Redeeming God's Family

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Revelation of God as Father

"Philip saith unto Him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I say unto you I speak not from Myself: but the Father abiding in Me doeth His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me: or else believe Me for the very works' sake" (John 14:8-11).

It must be remembered that the revelation of God reached fulness and finality in His Son. That is a definite statement at the beginning of the letter to the Hebrews: "God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things" (Heb. 1:1,2). The fulness and the end of the revelation of God is in Jesus Christ, His Son.

In his Gospel John begins right back in the past eternity, and sees the Son there, and then he brings the Son out of eternity into time: "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Then you will notice how much there is in this Gospel about the future. Jesus is constantly speaking about afterwards: "In that day", pointing on to that phase of His existence after He would leave this world. There is much about that eternal future in this Gospel.

So here we have the Son of God in three tenses - the past eternity, the present hour, and the eternity to come. The point is that God's Son comprehends the whole of the eternities, and God's full revelation from eternity to eternity is in His Son.

The words in the Gospel by John which take us right to the very heart of God are "Father" and "Son". However much there may be about "Life" in the Gospel - and there is a very great deal - and however much there may be about other things, the heart of everything is in these two words: 'Father' and 'Son'. The name 'Father' occurs one hundred and sixteen times, which is more than any other subject in the Gospel. Just let that sink into you! The name 'Father' is mentioned one hundred and sixteen times in this Gospel. The word 'Son' is used thirty-seven times, but when 'Father' is mentioned it relates to the 'Son', so that, although the word 'Son' may not occur so frequently, 'Father' always relates to the 'Son'. So you can say that in meaning, 'Son' occurs one hundred and sixteen times.

Now, with this word the Lord Jesus brought an entire revolution into the world. His revelation of the Father was a complete revolution. The way in which Jesus revealed the Father had never been known in the world before. The Jews did not know Him like this. When you go back to the Old Testament and look to see what was the Jews' conception of God, you find that it was very different. There is one word which sums up the whole of their idea of God. The Jewish idea of God was entirely gathered into the one word: 'holy'. He was to them 'the Holy One of Israel'. Perhaps you would be very impressed if you were to look to see how many times that title occurs in the Old Testament. He is called and known as 'the Holy One of Israel' right through the Old Testament. In the prophecies of Isaiah alone, that title occurs twenty-nine times; and if that is one prophet, how many times must it be in all the other books! God was the Holy One to Israel. He alone must be worshipped because He was the Holy One. Isaiah heard the voice of the seraphim crying: "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts" (Isa. 6:3), and that sums up the whole of Israel's conception of God.

This is the primary doctrine of Judaism. The Hebrew word for 'holy' means 'different', 'separate', 'one who is set apart from others'. A thing or person in the Old Testament was holy because it, or he, was different and set apart from all others. The priest was holy because he was supposed to be different from all the other men, and he stood apart from them. The temple was holy because it was different from all other buildings, and it was set apart from them. The Sabbath was holy because it was different from all other days, and it was set apart from them. God was holy because He was different from all other gods, and He was set apart from them all. This meant that unless a person was holy, God could not be approached by that person. This very holiness kept every unholy person away. It was very dangerous for an unholy person or an unholy thing to come near to God.

This was the consciousness of the people of Israel. You remember Jacob after that night when the man wrestled with him? It says: "And there wrestled a man with him" (Gen. 32:24). (I think we had just better pause to get our minds straight on this matter. We have heard a lot about wrestling with God, and we base that idea upon Jacob at Peniel. But what the Bible says is that the man wrestled with Jacob. It was God who started this thing, and there was a very good reason for it where Jacob was concerned). But when 'the man' left him, Jacob cried out in terror: "I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved" (Gen. 32:30). If he had seen God face to face, his life would not have been preserved because he was Jacob. God came to him in another form.

Think again of Moses. In an interview between God and Moses, Moses said to God: 'Show me Thy face', and God answered: "Thou canst not see My face; for man shall not see Me and live" (Ex. 33:20).

When the man who appeared to Gideon and wrought those wonders went away, Gideon cried out: "Alas, O Lord God! Forasmuch as I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face. And the Lord said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die" (Judges 6:22,23).

Do you see what their idea of God was? His holiness made Him very terrible, and for an unholy being to come near Him meant death.

