January 7, 2018
John 3:1-8, Titus 3:3-7
Well, happy new year! 2018 is officially here. You know what that means right? For about the next month, we’ll fill out the date wrong. We’ll have to go back and erase 2017 and write 2018. But with a new year also comes new year resolutions. How many of you have them? How many of you are excited to put 2017 behind and begin fresh in 2018? That’s what a new year offers right? A new year to start fresh and kind of begin again.
A year is a long time, and maybe there are parts of last year that you’d like to forget. Maybe there’s parts of your life from years ago that you’d like to forget. Wouldn’t it be great, if we had a reset button that we could push and restart?
I know there are plenty of things in my life that I wish never happened. I’ve said things to family and friends that weren’t nice. As I look back I’m embarrassed. I’ve made decisions in the past that led to stress and worry. And maybe worst of all I’ve let my emotions and my desires get in the way of my relationship with God.
It would be great if we had a reset button to undo things in life. What would you use it for? Would you go back to the night of that party where you drank too much and did things you regret? Would you go back and spend more time with your family instead of on selfish desires? Would you go back and undo that purchase that was way too expensive and have put you in debt?
If that button existed, we’d probably get some good use out of it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. However, there is a way to move forward in a way that the past doesn’t haunt us. And that’s what this series is about. It is resetting our life in Jesus. Just like there are different stages in our physical life, there are different stages in our spiritual life, and today we look at the infant stage: being born again. Today we are in John 3. John is one of the four biographies of Jesus. We call those four the gospels; the good news of Jesus.
1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
Okay. We learn some important information about Nicodemus. We are told he is a Pharisee. He knew the Old Testament well. Very well actually. Outwardly no one could accuse him of any wrong doing because outwardly he followed God’s law perfectly. Pharisees were confident in their standing with God because they were Jewish (God’s chosen nation) and because of their performance. He was also a member of the Jewish ruling council. There were 70 men that were part of the council that ruled over the Jewish people both spiritually and politically as much as they could. This is a very important man in the Jewish circles.
His friends on the council didn’t believe in Jesus. In fact, they accused him of being from the devil. Nicodemus isn’t so sure though. So he comes to Jesus secretly in the cover of night so no one knows because he wants to learn more. He says, “look we know you’re from God because no one can do the signs you are doing if you weren’t.”
But notice what Jesus says, “You can’t enter heaven unless you’re born again.” Jesus wastes no time; he gets straight to the point. And his point is this: spiritual birth and being reset is something God does to us not something we produce. So his being a Jew gave him no part of the kingdom, his being a Pharisee, considered holier than other people, got him nowhere in the kingdom of God, the fact he was part of the ruling council meant nothing. None of this stuff resets you. None of it grants you access to the kingdom of God. That’s our first point today…
To reset your life, you have to look outside yourself.
That’s true for you and me as well. Every new year, I hear people saying the same things. “Last year was a rough year; this year I’m going to focus on me.” “This year I’m going to really try to live a better life.” “Last year I made some mistakes, but this year I plan to correct those mistakes. I’m going to repair relationships, I’m going to work harder, I’m going to make something of myself.” None of that is bad, but if we are looking to our actions to reset ourselves, it’ll never happen. We don’t have the power to do that. We don’t have the power to change our past. We don’t have the power to cover up the mistakes we made and make up for past sins. If we look to ourselves and what we do to make up for past sins, two things are for sure: 1) we will miss out on the kingdom of heaven. 2) our past mistakes will still weigh on our hearts and minds. Instead, Jesus says we need to be reborn.
But how? Nicodemus had that same question.
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
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.
Here’s a picture of my family. This is my grandpa, my dad, uncle, and brother. We all look somewhat similar. Now my grandpa taught my dad and my uncle a lot of things over the years. My dad has taught me many things over the years. But you know what none of us had to be taught? How to be selfish. None of us had to be taught how to say mean things. No one had to teach us to say, “Mine” and to not share. None of us had to be taught how to cut someone with our words. Parents, I know you didn’t teach your 1-year-old to cry when you took something away from them. They naturally know selfishness. I know you didn’t teach your 2-year-old to say “mine” yet they know it. That’s because flesh gives birth to flesh. In other words, sin is passed down from one generation to the next.
At the very moment of conception, we are sinners. And that may seem unfair. And it is. you’re right. It’s not fair that we are all born without a chance. We are all born sinners. It’s also not fair that some babies are born with AIDS because his parents had AIDS. But just because something isn’t fair doesn’t mean it’s not a fact. The same is true with sin. We are born in sin and are outside of God’s kingdom. It is that sin that leads us to make the bad decisions we make. That makes us say the evil things we do. That causes us to do things, think things, say things that we wish we didn’t. That make us wish we had a reset button. It’s that sin that will ultimately lead us to hell unless we are born again and begin a new life with Jesus. That’s exactly what baptism does. We saw that in our Titus reading earlier right?
