************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 120-121 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 20, 2011
Q & A 120-121
"Our Father in Heaven"
Introduction As all of you know this past Friday was a big day for Ruth and I. I was in the delivery room with Ruth. All of a sudden I heard a loud cry and a beautiful baby boy was placed in Ruth's arms.
As you can well imagine I was pretty excited. We had a healthy boy. Ruth looked okay. The waiting was finally over. And the hard work of delivery was finished.
In the space of a few hours our entire life was suddenly changed. Suddenly we had the responsibility of looking after someone who depends on us totally for food, drink, clothing, shelter. Suddenly we had the responsibility to develop the spiritual, emotion, and physical life of a little baby. Suddenly Ruth became a mother and I became a father.I'm not trying to surprise the congregation. These are words I wrote a bit more than 30 years ago. I came across them as I was studying for this evening's message.
In the Lord's Prayer Jesus teaches us how to pray. He begins by telling us to pray to God as our Father. Notice how I put this. Jesus does not say this is what we should pray. Rather, the Lord's Prayer is how we should pray. We are to pray remembering and realizing we pray to our Father in heaven (cf Mt 6:9).
In this introduction to the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us two things about prayer or, rather, two things about the God to Whom we pray. First, that God desires to answer prayer because He is our Father. Second, that God is able to answer prayer because He is our Father in heaven.
I Our Father Desires to Answer Prayer
A In teaching us how to pray, Jesus tells us to direct our prayers to God, "Our Father."
What does this tell us? It tells us that only those who are God's children can come to Him in prayer. The right to enter God's throne room by prayer belongs only to children of the King.
Now, it is true that God, as Creator, is the Father of everyone He has made. All human beings are God's children, because, as Paul puts it, they are all "his offspring" (Acts 17:28) made by Him and for Him. However, because of sin man has forfeited the right to call God "Father." Because of sin, the relationship between God and man is hardly a loving father-child relationship. In fact, because of sin we have become enemies of God.
The Catechism reminds us that it is only in Christ that God is again our Father and we are His children. It is only in Christ that we can come to God as Abba, Daddy, Father. In Christ we are adopted children of God. We have been adopted by grace through Christ (cf Q&A 33).
(Jn 1:12-13) Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- (13) children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
Think of what our condition would be apart from Christ. We would be fatherless. We would be orphans. We would be lost and abandoned, weak and helpless, in a violent and cruel world. We would stand no chance against the powers and forces of darkness.
B Now, what difference does it make for our prayer life that God is our Father?
We don't pray to some distant, far-off, aloof God. We don't pray to some God Who cannot be bothered with human existence. Instead, we pray to a Father Who is concerned about and loves His children. He is a Father Who listens and answers when we pray.
To help us understand this, the Catechism compares the heavenly Father to earthly fathers. Based upon our Scripture reading, it reminds us that "Our fathers do not refuse us the things of this life; God our Father will even less refuse to give us what we ask in faith." Listen, again, to what we read earlier in Matthew:
(Mt 7:9-11) "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? (10) Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? (11) 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 good gifts to those who ask him!If sinful, earthly fathers can act in this way, think of what our perfect, heavenly Father will do.
Therefore, writes Matthew, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Mt 7:7). Ask in faith, ask with boldness, and your heavenly Father Who loves you in Christ will answer.
C What difference does it make for our prayer life that God is our Father? Says the Catechism, we are to approach Him with "childlike awe and trust" (Q&A 120).
If they are in a loving home, think of how a little child views his or her dad. A little child believes in her dad. She believes he is the smartest and strongest and wisest dad in the whole-wide world. She has total trust and confidence in her dad's abilities and words and actions.
I remember the time my youngest sister was scared stiff on top of a wagon of hay. My brothers and I tried to help her down but she refused to budge. Dad came along, held open his arms, and told her to jump. Much to his surprise, she jumped without even thinking twice.
God is our Father. We are His children. As we approach Him in prayer, we are to do so with childlike awe and trust. How much trust? How much awe?
I trust him so much that I do not doubt
he will provide
whatever I need
for body and soul,
and he will turn to my good
whatever adversity he sends me
in this sad world.
Our first point, then, is that God desires to answer prayer because He is our Father – a Father Who loves us.
II Our Father is Able to Answer Prayer
A This brings us to our second point. Let me begin by mentioning there are lots of reasons for me to thank my father. When I was a little child I needed food, clothing, shelter. My dad provided all that I needed. As I started to grow I also needed direction, advice, discipline, and Christian nurture. My dad provided this as well. When I was in college my dad arranged a summer job that earned me enough money to pay my tuition. And, when Ruth and I got married we had about $50 between the two of us. Our wedding present was a check from my dad.
