Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
The Hope of Christmas Resources on sale now.
About this series
The Hope of Christmas
Hope has tremendous power - the power to heal, to help you keep going, and to inspire! 700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote to the people of Israel who needed hope: "For unto us, a child is born, unto us, a Son is given. The government will rest on His shoulders and He will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The hope of that message was for them then, and it's for us today! In this series, Chip reminds us that Jesus is all those things. Those are titles God gave Him and titles He claimed. If you need hope, join Chip for these messages. You'll be comforted, encouraged, and inspired!More from this series
Christmas is one of those seasons that I see as a paradox. For some, it is like joy, family, happiness, little kids, presents, traveling to see grandparents, great food. Just, it’s an awesome time of year.
And for others, it is one of the most sad, painful times of the year. For many, it will be the first Christmas that they have had without the dad or the son or the wife or their grandfather that died. For others, it will be the first Christmas that, after many, many years of marriage, you find yourself divorced. For some, it will be kids, they can’t get back, you won’t see them. For others, it will be the clock ticking and you have longed to be married and it’s one more Christmas you are alone.
What is your biggest fear this Christmas? We have talked about our hope for Christmas, what we wish and our expectations, but what is your biggest fear? And I would like to move beyond the level of, Well, I’m really afraid I didn’t get the right present for so-and-so, okay? Let’s move on.
If you really were honest with yourself, we all have fears. And fears are almost always a hypothetical thing that might happen in the future. What is your fear this Christmas? Is your fear you won’t do well by yourself? Is your fear that there will be a big family squabble? Is your fear that maybe this will be the last Christmas with someone that you love because it is stage-four cancer? Is your fear that your marriage isn’t working and this might be the last one that you’re married? What is it? Maybe it’s more macroscopic. Maybe your fear is like: What has happened to the world?
Or maybe you’re a future thinker and you’re thinking, Well, what is going to happen to my kids the way the world is going? Or my grandkids? Fear paralyzes us.
When God came to the earth to save us from our sin, He also came to deliver us from our fears. And so, He wasn’t just a Wonderful Counselor and a mighty God. He is Eternal Father. In Hebrew, literally, that’s “Father of Eternity.” There is no confusion here. It’s not like Jesus is Eternal Father and there is God the Father. It’s that Jesus is the Author, Creator of life, the Sustainer of life, and He is the One who will father or prepare us for eternity.
And when you get eternity really cleared up well, the worst thing that can happen in this life is you die. And if there is an eternity that is real, that Jesus has prepared, it does amazing things for your everyday fears.
Interestingly, the very last night when Jesus was with His closest friends, the disciples, they were scared to death. They were paralyzed with fear. Their future was completely uncertain. They had sung a hymn, He had washed their feet, they had taken the Lord’s Supper, He was telling them all these crazy things like, “I am going to die.” Hours later, He would be arrested. He would be beaten to a pulp. They would watch Him hung upon a cross. They would all be people that are going to get arrested as His followers.
And on the very last night, He takes on the role of the Father of eternity and He wants to anchor their hope in something that can never be shaken. And He wants to do that for you and me.
Turn in your Bibles, if you will, to John chapter 14. And here we have Jesus as the Father of eternity. Relieving their uncertainty, giving them hope in the midst of a world that is far crazier than ours right now. He says to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Don’t fear, don’t be uptight. “Believe in God, believe also in Me.”
And then notice where He goes. Where does He relieve their fears? “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself,” and notice the purpose clause, “that where I am you may be also.”
A good Father does four things. You read the Old Testament, New Testament, or psychology. A good father provides for his family, a good father protects his family, a good father instructs his family, and a good father listens and takes care of the hurts and the needs in the process.
And so, He is telling them: “I am going to provide for you. I am going to a place and I want to be close to you.”
Notice the assumption, “And you know the way to where I go.” I have been teaching for three years. “Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you do know Him, and have seen Him.’”
Now, think about this. He has been teaching them for three years. He has modeled it. They have been through the Old Testament text. They have watched miracles. He has raised people from the dead. He has prepared them. He is going to turn over the mission of God to, probably the youngest one was maybe seventeen or eighteen years old and the oldest maybe twenty-three, twenty-four, maybe twenty-five years old. These are young men. They matured much earlier in those days.
