The Miracle of a New Life
June 21st, 1964 @ 7:30 PM
THE MIRACLE OF A NEW LIFE
Dr. W.A. Criswell
6-21-64 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor standing up to preach at the earliest part of the hour he has ever stood up to do so in his life.
You turn in your Bible, if you are listening on the radio, if you are in the great throng in God’s house tonight, turn in your Bible to the Gospel of John, chapter 3, and we shall read the context of the text out loud together. God’s wrote His Book to be read out loud, and when we read it out loud, we are fulfilling the purpose and the appointment of our Lord. I am preaching tonight on The Miracle of a New Life. And the text is John 3:12, and we shall begin reading at verse 1 and read through the text, through verse 12. If your neighbor does not have his Bible, share yours with him, and all of us together reading out loud. Now let us begin:
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 the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be?
Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that We do know, and testify that We have seen; and ye receive not Our witness.
If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
And my text is the answer of Jesus to the staggering of Nicodemus at the miracle of the new birth, when Nicodemus said, “I don’t understand. I don’t see. I cannot conceive of such a thing” [John 3:4, 9], “Verily, verily, I say unto you,” answered Jesus, “I am telling you things that I know and testifying unto you things that I have seen. And if I tell you these things, ta epigeia, things of the earth, things that happen down here before your eyes, things that are demonstrable, explicable, visible, present, if I tell you epigeia, and you stagger at it, what would you do if I were to tell you of epourania, heavenly things?” [John 3:11-12].
Now I am taking that and the basis of this message is that exclamation of Jesus as Nicodemus staggered at the miracle of a new birth. “For,” said our Lord, “I am doing no other thing in speaking to you of this marvelous miraculous change, I am doing no other thing than just pointing out to you a demonstrable fact observable in every life that is lived in this world. Open your eyes and see. Look around you, circumspice lector. If I have told you earthly things, and you stagger at it, and you wonder at it, and you are amazed at it, and it seems inconceivable to you, what if I were to tell you of the miracles of heaven and the invisible world that is yet to come?”
There was a scientist who one time said—and it made an impression upon my heart—he said, “The miracles of the Christian faith, of the church, are child’s play compared to the inscrutable, unfathomable mysteries of nature and natural science.” And the emphasis of that scientist strikes a responsive chord in my heart. We are persuaded that the only place you find miracles and the demonstrable power of God is in the some aspect or phase of the Christian faith. Ah, lector circumspice, look around you. Look around you.
The miracle of a new life is demonstrable every year that passes around. For example, in the springtime, don’t you marvel at those dead trees defoliated and lifeless? They just look like sticks of wood. Isn’t it a marvelous thing to you in the springtime when they foliate, and bud, and flower?
Up and down the street where we live are some of the most beautiful redwoods I ever saw in my life. And over there in Pales, here they call it Palestine, they have dogwood trails, and in the springtime you can see all nature come to life.
And isn’t it a miracle to you, those dead seeds that look like rocks? They look like rocks. They feel like rocks. They are rocks, were it not for the miracle of God that speaks life in that unseen interior. And in the springtime when the showers fall, and the sun shines, and the warm earth responds to the gentle appeal of Jesus, you put those little old rocks in the earth and a miracle comes to pass!
I never had a more happy experience in my life than in World War II when I was pastor at Muskogee, Oklahoma, in which days of the war in 1944 I came here to be pastor of the church here in Dallas. An appeal was made by the government for everybody to plant a victory garden, and by planting a victory garden, why, each one would contribute to the total sum of food raised in America. And food, they say, wins the war.
So I set myself to planting a victory garden. Never did such a thing in my life, but it was one of the most glorious experiences I ever shared. I got me a shovel. I got me tools. I got me everything I could lay my hands on. You know, a neophyte, when he goes out to garden, he really fortifies himself for the occasion.
So I went out there and I dug up a little old space. Man a-living, I never knew there’s so much work in my life, digging up a little space of ground. I went out there and I dug me up a space of ground, and I got me some fertilizer, and I pulverized it, and I planted things and things and things. And then by the fence I wanted to raise some butterbeans, so I went down, I went down to the seed store to buy me some butterbean seeds. And I bought me some white butterbean seeds, big seeds, looked like rocks to me, and I put them in the ground there by the side of the fence. And after a day passed and they didn’t come up, why, I dug them up to look at them to see what was the matter with them. Well, they looked all right, so I put them back down in the ground. And I waited for two more days and I went out there and not a thing happened. I dug them up again to see what was the matter, and after I’d done that two or three times, they began to rot. And I went back to the seed man, and I said, “I want you to look at this. These butterbean seeds are rotten. They are no good.”
