Everlasting Father

December 12, 2021 ()

Bible Text: Isaiah 9:6-7 |


Everlasting Father | Isaiah 9:6-7
Brian Hedges | December 12, 2021

Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 9. We’re going to be looking at Isaiah 9:6-7.

While you’re turning there—about 30 years ago, a new term popped into psychological literature. The phrase or the term was “father hunger.” This has been written about quite a lot in recent days. There are entire books on this, and I was just looking this week and saw an article on Psychology Today’s website called “Father Absence, Father Deficit, Father Hunger”. The article begins with a report on the low social and emotional wellbeing of children in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

The author, Edward Kruk, says, “Many theories have been advanced to explain the poor state of our nation’s children; most notably, child poverty, race, and social class. A factor that has been largely ignored, however, particularly among child and family policy makers, is the prevalence and devastating effects of fathers’ absence in children’s lives. Researchers have found that for children the results are nothing short of disastrous.”

Then he goes through a list of about 14 things, results of this father deficit in the lives of children. They are the things that you might expect: behavioral problems, truancy, poor academic performance. Seventy-one per cent of high school dropouts are fatherless. Delinquency (youth crime), promiscuity, teen pregnancy, homelessness, exploitation, abuse, physical health problems, mental health problems, and even a higher mortality rate, so that fatherless children are more likely to die as children and live an average of four years less over the course of a lifespan.

The list just goes on. There are lots of results of this father deficit or father hunger.

Here’s a conclusion. “Given the fact that these and other social problems correlate more strongly with fatherlessness than with any other factor, surpassing race, social class, and poverty, father absence may well be the most critical social issue of our time. It’s an epidemic problem.”

Of course, it’s something that we as Christians should be concerned about for children who are fatherless, children who are growing up without fathers in their homes and in their lives.

But father hunger is not only a social issue, it’s actually a spiritual issue that all of us, to some degree, have. We all have an innate father hunger. We know that we need earthly fathers, we need healthy relationships with both parents, fathers and mothers. Children suffer when they don’t have that. But that mirrors a deeper spiritual reality, which is a hunger to be connected to our Creator, to be connected to the Father, the Father from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth is named, as Paul says in Ephesians 3.

This morning I want us to think about the fatherhood of our King as we dig into Isaiah 9:6. We’re looking at these titles of the Messiah recorded by the prophet Isaiah. So far we’ve considered how our Messiah, the King, is the Wonderful Counselor, how he is the Mighty God, and today we come to the third of these titles, Everlasting Father.

Let me begin by reading the passage, Isaiah 9:6-7, and then we’ll dig into it together. Hear the word of the Lord.

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

This is God’s word.

Before I give you the scope of the sermon, just a quick footnote. When we’re thinking of the Messiah as the Everlasting Father, don’t think that there’s any confusion about the doctrine of the Trinity here, okay? We’re not here talking about ontological relationships, Father, Son, and Spirit, which are more fully revealed in the New Testament. What we have instead here is the Messiah understood within the terms of a metaphor, and the metaphor is the metaphor of father. It’s not talking about the Son’s relationship to his Father, it’s talking about the Messiah’s relationship to his people.

There’s an old hymn by Henry Lyte based on Psalm 103, and one of the lines goes like this:

“Fatherlike he tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame he knows;
In his hands he gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes.”

That’s the idea of the text here; that the Messiah, the King, this promised one who will sit on the throne of David, is fatherlike. He is the Everlasting Father.

What I want us to see this morning are five things that this means, five aspects of the fatherly care of the Messiah; and then follow that with some application questions. Five main points with three application questions at the end.

1. He Is the Eternal One

What does it mean that the Messiah is the Everlasting Father? Here’s what it means first: It means that he is the eternal one. Underline that word “everlasting” for a minute. That word “everlasting” means eternal; it means lasting forever. It’s the same word that Isaiah uses in Isaiah 45:17, where Israel is saved by the Lord with “everlasting salvation. You shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity.” That’s the idea. It is that which endures forever; everlasting salvation to all eternity.