And this is the last night and He is assuming by now: you get it. You’ll understand really who I am, where I am going, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”
Notice, “Philip says, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.’ And Jesus said, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still don’t know Me, Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His work. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; or at least believe Me on the basis of the works that I do.’”
Now, here’s what I want you to get: He expects them to get it. Yes, He is the Wonderful Counselor. Yes, He is obviously the Mighty God. He does miracles that no one can do. He has claimed to be God. He has taught them: “I am the way, I’m the truth, and the life.” John 1:18 says, “No man has seen God at any time, but Jesus has explained Him.” Literally, the word: He exegeted Him. He, “If you have seen Me,” He says, “you have seen the Father.”
And it’s the last night. And they don’t get it. He is wanting to give them hope, He is wanting them to know: Look, you don’t have to be afraid because no matter what you go through in this life, I have prepared a place for you. And all the promises I have made, they are going to come true.
Why didn’t they get it? What – this is the last night. Why didn’t they get it? What part of who God really is didn’t they understand? And before I go there, could I just tease your thinking just a bit to say: why don’t we get it? What I am going to suggest is that they had a warped view of God. A very warped view. That they grew up in homes like we grew up in homes. And they got an idea about what a father is like from their fathers. And their fathers were imperfect just like ours were.
And I can tell you that the imprint that a dad has, for better or for worse, is huge on a child. Moms and dads both have major impact, but in all the sociological research, I wrote a thesis on this. The dad has the major impact in a child’s moral development. And the father has a major impact on a child’s sexual identity. The mother, father have about equal impact in terms of their self-concept, or self-image.
And so, we get this warped view of what God is through our dad and through our parents. But there is also a culture. We live in a culture. There is lots of ideas about God, right? You have a god, I have a God, you have your god, I am okay, you’re okay.
Well, it was even worse then. I did some research, actually, that I had never read this before. And I found some research about some documents that tell us the view of God during the time when Jesus came to earth.
The Jewish concept of God was based on a traditional interpretation of the law and not the teaching of the Old Testament and the prophets. The concept of God is that He was very, very far away, He was abstract, transcendental, but you couldn’t touch Him. In fact, when the – as the culture changed and the Greek world changed, the Old Testament was translated into Greek so the common people could read it more easily in about the third century B.C. And when they translated from Hebrew to Greek, three or four of the major passages where God has contact with men, like when Moses goes up on the mountain, the Hebrew talks about him seeing God face-to-face. They change it. They actually change it and say, “Well, he went up on a mount.” Or, when God came down with Abraham in Genesis 18, it says, “It seemed as though…”
Their concept of God was He was so far away, so distant that He was a law-keeping, rule-maker, but you could never be close to Him. That’s how these Jewish boys grew up. But it gets worse. There was a group called the scribes and the teachers. And the scribes removed God from all contact with man. And their view of God was not only unscriptural, but not even spiritual.
Can you imagine as a little boy or girl growing up, this was their – this was how they pictured God. He is pictured in the Talmud of Jerusalem as the great Rabbi. This is God. God studies the law three hours each day and He observes the ordinances. He keeps the Sabbath. He makes vows and on their accomplishment, He is released by the heavenly Sanhedrin.
Can you imagine thinking that is what God is like? Thus, the external ceremonial concept of religion at last took complete possession of the future world. If through a mesh of its enslavement to the letter, even around God Himself.
The prophet’s spiritual concept of Jehovah was lost. The glow of lovingkindness, which beheld the face of God faded utterly away. Their only remained in Judaism of that day a Being who was called the Holy One. Interesting, perhaps, to a scribe, but whom no one could really love or get close to.
So, what did Jesus do? He came to explain the Father. He explained it to them, but here’s the deal. He wants to explain it to you. Every problem that you have and I have and they had goes to this one core issue: we have a faulty view of God. Your warped, misconceptions, as innocent as they may be, as sincere as they may be, whenever you’re wrong about what God is like, it impacts every relationship.
