“You Must Be Born Again” – Pt. 1

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John 3:1 – 8

3  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 that you do unless God is with him.”

3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “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 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

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Chapter 3 of the Gospel of John begins with a fascinating dialog between Jesus and one of the religious leaders named Nicodemus.  The entire dialog goes from verse 1 to verse 21, but I will split this up into three Bible study articles.  There are surprises in store for both Nicodemus and Jesus in this encounter as we will see.

Throughout the dialog, there are some very important themes raised, such as light vs. darkness, regeneration (or the “new birth”), earthly things vs. spiritual things, and the Jewish concept of Rabbi or “Teacher”.  I hope to touch on all of these themes in my three articles.  But first, to give us some context to this story, we must take a close look at who is this man, Nicodemus.

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There is a lot we can learn about Nicodemus in verses 1 and 2.  Immediately we are told that he was “a man of the Pharisees”.  There were many religious groups that existed during the time of Jesus and the most predominant one was the Pharisees.  In Katherine Barnwell’s book “Key Biblical Terms”, she writes this:

Some Pharisees were priests, but many were lay people. They were the party of the common people, in contrast to the Sadducees who were from the rich “upper class”. The leaders of the Pharisees were scribes, but most Pharisees were not trained as scribes; they were ordinary traders and workers.

Now although not all received formal training like the Scribes, most all of them would have received great quantities of informal oral training by literally sitting at the feet of older Pharisees who passed on the traditions of Judaism and their interpretations of the Old Testament scriptures.  In fact, to be a Rabbi, one had to have studied under other well recognized Pharisees.

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Nicodemus though, is not just any average Pharisee; for John writes that he was “a ruler of the Jews”.  He is one of the top leaders of this religious group, very possibly a scribe and perhaps even a member of the Jewish ruling Council, the Sanhedrin.  And yet, notice how he comes to Jesus and approaches him.

We note that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, and that he has great respect for him since he addressed Jesus as “Rabbi”.  This is quite surprising, seeing as the Pharisees would already have learned that Jesus had not been trained within the Pharisaical order.  Therefore, many scholars think that he came to Jesus during the night partly out of fear of being found out.

So we have a prominent religious leader meeting secretly with Jesus to discuss spiritual matters of great importance.  We learn from verse 2 that Nicodemus has seen (or at least heard about) some of the miracles that Jesus had performed in Jerusalem, and he states his belief that only a man who has been sent by God could perform such mighty acts.

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Then in the next two verses, we see that Nicodemus and Jesus are definitely not on the same page together.  Jesus mentions “entering the Kingdom of God”, a very important topic to the Pharisees.  But Jesus says that a man must be “born again” to be able to enter in.  Nicodemus’ answer shows he lacks the ability to comprehend this statement by asking Jesus how it could ever be possible to re-enter a mother’s womb to be reborn.

Jesus goes on to tell us that there are two realities, the things that pertain to this life and this world (i.e. “the things of the flesh”), and there are things that pertain to spiritual life and the eternal realm (i.e. “the things of the Spirit).  Another way of looking at this is that the “flesh” deals with the physical and the external practices (which the Pharisees were so stuck on in their ritualism), while the “Spirit” deals with the spiritual and inner person.

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Jesus is surprised that Nicodemus is surprised at this teaching.  Then Jesus ends this first part of the dialog by stating that while we cannot see a person become spiritually renewed, just like the wind, we can see the effects of a life that has been transformed and become brand new, or reborn as Jesus would say.

Let me ask you who read this article: does this all make sense to you?  Or are you feeling lost just like Nicodemus was?  Christianity is not a set of rules or regulations to be kept (as the Pharisees believed), but rather it is a relationship between God, who is Spirit, and us, who are also spiritual beings.  Being reborn in our inner self is our “entry ticket” into Heaven.

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Jesus Is The Lamb of God

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John 1:29 – 34

“Behold The Lamb of God”

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”[1]

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There certainly were a number of things that were unusual about John the Baptist.  We know from the other Gospel accounts that John wore strange clothes (made out of camel’s hair) and he ate strange food (locusts and wild honey).  And then he was out in the wilderness for quite some time announcing, “Repent of your sins, for the Kingdom of God has come near,” and was baptizing people as a sign of their repentance.

And then Jesus arrived on the scene.  And what did John say: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  What an interesting saying.  And then note how John mentions that he had not known Jesus and who he truly was until God revealed it to him.  In fact, he says that the primary reason that God had called him to be an evangelist in the desert was for the very purpose of being able to identify Jesus as the Lamb of God.

