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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

'Father, Feed Our Souls'


"You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God." Exodus 20:5

This is now our third focus on the Riverside Statement of Faith. We’ve already turned our attention to the Word of God as God’s revelation about himself.

And to God as Trinity. This morning our emphasis turns to God the Father.

I think this is significant for us as a fledgling church because, we can so easily have a misguided perception of who God the Father is.

One of the misconceptions that, I think, tends to prevail is a false notion that God the Father is the person of the Godhead who we encounter in the old testament and that Jesus is the person of the Godhead who we encounter in the new testament. And never the twain shall meet.

That’s a simplistic idea, but it’s an understandable one, perhaps.

Listen to Hebrews 1:1, ‘In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son’.

God the Father in the past spoke to his people by the old testament prophets, but now he speaks to us by his son. The text doesn’t say ‘God the Father spoke’, though. It says ‘God spoke’. But we know it was the Father who spoke, because, by contrast, the person who he now speaks through is his Son.

But that’s not the main point. The main point is, it may sound like the main person back then was the Father and now it’s the Son. That’s simplistic because, the Father is speaking both then and now – only then it was through men (prophets), and now it’s through the God-man Jesus. The Father continues to speak. He spoke then; he speaks now.

The main problem with falsely making the Father the exclusive focus of the old testament and the Son the exclusive focus of the new testament in our minds, is that we tend to think of the old testament as law and the new testament as gospel. The old testament as judgment and the new testament as grace.

And so, we can erroneously start to think of the Father as Judge and the Son as grace. And all of a sudden, the Father and the Son are pitted against each other as opposing forces in our minds.

That won’t do. We saw last time, in the Trinity there is a unity of purpose and a unity of execution amidst the Godhead.

The Father and the Son are not on different trajectories - whereby the Father had his tilt at the problem in the past, and the Son is having his now – no way, that would be blasphemy.

The Father and the Son are on the same trajectory. Jesus said, ‘I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me’ – namely the Father (John 6:38).

Make no mistake, as much as all judgment has been handed over to the Son (John 5:22), so also the Father is the one from whom peace and grace flow according to nearly every letter of the Apostle Paul.

So, if there was any lingering notion, in our minds, that the Father is the judgy; uncompassionate person of the Godhead, and relegated to a bit part in the new testament - then let this morning banish that from our minds. For sure he is judge, and for sure he is very prominent in the old testament – as we’ll see - but he is grace and peace and he is speaking to us by his Son, right now.

Let me take you then, to a new testament text as a stepping stone to God the Father in the old testament and from there to Exodus 20.

In Matthew 22:41, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees – the teachers of his day - and he asks them a question. He asks them the question because they reject him as the Messiah. He asks them whose son Messiah is.

They answer, ‘David’s Son’ – which is true, Jesus was David’s descendent. So, Jesus says, ‘How is it then that David [father of Messiah] speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “’The LORD said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet”’.

Now Jesus is quoting Psalm 110 there - just like he does lots of times during his ministry – a Psalm of David.

And when you go to that Psalm you find that David is speaking of Godwhen he says, ‘the LORD said’. And he’s speaking of Messiah when he quotes God saying, ‘sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet’.

And Jesus asks the logical question of them, ‘If then David calls [Messiah] ‘Lord’, how can he be his son’. And they could not answer him.

To be sure, Jesus – Messiah – is the son of David, but he is also Son of God. And it just dawned on those Pharisees that Messiah would have to be both the son of David and the Lord of David, according to David – speaking by the Spirit of God – which can’t be.

In order to be both, he would have to be son of David by human birth and Son of God – greater than David.

They realised Jesus was who he claimed to be, and they hated him for it.

What’s the point? The point is that when David speaks of the LORD speaking to his Lord, he’s speaking of God the Father speaking to God the Son. The fact that Messiah is the Son of God means that God is Father.

And the name that David uses for ‘The LORD’ is JAHWEH. So, Jesus, inproving that he is the Son of God, is also showing us that his Father is JAHWEH.

That’s massive, because, JAHWEH is the name used for God in the old testament over six and half thousand times!

The first time JAHWEH is explained in the bible is in Exodus 3:14 when Moses asks God who he should say has sent him to the captive Israelites.

God says to him, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’

” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your Fathers has sent me to you’”’.

That means, ‘when you go to them, living as they are amongst a people of countless gods, and they ask you which one sent you, you make it very clear - by using this name for me, ‘I AM’ - that the self-existent, everlasting, noncontingent, uncreated, self-authenticating, supreme creator of the world, sent you’.

When he uses the word ‘LORD’ there, it is the word JAHWEH. This is who JAHWEH is – this is who the Father is – the great I AM. This is who Jesus was referring to when he spoke with the Samaritan woman in John 4 and said ‘God is spirit’ – YAHWEH is spirit.

So, we’re confronted here in Exodus 3 with God the Father – we’ve seen that link between God’s name YAHWEH and the identity of the Father, made through the lips of Jesus – we’re confronted with God the Father, on the one hand, supremely content in himself - I AM does not need another, to be. He simply is and he is perfectly happy to be. But on the other hand, we see him reaching out beyond himself to a people. And we would be right to ask the question, what is that about?

