God is a Father

Scriptures: Jeremiah 3:19-22a ; Luke 11:5-13

A couple of preparatory things, first of all. When talking about God as Father, that’s always sort of a sensitive subject in many ways to many people. And I want to acknowledge the fact, first of all, that there are those that may struggle with the concept because of what’s happened on here on Earth with their earthly fathers.

Secondly I would also say that God is a spirit, so truly God has no gender. (Jesus did because he was incarnate.) But God refers to Himself, as you saw in Jeremiah, as a father. Jesus referred to Him as a father. In fact, he did more than that. He said, in the Lord’s Prayer, call him Abba, or Dad. And so I think that it is appropriate that we refer to God as Father in that sense, and God is our provider and our Creator, and the one in whom we need to trust.

Now the context of the scripture in Luke 11, the greater context of Luke chapter eleven was prayer. In fact, a short time before these verses, Jesus had given them Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.

And then he gave them a parable. And that parable, most people seem to think, is teaching about persistence in prayer, although I found some very interesting interpretation that kind of turns it on its head, that I will probably touch on, even though it’s not the focus of my sermon.

Then in verse 9 he says, “So I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives, he who seeks, finds, and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” That’s a very well-known passage. And there have even been some songs written about it.

Jesus is referring to God as a father, someone to pray to. And that’s important for us, In that we need to be consistent in our prayers. He shows how God is a good father, because fathers answer their children.

The Father in heaven answers every one of our prayers. Sometimes it’s not the answer we want to hear. Sometimes the answer is no, when we give a petition.

Sometimes this verse is misinterpreted for us to almost seem like God is a vending machine, where if we just make a request He’ll give what we seek, He’ll open the door when we knock, and whatever we want is going to happen, like the genie in the lamp or something. And that’s just not the case.

What it does refer to is the fact that God is always open to our communications. God is always ready to hear our prayers, and He is always ready to respond to our prayers, as any good father would for his children.

Fathers listen to persistent children. What’s that saying, the squeaky wheel gets the oil, or something like that? And that is one of the things that goes back to the parable in this passage, that I want to touch on because we need to know the background in which that parable was told.

In this parable, we often fail to see the desperateness of this man knocking on the door for bread, because we do not understand the culture of that day. In our modern thinking, we would wonder, why all the fuss over the bread? Just tell your friend to drink some water or milk, and tomorrow morning go to the bakery and get the bread.

It’s not until we realize that in the background of this parable, in the culture of the day, it was an utterly shameful lack of hospitality if you cannot provide food and hospitality for the one who has come from a far journey to visit you specifically. And so we need to empathize with the desperation of this man who’s going out, even in the middle of the night, knocking on the door.

So if we look at the significance of that parable, we may see from the setting that it’s an answer to the disciples’ request, “Lord, teach us how to pray,” and he was teaching them about prayer.

But what exactly was Jesus pointing to in relation to prayer, in the telling of this parable? As I said, most of the time people talk about it as perseverance: if you just keep asking, then God will answer prayer.

But I think that while persistence is a good principle, we miss what Jesus is talking about here. Persistence is not the primary emphasis. There is something else locked within this parable that must be understood in its context, so that we can meaning meaningfully understand what Jesus is pointing to.

Jesus is talking about something totally opposite. God is not reluctant to bless. He is exceedingly ready to bless. And this is something absolutely radical. You see, when Jesus told His parable, he set it up in such a way that he was in fact using a rabbinical method of contrast. Jewish teachers often used that, and his disciples were no doubt familiar with it.

Thus, Jesus taught by way of contrast when he said there were two men, a wise man and a foolish man. That’s a contrast. When he said the wise men built a house upon the rock and the foolish man built this house on the sand, that is a contrast. When he said, in the parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the house on the rock stood firm, and the house on the sand fell flat, that was a contrast. And you can study the Gospels and find this practice of contrasting for teaching to be frequently used to.

Now Jesus is applying the same technique here. He’s saying something about God that is absolutely radical and fundamental to our understanding of prayer. Jesus is in fact saying there was a man who was asleep and was most reluctant to get up and give his friend what he needed, but because of his friend’s perseverance he reluctantly gives in to him and provides what he needed. But God is not like that.

“Therefore I say to you, ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, everyone who seeks finds, and everyone who knocks, to him the door shall be opened.”

How do we know that this is the meaning and the purpose of the parable? Well, because of the context. Immediately after the parable, Jesus gives a principle and the key to unlock the parable.

The meaning is thus: because God is not like the reluctant friend but is more than ready to give, therefore ask and it shall be given. And he demonstrates that with the passage that was read, about which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead.

I can imagine the disciples are nudging themselves, right before he said that, saying, “We got it. We must keep on asking, keep on knocking, and keep on seeking, and we shall find it. That’s the secret of prayer. How wonderful!”

