Sermon: God the Father

[This sermon is part of a series on the Apostles’ Creed. It might be helpful to read the creed as well as the exposition in the Heidelberg Catechism, as they were confessed prior to the sermon]

Who likes putting puzzles together? Imagine for a moment that you have a huge puzzle – 20,000 pieces – but you don’t have the box top. You just have bags and bags of pieces. It is going to be hard. Sure, you can find the corners, work on the edges, but without knowing what you are making, it is hard to make sense of all the individual pieces. I might start connecting the pieces in all sorts of odd ways and get a completely different picture than what I am supposed to be making. It would be hard to do a puzzle without the box top to tell us what we are making.

In the second century, Irenaeus said that this experience can be similar to reading the Bible. We are like people putting together a mosaic. There are so many tiles – so many books, chapters, and verses. One person puts the tiles together and makes a picture of a king and another does the same and makes the picture of a fox. One is right and one is not. Two different people read the Bible and come up with different pictures of God.

What we need is the box top. We need a tool which helps us know what we should see when we read the Bible. It should arise naturally from the Bible and accurately summarize the Bible’s message. It should act as a guide so that wherever we read the Bible, we know the message that holds the whole thing together.

The Apostles’ Creed is the box top. The Apostles’ Creed was not likely written by the twelve apostles, but is a very early summary of what the apostles’ taught, what is contained in Scripture, particularly in the New Testament. It does not have the same authority as Scripture, but is an authoritative guide to what we should expect to find in Scripture.

This Fall, we will be working our way through the articles of the Apostles’ Creed. We will be guided by the explanations in the Heidelberg Catechism, but ultimately we will be seeing how this confession arises from the clear teaching of Scripture. This morning, we will be looking at the first core teaching of the creed, “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” There are myriad passages that lie behind this, but we will be listening to Romans 8, beginning in verse 1. Romans 8, beginning in verse 1. Romans is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans. Romans 8, beginning in verse 1. Before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule,

your Holy Spirit our teacher,

and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do, because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires, but those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh, but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to you mortal bodies because of his Spirit living in you.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again, rather the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. (You may be seated)

Every great story has at least three parts – once, but then, and now. So, too, our story. So, too, the Christian story.

ONCE

Once, we were slaves.

We were slaves to our own hearts and desires. Verse 5: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires, but those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Where we direct our hearts, what we think about, what we dwell on, sets the course for where we are headed. Like sailing a ship, a turn of the small ship’s wheel sets the direction of the whole boat. Where we set our minds determines how we live.

Our default desires lead us toward death and hostility toward God. Our ship’s wheel was locked in the wrong direction. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God, it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Underneath the mixture of semi-good and mostly selfish desires of the heart untouched by the Holy Spirit is an underlying hostility toward God. We are not sure we can trust God, not sure he will do what’s best for us, not sure the sacrifices he calls us to make will be worth it, so we grab the wheel of our lives and our hearts and want to steer for ourselves. We want to be master and commander. And Paul tells us that as soon as we do that, we steer the ship toward the rocks. All of us have done this, from our first parents, Adam and Eve, down to Moriah, squirming in the front pew. Because of original sin, we are born this way, the ship’s wheel set toward the rocks. Our default desires lead us away from God.

Try as we might, we cannot turn the rudder of our hearts. No amount of therapy, education, self-help programs, or environmental changes will turn our hearts and minds in the right direction. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God, it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. God’s law is like a GPS, telling us exactly where we need to go, exactly the path to life, exactly how to please God, but we still steer toward the rocks. Simply knowing the right coordinates doesn’t turn the ship. Apart from God, our hearts are turned away from him.

We were trapped in this condition. We were not children, but slaves to sin, death, and our twisted passions – hostile to God and unable to find our way home. As Psalm 49 says, “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them – the ransom for a life is too costly, no payment is ever enough” (Ps49:7-8). Once, we were slaves. 

