Our Father, Part Two: Who is our Father? Peace for the rebel. The compassion of a father and son
Who or what is our father?
Imagine someone describing his or her father to you in the following way. “He’s very slim and more rectangular than square. He’s purple and white, and has a picture of Elgar on one side of his body, and a picture of the Queen on the other.” Who or what do you think they are describing?
What they have described is a £20 note; yet how can money be seen as a ‘father’? In looking at one of the ways in which the term ‘father’ is used in the Bible, we can answer this question.
One of the ways the term ‘father’ is used in the Bible is to describe a person who is the founder or source of that which exists, yet not necessarily in a biological way. So, for example, in 1 Chronicles 2:51 we read that Salma (from the line of Caleb) is spoken of as the father of Bethlehem. What this means is that he is the one who was given the land and area of Bethlehem, which he then developed.
Initially all that Bethlehem came to be known as was because of Salma, who is then spoken of as the ‘Father of Bethlehem’. A modern day example would be to say the founder of Fitness First gyms is called the ‘Father of Fitness First’ and the creator of Jaguar cars is the ‘Father of Jaguar motorcars’.
In our initial illustration of money as a ‘father’ we are simply pointing out that money is often thought of as the source of all blessing. In doing this, money becomes their main source of security and well-being, a role exclusively belonging to our heavenly father. Whilst there is nothing wrong with money we need to recognise that, as Paul says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10).
Anything that takes the place of our heavenly Father can be perceived as a ‘father’ – the root from which we grow. For example, the younger prodigal son believed that his thinking was better than his fathers, it then taking the place of loving instruction and support as a means of growth and blessing (Luke 15:12). The harvest of his thinking was being devoid of friends and under the control of others in a place where he could not even meet his most basic needs (Luke 15:14-15). Fortunately this was not the end of the story. In coming to his senses the young man went home to find that his father still loved him – so much so that the father even held a party to express his great joy (Luke 15:23). Heaven rejoices over a sinner who repents (Luke 15:7).
The challenge to us all
Have you ever sat in a car with someone who is learning to drive? On many occasions when I’ve done this, my feet have involuntarily stabbed at non-existent pedals on my side of the car, whilst the learner-driver is struggling through a manoeuvre.
Sometimes we do things almost involuntarily, without really knowing or thinking about why we are doing them. Perhaps we have been drifting in our relationship with God because, without really thinking about it, we have allowed other things to take the place of God as our Father, and ‘fuel’ our lives. All too often we only realise this when trouble ensues because instead of overcoming it, we find ourselves being increasingly controlled by events. Who or what is our ‘father;’ what is it that motivates us and what we do think about most of the time?
Wrong thinking will always produce its own harvest, which steals away the joy and power that can be present through the Holy Spirit. This wrong thinking takes the place of God’s word which is why Jesus, on one occasion, spoke to some of the Pharisees and Sadducees whose ‘father’ (the source of their security) in this way:
"If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
The Pharisees Jesus spoke to were zealous people who thought they were following God and assumed they had Abraham as the father of their faith. Jesus points out that this is not so and that they belonged to a completely different father, the devil.
In Genesis, Satan brought the first alternative worldview to planet earth, effectively saying, “Is God really like this,” and “do your own thing – you won’t die”. Because of this, Jesus calls Satan the father of lies. Instead of seeking God, many of the religious people in Jesus’ day had their own view of what God was like and how they should live. This view of some of the morally upright religious people in Jesus’ day was so warped that on one occasion they accused Jesus, (who healed the sick, cast out demons, ate with tax collectors and sinners and raised the dead), as being in league with Satan (Mat 7:22; Luke 11:15).
A father-son relationship
Jesus came to show us what a loving relationship between a father and son could really be like. He shone light into darkness and breathed hope and healing into the marginalised ‘given-up’ ones. In Jesus we see the ‘ressurector’- the ‘life-breather’ - in the market-place of fallen humanity. He loved people and told parables about what His father was really like to those who were drawn by a man who did not use authority to crush, but to restore broken lives.
