1 John 3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
You might not immediately appreciate the fact that there was a sense of wonder in John when he wrote these words. You sense it in his attitude . . . “How great!” He has lavished his love on us.” You might feel quite blasé as you read them; “Sure we’re the children of God. We are all children of God . . . big deal! So what?” John and his readers didn’t think like that. To their amazement, in spite of how they’d lived, they had become the children of God, and that is what they were! From heaven itself they had been given the right to this status. They’d lived long without God, but then a great change of heart and mind had taken place. They received our heavenly Father into their thinking and into their longing and into their repentance and into their sorrows. How badly they had dealt with him. They turned to their Father. They cast themselves on his mercy, and then in turn he received them into his embrace, into his provision and into his chastening. They had received him, and then he received them, not to be his servants but to become his own children. He loved them with exactly the same love as that with which he loved his eternally, only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. How great is that love! How great the love that the Father has lavished on every single Christian without exception.
The beloved apostle John, of course would be considered a child of God, but each one of us mere Christians too? Yes, just as certainly we too have become the children of God, all loved deeply, passionately, eternally by him. That is the wonder of John. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us!” We’ve been granted this mighty privilege of being called the sons of God. We can sing this lovely hymn:
I once was an outcast, a stranger on earth,
A sinner by choice and an alien by birth.
But I’ve been adopted, my name’s written down,
An heir to a mansion, a robe and a crown.
I’m the child of a king!
I’m the child of a king, with Jesus, my Saviour,
The child of a king!
A tent or a cottage, oh why should I care?
He’s preparing a mansion for me over there.
Though exiled from home, yet still I may sing
All glory to God, I’m the child of a king.
I’m the child of a king!
Yes, the child of a king, with Jesus, my Saviour,
The child of a king!
Remember what you were once were, children of your father the devil; so said the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, you used to act just like your father didn’t you? You showed no interest in Christ, certainly you had no love for him, or his Spirit, or his people, or his book, or his day. You did what your despicable father the devil told you to do; you ignored God and you cut out from your life his Son Jesus Christ. You were under the power of sin, slaves to sin, in the grip of a force that held you. Sin is lawlessness; sin is defiling; sin brings guilt and shame, yes, all of that, but sin especially is something that has people in its power. They are in the grip of a force that they know is destroying their life, their health, their relationships, their job, their happiness, but they can’t stop sinning.
This week I have been listening to and talking with the Old Testament scholar Dr. Dale Ralph Davies of the USA. He has been teaching a large conference here about the prophet Jeremiah. He has a fascinating take on the way we men and women are gripped by sin, all of us – children being no exception. We may spot it in the way babies and infants defy their parents though often warned and exhorted. You hear me speaking about the bent and bias in babies to cry, “Me, me, me!” but I enjoyed the way that Ralph describes it a little later on in the lives of children. He used this illustration, “I recall an incident when I was about ten years old. We lived in a small western Pennsylvania town where my father was the United Presbyterian pastor. A new Methodist pastor named Rev. Galbraith moved to the town. His wife was, quite predictably, Mrs. Galbraith. They were a friendly and cordial couple and became good friends with my parents.
“However, I was a bashful boy, and I failed to speak to Mrs. Galbraith on one or two occasions. Hence she teasingly threatened me that if I didn’t speak to her when she saw me next, she would kiss me. Sheer, unmitigated terror! No problem, you say. All you have to do is henceforth to speak to her. Oh? You don’t understand that such jesting threats induce a kind of social paralysis in ten-year-olds. Mysterious it is, but for some inexplicable reason one simply ‘can’t’ speak to a woman who threatens to smooch you if you don’t talk to her. It was so bad that when three of our local churches had our weekly Sunday evening services together, I would dash out of church immediately after the service to avoid having to face Mrs. Galbraith. No see, no kiss. It got worse. Once when (after the evening meeting) I was sitting in our family car, Mrs. G. and her husband were walking home. She came toward the car to speak to me, but, fearing what might be coming, I jumped out of the car on the street-traffic side, almost into the path of an on-coming vehicle, obviously preferring a tragic – rather than a romantic – end to my life!
“Now I cannot explain that. I cannot state why I didn’t just speak to her and ‘be free.’ All I know is that, ludicrous as it sounds, I could not speak to her. I was in bondage. I was helpless in the grip of that threat. That helplessness is what Paul is referring to when he says you are ‘under sin.’ Sin is a tyrant; he holds you tightly in his grip, and you have no hope unless the strong Son of God wrenches you from its clutches.”
