Short Meditations in John 3: 7. Why the surprise?
Jn 3:7 You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.’
There are things in life – and in conversations – that are obvious, and we should not be surprised at the obvious. We are surprised at the obvious when we have given no real thought to the matter, or perhaps when we prefer not to think about the consequences of our beliefs. We show surprise in such cases almost as a means of self-defence, pushing away the thought that we have been lazy in our thinking or even purposefully negligent in our thinking because it’s safer that way.
Consider the order of what has happened here. First Nicodemus has come seeking out Jesus at night acknowledging that Jesus has come from God as he seems to be exercising the rule of God. Taking the opportunity to impart some truth to Nicodemus, Jesus challenges the thought that anyone can exercise the rule of God by declaring that before you can see God’s kingdom manifest you yourself need to start all over again on a completely different basis, a spiritual basis expressed, he says, as being ‘born again’. At that point Nicodemus focused on a literal interpretation of that phrase rather than keeping it in the spiritual sense. I put it that way because surely any talk of God’s kingdom takes us into the spiritual realm for God is spirit. Nicodemus avoided the big issue – of needing a fresh start; he didn’t want to go down that path, as many today similarly want to cast aside the concept of ‘being born again’ because it highlights their present need and their inability to do anything about it, and they would rather avoid that sort of thinking.
So Nicodemus exhibits this apparent surprise or confusion that comes from literally applying Jesus’ words instead of seeing the truth behind them. Do we sometimes ease ourselves away from the truth or the call of God on our lives by making excuses – I don’t understand this, the preacher wasn’t clear enough, I can’t see what he is really getting at, I don’t understand this call to ‘die to self’, or whatever other truth is being presented to us? Nicodemus has been doing just this. He is a spiritual leader, a Pharisee who almost certainly is well taught, so he ought to understand what Jesus is saying. A more open response would have been, “You mean I need a new start in my life, a new spiritual start somehow?” but he didn’t, he took a teaching that used picture language and tried to interpret it literally, which he must have known was wrong and couldn’t be.
So Jesus confronts him with this very simply: “You should not be surprised.” The truths of this situation or this conversation are obvious, so why are you hedging?