Then God was sovereign Lord, and He revealed Himself as sovereign Lord to Israel. We have one outstanding illustration of this, and into it is gathered the whole of the Old Testament. The Lord said to Jeremiah: "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear My words. Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he was making a work on the wheels. And when the vessel that he made of the clay was marred in the hand of the potter, he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter?" (Jer. 18:1-6). "Can I not do just as I like with Israel? Who will tell Me what I ought to do? Who will dictate to Me? I do as I like. I do as I please, and no one has any right to say: 'Why do you do that?' or: 'Why do you do it in that way?' I am Sovereign Lord and I keep My wisdom to Myself. You may not understand, but that is not the point. Whether you understand or do not understand, I know what I am doing."

But, you know, this puts people in a very difficult situation. This sovereignty of God creates some real problems for us, for the fact of the matter is that we never know what God is going to do and what He will do next. He will usually do the thing that we never thought of, and will not explain Himself before He does it, or while He is doing it. We may have to wait a very long time before we get the explanation. God is just Sovereign Lord, and He keeps everything in His own hands and in His own wisdom, and explains Himself to no man. That is the Old Testament idea of God - He is bound by nothing but His own holiness. For Israel this was a terrible truth.

And so we are led to this point: this holiness of God in the Old Testament is revealed as a terrible thing for sinners. The sinner is made to fear God because of His holiness. You know how true that is in the Old Testament. God is 'God the all-terrible' for the sinner. That is the conception of God in Judaism: He is a holy God and it means death and destruction for anything unholy to come into His presence. With that you sum up your Old Testament and close it.

But let us turn from the Jewish idea of God to the idea in the Greek and Roman worlds. The disciples had not only to encounter the Jewish world, and their training was not only in relation to that world, but they were also being trained to go out into the Greek and Roman worlds where they would meet other ideas about God. If you had moved in those worlds you would have found that they considered that the gods were very hostile people. No Greek or Roman had any confidence in his god, indeed, there was nothing but suspicion of the gods in their world. They entirely mistrusted them, and looked upon man as the victim of the gods. They were not at all concerned for man's well-being, but were his enemies. His interests were no concern of theirs. The fact was that they had to do anything and everything to try and appease the wrath of the gods. They had in some way to set aside their antagonism. They feared their gods, believed they were against their interests, and would do anything to get on even terms with them.

Their gods were also unknowable gods. When Paul went to Athens he saw all those images to gods, all those altars, and written on one altar were the words: 'To the Unknown God'. They were gods who could not be known, and they were quite detached from men and not a bit interested in men's good. The great work of Satan from the beginning has always been to misrepresent God, to give man a false idea of Him, and to make him think of God as completely the reverse of what He is. That is particularly true in the pagan world.

Now you see what I meant when I said that when Jesus came He brought in a revolution in this matter. What a revolution was this word 'Father'! No, He was not going to put aside the holiness of God, but He was going to do something that made it possible for men to come into the presence of a holy God. We must leave that just for the present, but we will come to it later on.

Our point at the moment is the tremendous revolution that this word 'Father' on the lips of Jesus created. I wonder if you recognise that in this one word, all the Gospel is summed up? What is the Gospel? It is the 'good news' - good news for Israel and good news for the pagan world. And the Gospel is all summed up in one word: 'Father', as revealed in Jesus Christ.

But do you see what this name introduces? It introduces us to the great thought of God to have a family. That is the deepest thing in the heart and mind of God. Do you notice, that God took one whole section of the Bible in order to show this? The Old Testament is divided into three sections: the Patriarchs, the Kings, and the Prophets, and the whole of that first section of the Patriarchs is taken up with this idea of God about the family. The word 'Patriarch' means the head of a father's house, and the first section of the Bible is the section of the Patriarchs - heads of father's houses - and in that section God has hidden His great eternal thought about a family. It would take us a long time just to study that, and I can only hint at it.

Abraham was called a "father of many (nations)" (Rom. 4:17). He was the originator of a family for God and you know of the teaching about him as the father. Even the Jews thought of him as father. They said to Jesus: "Our father is Abraham" (John 8:39). It is a pity they did not know what that meant from God's standpoint!

