Sunday, October 4, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The God I Wish You Knew
God is Father
Have you ever been misunderstood? Said or done something that others misconstrued? If someone doesn’t know me well, they could misinterpret my actions or words. But someone who does know me well could correct his misinterpretation. “I know Joe and that’s not what he meant.”
ILL: I’ve done that for people I know well. An upset church member told me that one of our pastors lied to him. I know this pastor very well, and I know he wouldn’t lie. So I told this person, “I know this pastor. He didn’t lie to you. You might have misunderstood him, or he might have been mistaken, but he didn’t lie to you.”
When you’re misunderstood, it’s nice to have someone around who knows you well and can correct the misunderstanding.
I think God is misunderstood a lot. Fortunately, there is Someone around who knows Him well. No one knows God the Father like Jesus the Son. Jesus is the best interpreter of God. In fact, Jesus said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. Jesus is the perfect revelation of God.
In this series, we want to help you know and love the God whom Jesus knew. Michael did a great job getting us started last week, reminding us that God is good. All the time! Michael told us to “correct back to Jesus.” When you have questions about God, whether it’s from reading the Bible or experiencing the hardships of life, I’ve learned to “correct back to Jesus.” Is my understanding of God consistent with the God Jesus revealed?
So what kind of God did Jesus reveal? First, God is good. Today, God is Father.
The Big Idea: The God I wish you knew is an extravagant Father who loves us deeply, cares for us constantly, and wants to be close to you.
Before we dive in, there are two important issues to address.
First, let God be your model of fatherhood. Many of us have or had fathers who were absent, abusive or harsh. If you had a bad dad, the idea that God is your father may not be comforting, but troubling. I understand. My father was an alcoholic—he was a good dad when he was sober, but a terror when he drank. So “father” produced mixed emotions in me, and I know it does in many of you too. What can we do about that?
I think we need to redefine “father” and let God be the model. The apostle Paul wrote:
Ephesians 3:14–15 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.
Paul is saying that God is the prototypical Father. Our idea of “father” should be derived from God, not man. All earthly fathers derive their name from the heavenly Father—He alone is the only “underived” Father. Therefore all earthly fathers are to emulate the heavenly Father. So I’m going to ask you to set aside your broken notions of fatherhood and correct back to Jesus. Let Jesus tell us about our Father, and let that change your understanding of a father. Deal?
I do have to add that I was blessed to have Pastor Noel as my father for 45 years. And as the tributes have poured in since his death, almost every one has described him as a “spiritual father.” More than any other person, Noel helped me understand what it means to be a father, and to have God as my Father. So I’ll have a couple Noel stories today in this talk about God is Father.
Second, Jesus has a unique relationship with his Father. The Christian understanding of God is that He is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We call this the Trinity—a word that is not found in the Bible, but that we use to describe the relationship that is God. God is a relationship. Jesus spoke often of His unique and eternal relationship with the Father.
John 14:7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.
John 14:9 Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
John 14:11 I am in the Father and the Father is in me.
John 10:30 I and the Father are one.
At least 40 times in the gospels, Jesus refers to God as “my Father”, indicating the unique relationship that they will always have.
It is this unique relationship that makes Jesus the One to listen to about God. And there is so much in the gospels about this that we could do a whole series on the Fatherhood of God. We’re going to look at three things.
Jesus revealed God is our Father in three ways:
- In prayer: we are children talking with our Father.
In prayer, Jesus always addressed God as “Father” or “My Father”. He did this all the time, but most notably including times of desperation, like his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane just before He was arrested, tried and crucified.
Mark 14:36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Or when He was dying on the cross.
Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Luke 23:46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
To His dying breath, Jesus addressed God as Father. Often, I see people in trouble running away from God, rather than running to their Father.
ILL: When our kids got hurt, they came running for…their mom. If Laina wasn’t available, I would do! When they got hurt, they wanted a parent. The same thing happens now with my grandkids—when they’re hurt, they run right past me for mom or dad! The little ingrates!
