Skip Heitzig - Our Father In Heaven
Would you please turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Matthew? Matthew chapter six. Matthew's gospel, chapter six. So an eight-year-old boy said, my dad can climb the highest mountain, can swim the biggest ocean, he can fly the fastest plane, and he can fight the strongest tiger. My dad can do anything. But most of the time, he just carries out the garbage. But you know, that is true. Dads just need to put one foot in front of the other and get the job done and carry out the garbage. And that's OK, because that keeps the family going.
Well, today we celebrate Father's Day. And it's something we should do. What does it mean? What is Father's Day all about? Well, one little boy said, well, Father's Day is just like Mother's Day, only you don't spend as much. And you know? He was actually right. I read that, and I thought, I'm gonna do a little research. So I discovered that Americans spend for Father's Day $12.7 billion. On Father's Day. On Mother's Day, Americans spend $21 billion. Not quite, but almost twice as much. Perhaps that's fitting. I'm not gonna say anything.
The most consistent gift, most popular gift on Father's Day, guess what it is? A tie. How sad is that? A tie. Why a tie? Well, it's affordable, and one size fits all. But I love being a dad. I always have. When I first became a father and that dawned on me that I'm a dad, it's Father's Day, just all of that was so cool and new and fresh. But I have to say, being a grandpa is like a whole new level of awesomeness. And somebody once said grandchildren are God's reward for you not killing your kids. One of the great pleasures in life.
Now, the idea for Father's Day came about in 1909 when a woman was sitting in church and heard a Mother's Day sermon. Her name was Sonora Dodd in Spokane, Washington. She's in church. It's Mother's Day. She's hearing a Mother's Day message, and it dawned on her, why are we not celebrating Father's Day? And the reason that touched her is because her own mother died when she was quite young and her father was left to raise six children as a single father. And so she thought, Dad deserves something special. And his birthday was in June, so she proposed celebrating in June Father's Day.
In 1910, the following year, she tried to get that started. And she did. That holiday gained traction during World War II, but it wasn't till 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the third Sunday of June officially as Father's Day. But it would take another several years, 1972. That's when President Richard Nixon made it a federal holiday. So it's only been a holiday, a recognized federal holiday, for the last 46 years in our country.
Now, Mother's Day is the busiest day of the year for phone calls. Father's Day is the busiest day of the year for collect phone calls. True story. Dads enjoy superhero status when their children are young. Dad can do anything, swim the biggest ocean, et cetera. But superhero status in a few years becomes super dork status. When the child gets to be, like, a teenager, it's like, Dad doesn't know very much. But then it's interesting, as the child grows out of the teenage years and becomes an adult, suddenly Dad has gained all of this wisdom. The famous saying by Mark Twain was that this, when I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.
Because today is Father's Day, what I'd like to do is talk to you about the only perfect father, our Father in Heaven. I could talk about fathers, and I've done that in the past, but I think it's appropriate to just have our focus of attention on God our Father. And so in Matthew chapter six, verse nine, Jesus says, in this manner, therefore, pray, our Father in heaven.
Now, this is the Sermon on the Mount that we're dealing with. Matthew five, six, and seven. Most famous sermon Jesus preached, the Sermon on the Mount. And this is the most famous prayer probably in all of the world. It is recited more than any other prayer. Even unbelievers know this prayer. If they don't know anything else, they know this prayer.
It's funny, though, how kids hear things, right? Kids hear prayers, they hear Bible verses, and in their little minds it comes out differently. So a three-year-old thought it was our Father who does art in heaven, Harold is his name. Another person admitted, when I was young, I thought the line in this prayer was lead a snot into temptation, and I thought I was praying for my little sister to get into trouble.
Now, this prayer has been called what? What do we call this? The Lord's Prayer. It's been called that for a long time, so much so that I don't think I can overturn that title. However, it really is not the Lord's Prayer. The Lord's Prayer is John chapter 17, when the Lord is praying to his father personally. This would be better entitled the Disciple's Prayer. It's the prayer the Lord taught the disciples.
