Fatherhood Before the Foundation of the World

A Father’s Day sermon. Cross-posted from Eastland Church of Christ.

Passage: Malachi 4:5-6

This centrality of fatherhood should not really surprise, because the relationship between the Father and the Son is the central relationship of the gospel itself. God the Father sends his only Son, and the Son obeys the Father. The Father gives the Son honor and recognition, while the Son is the perfect image of the Father, imitates the Father, and points others to His Father.

And make no mistake. When I say that the relationship between God the Father, and Jesus the Son is the cornerstone of the gospel, I don’t mean it’s the cornerstone of what we practice here in this building…though it is that. I don’t mean that it is the cornerstone of our personal ethics…though it is that. I also don’t mean that it is the cornerstone of our personal salvation…even though it certainly is that.

When I say that the relationship between God the Father and God the Son is the cornerstone of the gospel, I’m saying that it is the cornerstone of creation itself. Of the cosmos. Of the very fabric of reality. The pew you are sitting on holds together because the Father loved the Son. It all goes back to that fact.

The world was created, God spoke us into existence, so that He could send His only Son to be slain. The world was created, God spoke us into existence, so that his Son would be glorified. Reality itself is founded on the desire of the Father to enthrone His Son with all authority in heaven and on earth.

And this Father, who is source of all life, who is the source of all love, gives us, His creatures the same name that He has given Himself. The name that we are taught to call Him in His infinite glory – Father – is the name he requires us men to bear. Just dwell on that for a second.

This is a great privilege. But it also represents a heavy responsibility.

Trollhunters and the Value of Life

I’ve been watching Trollhunters, a Netflix original series, with my kids lately. We’ve all been enjoying it. It’s well-produced, full of thrilling action scenes that bounce around an epic mythology and a diverse array of characters.

If you’re a fan of the vision of Guillermo del Toro, as exemplified in movies like Hellboy and Pan’s Labryinth, you’re in for a treat. Trollhunters is overflowing with the same colorful, zany design. (And also, Ron Perlman). As such, it can be a bit dark and scary, but this makes it more thrilling when the darkness is chased away.

While I can’t give it an unqualified thumbs up as appropriate for all kids, there is one lesson it bestowed that bears repeating, one that we would all do well to take to heart.

One of the main characters, a big troll named (I kid you not) AAARRRGGHH!!!, is a self-avowed pacifist, trying to atone for his violent past. His principles are tested and reiterated at several points throughout the show. About halfway through the series, however, he violates his pacifism to save the life of Toby, his human friend. He deals a killing blow to a dangerous killer troll.

Toby looks in shock at his friend. “AAARRRGGHH!!! Your oath!”

And AAARRRGGHH!!! says, “Your life more important.”

This highlights a profound truth. It is found everywhere in Scripture. Some principles are greater than others. Jesus says that there are two commandments that are the greatest. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. When he says these are greater than the others, I take it to mean that they are greater than the others.

And the character of AAARRRGGHH!!! understands the “love your neighbor” part more than most.

If we don’t put “love your neighbor” in its proper place, then we descend into self-righteousness, similar to the Pharisees. They would tithe from their spice rack, and declare that all they had was to be given God…and then neglect their own mothers. It sure looked and sounded great.

If my family is assaulted, I can sound high and mighty, and act superior by citing verses like “turn the other cheek” or “love your enemies,” and use them as a cover for cowardice while sounding extra holy and pious. If I fail to do something, what I’m really doing is hating my family. Hating the neighbors God has put directly under my charge.

This is one reason why the Bible has such a nuanced view of deception. The Hebrew midwives, when commanded to kill all the baby boys, lied to Pharaoh. To be honest in that situation would have been hating their neighbors. And God blesses them for their dishonesty.

Our principles are just something else we can end up boasting in, puffing ourselves up. But we should be careful to boast only in one thing.

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14

We are called to lay down our own lives. But we don’t get to choose to lay down the lives of others. Those are the very lives we should be cherishing more than our own.

This can play out in many different ways in our modern world as well. We are susceptible to the language and rhetoric of compassion, all the while harboring a hatred and contempt for our neighbors. If you have offered support for taking care of the poor or taking in refugees…and then “volunteer” someone else’s time, resources, and/or money, you are guilty of this.

Likewise, a friend should not seek to hurt another friend. But in some cases, the loving thing to do is to deliver a properly timed wound. “Niceness” isn’t necessarily a Christian virtue, and coddling can be just as hateful as a knife in the back.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6

“On these hang all of the Law and the Prophets.” Your neighbors life is more important than the letter of the law.

“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6

Discerning the correct path in a given situation isn’t always easy. Oftentimes, it requires a lifetime of practice (Hebrews 5:14), of honed wisdom. If it requires a quick decision, it becomes even harder.

But maybe AAARRRGGHH!!! the troll can can give us some valuable insight.

How do we engrain a love of our neighbors so that it becomes habit, engraved on our hearts and minds?

