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Who's Your Daddy?

Okay. So here we are, starting into Part Three of Luke’s mini-series about God’s Law. 

Last week, in Part One, we met a lawyer who asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus’ answer was, essentially, “Show compassion to everyone, regardless of race or religion, and you will inherit eternal life.” 

Then, in Part Two, we met a woman named Martha who thought that true compassion — true hospitality — meant cooking a big fancy meal for Jesus. But Jesus’ answer to her was, “Relax! Sit down, listen to me, get to know me, and you will inherit eternal life.” 

So, on the surface, it could look like Luke is telling us, “Show compassion to everyone, and you will inherit eternal life. Listen to Jesus, and you will inherit eternal life.” 

But that is actually impossible, as we also discovered last week. The standards of God’s Law are just too high for any of us to reach. 

So what is Luke really trying to tell us, then? 

Well, as usual, there are two levels of meaning in Luke’s writing. On the surface he is telling us that, yes, we must fulfill the impossibly high standards of God’s Law if we want to inherit eternal life. But underneath, running like a counter-melody, is a second, deeper message. 

Remember how the lawyer thought God’s Law was all about figuring out who deserves to be loved? But Jesus said, “actually, it doesn’t matter who the other person is. What matters is who you are. Are you the kind of person who has a compassionate heart, or are you just obsessed with keeping score?” 

And then Martha thought God’s Law was all about impressing Jesus with her cooking skills. But Jesus told her, “Martha! Sayang! It doesn’t matter how good (or bad) your cooking is! What matters is who you are. Are you the kind of person who will come, sit with me, listen to me, get to know me? Or are you just obsessed with making a good impression?” 

So on the surface Luke’s message is: “This is God’s Law. This is what you must do to inherit eternal life. Good luck with that!” 

But then, underneath, is this second message: “It’s not what you do that lets you inherit eternal life. It’s who you are.” 

So the lawyer last week asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” But he should have asked, “Who must I be to inherit eternal life?”

That is the question Luke wants us to be asking as we go into Part Three of his mini-series on God’s Law. 

He has been setting us up for a big reveal, a shocking twist in the history of redemption. 

… 

So: Part Three of Luke’s Three Part Mini-Series on the Law of God. 

[1] One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." 

See, it was common in those days, for a teacher to teach his disciples a particular liturgy: a special structure of prayer and worship that set them apart from other teachers’ disciples. It was a way of building and shaping community, actually. 

We already know a little bit about what John the Baptist used to teach his disciples: remember how, back in Chapter 5, the Pharisees criticized Jesus’ disciples? They said, “hey, you know, John teaches his disciples to fast and pray all the time, but your master teaches you to eat and drink all the time! What kind of stupid teaching is that?” So we know that John was quite a strict teacher in some ways; and Jesus considerably more relaxed. 

But at this point Jesus’ disciples are saying, “Hey, Lord, we would like to form a distinct community. We want other people, when they see us praying, to say, ‘oh, those are Jesus’ disciples over there, we can tell by how they’re praying!’” 

They’ve been watching their Lord pray, and now they want to be like that. 

So Jesus says, “Okay.” And he said to them, "When you pray, say: " 'Father — 

— and I’m stopping here because…that is Luke’s bombshell. That is Luke’s big reveal, the shocking twist. 

Until this point in scripture it was not common for an ordinary Jew to think of God as a personal father. They thought of God as the Father of Israel, Father of the Jewish nation, but individually? That’s a bit presumptuous, don’t you think? 

Then, along comes Jesus, and he talks about — and to — God as if God is his personal Father. But it’s obvious that Jesus is a pretty special guy, so if he wants to call God “Father”…I guess that makes sense. 

But now, suddenly, Jesus has just told his disciples, “God is not just my personal Father, he is yours too.” 

What a paradigm shift! Until now, these Jewish disciples would have thought of themselves as servants, slaves in God’s household. Now, being a slave in God’s house is pretty good; but slaves don’t inherit the family fortune. 

See, the best a slave could hope for in the Roman Empire was a merciful master. If you were purchased by a rich man, a kind man, a man who fed you well and took care of you — well, that was a good situation. And then, when the master died, the best you could hope for was that the son would be as good as the father. 

So until now, the disciples would have been thinking, “here we are, slaves of God. And here is Jesus, God’s Son. So when Jesus inherit’s his Father’s Kingdom, we will become slaves of the Son.” Which is a pretty good situation! 

But now Jesus is telling them, “No! You’re not going to be slaves of God anymore; you’re going to be children of God! When I inherit, you are going to inherit also!” 

Massive. That’s huge, friends. 

It changes everything

But Jesus is going to come back to that in a minute. So let’s go on with the prayer: 

" 'Father, hallowed be your name —  

— and that means, “may your name, your reputation, be kept holy.” Especially by us, his children. In the Old Testament other nations disrespected God’s name…because they saw that his own people disrespected his name! 

