A Tale of Two Fathers


Today is Father’s Day, a day on which we thank God for fathers and for all that God does for us through our fathers.  And while Father’s Day is not a religious holiday, did you know that pastors played a major role in determining the date on which Father’s Day is celebrated?  This is a true story.  Father’s Day was founded in Spokane, Washington by Sonora Dodd in 1910. Sonora wanted to honour her Dad, William Jackson Smart, who was a Civil War veteran and a single parent who raised six children on his own.  After hearing a sermon on Mother’s Day in 1909, Sonora told her pastor that there should be a similar day to honour fathers.  Sonora suggested that Father’s Day be held on June 5, which was her dad’s birthday, but the pastors of Spokane did not have enough time to prepare their sermons so the celebration was postponed until the third Sunday of June.[1]

fatherhood

fatherhood (Photo credit: bambibabe48)

 

And even though Father’s Day is not a religious holiday, God still has something to say to us about fatherhood.  God is the ultimate Father.  He is the Father for which your heart yearns.  And God has put that longing for a perfect Father into our hearts in order to draw us to him so that we may experience God’s perfect Father love for us.  God wants to have an intimate relationship with us and his desire is that we relate to him like a young child relates to his or her daddy.

God has something to say about fatherhood and he also has something to say to fathers.  So for the balance of this message, I am going to be speaking mainly to fathers.  We will be looking at two fathers from the Bible—one from the Old Testament and one from the new—and we will be comparing them to see what we can learn.  My reasoning is this: If God uses what I say to help fathers, then mothers are also going to be helped, children are going to be helped, families are going to benefit and our church and our community will be stronger.

The first father that we are going to study is Eli, who lived around 1100 BC and was the head of the family line chosen by God to serve as priests representing God to the people and the people to God.  There was no king in Israel at this time so Eli was both High Priest and judge for the Israelite nation and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, served as assistant priests to Eli.  So we turn to 1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22, and let me share this passage with you again, this time from The Message.

Eli’s own sons were a bad lot. They didn’t know God and could not have cared less 13 about the customs of priests among the people. Ordinarily, when someone offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant was supposed to come up and, while the meat was boiling, 14 stab a three-pronged fork into the cooking pot. The priest then got whatever came up on the fork. But this is how Eli’s sons treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh to offer sacrifices to God. 15 Before they had even burned the fat to God, the priest’s servant would interrupt whoever was sacrificing and say, “Hand over some of that meat for the priest to roast. He doesn’t like boiled meat; he likes his rare.” 16 If the man objected, “First let the fat be burned—God’s portion!—then take all you want,” the servant would demand, “No, I want it now. If you won’t give it, I’ll take it.” 17 It was a horrible sin these young servants were committing—and right in the presence of God!—desecrating the holy offerings to God.[2]

      By this time Eli was very old. He kept getting reports on how his sons were ripping off the people and sleeping with the women who helped out at the sanctuary. [3]

Eli’s sons were sinning by demanding that they take the first and best pieces of meat from the people’s sacrifices before God’s portion—the fat and the blood—were offered to God.  They were also sinning by sleeping with the women that served at the sanctuary.  It is certainly not unusual to have children who sin, in fact, to expect otherwise is being both unrealistic and very naive.   But Eli’s sin is revealed by a prophet who visited him and said,

“This is God’s message: I revealed myself openly to your ancestors when they were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. 28            Out of all the tribes of Israel, I chose your family to be my priests: to preside at the Altar, to burn incense, to wear the priestly robes in my presence. I put your ancestral family in charge of all the sacrificial offerings of Israel. 29      So why do you now treat as mere loot these very sacrificial offerings that I commanded for my worship? Why do you treat your sons better than me, turning them loose to get fat on these offerings, and ignoring me? 30 Therefore—this is God’s word, the God of Israel speaking—I once said that you and your ancestral family would be my priests indefinitely, but now—God’s word, remember!—there is no way this can continue.

I honor those who honor me;

those who scorn me I demean.

31            “Be well warned: It won’t be long before I wipe out both your family and your future family. No one in your family will make it to old age! [4]

 

Eli’s failure as a father was in treating his sons better than he treated God.  Other translations say that Eli was honouring his sons above God.  Eli spoke to his sons about their behaviour, but it was too little and too late.  And Eli could not bring himself to honour God by disciplining his sons and removing them from their priestly duties, even though “they didn’t know God and couldn’t have cared less.”  Eli valued his sons more than he valued God.  Eli may have been High Priest and the most prominent leader in Israel, but when it came to his relationship with his sons, Eli did not fully believe in God.  This is not unusual because, for us humans, our faith is never perfect and so there is always some portion of unbelief mixed in with our belief.  But unbelief can become a very serious problem when we don’t let God have an impact on the unbelieving part of our lives.  And that was what Eli did.

We encounter our second father in the first century AD.  Jesus, Peter, James and John had just come down from the mountain where Jesus revealed all of his radiant, divine glory and they encounter the other nine disciples arguing with some Jewish religious teachers and a large crowd all around them.  I read from Mark chapter 9, starting with verse 16:

16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” [5]

In this passage, Jesus encounters a father who has a son with symptoms that would likely be diagnosed as epilepsy in our time.  And the boy is not only suffering from the illness itself, but also from the grave danger of being burned or drowned during a seizure.  The father has brought his son to Jesus’ disciples but they cannot heal them.  Jesus reveals that there is a problem with unbelief among the people, including his own disciples, when he chastises them by saying, “You unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?”  The people, including nine of Jesus’ own disciples and the Jewish teachers of the law, had encountered a problem that was beyond what they believed and instead of bringing the situation to Jesus and asking him for help, they were arguing about it.  All too often we often try to handle our problems on our own.

