THE GOOD FATHER
There are few things as important to understand as the fatherhood of God and I don’t think it is any accident that it comes top of the list in the Apostles Creed. When we grasp what it means for God to be our father – the Bible, the Gospel and life make more sense. I hope that by looking at this more closely we will know in God the father better – not just in our heads, but in our hearts. This is absolutely life-transforming stuff!
Everyone has a father and we will all have different experiences of fatherhood. The mention of the word father may bring to mind a negative experience of a father who was controlling, distant, or absent. Perhaps you had a father who was abusive, violent or addicted.
Being a father is a huge responsibility. No father is perfect but some get it badly wrong and cause permanent damage and pain. You may ask the question “if God is anything like my father, I don’t want anything to do with him.” You may have a wonderful father who you are who did a good job – if that is the case, you have a lot to be thankful for!
Our earthly experiences of Fatherhood can be no reflection on God the Father whether good or bad, because he is so much higher and greater than any earthly father we could ever have.
Whatever our experience of fatherhood, we have a heavenly father who is perfect and as we look at an overview of God the Father as revealed in scripture I hope and pray that we all see something more of his love for us. I also hope that we can be challenged in our relationships with our families, our church, and our communities, in reflecting and sharing the love of the father.
There are five phases of the relationship that God had with his people through History and I want to show how they reveal to us the character of God as our father. It is a whistle-stop tour, but it should give us a context and framework on which to hang our beliefs about our heavenly father. We need to answer the question – What makes God a good father and why should I believe in Him.
To help our understanding I have put our relationship with God into 5 phases:
- CREATION – The Father’s relationship with the Son and Spirit and God’s design for family and relationship Genesis 1; John 1.
- SEPARATION – The disruption of the perfect relationship Genesis 3
- RESTORATION – The restoration of the relationship through Israel (OT) Genesis 12
- ADOPTION – The restoration of the family through adoption in Jesus (NT)
- REFLECTION – We become more like the Father
From the moment God created mankind, he intended for us to live in family, male and female and to have children and “increase in number”. The whole story of the Bible is about God creating man to live in community, to be his family – for us to love him, and him to love us. He created us to be like him, as his children
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number;
The close interwoven type of family relationship wasn’t a new idea to God when he created us. God exists eternally as a triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three “persons” of God exist in perfect harmony with each other, each fulfilling different but important roles within the heavenly community. There is mutual, love respect, honour and joy amongst them and the heavenly beings. Genesis 1;
John 1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
God created us to live in family on earth and to live in relationship with him as our creator and heavenly father, and as part of the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He made us to share his love and for us to love him in return.
One of the questions often thrown at Christians is “if God knew people would rebel against him and the world would be a mess, why did he create them?” We may well ask the question ourselves – if everything was so perfect, why did God risk ruining it by creating us?
There are lots of complicated answers and theologians and philosophers have grappled with this question for centuries, but the simple answer is that he loves us and he wants a family. He had to give us the freedom to choose to love him, because without that choice any relationship would be not be genuine love. God isn’t a tyrant that wanted to create beings that would do his bidding and he could smite when he gets annoyed at them! He made us to love him and bring glory to him
If someone asked me why I had children when there is a chance they will, rebel and make a mess of their lives, I’d give the same answer – because I love them and I want a family to love and who love me in return. I don’t want to force my children to love me, because that would not be love,
There are no guarantees that my children won’t rebel and will choose to follow Jesus and give their lives to him, because they have a choice. There are no fail-safe parenting methods to ensure that they will stay on the straight and narrow, but that is a risk worth taking, because I want what is best for them and will do anything I can to show them the right way to live. There is something built in to all of us by God that makes us want family and relationship.
The tragedy is that from the very beginning, we have wanted to run away from the security of this relationship. Adam and Eve decided they knew better and as a result, all of mankind was separated from God.
Adam and Eve didn’t act alone though as we know from Genesis 3. They were tempted and led astray by Satan in the form of a serpent. Why did Satan want to disrupt the perfect relationship and this family that God had created?
