How I despised that phrase: “born-again”! Like squeaky blackboard chalk, it grated on my sensibilities.
I knew people who said they were born again. As far as I could tell, most were pompous, holier-than-thou people claiming some sort of spiritual superiority. I was making a mistake a lot of people make: dismissing the message because of flaws in the messengers.
But then I read how Jesus had said to Nicodemus:
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3)
That simple statement from Jesus caused me to re-think my attitude.
It also handed me a problem. Surely, I thought, Jesus didn’t want me to be like… those people. What, exactly, does the life of a born-again believer look like, anyway? The Bible does that to you. It convicts you, and it presents you with problems.
It also gives you answers.
As Easter and then Pentecost Sunday approach, permit me to share an insight I received several years ago. This demonstrated vividly for me what a true “born-again” life looks like. See if you agree.
The opening vignette is in chapter 14 of John’s Gospel. Allow me to paint a word picture for you.
Imagine yourself as a fly on the wall in the “upper room”. Look at the faces of the disciples, as they realize things aren’t going as they thought. There’ll be no military conquest, with angels wielding swords of flame as they slay the Roman army. Indeed, their leader has just done the most un-leaderlike thing they could imagine: washed their feet!. To top that off, they’ve just learned that the man for whom they left everything… is about to be crucified! These men are in shock. Their leader is deserting them. They are in utter terror.
You can almost see their faces as you hear their words. You can also discern the calm determination of Jesus, as He tries to reassure them:
They were troubled… “Let not your heart be troubled…” (John 14:1)
They felt abandoned… “I will come again…” (John 14:3)
They were confused… “…how can we know the way?” ( John 14:5)
They didn’t understand… “I am the way…” (John 14:6)
They felt alone… “I will not leave you orphans” (John 14:18)
Peter was there. Peter, who just minutes earlier had said to Jesus, “You shall never wash my feet” (John 13:8), was the same man who would soon cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant (John 18:11) and shortly thereafter would be so frightened by the accusations of a little servant girl that he would deny Jesus three times (John 18:17; 25; 27).
After Jesus had been crucified, Peter saw the empty tomb… “Simon Peter came… he saw the linen cloths…” (John 20:6). Peter was also among those cowering behind locked doors in an upper room: “the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews…” (John 20:19). Even after seeing the resurrected Lord, Peter was so confused and demoralized he said in exasperation one day, “I am going fishing.” (John 21:3)
Flip a few pages over to the book of Acts and you find Peter on the hillside when, moments before Jesus’ ascension, the puzzled disciples asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) They still had no clue what being a disciple of Jesus really meant. But a few days later, when the Spirit of God came upon them, they knew. Suddenly, they understood it all! (I would love to have seen their faces in that moment.)
Then, look what happened. No more hiding in an upper room. They flung open the doors and boldly began preaching Gospel Truth. Peter’s first sermon was so moving that it resulted in about three thousand people coming to believe in Jesus!
Naturally, this attracted the attention of the religious leaders, who warned them; “they… charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).
I love Peter and John’s reply: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
That’s exactly what they did. “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord” (Acts 5:14) Indeed, so spiritually powerful a figure had Peter became in the early church, “that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.” (Acts 5:15). People were getting healed just by Peter’s shadow falling upon them!
They must have known their preaching would get them into trouble. But when you’re filled with the Holy Spirit and on fire for the Gospel, you don’t care. “…the high priest… and… the Sadducees… [were] filled with jealousy” (Acts 5:17). They arrested the apostles, but an angel of God freed them miraculously. I would not want to have been the one to break the news to the captain of the temple and the chief priests: “the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people” (Acts 5:25).
You can almost see the clenched teeth through which they once again tried to intimidate Peter and John: “… we strictly charged you not to teach in that name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching…” (Acts 5:28); “they were enraged and wanted to kill them” (Acts 5:33). It’s nothing short of a miracle that a Pharisee named Gamaliel persuaded the council to let Peter and John go free.
As someone has said, “no good deed goes unpunished”. That’s not in the Bible, but it certainly describes what happened next: “… they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Acts 5:40).
What do you suppose most people would do in the apostles’ place? Would they leave town quietly? Would they rethink their commitment to God? Perhaps most people would have quit, but not these guys! “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42).
Can this be the same Peter we saw at the beginning? What happened to Peter and the others between John 14:1 and Acts 5:42?
I’ll tell you exactly what happened: they were transformed; they were filled with the Holy Spirit; they were — here it comes — born again! That’s what Jesus said you and I need.