence there is fulness of joy.  But how did He open the way?  Did He pull aside the veil, that we might steal in secretly and easily into the presence of the Father?  No; but He offered Himself an offering to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God.  “He said, It is finished: and bowed His head, and gave up the ghost.  And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom.”  It is finished: the punishment of the law is borne, the demands of the law are answered, the way is finished, the veil is rent from the top to the bottom! Not a shred of the dreadful curtain now remains to intercept us.  The guiltiest, the vilest sinner of you all, has now liberty to enter in through the rent veil, under the light of Jehovah’s countenance, – to dwell in the secret of His tabernacle, to behold His beauty, and to inquire in His temple.

And now, my friends, is this your way of coming to the Father?  Christ says, “I am the way; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”  If, then, you will still keep to your own way, whatever it be, – whether it be the way of tears, or penances, or vows of amendment, or hopes that God will not deal strictly, – if you will not be warned, you will find in the judgment day that the cherubic sword turned every way, and that you are left a prey to the consuming fire.

But oh, if there be one soul that can find no peace in any self-righteous way, – if there be one of you who find that you are lost in yourself, – behold, Christ says to you, “I am the way,”  as He says in another place, “I am the door.”  It is a full, free, and open way, and it is a way for sinners.  Why wait a moment longer?  There was once a partition wall between you and God; but Christ hath cast it down.  God was once angry; but His anger is turned away from this blessed path.  In Christ He is ever well pleased.

II.  Christ is the Truth. – The whole Bible, and the whole of experience, bear witness that by nature we are ignorant of the truth.  No doubt there are many truths which an unconverted man does know.  He may know the truths of mathematics and arithmetic, – he may know many of the common every-day truths; but still it cannot be said that an unconverted man knows the truth, for Christ is the truth.  Christ may be called the key-stone of the arch of truth.  Take away the key-stone of an arch, and the whole becomes a heap of rubbish.  The very same stones may be there; but they are all fallen, smothered, and confused, – without order, without end.  Just so take Christ away, and the whole arch of truth becomes a heap of rubbish.  The very same truths may be there; but they are all fallen, – without coherence, without order, without end.  Christ may be called the sun of the system of truth.  Take away the sun out of our system, and every planet would rush into confusion.  The very same planets would be there; but their conflicting forces would draw them hither and thither, orb dashing against orb in endless perplexity.  Just so take Christ away, and the whole system of truth rushes into confusion.  The same truths may be in the mind, but all conflicting and jarring in inextricable mazes; for “the path of the wicked is as darkness; they know not at what they stumble.”  But let Christ be revealed to an unconverted soul – let it not be merely a man speaking about Christ unto him, but let the Spirit of God reveal Him, – and there is revealed, not a truth, but the truth.  You put the key-stone into the arch of truth; you restore the sun to the centre of the system.  All truth becomes orderly and serviceable in that mind.

Now he knows the truth with regard to himself.  Did the Son of God really leave the bosom of the Father to bear wrath in our stead? – then I must be under wrath.  Did the Lord Jesus become a servant, that He might obey the will of God instead of sinners? – then I must be without any righteousness, – a child of disobedience.

Again, knowing Christ, he knows the truth with regard to God.  Did God freely give up his Son to the death for us all? – then, if I believe in Jesus, there is no condemnation to me.  God is my Father, and God is love.

My friends, have you seen Christ, who is the truth?  Has He been revealed to you, not by flesh and blood, but by the Spirit of our God?  Then you know how true it is that in Him “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” – that He is the “Alpha and Omega,”  the beginning and the ending of all knowledge.  But if you have not seen Christ, then you know nothing yet as you ought to know; all your knowledge is like a bridge without a key-stone – like a system without a sun.  What good will it do you in hell that you knew all the sciences in the world, all the events of history, and all the busy politics of your little day?  Do you not know that your very knowledge will be turned into an instrument of torture in hell?  Oh, how will you wish in that day that you had read your newspaper less and your Bible more, – that, with all your getting, you had got understanding – that, with all your knowledge, you had known the Saviour, whom to know is life everlasting!