It’s also the word that’s used in Isaiah 57:15 to speak of God himself. “For thus says the one who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy, I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly heart.” Notice he inhabits eternity. He is the everlasting father, the eternal father.

The sense of the Hebrew, as I understand from the commentaries, is father of eternity. The Semitic phrase “the father of” something would be characterized by whatever the descriptor is. For example, in the New Testament when we read about the devil being the “father of lies,” that means he is characterized by lying, by deception. He’s the father of lies.

The Messiah, in contrast, is the father of eternity. He is the everlasting father; he is characterized by his eternality.

A different word is used, but the same concept, in Isaiah 40:28. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

What all this means is that in some way the Messiah is identified with the eternal, everlasting God himself. He is the eternal one. Of course, in light of New Testament revelation, we understand this, that he is the word who was in the beginning with God and who was God. He is the eternal one who never had a beginning. He is God himself who was come among us as the Messiah. He is the eternal one.

2. He Is Our Creator and Redeemer

Secondly, he is also our creator and redeemer. This word “father”, the picture, the metaphor of father, when it is used of God in the Old Testament, this is usually the connotation. It means that God is Father in the sense of being the creator and of being the redeemer.

For example, Isaiah 64:8 says, “But now, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay, and you are our potter. We are all the work of your hand.” That’s clearly the imagery of creation. We are created, formed by God, and he is our Father in that sense.

Or Deuteronomy 32:6, “Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?”

Again, Jesus is seen to be in the New Testament the agent of God in creation. “All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” He is the creator God as the eternal one.

But then he’s also the redeemer. Isaiah 63:16, “For you are our father. Though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not acknowledge us, you, O Lord, are our father and redeemer; from of old is your name.”

In fact, the first time in the Bible where you have the metaphor of father used in some way of God in his relationship with his people is actually in the context of the book of Exodus. It’s when God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh, and he gives Moses a message. Here’s the message, Exodus 4:22-23. “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, Let my son go, that he may serve me.’” “Israel is my son.” Implication: “I am Israel’s father.” He is the creator and the redeemer of his people.

Two more verses, Deuteronomy 1:30-31. “The Lord your God who is going before you will fight for you as he did for you in Egypt.” Again you have exodus language here. This is after the exodus, but looking back. He is “going before you [and] will fight for you as he did in Egypt, before your eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you as a father carries his son all the way you went, until you reached this place.” He’s the redeemer of his people.

So when Isaiah says that the Messianic king, the one who’s to sit on David’s throne forever, will be Everlasting Father, this is part of what he means. He means that this will be your Creator Redeemer who is reigning over you.

3. He Is Our Provider and Protector

Number three, he is also our provider and protector. This is what fathers do, isn’t it? Fathers are called by God to be providers and protectors in their families. A dad goes to work, he earns a living, he helps take care of his children, he protects them, he’s seeking to nurture them, to protect them, to raise them up. Mothers do this as well, but this is particularly true of the father metaphor in Scripture, that fathers have this role of provider-protector.

It’s in the ministry of Jesus that this aspect of God’s fatherly care for his people becomes really clear. Do you remember Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount? He’s telling his disciples, who are worried, evidently, about their food, about their clothing—he says, “Look at the birds; they’re not anxious, they’re not working hard, but the Father feeds them. Isn’t he going to feed you? And look at the lilies of the field. Even Solomon is not clothed like this, right? How much more will he not clothe you? Trust your heavenly Father; your Father knows that you need these things before you even ask,” because he’s a good Father. He’s a good dad; he provides for his children. So the providing aspect of the fatherly care of the Messiah is included.

But also, protector. I think this is particularly important, because there may be some of you here that you actually had a bad relationship with your earthly father, your biological father. Not every dad is a good dad; not every father does a good job with his children.

If that was your experience, if you were raised by an absent father or by an emotionally distant father or even by an abusive father or a father who somehow did you harm, the Scriptures describe God in terms that are appropriate to that particular need. In Scripture, children who do not have a father, who had an absent father, they are called the fatherless. Listen to what Psalm 68:5 says. “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.”