As we rush around through life let’s pause and ask ourselves some questions. “Do we spend time praying and listening to our Heavenly Father? Do we genuinely seek the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit?” Do we do this or are we living in our own strength and with our own ideas concerning freedom, security and blessing? Have we allowed another ‘father’ into the market-place of our thinking?
Belonging to my real Father
“Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" Matthew 22:16-17
In Matthew 22:15ff we read of some Herodians and Pharisees coming to Jesus to trap Him. The Herodians were more or less pro-Roman, whilst some of the Pharisees were caught up in justifying themselves through their legalism. Their wrong thinking was like a false ‘father’, creating its own behaviour pattern in their lives. On approaching Jesus they asked, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Jesus points out that He knows they are trying to trap Him, and then asks whose image (eikon) is on the coin. This question was one that anybody in the Roman Empire would be able to answer. The Roman Empire was 3,000 miles long, and 2,000 miles wide at the widest point. The vast majority of people would never have seen the Emperor, but they knew what he looked like because Caesar’s face was on the coinage.
When the Pharisees and Herodians said, “Caesar’s” Jesus then said something that amazed them. He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” But what does this really mean? What are we to give to God?
The answer to the second question (what are we to give to God?) is that we are to give ourselves to God as those who are made in His image (Gen 1:27). Being made in the image of God speaks of being a morally upright being that has been created for a relationship with God through His generosity, grace and mercy. Yet what is this relationship supposed to look like?
To answer the above question, we only need to look at Jesus - the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) who lived in a perfect relationship with His Father (John 5:19). In Jesus we see a man who lived in the power and under the authority of His Heavenly Father and showed us what a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father should be like as He reached out to the ‘not-so-loved-ones’ in incredible ways. In all that Jesus did He revealed the authority of the servant-hearted One.
In the Roman Empire and many of the religious groups of Jesus’ day there were those who had been brought up to see authority as oppressive, harsh, legalistic and unfair; in Jesus they saw an authority that drew them closer to God. They saw someone who was uncompromising, yet genuinely loved and cared for the sinner. They saw an authority that would rather help a man find forgiveness than write him off; an authority that was willing to set marginalised and downtrodden captives free rather than crush the sinner.
Caesar’s image was on the coinage of the day, so Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars.” He also said, “Give to God what is God’s “The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-2) and man is made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), therefore all life should be given to God; God is love (1 John 4:8). God is the One who said, “This is my Son, whom I love…” (Matt 17:5-6), and watched Him being smashed to a cross knowing that this was the only way fallen man could find forgiveness and reconciliation: through His sacrificial love. We are not an accident; we were created by someone and that someone – the Son of God incarnate– entered humanity to show us the love between a father and son and offer that love to us through forgiveness and reconciliation.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”
As Creator-Father, God is the absolute master of time and the One who holds the blueprint to life. God created us and placed us in His amazing world so that we could benefit, prosper, and mature in His love through fellowship with Him. From this we see that all things in this world must stand in relationship to God and this creator-creation connection can be seen in many ways. For example, God is spoken of as having entered into covenant-relationship with all things, including the day and night (Jer 33:20-21), showing us that the orderliness of life continues because of His grace and mercy.
“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them — the Lord, who remains faithful for ever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.”
Scripture reminds us that the heavens belong to our Heavenly Father and that he has given the Earth to us (Psalm 115:15-16) as a blessing and to enable us to be a blessing to others. Although man has fallen into sin, God still reaches out without compromising His holiness. He holds the blueprint and knows what everything and everyone should really be like. He seeks to bring blessing and life for the benefit of all who seek Him.
None of us hold the full blueprint to our lives and therefore should not live as if we do. Neither do we have the right to write off our lives or look down on self or others because of perceived failure and an inability to cope because of the view of self and others that we have been brought up with. We belong to God and need to focus on who He is and what He has to say about life – including ours.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
A world given in love
In the first chapter of Genesis we read, “In the beginning God created”. The word ‘create’ comes from a root meaning, “to fatten the seed”. Think of an empty house being filled with good things and we get the idea of how God created and fattened a world in order to bless us.
