Who is Your Father?

Who is your Father?
Why, if we had human parents do we call God our Father? What if this offends us today? How can we understand this?
We will examine Luke 2:40-52, Jesus’ calling and the topic of God the Father.
Luke 2:40 There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him. 41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. 42 When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. 43 After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, 44 because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. 46 Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. 47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” 49 “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he meant. 51 Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart. 52 Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.
(Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)
1. Did Jesus disobey his Parents?
The narrative does not record that Jesus disobeyed any parental instructions. It does however, make a different point, that Jesus’ commitment to God’s purposes transcended even the expectations of a righteous household. We know that both Joseph and Mary obeyed the law by attending Passover, but Jesus’ calling was to eventually become the true Passover lamb. He would ultimately institute new elements at Passover, the bread and wine. So, it is that we find him given incredible wisdom at such a young age, able to hold his own with Jewish teachers highly educated in the Holy Scriptures. Notice a subtle shift in emphasis, from parents to child, but he returned to Nazareth with them and he was subject to them.
2. Who is Your Father? (vs. 49)
The phrase I must be “in my Father’s house” in verse 49 actually refers to more than the Temple in Jerusalem. Many translations say “in my Father’s house” but the King James and others also legitimately translate it as “I must be about my Father’s business.” The words “house” or “business” are not in the Greek, but the phrase may be legitimately translated as something like, I must be involved in the things of my Father. So, the word house may be understood as household affairs or business. As we are converted, it is called being born again, or born from above. We are to honor our earthly fathers, but the Father who takes precedence is God our heavenly Father.
3. Did Jesus Obey His Parents? (vs. 51-52)
To alleviate the fears of parents on earth, and to negate any kind of cultish ideas where family is ignored to follow a religious leader, the narrator reminds us that Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents and obeyed them. Yet, here at age twelve, Jesus’ future mission is becoming evident to the reader. We are told that his parents didn’t know what to think, yet Mary stored these things in her heart, perhaps treasuring the extraordinary nature of her son’s encounter with learned teachers and wrestling with its significance.  Particularly, she may have been just as amazed as were those teachers at his understanding and his answers. Verses 40 and 52 reveal his growing favor with God and people.
4. Why did Jesus teach us to Pray to Our Father?
The idea of God as our Father offends a society which is abandoning Patriarchalism in favor of Feminism. Male leadership is called evil and female leadership good. God does not have gender, but described both male and female as very good. Feminine and masculine metaphors are used of God, but Jesus taught us to pray to Our Father in heaven. God is a Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one. Reducing creation to a competition between sexes insults God who created male and female to complement each other. Calling God our Father emphasizes his not being dependent upon any other for his identity, since the Son is generated by the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father.
Our human parents were our temporary caregivers on earth and most of us loved them. The Bible describes Jerusalem above, heaven, as the mother of us all and God in heaven as our true Father. Heaven is also calling us to grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God.
Reference: Green, Joel B. NICNT. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, Mich. W.B. Eerdmans. 1997.
Note: Ian Grant Spong is pastor of the United Methodist Churches in Big Pool, MD and does not endorse advertising for any other church appearing on this site.