So that is what happened to ten year old Dale Ralph Davies, the inveterate preacher and illustrator whom I’ve been hearing this week. Children, do you see that the embarrassment you sometimes feel having to deal with boys or girls or adults or doing something publically, in the school or the church or even in the family – that that embarrassment when you could wish you were dead rather than do it – children do you know what I am talking about? The fear that your friends will discover you go to church twice on Sundays, or that you went to a Christian camp – ‘Nobody must know!’ I am saying that that feeling of fear or embarrassment goes right back to our father Adam and his fall and the sin that has come into the world? Ralph was gripped by embarrassment and terror simply the teasing of a pastor’s wife – something as harmless as that – and he couldn’t get out of it.
I am saying that that inability to be delivered from crippling negative emotions is something that troubles every person on a far greater, deeper an
d eternal level. That simple picture of a boy’s tension and horror is a little indicator of how sin has sunk its talons deep into us and it won’t let go of us. Sin will take us to hell with itself, and we cannot free ourselves; we are as helpless as little Ralph was to shake off his horrible embarrassment and panic, but Christ the Son of God can do what we can’t do. Even in areas of our lives that seem to have their own rules and are so mysterious we have been helped by what Jesus has done in coming into this world, the truly free man, the only free man, by his resisting all temptation to obey Satan, by rather fulfilling all righteousness as the God-man, by ending hell’s destructive grip of our lives and overcoming it with superior power and guardian grace. I am saying that that deliverance – even of a ten year old being scared out of his mind – comes from Golgotha. Jesus saves his people from the dominion of sin. The apostle John elsewhere describes him as the one who loved us and set us free from our sins by his blood. We were serving sin and the devil, but Christ delivered us. No longer slaves; henceforth children of God, loved by God with the same love with which he loves Jesus Christ, and so we are given every encouragement to address God as our Father.
Let me open up that theme of addressing God as ‘Father’ for a moment.
1. JESUS SPOKE TO GOD AS HIS FATHER.
Consider the time of Jesus’ greatest anguish of heart, the night before his death on Golgotha, and he is in anguish in Gethsemane. He asks his three closest friends to pray for him, just as we say to our loved ones, “Pray for me at this time. I am facing a difficult time.” He told Peter, James and John, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” It is such strong language, being drowned in grief, being choked by it as if you were dying of heart-ache. He had known from the foundation of the world that he was coming into the world to save those who were perishing and giving them everlasting life. That was his mission; he had told his disciples that he had not come to be served – as some mega-emperor surrounded by a hundred flunkeys all out-vying one another to fulfil his merest wish. He came to serve us and to give his life a ransom for many. That is why he came – He died that we might be forgiven, He died to make us good; that we might go at last to heaven saved by his precious blood – and yet now that this moment was upon him, the night before his great atonement, he goes to the quiet Garden and he prays aloud with his three friends also praying and listening to him. What does he say?
“Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mk. 14:36). “Abba, Father, I desperately want another cup. Is there any possibility that this cup can be exchanged for another one? Everything is possible with you, and even now, at this last minute, you can take this cup from me.” It means the thought of Golgotha was enough to overwhelm our Lord with sorrow to the point of death, not the cross itself but the mere thought of it – the thought of losing all the comfort of God’s help and presence. He had never known the loss of God, all through eternity, from the beginning of God, and all through the 33 years of his incarnate life, Jesus had never failed to have his Father comforting, reassuring, strengthening him, there as the one who loved him passionately, deeply, truly and that this was going to be terminated – all that great comfort. His Father was always there for him, but on the next day, while he became the Lamb of God consumed by the magnificent rectitude of a sin-hating God, there would be no sense of God being there whatsoever.
Jesus didn’t take Golgotha in his stride. He didn’t draw his disciples into the Garden to hear his praying in order that they might be overawed by his joy and peace as he faced death with total acceptance singing hymns of contentment in God’s presence. It was not like that. It was not like that at all. His was a cry of anguish to his Father for another cup. Sometimes people say that when you know something to be the will of God then it is easy. Well, Calvary was not easy for Jesus. The though of it overwhelmed him. Then how can any of you face death, an open-ended encounter with the God who knows everything you have ever thought and said and done, and not tremble, tremble, tremble at the thought of it? You are taking your sin and guilt to a God who is light in whom is no darkness at all, a God who is a consuming fire, a God who tells men it is fearful thing to fall into his hands. You are going there with the sins which made our Saviour sweat drops of blood at the thought of what lay ahead for him, the anathema, the judgment, the wrath of a sin-hating God when he was made sin for us, when the great transaction was a mere 24 hours’ time and he died as our substitute.