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What does that mean, “Lamb of God”?  To appreciate the depth of meaning of this expression, we would have to go back and read much of the Old Testament.  It was made clear by God to the Israelite people as far back as their time of bondage in Egypt that they would be saved only if a lamb, a pure lamb, were killed and the blood of the lamb be put on the doorposts of their homes.  (Read Exodus 12:1 – 29.)

Over the many hundreds of years since God sent Moses to rescue the nation of Israel, each year at Passover the Jews would kill a lamb and eat the meat to remind them of God’s great salvation.  It was a great reminder of God’s love for His people.  But whether it was the lamb killed during the Passover, or the goats and rams killed on the Day of Atonement (sacrifices made to bring forgiveness of sins for the people), they knew that this was still just a temporary reprieve from the guilt of their sins.

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But there was still the hope and the promise that one day God would send a Deliverer who would rescue people for all time from their sins.  And that promise became real for John when he baptized Jesus.  John saw the Holy Spirit come down on Jesus and confirm for him that Jesus would be the One who would take away our sins once and for all.

Now speaking of the Holy Spirit coming down upon Jesus, I want to look at that for a moment.  Notice that it says the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven “like a dove”.  It does not say that the Holy Spirit was a dove.  And yet we have this picture of the Holy Spirit as a dove gently fluttering down and sitting on Jesus’ shoulder.  That is not the image I see.

We know that when people have God’s Spirit, it comes and fills them and empowers them to do whatever God leads them to do.  Whether it is Samson, David, Elijah, early Christians or you and me, Scripture talks about “being filled with God’s Spirit” and with this comes the power of God. Whatever John saw, I do think that it came down gently “like a dove” but I kind of imagine that it was much greater than our image which came down and then filled Jesus with the power He would need for the ministry that lay before Him.

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So as I look at these verses in John, I see a couple powerful theological truths here.  Let us not miss the fact that this passage gives us support for the idea of the Trinity.  We know that God (the Father) had sent John and spoken to him concerning Jesus (the Son) who would come, and upon whom the Spirit (the Holy Spirit) would descend.  A divine incomprehensible truth for us humans, and yet it is still a Truth of Scripture.

Secondly, we see the beginning of Jesus’ ministry begin in humble submission to John’s baptism (which He says in Matthew 3:15 was really submission to doing all that God requires of men).  But we also see that He will go forward filled and empowered by God’s Spirit for what lies ahead.  And ultimately His life and death and resurrection will prove, as John says here in verse 34, that in fact, Jesus is really the Son of God.

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And what does this passage do for us?  It prepares us for all that will come in the rest of this Gospel.  But remember, this is not to be just an intellectual pursuit of knowing about the life of Jesus.  It should be preparing us to know Him better as our God and as Saviour, the Lamb of God who would die us.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Jn 1:29–34). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

We Are God’s Ambassadors

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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Prayer Burdens

In an amazing statement, Jesus said to His Father: “And the glory which You gave Me, I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as you have loved Me” (John. 17:22, 23).

God’s pattern for saving the world is His own! In the Old Testament, when God purposed in His heart to save Nineveh, He called Jonah to go and preach to them. When Jonah finally obeyed, after God severely disciplined him, all Nineveh repented (Jon. 3:5-10). Down through history when God wanted nations to hear of His love, He chose, called, and sent prophets.

It is no different in our day. God’s people still hold the key to reaching a lost world. So, the biblical pattern in praying for a lost world is to pray for God’s people, as Jesus did. How do we practically implement this? When God places a burden on our heart for a nation, we need to pray for:
• The missionaries in that nation, using Jesus’ prayer for His disciples in John 17 as our guide
• The national believers and the churches in that nation
• Mission ministry groups
• Denominations
• For God’s people

The salvation of the nations rests with God’s people. Missionaries have shared the testimony that when they preached the gospel in some villages who had never heard before, these same villagers upon believing asked the missionaries: “How long have you known this good news? Why have you taken so long to come to us? Why did you not come before now? Our parents and others are in an eternity without God and without hope! If only you had come earlier!”

It has been mathematically calculated that if one person discipled another, and they in turn witnessed and discipled one each, and if this continued to multiply and each one hearing remained faithful to sharing with one other each week, it would take a short number of years for all 6.25 billion people in the world to hear the gospel and to be saved. We must pray for the world, by praying as Jesus did, for God’s own people.

–Adapted from Chapter 61 of Giving Ourselves to Prayer (The Bible and Global Prayer by Henry Blackaby).

Lord Jesus, each day, thousands of people you love die without hope…many without ever hearing Your lovely name! Give me, and the rest of Your people, a sense of urgency for finishing the task You gave us so long ago! I repent of my complacency and discomfort! Please fill me with renewed earnestness and determination to witness and to teach others how to live godly, holy lives.