The psalmist is telling us that God exercises a kind of paternal, fatherly care over those who most desperately need and are lacking human fatherly care. He is a protector; he is a provider; and therefore we can trust him.

4. He Is Merciful and Compassionate to Us

Number four, to say that he is the Everlasting Father also means that he is merciful and compassionate to us. I already read it in our assurance of pardon from Psalm 103, but hear it again, Psalm 103:13, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”

Something that I supposed people maybe told me but I never really understood until I started having children is how deep of an emotional connection a parent has with a child. I pretty quickly realized once we started having children, raising children, especially when I started to see kids go through things—sickness and illness and various kinds of trials—I began to realize that there was a new vulnerability in my life. All of a sudden, it wasn’t just that people could hurt me or hurt Holly, but they could hurt me through hurting them, or that I could suffer through the suffering of my children. There’s a sense that comes with a parent that you can never actually be doing better than any of your children are doing. If your children are not doing well, you feel that. Your wellbeing is so deeply connected to their wellbeing.

When the Scriptures describe God in these fatherly terms as being merciful and compassionate, it’s carrying the idea that he has this kind of consideration, this connection to us in our wellbeing. Now, the analogy isn’t perfect, of course, because in some deep and profound way God is transcendent, right? He is what the old theologians called impassable. He’s not affected with the kinds of emotions that we as human beings have. So there’s a sense in which that is true.

But Scripture speaks in these analogical ways, describing for us in terms that we can understand the love and the care and the compassion of God; and Scripture goes really, really far in saying this. I want you to hear again what Isaiah 63 says. The whole chapter portrays God in his fatherly care. Listen to this. This is amazing.

Isaiah 63:7-9 recounts “the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us and the great goodness to the house of Israel, that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” This is the same language as you have there in Psalm 103. “For he said, ‘Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.’ And he became their Savior.” Now listen to this, verse 9: “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”

Isn’t that amazing? “In all their affliction he was afflicted.” This is the kind of fatherly heart he has. He loves his children so much that he feels compassion for them, pity for them. He is afflicted in their afflictions. This tenderness of God, our Father, and his heart for us, this tenderness of the Messiah and his fatherly care for his people.

5. He Disciplines and Instructs Us

One more thing about the Everlasting Father, and this is kind of the hard edge to the fatherhood of God in Scripture. He also disciplines us and instructs us.

Deuteronomy 8:5, “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son the Lord your God disciplines you.” Or Proverbs 3:11-12, a passage which is quoted in the book of Hebrews. Proverbs 3 says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” The Father disciplines his children.

Listen, the idea here is not that of punishment, it’s not that of retaliation, but it is rather wise discipline, instruction, and correction. You might think of this on the analogy of a parent with a toddler. Any good parent is going to discipline their children.

I understand there is such a thing as abusive discipline. There are parents who go way, way, way too far and are harsh and unfeeling with their children, which goes against Paul’s instructions to fathers to not be harsh with your children and provoke them, right? God is never like that with his children. He disciplines, but he disciplines wisely.

You might think of it on the analogy of a parent with a two- or three-year-old. Here’s this three-year-old who has a fork in his hand and he’s about to stick it in an electric socket. If you’re a good parent, you stop it, right? You stop it! “No! You can’t do that!” Or your four-year-old is making a beeline for the busy road out in front of your house, and you go after that child on a rescue mission. “No, you cannot play in the street,” and you discipline appropriately. Why? Because you’re concerned for the wellbeing of the child, and therefore you discipline and you correct.

God does this, and the Messiah does this, our King does this. He corrects us, he disciplines us; but why? Why does he do this? Why does he reprove us? Why does he chasten us? It’s not punishment or retaliation; it’s not, “You did so many bad things and therefore you’re going to have so much suffering in your life.” That’s not the idea. If we got what we deserved, we’d be in hell. No, he’s reproving us so that we might share in his holiness. He is correcting us, and he’s doing it for our good, for our wellbeing.

Now, this should completely transform the way we think about our trials. If this is true, if this is the kind of heart that God has towards us, and if the circumstances in our lives are filtered through his fatherly fingers, so that everything that happens to us he is permitting it and using it for our good, that should change the way we think of trials.