It impacts how you think. It impacts all your relationships with others. It’s how you view yourself. Some of you have a God, it’s almost unconscious that He is so hard to please, it doesn’t matter what you do, you can never measure up to it. And you live with constant guilt. Constant guilt.
For others, you have a God that you are afraid of. And you live with fear, fear, fear. And all you’re trying to do is manage all the stuff and, How do I do more right and what about this and what about that?
The God of the world that we live in, in some places you’ve got to make pilgrimages and pray five times a day or seven times a day or give this or do that. And there are lists of rules and rules and rules and rules that basically people have no idea who the God that made the earth is.
But Jesus came to let you know exactly who God is. Now, here’s – we are going to go on a journey. And it might be a very profound one for many of you. Because what Jesus did for those disciples that gave them hope, He is going to do for us.
Instead of all those things that I just read, Jesus took them back to the truth, the Word of God. And He showed them in the prophets and in Moses and from the psalms: this is who God is. And then He gave them a snapshot. He told a parable where He says: this is what God is like. And He actually called Him a Father in Luke 15. And He tells them a story that this is what God like that absolutely blew their mind, would be unlike any Father they have ever, ever experienced.
And then later, when they heard Him and had this – saw the intimacy of how He prayed – He taught them to pray and use some words that they would just think, It’s blasphemous. You could never talk to God like that.
And so, here’s the journey I want to take you on. I want to walk you through an Old Testament picture of God and show you how Jesus modeled every aspect of it.
Would you turn to Psalm 103? Psalm 103. It’s one of the classic psalms. And in the first five verses, it’s a call to remember. “Bless the Lord, O my soul. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not one of His benefits.” It talks about: He heals all your diseases, He forgives all your sins, He renews your youth like the eagle. It’s just this picture of: let’s remember how good and kind and loving God is.
And then if you skip down to verse 7, it says, “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel.” If you’ll remember, His acts were mighty. The parting of the Red Sea, the manna. His acts were powerful. There was a fire by night and a cloud by day and it moved. There was water out of the rock. They saw all those acts and, yet, almost all of them didn’t believe.
And, yet, Moses said, “I don’t want just the benefits or the acts of God. I want to know Your ways.” Remember, he prayed, “Show me Your glory.” I want to know You. I want personal, deep interaction. And in verse 8, what we have is God beginning to reveal His ways, inspired by the Holy Spirit, as David says this phrase and it’s repeated all through the Old Testament, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness.” That’s like a canopy of: you want to know what God is like in a sentence?
The other prophets will say this. It will be throughout the psalms. The minor prophets will say this. If you want to know: what is God really like? He is compassionate, He feels, He cares, He is gracious. The root word: He is generous. He is slow to anger. He is not down on people. He is not rigid, He’s not distant, He’s not unapproachable. In fact, He is abounding. It’s a picture of overflowing like water flooding out of something. He is abounding in steadfast love and it’s this key Hebrew word called chesed. It’s a loyal covenant love that you are bound to someone and love them regardless and no matter what.
And then as though he wants to explain what this God is really like, he says, “He won’t always strive with us,” verse 9, “or keep His anger forever. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, or reward us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those of us who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us. For just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. He is mindful of our frame, our frailty, our humanity; that we are merely dust.”
And in that picture, you have a picture of God and God the Father that is one hundred and eighty degrees different than what all these good Jewish boys, following Jesus for the last three years, have ever, ever understood.
And what Jesus did with His life was He modeled the compassion, the graciousness of God.
And so, what I want to do for you, I want to take you on a little journey. I want to walk through those verses and I want to just quickly show you the God that those disciples began to understand and then the anchor of hope that He is a Wise Counselor, that He is a powerful God, but He is also – He’s the Father of eternity that you can trust for this life and for the next.
Verse 8, he says, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness.” The word compassion – remember when Jesus saw the multitudes? He came down and He saw the multitudes and the text says in Matthew 9, “And He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” And it says “compassion,” the Greek word is splagchnon. It’s something, literally, from the bowels.
It means, you know that deep in your gut when you feel something like you feel so sorry for someone it almost, something happens down deep in here? That’s this word. But unlike our concept, it’s not empathy. It’s not like, “Oh, I really feel bad for you.” Biblical compassion is you feel it and you always act. Every time the text says Jesus has compassion, He acts. So, He teaches them first, then He feeds five thousand.
