"God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." - Romans 15:6.
J. A. Robertson: This is the most daring and the most revolutionary title that was ever given to God by men. Yet to-day it often falls from our lips, a grandiloquent and sonorous phrase from which the meaning has well-nigh faded. It is like a piece of worn but stately furniture in an old mansion house, a chair in which kings may have rested, now relegated to the servants' hall; something which, even in the most commonplace environment, still retains its ineffaceable touch of majesty; but waking within us now a pang of pathos rather than a thrill of awe; something with which we feel we can take liberties, when we ought to handle it with deepest, tenderest fears.
Wherever the expression occurs in the New Testament, it always betrays a mounting wave of emotion in the writer's breast - a wave of emotion which has broken at length into a white crest of whispering wonder and adoration and praise. In the religious lands of the East the pious worshipper never uses the name of God without muttering after it, "Blessed be His name."
The first Christians never spoke the words, "The Father of our Lord Jesus," without murmuring some such word of adoration, "Blessed be He!" (1 Cor. 1:3, Eph. 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3) All the feelings of awe and reverence and self-abasement which used to visit these sons of a desert faith, when they thought on the Nameless One [since it was forbidden to pronounce YHWH, people thought of God as nameless], the Unseen, the Eternal, the Supreme - transferred mysteriously and made to cluster round the words, "The Father of Jesus!"
When they wanted to make the most solemn asseveration, as if under the All-seeing Eye, it was the Father of our Lord they called to witness. "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus," wrote Paul in that letter of vehement, protesting sorrow to the recalcitrant Church at Corinth, "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not" (2 Cor. 11:31). It was a name which filled them with the same impulse which makes the devout Catholic cross himself to-day. It constrained them to bow their heads, to bow their knees. The sound of the words was a summons to worship and to glorify.
It is so in the example we have chosen as a text, chosen merely because it is the first occasion of its use in the New Testament. All the others are either in thanksgiving or in prayer, benediction or doxology. At the very beginning of the letter to Colosse, Paul writes: "We give thanks to God even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you" (Col. 1:3). It is an opening doxology in the Epistle to the Ephesians, "Blessed be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). In the heart of that Epistle we see the outward as well as the inward demeanor which the words inspired: "I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Eph. 3:14-15). It comes at length as a ray of heavenly sunlight after the storm-clouds had rolled away from Corinth: "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort" (2 Cor. 1:3).
For deathly aftermath of the forbidding Cross has kept a broken-hearted disciple from unsaying his denial; but he has hardly put pen to paper long after, when in a burst of doxology we catch the reflection of the Resurrection glory which scattered his despair: "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again to a living hope by the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3).
I wonder if we might, perchance, to-day get back behind the cold, formal ring, it seems, alas! that phrase to have, too often, when we thrust it into our devotions. I wonder if we may be able to recall a few faint gleams of its old radiance, by pondering over it in humble meditation for a spell. "The Father of our Lord Jesus" - let us try to carry the words back, on the wings of fancy, to the quiet circle of the hills round Nazareth, and to the shores of the Lake of Galilee.
On the streets of the little country town we meet a young man as He goes to and from His day's work, with His tool-bag slung over His shoulder. Friends and acquaintances nod to Him, give Him "good-day" as He passes. We see Him clad in rough homespun, climbing the ladder at the building or repairing of some house; we watch His strong, deft, work-hardened hands wielding the hammer and saw. A fine specimen of the town's young manhood, with open manly face - our hearts go out to Him at once. And when we venture to exchange greetings with Him, we pass on with a vague and puzzled impression of something out of the ordinary about the Man. What sort of home has He sprung from? We suspect for the moment He is a nobleman's son, hiding for some reason in the lowly disguise and habit of a workman. Yet no, the people tell us that His father was Joseph, the aged carpenter, now deceased, and that His mother Mary and her family are with them still. "And yet," they add, "there's a something about Him we have noticed.... It is strange!"