“Well,” he said, “I’ll give you some more.” He didn’t know why they were rotten. “I’ll give you some more.” So he gave me some more butterbean seeds, and I planted the butterbean seeds, and I waited two or three days. Nothing happened, and I dug them up to see what was the matter. Nothing was the matter. They looked just the same, so I put them back in the ground again, and I did that two or three times, and they rotted. I went back to the seed man, and I said, “I cannot imagine a man like you in the seed business, and selling me seeds, and they rot!”
“Why,” he said, “I don’t understand. I never had an experience like that in my life.”
“Well,” I said, “I never did either. Now I want you to give me some seeds that don’t rot.”
He said, “Preacher, I will.” He said, “I got some speckled butterbean seeds here, and I guarantee them. They won’t rot. They’ll grow. Now you plant those speckled butterbean seeds in the ground, and they’ll grow.”
I planted those speckled butterbean seeds in the row by the fence. I never saw anything happen like that in my life. They sprouted up out of the ground and grew up on the fence and began to wave in the air; an astonishment to me!
So I got me a big tall chicken wire, and I put it in the top of the fence for my butterbeans to grow, and they grew right on the top of the fence, began to wave, wave in the air. I was amazed at it. I got me another row of chicken wire fence, and I put that above the first row, and those butterbeans waving in the air at the top of that fence. I was dumbfounded! I got me some wires and strings, and I tied wires from the top of that topmost chicken wire fence to the top of the tree just beyond. And those butterbeans wound themselves around those wires and strings to the top of that tree, and they got to wave in the air!
Now, if that were in Texas, I’d say that’s a Texas yarn. But being from Oklahoma, that’s the truth. They were waving in the air. Then I had to get me a ladder just to go out and gather the harvest of the speckled butterbeans growing all up and down, clear to the top of that tree. It was an astonishing thing!
Now, I didn’t say how tall that tree was, now. But it’s a miracle. It’s a wonder to me. I don’t see it, and I can’t explain it, and there’s no man in this earth that can explain that, and yet it’s a demonstrable thing that happened before our eyes all the time. And that spirit of a new life is in the savage grasp of nature itself.
When I was a boy I heard a man from Louisiana, a preacher from Louisiana, describe something that he had done. He had caught a wild mallard duck and had staked him, with a string, with a little string, had staked him out in a pond with his domestic ducks in Louisiana. And he said in that wintertime, those ducks and that wild mallard just swam around there in the water. But he said when springtime came and those other ducks began to fly north, he said they saw that wild mallard down there staked in the pond, and they circled that pond and honk, and honk, and honk. And he said that wild mallard lifted up his head and listened to that call of the wild, and he surged against that string, and the string pulled him back. And he surged against that cord, and that cord pulled him back. And he said, in one last mighty effort, that big mallard duck spread his wings and with all his might thrust himself against that string and broke it, and joined the great throng of the ducks above him and sailed northward.
Isn’t that an amazing thing what God has put in the breast of savage nature? And that miraculous principle of a new and a continuing life is in the human family. When I went to school, I studied genetics for a quarter, and my genetics teacher, eugenics and genetics teacher, said—and I remember his illustration; he was talking about the ability of the human family to renew itself, and he gave an illustration—he said out there in the West is the great Sierra Nevada range. He said it is made out of solid granite. But he said every thousand years that vast Sierra Nevada range is worn down four inches, every thousand years, and in time, it will be worn to the ground and be a flat plain as the elements decry against it. But, he said, mankind, mankind for these thousands of years since the human family has inhabited this globe, mankind renews itself, and is today as it was yesterday and the day before that.
I thought of that word of my genetics teacher when I was walking around the Roman Forum looking at these ancient antiques, these vast buildings that were erected in their glory years and years and years before Christ. And as I walked around the Roman Forum with my hands behind my back just thinking, just thinking and recalling the history of the days of Agrippa, and Julius Caesar, and Augustus, and Tiberius, and Pontius, and Caligula, and Nero, and Domitian, and Diocletian, and all of the life and the Christian church, just thinking about those things, so long ago those vast marvels now in ruins, I noticed little children playing on those heaped up ruins just beyond the Coliseum. That marble that we think is so imperishable is broken, and dilapidated, and turning back to the fine dust of the ground, but those children are carrying on the vigor of the race today as they were thousands and thousands of years ago. The ability of the race to renew itself is an amazing, demonstrable miracle. And the same thing is true of the ability of the spirit in the human heart. The ableness to change, to become a new person, a different man is a miracle of God and one that is demonstrable, seen before our very eyes.