They thought they knew the point but they entirely missed it. And so Jesus reinforces it, going to the major theological premise at the very heart of what he was talking about.

Now this principle, that I wanted to touch on for the remainder of my sermon, was called by somebody else (I can’t claim credit for it) the God of “so much more,” or “how much more.”

As he gave that illustration, in verses 11-13, “Suppose one of you fathers is asked by a son for a fish. He would not give him a snake instead, would he?” (That was a rhetorical question. I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t expecting an answer) “Or if he asked for an egg, he would not give him a scorpion, will he?” This is what’s called rhetorical parallelism for emphasis. The Hebrews did that a lot, parallelism and repetition.

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.?”

Suddenly, a different light is seen on this teaching. It is no longer “You must press on, grit your teeth, persevere in prayer, and keep asking. Don’t let up. Put in more effort. Do more.”

No, suddenly prayer is no longer a performance that we must seek to get it right. Suddenly, prayer is not about the right formula. Rather, the entire emphasis on prayer is not on how we perform, but on who God is. For now we have a glorious picture before us of the kind of God we call Abba. He is the God of how much more.

“C’mon,” Jesus is saying, in effect, to his disciples. “God is totally opposite of the reluctant friend in the parable, and you missed the picture entirely.” You know, they do that a lot. But so do we.

If you, as fallen human fathers, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more would God? If this earthly friend gave his neighbor bread, how much more will your heavenly Father give you these good things? how much more?

And suddenly it changes the picture of a reluctant God, or a preoccupied God, to that of the God of the how much more. Prayer is not in overcoming God’s reluctance. It is cooperating with His highest willingness.

There are many restless Christians, a few rested ones. The people of God would be far more rested if we came back again and again to this profound truth. We could live at peace, because we know that God is not reluctant to give us what is ultimately good for us. We can live in peace, without feeling that we must play junior Holy Spirit to control everything.

Because God is in control. He answers over and beyond what we ask. We could live at peace if such a theology were embraced. He is the God of how much more.

We could become theocentric – very God-centered – in our prayers. We would become Christians with a profound restedness in God, rather than a prevailing restlessness that is prominent in our culture, even in many Christian circles today.

We are restless because we do not know the God of rest. The God who wants to bless, and the God of how much more. And I include myself in that as much as anyone. I really think that part of our problem is we actually try to limit God.

We’re afraid to ask him sometimes for really big things. Or we, in terms of looking at the bigger picture, aren’t willing to rest in his hands. Because we like to be in control. I’m as guilty of it is anyone, maybe more so.

We want what we want because we think it’s best. And sometimes we are right. But sometimes God has something else in mind.

Now we might ask the question, if this is the teaching Jesus intended, why did Jesus say “because of his perseverance” in verse 8? Actually, the word translated as “perseverance” in a lot of translations, (like, I thought, the NIV), actually means “without shame or boldly.” And they actually did it right here when they said boldness. The alternative reading is “because of his boldness.”

The thing that causes us to come reluctantly to God is because we see him as a reluctant God. We feel a lack of boldness or courage to approach such a God. The Bible says we’re to come to God without shame, with a holy unabashedness, because we see and delight in God as He really is, the God of how much more.

Only then, in light of this wonders truth, can we come running readily before the Father, without shame, to ask that which we know God delights in giving. What a privilege! I can come to God in Jesus’ name, and so can you, without shame.

I found an interesting illustration. Billy Graham’s wife Ruth (who, by the way, is Presbyterian) said she was glad God didn’t answer what she asked for. Otherwise she would have married five men before Billy. It’s like God says, “Come back tomorrow and we’ll talk about it again.”

We don’t have to twist God’s arm. We have the right to come boldly and shamelessly to God with our needs, because we are His children, adopted by Him through His love and the sacrifice of the Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross for us, and his resurrection that makes us new creatures in Him.

There’s an illustration about Roman history that tells the story of a Roman emperor in his chariot, partaking in a parade (they loved their parades). Cheering people line the streets, while legionnaires were stationed to keep people at a safe distance.

The emperor’s family sat on a platform to watch him go by in all the pride of his position. As the Emperor came near the place where his family was sitting, a young boy jumped from the platform, hedged his way through the crowd, and tried to evade a legionnaire so he could run to the emperor’s chariot.

The soldier stopped him and said, “You cannot go near the Emperor.” The boy laughed and said, “He may be your Emperor, but he is my father.” And then he ran into his father’s open arms.

Hebrews reminds us that, as believers, because Jesus Christ is seated on the right hand of the Father in heaven, we can come boldly before the throne of grace. We are the children of the King. And He is our good Father, the God of how much more.

I pray that, in the coming week and beyond it, you would begin to see God’s gracious love for you, and how much more He wants to give each one of us, if we only ask in faith, guided by His will, through the Holy Spirit, which it says right here in the Scriptures that He will give each and every one of us.

And then to God be the praise and the glory for the great things that He does. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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