Thursday, 30 April 2015

God the Father: The God at work

Devotional reflections on the nature of God the Father in John's gospel


Scripture

This morning's full reading can be found here.
'But Jesus answered them, 'My Father is working until now, and I am working.'
-- John 5:17 
Observation

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 (ie 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.

Application

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.

Prayer

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

Thursday, 2 April 2015

God the Father & the woman at the well

devotional studies on the Father from John's gospel

John 4. There are several references to the Father in this one story:
'Jesus said to her 'woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.' 4:21
'the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.' 4:23
There is so much to be said here. Three times in four short verses the Father is mentioned. The flow of conversation suggests that Jesus' first mention of the Father relates to the woman's talk of ancestors; 'Our fathers worshipped on this mountain' she says.

This statement of hers is a 'I'm just doing what was handed to me from my people...' ie firstly if this is wrong, it's not my fault and secondly the higher powers (of my people and the past) decide who we are and what we do.

Jesus' reply to these statements is essentially: I'm talking about God. Let's not miss the point of it all - you and God the Father. Where people would like to talk in abstract, third person terms Jesus makes things personal. 'God the Father is my father, he's who I listen to and you should too'.

The woman may have thought that referencing her 'fathers' (ancestors) was enough to shift the discussion away from here, Jesus isn't satisfied with her doing that. God isn't a remote and religious idea, he is a father. In fact he is the Father. He is the one from whom all fathers derive the name father and Jesus is quick to bring things round to this personal, everyone's true heritage and ancestry, father. But things don't end there. Jesus then says that the time is here when we will worship the Father in spirit and truth before going on to reveal that the Father is in fact seeking such people to worship him.

What does the phrase 'in spirit and in truth' actually mean though?

Worship 'in truth' seems abvious enough and in the context seems to mean 'rightly'. She's raising the dispute over where people ought to worship God (as in 'where is right?'). Since, her argument goes, we've worshipped God on this mountain for hundreds of years surely God doesn't mind. He hasn't stopped us doing it, after all. Surely there's the some truth in that, she argues.

Jesus doesn't get into a discussion over that. Instead he says in effect 'that may be, but now God is seeking worship in spirit and in truth. The reply makes it sound like he's saying 'you worship in spirit,  (as in you worship where you think is right, with honest intentions) they worship in truth (the ones who worship in Jerusalem), but God wants both.

Taken this way 'spirit' refers to integrity of motive - with your whole heart. But lest this becomes reduced to 'do whatever feels best and God will like it' he says that truth matters as well. In other words 'obeying God and coming to him on his terms and in the way that he has described' is important too.

True worshippers do both. True worshippers have their heart and soul in it and also their heads and their will. Because you care about God, (your heart and soul) you surely also care about what's right by him too.

For the purpose of my study on the Father all this leads me somewhere rather exciting.


  • The Father values truth and tenderness equally. He wants right feeling and right thinking from his people. By right feeling I mean simply that feelings are involved and not left on the shelf/at the door. God is not after cold robots dutifully singing songs but people who allow their hearts to get caught up with him. To get caught up in him.
  • The Father is seeking and desires. Dos does not want robotic worship because he it not robotic. The Father desires and seeks and feels and cares and loves. He is not cole and distant, emotionless and driven by base animal instincts: 'Must have more worship!! Must have more worship!' - No! My Father seeks what he desires since he is a being full of 'heart and soul'. He is a person after all.
Wow. Father you desire to give what I long to receive. Since you're a person and a personal God. Today I give you my will and obedience and also my passions and my desires. 

Together. Let me live with you, together with you.