And then He talks about the Old Testament manna and then He says, “I am the bread of life.” And so, He is helping them see: that was the Father. A good father does – what? He delivers out of Egypt. He provides the manna. He protects from evil.
And so, what does Jesus do? He is in the synagogue as He starts His ministry and He opens the text of Isaiah and He reads about the Messiah and then He sits down and says, “It is fulfilled in this day.”
He is claiming to be the Messiah. And there is a demon possessed man, and He cast out the demon. He delivers – the first act – He delivers. He is powerful. And then He feeds five thousand, and how many – remember? Twelve baskets to represent the twelve tribes. “I have come to provide for My people.” Remember? Everyone had as much as they wanted to eat and there were twelve baskets left over.
Then He feeds four thousand and it’s in the Gentile, the Greek area. And there are seven, the perfect number. I came. I am compassionate. I care. I am gracious. You can have as much as you want. I am not down on you. I am slow to anger. I am patient. I care. I am abounding.
If you could fathom that God is like that, that He is your heavenly Father, and if that made it from your intellect to your psyche to your emotional imprints, your life would be completely different. Your fear level would dissipate. Your anxiety level would vaporize. Because the Creator of the world is your personal, Wonderful Counselor who has supernatural power, who is going to guide you as the Father, through eternity, and promises to take care of you. And then in the next verses, what we see is how Jesus modeled this through His life.
Notice, “He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger.” The word strive in some translations is chide. Literally, it is: He won’t accuse you and bring you into court. You might just jot down: “He is merciful.”
Are you ready for this? When you mess up, when I mess up – right? And we do – what this is saying is He doesn’t want to punish you. If there is any way that He can delay justice or take you off the hook or not give you what you deserve, that’s His desire. He won’t always strive with us. He won’t bring us into court. Nor does He keep His anger forever.
Unlike some of those people that are problem people in your life, God doesn’t hold grudges. Can you imagine if you could just get out of your mind: His arms aren’t crossed. He is not down on you. He doesn’t remember the stuff that you did and remember that big mistake and when you were younger. And, gosh, that abortion you had or that unbiblical divorce over there or no one knows about this thing that you did here that lives in the back of your mind. Whoo. He doesn’t strive. He is just. He is holy. But His heart’s desire is to forgive, to care.
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to iniquities.” There are times I could try and visualize in my mind what it would be like to be Peter or John or James and have this picture of this rigid, distant, pretty angry, upset God that you’ve got to do all this stuff and no matter how you do, you can never live up to it. And living with this guilt and then this Jesus comes along and He does these miracles.
And then He gets tested and the religious leaders want to kill Him and so they set a trap. And a woman is caught in adultery, and figure this one out, like, what are you, just walking around? “Oh, wow, we’ve got an adultery situation here.” It was a trap. And they caught them, but only one person ends up at Jesus’ feet. Remember the woman? Thrown at His feet.
And Jesus, so, is He going to break the law? The law says she should be stoned. And Jesus, in His winsome wisdom as the Divine Counselor says, “I didn’t come to break the law. I am going to fulfill it. And so, those of you here without sin, pick up the stones and you start. You fulfill the law.”
And it says the older ones began to walk away. Because if you’ve been around for a while and you have even a remote level of honesty, you realize you have sinned a lot. And they left. And then everybody left.
“Woman, where are your accusers? Does no one condemn you?” No. “Neither do I.” He doesn’t deal with you according to your sin or reward you according to your iniquities. Is He just? Yes. “Now, go and sin no more.” Is that the God that you serve? Or do you have stuff stuck in the back of your mind of what you did last week or last month or last year or ten years ago? And somehow thinking, in my warped view of God, especially in the early years – I am doing better – in the early years, when I would sin and really mess up, it was like, I just would – I had to punish myself for at least two days. I feel terrible, I feel terrible, I feel terrible.
