A Christmas Creed: Like Father, Like Son
A summary of the claims of Jesus found in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John. Beginning to read at the 44th verse. This is the Word of God. “And Jesus cried out and said, ‘He who believes in Me believes not in Me, but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as Light into the world that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him, for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings has a judge. The word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day. For I have not spoken on My own authority. The Father who sent Me has Himself given Me commandment what to say and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden Me.’” Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Charles Dickens once wrote, “It is good sometimes to be children, but never better than at Christmas when the world’s mighty founder was Himself a little child.” It seems incredible, doesn’t it? I mean, to think that God the Creator of everything that is could actually be a little child. To think that the tiny baby in a manger bed in Bethlehem could actually be the Son of God Himself seems incredible. And yet, do you know that is precisely what we affirm to be true every time we say the Apostle’s Creed? I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only Son. Just three little words. His only Son. But I submit to you, they are three words of infinite significance. And I believe that today if I try hard enough, and if you try hard enough, that in our sharing together about those three little words we shall gain a great blessing. So will you join me in considering the two basic reasons why God chose to send his only Son into this world?
The first reason is this. God sent His only Son into the world to show us what God is like.
You know, there are so many mistaken notions about God floating about, and those mistaken notions have plagued us for centuries, and they plague us still. And I believe that those mistaken notions about God exist simply because people, when they start to think about God, tend to look at the church. That’s right. They tend to say, “If the people in the church are supposed to be God’s children, then therefore, if you want to know what God is like, then all you have to do is to look at His children in the church.” And so they look at the church.
But when you look at the church, what do you see? Well, you see some churches whose membership is declining. And some churches where those who are members rarely if ever manage to put in an appearance. Or you see some churches which seem bent on undermining the foundations of freedom upon which this nation was built. Or you see some churches who will not have anything to do with poor people or with people of other races. Or you see some churches who seem to believe that their particular expression of faith is the only valid way and therefore they cast aspersions on other denominations or other expressions of faith than their own. Or you see some churches that are at war within themselves. They are split up over all kinds of issues. Some of the issues are major, and some of the issues are minor, but the fact is they are splitting up.
And so people look at the church. And they say, “If the church is the children of God, and if the children of God are like that, and if God is like the children of God, then believe me, I want nothing to do with any kind of God like that.” And I suppose that there may be some justification for that kind of thinking.
But you see, the problem is, it’s wrong thinking. It’s all wrong. And God knows it’s wrong. But God also knows that because we are human, we simply cannot think about God in any other terms than human terms. So what does God do? God proceeds to make a beachhead at Bethlehem. God proceeds to come to us as a human being. God knows that the image of Himself which He has planted in each one of us has become rather twisted and distorted by our sin. God knows that that of Him which is reflected in your life and in mine is bent and broken at very best. God knows that.
And so God chose to reveal Himself in One in whom His image is absolutely flawless. He chose to reveal Himself in One whose reflection of God is absolutely 100% pure and perfect. He chose to reveal Himself as a human being in Jesus Christ. And God says, “If you want to know what I’m like, if you want to know the way I am, the way I work, the way I love, and the way I’m going to be, if you want to know that, then look at Jesus.” You know, I think that maybe the best and the simplest way to say it is like this. Like Father, like Son. Yes. That’s true of his personality.
The personality of Jesus was a study in startling contrasts. He was the meekest and the lowliest of men, and yet He declared that one day He would return enthroned in clouds of glory. He was so austere that demons and evil spirits cried out in terror at His coming, and yet He was so winsome and genial that little children loved to nestle in His arms. No one was ever half so kind and compassionate toward sinners, and yet no one ever delivered such red hot scorching words against sin. He was a dreamer of great dreams, a seer of visions, and yet he was starkly realistic. He would not break a bruised reed.
His whole life was love. And yet, he demanded to know of the Pharisees how on earth they ever expected to escape the fires of hell. He was the servant of all, even to the point of actually, literally, washing his own disciples’ feet. And yet, when he strode into the temple, the traders and the hucksters there fell all over one other in their mad dash to get away from the fire they saw blazing in His eyes. His whole personality was a study in contrast. Strength and weakness, love and discipline, compassion and condemnation. And it was all woven and blended together in one. And God says, “If you want to know what I’m like, look at Jesus.” Like Father, like Son.
So that’s true of His personality. But it’s also true of His power. For right from the very moment when Jesus seized that ghastly cross and transformed it into a glorious throne, right from that moment, His power, like some great motherlode of gold, has marked its way through the course of the centuries. Nations and empires have fallen before Him. Under His influence and by His name reforms have swept the entire earth. He has been the master force behind the onward and upward climb of humanity through history. What Emerson said of Him is so true. His name is not so much written as it is plowed into the history of the world. 10,000 times 10,000 times, He has broken the chains of evil habit and set His people free. And there are people seated in this congregation at this moment who would ascribe to Him every virtue they possess, every victory they’ve ever won, every noble thought they’ve ever conceived. Such is His power. And God says, “If you want to know what I’m like, look at Jesus.” Like Father, like Son.
So that’s true of His power, but it’s also true of His presence. The Bible says He is Emmanuel. God with us. He is not a God who tries to cram us into a mold, but instead He says in Jesus, “you shall know the truth,” and the truth will not cram you into a mold, “the truth will set you free.” He is not a God who stands over us ready to knock us flat at any cause. But instead He says in Jesus, “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of time.” He is not a God who is intolerant or unforgiving about our shortcomings. But instead, He says in Jesus, “neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” He is not the kind of God who puts us down. Instead, He’s a God who puts up with us, and He’s been doing it for centuries. And he says in Jesus, “in the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” He is not a God who comes forcing and bashing and crashing His way into the midst of our lives. But instead He says in Jesus, “behold I stand at the door and knock. Open your heart to Me.” That’s the kind of God he really is. He says, “If you want to know what I am like, then look at Jesus.” Like Father, like Son.