III.  Christ is the Life. – The whole Bible bears witness that by nature we are dead in trespasses and sins  – that we are as unable to walk holily in the world, as a dead man is unable to rise and walk.

Both Scripture and experience alike testify that we are by nature dead in trespasses and sins; and yet it is not a death in which we are wholly inactive, for in it we are said to walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air.

This truth is taught us impressively in that vision of the prophet Ezekiel, where he was carried out by the Spirit, and set down in the midst of an open valley full of dry bones; and as he passed by them round about, behold, there were very many in the open valley, and lo! they were very dry.

Just such is the view which every child of God gets of the world.  The dry bones are very many, and they are very dry; and he asks the same question which God asked of Ezekiel: “Can these bones live?”  Oh yes, my friends; and does not experience teach you the same thing?  True, the dead cannot know that they are dead; and yet, if the Lord touch your heart, you will find it out.  We prophesy to dry bones; for this is the Lord’s way; – while we prophesy, the breath enters in.  Look back over your life, then.  See how you have walked according to the course of this world.  You have always been like a man swimming with the stream, – never like a man swimming against the current.  Look into your heart, and see how it has turned against all the commandments: you feel the Sabbath to be a weariness, instead of calling it a delight and honourable.  If ever you tried to keep the commandments of God, – if ever you tried to keep your eyes from unlawful desires, your tongue from words of anger or gossiping or bitterness, your heart from malice and envy and covetousness, – if ever you have tried this, and I fancy most unconverted men have tried it, – if ever you have tried this, did you not find it impossible?  It was like raising the dead.  Did you not find a struggle against yourself?  Oh, how plain that you are dead – not born again!  Marvel not that we say unto you, Ye must be born again.  You must be joined to Christ, for Christ is the life.  Suppose it were possible for a dead limb to be joined into a living body so completely that all the veins should receive the purple tide of living blood, – suppose bone to join on to bone, and sinew to sinew, and nerve to nerve, – do you not see that that limb, however dead before, would become a living limb?  Before, it was cold and stiff and motionless, and full of corruption; now it is warm and pliable, and full of life and motion.  It is a living limb, because joined on to that which is life.  Or suppose it possible for a withered branch to be grafted into a living vine so completely that all the channels should receive the flow of the generous sap, do you not agree that that branch, however dead before, becomes a living branch?  Before, it was dry and fruitless and withered; now it is full of sap, of life, and vigour.  It is a living branch, for it is joined to the vine, which is its life.  Well, then, just in the same way, Christ is the life of every soul that cleaves to Him. He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.  Is your soul like a dead limb – cold, stiff, motionless, and full of corruption?  Cleave you to Christ, be joined to Him by faith, and you shall be one spirit, – you shall be made warm and vigorous and full of activity in God’s service.

Is your soul like a withered branch – dry, fruitless, and withered, wanting both leaves and fruit?  Cleave you to Christ; be joined to Him, and you shall be one spirit.  You will find it true that Christ is the life; your life will be hid with Christ in God.  You will say, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.’

Remember, then, my unbelieving friends, the only way for you to become holy is to become united to Christ.

And remember you, my believing friends, that if ever you are relaxing in holiness, the reason is, you are relaxing your hold on Christ.   Abide in me, and I in you; so shall ye bear much fruit.   Severed from me, ye can do nothing.

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HEAVENLY THINGS: John 3:9-15


Last week we considered the necessity of the new birth, without which not only is entrance into the Kingdom of God impossible, but even beginning to understand the Kingdom of God in its most elementary stages is impossible.

We saw that Jesus cut right through all the rhetoric of Nicodemus and drove straight at the most important need that this man had, indeed that any man, woman, and child has – that of the new birth. Yes, this man was a Pharisee, and a very important one at that, yet he was also outside the Kingdom of God, and stood in great need of this new birth as wrought within a person by the Holy Spirit.

No man, woman or child can ever hope to enter the Kingdom of God if they have not personally experienced this new birth – it is an absolute necessity. Without it there is no spiritual life, and has therefore no ability to enter the Kingdom of God.

