7 Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again.’
JOHN 3:7 ESV
7 μὴ θαυμάσῃς ὅτι εἶπόν σοι Δεῖ ὑμᾶς γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν.
JOHN 3:7 SBLGNT
R. C. H. Lenski, in his book, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, writes, “Perhaps astonishment was written on Nicodemus’ face, or a movement and gesture betrayed his thought. It all sounded very strange to this old Pharisee whose all his lifelong was set on works—works—works and was admired by the mass of the nation for this very fact, to hear from Jesus: birth—birth—birth by the Spirit, by Baptism, which would bring forth “spirit,” an entirely new nature and creature. “
Therefore, the objective tone of Jesus takes a subjective, pastoral turn. Jesus lights up the mystery of this birth by describing one who is reborn through an analogy. “Marvel not that I said to thee, You must be born anew. The wind blows where it will, and thou hearest its sound but knowest not whence it comes and whither it goes—thus is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
In prohibitions for the second person, the Greek has the aorist subjunctive instead of the aorist imperative, hence μὴ θαυμάσῃς, “Do not marvel!” What Nicodemus marvelled at was this new birth on which Jesus insisted instead of urging something else. Jesus uses the plural, “You must be born anew,” for the principle applies to all men alike, including Nicodemus, holy as he, the Pharisee, deemed himself because of his close observance of the law. To be sure, in itself, this new birth is marvellous enough, transcending even the wonder of our physical conception and birth. However, merely marvelling at it may lead to unbelief and denial of its possibility. A thing may be marvellous, mysterious, even incomprehensible and yet it may not only be possible but actual, an indisputable fact.
Like generates like. Flesh gives birth to flesh. The word flesh does not bear the most frequent freight Paul assigns it, ‘sinful nature’ or the like. As in 1:14, ‘flesh’ refers to human nature. The point is that natural, human birth produces people who belong to the earthly family of humankind but not to the children of God. Only the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
Therefore, the antithesis between flesh and spirit is not the contrast between lower and higher aspects of human nature but the distinction between human beings and God. The second occurrence of ‘spirit’ is not an adjective: we are not to read, ‘The Spirit gives birth to spiritual people,’ understanding’ spiritual people’ in some vague or merely functional way. What is in view is a new nature, not turning over a new leaf.
For human beings, those born of the flesh, to experience this new birth that makes them children of God, the eternal Word, himself God (1:1, 18), became flesh (1:14). Nicodemus could not have been expected to know all that the readers of the Prologue have absorbed, but from his study of Scripture, his grasp of the distance between human beings and God, and the axiom that like produces like, he should have understood the need for a God-given new birth, and God’s promise that he would give his people a new heart, a new nature, clean lives and a full measure of the Spirit on the last day. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus he should not be surprised.
The distinction here is two-fold. We are called to separate earthly bonds that cause us to be misguided into false beliefs. God has revealed His presence, and unless that truth embraces our objective view, we will continue to subject ourselves to views that separate our mortal state from the spiritual pathway to God’s goodness.
Through that ‘truth’ in Jesus Christ, we today can be assured of the reality of that Godliness in our mortal realm. God became man to dispute any challenge to the reality of His existence and our own works to righteousness.
Jesus Christ is the reality of the testimony of God and his bountiful grace and sacrifice, and unless we discard skewed and irresponsible leaders, who distort the word of God, we will continue to wander aimlessly.
Point our objective focus to God, and through Jesus Christ can we find meaning, hope and destiny that fulfils God’s plan in us.