That should be our response too: run to your Father—not away from Him! You can let pain and trouble get between you and God and push you away, or you can draw close to your Father and let the trouble push you closer. In desperate times, Jesus prayed to His Father.
Jesus prayed to His Father, and He taught us to do the same.
Matthew 6:9–10 This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
We are not praying to an impersonal force (May the Force be with you), to an uncaring, unseeing universal power, to a distant and detached deity. We are praying to “our Father”. And Jesus used a child asking its father for food as a model for prayer.
Matthew 7:9–11 Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
What do you do when your children ask for food? Is there anyone who, when your child asks for a sandwich, you wrap up a rock and say, “Here, sink your teeth in this!” Or if they ask for a snack, you give them a snake? “A snack? I thought you said a snake!” No good parent would do this! How many of you love to give good things to your kids? Of course you do! And Jesus says, “You’re not even good—you’re evil—but you know how to give good gifts to your children. How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him.” God is more generous than the most generous parent.
ILL: Noel was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. He lived with us the last 24 years, and he didn’t wait for us to ask. If he knew we had a need, he always offered to help. “Do you need anything? Can I help you with that?” He did help us, often and generously. And not just us—he was generous with many people. He gave most of his income away.
A few months ago, I suggested to him that it might be time to retire and end his salary here at the church. I asked him to think about it and let me know how he felt about that. He had only one comment: “Well, I guess I won’t be able to give away as much money.”
He was a generous father. God is even more generous than Noel! God loves to give good gifts to His children. So ask—because you are asking a generous Father.
Prayer is a child asking its Father for what it needs. Your Heavenly Father loves for you to ask, and loves to give you what you need. Knowing God as Father changes the way we pray. I’m talking with my extravagant Father.
Second, Jesus revealed God is Father:
- In His teaching: we live under the care of our Father.
One of Jesus’ themes with His followers was that they should trust God with their daily lives because God was their Father. They lived under the care of their Father.
Matthew 6:25–26 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Don’t worry, Jesus says. How many of you worry? Jesus is talking to you. Don’t worry about daily necessities because your Father is caring for you. Jesus uses illustrations from nature and argues from the lesser to the greater. If God feeds the birds, won’t your Father feed you? You are much more valuable than the birds to Him. In another place, Jesus said,
Luke 12:6–7 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Sparrows were sold two for a penny, or 5 for two pennies: buy four and get one free. Yet not one of them—not even the free one—was forgotten by God! If God cares for the sparrows, how much more will he care for you! I hope that every time you look at a sparrow, you’ll remember these words of Jesus, and say to yourself, “My Father cares for me.”
Jesus goes on to say that we shouldn’t worry about clothes, and tells us to look at the wildflowers. If God clothes them so beautifully, won’t He care for you too? Think of all those wasted hours in the mall! Jesus concludes:
Matthew 6:31–33 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Your Father knows. He knows what you need and He’s on it. So relax. Stop worrying. Your Father’s got this.
ILL: When our five kids were little, we lived paycheck to paycheck for years. We had little or no savings, so when the car died, or the washer went out, we were scrambling. Vacations were whatever we could do for free. Birthday and Christmas gifts were few and inexpensive. I remember buying Laina something beautiful and expensive for Christmas. She opened it and exclaimed, “We can’t afford this!” I said, “I know. I have the receipt and I have to return it. But I wanted you to see what I would get you if I could afford it!” Hey, it’s the thought that counts.
Through those lean times, Laina and I sometimes worried, but our kids never did. They never worried one bit about the bills, or where the next meal was coming from. Not once did one of them come to me and say, “Dad, I’m concerned about our finances.” No worries at all. Why? Because they trusted us. Mom and Dad have got this!
And we learned not to worry because our Father’s got this! We never lacked what we needed.
I think this is part of what Jesus meant when he said:
Matthew 18:3 Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
I think that part of becoming like little children is learning to trust our Father who cares for us. Knowing God is Father changes the way we live our daily lives.