And how did this come about? It's in the Sermon on the Mount, but in Luke's gospel, the disciples come to Jesus, and they have a request. Lord, they say, teach us to pray. I like that. It's not, Lord, teach us to preach, Lord teach us to do this or that, but teach us to pray. And so you'll notice in verse nine, in this manner, therefore, pray. You could translate that by saying, along these lines, pray, or, pray the following way.
And I don't necessarily think that Jesus intended this prayer as something to be memorized as much as something to be modeled. He was modeling for his disciples an outline, a skeleton form of approaching God. You then personally hang on that outline all the things that follow that outline that Jesus gave here.
Now, what I'm going to do today is confine my entire message to four words in one verse. You know, there are some verses of scripture that there's just so much there that you just have to pare it down. And I'm doing that here. I'm gonna confine my remarks principally to these four words, our Father in Heaven.
And in that one phrase, I could put it to you this way. When God is our Father, we sail through life on four ships. Four ships. Relationship, lordship, fellowship, and guardianship. This prayer, this phrase, speaks of those four elements. Let's take them one by one. First of all, relationship.
Notice the word Father. In this manner, therefore, pray. Our Father. When you say father, that implies relationship. In fact, it implies a close relationship. In fact, it implies a filial relationship, family relationship. A family term, father is. So we're not talking to the force, we're not talking to the first uncaused cause of the universe or the first principle. This is a term of intimate acquaintance.
Now, it's not unusual for us to hear the term father when applied to God for this reason, because Jesus taught us to pray that way. However, when Jesus said these words, and at the time of Christ, to say God is our Father was absolutely revolutionary. And I want to show you why. It was never done. First of all, in other religions, in pagan religions, God as a father was completely unknown. If you were to look at ancient Greek, Roman religious systems, their gods were distant, aloof, detached, angry, hostile, jealous, according to Greek mythology, and there were many gods and goddesses. Their gods had to be placated. You had to do things to not get them angry at you, or to get them on the good side of you, because otherwise you would live in perpetual fear of them.
You never knew where you stood with a god or a goddess. And so you would do things to get them on your side. Here's an example. In Greek mythology, if there was a father of all the gods, it would be Zeus. He's like the big god, the ultimate god in Greek mythology. But there's a story of another god, called Prometheus, whom Zeus knew. But Prometheus looked down on the earth, on humanity, and saw that they needed fire. They needed to keep themselves warm, they needed fire to cook their food.
So as a gift, as a benevolent gift to mankind, Prometheus gave the gift of fire. When Father Zeus found out that Prometheus had given something good to humans, he had Prometheus chained to a rock in the Adriatic Sea and commanded vultures to pluck out his liver. So that is the mentality that the Greeks lived with with their system of gods and goddesses. God was not a father at all, he was to be feared. Morbidly so.
Now, let's remove the ancient pagan system, and let's consider Judaism. Even in Judaism, even in the Old Testament, the Jews didn't call God their father. They referred to God as their master, their ruler. That's what the Hebrew word ... means, my master, my ruler. Or they would call him El Shaddai, which means mighty one. So God was seen as master, ruler, mighty God. And in the Old Testament, God is referred to as a father a few times, but only in the sense that he is a father to the nation of Israel. He's the one who started the nation. He has never referred to God as father on an individual level.
So a common Jewish prayer, even to this day in Judaism, goes something like this. ... which is translated, blessed art thou, Lord God, king of the universe. They recognized God as sovereign and majestic and powerful, but distant. Not close. Not like a father. In fact, the name of God to the Jews was so holy that, to this day, we have no idea how the name of God was originally pronounced, because they felt that human lips would defile even the name of God by uttering it. So they took out the vowels and left just the consonants. So we don't have a perfect idea of how it is pronounced.
The name of God was so holy that Jews would frequently call God Hashem, which is Hebrew for the name. The name. They just call him the name. If you have Jewish friends who are Orthodox and they email you or write you, they will write the name of God by putting a capital G slash and then a d. They won't even put the o in God. So it's G slash or dash d. They won't write it down.