And that’s the first reason that God chose to send His son into the world. To show us what God is really like. But there is a second reason. It’s this.
God chose to send His only son into the world in order to give us the gift of eternal life.
Ooh, you need to hang on tight with me here, because you see, we are reaching now towards the heavens themselves. We are on the track of something so awesomely powerful that we have little or no hope of ever fully grasping it, but at least we must try. And maybe, maybe the best way for me to help us, maybe the best way would be for me to tell you a story.
A young doctor was once quite ill, seriously physically ill. The illness lingered for a time, but then gradually, physically, he managed to recover. But he still, oh he still was trapped deep in despair and in depression. Nothing could shake him out of it. He lost interest in his practice. He refused to see his friends. He wouldn’t even go out of the house. He spent day after day after day doing nothing more than simply brooding about the house. His wife tried everything she knew to snap him out of it. Nothing worked. It was all to no avail. She was beginning to feel that his despondency was going to wreck his career and might even wreck their marriage. And so, well, she said so herself. She said it was an act of desperation. She devised a scheme. That’s what it was, a scheme. And her husband didn’t know, but she managed to secure the cooperation of her minister.
She wanted to take her husband to church late on Christmas Eve after the Christmas Eve service was over, when everyone would be gone, and the sanctuary would be lit only with candles. She wanted to take him there where they could spend some time together in the silence. And then, as she had arranged with her minister, he would step into the balcony and begin to read the familiar verses of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. It was a passage of Scripture which they read at their home every Christmas Eve. A passage which had come to be quite meaningful to both of them. And she thought that somehow that just might trigger something good down in her husband’s heart and soul. And so she made all of these arrangements unbeknownst to her husband. And then she asked him if he would be willing to go with her to church on Christmas Eve late, after the service was over.
She was quite happily surprised when he agreed to do so. “But,” he said, “I would prefer to go alone.” And she agreed to that, and said that she would meet him there later. And so he went to that sanctuary late on Christmas Eve and stepped into that place. Into that stunning silence, and into that soft, candlelit beauty. And he sat down in one of the pews, right back about there. He sat down in one of the pews, and there, for the first time in months, a sense of peace began to wash over his being like a soft, gentle rain. Then suddenly, the silence was broken by a strong voice reciting verses. Not from the Gospel of Luke, but from the Gospel of John. “God so loved the world,” the voice said, “that He gave his only begotten Son, so that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
As those magnificent words echoed around that sanctuary, suddenly, something happened way down deep inside that young doctor. It was almost as if an evil spell had been broken. It was as if some immense weight had suddenly been lifted from his shoulders. It was as if some great healing, redeeming, liberating force had invaded his life. And he stood up, and he turned to walk away, his face lit by more than the candlelight. And when he reached the door, he met his wife. She was coming in at the time. In great joy, he swept her up in his arms, and he began to tell her excitedly about what had happened to him. And she was astonished. She was so shocked she couldn’t even speak. Because you see, just a few moments earlier, she had received an apologetic phone call at home saying that the minister would be unable to be there that night.
Oh, just a sentimental little story, you’re thinking. I can’t keep you from thinking that. I can’t even keep you from thinking even by telling you that I know it actually happened. But that’s not really the point anyway. No, here’s the real point. The point is that the truth contained in that story is not mere sentiment.
You see, it wasn’t sentiment that drove the apostle Paul to carry the gospel to the Mediterranean world upheld by nothing more than the vision on the Damascus road. It wasn’t sentiment that enabled Francis of Assisi to hear the whisper of God in his ear saying, “Rise up and rebuild my church.” It wasn’t sentiment that enabled Martin Luther to risk his life by nailing 95 Theses to the cathedral door. And it’s not sentiment that compels Mother Teresa to throw her life away in tending to the needs of the sick and the poor and the dying in the teeming slums of Calcutta.
That’s not sentiment. No. That is truth. A truth which has been proved again and again and again in radiant, triumphant, and victorious Christian lives. A truth which may be proved once more today in your life and in mine. If we will only believe that yes, just as God could come to a manger bed in Bethlehem, so God can come to your heart and to mine. God so loved the world, God so loved you, God so loved me, that He gave His only Son.
You know, it seems strange, I guess, but in all of these years in the ministry, I have never preached a sermon on the text of John 3:16. Never. I’ve alluded to it in a number of sermons. I’ve included its message, I hope, in almost every sermon. But I’ve never been able to preach from those words in John 3:16 because they are so far beyond my ability to grasp. To think that God loved you and God loved me enough to give His only Son. I cannot grasp that.
And all I can say to you is that, I think at least, I’m getting closer. Because you see, in my own relationship with my own children, I am beginning to learn the truth that when there is love between a father and his boy, when you kill the boy, you kill the father. Like Son, like Father. And that’s what happened. And God let it happen in order that you and I would know what God is really like. And in order that you and I could gain the gift of eternal life.
I’ve thought about it a lot, and the only way I know how to say it is like this. At Christmas, God cared enough to send the very best. Jesus Christ, His only Son.
Let us pray. Most gracious God, You sent Him to us, and in His word and in His grace, there is life and there is eternal life. You have given us Him. Now in His name, we give ourselves to you. Amen.