This man had no idea of what Jesus was speaking about – it just all seemed too impossible to him. How could such a thing as being born again be possible, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born (3:4)?’

By his very answers to Jesus, both in verse 3 and in verse 9, Nicodemus proved to all human history from that time forward, that indeed his greatest need, as Jesus had said to him, was to experience the new birth, for ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).’

As a Pharisee, and as an important teacher within Israel, Nicodemus should have known this most important truth already. This truth of the necessity of the new birth was of course not absent from the Old Testament from which Nicodemus taught, and we considered for a moment an example given in Ezekiel 36, and verses 26 and 27, ‘A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.’

With the Old Testament full of such allusions to the new birth, and with various types and illustrations of it, Jesus rebuked Nicodemus, ‘Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things (3:10)?’ These are things that someone who is teaching the Bible ought to know, indeed to have experienced, yet he knew nothing of them – he had no spiritual life to understand these realities.

This is no small matter – the most elementary, the most basic teaching concerning entrance into the Kingdom of God, the most necessary prerequisite to being able to keep the statutes of God successfully, was not known by the one who taught the common people within the land! What hope have such people got when their leaders don’t even know the truth!

And what a sad state it is, when the very ones who are charged with the responsibility of teaching people the truth as regards deliverance from sin, and entrance into the Kingdom of God, who are also accountable to God for what they teach, do not know the most basic of Biblical truths – to enter the Kingdom, you must first be born again from above. You cannot begin to move in the right direction without this new birth.

How many will perish for want of a faithful teacher, both then and now? The truth is not taught anymore, even in our own land – people perish, while they yet think they have the Kingdom of God in their very hands, while in reality they have not even experienced the new birth. They are told to repeat simple statements, or simple prayers, to utter strange sounds called tongues, to carry out certain rituals or observances – and with the completion of such things they are assured of a mansion in Heaven. It’s a tragedy, truly it is.

Nicodemus and his fellow Pharisaic teachers were teaching an entrance into the Kingdom based upon the merit of human effort and obedience, a system devoid of any saving merit whatsoever – and yet this is what they taught.

They had no real spiritual idea as to what they were doing. They were prepared to ‘compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves (Mt 23:15).’

What the Pharisee’s taught was in complete contrast to the testimony of Jesus, of the prophets, and of John the Baptist; for while the Pharisee’s taught what was the product of mere human interpretation and invention, Jesus said, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness (3:11).’

When Jesus speaks there is an air of certainty, an authority that the Pharisee’s knew nothing of. This was a word to be trusted, a word that had real clout – for it was truth, and came from a source that is absolutely trustworthy, not the product of mere human invention.

And when I speak to you concerning this truth, I come with similar authority, not because I’m something special, but because I come with the very same words of Jesus – the authority is still in the words, ‘We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen …’

Jesus continues, ‘If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things (3:12)?’ If Nicodemus did not believe and understand the earthly things, what hope did he have of believing and understanding heavenly things?

What is Jesus talking about here? What are the earthly things that Nicodemus didn’t believe? The context points us to the answer – surely it is what Nicodemus has already rejected, what Jesus had already said.

Yes, being born again is a spiritual matter and is clearly from above, yet that which Jesus has already said must be what Jesus is referring to as an earthly thing in this verse. There is nothing else that he has yet pointed to, it must be this. He has said nothing else up to this point, except stressing the need of the new birth.

But it is not so much the new birth that is earthly, though it be something which happens within a person, and occurs on the earth. The way that Jesus sought to teach Nicodemus about the new birth, with these various simple earthly illustrations, in order to simply explain the truth being taught is what Jesus means here. Jesus says in effect, ‘Nicodemus, if you can’t understand these simple illustrations that I have used to point to the truth, then there is no way known that you will understand the truth simply stated without the illustrations.’

The idea behind all this is that these things are basic things – how can you understand anything further if you can’t get what I’ve already told you, and pointed to with earthly pictures and illustrations? If you can’t even get beyond these illustrations regarding the basics, then you won’t understand the bare facts of spiritual life, and how to enter in upon it. If I state them without the illustrations – that is well and truly beyond you.