And then I don’t want to go to church because those Christians just made me feel more guilty. And so, I would try to do some good things and, like, Okay, I’ll read double the chapters as normal. Right? I’ll read more of the Bible, maybe I’ll give someone some money. And, am I okay now? I had such a warped view of God. It was a complete performance orientation. I had no idea that when you have a broken spirit and a contrite heart and you just own your stuff and say, God, I have got no excuses. I blew it. Will You forgive me?
Look at the next verse. He says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.” Do you get the picture? Here’s the earth. The heavens. It’s vertical. How high, how high – how many millions of miles…? The heavens! It’s certainly an idiom but it’s just higher than you can imagine or think, whatever level you think God loves you, it’s as high as the heavens are above the earth.
He loves like no one else! The people that no one would touch, the leper, He loves! The people that are an outcast, or prostitute, He loves! The woman caught in adultery, He loves! The tax collector who has betrayed his people and is ripping people off, He loves. The self-righteous Pharisee, He loves them too. And then He loves the marginalized, the people that the whole culture kicks to the side, the children, the prisoner, the widow – He loves them.
In fact, He even loves His enemies. The Roman soldiers that beat Him to a pulp and mocked Him. And here He is hanging on a cross and the religious leaders, “If You think You’re God, come on down!” And what does He do? “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
As high as the heavens are above the earth, it’s how much God loves you. You’re the object of His affection. I don’t mean to be trite, but He is head over heels over you. He likes you. Some of you think He loves you, you just don’t think He likes you very much. He would like to hang out with you! He would like to talk. He would like to bless you. He would like to give you wisdom. He would like to intervene in powerful ways. He would just like to have coffee with you.
He loves you! He made you. He sent His Son to reveal what the Father is like. And not only does He love you as high as the heavens are above the earth, but as far as the east is from the west. He takes the vertical one and then He goes, Wait, let’s go horizontal. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed your sins from you, to those that fear Him.”
By the way, there’s that little condition each time, right? You can do your own thing. You can stiff-arm God. You can say, I don’t need You. You can be the rich, young ruler and basically say, “Hey, look, you know what? What is going to make my life is my stuff and I am confident.” You can be the self-righteous Pharisee and say, “Look, I am going to keep the rules. I don’t need Your grace and You, God.”
Or you can just be passive. But for everyone who fears God, for everyone who says, Not my way, but Yours. Not my selfish kingdom, not what I think will deliver, but Your kingdom. I am going to seek it first and You first and You promise, because You love me so much, this is the greatest, wisest thing I’ll ever do.
I think sometimes we rank sins, don’t we? Probably theologically you know a sin separates us from God, but some sins – right? Have bigger consequences. And I think when we rank them, sometimes we think sexual sins, whoo. Those are bad, right? And they have some pretty heavy consequences. Or financial sins, right? He embezzled.
Or lying. I don’t know about you, but when people lie to me, it doesn’t take many times and you, Oh, wow, can’t trust them. When are they telling the truth? What…? Those are hard.
But I think this is – don’t go tell someone this is what the Bible says. Here’s what I think the worst sin is. This is the Chip Ingram commentary, okay? You have yours; I have mine.
I think betrayal is the worst sin. At least it’s the hardest to digest. Someone lies to you or they rip you off, money is money. Stuff comes; stuff goes. People lie. It’s the way it is. But when you are tight with someone, when you’ve got each other’s back, when you are loyal to one another. And whether that is in marriage or whether it’s your best friends, when you are betrayed, when they turn on you, when all the commitments you have made to one another and someone goes off and does something and they betray you, I don’t know about you, that has been the most difficult for me to ever forgive.
And, yet, as far as the east is from the west. We think of the anchor of the Church: Peter, John James – later, the apostle Paul. But remember when Peter betrayed the Lord? Remember? It was the night Jesus said, “This is what is going to happen.” Peter, “Oh, oh! Hey, these other guys. These other schmoes. They might not abandon You, but I’m here. I’m for You! I’ll die with You.” And everyone said, “Yeah, yeah, that’s right. You’re right. Me too.” Right?
And Jesus said, “Peter, you don’t know your heart.” In fact, by the way, that’s a good lesson to know. You say, “I am totally committed. I would do…” You do not know your heart and you do not know what you would do until you’re tested. And that’s why God brings tests. He brings tests for your benefit, not His.