Blessed Because you Believed

What do mercy, exalting the humble and filling the hungry with good things have to do with the birth of our Savior?
Are some of the most important aspects of Christmas acts of mercy, elevating the humble and caring for the poor?
Sermon Plan
Let’s discuss Mary’s song praising God for mercy, lifting up the humble and filling the hungry with good things in Luke 1:39-56.
Luke 1:39 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”
Luke 1:46 Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. 47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! 48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. 49 For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. 50 He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. 51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. 52 He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. 54 He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. 55 For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”
Luke 1:56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home.
1. Why did Jesus Come? (vs. 39-44)
Mary’s long journey to Elizabeth in the hill country was dangerous for a bride-to-be. Once there, John the Baptist filled with the Holy Spirit before birth (Luke 1:15-17) leaps in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit prophesies. Elizabeth the older of the two reveals her humility, by addressing Mary in quite deferential terms. Her husband, Zechariah the high priest, lacked faith, doubting Gabriel’s message and was struck speechless until his son, John the Baptist was born. When Gabriel foretold Christ’s birth to Mary she said, let it be according to your word. She was an ordinary working-class girl, but she believed and was blessed. The message of Christmas includes mercy, humility and feeding the hungry.
2. What do the Spirit-Filled Do? (vs. 41)
The evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit varies. Elizabeth prophesied in her own language (Luke 1:39-56). Others were spirit-filled and given craftsmanship skills (Exodus 31:3; 35:31), or leapt in a mother’s womb (Luke 1:15), uttered a prophecy (Luke 1:67-68), were led into the wilderness (Luke 4:1), spoke in known tongues (Acts 2:4), received wisdom (Acts 6:3-5), saw visions (Acts 7:55), had healing (Acts 9:17-20), did missionary feats (Acts 11:24), experienced insight (Acts 13:9-10) and joy (Acts 13:52). Tongues experiences exist among non-Christian religions and may not always be evidence of being spirit-filled. When the Holy Spirit fills us, the evidence is not self-promotion, but glorifying God.
3. What do the Proud and Haughty Do? (vs. 51)
Don and Sally had a wealthy business but constantly belittled their sons. Matt handled his mistreatment by disappearing from the family and John stayed trying hard to appease his abusive parents. The business will probably not survive. [1] In the US a 2009 study found that “most of the medical bankrupt were middle class… homeowners… had gone to college… [and] had health insurance.” [2] Some few people profit immensely from a failed system. In America 33% of the elderly live in poverty. The OECD average is 13.5%. The worst European states have elderly poor of 20-27% and only around 2% in the Netherlands and New Zealand. Causes of poverty include economic inequality, poor education, divorce, sickness, greed and corruption.
[1] Ruth Mcclendon, Leslie B Kadis. Reconciling Relationships and Preserving the Family Business: Tools for Success. Haworth Press, Inc. 2004. 60.
[2] 111th Congress. Medical Debt: Is Our Healthcare System Bankrupting Americans? US government Printing Office. 2009. 19.
4. What is Mary’s Song? (vs. 46-55)
Mary’s ode became one of the church’s first hymns, perhaps written during her stay with Elizabeth during her pregnancy. The contrast between the exalted of this world and faithful, humble people characterizes the Magnificat. Mary sings with outrageous faith. She dares to believe that the poor will be saved, even though they continue to be trodden down, even in our day. It is a message of hope in present and continuing oppression by the world’s powerful. It dares to claim that the rich are really empty and that the humble are filled with good things. The birth of the Savior of the world in a stable to poor working-class people is a continual reminder of God turning things upside down.
Outro/Take Home
Jesus was not born among the wealthy and powerful but in a shelter for livestock. Mary was not one of the celebrities of her day, but a poor lower-class girl. Mary sings an ode praising God for his acts of mercy, lifting up the humble and filling the hungry with good things. Should we join God and do likewise?

Profound Transformation

In all the commercial hype surrounding Christmas, do we forget the most profound and important things of all?
Let’s look at some of the most important things that a human being can do at Christmas, things we don’t want to neglect?
We will look at Luke 3:7-18 and see what profound changes John expected with preparation for Christ’s coming.
Luke 3:7 When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? 8 Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 9 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” 10 The crowds asked, “What should we do?” 11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” 12 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.” 14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.” 15 Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” 18 John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.
(Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)
1. Meaningless Religion (vs. 7-8)
In Isaiah 1:10-17 God chastised Israel for performing religious duties while having their hands covered with the blood of innocent victims. Stand up, sit down, genuflect, raise your hands, cross yourselves, put up Christmas lights, exchange gifts, sing Amen, shout Hallelujahs, praise the Lord, speak in tongues, bow your heads and swing that incense censer. None of these things is evil. They are all good if they come from God and are used for good. But John the Baptist called some religious people the children of snakes. Was it an allusion to the devil? Was he saying that, without repentance all or any religious dedication is worthless? Is he saying to us that, genuine religion is evidenced by seeking justice and helping the oppressed as James wrote (1:27)?
2. Nationalism (vs. 8-14)
Nationalism is not new. It creates in us an air of superiority. The British Empire was the “kingdom of God on earth”1 and the royals were “defenders of the faith.”2 Then we learned the truth about British atrocities in many countries. America used the polite term “regime change”3 when overthrowing popularly elected governments to set up puppet dictatorships, while we believed it was making the world safe for Democracy. Nationalism blinds any people to their country’s sins. John the Baptist preached that his fellow citizens believed they were alright with God because faithful Abraham was their ancestor. They were blind to widespread national tax corruption, extortion and injustice in treating the poor and hungry. From government and industry leaders to ourselves, our whole nation needs to repent.
1 Brendon, Piers. The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997. Vintage Books, 2010. 335. 2 Sir Richard Baker, Edward Phillips, Sir Thomas Clarges. A Chronicle of the Kings of England. H. Sawbridge... B. Tooke... and T. Sawbridge. 1684. Great Britain. 321. 3 Kinzer, Stephen. Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. Times Books. 2006.
3. Confirmation of Repentance (vs. 12-16)
Repentance is primarily a change of heart, confirmed by fruits, good works. John the Baptist addressed the need to change our hearts and our deeds. We see John’s concerns even today, exploitation of taxes for personal gain and misuse of military might to enrich ourselves. Baptism is confirmed in a decision to repent. Baptism by fire is threefold: a baptism by fire occurred as flames of fire resting upon people’s heads on that first Pentecost, a baptism by fiery trials and judgment to come in which the “chaff” will be burned with unending fire. Hell “fire and brimstone” preaching can easily be overdone or ignored completely. Yet, Jesus does preach about final judgment in fire. He also appeals to us to repent so that we don’t have to face it.
4. Winnowing and Burning (vs. 17-18)
Winnowing is the process of separating a grain from its hulls or chaff using moving air. Chaff is indigestible to humans, but cattle can eat it as fodder. It can be plowed into the ground or burned. Response to John the Baptist’s preaching was like winnowing. Now is the day to respond to today’s message and repent. Jesus will judge, then burn up the chaff and preserve the wheat based on familiar criteria. How do we treat the hungry and thirsty? How is our hospitality to strangers or foreigners? How is our giving to those who need clothing? What is our treatment of those who need health care? How do we treat imprisoned criminals (Matthew 25:31-46)? Where will we be on the judgment day, among the wheat or chaff?
Don’t get lost in the commercial glitz and forget what’s really important. Let us remember the profound transformation that Christmas has brought to us.