Posted: 10 Oct 2011

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This same kind of prayer burden is becoming the model within our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators.  Not only do we pray for the people to whom we have been called by God to serve, but we are gathering to pray for each other.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not offering up naval-gazing prayers, you know, the ones that are only me-focused and look at life from a perspective of “What do I want, and when I pray in Jesus’ name, I will get that, right?”

No, I am talking about deep soul-searching and soul-wrenching prayer for all of us to be renewed spiritually within, so that the heart will be a fertile ground of exhibiting the genuine love of Christ for those who are perishing without the knowledge of God.  And especially, we pray for those people groups where they still as of today do not have any Scriptures yet published in their own mother-tongue language.

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It is not hard to see that PBT is a praying organization.  Most field Branches have a regular weekly prayer bulletin put together which is sent out to thousands of people who uphold our work in prayer.  There has been a drive to fill a 24/7 prayer schedule of the names of people who are solidly committed to offering up the “sacrifices of praise” and the prayers for the saints and the work of ministry of PBT.

This plan to have someone praying every hour throughout every week is not that many months old, and already there is about 47% of the prayer time slots that are filled.  Just imagine when the entire chart is filled.  We have seen some amazing things happen in PBT these past few years.  But once we have round-the-clock prayers, watch out, because God will do even more great and wonderful things.

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Even here in Dallas in the small circle of people I am with we are “breaking out in prayer”.  For the first time in a long time, we have a large number of people in the Dallas area who are interested in serving PBT over in Papua New Guinea.  And one of the first things we did (after going out for ice cream of course), was to form a prayer group that met each Tuesday at lunch hour so we could pray for each other and the work being done in PNG.

And then finally, let me mention an evening I spent with a family a few nights ago.  They invited me over for supper and to visit.  We had a great time eating and sharing with one another.  But it wasn’t long after we had finished the meal, and as we kept talking around the table, that we all felt that the appropriate way to close our evening together was to spend time praying together.

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Dear Readers:  I hope you too are catching the Spirit blowing and are hearing the call to prayer.  Do that, and you too will see God do great and marvelous things.

God And His Word Will Guide Us

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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Trusting God for the Future

God will reveal what we need to know for the future when the time is right. We know that, for some reason beyond our understanding, some things must wait in a trusting relationship with God.

Other texts make some things clear:

  • It is always the will of God to pray for sexual purity and to ask God for that to be true within family, friends, and society. This means celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in the “one man/one woman” marriage bond. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3, NASB).
  • It is always the will of God to pray that others hear about Jesus Christ and His salvation. “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day”(John 6:40, NASB).
  • It is always the will that we baptize and coach those who take that step: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
  • It is always the will of God that we become a people of God with other believers together as the power of the Holy Spirit flows through us, and that everything in heaven and on earth be “summed up,” joined together under the Lordship of Christ. “He made known to us the mystery of His will . . . the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Ephesians 1:9-10, NASB).

–Adapted from Power Praying (Hearing Jesus’ Spirit by Praying Jesus’ Prayer) by David Chotka

Lord, thank You for what You have revealed to me in Your word, so that I am able to pray with clarity about what is on Your heart and mind for my life. May I be obedient in these things as You teach me to hear the voice of the Spirit.

Posted 19 Nov 2011

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Perhaps the most frequently asked question by Christian young people is, “What is God’s will for me?”  Now this could mean they are wanting to know what God’s overarching plan is for their life.  Or, the person may simply want to know which decision they ought to make as they consider more than one option of what they could do in the realm of day-to-day living.

What’s interesting these days, is that these questions are being asked by Christians of all ages.  There is certainly more options available to most people living in the developed western culture.  Along with that is greater freedom to make important life-changing decisions.  Then add into this the current instability of our society, where job security is no longer guaranteed, and the economic downturn is causing many people to have to rethink their options and their lifestyle.

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It is good to know then that in the midst of the turbulent world in which we live, that we can be sure that there are still some absolutes upon which we can stand and which can help to guide us in how to live.  I am thinking of the Bible, which provides us with tangible and realistic ethical principles which can guide us in how to live our lives, just as the North Star has been a point of reference for sailors over the centuries which helped them to navigate the seas.

Many of us though desire to know more clearly and specifically what exactly it is that God would have us do.  I looked at this issue briefly in a recent article as I tried to encourage people to go forward when we sense that God is leading us to make important decisions.  (You can read that article here.)  Take a good look at the three questions near the end of the article.