In Ephesians 2:20 we read that as believers we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. In a world where everything is so often performance-related, we are encouraged to remember that we are God’s workmanship and have been ‘birthed’ into the work of the Lord Jesus Christ because of God’s grace and mercy. The ‘good works’ we are to do primarily refer to living as sons and daughters in a right relationship with our Father. This has always been God’s purpose: to bring us home and to help us grow in the security and blessing of all that He has done. This ‘belonging as sons and daughters,’ is a work spoken of as being prepared from the very foundation of the world.
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” 1 Peter 1:18-20
‘Good works’ is not about what we do first and foremost; it is about receiving what has been done and this continues on a moment-by-moment basis. Through Christ we have come home, are coming home and will one day receive the fullness of what He has done. As we grow in this relationship of blessing, our hearts and minds should reflect more fully the nature and character of our Father who strengthens us with all He has done so that we can know Him better. How well are we growing?
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesions 3:16-19
He directs our paths
Let us continue to pray and ask our father to direct our paths (2 Thess 3:5). The word ‘direct’ (kateuthaniai) that Paul uses speaks of guidance and straightening the path we travel.
Aquinas (an early church father) once said something along the lines of, “An arrow does not have the knowledge to shoot the target, so it needs an archer. In the same way God is our archer as He directs us to an end or purpose.” We capture this picture again in the word ‘Torah’ which speaks of the teaching of God – a father stooping low, teaching a child and pointing him or her in the right direction.
In coming to God as a loving father, we need to allow Him to direct our paths and help us be honest and truthful about some of the ways we have dealt with life. In this there is a healing and release that can be found nowhere else.
“My psychiatrist friend Bob Steward once told me of a patient, a married woman whose seven-year affair with a married man had ended abruptly when he dumped her for a younger woman. Unable to face her essential unhappiness, she had blamed her loveless marriage for her infidelity and had sought therapy and pills in order to exonerate herself from her self-inflicted suffering. Finally, severely depressed and suicidal, unresponsive to antidepressant medication, she was hospitalised.
Because this woman did not hold herself morally responsible, she disdained any sense of personal guilt. For the same reason, she turned to a psychiatrist for relief rather than to the Jesus of her childhood. In a world where the only plea is “not guilty," what possibility is there of an honest encounter with Jesus, “who died for our sins”? We can only pretend we are sinners, and thus only pretend that we are forgiven.”
B.Manning in, ‘Ruthless Trust’ pages 170-171
A pure heart
Our Creator Father knows all that has happened to us and wants us to come home. In His strength we are then able to deal with all that is debilitating and wrong, and reach out to others in the power and love of the Holy Spirit. IN light of this our prayers need to echo the words of David who once said, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). But what is a pure heart?
In scripture, the heart speaks of the centre of bodily life and reservoir of life-power (Ps 40:8, 10, 12). The mind, will and emotions are sometimes spoken of under the term ‘heart’ because like the heart they are always active. Due to the fall into sin, the heart/mind is flawed which is why Jesus said that evil thinking comes out of the heart (Mark 7:21). The word ‘evil’ does not just speak of what is morally wrong; it speaks of that which is counter-covenant and dysfunctional.
We often think of a pure heart as just the removal of something that stains and pollutes, yet it is more than this which, on its own, can lead to legalism. Christian purity speaks of understanding how we are accepted by God through the work of Christ. It speaks of covenant-thinking and a mind that is then balanced and empowered by the Holy Spirit. In short, it speaks of amazing provision from our loving Father who wants the very best for us and helps us to learn and think the right way about God, ourselves and the world we live in. The question is, “Are we willing to learn?”
The Everlasting Father
“….and he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Many Christians become confused when reading of the Messiah as “The Everlasting Father.” We see why Jesus is spoken of in this way we remind ourselves that the term ‘father’ can be used to speak of the source of something.