Though the Old Testament clearly speaks of this truth concerning the new birth, and though it should have been obvious by Nicodemus’s inability to keep the law that he proclaimed as the way to salvation, Nicodemus still could not see the reality of the new birth, and of its need. All screams out to Nicodemus of the need of some other way – yet he will not believe. And why, because he can’t work it out in his own mind, because it doesn’t seem possible to him.

These people would rather persist with there flawed methods of achieving entrance into the Kingdom, then to accept the way of one whom even they recognized as ‘a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him (3:2).’

What is it that you are sticking to this morning – will you continue to stick to methods and ways of salvation that are based upon the interpretations, inventions, and wisdom of man – things that you are able to accept in your own mind? Or will you believe what the Lord Jesus Christ has to say? What is more believable to you?

Do you think you have the way of salvation worked out? Is your little system right? Perhaps it’s a system of belief you have inherited from family, friends, or some religious teacher – is it right? Have you been in the presence of God and had it approved by Him?

‘And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven (3:13).’

Well Jesus has been in heaven, in fact He came from there. He knows the way of life, and He tells it as it is. If there is anyone who has the words of life, surely it must be Jesus. He is the only one who has had such special access to the Father, who indeed is God Himself.

‘Are you prepared to rest all your faith and hope for eternity upon those teachings that you have received Nicodemus? Have any of those men whose teaching you accept above mine ever been to heaven, into the very presence of God, and there received their doctrines and theology? They haven’t been there have they?’ So runs the argument to Nicodemus.

No one on earth has gone into the Presence of God and received the ability to teach the heavenly truths, not one. Not one person has been and done that. To teach heavenly, spiritual things you need first hand information, and that’s received from God Himself – its right outside the experience of man until its revealed to him by God.

But Jesus has come from there, the Son of Man who has come from the very Presence of God has most certainly been there; don’t you think what He has to say is more trustworthy, and that it should be heeded to? Don’t you think that you ought to pay more attention to what Jesus has to say then to the doctrines of men?

And we could quite obviously apply this same idea to every other teaching couldn’t we? Does what you believe and teach measure up to the teaching of Jesus in this Book? If it doesn’t then it should be dropped.

The phrase that is in the text at this point in verse 13, ‘which is in heaven’, is thought to be an addition to the text that was not in the original text, it being absent from the oldest existing manuscripts. But whether it be there or not, it does nothing to add to, or take away from the point that Jesus is making here, ‘I alone have trustworthy information about entrance into the Kingdom.’

If Jesus says something about how one is able to enter into the Kingdom of God, then what he has to say should surely be listened to – who cares what anyone else has to say, whether it be Billy Graham, Louis Palau, or Kevin Matthews. If Jesus says entrance is upon such and such a condition, then you had better believe that it is upon those conditions.

And I would ask you this morning – are you prepared to back the flawed interpretations and inventions of men rather than the truth taught by the Son of Man? The Pharisaic method of earning their place in the Kingdom by their obedience and their own merits was no good – and all methods of obtaining the Kingdom today by human effort and merit is of no value either.

It matters not whether it be by some form of church ritual, be it baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or Church attendance; whether it be some form of attempted obedience to the Word of God; even whether it be a dependence upon the exercise of faith itself – these things will not grant you entrance into the Kingdom – its God’s way, or its no way!

And here Jesus moves on from the new birth to that which follows on after that, to further teaching on how one enters into the Kingdom of heaven. If there has been no new birth, then this next stage will never happen.

To be able to move onto the next stage, that first stage that man is aware of, he must first be born again from above. And though he may not be immediately aware of this new birth having occured within him, this next stage he will be aware of.

‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life (3:14,15).’

What is God’s way for entrance into the Kingdom of God – it is the way that has been foretold in the Old Testament illustration of Numbers 21:4-9. Let’s just read that for a moment:

‘And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived (Num 21:4-9).’

Here as usual the people had sinned against God, and to punish them the Lord God sent serpents in among them to bite them and kill them. The snakes were the just consequence of their sin, and an expression of the wrath of God against sin.