Why, I had a man come to see me some time ago, two or three months ago, sat down there across from my chair, and he said to me, “Pastor, I want to be a different man. I want to change. I want to be saved. I want to be a Christian. I want a new house, and a new life, and a new home, and I want to be a new man. Is that possible? Is God able to do it? And can you demonstrate it by the example and illustrations of others?”
Lector circumspice; look around you! There are monuments to grace and to the saving power of Christ on either side of you, in front of you, back of you, in the balcony round; men, women who stand up to testify and say what the marvelous goodness and blessing of God has done for me.
I want to speak now of the necessity of a new birth, of a change. There is no way to change essence, not outward. There’s no way to change essence, reality, character, destiny, except in a new life. The old life leads downward, earthward, hell-ward, perdition-ward, judgment-ward. There’s no way to change essence, character, reality, destiny except in a new life, in a miraculous new birth [Romans 7:14-25].
For example, the mole could never soar in the face of the sun like an eagle as long as he’s a mole, nor can the little bird hatched out of an eagle’s egg ever burrow in the ground like a mole. You’d have to change his nature. He’d have to be reborn. He’d have to be changed. The tortoise could never be as swift as the antelope, nor could the antelope ever be as strong as the panther or the wolf or the bear. You’d have to change their natures. You could never harness, you could never devise a harness for the great fish in the sea that he might plow in the ground, and you could never use an oxen to live in the depths of the sea. You’d have to change his nature! That’s what God says about the human heart and the human life. Our destiny is not heavenward. It’s not God-ward. It’s not Christ-ward. Our destiny is downward, and for character and essence to be changed, there must be a new life, a new birth!
Sometimes people come to see me because I’m pastor of a downtown church, and they live in some other place, some other city, belong to some other church, or live in an outlying section of the town. And because they don’t want their pastor to know of a trouble in their lives, they will come to see me.
One such couple like that came and sat down, and this was the problem. She had married a man who was not a Christian. He belonged to another religion, and she was devoted to him and by him had two precious, darling little children. But after he had established the home and after the two little children were born in the family, he decided that it was enough, and he was through, and he was leaving. And she with great agony of heart and with many tears finally persuaded her young husband to come to see me.
He was a fine-looking man. She was a beautiful girl. I did not—I could easily see why she would love a fine young man like that. He was tall, and good-looking, and very successful. It was most explicable to me. But, but, his attitude toward Christ and the church and the services the Lord were unspeakable! So she said to me, “He has finally said that he wants his freedom—he wants to leave; that he’ll support the children, he’ll give me money for child support, but he wants to go, and he doesn’t want to be here any longer, and he wants to go some other place.” And she said, “He’s finally agreed to come and talk to you. Now won’t you talk to him? Won’t you talk to him?”
So I start at the beginning. I said, “Young man, did you realize that she was a Christian when you married her?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Did you realize that she was a devout Christian?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Did you realize that when you had a home, she would continue to be a Christian and serve the Lord and rear children in the Christian faith?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “When you realized those things and entered into that covenant of marriage, did you propose in your heart to encourage her in that faith and that she continue in it.”
He said, “Yes.”
“Well,” I said, “now what’s the matter? What’s the matter?”
“Well,” he said, “I’ll tell you what’s the matter. I’ll tell you what’s the matter.” He said, “With all good intention, I intended to go to her church once in a while and sit there by her side, and to have a Christian home as she would have a Christian home. I didn’t intend to change her faith, nor do I now. But,” he said, “I am weary of it. I’m sickened to death.”
“Well,” I said, “what are you sick of?”
He said, “I hate everything about it.”
I said, “What do you hate about it?”
He said, “I hate the songs they sing.” He said, “I hate the Bible they read.” He said, “I hate the sermons I hear.” He says, “I hate the people that go to church. I don’t like them.”
So I said, “What do you like?”
He says, “I like my crowd, and my craft, and my friends, and my gang.” And he said, “After these few years of going to church and listening, I am quitting. I’m not going to be there any longer, and I’m going to leave.”
Well, I want you to know with all of the appealing, and praying, and begging, and asking God that I could do, that fellow was as adamant in that hatred to Christ, and the church, and the services of the Lord, and the songs we sing, and the sermons we preach, and the Bible we read, as though he were an emissary from the depths of perdition. I’m trying to illustrate to you that for a man to be changed, there must be a change in essence, a change in character, a change in commitment, a change in devotion, a change in life! And without it there is no possibility of the blessing of God.
