Bless the Father of the Family
May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be praised. So said Peter and Paul. So say we. The Father from whom every family in heaven and earth is named. The Father from whom all fatherhood originates.
Fathers and families. Happy fathers’ day to all the fathers. Not always an enviable job. In fact these days a pretty despised job, to be a father. A significant minority seems to think we don’t really need fathers in families.
One of the problems is that some fathers have given the rest a bad name. And some have confused their bad, or not-very-good human father with God. But God is not, in the first place, our father. He is first of all the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is that relationship which tells us what kind of a father he is. He is a very good one, if the Bible is to be believed.
He becomes the father of believers in two ways. Those who put their trust in the Lord Jesus are adopted by Jesus’ Father. They are given the adopting Spirit, the Spirit of the Son, so that now they can call the Father of the Lord Jesus, their father.
This means they are adopted into his family. They are made part of his household. His church, that means. The church is the family of the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are that family here at St Mark's.
And we have much to praise the Father for. He has worked, and is working, so wonderfully among us. He keeps on blessing and guiding and showing us such great mercy and kindness.
And he helps the fathers. He shows us what a father is like. Fatherhood and motherhood come from him. He is the one who loves and nurtures and guides his people. From him we learn how to love and nurture and guide. And from him we learn that being a father or a mother is a great and divine gift.
How much does he bless us by placing us in families. How much does he bless us by giving us families. How much does he bless us by placing us in his very own family where he lives. We are always at home with our Father. Together we can speak as a family to “Our Father”.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Today’s Gospel reading (John 5:1-17) about a man who received healing from Jesus but did not follow him as a disciple illustrates a common problem amongst us. Whilst many affirm the value of the Bible and prayer, unbelief dominates areas of our lives. Unbelief is not the same as doubt. Doubt is “faith in two minds”, unbelief is an act of the will. The Israelites were stranded in the wilderness for 40 years because of unbelief (Heb 3:19). They had made a firm decision of the will that the Lord would not go with them to defeat their otherwise superior enemies (Num 14). When a later generation trusted God they were given the land.
Unbelief is a serious attack on the divine character that denies the validity of God’s promises. It suggests in practice either that the Lord makes promises he cannot keep or lacks sincerity in making these promises. Under the old covenant unbelief God calls unbelief “despising” him and it provokes divine wrath (Num 14:11-12, 36-37). With the coming of Jesus, unbelief grieves the Spirit and creates relational distance with God. When Jesus visited his home synagogue at Nazareth and was rejected as Messiah, “he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief.” (Mark 6:1-6). What a devastating indictment! But to what degree does Christ marvel at our unbelief.
Unbelief grieves the Dove of God (Luke 3:22) so he cannot move in power. Paul warns, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30). When was the last time we saw a mighty work of such an order that even unbelievers were moved to exclaim, “God is really among you” (1 Cor 14:25)? Have we searched our hearts, personally and corporately, asking the Lord how he is feeling about our fellowship? If the Lord Jesus is performing signs and wonders working salvation elsewhere across the earth (John 14:12) why not amongst us?
Jesus promised that if we put God’s kingdom first everything else will be provided (Matt 6:33). Our anxieties are evidence we do not believe this word of the Lord. Doubt sincerely cries out for a strengthening of faith (Luke 17:5), but unbelief calls for confession of sin (1 John 1:9).
What can we say?
We spent two and a half months on Zoom and now nearly three months in the hall, and look forward to another two months at least. What is happening? The Royal Show has been cancelled, the self focussed rebellion of the human heart continues to be revealed in people who try to avoid submitting to rules that inconvenience them.
Our established patterns and regular changes have changed. Many good things have stopped - Mainly Music, Coffee and Chat, Men's Breakfast, Conversation Contemplation & Coffee and Women Together. Church is not the same.
Is this time for lament? for feeling sorry for ourselves? It may be a time for lament. But not because we are being inconvenienced or because what we like we can't do. Although at present WA is still protected, we know we are part of a world-wide death threat. Covid 19 has lifted death to the top of the news. But many deaths keep happening for other reasons - wars, other diseases, famine, corruption, violence, oppression ...