We don’t want our Father to be disrespected because of our bad behaviour. So we pray that won’t happen. 

Then we pray: “your kingdom come. 

Which is obvious, I suppose. Now that God is our Father — now that we have this inheritance coming — we pray that our inheritance comes soon! 

[3] “Give us each day our daily bread. 

We have faith that that our Father will feed us, don’t we? 

[4] “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. 

And I want to pause here for a moment to make something clear: Jesus is not saying we are forgiven because we forgive others. God forgives us because we are his children. How do we know we are his children? Well, when we become his children we take on his DNA; we begin to look like him, and act like him. Because our Father is a forgiving spirit, we will start to have a forgiving spirit. 

Jesus actually hinted at this back in Chapter 6, verse 36, when he told his disciples, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” He suggested then that if his disciples could learn to love their enemies, they too could become the sons of God. Of course: who can love their enemies, right? 

But now the disciples are discovering that being Jesus’ follower is what makes them children of God — and once God has become your Father, you begin to change to resemble him. And that includes forgiveness. It comes as a package: God forgives us, and as we learn to rest in our Father’s forgiveness, we also forgive everyone who sins against us. 

“And lead us not into temptation. ' " 

Jesus has promised that if we follow him, we will suffer with him. Our Father will test us, and refine us, and that is often a painful process. But we are not supposed to be the kind of children who say, “Bring it on! I can handle it!” By praying for God to preserve us from temptation, we are admitting that we are weak, that we need his daily guidance and protection. 

… 

Now, before we go on to the next part, I want to pause here for a moment to point something out. 

Back in verse 2, Jesus said, “When you pray, say this.” Some people have taken this to mean that, every time we pray together, we need to pray this exact prayer, these exact words. 

That is not quite what Jesus means. We can tell because Luke’s version of Jesus’ prayer is slightly different — shorter — than the version we find in Matthew Chapter 6. So it is not the specific words that matter; it’s the concepts that are important; it’s the concepts that make us into a distinct community: praying to “our Father”. Telling him our needs. Confessing our sins — these are the concepts that set us apart as a Christian community. 

So whenever we pray together, these are the concepts we need to highlight. These are the concepts that make us who we are. These are the concepts that prove we are children, not slaves. After all, no slave would dare speak so presumptuously to his master! 

But a child might speak like this to a loving father. 

… 

Okay. So we are God’s children. That sounds good. But some of you are probably wondering, “What kind of father is this God?” Some fathers are quite stern, quite scary. Some fathers are…unpredictable. There are some fathers who get angry very easily. Other fathers are pleasant, but always busy: unavailable. So some of you are wondering, “What if God is like that?” 

And that is a fair question. See, the painful truth is, our image of God is usually mediated by our image of our father. In other words: if you grew up with a harsh father, you are more likely to view God as harsh. If your father abandoned your mom when you were young, you will probably struggle with the fear that God won’t keep his promises. And if you were abused by your father…it can be very hard to trust God with anything at all. 

And this is why some Christians say we really should not emphasize this concept of God as our Father. They say that since so many people have had such a negative experience with their father growing up, really the whole concept is spoilt, and out of sensitivity we should try to find a different way to describe our relationship with God. 

I get that. We do want to be sensitive, and understanding. We need to be gentle, recognizing that — for those who have really suffered at the hands of their earthly father — healing happens slowly. 

But we do want healing to happen. And an important part of the healing process is being introduced to our Heavenly Father. 

We know this is an important part of the healing process because that is what Jesus does for us here. 

See, in the early Roman Empire, just two generations before Jesus, fathers had complete power over their children. They could scourge them, sell them, kill them, refuse to let them get married, refuse to let them get divorced…complete power, even over adult children. By the time of Jesus, this was slowly beginning to change, but still: the concept of “father” was a scary concept. 

But Jesus doesn’t shy away from it. He understands that many people have a negative view of their fathers. But rather than leave the concept alone, he wants to recover the idea of what a true father is supposed to be. 

And there is a good reason for this. Psychologists have found that those who had a positive childhood experience with their father tend to have a more positive experience with authority and law when they grow up; but those who had a negative childhood experience are more likely to struggle with authority and law. And this includes God’s Law. 

In other words: if you feel positively about your father, you are more likely to feel positively about God’s Law. But if you feel negatively about your father, you are more likely to feel negatively about God’s Law. 

And that makes sense, psychologically. Because when you are small, your father was basically God to you. So his rules were God’s rules for you. If he was kind and loving and consistent with his rules — even if he was not a Christian — you are more likely to believe that God can be kind and loving and consistent with his Law. But if your was father harsh and unpredictable with his rules, and you never knew when you might irritate him and get punished…well, you are more likely to believe that God is harsh and unpredictable, his Law random and unreasonable. 

