2021-5-02 “I Believe in God, the Father”

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          May 2, 2021

“I Believe in God, the Father”
Matthew 7:7-11

            We continue today in our series through the Apostles’ Creed—our main sermon series for 2021.  The Apostles’ Creed has been a standard of Christian orthodoxy for over thirteen hundred years, and it remains a blessing to the blood-bought Church of the living God today.  We confessed moments earlier, among other things, that we believe in God, the Father.  Let’s look more closely at this as we hear Jesus’ words from His Sermon on the Mount.

            (HERE READ THE TEXT)

            God is our Father, and He expects and invites us to address Him as such—as Jesus Himself here teaches.  Last week, for the first time in my life, I was struck by how often Jesus referred to the first Person of the Trinity as Father.  Jesus, in teaching us to pray, began, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in Heaven…’” (Matthew 6:9).  A few verses later reveal Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness—and that in close connection with prayer, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you…” (Matthew 6:14, and conversely, 6:15).  Jesus, while teaching us not to worry, commanded us, saying, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26).  Indeed, Jesus teaches us to call upon God as Father—and this well may be the most revolutionary thing Jesus ever taught.[1]

            Moreover, Jesus Himself addresses the Father as His Father; consider these illustrative examples.  Jesus, just before raising Lazarus from the dead, prayed, “…Father, I thank You that You have heard Me” (John 11:41).  In His high-priestly prayer, uttered on the night of His betrayal, Jesus began, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You…”(John 17:1).  Jesus’ final words before His atoning death, according to the Spirit’s leading of Luke, are these: “…Father, into your hands I commit My spirit!” (Luke 23:46).  Doubtless God is our Father.  Jesus models this and teaches it to us.  Let’s now see, as today’s text unfolds, how Jesus reveals the Father’s heart in this teaching about prayer.

            Jesus begins today’s text with three imperatives, or commands—namely, ask, seek, and knock.  All of these are Greek present-tense verbs—in the imperative mood.  Hence, they carry a sense not only of present action, but of continued action.[2]  Moreover, at least ask (Greek aiteo [aitew]) and seek (Greek dzeteo [zhtew]) are intensive verbs, and knock (Greek krouo [krouw]), by association with the others, may be considered intensive in this context.[3]  We may understand without violence to text—and perhaps may translate without violence to the text—as, “Ask, and keep on asking…; seek, and keep on seeking…; knock, and keep on knocking….”  If you are one asking, seeking, and knocking thus, then here follows a precious promise: You will obtain.  That is, you will receive, you will find, and you will note an open threshold.  Not only do you find the think asked, sought, etc.—or something better, as God decrees what is best for you—but you also find God Himself in the asking, seeking, and knocking, and He Himself is better by far than even the glorious benefits He showers upon us.

            We see the father-heart of God revealed further in Jesus’ comparison between the lesser and the greater.  If we fathers, though being evil (ouch), will give neither a stone upon request for bread, nor a serpent upon request for a fish, nor a scorpion upon request for an egg (as recorded in the parallel account at Luke 11:12), how much more will our Heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11).  Luke records, in the parallel account (but likely a separate event), that our Heavenly Father gives the Holy Spirit—an inexpressibly great gift—to those who ask Him (Luke 11:13).  Our Heavenly Father is not churlish.  Nor is He mean.  Alas, He endures this sorry reputation from many outside the Church—and, I expect, from not a few within it.  Our Heavenly Father, as Jesus teaches, gives good things to His own who ask Him.

            Most of us, here in this place and elsewhere, even amid our blessings, have trials interlaced.  Some of these trials are acutely uncomfortable.  We hurt suddenly and almost unbearably from them.  Others of them are chronically heavy.  We have borne them so long, and our gait has slowed for so long, and our posture has stooped for so long, from carrying them that it seems they were always an unwelcome part of us.  In fact, some of the pains engendered by our trials make us wonder, “Does God really love us?” or “Does God really like us?”  These questions, pressed home to our souls, become “Does God really love me?” or “Does God really like me?”  The questions, at times, scream for answers.

            Never forget, your difficult circumstance notwithstanding, that God is your Heavenly Father.  Never forget, inside your most grievous, painful situation, that He gives good things—the very best things—to those who ask Him.  Never forget what He says to His covenant people through His prophet, Jeremiah: “I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).  We all, and each, are the apple of His eye—and he who touches any one of us for harm touches the apple of His eye (cf. Zechariah 2:8).  Again, God is our Heavenly Father, in Whom, by His grace, I—and we—believe.  Rejoice in Him, and worship Him—now, forevermore, and in every intervening instant.

                                                                                                            AMEN.

[1]     This was the considered opinion of Dr. Loyd Melton, longtime New Testament professor at Erskine Theological Seminary in Due West, South Carolina—expressed during lecture one afternoon in his Introduction to Pastoral Care course, spring semester, 1993.

[2]     Machen, J. Gresham, New Testament Greek for Beginners (New York: Macmillan, 1923), 21-22.

 

[3]     See the entries for these verbs in Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989)