Benjamin Franklin was a great statesman, a prolific inventor and an avid correspondent. He received letters from people all over the world. Possibly one of the most important letters he ever received was from the well-known British evangelist George Whitfield. Whitfield crossed the Atlantic 13 times in the 1700s, preaching in the Colonies from New England to Georgia. He preached over 18,000 times to more than 10 million people! Franklin was amazed by the power of Whitfield’s voice which could be heard clearly from over a half mile away in the open fields without amplification! He often preached to crowds of over 25,000 and the impact he had on people was profound. He led the first Great Awakening, considered by historians as the single most formative event in American history bringing tens of thousands of people to faith in Christ. Whitfield wrote to his friend Franklin, “I find that you grow more and more famous in the learned world, as you have made such progress in investigating the mysteries of electricity. I now humbly urge you to give diligent heed to the mystery of the new birth. It is a most important and interesting study and when mastered will richly repay you for your pains.” The new birth that Whitfield mentioned is central to Christianity and it was the focus of Jesus’ preaching and the topic of John chapter three.
In John chapter three, Jesus meets Nicodemus at night. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, one of the hyper-legalists who was over-zealous for religious purity. He knew that Jesus was a teacher from God because of Jesus’ miracles but was otherwise spiritually blind, despite his high religious office and national influence! When Jesus told him that he must be born again, Nicodemus was confused and tried to understand Jesus’ words but he couldn’t. When Nicodemus admitted that he didn’t understand, Jesus used three illustrations to explain it to him.
Jesus uses the illustration of physical birth through water. When a baby is born, he comes through the water. He takes his first breath and we see the signs of life. When a person is “born again,” he comes through the Spirit. The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and imparts the life of God to that person.
Then Jesus tells Nicodemus of how the wind blows and goes wherever it wants and we cannot control it or even understand it. In the same way, the Spirit (who gives us this new life) is a mystery.
Finally, Jesus reminds Nicodemus of the serpent that was lifted up on a pole in the book of Numbers for the snake-bitten Israelites to look at in faith and be healed. This showed Nicodemus that he needed faith to be born again and it also foretold of Jesus’ own death on a cross.
Jesus finished his conversation with Nicodemus by explaining the simplicity of redemption. God sent his Son to save sinful humanity because He so loved the world. Any person who believes on God’s Son, Jesus, will not perish! Belief here is not just an intellectual understanding but a full commitment to Christ. Anyone who refuses to believe is condemned. It’s that simple!
One winter night in 1850, a teenage boy, who had been under conviction about his sin, attended a nearby Primitive Methodist Chapel, where an ill-prepared layman was substituting for the absent pastor. His text was Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” The unprepared layman didn’t have much to say, so he kept repeating the phrase, “Look and be saved.” He said, “It doesn’t take a college education to “look” young man, you had better look to Jesus.” That day the teenager, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, later known as the greatest preacher of the modern era, looked to Jesus and was gloriously saved.