Third, Jesus revealed God is Father:
- In His stories: we are all loved by our Father.
There are many stories, but perhaps the clearest of them all is the story of the prodigal son, which I like to call the story of the extravagant father. The word “prodigal” means “one who spends or gives lavishly or foolishly.” As we’ll see, it could be used of both the father and the son in this story—the son who spent foolishly and the father who gave lavishly.
The story is found in Luke 15:11-32. But a little background first. Jesus attracted and hung out with some pretty unsavory characters: tax collectors and sinners. The religious leaders were offended: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” They couldn’t understand why Jesus would hang with such riffraff. Jesus answered them by telling three stories: about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. As I tell the story of the lost son—and his extravagant father—remember that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who have just criticized him for the company he keeps.
There was a father with two sons. One day, the younger son told his dad, “I want my share of your estate now.” Basically, he was saying, “I wish you were dead; all I care about is your money.” It was the most hateful thing he could say. What would you say if your son said that to you? I’d say, “Get lost, Bucko. And you can kiss your inheritance goodbye because I’m cutting you out of the will!” But this father was different. He did what his son asked and gave him the money. This is an extravagant father!
Not long after, this son fled the country. He took his newfound wealth and moved as far away from dad as he could. Has anyone ever had a child who wanted to get as far away as possible? This kid did. And then he started living! Wild living! He burned through the money like there was no tomorrow. But tomorrow finally caught up with him, and he woke up one day totally broke. About that same time, the economy crashed, and he couldn’t get a job anywhere. Finally, he took a subsistence job slopping hogs—not exactly kosher for a good Jewish boy—and he was so hungry that the hog slop started looking good. He had hit rock bottom.
Fortunately, the hard landing woke him up and he came to his senses. He realized that back home on the family farm, the hired help were eating better than he was. He thought, “I’ll go home and apologize. I’ll ask my dad to take me back, not as a son—I don’t deserve that—but just as a hired hand on the farm.” And so he set off for home, apology ready.
What was he counting on? That his father would be compassionate. That his father wouldn’t turn him away. He knew his father well enough to know that he could still go home, even after his terrible behavior. He knew he had an extravagant father.
What he didn’t know was how extravagant his father was. He didn’t know was that his father was watching the horizon every day, hoping for his lost son to return. And so, when the son finally came trudging over the hill, ragged and dirty and shoeless, his father saw him coming a long way off. Filled with compassion, the father ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him over and over. In that culture, older men didn’t run—it was considered undignified. But love and compassion trumped propriety! He didn’t care what anyone thought—he was overjoyed to see his son home. This is an extravagant father.
The son began his rehearsed speech. “Father, I have sinned against God and you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” That’s as far as he got. The father interrupted him, calling to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on my son. (Notice: not just any old robe—the best one!) He needs sandals—bring some sandals. And don’t forget the family ring—he needs to know that he belongs to this family! And while you’re at it, somebody get those thick steaks I’ve been saving for a special occasion and fire up the barbecue. And don’t forget the Sara Lee cheesecake! Let’s have a feast and celebrate! For my son is home!” And a huge party broke out and everyone was celebrating. This is an extravagant father.
Well, not everyone was celebrating. Remember, this father had two sons. About this time, the older son—the good son, the one who stayed home and worked on the farm—came in from the fields. He heard the music and dancing, and asked one of the servants, “What’s going on?” The servant excitedly told him, “Your brother has come home, and your father has thrown a party because he has him back safe and sound. We’re barbecuing the thick steaks, and he even broke out the Sara Lee cheesecake!” Was the old brother happy to have brother back safe and sound? Not at all.
He was so angry that he refused to go into the party. What was his dad thinking? His brother didn’t deserve a party—he didn’t deserve anything! He was a rebel who had wasted half the family estate! He was a jerk—and there was no way the older brother was going to celebrate his homecoming.