The only escape open to the people of Israel was to look at the serpent that Moses had made, placed on a pole, and lifted up for all to see. This was God’s way of escaping the wrath that had come upon the people of Israel – if you didn’t look at the serpent, it mattered not what else you did, you died.

Now this illustration was used by Jesus to teach an important truth to Nicodemus – that the only way into the Kingdom of God was by Jesus, in a similar way as recorded in this Old Testament story from Israel’s history.

In order to escape the wrath of God that abides upon men, women and children because of sin, men do not need the inventions of men, but the provision of a way of escape provided by God Himself, and Jesus was that provision.

As the serpent on the pole was lifted up, and set up in a prominent place so that everyone could look at it and live, and thereby escape the wrath of God that had descended upon the people in the form of these snakes; so to Jesus would be lifted up as God’s provision for men so that they might escape the eternal wrath of God for sin.

As the people of Israel looked at the bronze serpent as God’s means of escape, so to people would need to look at Jesus by faith in order to escape God’s wrath.

Salvation is not to be found in any human method, but only in the method that God has set down for salvation. If those people bitten by the snakes had decided to set themselves on finding some anti-venom serum, they would have died. If they decided that they would try some religious activity in order to pacify God, they would have died. There was but one way to escape open to them, to look at the God-appointed means of escape.

And this is the point of the illustration from the Old Testament; Jesus is the only God-appointed means to escape the wrath of God, and to gain entrance into the Kingdom of God.

‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me (Jn 12:32).’ ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (Jn 14:6).’

The clear teaching of this Gospel, and of the Word of God, is that Jesus alone is the way of entrance into the Kingdom of God. He is the way to eternal life, the Kingdom life – He and no other. And so you see in this place, the Northlake’s Reformed Baptist Church, we will teach and preach no other way of salvation but ‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2)’, ‘Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).’

‘And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (Jn 17:3).’

If you are to know this eternal life, then you need to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the way to the Kingdom, and to rest in Him as that way. There is no other name given as a way of salvation – not from God there isn’t.

As the people of Israel needed to first believe in the promise of the bronze serpent being the way that God would restore them to health, before they actually looked in its direction – so it is with Christ.

To exercise faith in Christ is to believe that the way to salvation through Christ is true, and then to act upon that belief with confident action. That is the belief that is needed.

But I might not yet have experienced the new birth? The new birth is something that you are unable to perform, the Holy Spirit works it within a person, and you are not called upon to perform it.

But you are called upon to believe, ‘what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house (Acts 16:30,31)’

If you believe, then you can rest assured that you have also experienced the new birth, for without that you could never have believed. If you believe then the Kingdom is yours, you have eternal life, you have already experienced the new birth.

It is a promise not only of the Kingdom life to come, but entrance into that life already – for you already have it, you are already part of that heavenly kingdom.

But of course, if you do not believe then the obvious implication of this verse is that you will perish – not annihilation, but everlasting punishment in Hell.

So far in John 3 then we have seen the necessity of the new birth, and the way of entrance into the Kingdom as being Christ Himself. Next week we will consider more of this important passage, and just how Jesus is the way of entrance into the Kingdom.

NECESSITY OF THE NEW BIRTH: John 3:1-8


As with just about every other area of doctrine taught in the Bible, today we find a number of views concerning the new birth, of being born again, of regeneration. It seems that any area of teaching is open to being misunderstood or corrupted by man. And so it is with this teaching, of being born again.

In fact, being born again is seen today as almost a new category of Christian. I’m sure you have heard someone say, ‘Oh so and so is a born again Christian’, as though that were some other form of Christian, as though being born again was not the normal experience of a Christian. In fact, many of these so-called born again Christians are far from being so, and rather lead to the ridicule of Christianity because of their hypocrisy. And we seem to be seeing an increase in this sort of thing in those trying to get out of jail early for instance.

Then there is the idea that you are born again after you have come to faith and repentance, but surely if you have achieved this is there any real reason to be born again? Haven’t you already got what the new birth gives to you? Haven’t you already displayed spiritual life, so why would you need to be granted spiritual life?

