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A Father's Love

by H. Leon Ben-Ezra



Title: A Father's Love
Date: Sunday, April 22, 2012
Text: John 5:8-30

In this section of his Gospel John tells us that something new begins. The Jewish authorities begin their persecution of Jesus. The initial problem has to do with the Sabbath, but it spreads from there. Jesus responds to his opponents by talking about his Father and the love that they have for each other. This infuriates the Jewish leaders, but it gives us a peek at what it means to be a son of God. The text is John 5.8-30.

Jesus, here, talks about his relationship with his Father. But what do the authorities hear? How do they understand Jesusí words? To them it sounds like he is claiming to be equal to God. This is a problem for them because they were quite sure that there is only one God. So, they understand Jesus as placing himself in competition with the one true God. After all, there can only be one. They were right, of course, that there is but one God. But Jesus is not trying to be another God. Rather, as he explains, he is equal to God because he is Godís Son. This section of John gives us a little insight into Godís nature as Trinity: one God who is three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesusí goal here is not to explain the Trinity but to say something about his relationship with his Father. And that is what we will spend a little time on in the first section of the sermon.

Letís start with this.

So Jesus said to them, ĎTruly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.í

Jesus is using something from the culture of that day to express his point. Back then kids didnít go to college or some trade school. The normal thing was for a son to learn a skill from his father. He would watch how dad did it and then imitate him. In this way, boys learned their fathersí trades. Jesus learned how to be a carpenter by watching Joseph. This was the normal way things worked back then. Jesus uses this aspect of his culture to describe something of his relationship with God, his Father. The Father takes the lead and Jesus, his Son, follows that lead. He watches what the Father is doing and then he does the same.

Jesus fills this out a bit. First, thereís this.

For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.

The Father loves the Son. So, he hides nothing that he is doing from him. Whatever the Father is doing, he shows Jesus, his Son. In fact, the Father assigns certain tasks to Jesus, tasks that had been exclusively his own: the raising of the dead, all judgment. This is the same sort of thing that a human father does as he teaches his son a trade. He hands off certain tasks for the son to do as he develops his skill.

Jesusí Father has a particular goal in this.

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

The Father loves his Son. He gives this task, evaluating everyone, to his Son. And there is a reason why he gives this task to him. The Father wants Jesus to be recognized for what he does, to be honored by all.

In response, the Son loves his Father. And this shows as he gives himself to the Fatherís will.

I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Because of his love for his Father, the Son submits to the Father who sent him. What I find so very interesting here is that even though the Father and the Son are equally God, the Son submits to the Father. This dynamic of Ďequal yet submissiveí is something that I hope to come back to in another sermon.

What we have here is a relationship of love. The Father loves the Son and the Son responds with his own love for his Father.

In this conversation that he is having with the Jewish leaders, Jesus is explaining something of who God is and what he is like. He is a God of love. I must admit that I have usually thought of that kind of phrase, the God of love, in terms of Godís love for his creation, for us. But I am seeing that it is much more profound than that. It is, first of all, about Godís love for himself. The love of God is about the love that each person of the Trinity - the Father, the Son and the Spirit - has for the other persons of the Trinity. This kind of love is something that is as old as God himself. If there never had been a creation there would still be love. This really is a big deal. This redefines love. It is much bigger, much grander than what I have thought.

Seeing love in this way, as first of all this attitude of the persons of the Trinity to each other, clarifies what love is about. This makes it clear that love is not about responding to someoneís need. Love is not about doing something good to a person in need of that. It canít be that if the original of love is the love among the persons of the Trinity. There is no need that the Son has that the Father has discovered and is meeting. The persons of the Trinity have no needs. This love is different. This love is about the affection that the one has for the other. And it is that affection that is eternal. Love as meeting some need is actually something new, a new application of the eternal principle of love. This new application came into existence when there were humans who did have needs. But the eternal love of God is deeper than meeting needs. Itís about affection.

Now, why does Jesus take the time to explain this love relationship that he has with the Father? As usual, he has several purposes, but hereís one that I would like you to ponder a bit. It explains the Gospel. Jesus did not come so that we might end up in heaven. The Gospel is about much more than that. The Gospel is about you getting to enjoy the kind of love relationship with the Father that Jesus already enjoys. The Gospel is about you enjoying the deep affection of the Father. If you get nothing else from this sermon, please get that last sentence.

