Christianity 201

August 1, 2012

Seeing the Father Working

NIV-John 5:19 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.

Yesterday morning I was reading this verse in several different translations and I started thinking of the things that Jesus did do in his earthly ministry here, and what that means in the context of “what he sees his Father doing.” I’ve always thought of Jesus acting on his own while here on earth in terms of the times he seems to act swiftly and quickly and decisively. But it would mean that:

  • When Jesus says to the paralytic, “Rise, take up your bed and walk;” he sees his Father touching and healing the man and helping him to his feet;
  • When Jesus says to the storm, “Peace! Be still!” he sees God the Father already working to calm the wind, stop the rain, and push the clouds away;
  • When Jesus blesses the loaves and the fish, he sees God in heaven making a creative miracle happen so that the the fraction and division of the food causes it to multiply.

The cooperative nature of Christ’s earthly ministry with what God the Father is doing is easy to miss; especially when the gospel narratives don’t mention that aspect of each story.

Gary W. Burge in the NIV Application Commentary for the Gospel of John writes this on page 177 concerning this verse:

The central motif is the relation of a father and son as it would be viewed in this culture through the trade or skill the son was learning.  We can think of Jesus growing up with Joseph in the carpentry shop, obediently learning skills and later imitating them… His activity is never independent or self-initiated but always dependent, deriving its purpose from the father’s will.

In this model we have to remember there is no reciprocal relationship. The father initiates, sends, commands, commissions, grants; the Son responds, obeys, performs his father’s will, receives authority. Moreover, the Son does not simply draw inspiration from the Father, but imitates Him tirelessly.

Matthew Henry writes:

It was the copy of that great original; it was Christ’s faithfulness, as it was Moses’s, that he did all according to the pattern shown him in the mount. This is expressed in the present tense, what he sees the Father do, for the same reason that, when he was here upon earth, it was said, He is in heaven (John 3:13), and is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18); as he was even then by his divine nature present in heaven, so the things done in heaven were present to his knowledge. What the Father did in his counsels, the Son had ever in his view, and still he had his eye upon it, as David in spirit spoke of him, I have set the Lord always before me

J. B. Phillips translates this verse and the one which follows:

Jesus said to them, “I assure you that the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. What the Son does is always modelled on what the Father does, for the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does himself, Yes, and he will show him even greater things than these to fill you with wonder.

What is the application of this passage?

Certainly when we come to God, it’s possible for us to visualize two things:

  • What God is already doing
  • What God is about to do

Not every prayer request is answered, and certainly many are not answered right away, but it can stretch our faith to consider that Jesus did not initiate so much as he harmonized with God the Father already at work. Through the imagination we can see the Father working.

~PW

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