In using the title, ‘Everlasting Father’ Isaiah reminds us that Jesus is the sacrificial source and creator-provider of our salvation. This is also borne out by 1 Peter 1:19-20 where we see that the heart at the centre of the universe is sacrificial love, with Christ being spoken of as ‘the Lamb chosen from the foundation of the world”. From this we see, as already mentioned previously, that God’s desire to reach out to us has been present from before the foundation of the world. Now, through God’s gracious intervention of Christ, we - the rebel - can begin to know the peace of reconciliation. But how was peace viewed at the time of Jesus and what is peace?
In the Roman Empire the only peace that most people knew was the ‘Pax Romana’ (Roman peace). This peace was created by subjugation – the defeat of people - along with a rule that allowed only a small amount of freedom defined by the dominant nation. Yet the peace that Jesus speaks of is nothing like this.
Through Christ, we are not subjected to a tyrannical reign that destroys life and removes all hope of freedom. Through Christ, that which imprisons us is dealt with so that we can come to that place of reconciliation and wholeness, which is what real peace is all about.
The Prince of Peace.
In Isaiah Jesus is spoken of as the Prince of Peace and not the King of Peace. In Isaiah’s day a king would always send his son to deal with any uprising or rebellion in the kingdom. This is why the word ‘Prince’ became synonymous with ‘One who consumes evil.” God sent His son into the world to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 4:8)
Peace does not speak of the absence of trouble, but the presence of a Person who knows how to bring about the very best in every way. Therefore, God’s peace speaks of reconciliation and a Shepherd who protects and feeds His Sheep; who seeks to restore and make us whole. He is the One who destroys the work of darkness and the authority (of self or others) that brought about chaos in the first place.
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
Let’s now move on to our final section in part two of ‘Our Father’ and take a brief look at compassion.
Our Compassionate Father (Mat 20:1-16)
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.”
In Matthew 20 we find a parable that speaks of the grace, mercy and amazing compassion of God. I have chosen to look at this parable because although the word compassion is not mentioned, we clearly see the concern that God has for others if we think about it.
Jesus begins His parable by saying, “The Kingdom of God (the rule and the reign of God) is like a landowner.” Through the landowner’s actions and words we are going to see the agape love of the Kingdom of God. As we focus our attention on this landowner we also see a powerful picture of God’s compassion and concern for others.
Jesus is the King of Kings – the ruler who exercises the power and blessing of the Kingdom - who has compassion for His subjects (Mat 9:36; 14:14; Mk 1:41). Jesus’ compassion speaks of the passion of the Shepherd who seeks lost sheep and leads His people to green pastures - a place of rest and security. Another picture conveyed by the word ‘compassion’, is that of a womb surrounding life and the inner chamber of water which helps support and nurture a baby. In thinking of these pictures and relating them to the Kingdom, we see God’s desire to heal, sustain and uplift the lives of those who will turn to Him. In Jesus’ words and actions we see something of what our Heavenly Father is like (John 14:9). We are helped because God is a generous father. In the actions of the landowner we see compassion of this father.
Parables are stories that can be entered into with the mind as we picture the events taking place. So let’s begin by imagining what it must be like to go into the market place each day in order to find work. Life is not easy and a day’s work meant that your family would be able to eat. Whilst there is nothing unusual about people going into the marketplace for work, what is unusual to those who were listening to Jesus, are the actions of the landowner.
In the Ancient Near East a landowner would not go into the market place to find labourers – this would be the job of his manager. Yet in Jesus’ story we see the landowner going in person and offering a standard wage for a day’s work - a denarius. To the listener, the story becomes even more unusual when they hear that the landowner continues to go into the marketplace looking for people to hire. He goes in at 9am, noon (in the heat of the day), three in the afternoon and finally at five.
In our thinking, we may wonder why the landowner bothered to go into the market pace so many times. After all, if the other men had not arrived first thing in the morning then they were probably a little lazy. Are we really going to get a good days work from them; are they really worth bothering about? However, this is not the attitude of the landowner. He goes out in the heat of the day and in the last hour, even though he is not likely to get much work from men who may still have to walk to the place of employment. By the time they got there the day could be all but over. In Jesus’ parable the landowner certainly does not fit the normal pattern of the day.