And then from Abraham came the twelve tribes of Israel, through twelve sons. The whole nation was founded upon sonship out of a father. In type and in figure one father, and a family of sons. And there is much more in that section of the Old Testament. God was working at that time upon this spiritual principle of a family.

But He went wider than Israel, for He said to Abraham: "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). It was a very big family that was in the mind of God.

So we see in the very first place that there was this idea and purpose in the mind of God to have a family of His own; that He should be Father, and that there should be a family whom He would call His children. The greatest tragedy and loss in history was the loss of God's family. In a very real sense we have to say that God lost His family.

The Lord Jesus had a very great mind. He had in His mind comprehended the whole thought of His Father. He knew the thought of His Father from all eternity, and He put that whole thought into the simplest thing that He said. When Jesus says something, you have eternity and the universe, and that is why we never get to the end of anything that He says. Some of us have been talking for more than fifty years about things that He said, and I have to confess to you that, after all that time, I am now seeing more in the simple things of Jesus than I ever saw before. There is no getting to the bottom of anything that Jesus said.

Take one of the most simple things that He said. I wonder what you would choose if I asked you what is the best-known thing that Jesus said! I think some of you would choose the "Prodigal Son". Jesus knew what He meant when He spoke that parable. He never called it the 'Parable of the Prodigal Son', or gave it any name, but if it were given its true name it would be: "The Parable of a Father's Love".

Look at the situation. There is a happy family. The sons had lived with their father for years, until they reached manhood, and then one day something came in. It came into the mind of one of the sons, and the result of that was the break-up of that family. The family was broken and became scattered, not only geographically, but spiritually. Discord had come in. But when at last the son who had gone away returned, what was it that Jesus made him say? The first word on his lips was 'Father' - "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight" (Luke 15:21). What was the sin against heaven and in the father's sight in the mind of Christ? Jesus knew what happened in the Garden. God had made a family possible, a very happy family, and then an evil thing, an evil thought, came in. The result? The family of God was broken, and the whole world throughout all history has been an exhibition of what happened then - a broken family. God had been robbed of that upon which His heart was set.

Look at the world today. I think there is no more false statement than that which calls the world "a family of nations". That is wholly and utterly false to the state of things. There is no such thing in existence today as a family of nations! It is a broken family and is in a terrible state.

Jesus knew all that when He told the simple parable of the Prodigal. He made this man say, "I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight", and the sin against heaven and against God is the sin against the family. It is indeed a sin. And so Christ in His parable set forth a very deep truth.

But do you notice what the New Testament says? It says that when things are getting near the end and judgment is about to come upon this world, one of the signs is the broken family. Paul writes about disobedience to parents - children against parents, parents against children - the family life broken up. This is one of the features of a state that is positively against God's mind. And the New Testament says that when things get like that, the judgment is very near.

In most parts of the world the situation is like this more than ever. Children have little or no respect for their parents. As for honouring father and mother, they don't know anything about it! And it is working more and more the other way: parents are careless about their children. Family life is being rapidly lost in this world and the New Testament says that is a mark of the end and points to swift judgment coming. Oh, this great desire of God for a family! What a lot rests upon it!

Do remember that Satan is positively against the family. He will do anything to break it up, because it goes nearest to the heart of God. A true family is a representation of what God has eternally desired. This is not just legalism. It carries with it great eternal spiritual principles. The great heart of God is in this matter, so He brought back into this world that great conception of Father and family. You understand that I am not only speaking about natural families.

Jesus came to show us that the Jewish and pagan idea is not the kind of Father that we may have. We may draw near to Him without fear; we may know Him; and we may have fellowship with Him. He is only too anxious to come near and make Himself known and understood. If He has lost, He is not just going to wait until the thing comes back; He is going to search until He finds what is lost. Has God lost His family? "The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). And the greatest thing that the Lord Jesus seeks and saves is the family.

This ought to revolutionise our idea about churches. You would think that God wants anything but families by the way people talk about churches: companies of people who are built upon a technique, all kinds of laws and regulations, a certain set and fixed system and order. That is not a family! Every local company of the Lord's people ought to be a family, and all the Lord's people in the world ought to be a family. They really are a family, but they are not living as a family.

Yes, Jesus has brought in His own Person the revelation of God as Father.

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