Prepare the Way

I have two questions for you: What does building a highway have to do with preparation for Christmas? What does it have to do with preparing for Christ’s coming?
I want us to understand what preparation Christ expects.
Sermon Plan
We will discuss Luke 3:1-6 and preparing the way for Christ.
Luke 3:1 It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. 2 Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. 3 Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. 4 Isaiah had spoken of John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him! 5 The valleys will be filled, and the mountains and hills made level. The curves will be straightened, and the rough places made smooth. 6 And then all people will see the salvation sent from God.’”
(Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)
1. Big and Small Things (vs. 1-2)
Rome invented the word dictatorship. Roman Emperor Tiberius reigned 14-37 AD. He was a gloomy and reclusive man, infamous for his cruelty and shameless debauchery. Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip and Lysanias were various local Roman governors in and around Judea. Annas and Caiaphas were puppet high priests over the Roman Judea, appointed by the local Roman governor, yet with great power over the Jewish people. The allusion to this world’s great and corrupt leaders sets the scene for what is to follow beginning in an insignificant corner of Israel. Do not despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:9-10), because God’s great works often begin small yet are of far greater significance than what’s currently in the news headlines. John’s ministry began in the wilderness, picturing a new Exodus and a new beginning preparing the way for Christ.
2. John’s Ministry (vs. 3)
John the Baptist traveled the region both sides of the Jordan with a message that was fundamentally the same as Jesus’, repentance and forgiveness. John’s baptism was basically a repentance-baptism, connecting the need for cleansing and repentance. Repentance presupposes that our society lacks something and needs a change. In John, we see repentance as turning away from old ways and pledging allegiance to God. Human sins cause great harm around the world, but forgiveness provides healing and restores unity in the community. In an era when prominent people and events of significance bring so much destruction, what John did in a corner prepared the way of peace. Many things crowd out the Christmas message like insipid politics and pathetic commercialism. The message of Christ’s coming is far more important. It was announced with a baptism of repentance in a wilderness.
3. Road Building
John the Baptist described three basic principles of highway building, making things straight, level and smooth. Paved streets dating back before Abraham have been found in Ur. The Roman Empire built major roads covering almost 80,000 kilometers (50,000 miles). To create a modern highway, surveyors must calculate the best route, it must be designed and approved, land must be purchased, rock and earth must be removed by blasting and digging, depressions must be filled, and embankments, bridges and tunnels must be built following prescribed maximum gradients. Drainage and water courses must be integrated. All this is before the first level of road bed is put down. That may consist of aggregate base, base, intermediate and surface layers. The thickness of these layers varies around the world. John’s use of a road building metaphor pictures preparation to receive Christ.
4. Preparation (vs. 4-6)
John fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 40:3-5) in a fresh manner. Preparation for Christ’s coming is in turning to God. Jesus died rejected by the world. He comes to a people prepared to receive him. Making things straight and level and smooth is far more important than who has the power, fame and fortune in the world. Straight, level and smooth describes what happens in a changed heart prepared to receive Jesus. God is often involved in small things in this world’s eyes, things far away from the fame and fortune that this world seeks, like John’s ministry far from Rome and in an insignificant wilderness along the Jordan. The seemingly big things of this world are really insignificant. The seemingly small things of God, changed hearts are more significant than all the politics, wealth and celebrity of this world.
Outro/Take Home
While we prepare for our observance of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, let us remember that most important preparation of all is to prepare our hearts. Repentance is preparation for Christ’s coming. What are we doing to prepare for his coming?