Doesn’t a butterfly be twice born? Isn’t it? Isn’t a butterfly once a caterpillar, and does not a caterpillar have a life of its own? Doesn’t it? And yet in that creeping nature of a caterpillar there is the inherent ability for something higher, and better, and grander. And what is that? Is it an improved caterpillar? What is that? Is it a caterpillar with a certain color and a certain rapidity of movement? Is it a cultivated caterpillar? No, for flying, it is a new nature. It’s a new life, it’s a new birth, it’s a regeneration; it’s a butterfly!
And that’s what it takes in the life of a man. By nature he’s a creature of the dust. He crawls. He’s earthward. But for flight, for angelic celestial destiny and living, it’s a new birth. It’s a new life. And I see that all the time. Once in a while I fail as I did with that young man. He never turned. But ah, I can point you to a multitude who do.
One of the finest helpers I ever had in any church in my life was a man who was as vile toward religion. One time, with his young wife, as she sat in a bedroom reading the Bible before bedtime, he went over there, took that Bible out of her hand, and threw it at her feet with all the force of his arm. And it scattered there, hit on the back and scattered there and lay at her feet.
And when that dear, consecrated young wife looked on the pages of the Bible scattered around her feet, and heard the oath and the curse by which he threw it on the floor, she burst into unspeakable, indescribable sobs. And he walked out. He walked out, but came to me and said, “I can’t get that sight of that Bible on the floor out of my mind, and,” he said, “I can’t get the sobs of my wife out of my ears!” He says, “I am the most miserable man.” He turned. He found Christ. He gave his life to the Lord. He became one of the finest deacons and Sunday school teachers I ever had.
The possibility of a new life, a new birth; earthly things, things that God is able to do here among us in our midst. Oh, I must hasten! I have much to say. May I say it briefly? How does one experience this new birth, this new life? How does one experience it? “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God [John 3:5]. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” [John 3:3,7]. How does one experience regeneration? By water and by Spirit [John 3:5].
Now I preached a whole sermon a few months ago on “born of water,” and after I did the best I could, I still am persuaded that our people do not quite understand what I mean. But to me it is so plain and so simple, born of water, of the cleansing word of God; born of the gospel message, born of the testimony of Jesus. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness [Numbers 21:8-9], so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” [John 3:14-15], born of water [John 3:5], born of the cleansing of the Spirit of God [John 3:5], born of the cleansing of the blood of Jesus [Titus 2:14], born of the message of Christ. “For faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God!” [Romans 10:17]. No man can ever be saved apart from the gospel message of Jesus! [Acts 4:12]. You can study, and study, and study and go to school, and go to school, and go to school, and win every degree that an academy can offer, or a great university could bestow, and you can travel, and you can be learned, and scientific, and be curious in your life, and seek answers, but you’ll never find God except as God reveals Himself in His Word! [John 1:1, 14, 18].
As 1 Peter 1:23-25 says, “Born of the word of God… and this is the word by which the gospel is preached unto you.”
As James 1:18 says, “Of His own will begat He us by the word.”
As John 15:3 says, “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.”
As Ephesians 5:26 says, “We are sanctified, we are cleansed with the washing of the water by the word.”
We must listen to the word of God. We must open our hearts to the message of Jesus! We must pay attention when God’s emissary comes, saying, “This is the way of the Lord, turn, turn and believe!” [Mark 1:15]. And we are regenerated, having turned, having listened, we’re regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit [John 3:3, 5-7]. It is God that saves us [Ephesians 2:8]. It is God that forgives our sins, and God does it when we open our hearts and let Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus come in [Titus 3:5].
In the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts, you have a marvelous illustration of that: “And the angel said to Cornelius, your prayers, and your alms, and your seeking after God has moved the heart of heaven. Now send down,” said the angel, “and get Simon in Joppa and bring him up here. And he will tell thee words whereby thou and thy house may be saved” [Acts 10:30-32].
We must listen to the gospel message to be saved! We must look to Jesus! And Cornelius, sending for Simon Peter, and Simon Peter coming, Cornelius said, “Behold, we are all here. We are all here. We are all here to hear the words that have been commanded thee of the Lord” [Acts 10:33]. And as they opened their hearts and listened to the preaching of Simon Peter, behold, the Spirit of God came upon them, and they were miraculously saved and born again! [Acts 10:34-48].
We are saved by listening to the gospel message of Christ [Romans 10:13-15], by the cleansing of the word of the blood of Jesus [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5], and by the power of the regenerating Spirit in our hearts [John 3:3, 5-7; Titus 3:5]. That’s the method. That’s the method. Let me illustrate it.