Evening arrives and, to the amazement of those listening to the parable, the men who had arrived late in the day receive just as much payment as those who had worked every hour from dawn to dusk. In an ideal world, those who had worked all day should have been really pleased for them. They’d have been acutely aware that this generosity would keep their neighbour and his family from going hungry. Yet we are not in an ideal world and those who’d worked hard all day complain because they expected more money, despite having agreed to work for a set wage. They are then challenged by the landowner who states that he has the right to do with his wealth as he pleases. So why did Jesus tell this parable?
Many of the Sadducees and Pharisees were complaining about the people Jesus reached out to. The Pharisees believed that they were the only ones who worked hard enough to secure the very best from God. They did not like seeing Jesus reach out to tax collectors and sinners who seemed to see something in Jesus that not only drew them to Him but also brought about a change of heart.
In His parable, Jesus reveals the character of the Kingdom of God and shows that in reality all blessing is a gift. The heart of God’s Kingdom rule is agape love and all who are downtrodden and marginalised are able to receive blessing because of His grace and mercy. Despite all the inconvenience it is the landowner who goes out again and again to bless those who have no realistic hope of overcoming their difficulties.
The compassion of Jesus
In Jesus, we see the incarnate Son of God who was moved with compassion when He saw crowds that were like sheep without a Shepherd (Matthew 9:36, Mark 6:34). In Jesus, we also see the One who was moved with great compassion when He saw the hunger and need of those who had followed Him out to a desert place (Mt 14:14; 15:32, Mk 8:2). He is also the One who showed compassion to the blind men (Mt 20:34) and the widow of Nain (Luke 7:13) and had compassion for the man who brought his demon-possessed son to be healed, whilst realising that although he believed, he needed help with his unbelief (Mark 9:22). In Jesus, we see the nature and character of the Father (John 14:9, and so in Jesus we see, in many respects, God’s rule and reign is personified.
“Wherever Jesus went, he met an endless supply of people whose lives had gone badly wrong. Sick people, sad people, people in doubt, people in despair, people covering up their uncertainties with arrogant bluster, people using religion as a screen against harsh reality. And though Jesus healed many of them, it wasn’t like someone simply waving a magic wand. He shared the pain. He was deeply grieved at the sight of a leper and the thought of all that man had gone through.”
Bishop Tom Wright in ‘Simply Christian’, page 10
The love of the ‘will not overlook sin’ One
Scripture clearly reveals that Jesus never overlooked sin. Yet in His words and actions Jesus shows us that although man has become a criminal deserving condemnation, He also sees man as a lost person who needs to be found and brought home. Jesus never saw people as chaff to be burnt, instead seeing them as a harvest to be reaped. He never regarded people as a nuisance and never looked down on anyone, whilst still calling a spade a spade, so to speak, when needing to. Jesus also said that people who had seen Him had seen exactly what the Father was like (John 14).
Jesus was always willing to reach out to people, no matter what He was going through, as can be seen in what He said to the thief on the cross, whilst undergoing great suffering. It is this Jesus, the suffering servant, who paints the pictures we see in parables that underline God’s love and compassion.
Through Christ we can come home and find forgiveness of sins. Then, and despite having already done so much, our Father continues to help us to benefit from all that is already ours in Christ. This comes about through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Do we want this help?”
We are all on a journey and at different stages in that journey. We will all probably let each other down from time to time, yet our heavenly Father will never let us down. We are in the place of growth and we are all on journey where every provision has been made for our well-being.
We finish this section on ‘Our Father’ with a quote from Prof. Mary Poplin’s article in A Place for Truth. In this article, she picks up on a point made by Mother Theresa which underlines the importance of knowing God.
“We see the sisters’ work with the poor as being their major work, but they do not see that as their primary work. Their first work is prayer and to belong to Jesus. Out of that relationship they have with Jesus, they believe all the work that we see and admire actually emerges. So the stamina, the grace and the strength to work with the poorest of the poor comes form that relationship, according to them.”
A Place for Truth, p 283. Ed. D. Willard.
End of part two of four.