Jesus went to God in all his great need and addressed him as “Abba, Father.” It was a familiar form of address. It was in the language of the hearth and home, Aramaic. You occasionally meet it in the New Testament, in the home of Jairus as Jesus and once again these same three disciples, and also Mr. and Mrs. Jairus, enter the room of the dead little girl and Mark records Jesus’ words again to the child speaking in Aramaic, “Talitha koum!” It means, “little girl, I say to you, get up.” It was the phrase on the lips of each mother in Galilee, hundreds of times in their lifetimes as they woke up their boys and girls after a mid-day siesta had come to an end. “Little one wake up.” Talitha koum! That is how Mary woke Jesus up when he was an infant holy. Then at that time of personal resurrection, and later in the Garden at a time of person intercession, when love and sin are encountering one another most fiercely, then the reality of the personal struggle of Jesus the conqueror of sin and death is shown to us in the glance we are given of his use of Aramaic with all its intimacy. Jesus is facing the horror of the curse and the abandonment and he so comes as near to his Father as he can, and he says to him, “Abba . . .” He finds his comfort in the God who is to him “Abba.” He finds answers to his questions in the God who is “Abba.” He trusts Abba to take the cup away or say, “So, this is the cup you have to drink . . .” In the face of death, the death of a little girl or his own death, he casts himself on the God he knows as “Abba.”
2. WE CHRISTIANS MAY EQUALLY SPEAK TO GOD AS OUR FATHER.
Think of the contrast between him and ourselves – we who have learned to put our trust in him. Jesus, in distinction, was the eternal Son of God. There never was a time when he was not the Son of God, but ourselves? Well, we went astray from the womb telling lies. We began our existence as the children of our father the devil who was a deceiver from the beginning. Then by the extraordinary workings of the grace of God in our hearts we received God into our lives, and he gave us the right to call him the sons of God. In other words, we were given divine authority to call him by the very same intimate, loving, personal name as Jesus did – “Abba, Father.” Let us be confirmed by the plain teaching of Scripture on this: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Gals. 4:6). Every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Now, perhaps, stated in that bleak way it might sound rather theoretical or intimidating to you as you nod your head in agreement, “The divine Spirit of Holiness indwells me and I guess that that has mostly to do with my sanctification.” Yes it does have to do with sanctification, but more than that, much more.
Maybe it will i
t help you in your relationship with your heavenly Father to think of the Spirit in your heart as the Spirit of God’s Son Jesus Christ, and that you have illimitable access to this same divine Spirit as was also in Christ, the very Spirit that shaped Jesus, empowering and enabling Christ in trials and temptations and encounters of every kind, but he was also the Spirit who in turn was taught of the realities of living in a body in a groaning world by Jesus. I am saying that through the incarnation of God the Son that God the Spirit also learned and was changed – the immutable Spirit! I’m saying that the Spirit was enriched by his own comprehensive knowledge of the experiences of the incarnate eternal Son. He was ministering to Jesus during his incarnation in Galilee, but Jesus was also ministering to him, and he, I say, the Spirit of Christ, now indwells you. The Spirit of the one who wept over Jerusalem can surely help your stony heart to soften; the Spirit of the one who groaned at the tears of Martha and Mary is in you; the spirit of the one who had compassion, and wisdom, and love – he is in you. The Spirit of the one who when he was reviled reviled not in return and opened not his mouth in anger – he lives in your heart. The Spirit of the one who on the cross cried, “Father, forgive them they know not what they do,” is in you. The Spirit of the one in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge is in you making you wise.
The Spirit will help you to love God and to confess that you do love him. You can say with the psalmist in the opening words of psalm 115, “I love the Lord” Why did he say that? He says, “He heard my voice.” I didn’t pray into the void. I spoke to God and he said, “O.K.” I love him for always hearing me; for saying O.K. There is a lawyer named David Anderson and he specializes in family law and he was dealing with a family in which a man had married a woman who had been married before and there was a little girl and after a few years the man decided that he must apply for a step-parent adoption because he loved this girl. It was a very happy home, and the proceedings went through in the family court quite smoothly, but then it was time for the seven year old girl to be asked what she thought of this man becoming her father. “Have you anything to say?” the magistrate kindly asked her. She looked down, and then she looked up and she said, quietly and shyly, “Just that I love him.” That was all that needed to be said.
