Birth. It’s the ultimate fresh start. When in your life have you felt like you needed a fresh start?
When I switched schools for junior high, I remember thinking nobody knows me here…I can be anyone I want to be! So I plotted my grand entrance into my new life.
What should I wear the first day of school? How should I introduce myself? Who should I try to hang out with? Earth shaking decisions.
I hate to admit how shallow my questions were and how silly my answers, but they felt like life and death to me then. I could be ANYONE. It was the perfect chance to change my image, and I didn’t want to blow it.
But blow it I did. Such identity change turned out to be above my pay grade. Despite my best attempts to dress, talk, act, and be cool, it wasn’t long before my inner nerd surfaced and I began to hang out with the slide rule crowd. (For those of you who don’t know, slide rules were the pre-calculator way of calculating…um, if you know what a calculator is.)
Despite my best efforts, I was still me.
Hungry for a Fresh Start
Last week’s question, “Why am I hungry?” taught us that our various hungers aren’t accidental. Our hunger is created by God, broken by sin, and redeemable by Christ.
This week we’re talking about our hunger for a fresh start. Our culture has two ways to satisfy this itch:
- reinventing ourselves
- detoxing ourselves
The first term refers to our identity. Like my example above, we often feel flawed or bored or incomplete with who we are. We’d like to create a new and improved version of ourselves, Me 2.0. Or maybe even scrap the original design and go with something brand new. In these days of marketing everything from pizza to personal preferences, we want to re-brand ourselves.
The second term refers to our sense of being unclean. We feel polluted by the junk food we have taken into our bodies or into our souls. We might not express the need in moral terms, and we might not acknowledge personal responsibility. But when we feel dirty, it drives us to pursue all kinds of ways to feel clean.
These two terms aren’t just felt needs–experienced by both insiders and outsiders to Christianity–they point to our true need for rebirth and cleansing, new creation and atonement.
The good news is that Jesus came to make us new and clean. He finished the work that we keep trying to do for ourselves.
Birth–New Birth–the Divine Rescue Plan
The Divine Rescue Plan, detailed in John 3:1-17, meets both needs. This plan isn’t about what we do, it’s about what God did. It’s about the ultimate fresh start, being born all over again. But it doesn’t start with our birth, it starts with God’s.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16a).
God the Father gave God the Son to complete a two-part plan:
- Part One involved the birth and sinless life of Jesus.
- Part Two involved the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In Part One, Jesus took on our flesh–our hungers, our weakness, our temptations, our suffering–but not our sin. In fact, it was the moment by moment “tempted but without sin” aspect of his life that earned a perfect record for him to give to us. Theologians call this the active obedience of Christ, meaning that he fully obeyed every law of God from the heart, even though he was tempted not to.
Think of the hungers you have experienced in the last 24 hours. Perhaps you struggled with a hunger for approval that caused you to mope or become demanding. Did Jesus ever experience that? You bet he did. When? Maybe it was the time his mother and brothers came to do a “family intervention” and take him home (Mark 3:31-35). We don’t know his thoughts, but he could have battled a desire for his family’s approval or the crowd’s in the moments before he answered. But if he did, he overcame it–to earn a perfect new life to give to us.
In Part Two of the divine rescue plan, Jesus took on our sin–he died to pay the penalty we had earned, and rose to signal the Father’s full acceptance of his sacrifice. His death was our atonement. His resurrection was our justification. Theologians call this the passive obedience of Christ, meaning that he didn’t resist (though he could have) and that he suffered (the word passive is related to passion, his suffering).
Think of the uncleanness you feel when you hunger drives you to act out in anger or compulsiveness or secret indulgence. Jesus took every sin upon himself–from the smallest to the greatest–and atoned for it. Not a single sin is left for you to cleanse yourself of.
The Ultimate Fresh Start
Jesus completed God’s two-part plan, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son….” Now we enter that plan through the new birth.
“…that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16b).
Birth, you may remember, isn’t up to the baby. It’s the parents’ project from start to finish. Having given us his Son, God now gives us faith so we can be new and clean. Forever.
Is this old news to you? Oh, yeah, born again. Check. Been there, done that. Now what have you got for me?
The new birth isn’t old news, it’s the beginning of the new creation. It’s the fruit of atonement.
The new birth is good news for you and me today. We don’t need to reinvent ourselves because God has already made us new. We don’t need to cleanse ourselves, because Jesus has already made all who have placed their trust in him clean.
Today, I can believe this good news all over again…and then go tell someone I know, who keeps trying to reinvent herself.