- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2006

The following is an excerpt from a sermon preached yesterday by the Rev. Nicholas C. Athanaelos.

The term “born again” has become so popular that it is used for all kinds of situations that have nothing to do with the way the New Testament uses it. If a football team has a bad season and the next year comes to life again, the sportswriters say it has been born again. People who were able to overcome marital troubles describe their recharged marriage as born again. And the list goes on. It’s nice to know that sports teams and marriages are renewed, but they’re not truly born again.

In the Gospel of John, we see this phrase used for the first time: “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 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.” Jesus answered and said unto him, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see God.”

As a devout Pharisee, it is amazing that Nicodemus would come to Jesus at all, because the Pharisees regarded themselves as superior to other men in spiritual status before God, due to their total dedication to obeying the law. But not only did Nicodemus come to Jesus, he asked certain questions of him. John tells us that he began his word with a courteous introduction, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God.” You see, Nicodemus regarded Jesus as a successful teacher, because God put his seal of approval on Him by doing miracles through Him. Neither Nicodemus nor did any other Pharisees have any miracles to their credit. Therefore, Nicodemus came with a great deal of respect for Jesus as a superior teacher, able to instruct in the law.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God, he must be born again. Of course, Nicodemus is confused; after all, how does one go back through the womb? But Jesus is speaking of a spiritual rebirth. St. John uses the Greek word anothen, which has three meanings: to do something a second time; to begin radically, completely, a new beginning; and it also means “from above.” It is used in that sense in other places of Scripture. It signifies that God must do this.

Jesus sensed in Nicodemus a deep hunger, an emptiness. Here was a man doing his level best to obey what he thought God wanted, yet he had an empty, unsatisfied heart that led him to seek out Jesus.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again through water and the Spirit. Nicodemus likely thought that our Lord was speaking of the baptism of John, but here Jesus meant full Christian sacramental baptism, which gives new life as well as cleansing from the past.

Do you remember what your parents promised on your behalf at your baptism, or if you were baptized as an adult, do you remember what you promised? You promised to follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. This means renouncing Satan and accepting the articles of the faith as contained in the Apostle’s Creed. Our Lord’s admonition to Nicodemus regarding rebirth through baptism also means following Christ without question or stipulation. In fact, it means leaving all to follow Him. It means standing up for the “faith once delivered,” even as society tells us that the church must change with the times.

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