John 5:16-22 Mark 4:28
At the end of ch 4 of John’s Gospel we read of the healing of The Officials Son and in ch 5 Jesus is at the Bethesda Pool where he encounters an invalid who has beed unable to walk for 38 years. And Jesus heals him.
Maybe I just have the wrong commentaries on my bookshelves but most of the comments about these verses in John delve into the controversy of Sabbath keeping and ask, all be it great questions about whether God keeps His own rules. Now don’t get me wrong it’s all good stuff but there is a vital point to be made that seems to be missing. It really is ‘missing the wood for the trees’
So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’ For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.
God is always at Work – There is a danger here of stating the obvious but this is a quite marvellous and astounding truth. A truth that I want us to grasp and a truth that I want us to live our lives in the light of.
It is another Rhythm of Grace – to live in the light of the fact of Grace – that God is Always at Work
We are sometimes in danger of seeing God as Yes the God who created the heavens and the earth then rested and has rested ever since. He started everything and it is running it’s course. Not so, God is at work!
Let me rewind a second because I skipped far too quickly over a sentence there.
God created the heavens and the earth – WOW
You may even want to press the pause button and reflect and offer praise to God
God’s work of creation is incredible, but so is His continuing work of Grace.
God’s plan for establishing His Kingdom, His purpose, His Will on earth is ongoing. What he purposed from the beginning, that which was spoiled at the Fall is being re-established on earth. It is the work of the Redemption of All things.
This work was begun in a nation that God separated for himself, completed for all time in Christ and is being worked out in and through the church.
We have to open our eyes afresh to see what God is doing.
We need to develop spiritual antennae for God at work’
The ways Jesus saw His Father working.
you see your neighbours kid getting into the drivers seat of his parents car and begin to reverse it off the drive
now there are a couple of things you know:
the lad is 16 so he hasn’t got a licence and shouldn’t be driving
his parents aren’t at home coz they are both at work
and you also know that this kid is trouble and that there is trouble in that household
The car reverses off the driveway a little to quick for your liking and as it is still reversing turning into the road it is accelerating in reverse still on hard lock and swings around reversing straight through your fence and raised flower beds that you spent most of last summer making.
You now have some choices to make and though your first thought is not to put them into three categories there are nonetheless three categories
Justice Mercy and Grace
You could treat the lad with Justice
‘You’ve messed up this time kid. I’m calling the police. You’ll be banned from driving even before you can drive. Then I’m going to call your parents and tell them what you’ve done. Then you are going to have to figure out how you going to pay me for the damage you’ve done’.
Now you won’t be a bad person for reacting this way. This is Justice and exactly what the kid deserves.
You may choose to a second option and treat the kid with Mercy
‘You’re lucky I’m in a good mood kid. I’m not going to call the police but I am going to speak to your parents and we are going to figure out how your going to pay for the damage.’
Now he ought to be grateful for this cause it could be a whole lot worse for him. Your showing mercy in that he is getting less punishment than he deserves.
But it is possible you might look for a third option.
‘You really have messed up Kid. Look at the state of my fence! I’m not going to call the police. I’m not sure I’m going to phone you’re parents. I’m gonna get my wife to get the kettle on and see if we have any cake and we are going to sit down and have a chat about what’s going on and if the chat isn’t too bad for you maybe we can have a few more chats when you’re helping me put my fence back up over the next couple of Saturdays. But first lets get you’re parents car back on the drive …. but I’m driving!’
Now this is a risky option. He could do the same thing again or worse. That’s the ‘Scandal of Grace’ but it’s also possible that your grace may do something in this young life that could change the direction in which he is headed.
Each and every day we are faced with choices of Justice Mercy or Grace.
Now I believe that God is constantly at work in administering Grace. and every time we look to act with Grace we are joining in His work.
That’s exactly what Jesus did. He was looking for the work that God His Father was doing and joining in that Work. John 5
Lets go back a chapter in John’s Gospel
Jesus is tired and thirsty and he meets a woman at a well. He knows quite a few things about this woman – partly from what he observes, perhaps the way she is dressed, the way she conducts herself. – partly from the circumstance, she comes to the well at a time none of the other women are fetching water, she is shunned by the other women of the town. And partly from God-given revelation.
From what he know, what he has deduced and what is revealed to him, he can act with justice, mercy or grace.
He chose grace
– that simple encounter with one woman produced a harvest – John 4:35 I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
v39 – Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’
God no doubt had already been at work in this women’s life and Jesus saw the opportunity to join in the work that His father was doing and reveal His Fathers Grace to her.
This is what it is to join in the with the Gracious Work of God. The work that He is constantly working at.
We somehow reverse this principle. We choose to do things and hope and trust that God will join us in what we are doing and Bless it.