Satan was the highest of angels but his desire was to be God and to have the power, so he rebelled and was cast out of heaven.
How you have fallen from heaven,
morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
He was the first to be separated from the family of God and he was “orphaned”, through his rebellion
In drawing Adam and Eve into disobeying God, he led them into separation from God as well. Satan’s only goal is to separate us from God. He is the chief “orphan maker”. Of course Adam and Eve had to face the consequences of their sin, and that was to exist outside of God’s family. The relationship was broken because they went outside what God intended for them and what was best for them.
Following the fall in Genesis, mankind lost its way and sin took hold in a big way as people continue to rebel. Relationships fell apart all over the place. Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy, and although some people worshipped God, generally the human population rejected God and did their own thing. God sent the flood to wipe out the wicked people, but saved Noah and repopulated the earth through him. Despite this, people still choose to abandon God and be gods of their own lives. They even decide to build a tower to celebrate their own greatness!
There are those who read the account of the flood and other passages where God wipes out sections of the population out of context. They can appear horrific and give the impression that God is a vindictive, bloodthirsty tyrant. This opens up the issue of God allowing or even causing suffering, and we don’t have time to go into that today.
You can’t take these incidents in isolation, because they are part of a greater plan that God has to save his people and restore a relationship with us. The role of a good father includes disciplining his children, and sometimes doing things that are not desirable in themselves, but ultimately save a child from harm or making a wrong choice.
I don’t enjoy disciplining my children, and I’d much rather they were good all the time, but sometimes it is necessary to deny them something they want and give a suitable punishment so that they learn and develop character. I also can’t force them to do certain things and as they get older they will have to stand on their own two feet. I can point them in the right direction but they have to make their own choices.
The Bible tells the story of God’s people rebelling against him, rejecting a relationship with him, and destroying relationships with each other. The effect of sin in the world is separation from God and broken relationships. Human nature hasn’t changed since then, but we know that God has never given up on us.
This is the sign of a patient and loving father. This is a father who loves us so much that he doesn’t abandon us. Those of you who are parents will know how much love and energy is given to raising children. I don’t think there can be many things more devastating than a child rejecting a parent. As a human race, we have rejected God but he doesn’t give up on us. Although we have orphaned ourselves he still loves us.
In Genesis 12 God picks out Abraham as a man who is trying to follow him amongst many that are completely going their own way.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
God establishes a covenant with Abraham that he will establish a great nation through him and his descendants. God doesn’t give up on mankind because he made us to have a relationship with him. He chooses the nation of Israel through which to bless all other nations. The rest of the Old Testament is the story of the relationship between the nation of Israel and God. God the father
Teaches – Books of the law – Leviticus ,Numbers, Deuteronomy, Proverbs
Imposes rule and order – Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, Kings, Chronicles
Guides and gives warning – Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel
Rejoices and weeps with his children – Psalms, lamentations
Raises up the next generation of leaders– David, Daniel
Protects – Genesis – The Israelites escape from Egypt
Loves – Hosea (despite unfaithfulness)
Disciplines – Amos. Obadiah,
Compasionate – Jonah, Ruth
These are all traits of a good father.
This blessing promised to Abraham is eventually fulfilled through his descendant Jesus who comes to earth to restore the relationship of man and God once and for all.
The Old Testament is not only a History book on the nation of Israel. Running right through it is the salvation plan for us. The Father’s rescue strategy for his people is woven throughout – that is the adoption back into his family, by the redemptive work of Jesus. God the father sent his son to die so that we can ben brought back into the family.
As a father there is nothing that would be more devastating to lose a child. To willingly send my child to die is simply something that I can’t comprehend. God chose to give his son up to death so that we can have a relationship with him. Jesus was blameless and died the death that we deserved. He loves us so much he was willing to make that choice. It was in his plan
Out of love for his children, God sent his Son Jesus to restore what was broken and to reinstate the relationship. God broke his perfect relationship with the Son temporarily, to allow us to be brought back into the family.