3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:3 (this is how we were born. This is flesh giving birth to flesh. Again not pretty, but factual. This is our natural default.). 4-7
Baptism resets me because it saves me.
He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. What was Paul talking about? The same thing Jesus was. Baptism. Baptism saves us and literally grabs us out of the fires of hell and resets us.
As the new year begins, there are some reports of feel good stories from 2017. There was one story of a Los Angeles news photographer who witnessed a car crash. A car was rear-ended and immediately burst into flames. The flames immediately rose higher than the car. Immediately the photographer jumped out of his own car and ran over. He found the driver unconscious, so he bashed the front window open. He quickly unbuckled the driver and dragged the man to safety. He literally saved the man from the fires of the car and saved his life. He reset it.
Spiritually speaking, we are like that man. Rear-ended by sin. Trapped. Unable to escape. The fires of hell are lurking. Climbing higher and higher. But God jumped into action, and at your baptism, he pulled you out of the fires of hell and he reset your life. So what does that look like practically speaking? Well those bad decisions you made last year or in the past years, they deserved hell. But God, in your baptism, saved you. And he’s reset your life.
Baptism doesn’t just save you though. In your baptism God declares you not guilty.
6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirshaving the hope of eternal life.
So that having been justified by his grace. Justified means “declare not guilty.” God doesn’t just save you from hell and bring you into his kingdom, but he also declares that you are not guilty of any of your past mistakes and sins. When that water was poured on your head, and the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” were spoke, you were washed clean of all your sins. At that very moment God declared you not guilty of any of your sins: past, present, or future.
So think of the worst sin you’ve committed, your biggest failure, the thing you’re most embarrassed about. Got it? Okay, here’s the truth: God declares you not guilty. He’s washed it away, and he continues to wash you clean declaring you not guilty.
And that’s key isn’t it? God doesn’t wash you clean, reset you, and say, “You better not mess up anymore.” No. He pulls you from that fire, washes you clean, resets you, and says, “I will continue to do this until I bring you home to heaven. I will continue to wash you and declare you not guilty.” Not because of anything we’ve done, but because of God’s love and mercy.
But maybe you’re asking yourself, “How does this work? It doesn’t make sense.” Nicodemus felt the same way.
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.”
Can you see the wind? Do you believe that the wind exists? Yes. Why? Because you can see the effects of it. You see the branches on the ground. You see the leaves blowing across the yard. Or, freezing cold snow like I saw last week. The same is true with the Holy Spirit. We see him at work through the Word. He is still washing people’s sins away and saving souls. We see him working hard on people’s hearts changing their lives. We see the guilty conscience soothed. We see the depressed feel more loved, we see people growing in love, peace, joy, gentleness, and self-control.
This is what happens in baptism. God saves us, declares us not guilty, resets our lives, and the Holy Spirit begins to work on us to help us grow up with Jesus. Now what?
Believe the promises of baptism
In your baptism God forgives your sins and gives you the gift of the Holy Spirit. That’s exactly what Jesus just talked about. The Holy Spirit is at work on a person in their baptism. Working to forgive their sins and to reset them in the kingdom of heaven and move on from the past. This is a promise for you and your children.
The promises of baptism are God saves you, he declares you not guilty, he gives you the Holy Spirit who creates faith and helps you live a life with Jesus. This promise is for you and your children. Believe these promises.
Soon the devil is going to come to you. He’s going to try to get you to doubt God’s love for you. He’s going to come and whisper that you aren’t good enough for God’s family. Remember your baptism. There God reset your life pulling you out of the fires of hell.
On days when you do fall into temptation and sin against God, remember your baptism. Remember how God washed you clean, and he continues to wash you clean. He looks at you and declares you not guilty.
You may wish you could go back and redo 2017 or parts of it, but you can’t. What you can do is reset and start over with Jesus and it starts with baptism. If you haven’t been baptized yet, talk to me after the service, give me a call, or send me and email. These promises are for you too. If you’re already baptized, now is the time to reclaim all of those promises in baptism. They are yours through faith in Jesus who lived, died, and rose again for you. As past mistakes and sins come to mind, remember the promises of baptism. He saved you bringing you into his kingdom. He declared you not guilty forgiving your sins. And he gave you the Holy Spirit to guide and lead you. This is where we reset. It begins at the infant stage at our baptism.