“Our Father Who is in Heaven”

 

Isaiah 63:15-16; Matt 7:9-11 & Luke 11:11-13 (texts); HC LD 46

February 24, 2013 Download this sermon (PDF)

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us a model prayer, saying, “When you pray, say …” And we begin our prayer by addressing God as “our Father who is in heaven.” Today, however, the use of masculine words for God, such as Father and He, is questioned and shunned by many liberals. The Presbyterian Church (USA) even suggests eliminating the term used by the church for 2,000 years for the Trinity—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—because it is male-dominated. This extremely liberal church has suggested various alternatives: “Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-giving Womb”; “Overflowing Font, Living Water, Flowing River”; or “Rock, Cornerstone and Temple.”

The feminist movement has changed the culture. So translations such as Today’s NIV (TNIV) have become “gender-neutral,” avoiding male nouns and pronouns such as father, son, man and he, and substituting words such as mother, child, people, and we. But this is a distortion of God’s Word. For example, Proverbs 13:1 says, “A wise son hears his father’s instruction” (ESV; cf KJV, NASB, NIV). But the TNIV says, “A wise child heeds a parent’s instruction.” Clearly, in the original Hebrew, the words used are “son,” not “child,” and “father,” not “parent.” And how would the Fifth Commandment be read in a church that supports same-sex marriage, “Honor your father and your father” or “Honor your mother and your mother”?

What has happened? It is that these churches have denied the inspiration, inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures, making their own words more authoritative than God’s Holy Word. To be sure, God is not male or female, because he is a Spirit Being. He compares himself to a caring mother (Isa 49:15; Luke 13:34), but he has never called himself as a Mother. And he has chosen to incarnate himself as a Son, and not a Daughter. But God the Holy Spirit chose to reveal himself to us as a male and as a Father, like a loving and just earthly father. Since Christ is a man, “the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15), “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19), and “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3), how can God be described as a female mother?

So the designation of God as male and a Father has come down to us from the Scriptures down through the ages, even in our ancient creeds, e.g., “I believe in God the Father Almighty.” And in our study today of the opening invocation in the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Our Father, who is in heaven.”

And our Father being in heaven means two things: first, he is infinitely better than our earthly fathers; and second, his power, glory and majesty are heavenly, not earthly.

Our Heavenly Father Better than Earthly Fathers
Most of us are familiar with the use of the designation “Father” for God because it is widely used in the New Testament. In the four Gospels alone, it is used more than 180 times, mostly by Jesus addressing his Father. But God as “Father” is rarely used in the Old Testament—only fifteen times. God implies that he is the Father of Israel, who is his son, “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son” (Exod 4:22; cf Deut 32:6; Isa 63:16, 64:8 ; Jer 3:4, 3:19, 31:9 ; Mal 1:6; 2:10). He is also the Father of David, Solomon and the Messiah (2 Sam 7:14; 1 Chron 17:13 ; 22:10 ; 28:6; Psa 89:26), and of believers (Psa 68:5).

Our texts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are parallel with a few variants. Both compare our earthly fathers with our heavenly Father. Earthly fathers, even the most sinful and wicked such as Nero, Hitler, or Qaddafi, will give and do what is best for their children. Would any father give his children deadly serpents and scorpions, instead of life-giving fish and eggs? Of course not. And yet, the goodness of earthly fathers to their children is nothing compared with the infinite goodness of God to his chosen family.

Our heavenly Father does not provide for us merely our bodily needs. He gives us what our soul needs. This is why the Catechism says that we are to trust that the Father will give “all things necessary for body and soul” (HC 121).

What are some of these things necessary for our souls that only our Father in heaven can give? First, his love, grace and mercy. Human fathers are surely able to show love, grace and mercy to their children, but can they give an overflowing, never-ending abundance of these things? Psalm 103 tells us how our heavenly Father is different from our earthly fathers. Verse 8 says, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” And this love “is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him” (v 17). Can our earthly fathers be like these toward us—always and for eternity? Don’t they run out of patience when their children rebel against them repeatedly? Will they forgive “seventy times seven”?

Our heavenly Father, like earthly fathers, “shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psa 103:13). True, he does get angry and punishes his disobedient children, but “He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever” (v 9). What earthly father has such great steadfast love toward us that it is “as high as the heavens are above the earth”? (v 11) What earthly father is able to remove and forget our transgressions from us and from his sight “as far as the east is from the west”? (v12) Because of our sinfulness, our human forgiveness is but a faint shadow of the Father forgiving us of our sins.

The love of our heavenly Father is so great that he sent his only-begotten Son to die for the sins of his people. What earthly father will sacrifice his own son to die for others, you who were formerly his own enemies? Not only that—your heavenly Father adopts you, his former enemies, as his own children, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). And not only that—as his own adopted children, you have been given all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places: redemption from Satan’s kingdom, forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance in heaven reserved for you. John marvels at this love incomprehensible, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).

What kind of love? This love is not just steadfast, abundant, everlasting. It is also what sometimes is called “unconditional” love. This is what Paul says in Ephesians 1:4, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph 1:4-6). His love is unconditional in the sense that he loved us before the creation of the world only on the basis of his own glorious will, grace and purpose. He loved us not because of what he saw in our qualities, good works, and decision, but because of his glorious grace toward us.

This is why Isaiah can say to the Lord, “For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name” (Isa 63:16). The Father loved Israel his chosen nation of old not because their father Abraham knew them, and not because they were good people, but because of the eternal covenant God made with Abraham. The prophet Jeremiah also affirms the Father’s unconditional love towards his people, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer 31:3).

What earthly father would say to his wayward, disobedient, rebellious children, “I will give you everything no matter what you do?” Wouldn’t they withhold their good gifts to their children when they are disobedient?

