A few years ago I preached a series of messages entitled, “The Greatest Sermon Ever Preached.” Now before you think that I have too high an estimation of my preaching abilities, I did not choose the title based on any feelings about my oratorical skills but because of the passage upon which the series was based, that of the Sermon on the Mount spoken to us by Christ Himself as recorded in chapters 5 through 7 in the gospel of Matthew. Our Lord spoke volumes in these three chapters that would take infinite lifetimes of diligent study to fully digest. He spoke with conviction and clarity, with authority and absoluteness, with succinctness and sincerity on a multitude of issues including (but not limited to) the right interpretation of the law, the responsibility of man to God and to our fellow man, the right way to pray and give, and the source of and cure for anxiety. However, a somewhat neglected subject that was at the fore of our Lord’s most famous sermon was that of giving insights into the Heavenly Father. In this Father’s Day Month newsletter we will focus on some of these insights.
Jesus Is Willing To “Share” His Heavenly Father…”Baby” is the most common nickname that I have for our son Benji. Now, he just turned 9 back in January. I don’t know if he will allow me to call him “baby” when he gets up to double digits, but I’m gonna use it for as long as it lasts! “Buddy” is a nickname I use as a term of endearment for boys I know and, truth be told, sometimes for boys whose names I might have forgotten! One day a couple of years or so ago, I had been talking to some adults at a gathering and Benji came up to me along with some of his friends. In a moment of distractedness I turned to my son and told him, “I’ll be with you in a minute buddy.” Benji, normally a joyful boy, suddenly turned sullen and serious. He looked up at me with those big brown eyes Jesus has blessed him with and said, “daddy, I’m your baby, not your buddy.” My son is used to sharing his daddy with people both in the church setting and in a school setting, but he’s not used to having me call him “buddy” or anybody else “baby.” Benji will share his daddy, but only up to a point…In the three chapters containing the Sermon on the Mount Jesus mentions the Father seventeen times. Once He uses the phrase “My Father”, once He uses the phrase “Our Father”, and the other fifteen times He uses the phrase “Your Father”. You see, Jesus not only told us of His Father, but our Lord is willing to “share” His Father! Of course, only Jesus is the “capital S” Son of God, but He died on the cross that we who were by nature children of wrath might be translated out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light to become “lower case s” sons (and daughters) of God!
Our Heavenly Father Is Perfect (Matthew 5:48)…Being a middle school teacher for several years has allotted me the opportunity to hear many teenage conversations. One of the famous discourses amongst this age group goes something like this, “my dad is stronger than your dad”, “oh yeh, my dad is better looking than your dad”, “that’s nothing, my dad makes more money than your dad”, “my dad is bigger than your dad”, “ well, my dad is stronger than your dad”, “my dad can beat up your dad!” and on and on goes the pointless patriarchal punditry. While some of those kids may have good dads, there is no small percentage, especially in our day and age, that don’t even know who their father is, who if they do haven’t heard from him in years, or who may have had their dad abuse them physically and emotionally. Still they tend to make grandiose statements about their fathers because they don’t want to look bad themselves and because in their heart of hearts every child likes the idea of having a good dad even if they haven’t known that to be the reality in their lives…Whether you’ve enjoyed having a good father or endured having a bad father or been stuck somewhere in between, I’ve got good news. Jesus made a statement in Matthew 5:48 that puts an end to all comparisons between dads when our Lord clearly declared that the Heavenly Father is PERFECT, not just great, but also good, not just better than, but the best! If you’ve been born again, that is if you’ve truly repented from sin and put faith in Christ as Savior, then you have God, the Heavenly Father of which Christ spoke, as your Father, your PERFECT Father!
Our Heavenly Father Rewards Us (Matthew 6:1, 4, 6)…As a kid I had a habit of giving away my toys and/or not being able to find them. My dad, though he’s always been a man willing to give you the shirt off his back, grew weary of me not having something to play with when he knew that he and mom had bought me things. One day he came to me with an orange Hotwheels truck that I had been asking for. Dad gave it to me along with the instructions that if I ever wanted anything in the future then I had to be able to produce this orange truck first. Basically, if I obeyed then I would be rewarded…In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives instructions on praying, fasting, and giving. He tells believers that if they engage in these disciplines in such a way as to be showy or seen by others then they have only a temporary reward from men. However, if they pray, fast, and give in such a “secret” way that is concerned with giving God glory, then they will be rewarded from the Heavenly Father with enduring blessings.
Our Heavenly Father Sees What We Do (and cares what we do!) (Matthew 6:4, 6)…Benji, ever the announcer, has started a pretend tv show called “Strunk Family History.” The series covers from the time that his mom and I met and goes through the day of his birth (at least for now). He introduces himself as the host, gives a recap of where we left off last episode, and then turns it over to his co-hosts (aka his mommy and daddy!). When we came to the point of describing the day of his birth, Benji asks what we did after he was born. One of the main things we tell him is that we just stared and stared, watching his every move. We are also quick to tell our son not to forget that we are still watching his every move!…Jesus tells us quite plainly in Matthew 5-7 (especially in chapter 6) that our Heavenly Father sees everything we do, even that which is done in secret. And not only does He see what we do, He cares what we do. He cares enough to discipline us when we are astray and to reward us when we obey!
