Sunday, 20 December 2009

Jesus is the Everlasting Father (Isa. 9:6)

This sermon was preached on 20/12/2009

This third title in the fourfold name of Jesus may puzzle some because it can give the impression that Isaiah confused the persons of the Trinity by giving the name of the first person (the Father) to the second person (the Son). How much Isaiah knew about the Trinity cannot be known because it is primarily a New Testament teaching about God. Of course, because we read the Old Testament through New Testament eyes, we can see aspects of the Trinity in the Old Testament and we may have misunderstandings about this title that would not have occurred to Isaiah. In any case, we will see that Isaiah is not giving to Jesus a name that belongs to the heavenly Father.

Each of these titles of Jesus highlights one of his attributes and uses it in a particular way. ‘Wonderful Counsellor’ highlights the wisdom of Jesus as he governs all things; ‘Mighty God’ stresses the power of Jesus as he performs great and heroic exploits; ‘Prince of peace’ emphasises that his rule is permeated with peace; ‘Everlasting Father’ focuses on his possession of the attribute of eternity, but his possession of eternalness is to be considered in the way he functions as a father.

We find it very hard to understand the concept of anything that is eternal. Normally we think about it from the viewpoint of endless existence, but that is only part of its meaning. In addition to its length, there is in the concept of eternity, when applied to God, a reminder of the wealth of God. His endless existence cannot be separated from the location in which he lives. So when King Jesus is here described as eternal, we have a reference to his everlastingness (the length of his reign) and to his resources (what he can use throughout his reign).

Yet as we think about his eternalness, we have to remind ourselves that Isaiah has just described this future King as a child who would be born. This title, as with the others, reminds us that here we are dealing with a unique person. Of course, with New Testament understanding we can explain who he is accurately, but I sometimes think that while we can do so we have also lost the sense of wonder and amazement that should be a major element in our response to him.

He is Father because he is the author
One way to interpret the term ‘Father’ is to take it as meaning author or originator. That is a way the word is commonly used. If a man begins something, he is usually recognised as the father of that organisation. He may have a blueprint for it and its future development will be according to his plans. ‘Everlasting Father’ can be translated as ‘Father of eternity’, and if we take ‘Father’ as meaning author or originator we can say that eternity belongs to Jesus and that he has a blueprint mapped out for it. In other words, Jesus as king is the author of the future development of his kingdom. This point has been referred to already in the set of titles mentioned by Isaiah – in his kingdom he displays his wisdom and his feats of power. But it is important to recall that his kingdom exists because he brought it into existence. We serve a king who has great plans for his kingdom.

He continues as Father because he is indestructible
Often a kingdom flourishes as long as its initial ruler survives. This is true of many empires in the history of the world – they seemed invincible as long as the original ruler was there, but they quickly declined and lost centre stage once he was gone. Isaiah reminds his listeners that this would not happen to the Messiah’s kingdom because he himself would be indestructible. How can a child become indestructible? Of course, we can answer that question by saying that the child is God and therefore cannot be destroyed. Yet there is more to the answer that his deity. Unlike Isaiah’s first listeners we know what happened to the child. He grew up and was killed. So how can we say that he is an indestructible Ruler of an endless kingdom?

We know the answer to this question as well. The One who died was not on a path away from his throne, but on the path to his throne. As the God/man, he travelled through this world on the journey to his throne. His disciples imagined that his throne would be in earthly Jerusalem and they were devastated when he was arrested and put to death. At that moment, they thought the journey of the Messiah was over. But the fact is that his death was a crucial stage in his journey. On Calvary, the man travelling to his throne dealt with the sin that would have prevented others from entering his kingdom. When he arose from the dead three days later, it was the proof that his work had been accepted, and he continued on his journey, except now he was alive from the dead, possessing an indestructible life. Jesus cannot die again. Therefore he will survive as the father of his kingdom.

His manner of reigning will be fatherly
We know that an earthly ruler can reign for a long time and possess great resources. When that scenario occurs, the matter that will concern his subjects is the character of the ruler. For example, Isaiah refers to earthly emperors who reigned for a long time and had great supplies from which to draw throughout their reigns. Yet their characters were cruel towards their subjects and they treated them harshly. What is the characteristic of King Jesus that Isaiah speaks about? The prophet declares that the eternal reign of Jesus will be marked by fatherliness. Isaiah takes this common, everyday concept and applies it to the way Jesus will govern his affairs throughout his eternal kingdom. The way Jesus will rule will display his tenderness and his compassion. In what ways does Jesus reveal fatherly care?