Then there are those who preach as though they are telling you to be born again, as though the ability to do this rests with you – and so people attempt to perform this themselves.

What is this new birth all about? Where can we get the right answers concerning this much-abused doctrine – the answer of course is to go to the Bible. It is there that we will find the answers concerning the new birth, and it is this passage under consideration this morning that is the best place to begin.

John chapter three is an example of what we looked at last week, of Jesus knowing everything, even the hearts and minds of men. And in this chapter we see that Jesus knew just what it was that was so necessary in the life of Nicodemus. Throughout the Gospel of John there are various examples of Jesus knowing the hearts and mind of men, and these include the Samaritan woman at the well in the next chapter, and the lame man at the pool of Bethsaida in chapter 5.

And what we are going to see today is that the thing Jesus knew Nicodemus needed so much was this new birth, and so today we are going to consider ‘The Necessity of the New Birth.’

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and a Scribe according to John 1:10 and 7:50. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus pressed the necessity of absolute conformity to the laws of God. So keen were these Pharisee’s on the law of God, that they added to these laws in an attempt to be more holy, more separated from the mass of humanity, to be the separated ones. In effect, these men taught and practised a form of legalism, a system of belief and life that in reality found salvation in the way of works or human merit.

In other words, they thought they would be saved on the basis of what they themselves achieved in their lives, based upon their ability to observe the Law of God with such preciseness.

The elite of the Pharisee’s sat on the religious committee known as the Sanhedrin, the religious leading body of the Jews, and Nicodemus sat on this board. Even a quick speed read through the Gospels will reveal that the Pharisees and the rest of the Sanhedrin were violently opposed to Jesus.

Could this then be the reason why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night? Was he frightened of what the rest of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin would think of him? Perhaps he was frightened that he might loose his spot on the committee – whatever the reason, Nicodemus goes to Jesus at night.

And the fact that Nicodemus went to Jesus at all suggests that Nicodemus was very interested in hearing what Jesus had to say. In fact, by the way Jesus talks to Nicodemus, letting the questions of Nicodemus pass by and speaking to his real need, it would seem to imply that Nicodemus had a concern for his real state before God. It would seem from the whole flow and context of the passage that what Nicodemus was truly concerned about was the way into the Kingdom of God – and perhaps he himself was questioning the whole Pharisee way of doing it. Perhaps his conscience was striking out at him, with all his pent up self-righteousness, and he had come to know that before God all this was nothing.

Today some of you here might know this experience yourself – perhaps you are beginning to question your state before God. Maybe you are no longer confident that your coming into the kingdom was via the correct way, God’s way, and now are becoming convinced that it was no way, and therefore that you are still outside of the Kingdom of God.

Does your conscience concern you about such matters? Are you concerned that the religion and practices with which you have been associated for your whole life have deceived you? Well it would certainly seem that this was the case for Nicodemus, and his was surely the right action to take, for he went to Jesus about it.

When he goes to Jesus it seems as though he was representing not only himself but others also, ‘The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him (3:2).’ Perhaps he knew of others among the Pharisee’s who were having the same doubts concerning their state before God, and on the evidence he had seen of Jesus, Jesus seemed to be the one to go to and discuss these things with. Clearly He stood in close relationship with God in some way, for He does what only God can do.

It doesn’t seem as though Nicodemus at this point thought of Jesus as any more than a teacher sent from God, perhaps a prophet. But he was fairly sure given what he had seen of Jesus, that He was certainly someone sent by God, and therefore the right one to direct his questions to.

But before he can say anything else, Jesus cuts to the chase, ‘Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3).’ ‘Don’t beat around the bush Nicodemus, I know why your here and this is what you need – you need to be born again.’ What is the way of salvation, well this is what is necessary Nicodemus – you need to be born again.

Well this was just confusion to Nicodemus, ‘Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born (Jn 3:4)?’ He had no idea what Jesus was talking about, it just seemed an impossibility that someone could be born again.

‘Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (Jn 3:5).’