So, our perception of God’s Law is strongly influenced by our perception of our father. 

Jesus knows this about us. He knows if he does not change our perception of what “father” means, we will struggle all our lives to believe that God’s Law is a good thing. And if we continue to struggle to believe God’s Law is a good thing, we will continue to rebel against it in big and small ways. And if we continue to rebel against God’s Law, we are just going to keep hurting ourselves and the people around us — and it is very difficult to find healing when you continue to get hurt again and again. 

So the healing process actually begins with an introduction to our Heavenly Father. As we slowly come to realize the beauty of his true character, we will slowly come to realize that his Law is good, and good for us. And as the desire to obey slowly grows within us, we will find that our lives are changed little by little into the image of his eternal life: a life of peace and safety and joy, no matter what happens to us in this life. 

All this is why Jesus wants to make sure we understand who his Dad really is. 

So: [5] Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, [6] because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' [7] "Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' [8] I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. 

Now, this whole example that Jesus gives here is easy to misunderstand. Many people have read this and thought, “Oh! Jesus is telling us that if we keep on knocking and knocking on God’s door he will eventually give us what we want just to stop us from bothering him. Therefore, just keep praying and demanding until God gives in!” 

That interpretation is incorrect. 

Really, in order to understand Jesus’ story here, we have to understand the Jewish culture of Jesus’ time. Hospitality was a very high value. If guests came to your house and you had no food for them, that was a huge dishonor. 

But actually, it was not just a dishonor for you: it was also a dishonor for your whole kampung. The culture of that time was far more collective than most of our cultures today. In those days, if you did something dishonorable, you did not just dishonor yourself and your family, you also dishonored your neighborhood, your whole village! 

In our modern age we can understand this a little bit. For instance, mainland Chinese tourists have developed a bit of a bad reputation lately, haven’t they? Now I’m sure that many mainland Chinese are perfectly nice people, but the uncultured behaviour of a few have stained the reputation of a whole country. Or, if you are a Malaysian in U.K., eating in a restaurant, and you overhear someone at the next table talking to their friends, and they say, “2.6 billion, can you believe it?” 

And then they turn to you, “Hullo, where are you from?” 

…”Mainland China.” 

And don’t let me get started on how difficult it is to be an American these days. On election day last year all my British friends were like, “Ha ha ha! Trump!” 

And I was like, “Ha ha ha! Brexit!” 

Well: back in Jesus’ time it was worse. 

So really the point of Jesus’ story is to say, “Hey, guys, can you imagine going to a friend and saying, ‘hey, quick, I’ve got guests and I need to borrow some bread!’ and then your friend says, ‘aw, dude! I’m in bed already, don’t bother me!’ No, you can’t! And I can’t imagine that either! Even if he wasn’t your friend, even if he couldn’t stand your guts, he would still jump right up and borrow you some bread — for the sake of his own reputation if for no other reason!” 

Perhaps a modern equivalent might go like this: “Hey, guys, can you imagine: what if your wife was pregnant, and she suddenly went into labour, but then your car wouldn’t start. So you went to your neighbor and said, ‘hey, my wife is in labour and my car won’t start, can I borrow your car or can you take us to hospital?’ and then he said, ’No! I just got it washed, and it looks like rain is coming, and I don’t want my car to get water spots on it’? Of course not! Even a neighbor you don’t know very well would probably help you in that situation, don’t you think?” 

See, really Jesus’ story is a ridiculous story. It would never happen in real life. Nobody would give such a pathetic excuse to avoid helping their neighbor in need. 

That’s why Jesus goes on to say: 

[9] "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. [10] For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 

The point of this story is not that God will answer your prayers if you keep bothering him long enough. No! The point of this story is to say that just like your neighbor would jump at the chance to help you in an emergency, God is even more quick to act when you are in need. So ask! and it will be given. Seek! and I promise you will find. Knock! The door will be opened to you, I guarantee it! 

After all, this is your Father we’re talking about here. Your Heavenly Father is always going to be more responsive than your human neighbor! 

Then Jesus goes on to make another comparison: [11] "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? [12] Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 

Roman fathers may have had the power of life and death over their children, but they weren’t so stupid as to play dangerous tricks on their kids! 

So: [13] If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" 

Even evil, abusive human fathers know how to give good gifts to their children — and they often do! Nobody is evil all the time. So, if even the worst human fathers know how to keep their kids alive, how much better do you think our Father in heaven must be? Infinitely better, right? 

… 

With both of these illustrations, Jesus compares God to an earthly example. Even the most reluctant neighbor is going to help you when you get into trouble — so what do you think God is going to be like? Even a bad father knew how to feed you when you were small — so how much better is God going to be than that? 

So pray! You don’t need to knock and knock and knock at God’s door, hoping he will have mercy on you when you are in need. Just ask! and he will give. And when he gives, you don’t need to be suspicious: you can know for certain that whatever he gives you is going to be good for you. 