I think most of us, when we encounter trials, we tend to go one of two directions. We’re either saying, “Oh, this isn’t fair! Why is God treating me this way?” That’s one way we think. Or we might go the opposite direction and we think, “Oh, I must be such a terrible person, because God is punishing me like crazy.”

Neither one of those perspectives reflects the father-child relationship that we have with him. Rather, we should view our trials as coming from God for our good—not as punishment, but for our good—and we should trust him in the trials.

Here’s a different metaphor from C.S. Lewis, and I think it’s a helpful way to think about our trials. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says, “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right, stopping the leaks in the roof, and so on. You knew that those jobs needed doing, so you’re not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself.”

He disciplines us that we might share in his holiness. These sufferings cannot be compared with the weight of glory that will be revealed to us, right? It’s a completely different way of looking at our trials, our sufferings, and our problems, when we trust the fatherly heart of our Creator and our Redeemer.

So, he’s the Everlasting Father, the eternal one who created and redeemed us, provides for us, protects us, is merciful and compassionate towards us, who’s afflicted in our affliction, and who disciplines us and instructs us.

Three Questions for Application

(1) Here’s the first: Have you recognized your deep father hunger? Have you recognized this in your own heart and life, that you have a hunger, a longing in your heart that nothing in this world can satisfy?

What does this look like? It looks like, first of all, longing for intimacy and for relationship. Now, we know even on the horizontal plane, even on the level of our natural relationships, we have to have this. We’re not created to be alone; we have to have connection. Doctors and psychologists tell us, of course, that little babies who are abandoned and not held and touched and cared for and nurtured, they will not thrive, physically or emotionally. There will be some kind of problem in their development, their normal development and growth, if they don’t have that connection.

That’s an analogy for how all of us are in our spiritual lives. We are hardwired for relationship, and we need this intimate connection with the Creator.

Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We have a longing for this rest in God.

Not only that, we long for eternity. We long for transcendence, but we’re surrounded by banality. We long for significance, but the world around us often feels meaningless. We long for eternity, but we’re bound by time. We cherish life, but we are haunted by death. We long for something more, right?

To quote Lewis again, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” It’s father hunger of the deepest possible kind; a hunger to be connected to our Creator, our God.

Have you recognized that in yourself? Maybe you’re trying to fill that in all different kinds of ways, but what you need is to be connected to your Creator.

(2) Second question: Do you have a biblically balanced view of God? When you think about your relationship to God and who God is, do you have a biblically balanced view of God?

I think you can just take these two words, Everlasting Father, and if you have one without the other, your view of God will be unbalanced.

There are some people whose view of God is, “He’s the everlasting,” but they lose the Father element. If that’s you, then you think of God as powerful. He’s powerful, he’s sovereign, he’s transcendent, but he’s remote, he’s removed. He’s basically unconcerned with the details of your life. If that’s the way you think of God, you will lack warmth in your faith. Your view of God will be cold, distant; your relationship will not be marked by an attitude of trust or the practice of prayer. At best, God will be to you a distant sovereign, a king who doesn’t care too much; and at worst, you will drift into either resentment towards God or practical atheism, living as if he did not exist, because you don’t view God as your Father.

On the other hand, there are some people who may have a view of God as Father, but they’ve lost the everlasting aspect of it. Father, but they don’t think of him as our Father “who is in heaven.” They may think of God as near, personal, caring, a Father to whom they can talk, but certainly not the God of everlasting power, exhaustive wisdom, and sovereign majesty. If so, if that’s you, you will lack reverence in your faith. Your view of God will be mushy and sentimental. Your faith will sound as hollow as a Hallmark commercial.

Maybe it will make you feel good, but does it really do you any good? Over time, this is what will happen: you will drift away even from the warmth of relationship with God, because your faith will lack the gravitas, the gravity that comes from knowing that he is the everlasting God, the everlasting Father, the one who reigns forever in sovereign power.

How’s your view of God? Do you view him as the everlasting Father?