BUT THEN

But then, God rescued us. God the Father sent the Son and sent the Spirit to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. The same psalm that told us we could never pay to ransom our life says this, “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself” (ps49:15). Paul says, For what the law was powerless to do, because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. What we could not do, God did. It took the power of God to turn our lives from the path of destruction toward life and peace. More accurately, God himself came in the flesh and he was dashed against those rocks so that we might be saved from that destruction.

God the Father sent the Son, Jesus Christ, to rescue us from all that follows from living according to the flesh. What Paul talked about – sinful desires, death, hostility toward God, inability to follow God’s law, and an inability to please God. All that weighed on us, Jesus lifted from us by going to the cross. Though he never sinned, God the Son came in the likeness of sinful flesh – being fully human, but taking on the punishment that justly follows form our sin. He offered himself up for our sins.

God the Father also sent the Spirit to set us free and unite us to Christ the Son. The Spirit has set us free. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Where our minds were set on things that turned us away from God, and we could not turn toward God, the Spirit has set us free to turn to God in love, repentance, and obedience. We are now free to walk in the ways of God, ways that lead to life and peace and wholeness. God the Father sent the Spirit to set us free.

And he sent the Holy Spirit to unite us to Jesus Christ. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh, but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to you mortal bodies because of his Spirit living in you. To be filled by the Spirit is to belong to Jesus Christ, to receive the fruit of his death and resurrection.

NOW

Once, we were slaves. But then, God rescued us. Now, we are children of God.

When we are filled by the Spirit, when we belong to Jesus Christ, we are adopted into the family of God. This is, in part, what we confess when we say, “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.’ We are sons and daughters and He is our Father. Listen to this: For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again, rather the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Once, we were slaves. But then, God rescued us. Now, we are children of God. Not only does our ship not sink because of Jesus, not only do we not crash upon the rocks, but he crashes for us, not only does the Spirit set our hearts free to sail in the ways of life and peace, not only all of those things, but we become children of God.

We have a family. We are not orphans drifting in a hostile world. Because of God’s gracious redemption, we become sons and daughters of the King who created and rules all things. God is called ‘Father’ because of his unique and eternal relationship with God the Son. We call God ‘Father’ because we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God through Christ by the Spirit.

To be adopted as children is to receive an identity that can never be taken away. We belong to Him, with all the status, benefits, and responsibilities it entails. Unlike the old way, which was filled with fear, we are now brought into a relationship of love.

To be sons and daughters is a claim to closeness. God the Father is near to us, he cares for us, he clothes himself with compassion toward us. By him we cry, “Abba, Father.” We are invited into close, intimate relationship with the God of the universe. Even when our fathers disappoint, or we disappoint as fathers, our heavenly Father is faithful, caring, and strong.

When we proclaim, “I believe in God the Father almighty,” we confess a God who is not weak, but powerful enough to redeem lost children and bring them around his table. We confess a God who is not distant, but near to us as a father to a child. We confess a God who is not indifferent, but who loves us enough that we can call him Father. As the Catechism says, “He is my God and Father because of Christ the Son.”

Friends – no, not friends, brothers and sister – we are invited this morning to come around the family table. This is a table where we eat together, remembering who we were and what God has done for us in sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to have his body broken and his blood poured out for us and for our salvation. This is a table where we eat together, where brothers and sisters gather to share a meal and, we believe, where we come into the presence of Jesus Christ, our brother and Lord. It is a table where all children of God are welcome.

It is a table of reconciliation. We who were estranged from God are now welcomed home around the table for a meal. Some of you know deeply and personally what it is like to not be welcome around the family table. Some of you know what it is like to have a child in the far country and an empty chair at home. And so we know the gracious gift it is that God welcomes sons and daughters into his family and invites us to eat at his table. So come, brothers and sisters, come and eat at our Father’s table. Come, let us eat at the Lord’s table, where Jesus Christ himself, our brother, stands at the head.

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