So, consider some things from Johnís Gospel. First, this.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Then, there is this. Itís from after the resurrection.

Jesus said to her, ĎÖ go to my brothers and say to them, ďI am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.Ēí

We are the children of God. That means that God is our Father just as he is Jesusí Father. This happened when we received Jesus, when we believed in his name. We were, at that point, adopted as Godís children. He is our Father, and we are his sons and daughters. And that means that we are loved by the Father. We, children of God, are loved with the same love that the Father has for his eternal Child, Jesus. And remember what this love is about. The love of the Father for us is not about finding and meeting needs. It certainly does meet needs. But it is about something much greater than that. Itís first about affection. The Father loves us with deep affection.

Let me read you what I think is a great description of this love.

The Lord your God is in your midst; he is a warrior who can deliver. He takes great delight in you; he renews you by his love; he shouts for joy over you.

What a picture of the affection that the Father has for you. He does meet needs, like the need of deliverance from sin. But there is so much more than just meeting some need. He delights in you. He shouts for joy over you. He loves you just like he loves Jesus. And this love, this affection, changes things. It renews you. So hereís another basic Gospel fact: you are loved.

As soon as I say that, though, there is a problem. It is clear that there are lots of Christians who are loved by the Father in this extraordinary way but who do not feel loved, not like this. Saying that the Father loves them in the same way that he loves Jesus just doesnít ring true to them. And it is obvious that they donít feel loved. If they were convinced that the Father loves them in this way, it would show. So, for example, they would enjoy perfect peace. What could disturb someoneís sense of peace if he knew for certain that he is loved in this way? People convinced of the Fatherís love would also be fearless in the face of any threat. What is there to be afraid of if youíre convinced of the love of the Father for you? Or to say all of that differently, people convinced of the Fatherís love would be just like Jesus. But thatís not what we are seeing. There are plenty of Christians who do not feel loved like this. Why?

One response might be, ĎWell, Iím only human, you know.í Without being too pointed, let me just say that that is an excuse, and a lame one at that. Do you think it would have worked for Adam when God came calling in the Garden? Another response might go something like this: ĎYes, itís true. I donít feel this love of the Father for me. Itís because of my sin.í That sounds better. It has the advantage of being theologically accurate - but all too often itís just another excuse. I say that because the unstated part of that response goes like this: ĎItís because of my sin Ö but what are you going to do?í And weíre back to, ĎWell, Iím only human, you know.í There is, of course, the option of blaming God. ĎItís not my fault I donít feel this love. The Father hasnít done enough to reveal his deep affection for me.í Really?

So, why are there Christians who donít feel loved by the Father? Hereís one very good way to answer the question. Itís because of unbelief. Iím not saying that they actually arenít Christians. No, they are but, especially in certain situations, they just donít believe that the Father loves them, not with the same love that he has for Jesus. And so, especially in those situations, they act as unloved orphans.

Now, I hope that it is clear that unbelief is a very serious matter. Itís sin. But itís not a very serious matter because someone has broken a rule somewhere. Itís serious because the sin of unbelief is calling God a liar. The Father says, ĎI love you.í And this person responds with, ĎNo, you donít.í No one would ever say that, but that is what their actions reveal. They do not believe the Father loves them. I can see someone thinking that breaking rules is bad. But insulting the Father who loves him so Ė how shall we describe that?

Is there hope for this problem, for this insulting sin? Well, there is the Gospel, no? ĎChrist Jesus came into the world to save sinners.í And that includes Christians who donít believe in the love of the Father. Jesus came to get rid of your sin so that you might enjoy a relationship of love, a relationship of deep affection, with the Father. Thatís the Gospel.

So, what do we do now? It makes sense to go back to the familiar, ĎRepent and believe the Gospelí. Iíve referred to this lots of times. But this time, I want to go a little deeper. Iíve told you that repentance is admitting your sin to the Father. And it is that. But included in admitting your sin is a desire not to sin in that way again. And it is that desire for change that I want to spend some time on.