(3) Then, number three, are you trusting in his fatherly care?

Kent Hughes tells the story of a missionary to Nigeria in the mid-20th century. The missionary’s name was Everett Fullom. He went to a tribe that was so isolated that they had never heard the word “Africa”, much less the word “America”. This was a pagan, prescientic tribe with their view of creation, their view of the world so simplistic that when Fullom mentioned that two Americans had walked on the moon, the old chief looked hard into Fullom’s face, then up at the moon, and exclaimed in an angry voice, “There’s nobody up there! Besides, it’s not big enough for two people stand on!” So these were people who had very little exposure to the outside world, much less the gospel.

But Fullom went and labored among them, teaching them about the God of the Bible, teaching them about Jesus. A beautiful day came when three people were to be baptized. I want you to listen to how Fullom describes it.

“There were two men and one woman. We stood on the banks of a muddy river, wet and happy. I had never seen three more joyful people.

“‘What’s the best thing about this experience?’ I asked.

“All three continued to smile, the glistening water emphasizing the brightness of their dark-skinned faces, but only one spoke, in clear, deliberate English.” Listen to what he said. “‘Behind this universe stands one God, not a great number of warring spirits, as we had always believed, but one God; and that God loves me.’”

He is the Everlasting Father. When you grasp that, when that pierces your heart, it changes your life, because you recognize that the God who is the Everlasting God loves you, is concerned for you as his child.

You might say, “I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to trust that God. I don’t know how to grab hold of this.” If so, let me suggest to you that the mystery of Christmas, the paradox of the incarnation gives us a clue as to how to do it. How do we grab hold of this?

What is the story of the incarnation, Christmas? It is the story of how the eternal enters into time, of how the invisible has become visible, of how the Father of eternity, our Creator and Redeemer, has become the incarnate king; how the mysterious, eternal one himself, who sometimes seems distant and intangible, has become near and tangible, touchable, by becoming a little child.

You know how, as a parent, when you really want to get the attention of your little child—maybe this child is distraught, crying, upset, maybe they’re confused, maybe they’re not listening well—what does a parent do? You get down on your knees, eye-level with the child, look him in the face, gently turn his face toward you, and you begin speaking. You make eye contact; you get right on their level.

In the incarnation, that’s what God did! He came down to us. This is the paradox. “Unto you a child is born, and his name shall be called Everlasting Father.” He’s a child; he’s a Father. He’s everlasting, and yet he’s born among us. The mystery of the incarnation.

“Seek not in courts nor palaces,
Nor royal curtains draw,
But search the stables;
See your God extended on the straw.”

Or, as St. Augustine put it, “Man’s maker was made man that he, ruler of the stars, might nurse at his mother’s breast; that the bread might hunger, the fountain thirst, the light sleep, the way be tired on its journey; that the truth might be accused of false witness, the teacher be beaten with whips, the foundation be suspended on wood; that strength might grow weak, that the healer might be wounded, that life might die.”

How do you get ahold of this God? How do you trust this God? You do so by embracing the Christ child; you do so by embracing the crucified king, the Messiah, the one who came in weakness among us, who made himself touchable, tangible, graspable. You trust in Jesus, and trusting in him you trust in his fatherly heart. Let’s pray together.

Lord God, we bow before your majesty, and we thank you for the mystery of your grace. Thank you for the mystery of the incarnation, that God was manifest in the flesh; that Jesus came as a baby among us to be born, to be raised, to grow, to mature, and then to die in weakness on the cross, and to do so for our salvation. We thank you for this wonderful gift, thank you for the love of your heart behind the gift, and we pray that you would give us eyes to see and hearts to embrace this reality, the faith to grasp it, to lay hold of it, and to see the life-changing implications for us.

As we come to the table this morning, may we come with hearts of faith, trusting you and the word of your promise, and trusting that as we come and we take these elements of bread and juice we are by faith laying hold of Christ, the Savior whose body was broken for us, whose blood was shed for our forgiveness. So draw near to us, we pray, as we worship, as we reflect, as we pray, as we respond to the good news. Be glorified in our hearts, we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.