The days pass, and led by some impulse we turn in to converse with Him by the bench, for we want to know Him closer. And He lifts upon us great, dark, luminous eyes. And the unsolved puzzle in our minds about His pedigree gives way to a feeling of startled wonder. That something about the Man had nothing to do with the delicacy of human nurture. It is a rare thing that stands confronting us. To use an expressive phrase of the street to-day, it is a sincere soul.
A spirit clean and fresh and untarnished, like the green leaves of springtime, before the blight and dust of summer. And those eyes pierce and penetrate, till we grow pained at the rash audacity that made us intrude - the desire of the moth for the star. A humble peasant workman! But there is something about Him, something about His bearing, His personality, a compelling glory about His very humility, that sets Him far and beyond us. And then He smiles - a smile of rare and gentle beauty on a face so strong and so serene. And we are welcomed and won. But who, oh, who can He be?
Days pass, and weeks, and we meet Him again by the Lake, a Teacher with a few unlettered followers round Him, and the crowds hanging upon His words. Suppose we approach one of those disciples and begin to question him. "You ask me why do I follow Him? Why, because He has brought me into the presence of God. Yes, He knows God, knows the Most High, the Ever Blessed One. No, I never inquired about His parents, or His home."... And the flame kindles in his eyes, as, with a sudden access of conviction that takes your breath away, the disciple says, "The God of Jesus, the God the Master is always speaking of - and speaking to - He is the Father of Jesus. I cannot tell how, but I know. He has made me so sure, so sure" (Matt. 14:33, John 1:49).
"The Father of Jesus - God?" we are still fain to ask each other with an old, half-doubting, questioning look upon our faces as we hear the words anew. Perhaps some of you are repeating to yourselves the answer to a question which you learned long ago at school: "There are three Persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory." And you may be musing about the old perplexity, how there can be three in one, without confounding the Persons, or dividing the substance. Yes, even though these ideas be not consciously in our minds at all, we have been unable to carry ourselves completely back in fancy to Galilee, and forget these hard and difficult notions that have somehow crept into our Christian creed out of the ancient philosophies that lie between us and Christ. [See Is the Doctrine of the Trinity obsolete?].
But if you were to ask those questions of this fisherman disciple who has just told you in a whisper throbbing with awe that God was the Father of Jesus, he would stare at you and wonder whether you were mad. He would say to you, "I haven't the faintest notion what you mean. I am just a simple uneducated man telling you in the plainest language what He has made me feel about Him. Come with me and listen to Him awhile...." And you draw near and listen.
Yes, He is talking about Someone, very reverently and yet in the most intimate and familiar way. A breath blows out of the open skies and fans your cheek - a breath from the Unseen. Gentle and pure like the trembling light from a pulsing star, but convinced that He was sent; sensitive, yet all His sensitiveness transformed into divine strength - He seems to be speaking about Someone who is beside Him, all about Him - lending a glory to the red lily at His feet; a joy to the wheeling flight of the birds overhead; a wave of life beating down through the sunshine that sweeps along the hillside; falling through the rain on the springing corn in the valley; and whispering in His heart. Someone all-great, all-knowing, without whom not a sparrow falls, who sees in secret, who can be spoken to anywhere, and best of all, alone. And listen! He calls Him the Heavenly Father - My Father - and yours. And as you listen God Himself seems to have drawn near.
And all day long you wander by the Lake, lost in thought, marvelling at this strange intimacy, so natural, so simple, so constraining (nothing like it was ever heard on mortal lips before), wondering whether it is a new and unheard-of form of madness, or whether it is true.
And in the twilight as you climb the hillside, the memory of those eyes of arresting purity, and the radiant smile, and the strong reposeful face, comes back to you. And His words, startling in their beauty, their depth, their simplicity - why, they were alive!... Mad? He mad? Nay, but the one soul of perfect sanity in a world awry!
