Many people in this generation have grown up with images of television fathers. Some recent examples may be a little scary. Perhaps one of the most common was frontier father Charles Ingalls of “Little House on the Prairie.” Michael Landon’s character was strong and loving, always struggling to earn a good living and very devoted to his children. When they needed protection, he fought for them. The other father was Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the dad played by Bill Cosby who went through all kinds of antics with his children and their friends on the way to them becoming adults. Cosby was patient and funny and surprisingly available. We are all aware of the terrible trial going on that challenges our view of Cosby’s image. But then again these were TV dads, perhaps a projection of what fatherhood should be. Their roles were scripted and directed to lead to a happy ending, a positive lesson set to artificial environments and contrived incidents.
But how does a person create the warmth so necessary for life if their father was cold and distant? How do beautiful memories growth from the seeds of brutal mistreatment? The pre-washed images of Cosby and Ingalls and quite a few more are depictions of fantasy fathers. Television is not the real world and most of us know it. But even if your experience with “dear old dad” or that person you call “the old man” is painful to recall, there is father you can have who has no deficiencies, no flaws, no bad days. He never creates a bad memory, always acts for our best interest and has an amazing future planned for us.
Week after week in this church and in thousands of other churches in hundreds of languages across our world we will say the words “Heavenly Father.” In most cases it will mark the beginning of a prayer. It is a form of address to God. It reminds us of His place and our future home. It also speaks of our relationship to God. He is our Father; we are His children, adopted though Jesus Christ. It is also the theme of quite a number of current worship songs. “Heavenly Father, I appreciate you …” is one I’ve sung occasionally. Yet how well do we relate to God as our Father? For some, memories of our biological or adoptive Father are far from pleasant. Not all fathers are created equal and no father can compare to God. Jesus spoke about His Father in these terms:
Matthew 11:27-30: 27 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Those of us who have enjoyed wonderful fathers can still benefit by the added wonder of God as our father, but those of us who have suffered under an uncaring, indifferent or an absent father need Him to fill a gap in our lives. Those of us who have lost our fathers need the assurance of a father’s love. God’s presence provides this and it is done in a unique way. John’s Gospel (14:9) has a powerful and essential piece of truth for us all. Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” If you want to know how God looks upon us a His children, study how Jesus reflected His Father. And here’s another consideration. Even if you do not consider yourself a good enough person to be called “saved ... converted … part of the family” etc., watch how the Gospels capture His love as He shows us the depths of our Father’s love. Revelation is what our Father desires!
In John 8 there is a scene filled with the stuff of religious judgment and social scandal. A woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Under the Law of Moses she should feel a hail of stones descend upon her until she is beaten from conscious life into death. There is no question about guilt. The witnesses have spoken. The Law is the Law. It is right here that fatherhood responsibilities become blended with father’s love. Jesus knows the power of the offence, but he feels the need to exercise forgiveness. Isn’t that always the problem for us as parents? We have to punish the wrong without killing the spirit.
This is also a scene cloaked in mystery for even with the charges levied and the penalty prescribed, Jesus hesitates. John tells the story, But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11 "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
No one is entirely sure of what Jesus began to write and then finished after he asked for a sinless volunteer to begin the stoning. Neither is the question ever satisfied as to how the adultery was discovered or who the other party was. Some say Jesus wrote a list of all the witnesses present and asked the witness to step forward. Others say the star witness may also have been the other guilty party and they all left rather than implicate the other person, who was obviously a man.
The meaning is clear: Jesus does not wink at sin, but He will always seek to save the sinner rather than expend raw justice. Our Father is merciful and forgiving, but He expects us to abandon the things that separate us from His love. Redemption is what our Father does!
The second portrait of Jesus showing the Father’s heart takes us into the terrifying world of a public health risk. In some cities of our world health care workers look like people handling nuclear wastes and toxic agents. There is a form of terror which grips us when something threatens us medically. We’ve almost become accustomed to scenes of people wearing masks to ward off a possible new epidemic. It’s not yesterday’s Chernobyl nuclear meltdown victims or letters filled with Anthrax spores or even SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. New threats make some exotic destinations less desirable these days.