And He warned Peter, “Before you hear the rooster crow three times,” in front of this little gal near the fire and a couple other times, and then after he denied Him and he heard the rooster crow, he was out in the courtyard near the fire and Jesus was being examined and their eyes met. Whoo. It says he went out and wept bitterly.
If you have ever betrayed someone, if you have ever gossiped about someone, if you have done something and betrayed them and then had the amazing courage to go ask them for forgiveness and seen the tears run down their face, it’s like, Boy, I do not want to do that again.
When I sin, okay? Whether I sin in my thinking, whether I sin with my words or in my actions, when I sin, you know what I do? I betray my heavenly Father. I betray Him. I say, I don’t want Your kingdom. I don’t want Your will. I know better. The kingdom of Chip shows up and I’ve got it figured out and this is what I want and here’s how I am going to get it. I don’t want to listen to You.
Now, that old view of God is – right? He is way, way distant and there are all these rules. So, it becomes Christian behavior modification. And what that means is: try really hard not to sin. Don’t do this. Be relatively clean. Give a little money. Come to religious services and really try hard to be a little bit better morally than other people. But compare yourself with other people who are a little less moral than you, because you will stay in good standing.
And then when you break a rule, when you do what is wrong, when you lie, when you have a little comment, when you put people down, or when you do a big one, it’s like, “Oh, I’m really, really sorry. I broke a rule. I’m going to try really hard not to do, I’m not going to log on. I won’t drink that second or third glass of wine. I am going to…” You come up with your list. “I’m going to try really, really hard.”
And you can’t figure out why it doesn’t work. Because, see, when you break a rule, it’s just a thing. When you break someone’s heart, and you look into their eyes, there is something that happens inside where…
See, sin is always relational. It may be a thought or an act or a behavior, but it’s relational. And when I can get my sin breaks my Father’s heart, and if I believed He really loved me and I believed He cared and that He was gracious and He is compassionate and He is slow to anger, then, Oh, God, how could I do that?
The biggest changes, I will tell you, in my bad habits in my marriage journey have been times when my wife has used a little bit of a word picture and helped me see that this action that I don’t even know what it has got to do with our marriage is communicating to her that I don’t love her. And whether it was dealing with stuff at the house or whether it was being late all the time, I just tried harder.
When I looked her in the eye and she had tears to say, it was like, you know what? “If this means I love you, I’ll change my behavior, because I love you!” And, see, if you can understand how much God loves you and that it’s a relationship, it completely changes how you go about…
It’s not like, Oh, I have to read the Bible. It’s not like I go, Oh boy, good marriages, you’ve got to talk. Okay, let me, okay! Let’s see, I’ve got to give Theresa sixteen minutes this morning because this is really important. You’re supposed to go on dates, so I guess we ought to go out sometime, somewhere.
Can I tell you something? I just love to talk to her. I just love to go out on dates. I love to take walks. Because I love her! And probably why I love her, she loves me so much. I want to be with her. And that’s what God wants for us.
He goes on and he begins to give us the picture, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” Imagine God is distant. In fact, the scribes would say He’s in the seventh heaven. He is far, far away. He is transcendent. He is demanding. He is cold. You can’t get close.
And you have been following Jesus around for a while. And He is getting ripped by the religious leaders, “Hey, You’re hanging out with sinners!” And so, He tells them a parable to explain why He hangs out with sinners. And He said, “There was a sheep that was lost, there was a coin that was lost, and there was a son that was lost.” And He builds to a crescendo and He makes the point that all three of the stories have one, one main point.
And the one main point is that God is pictured here as a Father. A Father. And not just any father, not even a good, Jewish father. This is a Father who allows the son to go and bears the shame. This is a Father, when the kid comes to his senses in the pig pen and it says, “Okay, I am going to admit that I am wrong, I am going to own my stuff, and I am going to earn my way back,” he gives his little speech and before he can talk about earning his way back: “Stop!”