So a typical rendering of Psalm 134 goes like this. Behold bless ye Hashem, the name, all you servants of Hashem that stand in the house of Hashem in the night seasons. Lift up your hands to the sanctuary and bless ye, Hashem, Hashem, bless you out of Zion, even he that made heaven and earth. That's reverential, that's deferential, that's seeing God as mighty, et cetera, but that's not father.
In fact, I found this interesting. A German scholar doing New Testament research discovered that, in the entire history of Judaism, in all the existing books of the Old Testament and all the existing books of extra-biblical Jewish writings, dating from the beginning of Judaism until the 10th century AD, there was not a single reference of a Jewish person addressing God directly in the first person as father. Not one. Not one instance.
The first Jewish rabbi to call God father directly was Jesus of Nazareth. When you pray, pray this way, our Father. This was a radical departure from Judaism in Jesus' day. In fact, it was so radical that this is the reason many wanted him dead, because he claimed and assumed an intimate, personal relationship with God as his father. John chapter five, Jesus said, my Father has been working until now, and I have been working. Therefore, the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because not only did he break the Sabbath, but he also said that God was his father.
Did you know that, if you were to count up the times Jesus referred to God as my Father, our Father, your Father, the Father, if you were to count them up in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it'd be 165 times. In fact, Jesus didn't call God anything but the Father, except on one occasion. One instance he did not refer to God as the Father, or Father, but as God. And you know when that was? On the cross.
When Jesus was on the cross and he said, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me, why did he do that? Two reasons. Number one, because Jesus said that as the sin bearer separated from that intimate relationship with the Father. As the sin of the world was being placed on him, he felt that and he said that, but even more important, he was actually quoting Psalm 22, which says, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me. But then he quickly reverted to the familiar term when he closed that episode out by saying Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.
Now, here in our text, he says our Father in Heaven. The Greek term used here translated into English as father is the Greek word .... but that is not the word Jesus said, that is just the Greek translation of the event. Jesus spoke Aramaic. And I am convinced that the word Jesus used, though translated in the Greek, the word Jesus would have used, because he spoke Aramaic, would have been abba. Abba.
Do you know that, if you were to go to Israel today, you would still hear that word abba being used? Because that's what children in Israel, in Hebrew as well as Aramaic, that's what they call their daddy. So you'll hear kids running around the streets going abba, abba, meaning, daddy, daddy. It's not even father as much as daddy.
In Galatians chapter four, verse six, Paul said, we have received the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent the spirit of his son into your hearts, crying abba, Father. Daddy. According to the Jewish Talmud, the first two words a Jewish child learns are abba and imma, daddy and mommy.
I have a question for you. What is your relationship to God like? Is your relationship the sovereign, mighty, awesome, distant God, or daddy? You know, if my two grandkids saw me one day and stopped and said, oh, thou mighty pastor of Calvary, I'd be insulted. I'd say, what's up, dudes? I love it when they call me Papa. You can't call me that. That's what they call me. That's their term for Grandpa. Papa. That's more intimate. That's loving.
JI Packer in his excellent book called Knowing God wrote this. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God's child and having God as his father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new and better than the Old, everything that is distinctly Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the fatherhood of God. Says Packer, Father is the Christian name for God. Father is the Christian name for God.
Sometimes I'll talk to people, and they'll refer to God in weird terms. They'll go, well, you know, the good Lord. And when they say the good Lord, rather than my Lord or my Father, it just shows there's a little bit of distance. It's even worse when it goes, well, I don't know what the big guy thinks, or the man upstairs. Now you know there's a huge distance.
There's a great story about a Roman emperor who came back to Rome after he had defeated his enemy. And in those days, Roman emperors, whenever they would win a battle, they would have a parade through the streets of Rome. They would bring prisoners chained. They would bring the spoils from war. They would have a procession with music, and the chariot of the emperor would go through Rome, and everybody could see it. Legionnaires would be guarding anybody coming close.
