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Call Him By His Name: Everlasting Father: The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree

John 14:7-14

It’s been an amazing thing for me to see how the great names that Isaiah predicted would fall upon the Christ who ultimately came—how those names are quite literally fleshed out in the life and form of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of John. It’s an amazing exercise to work your way through that gospel, remembering the four great names, and seeing how those names are applied. I could point to any number of passages today. But let me point to this one: John chapter 14. This is the Word of God.

“Jesus said, ‘If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him, and have seen Him.’ Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father, that that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered, ‘Don’t you know Me, Philip? Even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say show us the Father? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just My own. Rather, it is the Father living in Me who is doing His work. Believe Me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me. Or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth. Anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask Me for anything in My name. And I will do it.'”

May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His Holy Word.

Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.

A missionary to India sent his twelve-year-old son back to the United States to attend boarding school. When the Christmas holidays arrived, the young boy was invited to spend Christmas in the home of friends of his family. The lady of the house came into the boy’s bedroom as he was unpacking his things. He had just picked up a framed picture of his father, and had placed it on the top of the chest of drawers. The hostess, wanting to make the boy feel at home, said to him, “Tell me, what would you like to have for Christmas?” The boy hesitated a moment. And then, without listing toys or anything else, he picked up the picture of his father. And he said, “I’d like for my father to step out of this frame.”

In a spiritual sense, that is the longing of so many, many people. The longing for the Heavenly Father to step out of the frame. They long for God to come alive to them in a way they can understand. And yet that is precisely the message of Christmas. That God, in Jesus Christ—God, in the one born in Bethlehem—takes on definite features so that we can see Him as He really is. Yes, the Heavenly Father quite literally steps out of the frame at Christmastime.

I believe that that is a part of what Isaiah was trying to communicate to the ages following him when he wrote those magnificent words: “Unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given. And the government shall be upon His shoulders. And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And His name shall be called Everlasting Father. Two very powerful words joined together in an even more powerful way. Everlasting Father. Let’s look at the two words in turn.

The first word, father.

I don’t know if you’re aware of it or not. But when Isaiah delivered his prediction, and labeled the God who would come in the Christ of Christmas as Father, that that was a brand-new concept in the world. Nothing like it before. I know that there are many people who seem to think that the whole concept of the fatherhood of God is a common belief among all of the world’s religions. Not so. Not so at all. For example, there is no room for an understanding of a Heavenly Father in the austere solitariness of the Buddhist faith. The Hindu faith has a pantheon of gods numbering 100. But of those 100 gods, not a single one of them functions as a father. The Muslims, in their sacred book, Quran, have 99 different names for God. But the name Father is not counted among them.

And so Isaiah, in a radical break with the past, in a radical break from the normal religious practices, introduces a brand-new concept into the world. He declares that God, the God who comes in Christ at Christmas—that God is a father. And therefore this God loves His children as a father loves his children. Now how does a father love his children? Well, the fact of the matter is, words take on layers of meaning for us on the basis of the experience we have with the reality those words represent. For example, I remember when I was in seminary. I was asked on one occasion to deliver a devotional message at a home for difficult boys. The minister under whom I was working at the time said to me that I should not speak of God as Father in the presence of those boys. Because their earthly fathers had so horribly abused them that they had come to regard the word father as an ugly, ugly word. Well, certainly that was not the experience of Jesus. I mean, after all, Jesus—and we see it so clearly in the Gospel of John. Jesus speaks so glowingly about God, His Father. He declares that God is the ultimate source of love and strength and supply and courage.

Now, I have to tell you that I remain completely convinced that Jesus thinking in this regard was shaped for the most part by the nature of the relationship Jesus enjoyed with His earthly father, Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. Reach back into your mind and recall the cliches. A twig grows in the direction it is bent. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Those old sayings speak to me of the nature of the relationship which must have existed between Jesus and Joseph. Because something in that relationship ultimately led Jesus to speak so lovingly, so movingly, of God as His Father.

How it must have been when Jesus, as a little boy, would eagerly burst into Joseph’s carpentry shop. Would Joseph immediately stop what he was doing and sit down and talk a spell with the boy about whatever the boy wanted to talk about? Or on occasion did Joseph simply pick up the little Jesus and roll Him about in the piles of soft sawdust until the bits of wood mingled with His dark Jewish curls? And was that ready access to Joseph’s shop and Joseph’s attention that led Jesus later on to say, “Never prohibit a child from coming to me.” And I wonder, did Joseph and Jesus take walks in the fields around Nazareth? And as they walked, did they occasionally stop and pick flowers to take home to Mary? And was it then that the seed was planted in Jesus’ mind, which later He would express like this? “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. Even Solomon, in all his glory, is not arrayed like one of these.”