Lament for our world. Lament for the human condition. But praise too. Can it be possible that all these disasters we have witnessed in the last year have happened apart from the Lord's sovereign rule? Is it not possible that what the scriptures speak about so plainly is being played out on a global scale as a warning of the much worse judgment of God which will happen when Jesus returns?
And if this is so, what kind of prayers should we pray and what sort of lives should we live? Expectant prayer and expectant lives. God is still at work. And since the Lord Jesus has not yet returned, prayers for the harvest. Jesus once quoted a farmer's saying, "Don't you say 'there are still four months to harvest.'?" He meant the farmer knew he still had time ot get ready for the harvest. But Jesus pointed out to his disciples that the harvest was already ready.
Ready or not, we are ready with a message of life for the dying, hope for the despairing, and forgiveness for the rebellious. And prayers to back it up. Don't keep quiet.
"God so loved the world that he gave his Only Begotten Son." But when did he do that? In his eternal purpose he did this from before the foundation of the world. The words here used, "He gave his Only Begotten Son," cannot relate exclusively to the death of Christ, for Christ was not dead at the time of the utterance of this third chapter of John. Our Lord had just been speaking with Nicodemus, and that conversation took place at the beginning of his ministry. The fact is that Jesus was always the gift of God. The promise of Jesus was made in the garden of Eden almost as soon as Adam fell. On the spot where our ruin was accomplished, a Deliverer was bestowed whose heel should be bruised, but who should break the serpent's head beneath his foot.
Throughout the ages the great Father stood to his gift. He looked upon his Only Begotten as man's hope, the inheritance of the chosen seed, who in him would possess all things. Every sacrifice was God's renewal of his gift of grace, a reassurance that he had bestowed the gift, and would never draw back therefrom. The whole system of types under the law betokened that in the fulness of time the Lord would in very deed give up his Son, to be born of a woman, to bear the iniquities of his people, and to die the death in their behalf.
I greatly admire this pertinacity of love; for many a man in a moment of generous excitement can perform a supreme act of benevolence, and yet could not bear to look at it calmly, and consider it from year to year; the slow fire of anticipation would have been unbearable. If the Lord should take away yonder dear boy from his mother, she would bear the blow with some measure of patience, heavy as it would be to her tender heart; but suppose that she were credibly informed that on such a day her boy must die, and thus had from year to year to look upon him as one dead, would it not cast a cloud over every hour of her future life? Suppose also that she knew that he would be hanged upon a tree to die, as one condemned; would it not embitter her existence? If she could withdraw from such a trial, would she not? Assuredly she would. Yet the Lord God spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all, doing it in his heart from age, to age. Herein is love: love which many waters could not quench: love eternal, inconceivable, infinite!
"Sovereign Citizens" is a new identity that has come to the surface this week. It is not a new idea of course. At various times and in various countries such an identity would have ended badly.
The idea goes back a long way. The current version of it has been bubbling beneath the surface of public debate for some time. On the one hand are those who just want to do what they want to do. To be independent. To assert their rights. Perhaps it is ironic that the independent micro-nation of Hutt River has rejoined the Commonwealth this week.
On the other hand for a long time another set of forces has been at work to undermine and dismantle all forms of traditional relationship structures especially those empowered by the state.
No doubt there are many versions of this independent spirit. A spirit that likes the idea of "rights".
But the idea and the practice is very old. It is embedded in our nature. It is observable in every time and every place. It is manifest even in the church.
It goes back to Eden. The first "Sovereign Citizen" was meant to be a vice-regal sovereign. A ruler of the earth under the rule of the Creator. But the opportunity and enticement to be the sovereign rulers themselves brought about the first and fundamental rebellion.
Whenever you feel yourself rebelling against whatever rightful authority you are under, you are carrying on in the spirit of Adam and Eve. And while we may deplore the behaviour of some in Melbourne and other places, we know that we have the same spirit at work in us.
The matter is very deeply embedded in us. It is not surprising that it comes to the surface at times when rightful authority demands obedience. The BIble sees it as one of the behaviours of the last days when human society is under judgement.
And the cure? Get the old embedded nature killed off. Get a new heart. Have a new birth. Get the life of Jesus in you. Live by his Spirit. And find forgiveness through his death.
This reality makes it clear why repentance and the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in the name of Jesus to all the nations.