In the Greek, the text reads as, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you’. The idea of the double amen is to draw attention to what He says, and to emphasis what He says; in other words what Jesus goes on to say is of great importance, and is not to be missed – It is so, it is so.

Jesus as the Son of God, as God Himself, emphasises to Nicodemus the absolute necessity of the new birth, not only to him, but also to all people, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’

It matters not whether one is a Pharisee, whether one takes seriously what the Pharisee’s say, whether one is a member of the Sanhedrin – you must be born again, or you have no part in the Kingdom of God. That is absolutely certain.

Whether you be a preacher or pastor, a newsletter folder or door keeper, an organ player, a church goer, or whatever you might be in the church – this is an absolute essential, you must be born again – the Son of God has said it. Without this new birth, you have no place in the Kingdom.

Jesus describes the way of entrance into the spiritual Kingdom of God by using a scene that Nicodemus is used to, that of birth. To be born is the way of entrance into the physical world; there is no other way to enter into life at the physical level. To be part of an earthly family you need to enter it by natural birth.

And so too you need to be born in order to enter the spiritual – you need to be born again, to be spiritually born. Something must happen to a person that is similar to physical birth, except it is in the spiritual realm.

Do you see what this is saying to Nicodemus – you have come under the cloak of darkness for fear of loosing your position on the Sanhedrin, yet as far as entrance into the Kingdom of God is concerned, that position counts for nothing. All that you currently have is of no help to you in entering the Kingdom of God.

All of your self-righteous Pharisaic law keeping and legalism is vanity and useless. All earthly things, whether it be of a religious nature or not, all such things are useless as far as entering into the Kingdom of God is concerned – you need to be born again. And this is the point of verse 6, ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’

No matter what you have or do here on this earth, all is pointless if all you have is your physical birth, for all that comes from your nature is fleshy – that is, corrupted by sin, and is therefore pointless and useless as far as entrance into the Kingdom of God is concerned. Bad trees can only bear bad fruit, like produces like, and because you are sinfully corrupt, all you can produce is sinful corruption.

‘…a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit (Mt 7:17,18).’

Have you considered that? Do you realise, that without the new birth, no matter what religious things you do, whether it be going to Church, being baptised, reading the Bible, praying, trying to believe in Jesus – all that is useless. Do you realise that? You cannot bear anything that is spiritually good.

For Nicodemus it meant that even being born a Jew meant nothing without the new birth – because in Adam he was outside the Kingdom, having no spiritual life.

There’s no point arguing about it, Jesus has said ‘It is so, It is so…’ You don’t agree? Well your argument is not with me, it is with Jesus, with God Himself – for He has said it.

Because of the Fall, every person is born a sinner and is totally corrupted by sin. Every part of your being is corrupted, so that everything you are, do, say, etc is also corrupted by sin – and is therefore unacceptable to God. You have no spiritual life, for spiritual life was lost as a result of the Fall in Adam, ‘Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned … Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come … For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous (Romans 5:12,14,19).’

Sinful man is described as being spiritually dead, spiritually blind, spiritually deaf, and so on, totally incapable of doing anything that can be considered good in God’s eyes. So a person needs to get right away from that state in which he was born if he is to enter into the Kingdom. And a dead person can not do that himself. If not, ‘Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire (Mt 7:19).’

In fact without this new birth you cannot even see the Kingdom of God. That is, you cannot even begin to perceive it or understand it, let alone enter it.

You may continue to proclaim your right to the Kingdom because you don’t consider yourself too bad, or because you go to Church, or even because you profess to be a Christian – but, if you have not experienced the new birth you will not truly understand that the Kingdom of God is so much more than these things. Why? Because these things are beyond you, impossible to you, ‘ In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them (2 Corinthians 4:4).’

Before the new birth, a sinner finds it impossible to get a Biblical view of the Kingdom of God, it is beyond their grasp, because they are in bondage to an understanding that is void of spiritual perception, they have no capacity for spiritual thinking and understanding.