What Iím going to do is talk about repentance in terms of a particular sin that I have been dealing with. And that sin is my being driven, having this sense that I need to push and get things done in a hurry. Closely related to this sin is its first cousin, anxiety. ĎAnxietyí isnít a church word that hides truth. Itís a cultural word that hides truth. So, letís translate it. Fear. Anxiety is a polite word for fear. This fear, related as it is to being driven, is all about what terrible things might happen if I donít get everything done - now! This drivenness, with its fear, is one way that my unbelief in the Fatherís love shows itself. After all, the underlying assumption of this drivenness is that if I donít get it all done now, life will be so bad that not even God could rescue me. Or to tweak that a bit, (and maybe get a little more honest) I would have failed so badly that the Father would not rescue me. He would not love me.

So, in response to the Spiritís nudges, this is what I have done. First, I prayed about it. And I have asked others to pray about this. At different points people have asked me what they could pray about for me, so I told them. ĎIím driven. Thatís not good. Pray that God changes that in me.í Over time I began to notice that the Father was answering that prayer for change. This is what he did. He began giving me a growing sensitivity to the presence of my drivenness. I began to see my sin and this temptation more clearly. I was becoming more aware of what was going on soon after falling for this temptation. One result of this was that I could repent of it more quickly. That encouraged my prayers. In response to those prayers, the Father gave me the ability to see the temptation and my falling into it sooner and sooner. In fact, that developed so that I began to be able to see the temptation for what it was before I fell into it. Seeing, ahead of time, the possibility of being tempted gave me the opportunity to pray about that temptation. Those prayers boiled down to asking him for the ability to trust his love for me in that situation. I needed him to act so that I would not give in to my fear and try to deal with the issue by resorting to my habit of being driven. And time and again, he acted.

Iím not going to tell you that I am free from this temptation, that Iíve conquered this sin. But I can tell you that there has been a great deal of progress. And I expect more to come. However, I want you to understand some things about this. For one thing, Iíve been working at this for several years. The change that the Gospel offers is not a matter of saying a prayer once or twice. Change is hard work. Change is about the hard work of repentance. That needs to become an obvious part of your life. And let me tell you what has helped me in my working at this. The Father has shown me the lie behind my drivenness. The whisper in my ear was, ĎIf you donít drop everything else and get this done right now, terrible things will happen. Hurry it up! Who knows how bad it might be.í But as I learned not to give in to the temptation I found that Ďterrible thingsí did not happen. No, rather in those situations the Fatherís love came through for me. Everything got done. The lie was exposed. The serpent has no fangs. And that, then, helped me deal with the next time I heard that whisper. So, one of my more common prayers, along with ĎHelp!í, has been, ĎFather, Iím sure that youíll figure something out so I can deal with this.í And thatís the truth that defeats the lie. The key behind all of this was (and is) my growing belief that even if I totally mess up, the Father will still love me and somehow make my life work. And that is so freeing.

Itís important that this next point be clear. The basis of my working at repenting of this sin has been the grace of the Gospel. My prayers basically boiled down to, ĎFather, there is no way I can do this. But you are my God, the God of grace. Help me.í And he did. He has helped me and will continue to help me, because he loves me.

Now, you may not be enslaved by the sin of drivenness and the fears that go with it. It may well be something else. But the Gospel says that whatever it is that is besieging your heart, it can be defeated. It can be defeated by the hard work of repentance and faith. What will best fuel your efforts in this wonít be some demand that you meet some standard. ĎThis is what all good Christians look like. Whatís the matter with you? Why arenít you like that?í That is a whisper from Satan. More Christians have been crushed into hopelessness because they believed that lie. The best motivation for the pursuit of a holy life is the love that the Father already has for you. He loves you - already, right now - with the same deep affection that he has for Jesus. And as you learn to believe in that love more your life will change.

H. Leon Ben-Ezra is Pastor of the Faith Reformed Church in Erie, Pennsylvania. He was was born in Brooklyn New York, raised in New Jersey, and transplanted to Erie Pennsylvania to pastor the Faith Reformed Church in Erie, Pennsylvania in the fall of 1985.

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