It is we - we, who are suffering from illusions - great thick clouds of suspicion and doubt and care and fear, that shut God out of life. And as you approach the hill-top when the first few faint stars begin to show, you hear the voice of one engaged in earnest talk. Dimly you discern a figure all alone. And faintly, borne on the night breeze, you catch at intervals the words, "O my Father" (Matt. 26:39), "Holy Father" (John 17:11), "O Father, Lord of heaven and earth" (Matt. 11:25). And you steal away. You, too, have become like the disciple fisherman. Without another question you repeat, "The God of Jesus is the Father of Jesus. I know not how or why, but it is so."
Here in the text before us the Apostle Paul is bidding us with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we are so far away from glorifying God to-day that we have given up trying even to justify Him. We are so far away from glorifying Him that we are questioning Him, asking grim and desperate questions at Him, and about Him - ay, questioning sometimes whether He exists at all - life has grown so strange and terrible and hard to understand - if indeed it can be understood.
But when I want an answer to the first of all my soul's questions - I mean an answer that really satisfies - it is neither to the most subtle of the sciences nor to the profoundest of the philosophies that I turn. I find it in the presence of the most saintly friend I know. It is God's good men who are God's clearest demonstration of His own existence. For God is the truth. The Truth is a person seeking us. And He reaches us through holy personality. And from the presence of God's good men I am carried swiftly back to this amazing Man whom I have met in fancy by the Lake to-day.
And as I look into the translucent depths of those eyes as clear and deep as the evening skies above Him, and as I listen to the easy natural flow of His reverent yet intimate talk of God, and to God His Father, I say with deep emotion, with the glad relief of a tired spirit giving himself again to rest, "God! the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ - blessed be He."
But I find more than that to calm my heart in this daring name for God. I think of Him as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, not merely because Jesus was so intimate with Him, but because Jesus was so satisfied with Him. All the questions of your heart and mind have perhaps not been completely laid to rest by contact with that awesome intimacy.
In those remote highland glens of Galilee, what could He know - you are fain to ask - of the great world with its passions of greed and hate and lust that drench the world with blood, its envy and its misery, its sorrow and shame, its anguish and despair? His was a sheltered life, and in solitary brooding and communing with God among the hills, He never had need to question Him about the darkness and sorrow of the world. The God He supposed He knew was a clear light across which no cloud had drifted bigger than the shadow of a man's hand.
There could not be a falser thing to say about Jesus of Nazareth than that. Seclusion is no shelter from mystery and tragedy and shame. He who speaks to you lived for two or three years in one of the remote glens of Scotland, and in those short swift months he had to stand under the darkest of all the clouds that can drift across the human sky - death in its most meaningless and poignant forms, ay, and things harder far to bear than death. Nothing in all the vast inhuman horror of the Great War [World War I] occurred more hard to understand than these. There was a vast difference of quantity, no doubt, but not of intensity.
And I would be inclined to retort to the man who questions Jesus' experience of life: To say that Christ knew little of life because He was not a city child in touch with the great world is simply to blind one's eyes to the truth. All the known facts of His life are dead against it. He knew what sorrow meant, and hunger. He had stood by the dying Joseph's bed. Chief mourner, He had followed the coffin to the grave - only a boy. He knew what cruelty and avarice could be when turned against an unprotected widow mother. He had to battle with temptation in most powerful forms, and with despair.
Yet there never flitted across His mind so much as a shadow of dissatisfaction with the God who kept Him company all the time. Shall not God clothe you - feed you, as He clothes the lilies, feeds the birds (Matt. 6:26-28)? Your heavenly Father knows. He greatly cares. Looking up to God in every vicissitude of life, He was perfectly satisfied with Him.