When the father heard that his oldest son was outside sulking, refusing to come in, he went out and pleaded with him. “Please, come celebrate with us! Your brother is home.” No scolding, no reprimand, no “you better change your attitude Buster!” Just an earnest invitation to the party: “Please come with me.” This is an extravagant father.
The older brother lodged his protest—and it’s a classic sibling response. “No fair!” That’s it in a nutshell, but here’s the full version. “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even some frozen burgers so I could celebrate with my friends. Yet, when this son of yours who has squandered your money with prostitutes comes home, you roll out the thick steaks…and the Sara Lee cheesecake to boot! What’s with that?” He clearly doesn’t think his younger brother is worthy of his father’s love and generosity. And he clearly thinks that he is. But isn’t it interesting that he considered his work for his father as slavery. He never ran away, but he is far from his father, far from his generous heart. There is an important lesson for all of us church people: you can be lost in the far country, and you can be lost at home. You can be lost in church. You can be close to God geographically, but far from his heart. This older brother was not only estranged from his younger brother, but from his loving father too.
His father answers, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” Can you hear the affection? The father is reaffirming his love and generosity with this stubborn, self-righteous son. “We have to celebrate and be glad! This brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” The father is appealing to his son: please, come to the party! Please, soften your hard heart.
What happens next? Jesus doesn’t say. He ends the story there, with the father pleading with his self-righteous son to come to the party for his prodigal brother. Have you ever read one of those “choose your own ending” novels? Jesus leaves the Pharisees to choose their own ending to the story. Will they understand the heart of the father and come to the party, or will they reject Jesus and his sinful friends? The ending is up to them.
And it’s up to you too. Who do you identify with in the story?
Do you identify with the younger brother? Are you someone who has run far from God, made a mess of your life, and now you’re wondering if God will take you back? He will. He loves you in spite of all the terrible things you’ve done. He is waiting with open arms. He is watching for you, hoping you’ll come home. He is your Father—an extravagant Father. This is the God I wish you knew.
Or do you identify with the older brother? Are you someone who has been a good person, you’re a churchgoer, you do the right things? But you find yourself being rigid, harsh, judgmental, even hateful. You have little tolerance for the younger brothers of the world, and you just can’t forgive him for what he’s done. Even though you’ve been good, you don’t feel particularly close to the father. And you sure don’t feel like you’re at the party! You’re just slaving away. The Father stands before you right now, appealing to you. “Forgive your brother. And come to the party.” He’s offering you the same grace, the same love, the same generosity. He is your Father—an extravagant Father. This is the God I wish you knew.
ILL: When Noel’s son, Greg, was in high school, he wandered spiritually. He stopped going to church and withdrew from God and Noel. Noel prayed, “Help me reach my son.” At that time, Greg was doing an early morning paper route. For the next several months, Noel—a single dad raising 6 young kids—got up at 3:30 AM and walked the paper route with Greg. He did it because it was the only time he could be with him. After several months, Greg turned back to the Lord and to his dad.
Some years later, when his youngest son Regg was in junior high, Regg withdrew from his dad. He would come home from school and hide out in his room until dinner. He was uncommunicative. This isn’t unusual for junior high boys, but Noel was concerned. He prayed, and then every day after work, Noel would go straight up to Regg’s room and sit with him for an hour. I asked Noel, “Did you take a book? Something to do?” Noel said, “No. I wanted Regg to know that I was there for one reason only: to be with him.” Noel just sat there for an hour. Regg never spoke to him or acknowledged him. This went on for weeks. And then one day, Noel got home and heard Regg yell from upstairs, “Dad, come up here.” Noel said that he knew he had won back his son’s heart.
This is an extravagant father. How much more will your heavenly Father do this for you. Our Father walks with us even when we’re walking away; He sits with us even when we ignore Him. He is pursuing you and wants more than anything to win your heart.
This God loves us all: the good and the bad, the run-aways and the stay-at-homes, the irreligious and religious. He wants the best for all of us. He is our Father. This is the God I wish you knew.