The Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth
Sunday, September 21, 2008 -
“We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen”
Once you ‘ve emphasized the importance of faith in God (as we did last week) you need to define the kind of God you believe in. Will any God at all do? Some people think so. We live in a world that is increasingly insistent that all religions must be tolerated equally. And there is a sense in which that is absolutely true. That is, under the laws of the land citizens in a democracy have the right to freedom of religious expression.
But just because all religions must be equally legal doesn’t mean they are all equally true. The Bible tells us what to believe about God. We are not left to compose our own definition of God. In fact, we are expressly forbidden that course of action: Deuteronomy 4:15-19 - “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire,  beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female,  the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air,  the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.  And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.”
All of this serves to introduce the importance of the first phrase of the Apostle’s Creed. It doesn’t tell us everything the Bible says about God, but it tells us three essential truths: God is the Father, He is Almighty, and He is the Maker of heaven and earth. Today we’ll look at the first of these. God is our heavenly Father:
1) WE BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER - It’s too bad we’ve been made so familiar with this use of terminology because, when you think about it, this is very shocking news. For many generations, no one would dare consider God in this way. Over and over again, in the Old Testament, not only was the approach to God viewed as difficult, it was viewed as fatal: Exodus 33:18-20 - “Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’  And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name 'The Lord.' And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live." Such was the view of the separateness of Almighty God from the rest of His creation. People weren’t casual about their devotion to God. They didn’t just love God. They feared God. They knew when they approached God it had to be with the greatest care and reverence.
On reflection one would have to say this kind of attitude toward God has all but disappeared from the church. About four years ago, on Christmas Eve, there was an excellent editorial in the Globe and Mail by Leah McLaren entitled, “In Search of a Little Fire and Brimstone.” By her own admission she is not a Christian. She isn’t even mildly religious. She writes about being asked by her grandmother to attend the morning mass at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Cobourg, Ontario the Sunday morning before Christmas: “I arrived for my first regular Catholic mass ever, wearing cotton pyjama pants and a shapeless turtleneck. That’s okay, according to my step-grandmother. On the way to church she informs me from the driver’s seat of her brand new Buick Le Sabre: “Don’t worry, dear, nobody dresses up any more.”
“And she’s right. The congregation comes with rumpled jeans and sweat shirts and whining, bed-headed children. But who am I to judge? I haven’t been to church in, well, ever....More surprising is the fair number of creaseless faces among the congregation. These are young people who have bucked all dominant trends by settling in a small town, getting married and having babies in their 20's. Their fleece garments and low-maintenance haircuts tell the tale of evenings spent orating Harry Potter and wiping tiny chins, of Disney videos followed by many invigorating rounds of Scrabble.”
“What, I wonder, are these nice people doing at church? If anyone needs a soul scrubbing, it’s me and my ilk, with our selfish, no-strings attached lives. As the sermon begins, I think of a girl I vaguely know who, at a recent party, dipped two pretty fingers into her handbag and fished out a crack rock. She needs to go to church, not these responsible, mini-vanned marrieds.”
“Christian recruiters who persist in trying to make church more accessible to the young by way of upbeat masses and Jesus-loving rock bands have got it all wrong. Young, childless, unmarried, urbanites don’t need to start loving God, we need to start fearing God. We need to abandon our reiki sessions and yoga retreats in favor of hymns and hard benches. The church should appeal to our sense of duty, rather than our sense of fun. Trust me, we know fun. We’re gagging on fun. Give us something to do with ourselves the next Sunday morning we wake up, frontal lobe athrob with self-hatred, knowing that eggs benedict and a bloody caesar just won’t help this time.” Church is the opposite of cool, and as my flinty step-grandmother well knows, sometimes that’s a good thing...”
She’s right. We do need to relearn the mind-set of fearing God. In fact, God must be both loved and feared in healthy balance. This was revealed most clearly and completely with the coming and teaching of Jesus. When Jesus called Almighty God, “Father,” and then taught His disciples to do the same, He was igniting several truths to burn passionately in our minds and hearts:
a) Through faith in Jesus Christ, the relationship with God can be personal, warm and loving. In other words, this revelation of God is totally removed from the idea of an impersonal power or force that is either for us or against us. The relationship, for the Christian, with God is person to person. Certainly God is far more than you and I are as persons, but He is not less. He knows and loves His children and can be known and loved in turn. The Apostle’s Creed affirms this relationship with God. This is what it means to “believe in God the Father...” The words invite and encourage right from the start. Knowing the creed doesn’t create this reality. Only knowing the Father does. And this is the experience of God Jesus brings to the repentant sinner. This is at the heart of genuine Christian life and experience: John 1:12 - “But to all who did receive him (that is, Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God....” Remember, we are not all God’s children. We are all God’s creatures. We are all made in His image. But, as this verse makes so clear, we “become” children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
b) Because God is our heavenly Father we can pray with hope and expectancy. We should be grateful that Jesus related this teaching to us in the simplest of terms: Matthew 7:11 - “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”It is the nature of fatherhood to bestow what is best for the child. Unfortunately, this pattern doesn’t always hold true in this fallen world, but this in no way tarnishes the reality Jesus declares in these words. God not only declares us to be His children. He treats us as His children.
In another treatment of the same subject Jesus was even more simple and direct. Life can hold many problems. Situations can be painful and confusing. The very best of us can grow confused and lose his way. We all know what it is like to feel lack and want in some area of life or another. With one short phrase Jesus reminds us of the most important to hold in our minds as we pray - Matthew 6:32 - “....your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Jesus is relating the theology of the Fatherhood of God to real life. When you pray, let this truth calm your heart of all fear and panic and worry. Even when you don’t see the way, “Your heavenly Father knows...”
c) Because God is our heavenly Father we have a deeper sense of the seriousness of sin. This is where all of this relates to Leah McLaren’s article in the Globe. Of all people, Christians - the children of God - have a heightened sense of shame for sin. We, more than anyone else, fear God as no one else possibly can. And in a strange paradox, what makes us fear God is our love for Him as our heavenly Father.
Sin becomes a deeply personal issue for the Christian. We don’t just break a list of rules or fail to measure up to some personal value system. We grieve a loving Father’s heart. We feel the pain of sinful actions more than anyone else could because we love our heavenly Father more than the rest of this wicked world does. Let me say it as strongly as I can: If your salvation has made you more careless about holy living, whatever you think you’ve experienced, it wasn’t conversion:
Romans 8:9,12,13,15 - “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him....12....So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh....13....For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live....15.... For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”
That’s the theology of the Fatherhood of God as it relates to the seriousness with which we view sin. Let me wrap up with one more point of application of the Fatherhood of God that is closely related to this:
d) Because God is my heavenly Father I will increasingly take on His passion for holiness and purity. If the first step toward holiness is a hatred for sin, the second is the increasing participation in a new love of righteousness. The Apostle John gives the most direct treatment of the effect the Fatherhood of God has on our lives in very plain language: 1 John 3:9 - “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”John uses a common feature of human fatherhood to make a very direct point. How many times I have heard someone say, “O, he has his father’s hair,” or, “You can tell he sounds so much like his dad when he speaks.”
And we all know why that’s the case. I’m like my father in many ways because that’s the law of genetics. There is something of my father right inside of me. That’s what fatherhood is all about. Fatherhood generates the traits of the first generation in the second.