“I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live” (Psa.116:1&2). Are you availing yourself of the indwelling Spirit of Christ to say that? Are you appropriating him in every vicissitude of life? Are you saying by this Spirit, “Abba Father, help me! Help me to love you more and more until I see Thee as Thou art”? We mere Christians have been given the right to address the Maker of heaven and earth with the same trust and intimacy with which Jesus his eternal Son addressed his Father. It is not easy but the Spirit is helping us to do this. You have been given the right through the power of the same Spirit that indwelt Jesus to speak to God, the one before whom the angels hide their eyes and cry Holy, Holy, Holy. You can whisper to him on that day that you’re in a bed in an I.C. ward, “Abba, Father!” You can’t pray a complete sentence. You are too weak. All you can say is, “Abba, Father!” Hear the word to the Galatian Christians once more; “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Gals. 4:6).
But the New Testament wants you to be absolutely sure of this privilege of knowing the Creator of the cosmos as your Father, and so speaking to him so intimately, “Abba!” I am thinking now of Paul’s words in what is sometimes referred as the greatest of all the chapters of the Bible, Romans 8. He says this categorically to the entire congregation; “You received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Roms 8:15&16). Notice again Paul’s solidarity with all the congregation in Rome. “By the Spirit of sonship we cry ‘Abba, Father,” he says. “I am not a specially favoured son of God, five degrees higher in status than you because I am the apostle to the Gentiles. It is not that that gives me the unique right to call God, not ‘Father’ but ‘Abba, Father.’” No! Because we sinners who entrust ourselves are all indwelt by the same Holy Spirit we may all address the Ancient of Days as “Abba!” The Holy Spirit has been given to us as a pledge of our sonship. The inner voice and witness has been given to us as a personal assurance and a pledge that we are the children of God. He enables us to cry “Abba, Father.”
Now focus on that word ‘cry.’ It is a very specific word in the original Greek. It is not used that often in the New Testament. It is used of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane; he cried “Abba, Father . . .” We may cry to God the same. We might feel foolishly that we hardly need the Spirit to witness with our spirits when we are in a congregation of a thousand singing, “Love divine all loves excelling . . .” but we do need him then or we are just trapped in mass emotionalism and we need to discern the great words of praise we are singing. But when you are all alone, in a garden, and you are by your self kneeling before God, and the people you’ve asked to pray with you have fallen asleep, then you know you need the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In every condition, in despair and darkness, when we are at our wit’s end, when all we can do is cast ourselves on our “Father” and whisper weakly, “Abba Father,” that is the witness of the Spirit. When you weep yourself to sleep and know that there’s no one else that you can turn to except your Father in heaven, then at that point, not when you are singing with a thousand others, but in the darkest valley, the Spirit is testifying with your spirit that you are the children of God.
I am saying that you have a Father to turn to in every condition that you are in. When I was four years of age my mother took me to see Santa Claus in a small department shop in Merthyr. I was very excited about this and we went down to the town from Penydarren on the bus to the High Street. The shop stretched from that street to the station where my father worked. There was an entry to the shop from both sides, and so in we went, and Santa’s Grotto was on the top floor so that customers walked past as many counters and displays of goods for sale as possible. I dragged my asthmatic mother up flight after flight of stairs and breathing heavily she followed me into Santa’s Grotto. Suddenly I was confronted with a real man clothed in red from head to toe with white fur trimmings, with white hair and a white beard. He was sitting on a throne, and no one was there but me and him. I was terrified. I backed away and grabbed my mother’s hand and dragged her down all the flights of stairs to go to the station to see my father. I said, “I want to tell Daddy about him.”
We have a Father God we can turn to in every state we are in and tell him about ourselves. I am saying that you don’t need a thousand voices to inspire you constantly, and you don’t need the valley of the shadow of death to chill you to make you aware of his delivering power, you have sonship now, you can know you have sonship now, you have your heavenly Father at this very moment and in this very place though you are as cold as ice. He hears your voice now. The
Holy Spirit who indwells you bears witness with your spirit, and he’ll never leave you. He’ll never forsake you. He’ll never abandon you. He’ll never deny you. “By my grace, and through Jesus Christ, you are my child.” We often say to ourselves, “I am the most dumb and foolish believer there has ever been. I know I am a Christian. I know these truths. I know the Holy Spirit indwells me, and yet I am so frigid to God. How foolish I am.”