In Jesus’ day leprosy had the fear factor perhaps only matched by the Ebola virus or the more recent Zika virus. In Jesus’ day the appearance of lepers sent people into a near panic. These loathsome people had to cry “Unclean! Unclean!” to drive uninfected people to safety. They didn’t want to breathe the same air as lepers so they isolated them to little camps where a slow and lonely death awaited them. The lepers wore little face veils as a reminder of their terminal condition and their total loss of identity. Whatever they were they no longer were.
Mark’s Gospel places Jesus into a collision course with a leper in his very first chapter. The poor man had heard of a miracle worker who could heal with just a touch. Breaking all the rules of engagement, he threw himself before Jesus and cried for help. Mark tells the outcome of the story: 41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Restoration is what our Father does!
The absence of the disease of leprosy is a wonderful miracle, but the regaining of a person’s true identity is even more powerful. Do you know there are thousands of people who have awakened today and have no idea who they really are? They lack any sense of acceptance by God because their sin separated them from Him. Instead of a Heavenly Father they define themselves in earthly terms. How would you answer the question of who you are? Let me ask the question using myself as the example?
- Who are you Calvin Andrews? I’m the firstborn son of Claude Andrews. But he passed away in 1987. Where does that leave you?
- I’m the pastor of Corner Brook Baptist Church. But who would you be if you were not the pastor? Would you cease to exist? On the day you retire, who will you be when you cannot say what you do?
- Well, I’m Muriel’s husband? But what if she won’t admit that or forgets it at some point in time. But what if she was no longer here? (God forbid) Who would you be?
- I’m the father of two sons, Wade and Stephen. But when they are grown or moved away (which they both have), who are you then? Do you have any significance beyond your relatives?
- I love fishing? But what about the winter time? I love hockey! But what happens when the ice is removed from the Pepsi Center? Who are you then? What about when the fishing season closes? Who are you?
- I live on Carriage Lane? If your house burned down, would it remove your identity?
- I was a Reach for the Top champion at my High School? I had good marks … passed with honors? But who remembers? Who cares? Who are you really?
- What if you were to suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease? Who do you become if you lose all contact with your world?
Do you see why death is so devastating? It chips away at our identity. Do you see how ultimately futile it is to associate only with people and activities and concepts that change over time? Your identity needs to be fixed deeper. Who is your Heavenly Father? To be a child of God, to be touched by the hand of Jesus is the touch that transforms us at the most important level. To be loved by a Heavenly Father is to be loved eternally. It is a permanent state that has promises at every level of existence. You are loved in life and embraced in death’s sleep. You are secure in this world and in the world to come. Conclusion: There is too much to lose to never know the Father’s care. Jesus wants to minister God’s love to each of us. Permanent identity is what our Father establishes!
Not even success is the foundation on which God will love us. I know of children who tried a lifetime to measure up to the artificial demands of a parent who stoked their ego at the expense of children. I know people in professions their parents paid for who have absolutely no desire to be where they are. I know others who don’t know their father loved them. They were never told or shown despite their overwhelming success in many areas of effort.
Time will not permit more indepth photographs of Jesus’ album of seemingly hopeless interventions, but develop any image you take of Jesus and you will see a photo of His Father. Snap the picture of Jesus stopping to listen to Bartimeaus and you have a page from God’s personal album of compassion and care. Shoot a scene of a thirsty woman at the well in John 4 and it will develop into the longing for God to take a checkered past and make it a clean slate. Do a close-up of Jesus on the cross talking with a thief who recognizes his need and you have a Father’s willingness to take a condemned failure and welcome him into a new home just seconds before he loses his last opportunity to make a good choice. Doesn’t Jesus have enough to do on the cross? Isn’t Calvary itself a Father-sized obstacle? It is never bad timing to find forgiveness. God is never so preoccupied that He can’t see a change of heart.
I’ve only scratched the surface on the greatness of our Heavenly Father’s love. You can have a relationship with the best Father by accepting Jesus and only by accepting Him. Human families can be quirky. Fathers can be erratic. Yours may be the best or you may barely be able to tolerate him or you may not know him at all. It matters not John 1:11-13 states: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.” Give Jesus and you’ve given the Heavenly Father. Accept Jesus and you’ve accepted the Best Father. Believe it today: Your Heavenly Father loves you!