And as the procession was taking place in Rome after this emperor had won a battle, he was working his way through the streets of Rome, the Roman forum, toward a platform on which sat his wife and the young son of the emperor. Well, when the procession rounded the corner and the emperor's son saw the emperor's chariot, he jumped up off the platform onto the street, ran toward the procession, was stopped by the Roman legionnaires, who said, you can't go any further, stop right there, do you know who's in that chariot? That's the emperor. And the little boy laughed and said, he might be your emperor, but he's my daddy. And so he might be your sovereign God, but he's my abba. He's our Father in Heaven.
So first, this speaks of relationship. Second, it speaks of lordship. Lordship. To have God as Father implies that we are God's what? Children. Sons and daughters. We are children of God. So the term our Father denotes not only relationship with God, but respect for God. Ephesians five, be followers of God as dear children.
You know one of the Ten Commandments says honor your father and your mother. Honor your father and your mother. Well, if we honor our earthly parents, and how much more should we be honoring our heavenly parent, God our Father? In fact, do you know that we are to honor God our Father even more than we honor our earthly father and mother?
Jesus said in Luke 14, if you want to be my followers, you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters. Yes, even more than your own life. And then he said in Matthew 10, he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. So yes, we have a relationship with God, but on the other hand, there is to be deep respect and reverence. We must never allow our relationship with God to be reduced to a sloppy sentimentalism.
In fact, the heart of this prayer is that. Because keep following it down, our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done. So God the Father's children should be concerned about doing God the Father's will. Didn't Jesus say, my food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work. And he said that being God's unique son.
So relationship leads to lordship. The relationship we have with God leads to lordship because he not only is my Father, but I am his child. And in this case, he is my Lord. Jesus said in John 14, he who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father.
So there's two types of people. I'll make it even more close than that. There's two types of people right now in this room. There's those who say thy will be done, and then there's those who say my will be done. Which are you? How do you live your life? Not only what is your relationship with God like, as close and intimate and loving as a father, but how do you then respond to his lordship over your life? So we have relationship followed by lordship.
Here's a third, fellowship. This speaks of fellowship because Jesus said, well, first of all, notice he did not say in this manner, therefore, pray. Father, but what? Our Father. Our Father. As soon as I say our, I'm embracing others. I'm realizing, you know what, God has other kids besides me.
Notice that Jesus did not teach us to say my Father. In fact, you will notice in this prayer, and you know it, I could say, if you were to read it, but you know this prayer, there is not a single personal pronoun in the entire prayer. You will not find the word I, me, my, or mine. They never occur, and for a very good reason. Jesus came to take those words out of our vocabulary, and replaced them with words like our, we, us. We're part of a family.
I confess to you, if I were to write this prayer, I might have said, my Father, give me this day my daily bread, forgive me my trespasses, because that's so often how we pray. It's about me, my needs. But Jesus said you are to pray our Father. Now, I've been concerned about this for some time because I've noticed it. I'm a Western evangelical believer, a Western evangelical Christian leader. And I have noticed that we in the West emphasize, I believe to the point of imbalance, this idea of a personal relationship with God.
I believe in a personal relationship with God. I preach on a personal relationship with God. I tell people just about every week, you need a personal relationship with God. But I believe that sometimes we overemphasize that so it's out of balance. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that when we say a personal relationship with God, I have a personal relationship with God, what we mean is I have a private personal relationship with God, and therefore I have no responsibility to anybody else.
It's just me and God, man. It's just me and God. I have my own relationship with God, you have your own relationship with God. Listen, the psalmist said, Psalm 68, God sets the solitary in families. I am not the family, we are the family. You are not the body of Christ individually, we are the body of Christ corporately. So in this prayer, there is the elimination of self and the recognition of others. Our Father as opposed to my Father.