That is the gospel! That is the good news! Although we were separated from having a relationship with God, he has made it possible for us to come back to him.
Having turned our backs on God we are adopted back into his family. We were estranged from God, cut off without a father but he makes the first move and reaches out to say “I love you. Come back home. I will adopt you as my own”.
Ephesians 1:5 says he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—
It is a constant struggle for us because we still live in an imperfect world and until Christ comes again and creates a new heaven an earth we will continue to live in this tension. Satan is his most destructive when he removes us from a loving family.
His sole aim is to separate us from God and make us orphans because when we are away form the protection of the family, we are vulnerable to the temptations and influences of the world. This is why we need the Holy Spirit to be with us, keeping us close to the father:
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
In this letter to the Romans Paul uses the language of adoption and that would have struck a chord with the readers. In Roman culture, the adopted person lost all the rights of his old family and gained the rights of his new family. He became heir to his new father’s estate. The same is true of our Christian adoption. We leave our old life behind and step into a new family where we are promised to inherit the father’s riches.
We area able to come to the father and call him “Abba”, which is roughly translated “daddy”. This is an intimate term used by Jesus when referring to his father. We have the right to call him this name because we are his beloved children.
The inheritance we stand to receive as children of God is beyond what we can comprehend. We are brought into relationship through the spirit that “testifies with our spirit” and we are co-heirs with Christ. Although there may be short term suffering whilst we wait for the fulfillment of all that we are promised, we will share in the glory!
John Stott sums it up very well:
“To be sure, all human beings are God’s offspring by creation, but we become his reconciled children only by adoption or new birth. Just as it is only those who are indwelt by the Spirit who belong to Christ, so it is only those who are led by the Spirit who are the sons and daughters of God. As such we are granted a specially close, personal, loving relationship with our heavenly father, immediate and bold access to him in prayer, membership for his worldwide family, and nomination as his heirs.”
The relationship with God that is now available to us is an invitation that needs to be accepted. It is a gift that is undeserved but we need to be willing to embrace it. It’s no use having a solution to a problem unless it is implemented, or a cure for an illness unless the remedy is taken. The result of the renewed relationship is that we begin a process of becoming more like Christ.
I’m sure most people, if not everyone, will at some time say something and realise that they sound just like their parents! Those of you that are parents will also have looked at your children and recognized some of your own traits or mannerisms in them – hopefully the good ones! Children generally grow up to be like their parents
The Bible tells us to imitate Christ, to be like him and to reflect him. He is the one by whom we come to God. How do we do this? By the Holy Spirit living and working in us to transform us. The New Testament is littered with references to being transformed into Jesus likeness.
Romans 12 – Be transformed by the renewing of you mind
2 Corinthinans 5:17- If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation
Ephesians 5:1 – Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God
As we enter into the family of God, and as we spend time with him through prayer and worship and reading his word, and as we walk with him day by day we will change to be more like him. Children imitate their parents because that is how they learn. We imitate Christ, to become more like him and more like God our Father.
And here we come full circle – God made started creation by making us in his likeness. Having been through the separation, restoration, adoption and reflection, we again become like him and are transformed into his likeness!
THE PRODIGAL SON
Nowhere is the love of the father illustrated better than in the story of the prodigal son. The father has two sons that he loves and are part of his family. The younger son decides that he wants his inheritance early so he can leave the household. He wants to break away and do his own thing.
He asks his father to give him an advance on the inheritance, which the father graciously does, and the son leaves home, only to blow the entire fortune on pleasing himself and having a good time. He wants to be the master of his own life and not subject to constraints imposed by having to live in a community.
The fun is short-lived though because the son soon finds himself penniless and eating pig food to survive. He is separated from his family and he loses his way – He can’t cope without the love and support and the boundaries and restraints that the family structure brings
He returns home, to grovel at his father’s feet and ask if he could work as a servant, but the father out of love for his son and a deep desire to have a his family back together welcomes him with open arms and throws a massive party! In fact the father is looking for the son and runs to meet him!
