"Is God Everybody's Father?"#86-27
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 3, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 8
"Is God everybody's Father?" she asked me. My church had been a part of something revolutionary. We had partnered with the public school district in the city, and under the auspices of the district's program, we adopted the neighborhood elementary school. And we had done several service projects for them and with them, and the teachers and the principal were so grateful that they called me up, the pastor, and asked if they could come in mid-December and sing our church some Christmas songs as a way of saying thank you.
We said, "Sure." We scheduled it in the day in mid-December, and the students all filed over and got up on the stage and they sang. They sang their hearts out. They sang "Jingle Bells" and "Deck the Halls" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and some of the greatest hits of secular Christmas songs. We said thank you, and we applauded them, and they gave me the mic and asked if I wanted to say something. I told them thank you, and then I told them that we here at our church, we celebrate Christmas because we believe that God loves the whole world so much that He sent His Son so that we could call Him Father. "Would it be okay if I said a prayer for you, that if I said a prayer to my Father for you?"
They said, "Sure, that'd be okay." I prayed and we gave them all cookies. It was when we were sitting there eating our cookies and drinking our juice that this little first-grade girl asked me this question that I will not soon forget. "Is God everybody's Father?" How would you answer? If you're anything like me, your inclination would be to say, Yes! Yes! God is everybody's Father." You've heard people who have been raised in the church say this when maybe there's a disagreement about religion. They say, "Well, we're all God's children, aren't we? We're all God's children." We've got songs that say God's got the little bitty babies in His hands. He's got the whole world in His hands.
We got songs that say "Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world." We've got Bible verses that would lead us toward this that say that God loves the world. Jesus told us this in this book we've been listening to: John 3. Jesus said, "God so loved the world." How did He love the world? With what kind of love did He love the world? Not the love of a collector of His model trains, not the love of a grill-master for His smoked brisket, not the love of a poker player for a full house. It's the love of a Father for a household, for His children. This is how God loves. He loves as a Father. It's in His nature. We have a lot of reasons where we want to say, "Yes, God's everybody's Father."
The renowned psychologist Sigmund Freud once criticized religion as infantile wish fulfillment—infantile, childish, baby-like wish fulfillment for an all-powerful, benevolent, cosmic Father. The critique goes something like this: Once upon a time, humanity became self-aware. As we became aware of ourselves and our surroundings, we saw that the universe is a really big and scary place. This made us feel vulnerable. To cope with this vulnerability, we took the good feeling of having a big, strong, nice, club-carrying father to protect us and we projected it upward, and we call that projection God. This has been a powerful critique of religion in Western society. It helps explain, perhaps, where we got religion if your religion is simply the belief that God's everybody's Father.
But it does not make as much sense of this complex scene of cosmic revolutionary battle that we see portrayed in the Bible. What I mean by that is the Bible does profess that God is a loving Father, but the Bible also says that there has been a rebellion. This supernatural agent called the devil has captivated God's good creation with his lies. Now, this devil, this superhuman agent, he's not in any way on the level with God. He was a good creature of God, but he has turned bad and he has spun this web of lies and he is hellbent on destroying everyone whom God would call as His children. In this way, God loved the world, that He sent His only Son to start a revolution. He sent His Son to speak the truth, to set the captives free, so we might join the revolution.
Now, again, this critique of religion, that it's just infantile, childish wish fulfillment, it makes a lot of sense if your only belief is that God is everybody's Father, but it doesn't make much sense of this plot of the Bible. I don't see how the introduction of a divine revolution that demands self-denial and self-sacrifice and lifetime of spiritual strife, all with the threat of hell on the line, I don't see how that's a childish wish fulfillment. I don't know what kind of wishes you had as a child, but it doesn't seem to fit as a wish fulfillment. Again, we are asking this question: "Is God everybody's Father?" Though we have reasons to say yes, that can't be all we say, because if it is, it sounds kind of like wish fulfillment. But if we want to stay with the plot of the Bible, then we need to say more.
As we say more, I could hear someone critique the biblical view that it's just superstitious. It's superstitious. This critique goes something like this: once upon a time, people lived in dark ages, and they thought that there were devils and demons, but then, everybody, the light of the world came—science—and we shine the light all around the room and under the bed, and there were no monsters! We realized that we're all alone; the whole house is ours. There's no one watching us. There's no one threatening us. There's no one judging us. We got the whole house to ourselves. When I hear that story, I think, well, what if that's just teenage wish fulfillment? Adolescent wish fulfillment?
Whatever it is, I admit that I, having been shaped by science and technology, I admit that when I meet this man, Jesus, as He is presented in the extraordinarily well-attested historical documents that we call the New Testament, as I meet Him, I find that He has strange beliefs. They're strange. This Jesus believes that He is at the forefront of a divine cosmic revolution. He believes that the whole world is caught up in a battle between God and the devil. He believes that God is a loving Father, and He also believes that the devil is hellbent on destroying all whom God would hold as His children, and He believes that He's the only One who can do anything about this. This Jesus believes that by His death and resurrection, He will win the decisive battle of this revolution, and He believes all this because He identifies as the true Son of God.