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What is important to realize is that Christianity is not just a religion with a book full of rituals which we must perform to be in good standing with God.  No, Christianity is a relationship with a Living God.  And He is intimately concerned about us and desires that we seek His help and His guidance in our lives.  1 Peter says, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

We also know from Scripture that God is ready to guide us in our daily decision making, as long as we are prepared to fully trust Him as to what He is telling us to do.  Proverbs 3:5-6 say, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

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And knowing that God cares so much just about me and about my wife, Jill, helps me to relax and not worry too much about how things will turn out for us in 2012.  Sure, there are some big questions in front of us.  Do we maintain a home in Canada?  Do we consider living long-term in Papua New Guinea again?  Is that even an option?  How does living and working in Dallas fit in, like I did this year?  Do we let my muscle condition dictate where we live, or not?

Yet in the midst of all these questions, I have a sense of peace knowing that my God will walk before me and show me that way.  As we head into the New Year, do you have this sense of peace?  Let God’s Spirit and His Word, the Bible, provide you with this security, and give you hope for a good new year.

The Leading of God’s Spirit

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“Does God Speak Today?”

I have heard this question, and been asked this question, many times.  Often when someone asks this question the person is really asking, “Does God speak audibly to people today?”  And that is somewhat of a loaded question.  If the person asking the question has not had this experience and is skeptical, then if anyone says, “Yes, God speaks to people today,” the questioner might yet just write that off as simply “poppycock” or think that those who say God speaks to them are more likely fringe or fanatical Christians.

On the other hand, if the person asking the question has not had this experience and is asking it as a sincere question, then if anyone says, “Yes, God speaks to people today,” the questioner might ask, “Why then is it that God has never spoken to me?”  And from this perspective they can get the sense that there must be something wrong with them, that they are in some way an inferior Christian to those who claim that God has actually spoken to them.

Personally, I believe that the question itself or at least the interpretation of the question is wrong.  That is, to hear the question, “Does God speak today?” and to interpret it so narrowly to mean, “Does God speaks audibly to people today?’ is misleading.  We do know from Scripture itself that God speaks to His people, but He most often does it in ways other than just audible form.

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We accept this as true, for Scripture says in Hebrews 1:1-2a,

In the past, God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.

The writer of Hebrews is referring to the fact that God came down in human form in the person of Jesus, and through His teachings, recorded by the Gospel writers, God has spoken to us, and continues to speak to us through His written Word.  Scripture even says about itself that God’s Word is interactive within people, and thus we can say that God is still speaking to us today:

The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together. It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart.    Hebrews 4:12


And then we also accept that we have the Holy Spirit within us (1 Corinthians 6:19 ) and by means of His Spirit, God communicates with us today:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.    John 16:13

What a wonderful promise this is to know that the Holy Spirit that lives within us can communicate with us on important issues of truth and life.  Isn’t it wonderful that God’s Spirit can teach us truth to live by, especially with regards to the meaning of Scripture.  But I believe that the Holy Spirit can also lead us in day-to-day activities of life.

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Let me give you an example from my life.  When I was 19 and living in Florida and working with a group called Teen Missions, I woke up out of a dream and had a strong impression that I should go visit the Bible bookstore that was nearby.  I didn’t really know why I had this impression, but I followed what I considered to be the leading of the Spirit.

So I was walking up and down the aisles of the bookstore and finally a woman came over and asked if she could help me with anything.  I said no, and that I was just “browsing”.  But within my spirit I felt that it was very important that I find the “right” book and buy it that day.  I think I spent over two hours wandering all around the store.

Finally, just before it was closing time, I slowed down in this one section and carefully read the title and back cover of each book on the shelf.  Then suddenly, when I picked up this one book, it was like an electric shock went through my body and I knew that this was the book I was supposed to buy.  I knew within my heart that God was directing me by His Spirit to make this purchase.

The name of the book was “Explore the Book” by Sidlow Baxter.  In one volume, it gave a good summary and background information on every book of the Bible.  I bought the book and began to use it along with my devotional reading of the Bible.  For at least the next two years I used this book as an excellent companion to the reading of each book of Scripture.  It was amazing how much I learned, and I used the book as foundational background material for many Bible study groups that I led over the years to come.

I still have the book in one of my boxes.  And every time I come across it, I think about how the Holy Spirit “spoke” to me and guided me to find it in that Christian bookstore.  I learned from this experience from an early age to recognize the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  So I believe that I can honestly say that God still speaks today.  But it may be in ways that we may not expect.  We must remain ready though and be attuned in our spirit to see His hand and to hear His voice in whatever form it may take.

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