Still, though, there always comes a time when earthly fathers disappoint, when they let you down, when you stop looking at them through rose-colored glasses. Earthly fathers change and decay with age, health, and family problems. They don't always make the best choices. They break promises. They have their ups and downs. Sometimes they are not there when you need them. One day you discover they don't have all the answers. And, being human, there is always a limit to what earthly fathers can do. For instance:
-Imagine a little baby, whimpering and listless because of a high fever, or howling in pain because of an ear infection; the parents stand by feeling so helpless and useless.
-I have stood by the side of parents as they have raged and sobbed – at birth, or after an accident – when their precious child is discovered to be mentally or physically disabled; they would gladly give up an arm or a leg to make their child whole, but they can't, so they sob in frustration.
-Parents hurt when their child goes through a divorce; they would do anything to spare their child the pain and the agony; but they have to stand by pained and frustrated at being unable to do what they would like to do.
-Parents feel so helpless when they see their children make bad decisions that get them hooked on drugs or alcohol; that get them pregnant outside of marriage; that leads to an unhappy marriage; that wrecks any chance of getting a college degree and a white-collar job; they feel helpless because often there is nothing they can do to change the situation.
All earthly parents know the pain and frustration of being unable to do what they in their loving hearts would like to do for their children.
B But God our Father is not like this. He never lets you down. He never disappoints. He always keeps His promises. He is always there when you need Him. Unlike earthly father He never changes. He never wavers. He is always the same. He is always willing and able to fill our needs. He is always the perfect Father. His love is constant and changeless. He never makes mistakes.
Do you know why? The Catechism says, we are "not to think of God's heavenly majesty as something earthly." God is more than an earthly father, much more.
What have we learned about God our Father in our study of the Catechism? Let me list some of the things we have seen:
-He is the Father Who watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without His will. In fact, because of Him all things must work together for my salvation (Q&A 1).
-As Father, He is one of the three distinct persons making up the one, true, eternal Godhead (Q&A 25).
-He is the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Q&A 26).
-He is the Father Who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them and Who still upholds and rules them by His eternal counsel and providence (Q&A 26).
-He is the Father Who so upholds and rules heaven and earth and all creatures, that all things come to us not by chance but from His Fatherly hand (Q&A 27).
-He is the Father Who allows nothing to ever separate us from His love (Q&A 28).
-He is the Father in Whose hands are all creatures so that without His will they can neither move nor be moved (Q&A 28).
-He is the Father to Whom pleads our cause (Q&A 31, 49).
-He is the Father Who rules all things through Christ (Q&A 50).
-He is the Father in Whose name we are baptized – together with the name of the Son and the Spirit (Q&A 71).
Do you see how great, how awesome, how mighty, how majestic, and how glorious is God our Father? Why? Because, as we say in the Lord's Prayer, He is "Our Father in heaven."
C God is our Father in heaven. Which means He has power, majesty, strength, and glory. Therefore, He is able to answer all our prayers. Therefore, He has the power to answer all our prayers. He is able to give us everything we need. Says the Catechism, we can "expect everything for body and soul from his almighty power" (Q&A 121).
Our Father in heaven combines a loving heart with an almighty power. He is more than able to do what His love wants to do for us His children. He wants to answer our prayers, He desires to answer our prayers, and He is able to answer our prayers.
This means that when we pray to our Father in heaven we must expect to be answered. This does not mean we will always get what we ask for but we will always get exactly what we need.
This, then, is how you should pray: "Our Father in heaven."
As I already said, only those who are God's children in Jesus Christ have the right to do this.
At the same time, though, all of us know and confess that so often we don't live like we are God's children. We have received the right to become children of God but, nevertheless, we so often fall short.
So, the opening to the Lord's Prayer implies a request. It implies that we are asking God to remain as our Father in spite of our failings and short-comings. It implies that we are asking God for His grace and Spirit so that we can live more and more and better and better as His sons and daughters. This introduction to the Lord's Prayer becomes a request that God's Fatherhood become more and more a reality in our day-to-day life.
My brothers and sisters, is God your Father? Are you a child of the King? Do you believe in Jesus? If your answer is yes, you have this assurance: God the Father wants to answer your prayers and God the Father in heaven is more than able to answer your prayers.
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