The son expects to take us a servants position in the household but the father “adopts” him back in the family so that he and enjoy all the benefits of an heir to the inheritance. What a picture of the love of a perfect father!
The story ends there, but I have no doubt that the son was eternally grateful and reflected that in the rest of his life and in the way he treated others from then on. He didn’t deserve to be welcomed back by his father, but that is the beauty of grace and forgiveness.
It is the same for us – we have all turned away from God in some way, and maybe we continue to do so in some areas of our lives. Perhaps there is addiction, or a weakness that keeps pulling us down. The good news is that God welcomes us back with open arms and a love that we cannot imagine, because he loves us and wants us to be part of his family and community
What does this mean for us now?
I think one of the reasons we live in a society that is so far removed from God is that we are so individualistic. Over the last few decades we have been moving further and further away from community and family values. People are far more transient these days and communities don’t exist in the same way as they used to. Our western culture in particular is so “me” focused that we have forgotten how to live in family and this is translated from family life into church life. Satan really has a stranglehold in this regard.
It reflected everywhere and everything is geared toward the individual. Advertising and the media tell you that you’re better off looking after number one, and you should treat yourself because you deserve it. If it isn’t working, throw it away, and try something else.
That also extends into our relationships. Technology isolates us whilst giving the impression that we are more connected that ever. You can have 500 friends of Facebook and talk to people the other side of the world at the touch of a button, but many people are lonely because they don’t have family or community.
We also face a Crisis of fatherhood and the breakdown of families like never before in history. Single parent families and absent fathers are commonplace and there are many here this morning who will know the pain and heartache of the separation of their own families. The reality of life is that relationships breakdown, parents separate and get divorced, children rebel and families hurt each other.
What this world needs is a father. There is so much hurt and brokenness in our lives that we need a place to go for comfort. As a father, the one thing I want for my children is for them to know that they are loved by Ruth and me and, and by God.
God wants us to know that he loves us. He has loved us from the beginning when he put Adam and Eve in the Garden God created us and he knows us better than anyone – Psalm 139 – “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”
There is nothing you have done that excludes you from relationship with the father. No matter how unworthy you may feel, or how much you may find reason to discount yourself you are welcome into the arms of a loving father. He paid the ransom for you and is waiting for you to come home. He is reaching out his hands and saying to you “come with me my child and I will live and protect you”. There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God.
He is not an abusive or absent father. He does not expect us to earn his approval, or achieve anything for him. He knows that we get things wrong and we can be selfish, stubborn and impatient but he loves us anyway and he longs for us to come to him. He is a Father of restoration and new life.
He longs to see us coming down the path towards the house so that he can fling open the door and run to embrace us. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past because he is a father who has restored our relationship. He has forgiven us and adopts us back into his family just as we are.
He is a father who cares intimately and deeply for us to the extent that he separated himself from a perfect relationship with Jesus his son to win us back.
Jesus came to lead us to the father. As the flesh and blood of God he came to tell us how much the father loves us and then to demonstrate it in the most incredible way by talking all our rebellion and selfishness on himself. He died and rose again to give us access to God and to restore our relationship by forgiveness.
He is a father who wants to be involved in every area of our lives and give us the help of his Holy Spirit to do this. He is a father who wants to grow and develop so that we reflect him and give the glory to him.
I want to show you a video that is a demostration of the love of God the Father. Meredith is a 19 year old girl who has spent most of her life without a family and moving from home to home. She is taken in by her High School teacher and after a few months of living with them, this is what happens.
That is the love that our father God has for you.
I really hope and pray that God has spoke to your heart this through this. There is something here for us all today because none of us has life sorted out and all of us need a loving father, who accepts us and adopts us. If God has spoken to you then please take some time to respond on your own in prayer, or with someone else. He is a loving father who is longing to hear from you.