Jesus said,

Bring the boy to me.”

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

23 “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Jesus’ promise of hope and salvation broke through the skepticism in this father’s heart and he immediately responded by believing AND by asking Jesus for help with his unbelief.  As High Priest, Eli knew more about God than most of the people of his day.  The teachers of the law knew God’s Word better than most people of their day.  The nine disciples certainly knew Jesus better than anybody outside of their traveling band.  But of all the people that we encountered in the passages we studied today, only this father, who perhaps wasn’t even Jewish since Jesus and his disciples were in the Gentile area of Caesarea Philippi, only this one unnamed father asked Jesus for help in those areas of his life where he did not yet believe.

Jesus responds by healing his son.

“I do believe, Jesus, help me with my unbelief!”

We fathers tend to drift so easily into functioning in unbelief.  We need to teach our children the ways of the world, so that they can make their way in this world.  But we tend love our children, more than we love God, so we don’t teach our children the ways of God, so that they can live the “with God” life.  We don’t see the utter folly of our own personal pride.  We avoid, at all cost, admitting or teaching our children about our human weaknesses and inadequacies.

Thankfully, God’s Law and the Gospel have the power to bring healing to a father’s life, but it means that we have to begin by taking a good, hard look in the mirror.  And when we take a good, hard look in the mirror, what we see is that, on our own, all of our strengths, all of the things that we are good at, all of our accomplishments and achievements count for nothing in God’s eyes.  And worse than that, all the good things that we do are like manure to God.   In Philippians 3:8, after Paul lists all the good things that he did as a Pharisee he writes “I… count them but dung”  (King James Version).  In Isaiah 64:6, God tells us “each of our good deeds is merely a filthy rag.” (Isaiah 64:6 CEV)

On the other hand, all the areas where we fathers are completely and totally helpless, where things are out of control and there is nothing that we can do, where things are bad and getting worse, where we come to the end of ourselves and there is absolutely nothing that we can do, so we throw up our hands up in the air and we cry out to God… those areas and times of weakness are beautiful to God, because that is when we are starting to see things how they really are, that is when we are really starting to believe.

You see, every man who is a father is just like the father of the son with epilepsy.  We all have so many hopes and dreams for the future for our children and yet we are all confronted with the fact that there is something wrong with our child that threatens to destroy them and we are helpless to do anything about it.

But you have a Father God who loves you more than any human father could ever love their child.  And God the Father gave up for you what was more precious to him than anything else, His Son, Jesus Christ.  And in Jesus, God, who is perfect in power and strength, willingly became weak and powerless.  And in that weak and powerless state, Jesus overthrew all corruption, sin, guilt, willful pride and shame through his suffering and death on the cross.  Out of love for you, God the Father, raised Jesus from the dead to give you a life of freedom and joy and peace.

Fathers, in Jesus Christ, your heavenly Father accepts you and loves you just as you are.  In Jesus Christ, your heavenly Father takes all your wonderful weaknesses and your sin-stained strengths and makes them into good things that do count before God.  In Jesus Christ, your heavenly Father will make you into a father who will make an eternal difference in the lives of your children.  As you learn and grow in the way that your Father loves and accepts you with all your weaknesses, you will love and accept your children with all of their weaknesses.  With a Father who loves you like that, you will know that it is safe for you to admit the sin in your strength and wait upon God in your weakness.  As your children see that, they will be more willing to let you speak God’s truth into their lives about their sins and about God’s power in their weakness.  And as great as the hopes and dreams are that you have for your child, God’s plans for your child are infinitely greater.  Your heavenly Father wants to bless your children and give them hope and a future.   As much as you love your children, they have a heavenly Father who loves them even more.  And so, father, even when your child has chosen to turn away from God, you can still entrust your child into Father God’s loving and merciful care.

So fathers, I want to encourage you to believe in Jesus.  But I also want to encourage you to bring all of the unbelief in your life to Jesus—all the things that you do not understand, all the areas where you don’t really trust God and feel like you have to manage on your own, all the questions for which you have no answer—bring those to Jesus and ask him to help you with your unbelief.  And don’t do it because it will make you a better father, though it will.  Don’t do it because it will help your children, thought it will.  Do it because it is true.  You have a great, powerful and perfect Father who loves you infinitely in all areas of your life, even in those areas where you do not believe.

Usually on Father’s Day, the fathers are the ones who receive gifts.  But today there is a Father who wants to give you a gift.  In a few moments, our heavenly Father will invite us to a special meal where heaven and earth will meet.  As we come forward to receive this meal in our weakness and sin, our Father will once again give us the gift of his Son.  With the body and blood of Jesus, our Father also pours forgiveness, healing and hope into our lives so that we are encouraged and strengthened to live in weakness and love our children.  Now, if your faith is 100% solid, then you may not need to receive this meal.  But if you have doubts, uncertainty or areas of your life where is unbelief, then come and bring your unbelief to Jesus and let him help you with it.

Let’s close by saying these words together.

I do believe, Jesus, help me with my unbelief.  Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on June 16, 2013.)

 


[1] “Father’s Day,” Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia (Internet; available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Father%27s_Day; accessed 15 June 2013).

[2] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: The Bible in contemporary language (1 Sa 2:12–17). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[3] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: The Bible in contemporary language (1 Sa 2:22). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[4] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: The Bible in contemporary language (1 Sa 2:27–31). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[5] The New International Version. 2011 (Mk 9:16–18). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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