This sounds strange. This sounds maybe dangerous, radical, and it sounded radical and dangerous and strange to the people who heard it when He first made it public 2,000 years ago. These were deeply religious people. These were prescientific people, and they were threatened, so much so that they eventually would have Him crucified for the things He said. Maybe you've heard someone say, "I accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I do not accept the claim that He's the Son of God." If that sounds like a sensible position to you, then I invite you to read the Gospel of John, to listen to the Gospel of John, because the Jesus that you witness there will not let you dismiss Him as a good moral, human teacher.
C.S. Lewis said it so well. "Any man who is merely a man and said the kinds of things that Jesus said is not a great moral teacher. He is either a madman or the devil. You must choose. Either He was and He is the Son of God, or a madman." John 8 makes this either/or, this revolutionary battle line, clear. As you listen to it with me, I urge you to ask yourself, "What do I do with Jesus? Do I ignore Him? Do I silence Him? Or do I let Him set me free?" This is John 8.
"In the morning on the next day, Jesus came again into the temple courts. And all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down and taught them. The Pharisees and the scribes brought in a woman caught in adultery, and they made her stand before them. They said to Jesus, 'Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses has commanded that we stone such a person to death. Now, what do You say?' They asked this question as a trap so that they might have a basis for accusing Him. Jesus bent down to the ground and started writing in the dirt with His finger. When they kept questioning Him, He stood up and He said, 'Whichever one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.'
"And He bent back down and continued writing. When they heard this, they began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until there was no one left but only Jesus and the woman standing there, facing Him. And He said to her, 'Woman, where have they all gone? Did no one condemn you?' 'No one, sir,' she said. 'Then neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.' Again, Jesus spoke to the people. 'I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.' The Pharisees said to Him, 'You are serving as Your own witness. Your testimony is not true.' Jesus answered them. 'Even if I am serving as My own witness, My testimony is true because I know where I have come from and I know where I am going. You, however, have no idea where I have come from or where I am going. You are judging by the flesh. I am judging no one. Yet, if I do judge, My judgment is true because I do not judge on My own, but with the Father who sent Me.' Again, He said to the people, 'I am going away. You will seek Me, and you will die in your sins. Where I go, you cannot come.' And the Jews started asking one another, 'Will He kill Himself? Will He kill Himself? Is that what He means when He's saying, "Where I go, you cannot come?"'
"Jesus said, 'You are from below. I am from above. You are of this world, I am not of this world. So I told you that you will die in your sins because if you do not trust that I am, you will die in your sins.' Even as He was speaking, many trusted in Him. Even as He spoke, many put their faith in Him. To the Jews who trusted in Him, He said, 'If you remain in My Word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.' They said to Him, 'But we are Abraham's descendants, and we've never been slaves to anyone. How can you say that we will be set free?'
"Jesus said, 'I am telling you the truth. Whoever sins is a slave to sin. Now, a slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son remains forever. And if the Son has set you free, you will be actually free. I know that you are Abraham's descendants, and yet you are seeking to kill Me because there is no room for My Word in you. I have told you the things that I have seen in the presence of My Father, but you are doing the things that you have heard from your father.' 'Abraham is our father.' 'If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works that Abraham did, but as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth from God. Abraham would not do such a thing. No, you are of your father, and you are seeking to do the works of your father.'
"'We are not children born of immorality. The only father we have is God Himself.' 'If God were your Father, you would love Me, because I have come from God and am now here. I did not come on My own, but He sent Me. Why do you not know what I'm saying to you? Because you are unable to hear My Word. You are of your father, the devil, and you are seeking to carry out his desire. He was a murderer from the beginning because he does not stand in the truth. There is no truth in him. He is a liar. When he lies, he speaks his native language because he is a liar and the father of lies, yet because I speak the truth to you, you do not believe Me. Which one of you can prove Me guilty of sin? If I'm speaking the truth, why don't you trust Me? The one who belongs to God listens to the Words of God. The reason you do not trust Me is because you do not belong to God.'
"'Now we know. You are a Samaritan, and you are possessed by a demon.' 'I am not possessed by a demon. I honor My Father and you dishonor Me. I am not seeking My own glory, but there is One who seeks it, and He is the judge. He is the judge. I am telling you the truth. Whoever keeps My word will not see death even into the age to come.' 'Oh, now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say whoever keeps Your Word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? What are You making Yourself out to be?'
