God Is Working!
Many Jews during the time of Jesus had come to believe that heaven had been closed since the writing of the last book of the Old Testament. They believed that God was no longer active in the world.
The religion of the Jews during the first century focused on holding fast to the Law that God gave in the past, and to the various religious traditions that evolved around that Law. God originally gave the Law as a means of fostering a living relationship with him, but for some the Law became an end in itself. Rather than getting their life from God who gave the them the Law, they were attempting to get life from their commitment to the Law.
Religion had become a substitute for the living God. Religion almost always does this, as is illustrated by many today who are committed to their beliefs about God instead of actually getting life from the God of those beliefs.
This is one of the reasons these Jews couldn’t see that God was present in Jesus Christ. All they could see was a man who didn’t follow the religious rules. For example, Jesus offended them by healing and feeding people on the Sabbath and by hanging out with people with scandalously sinful lifestyles. They couldn’t see the beautiful way this revealed a God who cares more about people than rules or reputation. Because they were placing their hope for life in the rules given in the past, they missed what God was doing in the present.
In response to a criticism of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath, Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17).
God had not stopped being active, even though the Jewish people thought that he had. He has always been about his work, and never more so than in the miracle Jesus had just performed in the healing on the Sabbath.
It wasn’t that God had stopped talking and working. These people had simply stopped listening and looking.
When we stop listening and looking we end up relying on religious traditions, doctrines, and ethical rules for our source of worth and significance. We feel like our life is worthwhile and significant because we are right—as opposed to all those who are wrong. The more tightly we cling to our religion, the more blind we become to the living God who is always active right under our noses.
The Father is always at work, which means the time to look for the Father working is now. The place to look for the Father working is here. And the people in whom we must look for the Father to be working are ourselves and whoever we happen to encounter.
—Adapted from Present Perfect, pages 132-134