He absorbs the shame of the village instead of allowing his son. Then he says, “Son, put sandals on his feet.” Slaves, barefooted; sons, sandals. “Put a ring on his finger.” That’s his black American Express, MasterCard. You do business with the family. “Take the finest robe,” that’s his robe, “and cover him. Kill the fatted calf and we are going to celebrate!”
He says, “That’s what it’s like in heaven when one far away from God, sinner, returns.” That’s who you get greeted by. And that is a picture of God the Father that is completely foreign to the disciples. And, by the way, completely foreign to a lot of you.
He loves you. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion” – what? “on those who fear Him.” And then, I love, part of the reason is – why? “For He is mindful of our frame,” I love the next verse, “He is mindful of our frame.” In other words, our humanity, our constitution, what we are really made of.
That we are just people of flesh. That we are human. That we blow it. That we are merely dust. He makes this picture of the Father and the dust, I said He gives them a picture of God the Father in the parable – Luke 15.
At some point in time, these very good, Jewish boys who have heard all this stuff about what God is supposed to be like – it’s getting shattered.
And the one thing they can’t quite figure out is because every time, as a good, Jewish boy and the rabbis and the religious leaders, when they prayed, they would get on street corners and they had their phylacteries and they would have all their verses and they would pray out loud and do it in Hebrew.
And so, they come to Jesus, because they can’t quite get this relationship. And He says, they say, “Will You teach us to pray?” And here’s His first words, “When you pray, say, ‘Abba.’” It’s Aramaic. Say, “Abba.” The word means father, or our father. Is He transcendent? “Who is in heaven.” Who is all-knowing, who is powerful, who is Creator, who is holy. But you have access. “Abba.”
It’s interesting, when the apostle Paul, in Romans 8 and Galatians chapter 4, when he wants to talk about intimacy with God around prayer, he actually takes that Aramaic word. It has such impact. And he will say, “Abba,” and then he will say, pater, translated in Greek for people later that don’t know this.
Do you realize what He did? He said, “There is not some form.” This Father is approachable. In four countries in the Middle East right now, especially in peasant villages, the first word every child learns is: Abba. Papa. Daddy. Access. That’s…
When Jesus was hanging on the cross and He said, “It is finished,” and it says – what? “The veil in the temple that separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies,”tchoo! “was ripped apart.” You have got access. The awesome, powerful, all-knowing, pure, unapproachable light, transcendent God of the universe also says, “I am your Daddy. You can come and sit on my lap. You can bring the hardest, the most difficult, your pain, and I will listen.”
I had an experience this week that, it was an interesting one. I had a friend and we were going to meet for coffee and it was near where my daughter lives and he said, “Won’t,” he knows my daughter and said, “Why don’t we give her a call?” And he really likes Noah. And so he says, “We’ll hang out with them.”
So, I called Annie and she goes, “Sure.” Came over to Starbucks and the place was just packed with people and we are on some of these high stools and so I’ve got Noah next to me and we are doing some stuff and he just is like, he’s two. And so, I can’t even remember, I was trying to keep him from falling off the stool and he turns to me and he goes, “No!” Whoa! Must be genetic on the male side.
Well, I’m thinking, he’s two. Well, two more times, “No! No!” And I’m just going, Oh, wow, this is…
Now, here’s what I did not do. Now, there was a level of embarrassment, okay? His mother had gone someplace so I’m in this moment of, “What is that guy going to do?” Here’s what I did not do. I didn’t pick up Noah, set him on the ground, take two steps back, “I’m a really big person and you’re a really small person and you better shape up right now. Shut up, kid!” See, that’s how some of you think God responds or will respond when you mess up.
How did I respond? He’s two! Okay? He’s two! You know what two-year-olds do? They do stuff like that. When you were two, you did it. He’s going to grow out of this. He’s two. You know what? I am mindful of his frame. I understand that’s part of being a two-year-old.
When you mess up, when you say stuff, when you lie, when you steal little things, when you lust in your heart, when you make a big mistake, most of us run away from God because we have a bad, wrong, warped view of God. Because we think what we are going to get is this and then this! What did I do? I dealt with things - gently.
Earlier in the week he came over to my house and this “no” stuff is sort of his new flavor of the month. So, his grandma, my wife, said a little something and to my wife, he goes, “No!” And his mom is not around now. That is not going to fly in my house. So, I got down at eye-level. I said, “Noah, we don’t talk to grandma that way.” “No!” Or me.