"'If I seek My own glory, My glory counts for nothing. It is My Father who glorifies Me, whom you claim as your God. I know Him. You do not know Him. If I were to say that I did not know Him, I would be lying like you, but I do know Him, and I hold to His Word. Your father, Abraham, was thrilled at the thought of seeing My day. He saw it and rejoiced.' 'You are not yet 50 years old and you have seen Abraham?' 'I am telling you the truth,' Jesus said. 'Before Abraham was, I am.' And they picked up rocks to throw at Him, but He hid Himself from them and then went out of the temple.
These are excerpts from John 8. There I was, sitting in the fellowship hall of my church basement, and there were, I think, seven first-grade girls sitting around me in a semicircle, and they were asking me all kinds of questions: "Are you the pastor of this church? What's a pastor?" Questions like, "Do you know that I have a kitty cat?" Or, "Where did all the hair on your head go?" Or, "Is God everybody's Father?" What would you say? I wanted to say yes, but I paused, and I thought to myself, God is everybody's Creator, and He loves everybody as a Father, but not everybody knows Him as the Father because not everybody trusts Jesus, His Son. Not everybody has joined the revolution. I said, "God wants to be everybody's Father. He wants everybody to pray to Him as Father."
Before I could get another word in, a little girl in her class sitting off to my right blurts out with the sound of the revolution in her voice, and she says, "I believe! I believe in God and Jesus!" Me, too, sister. Me, too. If you are ready to join the revolution, I urge you to pray with me, saying, "Father, Father, thank You for sending Jesus to tell us the truth, to tell us the truth about this world, to tell us the truth about the devil, to tell us the truth about our sin, to tell us the truth about You. Help us to hold to His truth. Help us to be held by Your truth and so be set free, that we might join in this revolution that leads to the life of the age to come, because He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for March 3, 2019
Title: Is God Everybody's Father?
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and we just heard our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler, with a message, titled "Is God Everybody's Father?" based on the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 8. Dr. Zeigler, there's a note in the Bible that says many of the earliest manuscripts do not include the first 11 verses of that chapter. What's going on there?
Mike Zeigler: That is the case that this whole story of the woman caught in adultery in these earliest manuscripts, it doesn't appear there. In some manuscripts, it appears in the prior chapter, in chapter 7 at the end of verse 36. In other manuscripts, it's not there at all. And some manuscripts even have it in Luke chapter 21, at the very end of the chapter. So, this has been a problem that the church has known about for a long time. The conclusion is that this is an authentic story about Jesus, but it's looking for a context. We don't quite know where to put it, or if it belongs in a book, or if it's just a story that the church remembered.
Mark Eischer: John ends his Gospel by saying that if he had tried to write down everything Jesus had done and said, the whole world could not contain all the books that would be written.
Mike Zeigler: Exactly. Just because it's not written in one of the Gospels doesn't mean it didn't happen, doesn't mean that Jesus didn't do it, but the Gospel writers were selective. And apparently, either John at a later point, or a scribe who was copying down John wanted to add this in, it seems.
Mark Eischer: We look at the printed text of the Bible and it appears seamless, but that's not how it came to be compiled.
Mike Zeigler: Right. So we have to remember that the New Testament is a construction, a re-construction of the original text from 5,000 some pieces, manuscripts. And so scholars have worked together to reconstruct the original text. We don't have the original text. This is common in any historical discipline. For example, you may have heard that there are many versions of Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address." And there's some discussion about what did he actually say, and there's different versions, and they have to compare the two. But we still have a pretty good idea of what Abraham Lincoln said. There are problems like this with ancient texts from the writings of the Greek philosophers, that we have only a handful of texts that we have to try to piece together. Well, in the case of the New Testament, as I mentioned, it's very well-attested, more than 5,000 manuscripts to work with. But when we do that, there are some mismatches. One scribe said this, and one scribe said that. So, that's the work of textual criticism, to reconstruct that text.
Mark Eischer: I guess the bottom line is, can we trust what the Bible tells us? Is it reliable?
Mike Zeigler: So, these mismatches, there are several of them, but when you look at them, they are pretty minor. This would be an example of maybe the most, one of the largest mismatches, where a whole story is missing. But most of them are a difference of a word or a difference of a phrase. I'll give you a couple of examples. In Exodus, chapter 20 verse 18, after God gives the Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai, some manuscripts say that the people "saw" the thunder. And in other manuscripts, it says the people "heard" the thunder. And it's kind of the same thing. Another example would be in Acts 12:10, Peter's going into a city, and it says that he went through a gate. Some manuscripts say after that he went down seven steps, and other manuscripts leave that out. So, there are many cases like these, those are just two. The main point is, we still see the same picture of Jesus. It's not like some manuscripts say that God was so annoyed with the world that He sent His only Son to chew us out. No, they all say the same thing: God loved the world; He gave His only Son. So, there's nothing we need to be worried about in terms of the biblical message and its reliability.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Wondrous Type! O Vision Fair" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)