There's a phrase in the New Testament, you've discovered it if you've read through the New Testament, 87 times the phrase one another shows up. 87 times. 60 of those times are just in the epistles of Paul. Here's a sampling. We are to love one another, giving preference to one another, being kindly affectionate to one another, be of the same mind toward one another, edify one another, receive one another, admonish one another, bearing with one another in love.
All these one another's, because we're a family. Because it's not just me and my personal private relationship, he is our Father. And we are in this family of God together. There is no place in God's family for the overemphasized, much glorified American individualism that says, I don't need anybody else, just me and God. I don't need anybody, nobody needs me.
One of the questions I get asked a lot by people is, do I have to go to church to be a Christian? Can I be a Christian without going to church? And I often say, well, now, why do you say that? I don't believe in organized religion. And I'm thinking, well, come up with something original, but OK. You don't believe in organized religion, does that mean you believe in disorganized religion? Is that what you're into? No, but do I have to go to church to be a Christian? The simple answer to that is no, you don't.
You're not a Christian by going to church, you're a Christian by faith in Christ alone. Period. However, once you are a Christian, to say I don't need God's people around me is absurd. That's like saying I'm gonna be a soldier without an army. Good luck. That's like saying I'm gonna be a businessman or a businesswoman without a business. That's like saying I'm gonna be a tuba player without an orchestra. I'm sorry, but that's just boring.
That's like saying, can I be a football player without a football team? I guess you could. This is fun. You need the team. You need the family to make it work right. So our Father calls us not just upward toward God the Father, but outward to others. A relationship with the Father must lead to fellowship with the Father's other kids. So it speaks of relationship, lordship, fellowship.
There's a fourth. And I close with this. This speaks of guardianship. Because notice how Jesus puts it, not just therefore pray our Father, but our Father in what? In Heaven. In Heaven. Because he is in Heaven, he has all of Heaven's resources. Our Father in Heaven. We have a spiritual, Heavenly Father. And because he is the Lord of Heaven, he is the Lord of all.
This is very different from the ancient deities. I mentioned Greek and Roman antiquity. They had gods and goddesses. It's interesting. They had an interesting system way back when. They had the belief system there was a god over a region. In fact, over a topographical location. So they had gods of mountains, they had gods of valleys, gods of a river, gods of a lake, ocean, et cetera, and gods of an area. So if one army conquered the other army, they sort of brought along the god who would now preside over that area. That was their belief system. It's called henotheism. A regional god.
But in the Psalms, Psalm 115, the psalmist says this. The idols, their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. In other words, they make statues. They put silver and gold on the statues that they manufacture. And he says, they have mouths, but they don't speak. They have eyes, but they can't see. They have ears, but they cannot hear. They have hands, but they can't handle. They have feet, but they can't walk.
You see how absurd? He's saying, they make these statues, they make the statues, then they stand in front of the statues they make and they pray to the statue. And the statue, they put eyes on him. He can't see anything. He has feet, but that statue didn't walk out of that place of worship. He has hands, but he can't say put it there.
But listen to what he says. But our God is in Heaven, and he does whatever he pleases. See, what he does is contrast their false system of worship with the only true God who is in Heaven. And because he is in Heaven, he can do whatever he wants. So to say our Father in Heaven elevates your perspective, because now you're dealing with a god who can do anything, who has all power, all authority.
And why is that important? It's important, especially when you pray, because have you noticed, when some of us pray, we carry our limitations over on to God? I mean, just listen to how desperate we are when we pray. It's almost like God, I don't know if you can do this or not. This is really a big request. Really? For God? For the Father in Heaven? I don't think so.
I love Isaiah chapter six. You don't have to turn there, but let me just tell you the setting. Isaiah is the prophet. He's writing this. He's experiencing this. And it was a very dark time in Israel. Spiritually speaking, people were backslid, and they didn't care much about God. They were getting further and further away from God. And it broke Isaiah's heart.
To top it off, the king, who had been the king for decades, it was a godly ruler named Uzaya, he had died. And so the throne of Israel was vacant. And Isaiah the prophet is in a very dismal mood after the throne of Israel had been vacated by this good king's death. So a vision came to him in Isaiah six. And this is what Isaiah said. In the year that King Uzaya died, I saw the Lord seated on his throne. The train of his robe filled the temple.