So you see the futility of the belief that one first exercises faith and repentance, and then is born again – for without the new birth you cannot see, you cannot understand the Kingdom, and therefore there is no way you can enter, or you can believe. You don’t even know that there is a Kingdom to enter, and that there is a way to enter – you need to be born again.

And so you see, if you have not experienced this new birth then there is only one possibility for you in the world to come – death. Without being born again you will perish, for without the new birth you cannot believe, which is the way of entrance into the Kingdom.

But this text also tells us something more, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ The word again also contains the thought of ‘from above’. In other words, not only does a person need to be born again, but a person needs to be born from above, a reference to being born of God, ‘born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:13).’ So you see, the new birth that you are to experience is not something that is human in origin.

This new life that is so necessary for entrance into the Kingdom comes not from anything on earth, but from God. It is clearly not something that you yourself are able to do – only God can grant you this new life. He alone is the Source of all life, and this is especially so as regards the spiritual.

And this point is further strengthened by verse 5, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ Here the reference is clearly to the work of the Spirit as being the active force in the new birth – clearly then it is God who must perform this work if we are to live.

No amount of self-will will do. No amount of moral reform, no amount of self-determined will power to produce change in problem areas, in fact, nothing short of a spiritual birth wrought within the sinner from above is sufficient to bring about this new life that is so necessary unto salvation.

What about the water in verse 5, surely that points to baptism being somehow involved in the new birth? Well, no it doesn’t, no matter how much crowing Roman Catholicism does about it.

It is not talking about the Spirit and baptism, as though new life is received from the Spirit through the ritual of baptism – as is taught in Roman Catholicism and baptismal regeneration. This is simply to point to the cleansing and renewing work of the Spirit in the new birth, or regeneration. This is just to further explain the Spirit’s work in the new birth.

You see verse 5 is a further expansion of verse 3, further explaining what was said there. Nothing new is added as to the means of the new birth, just further explanation in order to make it clearer to Nicodemus. It is designed to take this teacher of the Old Testament back into the Old Testament, to remind him of what was said in the Old Testament.

‘Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them (Ezekiel 36:25-27).’

What a wonderful description of the new birth that is from the Old Testament.

Therefore the introduction of ‘water’ into the passage here is not out of place, for it is used to explain the significance of the Spirit’s work, and that of cleansing. His work is like water, cleansing, washing away the sin and corruption, thereby pointing to the renewing and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.

And as a teacher of the Old Testament Nicodemus should of recognized this, ‘Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things (John 3:10)? ’ But he didn’t, because ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).’

So you see, before you can do anything remotely spiritual, you need to be born again, to be granted spiritual life. Before you can believe and repent, you must be born again – because without this new life, you have no ability to believe and repent, because spiritually you’re dead. There is nothing spiritual about us at all; ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh’. You need the life that only God can give, for ‘ that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’

But I decided to follow Jesus, I believed – do you believe the Bible, it tells you this morning that you could not do this unless you were born again. Salvation is of the Lord; it’s not something you can achieve. Such is human pride, that it will not let go of self but claims even the most obvious of God’s works as its own, ‘Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?’

You did not choose to enter into spiritual life, God granted it to you as His gift to you. It’s grace, not your work at all. How can a spiritually dead person give himself or herself spiritual life? Simply put, you can’t.

As a person has no say about his physical birth, so it is with the spiritual birth – it happens without input from you. And isn’t this the point of verse 8, ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.’

This earthy illustration gets across an important point as regards the new birth. Wind cannot be controlled by anyone, yet we can see its effects all around us. You have no idea where it came from, you have no idea where it is going, but you can sure tell where it’s been – and that’s the way of the Spirit in the new birth.

The Holy Spirit works as He see’s fit, doing as He pleases. You don’t know where He will work, when He will work, etc – but when He has it will be clearly evident, for He works new life in sinners, bringing them out of darkness and into light; from death to life; from blindness to sight.

The possession of new life from the inner workings of the Spirit of God results in the bearing of spiritual fruit that is clear evidence that the Spirit has come calling.

Remember this when you next pray, in fact whenever you pray – it is God who has brought you into possession of your spiritual life; don’t forget to thank Him for it always.