He had looked upon the face of death, fn the house and by the wayside. He had stood outside the great stone which blocked the door of the gloomy cave where the body of His dear friend [Lazarus] lay. Tears were on His cheeks, and yet He lifted His eyes to heaven and said, "Father, I thank Thee...." (John 11:41)
And when the Sadducees met Him with their skeptical laughter about the future life, challenging His complacent trust in God, He turned on them swiftly, and with one fierce throbbing word of vindication He constituted Himself for ever the guardian of the holiest human hope: "Ye are far astray. God is not the God of the dead but of the living. [But, in the context of the Resurrection,] God's friends never die." (Matt. 22:32). Yes, face to face with the grim facts of death, He was perfectly satisfied with His God.
But more than that, beside sin and misery, in their most tangled and hopeless forms, He found the forgiving love of God equal to the worst that the human soul could bring upon itself. Step by step, down the ladder of human shame and anguish He went, and step for step, God's love went with Him - to the uttermost. To the bitter end He was perfectly satisfied with God.
And here you turn to me with questioning eye and ask, "To the bitter end? What, then, of the agony of the Garden? Was that not a wrestling of His human will with God's?" No, it was not even a questioning of God's will for Him, as He staggered beneath the burden. But as the shadows were deepening round Him, in that moment when the black hounds of a mocking Fate seemed driving Him to earth, He saw one awful spot on the way ahead of Him, where the light of God's face seemed like to be lost for Him. That the intimate fellowship with His Father should be broken even for a moment - that was what He fain would forego. But He only prayed, "If it be possible, let this cup pass...." (Matt. 26:39) And then "... nevertheless, not My will but Thine...." And all the time of that dread agony and sweat and prayer the name on His lips was "Father."
It is because Peter could not forget the almost unbearable pathos of it, when he tells the story [by tradition to Mark], that he quotes the very word of His mother-speech which Jesus used on this occasion, "Abba! Abba!" (Mark 14:16) - still satisfied.
"But," you challenge me still again, "that awful cry of God-forsakenness from the Cross? Was not all His complacent satisfaction in God disannulled by that word?" Will you listen to the cry again? Was this what He said? "It is all over. God has deserted Me. The end is nothingness and death. Vanity of vanities!" Nay, but He is still crying up to God through the black pall that lay upon His soul. And how does He address Him? Does He cry, "O God, if there be a God?" Does He say, "Great and terrible unseen Being, whoever you are?" No, but "My God, My God..." (Matt. 27:46). Oh, the love that would not let God go, even in that hour of shuddering eclipse on the Cross! Oh, the love and trust that conquered with a sigh: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit;" (Luke 23:46) and went to sleep upon God's breast. Yes, to the bitter end the God of Jesus was a God with whom He was still satisfied.
How perfect must be the God who could satisfy such a man! A stainless, flawless soul - there must be no shadow cast by turning, no darkness at all in the God who could satisfy such as He. Greater love was never shown by man for men than by this Jesus on the Cross. Surely the God with whom He was well pleased must be a great Well of love unutterable.
Humbly and gladly I confess that there is the last resting-place for all the fiercest questioning of my heart. God - the God with whom Jesus was so intimate, the God with whom Jesus was so satisfied, He must be a Being like Jesus, kin with Jesus, Father of Jesus. Nothing in all the record of the human race gleams with such splendor as this life, this holiness, this love, this death of Jesus. It is the fairest flower, the crowning glory of Creation.
The great unseen Spirit that moves behind all Creation's laws - that made them, and lo! they are - cannot be less noble than His own highest achievement in this world of time. The Fountain of Life must be of essentially the same nature as the noblest and purest life that ever surged up on to the earth from its perennial spring. It would be absurd to think otherwise.
I am content, with all my sin and shame and sorrow and doubt, to look upon the face of Christ, radiant with forgiving love as it shines from the Cross, and say, That is the clearest, surest, holiest, and most precious glimpse of the unveiled face of God my soul will ever see, until
"To an ocean fulness
His mercy doth expand,
Where glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel's land."
"The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" blessed be His name!
Sermon preached by James A. Robertson, Aberdeen, Scotland, 1920
Go to Literature Index Page
This URL is abcog.org/jarobert.htm