Our Heavenly Father Hears Our Prayers (Matthew 6:6)…Several years ago I was riding in the car with a friend of mine when his wife called on the cell phone. He said a few words and then she said a few words. She either must have talked longer than he desired or was talking about a subject he didn’t care to hear about because he moved the phone away from his ear for what seemed a couple of minutes while she continued speaking. He then picked the phone back up and said something to the effect, “alright, love you, see you later.”…Some people think God is that way. We pray, but is He listening or has He “put the phone down”? Things that we pray for don’t always happen as we think they should or certainly in the timeframe that we think they should. Sometimes Heaven seems silent and it feels like we are at best on one of those forever “holds”. Any genuine child of God has felt hopelessness or futility in prayer at some point or other. However, Jesus, the One who never sinned or lied, the One who reveals the Father to us, tells us quite clearly that our Father hears our prayers! What a joy it is to know that, even when we may not understand or get the response we like or as fast as we like, that we are heard by God!
Our Heavenly Father Knows Our Needs (Matthew 6:8)…One thing fatherhood has taught me is that children have lots of questions, lots and lots of questions. Many times Benji asks for some toy. He thinks he needs it. Sometimes we get it for him but sometimes we don’t knowing that the toy, while it may be something he wants, is not as important as what he needs, which is to learn the value of a dollar and the importance of patience and self-control. Often times Benji asks for knowledge about certain subjects. He thinks he needs to know, and now. Sometimes we tell him but sometimes we don’t knowing that the answer, while it may be something he wants, is not what he needs because he’s not ready for certain knowledge yet, it would be too heavy for him to carry or process. You see our son, at 9, doesn’t always know the difference between needs and wants. As his parents my wife and I being older and wiser are charged by God for a period of time to make these decisions and distinctions for him…Jesus declares confidently that our Heavenly Father knows our needs even before we ask. My wonderful wife and I are not perfect in wisdom, knowledge, or power (though she is much closer to perfection than I am), but God is perfect in every way. He knows what we need before we ask, we don’t have to question if He hears us. He knows what we need, not just what we want, and though we may not always understand we can trust His goodness, power, and grace extended on our behalf.
Our Heavenly Father Forgives Us (Matthew 6:14)…I’ve made no secret about the fact that I love the old songs. Not that I don’t like some of the new ones too, but I do tend to think the old ones taught us more. I remember hearing a man get up in church about 25 years ago with a guitar and singing the old classic “Lord, I’m Coming Home.” I have heard that song many times with two verses and a chorus. However, this man’s rendition added a narrative in between the two verses. The speaking part told the story of a young man who had been brought up by loving parents. Unfortunately when he started to come of age he began to choose a wayward path of life. His mom and dad put up with a great deal until one day the young man got under such an influence that he struck his mother. This his father could not overlook and, though it was through great tears, the dad kicked his son out of the house. The young man enlisted in the army and, over the course of the next few years and a couple tours of duty, not only did a lot of growing up but had the occasion to hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ at an old time camp meeting. When the term of his enlistment was completed he wondered about going back to see his parents. He hadn’t had the courage to speak to them because of all the wrong that he’d done in the past, especially on the one fateful night. The young man summoned the strength to buy a train ticket to go back to his hometown. He sent his parents a letter telling them of the change that had taken place in his life and expressing his sorrow over his sins. He closed by the note by saying that he would understand if they didn’t want to receive him back. If they did choose to forgive him then he asked them to tie a yellow ribbon around the big oak tree next to the train tracks by their homestead. If he saw the ribbon he knew he could come home, but if not then he would know to keep going down the tracks. The day for the train trip arrived. He boarded and was holding up okay until the engineer announced that they were five minutes away from their destination. The son instantly became noticeably shaken, so much so that the elderly woman in the next seat inquired as to if he was doing okay. He told her his tale, the whole story, and said that he was just so nervous about whether or not he would see a yellow ribbon that he couldn’t stand to look. She graciously offered to look for him and tell him the results. He gratefully accepted. While he looked the other way as they came around the bend the older woman peered into the distance. She turned from the window towards the young man. She pulled him close and through tears said, “young man, there’s not just one yellow ribbon around that tree, there’s yellow ribbons tied around it from top to bottom.”…As moved as I was when I heard this song years ago, in fact so moved that I remember it today like it was yesterday, I am even more moved by the fact that our Heavenly Father forgives us, His children. Jesus tells us so in the Sermon on the Mount. We have broken God’s laws time and time again, we have hurt His heart time and time again, and yet for those who will come by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, our Heavenly Father extends the forgiveness that He and He alone can give!