1. The fatherly pardon
The first example of fatherly care shown by Jesus is his willingness to pardon his subjects. This response is revealed at different stages in their history. They experience it for the first time when they come to him as rebels in great need of his forgiveness. When they confess their sinfulness to him, he immediately pardons them. The basis of their pardon is his work on the cross when he paid the penalty required of them for their sins. Although the price was high for him, he freely forgives them.

Then they experience his fatherly character as he pardons them throughout their lives in this world. Although forgiven by him when they come initially to him, they are not made sinless. This means that they will continue to sin, even when trying to obey his laws as their King. Sometimes they sin and dislike their own actions, at other times they may sin because they have become cold in heart towards him. Yet when they repent of their sins, he shows his fatherly care by forgiving them again and again.

A third way in which King Jesus will show his fatherly care with regard to the pardon of his people will take place in the future, on that momentous day when he will sit as Judge of all intelligent creatures. It will be awesome day, when he appears in glory. Although he will be so exalted, his heart will burn with great desire to announce, and that publicly, concerning each of his people, that their sins have all been pardoned. Sometimes we try and imagine the looks on our faces when this great announcement will be made, but we should also think about the look on his face as he makes this amazing declaration. It will be a wonderful insight into how fatherly the heart of Jesus is.

A further way of revealing his fatherly care concerning our sins will be the way that Jesus will not refer to them throughout the endless ages. We will refer to them as we praise him for paying the penalty for them. Yet he will never say to any of us, ‘You lived a terrible life,’ or ‘You were such a failure.’ Instead we will be treated as those who have been pardoned.

2. The fatherly provision
Jesus cares for his people as they make their way through this world. An earthly father will always take care of his children as best he can – usually their needs will take priority over all else. It is the same with Jesus – the needs of his church are always before his eye. Whatever needs such may have at this moment, Jesus knows about them. We may not be aware of our own needs, but in a sense that does not matter. What is important is that he knows what we need.

My earthly father did his best for me, but I know there were many situations in which he would not have been able to help me. He could not give to me what was needed to pass language exams or give to me co-ordination in order to pass my driving test. For these matters, I was dependant on others. Yet even my father and all other helpers together could not provide for all my needs. In total contrast to them, Jesus can. We are familiar with the wonderful words of Paul in Philippians 4: : ‘My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.’ Jesus sees what I need, selects the appropriate grace from the heavenly storehouse, and applies it to me personally by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus knows our needs, has the resources to provide them while we are in this world, and in addition he will meet their needs throughout the eternity to come. Because we will be creatures always, we will be in need always. One of the images used of Jesus in this regard is that of Shepherd. As the Shepherd, he suffered on the cross (Zech. 13:7), he finds them lost in and ruined by sin (Luke 15:3-7), guides them throughout life (John 10:7-9), and will lead them eternally to the fountains of the waters of life (Rev. 7:17). He will show his fatherly care as the permanent Provider.

3. His fatherly protection
A third way by which Jesus reveals his fatherly heart is his constant protection of his people from their powerful enemies against whom they are powerless in themselves. He protects them in different ways: sometimes he stops the devil from tempting them, at other times he enables them to defeat the devil through the spiritual armour described in Ephesians 6. One aspect of their armour is calling upon the Lord in prayer, and when they do he answers them and delivers them. From one perspective, the Christian life is a pilgrimage, from another it is a warfare involving many battles in which they need the ongoing protection of their King. And the day will come when they will fight their last battle and find themselves in the presence of their caring, protective King forever.

4. His fatherly praise
No doubt, Jesus encourages his people in life by reminding them of his promises. An earthly father’s heart always aims to encourage his children. When they have done their best, even if they did not come first, he says to them, ‘Well done.’ And Jesus is yet to say to his servants, when they reach their heavenly home, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants. Enter into the joy of your Lord.’ Encouragement regarding the past and the future given on the day of judgement from the fatherly heart of Jesus.

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