It’s the wrong way round. We need to realise that God is already at work. And we need to learn how to recognise His work and join Him in it.
I wonder if sometimes we act as though God does His stuff – work that is on a completely different level to the work we do in his name and every now and again there is a connection that God blesses.
Now going back to my neighbours kid
What is really going to turn his life around is not my grace but God’s Grace.
God’s Grace is already active but my grace may begin to provide a way for this kid to begin to recognise God’s Grace that is already at work.
We join God in his work but there is only so much we can do. We do ultimately have to stand aside and marvel at the way the Grace of God works.
Lets take a look at Mark’s gospel ch 4:26-29
Jesus said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain–first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’
‘all by itself’ principle – we need to understand this and stand aside and let him do his work
This is Divine provision that meets our limitations
There is only so much that the farmer can do – prepare the soil, plant the seed, water it,
But God makes it Grow.
ALL BY ITSELF! Automatically?
Is this just the way of nature?
Well yes it is, But you need to understand God has created all things and that His creation mirrors creation, it re-creates.
This is not really pointing to something automatic but to the God who is constantly at work. And His Son Jesus joins Him in that work,
‘Sustaining all things by His powerful word’
Creating and re-creating
perceptible and imperceptible
immediate and constant
inevitable and surprising
This is a summons to patience, hope, preparedness
I want to encourage you to look out for the stories of Jesus being at work aside from anything that we are doing
even in these times of restrictions
Expect to hear of Jesus appearing to people in their homes during lockdown! Expect to hear of mind-blowing answers to prayer. Expect to hear of dreams and visions.
In times when we are restricted God is still at work
So what do we do?
#1 Always Thank God – Count your blessings, name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done – He is always at Work, doing things in the hear and now
#2 Always Be filled with the Holy Spirit. We need His presence and power for every moment and every encounter.
#3 Remember that God is Always at Work
He has done so very much hasn’t He? He is Always at work
Take the opportunities that God gives us
Maximise the Minimal opportunities
EG when Jesus meets the woman at the well. You can read about it in John chapter 4 just before we picked up this message.
Do you realise that that would have been a socially distanced encounter, not because of Covid but because of social conventions of the time.
That simple encounter with one woman produced a harvest when the whole town came out to see this man who had told her everything she had ever done! – John 4:1-42
I want to encourage you to live in the ‘Reality of the Moment’
Take note of the person in front of you whether its on a screen on zoom or someone that is giving you a wide birth on the street!
Seize any and every opportunity
Could it be that you, who feel most locked in by covid, by practicing the presence of Christ might discover God really using you in ways that you have never known before.
Fix your minds on the things that God is already doing.
When we are allowed to do hospitality again, watch for God to do remarkable things.
So we come to an end of our mini-series on Rhythms of Grace. There are a whole lot more of them and maybe we’ll look at some more later in the year.
In the meantime as you read the bible, do so looking out for these rhythms of Grace. Maybe you want to do some more study yourself. One of the best books to read is Philip Yancey’s What so Amazing about Grace?
He begins his book with a somewhat uncomfortable story from a friend:
A prostitute came to me in wretched straits, homeless, sick, and unable to buy food for her two-year-old daughter. Through sobs and tears, she told me she had been renting out her daughter – two years old! – to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting out her daughter for an hour then she could earn on her own in the night. She had to do it, she said, to support her own drug habit. I could hardly bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable-I am required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to say to this woman.
At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face. ‘Church!’ She cried. ‘why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.’
What struck me about my friend’s story is that women much like this prostitute fled towards Jesus, not away from him the worse a person felt about herself, the more likely she saw Jesus as a refuge. Has the church lost that gift? Evidently the down-and-out, who flocked to Jesus when he lived on Earth, no longer feel welcome among his followers. What has happened?
The more I pondered this question the more I felt drawn to one word is the key all that follows and coils from that one word.
Of course that word is GRACE
God is constantly at His Work of Grace-giving
The work of God in us and through is by Grace. There is a hurting world that needs to experience God’s Grace.
Questions for Group of Personal Reflection:
Share how you imagine God to be at Work?
What does God being constantly at the work of Grace mean to you?
It what ways might you reflect that work of Grace in your daily life?
See if anything specific comes to you and make a note of it and ask someone to keep you accountable to doing something about it.
The story from Philip Yancey’s book is very harrowing. How would you have responded?
Do you agree – ‘Evidently the down-and-out, who flocked to Jesus when he lived on Earth, no longer feel welcome among his followers.’
If so What has happened?
Share how God’s Work of Grace has impacted your life and how you see it impacting the lives of others.
What other Rhythms of Grace can you think of? Make sure you share them with Nick as we might take time to look at them later in the year.