And then I set him on a little stool and it’s time-out. And just that tender balance, like he’s two. If you do it too long, you’ll frustrate him. If it’s not long enough, he won’t realize. So, I’m sitting there going, Okay, I think he’s getting the message. And so, after a little bit of time I said, “Okay, Noah, come here. No, come here, Noah.” He comes up. Okay. He climbs up onto my lap. Then we went over, “Noah, we don’t talk to Mommy like that. Daddy. Okay. Noah, do you know how much I love you?”
And then I didn’t say anything, I just put my arms around him and I said, Oh, God, thank You so much that when we do something wrong and we come to You, You always cleanse us and forgive us and want to be close to us. Amen.
Now, I’m not telling you that my two-year-old grandson theologically, understood much of what went on. But I am going to keep doing that and he’s going to get it. But I’ll tell you what happened that I can’t explain is that after I did that, he took his little arms and just put them around me. And after he messed up, we were close. Are you running away from God or running to Him?
And then when you run away, because there’s nowhere to go, right? So you eat or you drink or you buy stuff or you work more or you have an affair. Because, see, you run! When you run away from God, bad things happen. What if you believed?
“Come unto Me, all of you that are heavy-laden with life and stuff and pressure and difficulty and guilt and fear and I will give you rest. Take, take My yoke,” this isn’t just a prayer. This is: Let’s do life together. Let’s talk. Get to know Me. “And I’ll give rest for your soul.” Why? “Because I am gentle, lowly in heart,” humble, “and you’ll find rest for your soul.”
I’d like to close by, every year when I get near this time of year, I try and read through, I end up probably writing in two or three of these journals through the course of the year, and I try and just read them really fast to say, “Is there any patterns that God is speaking to me about that maybe for the next year, I need to address.”
And it’s interesting, I was in that journey and this is of December 4th a year ago, just barely over a year ago. And I share this because here’s what I want you to get. This journey of getting a right and accurate and clear and biblical picture of God is at the core of everything, but it is a journey.
And so, I have memorized a lot of verses to try and get my mind – I read the Bible to get my mind, I try and get around people that I think have a clear view of God. And then I try and process. And so, this was one of those mornings where I was writing my best understanding of what God is like instead of how I think about Him.
“Thank You so very much for Your grace, Lord. Your disposition, Your mood is one of joy and delight to see me, to help me. You actually enjoy my presence. In human terms, You’re in a good mood when we meet.” You ever think about that? It has taken me years to believe God is in a good mood when we meet.
“Your countenance is a smile, a warm, inviting smile of approval and welcome. Your arms are wide open and inviting me to come near, to draw close, to embrace, to be protected, to be encouraged, to be comforted. Your eyes are filled with compassion and mercy. My sins, my mistakes, my failures are met with Your longing to forgive and to remove any and all shame. You desire great things for me and great things from me, but Your expectations are reasonable. You are mindful that I am but dust, magnificent dust made in Your image, but You are patient and You are understanding with my struggles.
“When I purposefully rebel and reject Your love and Your plans and Your will for my life, You graciously and lovingly provide pain and no peace in my heart and ever-increasing consequences to prompt me to come to my senses, return to You. You don’t keep Your anger and You don’t hide Your face from me when I come with an honest and a humble and a broken spirit and a contrite heart.
“When I find myself far from You or being bombarded by the enemy or the evil in this fallen world and I am absolutely in impossible situations, Your ears strain to hear My cry for help. Your feet run to meet me in my desperate situation, even when it’s of my own making. This is what God, my Father, is like. He is not a concept or an energy or a theory of the Force.
“He is generosity in action that seeks my highest good, meets my greatest needs, and delights in me just for me, totally apart from anything I could do or have ever done. His love and grace is free, undeserved, counter-intuitive.”
That’s the disposition of the infinite Creator of the universe toward me, expressed most clearly and personally in the person and work of God the Son, Jesus Christ. He’s a Wonderful Counselor, He’s a Mighty God, and He’s an Everlasting Father.