Why is that important? Because in the year that he was bemoaning the fact that Israel's throne was vacant, God was tapping him on the little prophet shoulder, saying, I haven't left my throne. I'm still on the throne. Somebody may have left the earthly throne, but I'm still on my throne. And we have a tendency to forget where God is. He is in Heaven. And so he's got the best view in the house. Man, he's in the top row, and sees everything.
So this second phrase, in Heaven, balances out the first phrase, our Father. Because if the first phrase, our Father, emphasizes intimacy, the second phrase, in Heaven, emphasizes sovereignty. The first, he's our Father, the second, he's our ruler. Our powerful ruler. Arthur Pink, in his comments on this verse, said, these two things should ever occupy our minds and engage our hearts. For the first phrase, our Father, without the second phrase, in Heaven, tends toward unholy familiarity. But the second phrase without the first produces coldness and dread. But by combining them together, we are preserved from both evils.
So because God is our Father, we never have to fear. Because God is our Father, we never have to be lonely. Because God is our Father, I don't have to live selfish, myopic life. Because he is our Father in Heaven, there is no limit to his power from Heaven toward those of us who are on the earth. It's an incredible phrase, our Father in Heaven.
Now, it's significant, I think, that, in that story Jesus told of the prodigal son, ran away, sowed his wild oats, wasted his dad's money, when he came to himself and he repented and he came back home, the first words to fall from his lips were father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you. And the first words that boy heard from his father were words of tender forgiveness. And it's the same way with our Heavenly Father. If we've walked away from Him, run away from Him, and we say, Father, I have sinned, against you, against Heaven, you'll hear words of acceptance, forgiveness, reception, as he brings you close to Himself.
It says in the gospels, as many as received Jesus, to them he gave the power to become children of God to those that believe in his name. When you come by simple faith and you say, I've blown it, I've sinned, God forgives you, and you enter into a relationship where God isn't God and you are human, but it's God as your Father, and you're His son or daughter. And then you grow in that relationship, and you realize He's not only my Father, my loving Father who received me, but He's also my Lord. I want to please Him. I want to do what He wants.
Then you realize there's a big family of God that I'm also accountable to and responsible to, and I embrace them in my prayers. But then finally, because He is our Father in Heaven, nothing shall be impossible to Him on our behalf. Father, we come before you in closing, and we think of these four words, these thoughts. And we come to you as our Father. We've been taught to do that. But now, we have a whole new appreciation of what that means.
Some of us know what it's like to have a tender, loving earthly father. Some of us do not. Some of us have had a very harsh, hard, or absent father. But you are the only perfect one. The only perfect parent. And so we come to you as that Heavenly Father. We come as children. We come as needy ones, as ones who depend on you, the one who has all resources at your disposal when we need help. In fact, you said in your word to come boldly to your throne when we have a time of need.
And so some of us need to do that right now. We come boldly. You know our needs, you know our deficits, you know our struggles, you know our heartaches, you know our faults. And we're reminded that you love us and you forgive us and you receive us, not just like a giant God up there somewhere, but as an intimate Father. And we come to you as your children. I pray for those who have run away from you or strayed from you, they come back to you. I pray for those who have never entered into this relationship, that they would come to know Christ.
In fact, with our heads bowed and our eyes closed, if you're a person that needs to get right with God and come to Him, do it right now. Just with your own head bowed and eyes closed, just say to him, right now:
I give you my life, Lord. I'm a sinner, I know it. Forgive me. I believe in Jesus. I put my trust in Jesus. I believe he died on the cross for me, that he shed his blood and was separated from you for that time. I believe that. I believe he rose from the grave. I believe he's present here. I turn from my sin. I repent of it. I turn to Jesus as Savior and Lord. Strengthen me. Help me to not only live for you, but to get to know you on a personal, intimate level. In Jesus' name. Amen.