In order for us to understand what Jesus is saying here about the Father we need to read the verse within its context, the healing of the man at Bethesda. It’s a curious thing. Often Jesus references ‘the one who sent me’, and sometimes he’ll mention just plain old ‘God’ or ‘the Lord’. What is it, I wonder, that causes Jesus at any given moment to use the word Father when describing and discussing God instead of one of the alternative words?
So far in John’s gospel it seems that Father is used whenever a point is being made about the level of familiarity and intimacy that exists between Jesus and God. It’s when Jesus wants to make the point that his heart and God’s heart are united on an issue that he opts for ‘Father’. It is also the case that Jesus uses the word Father whenever he wants people to grasp the relational intimacy and tenderness that God is capable of and is looking for with people. This appears to be the case in Jesus’ usage of the term here in chapter 5.
In this section a man is healed after 38 years as an invalid. After almost four decades of being dependant upon the kindness of others he is able to walk by himself and carry his own bedding with him. This is a remarkable moment in his life, a dramatic turning point to say the least. In one moment his entire life changed.
On the morning of his healing the man had woken up and gone about his day the same as every other. Little did the man know as he began his day that tomorrow would be very different. Tomorrow there’d be no more pain, no more discomfort, no more hopelessness, no more begging, no more shame.
What changed for this man was that he met Jesus who applied the Father’s work to his life.
The use of the word ‘work’ in the verse we’re considering here makes sense because of the setting it appears in. The context of the story explains why Jesus speaks in the way he does.
People were forbidden from working on the Sabbath (Saturday in our diaries). Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath and so ‘worked’. The man who’s been healed then gets caught carrying his mat (an act of work) and he’s doing so because Jesus told him to do so — who is now telling someone to break the Sabbath laws.
Jesus’ statement ‘the Father works until now’ means — God doesn’t stop helping people on the Sabbath. God rested on the 7th day of creation but he isn’t inactive today, he hasn’t been idle ever since. The fact that God is active and involved in the world working in it, appears to be the point Jesus is looking to make from this.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there, he never intended to.
He introduces the concept of God’s work with the personal pronoun ‘My’ and the familial title ‘Father’. In using these two words — My Father — Jesus anticipates the second half of the sentence quite naturally: ‘My Father is working, therefore I am working.’ The meaning isn’t lost on his original audience. Their response to his words? They begin to plot his death. That’s quite a reaction to what appears to be a harmless statement. Why did they react like this?
Not only does Jesus get into trouble by breaking the Sabbath BUT he even calls God his own Father, and breaks the Sabbath commandments on the basis that he’s equal with God.
That’s the problem in a nutshell. It’s a problem many modern readers don’t appreciate. Jesus spoke as one with the authority of God, as one who acted for God and who was in every real term equal with God.
So this passage of scripture is as much about the nature of the Son as it is about the character of the Father, but what can we learn about the Father from this? We can see that he:
Works all the time. This means that he’s never idle, he’s never not up to something. He’s never disinterested and distant. Even in the 38 years prior to this day the Father was ‘working’.
His Son is equal to him. He works with his Son and doesn’t simply boss him around. He is happy for the Son to be treated as equal to him. He shares his glory with his Son.
Normal rules (i.e. the Sabbath) don’t apply to the Father. He created rules and patterns for people and is not bound by them himself. If he desires to do something, he’ll do it.
Where have you concluded that God has ‘stopped working’ in your life? Where have you given up hope? How does this passage of scripture give you fresh hope and faith for those areas of your life? The Father isn’t idle and inactive, he’s working and he has the authority to do whatever he wants at any moment.
Father please help me today to trust you and to wait expectantly for what you’re going to do. Thank you that you are working in my life, that you’re a Father who is involved in my life and the world at large. Amen