3. WE MAY SPEAK TO GOD AS OUR FATHER IN FRIGID TIMES.
Let me explain what I mean by ‘frigid times.’ Christians have the Spirit of God; they have the whole Spirit of God, not 75% of him, but we believers enjoy him and the benefits of his work at different degrees. We all come from a variety of backgrounds; we are not the same size spiritually; we’ve all had different experiences; we don’t all love God with the same fervour; we don’t all have equal confidence and boldness before God. We don’t all sit under blessed ministry. We are not all members of blessed families. We do not all enjoy the same economic and physical health. Some of us have learning difficulties; some of us are tried intellectually; some of us are tested in our affections. Some Christians have a childlike reverence for God, but they don’t have a childlike confidence in God. They defend the faith and argue with unbelievers about the need to trust in God; they love to hear the word of God preached, but they lack a strong confidence that this God is theirs. Then troubles attack them and they go through a frigid time. How can we help them to address God as their Father when they’re not feeling that he is their Father? Thomas Manton the Puritan pastor can help us:
i] You must say to God what he has said to you. He has spoken to you, a mere believer, in his word and this is what he says: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Gals. 4:6). Again this is what he says, “You received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Roms 8:15&16). You must say those words to God and then say, “This is true because your word says it. It has to be true. Then I must be a child of God. You must be my Father. I have the Spirit of Jesus Christ in my heart, the Spirit of sonship. He is bearing witness with my Spirit right now that I am a child of God. My problem is this, that I don’t feel it. I do not feel that I am your child. I feel my deadness and unworthiness. Help me Lord! Help me to experience the power of your word. Hosea says six words; “in you the fatherless find compassion” (Hos. 14:3). So you take that little statement and you say, “Please Lord show compassion to me when I often feel like a fatherless child. Help me to find it.” Make that a sentiment of your praying.
ii] You must come to God very humbly. How did the tax-collector in the temple pray? He beat his breast and looked down and said, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” How did the prodigal return to his father? With a consciousness that he had sinned against heaven and in his sight. What did Paul say? “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” I believe that that is exactly how some of you’ve been praying, without my telling you, but naturally and spiritually you’ve been coming with a lowly spirit to the Lord as your mighty Creator and Judge, when you feel you can’t come to him as your Father and Saviour.
iii] You must address God as one you would call your Father. You wish you could confidently call him ‘Father.’ You long to run into his presence and look up at his great smiling face and know he is your Father, but you do not have that sense today, and so you long for it, and groan for a clearer sense that God is indeed your Father in heaven. Let me give you an illustration of this in the life of an old Christian lady from Luton, the daughter of a minister. Rachel Pearce died in May aged 96 and some of her family had asked her to recount her spiritual journey and she wrote down the early ways that she was given assurance by the preaching of the word of God that God was her Father. This is what she said, “The first sermon which seemed all for me was when my father preached at a chapel at a place called Little London, right out in the country. The text was, ‘Thou hast been my help.’ Looking back I wondered how it could have suited me at that time, being so young in the way, but when my pastor preached from it quite recently, he brought it back by saying that God was our help in convicting of sin, bringing out of the world and causing us to look only to Jesus.
“Amongst other sermons which had been so good to me at that time was one my own father preached from Ruth 2:13: ‘Then she said, Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens.’ And another time from Ruth, ‘The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.’ Mr. Collier gave me those words when receiving me into the church.
“Once I went to special services at Shovers Green. I was about 22 years of age. I caught two buses to get there and then walked over the fields. I thought nothing of it. Mr. Raven preached so sweetly (to me) from, ‘How shall I put thee among the children? . . . Thou shall call me, my Father; and shall not turn away from me.’
“One other text stands out, when Mr. Raven preached from, ‘Despise not the day of small things.’ I felt it was just for me, and for people like me seeking full assurance, but when I took it home an old Christian said how good it was for him too, to my great surprise.
“One Good Friday, I asked my sister if she would walk to Shovers Green to hear Mr. Frank Gosden. I was so pleased she was willing. I felt my sister seemed to have so much religion and I so little. Mr. Gosden’s text was, ‘A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.’ How suitable this was to me! ‘These precious littles,’ he kept saying.” So now I am saying to you not to despise the little trust you have in Christ; your little faith. A man once said to Jesus, “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief,” and Jesus answered his prayer. I often tell you that little faith damned no one but many went to hell because of presumption.
iv] You must make use of Jesus Christ. Of course we always turn to him. All our problems, moral, theological, ecclesiastical, personal, intellectual and emotional can only find their solution as we bring in Jesus Christ. You feel that you cannot come to God as your Father. Maybe you had a human father who abused you and demeaned you and so you are working through calling God your Father. Then go to God not as your Father, not yet, but as the God and Father of Jesus Christ your Saviour, and talk with Jesus Christ and then ask him to gently introduce you to his Father, and bring you into his Father’s presence and say a few words to him while, as it were, you are holding on to Jesus’ hand, holding on to your Mediator. You will have life and encouragement and hope that you will share in the love that streams from the Father to your Jesus, that that love will embrace you too and give you growing assurance to call God your own Father.
15th August 2010 GEOFF THOMAS