There are two truths Jesus wants us to believe about God: 

Ask, and he will gladly give. 

And: trust that he gives only good things. 

Do you believe that what Jesus says about our Father is true? 

I have to be honest with you: I believe! and I struggle to believe. 

I believe because I trust Jesus’ words. He is the Father’s Son, so no one knows the Father better than he does. And I have no reason to believe that he is lying. His argument makes sense: even in this broken world, with our broken relationships, we experience good things from each other. So how much better must God be in comparison? That has the ring of truth. 

And yet…I struggle to believe. I struggle to trust. Why is that? 

Well, quite honestly: because my personal experience of prayer does not seem to match what Jesus describes. I ask…and I ask…and I ask…

Here is something that C.S. Lewis wrote in the midst of his grief after his wife died: “When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him…you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence…What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?” 

And then he makes this observation: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about him.” 

It is confusing, isn’t it? On the one hand, Jesus says, “God is your loving Heavenly Father. He can’t wait to give you what you ask for!” On the other hand…is the great disappointment, the silence. Very often, to me, God has felt just like the imaginary neighbor in Jesus’ story, the one who says, “Go away! I’m sleeping now.” 

And then there’s the second part, where Jesus says, “God is your loving Heavenly Father. He knows how to give you good gifts!” 

And that’s great! That makes sense — right up until you get that gift you didn’t want. You all know that my wife Dar was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis last year, and there is no known medical cure. This is not the gift we were praying for. We were praying for good health, for healing. Instead, we have been given an incurable disease. It is hard not to feel like God is just like the imaginary father in Jesus’ example: we asked for a fish; he gave us a scorpion. 

So…I believe! and I struggle to believe. 

Which means that when I pray, I pray in faith. I pray in faith that if I were in need, God would act quickly and gladly, and would give me only good things. And if I feel that he is not acting quickly and gladly, or giving me good things…? Then I have to conclude that I am not actually in need; I have to conclude that I already have all that I need. I have to conclude that my understanding of my needs and my Father’s understanding of my needs may not be the same; just as, sometimes, my children’s understanding of their needs and my understanding of their needs are not the same. My children often have to trust that the decisions I make for them, I make for their good. How much more true must that be for me, in my relationship with God? 

So what should I ask for, then? How can I know if I am asking for something that I need? How can I know if I am asking for something good? 

Well, ironically, the answer is right here, written very clearly. 

When I was a boy I really wanted a BMX bicycle. I prayed and prayed for it, but…nothing. So I asked my dad to teach me how to pray. I asked him, basically, “How do I pray for things in such a way that guarantees that God will say ‘yes’?” And my dad wisely said, “Well, you should pray for things that are in the bible, that God tells us to ask for.” 

That was a disappointing answer for me, because I already knew that the word “bicycle” is not in the bible. But I looked, and I began to see what my dad meant. I began to see things like this, in verse 13, where it very clearly says, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" 

What are we supposed to ask our Father for? 

The Holy Spirit

I may want a BMX bicycle. I may struggle to understand how an incurable disease is a good gift from my Father. But if I have the Holy Spirit, then I truly have all that I need. If I have the Holy Spirit — and I do, because he promised he would give to all who ask — if I have the Holy Spirit, then I can continue to believe, no matter what happens. If I have the Holy Spirit, then I can pray the Lord’s Prayer with you all; and as we pray together we become a distinct community. And then, when other people see us, they say, “Oh, those are Jesus’ disciples over there. We can tell by how they pray.” 

… 

So. Luke started us off with a question: “Who must I be to inherit eternal life?” 

Part One taught us that compassionate people inherit eternal life. 

Part Two taught us that true compassion — true hospitality — begins with sitting down, listening, getting to know Jesus. 

 And now Part Three of Luke’s mini-series on God’s Law has taught us that by getting to know Jesus, we become God’s children; God becomes our Father. And with God as our Father, we inherit everything. Including the right to speak to him. We are allowed to ask him for anything! and he is not going to get frustrated or angry. Like all good parents, he may not give us everything we ask for! but he will give us everything we need. 

And what do we have to do to earn this privilege? Nothing. Nothing at all. This is our Father’s house. This is our Father’s throne room. We run in to see him like little children. We ask him for anything and everything like little children. When he says no, we cry like little children. But then he holds us. And even though, like little children, we feel ourselves in those moments to be the most unfortunate of all God’s creatures, it is actually in those moments that we are closest to his heart. 

So let us pray, let us pray always! Confident that our Father hears us. Confident that we will inherit eternal life — not because of anything we have done, but because of who we are. Confident that one day we will all grow up to love our Father’s Law perfectly: that one day, because of our Father’s DNA that lives within us, we will all grow up to be just like Dad. 

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