And was it during those long walks that Joseph told Jesus the story of how, not long after His birth, they managed to escape the murderous King Herod and his bloodthirsty forces by taking that long, difficult, hazardous sojourn into Egypt? And was it then that Jesus folded into His concept of fatherhood the noble virtues of courage and bravery? And as they walked, would they occasionally climb up into the hills surrounding the little town of Nazareth? And would they then come to places where flowing streams of water turned that desert-like landscape to lush green? Was it then that Jesus began to imagine what it would be like to have streams of living water welling up from within us? And as they climbed those hills, and maybe reached the summit of a hill, and from that vantage point looked out, and there to see the caravan route stretching out in every direction toward the horizon—was it then that Jesus began to mull in His mind the idea that later He would put into words, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” And I wonder, was it the tender love and the loving tenderness that Jesus saw Joseph give to Mary—was that what empowered the Master later on in His ministry to exalt womankind to the highest possible level? A level never known before, or for that matter since.

When Jesus was twelve years old, standing in the temple at Jerusalem, astonishing the rabbis and the religious leaders with His knowledge and His deep understanding—was that because of long hours spent with His earthly father Joseph, sitting on the rooftop of their home, in the cool of the evening, listening intently as Joseph told him again and again and again the great stories of the Old Testament? And when Jesus spoke of talents—both money and ability—and how we are to use them, was He influenced by the fact that He saw Joseph perfect his carpentry skills to virtual perfection? And he saw Joseph pour everything of which he was capable into everything that he did. And was it Jesus’ deep appreciation for Joseph’s work that led Jesus later on to say so beautifully, “Take My yoke upon you. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Dear friends, here’s the point. When Jesus wanted us to know what God is like, Jesus said, “God is a strong, brave, tender, loving, forgiving, understanding father.” Where would He have learned that, if not from Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth? And so when we long to know what God is like, we can know that God is like that kind of father. A father who loves his children. I believe that’s what Isaiah meant when he inaugurated this new idea into the world, that the God who comes to us in the Christ of Christmas is a father.

The second word is everlasting.

Everlasting Father. I believe that Isaiah wants us to understand that the God who comes to us in the Christ of Christmas is a God who is not just a father, but a father forever. You know, there are two ways you can be a father. You can be a father of someone, and you can be a father to someone. To be a father of someone, that’s really just a biological function. It has no great significance in and of itself. But to be a father to someone, that’s an altogether different matter. To be a father to someone means to love them, to care for them, to teach them, to play with them, to protect them, to provide for them, to be tolerant when intolerance would be easier, to be patient when impatience would be more natural. Yes, there is a vast difference between being a father of someone and being a father to someone. Isaiah wants us to understand that the God who comes to us in the Christ of Christmas is a father to us. A father whose concern for us is continual and constant. A father whose love for us is unending and undying. That’s the message that comes from that word, everlasting.

Isaiah wants us to understand that God is a father who loves us with a love that just cannot be stopped. That means that no sin of ours, no act of evil or hatred or pride or arrogance, no expression of selfishness or greed or heartlessness—nothing can frustrate, nothing can diminish, nothing can destroy, nothing can terminate, the love that God has for us. God is a father forever. His love cannot be stopped.

You wish to have what I’m talking about in everyday language? Maybe drawn from the crucible of our own time? Well, hang on tight. Here it is. It’s a true story, related by Frederick Buechner. It’s a story almost too terrible to tell. It’s the newspaper account of a fourteen-year-old boy who, in a crazed fit of anger and depression, grabbed a gun and fired it at his father. His father died. Not immediately, but shortly thereafter. The authorities took the boy into custody. And as they questioned him, they asked him why in the world he had done such a terrible thing. He replied vehemently that he couldn’t stand his father. His father expected too much from him. His father was always on his back. He said, “I hate my father.”

Strange thing. Strange, strange thing. That night, in the detention center where the boy was being held, a guard patrolling the corridors suddenly heard sounds in the night. He stopped to listen. And what he heard was this boy sobbing for all he was worth and crying out over and over again, “I want my father. I want my father.” If you reach down deep inside, you will know what I’m talking about. Because when I reach down inside, I know it’s true. We long to have a father, a Heavenly Father, a Father forever. No matter who we are, no matter what our circumstances may be, we want a God who is a father, a father whose love for us will never stop. Never, ever stop. We want a father forever.

Christmas is just a matter of days away now. As we approach Christmas, I want to share with you a thought that I keep tucked away in my heart. I bring it out especially at Christmas.

You see, sometimes I envision myself standing before the throne of my Heavenly Father. And over to the side there is a great scale, a balance. The Devil has heaped all of my sins onto the left side of the scale. The angels are scrambling furiously, trying to find something to put on the other side to counterbalance the weight of my sin. No use. Nothing can be found. It’s hopeless. And the scale drops with a sickening thud to the left. And then suddenly there is a sound. A small sound. A very small sound. A very small, metallic sound. Suddenly, on the side of righteousness, there is dropped a nail. I know not whether that nail comes from the manger in Bethlehem or from the cross on Calvary. But what I do know is that that nail tips the balance to righteousness. And by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, I am saved.

That’s the longing we all have, isn’t it? We long to know that we are saved. No matter who we are, no matter what our circumstances may be, we long to know that this life here and now is not the end of the story. It’s just the beginning. We long to know that yes, there is a life beyond this life. A life which has no end. And that in that life, we shall, for all eternity, dwell in the sheer joy of being the children of the Father, the children of our Everlasting Father.

Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.

 

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