Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Day We Were Born Again

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Those were Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, in John 3:3, and indicate something vitally important: Without the “new birth,” we cannot see the kingdom of God.

This took Nicodemus by surprise. “How can someone be born when they are old?” he said. Sure, the Gentiles needed to be born again, to come into the Jewish fold. But surely Jesus was not talking about him, a “teacher of Israel” and a member of the Sanhedrin — a Jew in good standing. He was already born a Jew, and heir to the promises of God. So how could he be born again when he was already a faithful Jew?

Yet Jesus’ words were quite inclusive: Everyone must be born again. “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (v. 5). This recalls the promise of the Lord found in the prophets, that he would gather his people from the nations, sprinkle clean water on them, cleansing them from all their impurities and idolatries. That he would give them a new heart and a new spirit — that he would put his own Spirit in them (Ezekiel 36:24-27).

Yes, Nicodemus, you need this, too — all of humanity does.

How does this happen? How are we born again? Peter tells us something about that, something just as surprising as Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: God, in his great mercy has given us new birth into a “living hope,” and he has done it through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It happened when God raised Christ from the dead.

Jesus the Christ is God, who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Not just one of us but, more importantly, one with us — that is, in full union with us, for he is fully human as well as fully divine. His death on the cross, then, was the death of all humanity, so that all humanity might be made alive in Christ. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive,” Paul says (1 Corinthians 15:22). For God, in his great mercy, has “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” He has “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6).

In Colossians 1, Paul says that Christ is the “firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:18-20). That Christ is “firstborn” from the dead shows that there are many others. The scope of it is vast, for God’s purpose in Christ is to reconcile to himself all things in heaven and on earth.

In Colossians 3, Paul speaks more about the resurrection of Christ and our new life in him: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3).

This was not theory for Paul. He experienced the reality of it for himself: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The death of Christ was Paul’s death, so that the life of Christ was now Paul’s life.

This new birth is a birth from death into life, into divine life, into the life of God. For God has made us alive with Christ, who is the firstborn from among the dead. Just as his death on the cross was our death, too, so his birth from the dead was also our birth from the dead. Since we have died with Christ, our life is now hidden with Christ and in God. Peter shows us that the source of this new birth is the resurrection of Christ.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
Through the resurrection of Christ, we have new birth into a powerful expectation, a life that is far more than we can imagine. It is a life and inheritance that comes from heaven. The Greek words translated “born again,” in John 3, can just as well be read as “born from above,” for the new birth is one that can come only from God, for it is a life that transcends all the boundaries of this present age.

The day Christ was raised from the dead was the day we were born again — the day all humanity was born again. Through faith in Christ we come to know the new birth God has given us so freely by his grace. Through faith we follow Christ into this new life. Through faith we embrace our union with him and begin to understand that our new life is hidden with Christ in God. Through faith, we discover the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has begotten us anew through the resurrection of Christ from the dead.