And in the case of disobedience, an earthly father who loves his children will discipline them. They’re grounded if they disobeyed a rule. They’re denied dessert if they don’t finish their food. They can’t watch TV or play video games if they’re delinquent in their school work. These are all for the better, to instill a disciplined life as they grow. Our heavenly Father also disciplines you, but not only in order that they get good grades in school, or learn obedience. The heavenly Father disciplines you in order that he will accomplish his good will for you: eternal life. The preacher of Hebrews, in saying, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons,” quotes Proverbs 3:12, “the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” Our heavenly Father “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” Discipline might be painful for a time, but the reward is “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” which leads to eternal life (Heb 12:7-11).

In short, our God in heaven is the essence of a perfect Father. He is most perfect and infinitely more loving, gracious, patient and compassionate towards you than all godly fathers combined. So we are to address God in prayer not only as our Father, but also as “our Father who is in heaven.” We are to approach him with “childlike reverence for and trust in God as little children” (HC 120), trustful and thankful for his good gifts.

And since he is our God and Father in heaven, he must also be approached with an attitude of reverence and fear. This is because is the Sovereign God, the King of the Universe who has infinite power, glory and majesty.

The Majesty of God is Heavenly Not Earthly
When you received Christ and believed in him as Savior and Lord, you became a member of God’s family. Those of you who do the Father’s will by showing a measure of the Father’s abounding love and mercy are called by Jesus as his “brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:50). You are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:44).

As adopted children of God, we can also address the Father with a very intimate name, “Abba.” Although the word “Abba” is used only by Jesus in Mark 14:36, Jesus surely would have normally called the Father “Abba,” the word for Father in his native Aramaic. The Greek word patēr for “father” was used by the New Testament writers since they all wrote in Greek. Even the early church used the name “Abba,” such as in Romans 8:15, “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Also in Galatians 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

“Abba” was a term of endearment and also a title used by Jewish children to address their earthly fathers. However, it was used not only by children, but also by adults. So the idea that “Abba” meant “Daddy” has misled many Christians to call God the Father all kinds of irreverent and casual names, such as “Man Upstairs,” “Bro,” or “Friend.” To be sure, calling God “Abba” conveys to us that he is near and intimate with us. We can truly know him from his revelation of himself in Scriptures. But when we address him as “our Father in heaven,” we are reminded of his authority, majesty, power and glory over all his creation.

When we begin our worship service, we invoke the name of God in heaven, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psa 124:8). He not only created the heaven; he is seated as Sovereign King and Merciful God in his heavenly throne, “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!” (Psa 123:1). When we look at the sky, with its sun, moon, and stars, we exclaim with the psalmist, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork!” (Psa 19:1).

And from his throne in heaven, he looks down on the inhabitants of the earth and sees everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God” (Psa 14:2). The heavens that we see “declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge!” (Psa 50:6) And his righteousness is unlike our earthly righteousness, as the psalmist praises him, “Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?” (Psa 71:9)

The psalmist declares, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psa 115:3). Because of his sovereign power and authority, he is able to work together all things through his Son for our own good (Rom 8:28). He rescued us from our sin by sending his own Son in the fullness of time as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He can save us in all our difficult situations, “He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me” (Psa 57:3). When Israel, pictured as a vine that was destroyed, was punished for her sins, the psalmist pleaded with his mighty God who is in heaven, “Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine” (Psa 80:14). This is why Isaiah calls the LORD God Israel’s Father and Redeemer who “look[s] down from heaven and see[s], from [his] holy and beautiful habitation” (Isa 63:15-16).

When you face sufferings and afflictions, you who also trust in your Father in heaven as your Creator and Redeemer, are able to call on his majestic name for help. And when he does, we praise and glorify him: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens” (Psa 8:1); “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Psa 57:5) And we thank him for his love and salvation, “Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psa 136:26).

When you begin your prayers by calling on God as “Our Father who is in heaven,” you trust him like a child trusts his earthly Father. If your sinful earthly fathers can give you all good things, how much more can your holy, majestic, powerful and loving heavenly Father provide you all good gifts necessary for your body? If your sinful earthly fathers can have compassion on you and encourage you in your difficulties, how much more can your heavenly Father give you his wisdom from his own Word? How much more can he give you encouragement by his own Holy Spirit your Comforter and Helper who indwells you and is with you forever?

You learned that the Father’s saving love is unconditional. He doesn’t say, “I will save you if you are obedient and do good works.” But his saving love is also conditional. Because he is holy, and his holiness must be satisfied, he had to punish your sins. Therefore, he has saved you on the condition that his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, whom he sent from his throne in heaven down to earth, would perfectly obey his law and offer his own life as a sacrifice on the cross for all your sins.

This is the covenantal condition that God the Father has established with his Son Jesus Christ in order to please the Father who would then raise him from the grave for our salvation and holiness. Even at the baptism of Jesus, God was already pleased that his Son would accomplish his mission, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mat.3:17).

So on the night before he gave his life for us, he prayed to his heavenly Father, addressing him six times as “Father” (John 17). He prayed for his disciples because he was leaving them, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me” (v 11). But he prayed not only for his disciples then, but also for you who have believed in him, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me” (v 24).

Only your holy, loving and mighty Father in heaven can accomplish such a great salvation for you! Paul claims this promise by the LORD to David and to Israel for you, “And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor 6:18).

But now that you have been saved by Christ, your Father in heaven demands your holy and blameless lives. Peter tells us how you are to live your lives on this earth as pilgrims, “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Pet 1:17).

Be comforted then as you begin your prayer, “Our Father who is in heaven,” that he hears your prayers, and that he will lovingly and patiently give you all things necessary for body and soul because he is able to do so as the majestic and powerful God in heaven.
 

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