Framed by Mary’s Heart

Luke 2 has at least two potential structures that its stories are organized around, and neither are mutually exclusive. Both are supported and framed by the mentions of hearts, most notably Mary’s.

First, we have a conventional chiasm:

A - Mary treasures and ponders things in her heart (2:19)
  B - In the temple - Simeon (2:20-33)
    C - Rising and Falling - thoughts of hearts revealed (2:35)
  B'- In the temple - Jesus (2:41-50)
A'- Mary treasures things in her heart (2:51)

The center is about the rising and falling of many in Israel, and of a sword that will pierce Mary’s soul. The secret thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.

All of this happens during Jesus’ ministry, and it is just exactly when the pondering inside of Mary’s heart would come to the forefront, the whole reason Mary is keeping these treasured moments. When what Mary stores up is revealed, so are the hearts of many others. See also Romans 2:16.

The second structure is a set of three parallel sequences:

A - Trip to the manger (2:16)
  B - Message given to Jesus' parents about the child (2:17-18)
    C - Mary's heart (2:19)

A - Trip to the temple (2:22-27)
  B - Message given to Jesus' parents about the child (2:28-33)
    C - Thoughts of hearts revealed (2:34-35)

A - Trip to the temple (2:41-47)
  B - Message given by Jesus' to his own parents (2:48-50)
    C - Mary's heart (2:51)

Some interesting comparisons come up. The manger (and the child) is in place of the temple. Jesus will be the one who makes clean and forgives sins, and so will end up being the true temple, so this makes perfect sense.  We should be expecting it.

And then Jesus himself is in place of the messengers. Others have been speaking about him, but now he speaks for himself. The Word made flesh is not only the consummation of the Law (the temple being the prime symbol), but also the Prophets. God now speaks through his Son (Heb 1:1-2), and we should listen (Luke 9:35).

The replacement hinted at begins to take place in the very next chapter, with John the Baptist’s imprisonment and Jesus’ anointing.

There might also be structure in the progression of reactions to the various messages from heaven. People wonder about the message (2:18). Joseph and Mary are amazed about the message (2:33). Finally, Joseph and Mary are confused about the message (2:50).

This tends to follow the same trend as Jesus’ ministry. People are amazed…but then also get very confused.

The Greatest Authority Given to Men

Matthew cites a profound reason as to why the crowds glorified God in Matthew 9:8. After Jesus tells a paralytic that his sins are forgiven, he proves it by healing the man. The text then says in verse 8:

But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

The overarching story of the Bible has many themes, structures, and beats, and one of them about God gradually entrusting man with more and more authority and responsibility. Man is initially given dominion over the whole earth and the things therein. After the flood, man gets authority to judge capital crimes, representing authority over his fellow man (Gen. 9:5-7). With post-Exodus Israel, we see men given the responsibility to guard and serve God’s throne-room sanctuary. With Solomon, we see a man given the ability to discern between good and evil, granting as a gift what Adam had prematurely seized in the garden (1 Kings 3:9).

With Jesus, we see this theme reach its climax. It is a big deal that a man has the authority to forgive sins. The Son of Man, our brother, has been invested with this authority. And it is also the climax of this particular section of Matthew. The end of chapter 7 until 9:8 is all about authority.

The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one having authority. (7:29)

The centurion says that he too is a man under authority, comparing himself to Jesus, and that servants and soldiers under him “go” and “come” according to his command. (8:5-9)

Then we get the scene that seems like the climax, the height of Jesus’ authority, when he calms the storm. The disciples marvel at “what kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (8:27) What could be greater than this? Our jaws drop along with the disciples.

But that is not the end nor the pinnacle of this section, as we soon learn. The only place where people glorify God is after Jesus says he has the authority to forgive sins. That is when he is at his most powerful. Cleaning the slate, reconciling people to a holy, righteous God.

And that power is invested in a man.

Yet another thing to add to the wonder of the Incarnation.

To Compose a Name – Adam and Eve

In Genesis 2, Adam names the animals. To name something is to claim authority over it, and earlier (Gen. 1:28) God placed everything that moves on the earth under the rule of those made in His image.

But Adam doesn’t bother to name his wife…until after the Fall. The man composes a poem, but doesn’t take time to compose a name.

After God lays down his curse, part of which is that the man will rule over the woman (Gen. 3:16), only then does Adam name Eve. A lot of things changed as a result of the Fall. Could one of them have been the nature of the man’s authority over his wife? Adam now claims his right to rule his wife by naming her, as he did the animals.

Paul makes it clear that the created order itself has some authority, and it included some form of hierarchy. Man is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7). Adam was created first, and then Eve (1 Tim. 2:13).

Likewise, the whole point of marriage, from the very beginning, was to image Christ and His Church, a clear relationship of ruler and subject. Pre-fall, the authority was in place, but the placement of the naming of Eve hints that something truly precious was lost between the sexes, a corrupting of the authority that lowered the woman closer to the status of a animal, less of the ideal helper than intended, and as a result both man and woman are diminished.