What does it mean to know God as Father? As soon as I use the words father, dad, padre, vader, apa you will have an image in your head.
The father that you are to your children
The father that your dad was/is to you
The father that your husband is to your children
This may conjure up good images. Dad is the one who is loving, who taught you so much, who disciplined you for your good, who set an example and inspired you. For many (may be the majority) of us there will be imperfect images. Dad was the one who was sometimes or even often away, we remember him losing his temper after a bad day at work, he is increasingly frail now fading and needing your care rather than caring for you. Sadly for some there will be very negative images. Dad was absent, distant, abusive
So when we say that God is Father, it creates mixed images and emotions. Yet, we pray “Our Father in heaven.” We’re told to call God Father. What does this mean and how does it affect our worship?
1. We know the Father because he has sent his Son
The logic in John 5 is as follows: By the way, the context is that Jesus has healed a man on the Sabbath day and the religious leaders are very cross about this. They see it as disobeying God but Jesus replies and says, this is exactly what obedience to God the Father looks like and he knows this because he is The Son. Have a look at the logical flow of our passage.
- The Son does what the Father shows him/what he sees the Father do
- For the Son does the same as the Father (5:17, 19)
- For the Father Loves the Son and shows him what he does (5:20)
- The Father will show him greater works
- So that you will marvel/be amazed (5:20)
- For just as the Father raises the dead and give life, so too will the Son (5:21)
- For the Father has given judgement to the Son (5:22)
- In order that we will honour him (5:23)
- because honouring the Father means honouring the Son
4. A day of resurrection and judgement is coming (5:25)
- For the Father who has life in himself has granted the same “life in himself” to the Son (5:26)
- Because the Father has given judgement to the Son (5:27)
In other words Jesus shows us exactly what God is like. It’s one of the reasons why he is described as “The Word” because he reveals God to us. You see this is what God does through history. He tells us about himself, he shows us something of himself so that we can know and worship him.
In Genesis we meet God as the one who is eternal before creation. He creates, rules and sustains. He is Lord but he also walks in the garden with Adam and Eve. He is a friend, not just the ruler we submit to. We start to see that God is love and in the Old Testament God reveals a bit more of that by:
- Telling us his name. He is Yahweh, the God who makes and keeps his covenants
- As he portrays himself as the husband of his people Israel
- As he reveals himself as the Father of his people Israel (Hosea 11)
But the big reveal comes when Jesus comes. This is God’s eternal son. In other words being the Father (like love, like holiness, like justice) is something essential to God’s character. He does not start being Father, it is something he has always been and always will be. And Jesus as the Son who is the one who knows and has seen the Father. He shows what the Father is like because they share the same work, the same will, the same purpose. The Father’s purpose is our salvation. To give us eternal life and Jesus shares this will.
2. We can know Him as Father, we can belong to his Family
There are two big implications from this:
1.We Belong To God
Christians are people who belong to God, both to the Father and to the Son because we have been redeemed at the Cross and adopted into His Family. That’s what we see here when we talk about honouring the Father and the Son. We can know Him, see Him for who he is and we can worship Him. In Hebrews 2:10-11 we are told that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers. He delights to welcome us into his family. We belong to him. I hope we are not ashamed of him. That’s why proclaiming the Gospel is so essential and central to everything we do. You know we are often asked to partner with groups and organisations –sometimes sadly even Christian organisations and churches and the basic understanding is that we can find some things we agree on to do together but because talking about Jesus might be divisive, we won’t do that. Well I cannot be involved in such partnerships. He is not ashamed of me, why should I be ashamed of him.And this means it’s important to ask the question “Do you belong to him?
2. We belong to each other.
Before Jesus died, he prayed for his disciples and for us. Do you know what he prayed for? He prayed that they would share the family characteristics
“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (John 17:21)
We sometimes run a course called “Believing and Belonging.” Part of the course looks at what it means to be members of a church. During those sessions, we discover that there were two ways of talking about membership.
1. We can be members of societies, clubs, unions, pension schemes etc. We pay our membership fee and we get our benefits back
It’s a disaster when we see church like this. We are not really connected in. We simply shop around until we find the church that meets our needs. When it doesn’t, then we complain and/or move on. Now this is dangerous because
1. There’s no such thing as solitary Christians. But guess what? We can pretend to ourselves that we are not solitary when in fact we are because there’s no meaningful connection to the body. We’re just like people popping into the community café to buy a hot chocolat
2. We are judging. We’re saying, “I set the standards and my church must match up to them.” But remember, the Father gave judgement to the Son not to us. Put it down, it does not belong to you. And remember this. Jesus loves the church. It is his beautiful bride. Now we know about its imperfections don’t we. But Jesus says this is my beautiful wife, I’ve cleansed her and I’m preparing her for the great wedding feast. And I think a fair inference is that he would say “love me, love my bride too!
3. I think it was Joshua Harris who wrote a book called “Stop dating the Church” some of us date, some of us are serial daters. Now how do I put this sensitively. If the church is our family then dating it is incest and that’s quite yucky!
2. We are members of the family and members of the body
This means there’s interconnectedness. Can you leave a family? Well I guess, sort of. Every child at some point announces they are leaving home. I remember I did it once. I walked out, made it across the rugby pitch, sat and sulked for a bit and came home. Much to my disappointment no-one even noticed that I’d gone! But we can’t really leave the family can we? I can’t stop being my dad’s son and as much as he might at times of wanted to disown me, all the family characteristics are there for all to see.
Similarly, the New Testament uses the imagery of body parts to describe membership. A limb cannot leave the body unless it is amputated or dismembered. But when that happens, the body part is dead. By the way, I think that’s what church discipline is all about, it’s showing someone what their sin it’s putting them face to face with spiritual death so they say “I really don’t want that” and come back.
So again, what does it mean to be interconnected in the family? Well it means all those things we said in the first sermon about practical care, hospitality etc. should be happening. But let me take it further because we can even do all of those things and be detached. A maid can cook a meal, an au-pair can look after the kids, a servant can clean the bathroom. But for family it runs deeper. There is a sharing of will and purpose, an emotional connection, there’s a love for each other, for the same things, the same people and the same Lord and Father. Does this characterise our church life? Are we family members who belong to the Father through the Son?