Last Sunday was Father’s Day. You spent time thinking about your dad. If you live near him you spent time with him. You dads here spent time with your kids. Maybe you took them to the lake or camp or a game. Perhaps you thought about what makes a good dad. A couple of us thought about having newborns soon.
It’s a week late, but today Jesus tells us what makes for a good father. He doesn’t give us moral platitudes that don’t make sense together. He puts before us the picture of the perfect Father, the best father one could ask for. Quite frankly it’s a father none of us can ever dream of living up to. Jesus no doubt made the Virgin Mary look like the best mother ever, and no father is better than God the Father. Jesus calls on us to emulate Him.
Perhaps you remember a lot about your dad. Perhaps you don’t. I remember my dad taking my brother and me to baseball games. He worked 45 minutes north in Ann Arbor. Now he loves to see his grandkids. But those aren’t the most important things. They aren’t the most important things in life. They aren’t the most important things for parents. They aren’t the most important things for a Christian.
The most important thing in life is the mercy, the compassion, of God. Without it, you have absolutely nothing. Without it, how would life be? It would be miserable. You’d be sick all the time. You’d have no food or water. Your clothes would never fit and would be torn to shreds. Your house would fall apart and your yard would be weed-infested. Without it you would have no friends, no loved ones, no nothing. You would have 1 thing only: your sins weighing you down, condemning you, giving you no end of inner anguish night and day.
That doesn’t sound very good, does it? We don’t think about it much, if ever. Everything in life actually does depend on God’s mercy. Without it the devil and sin would work to destroy God’s creation with reckless abandon. That’s what they started out to do when God’s dear children Adam and Eve sinned.
They really had no reason to do it. They had no reason to sin. They knew God had withheld nothing from them. They had it all. They had it made: perfect world, easy work, never die. We’d take that bargain in a second! But they gave it all up. They gave it up in order to know evil. They knew good. They experienced good every second of their lives. But they let the devil put in their heads the idea that to know, to experience, evil would be far better. Were they ever wrong!
God had created them. He’d made them to be just as perfect as He is. He showered love on them and every blessing. And they threw it all back at Him. Don’t you hear His pained voice? “Where are you? My people, what have I done unto you? Wherein have I offended you? Answer Me!” Where are you? Why have you sinned? Do you know what you have done?
How should a father treat you? Dads sometimes need to punish their children. Did you hear about the parents who recently had to use the courts to evict their adult son from home because he wouldn’t leave? God evicted Adam and Eve from Eden. His Law sentenced them to death. It sentenced them to hell. They had every reason to expect God would carry through with those threats.
Except for 1 reason. God is merciful. He told them they would die when they ate the fruit. And they did. They lost union with him. Sin entered their lives. Death came calling. They never entered the Garden of Eden again; the way in wasn’t just locked – it was blocked. But God is merciful. Instead of zapping them straight into hell, He promised to take on flesh to crush the serpent’s head by means of His own Death.
That’s the type of Father God is. Yes, He strictly demands His Law be kept. Yes, He chastises us in this life. Yes, He allows our sins to have consequences and He allows our health to fail. This isn’t because He has some sick desire to hurt us. He doesn’t. It’s because He wants to teach us to turn to Him and trust Him and listen to Him. He’s the type of Father Who would sacrifice everything for His wayward children, yes, even His Only-begotten Son.
That’s the merciful Father Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel. He gave up His own Son for you. He let Him be tormented by wicked men. He let them speak ill and lie about Him. He let them spit on Him, slap Him, mock Him, crown Him with thorns, make Him carry His Cross, and finally nail Him to it. Some have called it divine child abuse. But it wasn’t. It was the mercy of both The Father and The Son – mercy, compassion, for you. Sin has filled our lives with suffering. So the eternal Son of God filled Himself up with suffering in order to rescue you from it for all eternity.
That’s mercy. It saw us heading straight for hell and it threw up a roadblock in the form of a cross. It took the beams of sin out of our eyes and nailed them onto the back of Christ. It has taken our sins off us. Since our sins are gone, death is gone too. It must let us go when He tells it to drop dead on the last day. The serpent who bit us will be fatally poisoned by the antivenom. Sin and all its effects will be dissolved. Life eternal with our heavenly Father will begin.
This should inform how we treat our children. This should inform how we treat everybody we interact with. The Christian is not ruthless, careless, mean, and cruel. The Holy Spirit empowers us to treat others the way we want to be treated. How’s that? Kindly, mercifully, full of loving care. He teaches us to sacrifice ourselves for others, to not condemn them when we feel we should, but to pray for them and even work to help them if He gives us opportunity. So keep before you The Cross of Christ. When you keep in mind what He did for you, how will that help you? It will help you act not as your sinful reflexes desire, but as a dear child of God wanting to please his dear heavenly Father in all godly quietness. To Him then you may sing with Paul Gerhardt these words (TLH 25:5-6):
As a father never turneth Wholly from a wayward child, For the prodigal still yearneth, Longing to be reconciled, So my many sins and errors Find a tender, pard’ning God, Chast’ning frailty with His rod, Not in vengeance, with His terrors. All things else have but their day, God’s great love abides for aye.
Since, then, neither change nor coldness In my Father’s love can be, Lo! I lift my hands with boldness, As Thy child I come to Thee. Grant me grace, O God, I pray Thee, That I may with all my might, All my lifetime, day and night, Love and trust Thee and obey Thee And, when this brief life is o’er, Praise and love Thee evermore.