I preached about three summers ago in a camp in the state of New York, in upper New York in the Adirondacks. And I tried to follow the method of invitation of those people there. I have a certain way that I do here in this church that you see and are familiar with. Well, they had another way, and so I tried my best to enter into their way. This was their way of doing. After I had preached and after I had pressed the invitation, then everybody stood up, and they sang an invitation hymn, and during the invitation hymn, everybody left. Everybody left the service, but if anybody wanted to take Jesus as his Savior, why, he stayed, and then the pastors and the preachers there talked to him about the Lord. Now, that was their way of giving the invitation.
So one night especially, having poured out my heart for Jesus, I pressed the appeal, and then had them stand up and sing the song. And as they were leaving the building, leaving the building, leaving the building, ah! my heart, it just turned to stone within me. “O God, having prayed, and preached, and done the best that I could, Lord, is nobody to be saved? Is nobody to stay? Is nobody to come forward?”
And when they all were leaving and the building was mostly vacant and there was one last group of them going out the back door, there was a young fellow in that group walking through that door that suddenly, suddenly stopped, and bowed his head, and buried his face in his hands, and began to cry! Then he turned and came back.
He was gloriously saved. Because of that way of giving the invitation, I saw, as I looked at the boy, I saw the power of the Holy Spirit of God reach down into his soul, and into his life, and into his heart. We are saved by the message of Jesus. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the Word of God” [Romans 10:17]. We must open our hearts to the cleansing message of the gospel of Christ, and Jesus comes in [Revelation 3:20]. We are saved by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit as we look, as we look, as we look to Jesus [John 3:3, 5-7; Titus 3:5].
I had one other, to speak of the assured results, but I just mention it, and then we have our invitation; the assured results. Charles G. Finney’s book, incomparable book, his Revival Lectures, has as its great thesis the laws of the harvest. The laws of the harvest in the natural world, these things that we can observe, the laws of the harvest; plant the seed, cultivate it, it grows and bears a fruit. He says there are laws of the spiritual world no less true and certain. And when the seed is planted, and it’s in good soil, it’s in good ground, and it falls on a responsive heart, Charles Finney, the great evangelist, says it has an assured result. It’s salvation [Mark 4:8].
No one ever looked to Jesus and was lost. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13]. When I open my heart, and when I let the Lord come in, He writes my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27; Luke 10:20]. He regenerates my soul [John 3:3, 7]. He gives me a new destiny, a new hope, a new love, a new life [2 Corinthians 5:17]. These are demonstrable observables that happen every day around us, and it can happen to you tonight:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
[“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” Helen H. Lemmel]
“Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” [Isaiah 45:22]. Look, my brother, look and live. Look to Jesus and live [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]. It is written in His Word, hallelujah! It is only that you look and live. God saves us when in faith, in turning we bow in the presence of Jesus [Ephesians 2:8]. He is here tonight, and our people are praying tonight, and while we pray and while we sing this song of appeal, somebody you give his heart to Jesus. “Here I come, and here I am.”
In a moment, we’ll go off that radio. While we’re on the radio, if you’ve listened to this message tonight, wherever you are, driving a car down a highway, stop. Bow your head over the steering wheel and tell Jesus, “Lord, tonight, I open my heart to Thee. Come in, Lord, come in.” If you’re in a living room or a bedroom, kneel by the side of your chair and say, “Lord Jesus, I give my life to Thee. I do it now. Forgive my sins. Bless me with a new hope and a new destiny.” And in the great throng in the house of God, somebody you, somebody you, I’ll be standing here at the front. You come and stand by my side: “Pastor, tonight, I give my heart in faith to Jesus, in repentance and in turning, I look to Him” [Ephesians 2:8]. Or to put your life in the fellowship of the church, a family, a couple, one somebody you, however God shall open the door and lead in the way, make it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
MIRACLE OF A NEW LIFE
I. The miraculous, everyday world of new
1. Dead seeds;
look like rocks
2. My victory
B. In the breast of
1. Mallard duck
C. In the human life of
D. In the spiritual
life of a man
II. The necessity of a new birth
A. No way to change
essence, character except in new life
B. By nature man a
creature of the dust
III. The method
A. By water and spirit
Born of water of the cleansing Word of God (John 3:13-14, Romans 10:17, 1 Peter
1:23-25, James 1:18, John 15:3, Ephesians 5:26)
Regenerated by power of Holy Spirit (Acts 10:33, 44, 11:44)
IV. The assured results
A. Seed planted in good
soil bears fruit (Romans 10:13)
B. Look and live