So, let’s go to Exodus 20 and see if we can tell. YAHWEH which you can see in your bibles as the word LORD – all capitalised - occurs 9 times in this chapter which is significant I think.

By now the people of Israel who God sent Moses to in chapter 3 have been brought out of Egypt by the mighty hand of God, and God the Father reminds the people of it in verse 2. All the words of this chapter are spoken by the Father to his people who he has delivered from slavery.

And now he wants to give them some fundamental instructions that are good for them – ten commandments.

There isn’t time this morning to explore the question of the abiding nature of the ten commandments. But I will say at least this: This list of commands was the basis of the relationship between the people of Israel and God – called the old covenant. That covenant was done away with in Jesus because it was obsolete, Hebrews 8 says.

Jesus brokered a new and better covenant in his own blood – and by it we are saved, and in it we live as Christians. That does not mean the 10 commandments were bad. It means that the fallen people, because of their sin natures, couldn’t keep them and therefore couldn’t keep covenant with their God. It was the people who were faulty.

The ten commandments are not the basis of our relationship with God, Jesus is. But that is not to say that they are not good and true and that they don’t apply to us as we read them in the light of the new testament – they do.

So, let’s do that, and thereby apply them to ourselves.

The first commandment in verse 3 is an instruction about who we must worship. And the word is, that we must worship YAHWEH and we must worship him exclusively.

Given that it is our goal to encounter God the Father this morning, this word from him lands on us probably a bit like it landed on the Israelites of old. We, like they, move in a world that thinks radically differently. We live in a country for example, where at the coronation of our king we had the bible being read aloud by a man who is a practicing Hindu.

As a Hindu, he believes in one god but that god is not the god of the bible, yet in our pluralistic society his faith is as valid as any.

The Israelites came out of a land of many gods, into lands of many gods. And we live in a land of many faiths, pursuing many gods. Which means that our message of one God who claims exclusive rights to be worshipped, is going to clash headlong with the culture we live in.

The people we are seeking to reach in Horbury Bridge live in a multi-faith culture; they interact on social media platforms that vehemently protect pluralism. And we proclaim a message of a God who claims to be the only one, and demands people worship him as, the only one. That is bound to impact our vision for the lost around us.

Well, if the first commandment is who we shall worship, then the second is how we shall worship him. And the message that we hear is, ‘you can’t make a representation of the Father’.

To make a representation of him is to devalue him. It is to reduce him. It is to make him out to be of the created order, when he’s not - He’s the creator, not the created.

Verse 4 is all encompassing. The whole cosmos is covered – heavens, earth, depths of the sea - nothing in all creation is to be used to depict our God. The Father is spirit according to Jesus – he has no form - and to use created forms to depict him or represent him puts him on par with creatures, and demeans him and demotes him.

Which is why he declares himself to be a jealous God in verse 5. He is jealous of his worth being honoured. If it’s dishonoured he won’t live with it.

In Isaiah 42:8 he says it like this, ‘I am the LORD [JAHWEH]; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols’.

That’s what he means by ‘jealous’. He means that his glory – which is higher than the heavens above and deeper than the deepest depths – he will not allow himself to be represented by a painting made by human hands or a sculpture made by human tools, which depict him in forms that he made to testify to his glory, not to rob him of his glory.

That means that, as good as Michelangelo’s finger of God on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling is, as a work of art - even as one of the best feats of painting ever - it can never convey the true glory of God.

In fact, it hinders it. It besmirches it. It depicts God in human form and it is blasphemy.

The church of Rome has robbed God of his glory by representing him with the very best images in the world.

We cannot worship him by image, we must worship him – who cannot be seen – in spirit and in truth. Jesus says, ‘such worshippers the Father seeks’.

False worshippers are those who hate him according to verse 5. They will not be treated lightly. But those who worship him rightly are those who love him and he extends his love to them, verse 6.

The third commandment builds on the first two – it’s about worship also. We already saw how God’s identity is connected with his name - in Exodus 3.

His name means what he is. Therefore, if we misuse his name, we soilhis identity.

The old word used here was ‘vain’ instead of ‘misuse’. And what vain conveys is worthless, ineffective, useless, empty, pointless. Job has used this word in our hearing recently, saying, ‘Since I am already found guilty, why should I struggle in vain?’ In other words, it’s a waste to carry on arguing.

So, there’s a way of worshipping that looks like worship - that invokes the name of God - but that, in reality, is empty. There is no heart in it. You take the words on your lips, but it’s empty; it’s vain. There’s no heart to go with it. Jesus said about the Pharisees, that they worshipped with their lips, but their hearts were far from God. They worshipped in vain.

What these first three commands are telling us about the Father is, that he wants to be the first in our affections. He wants to be the satisfaction of our souls. He wants to be the object upon which all the desires of our hearts terminate.

People cannot have other gods and He be first in their affections. People cannot worship him via images and He be the object of their soul’s satisfaction. People cannot come in his name vainly and the hearts be for him.

In other words, the Father is jealous that we desire him, thirst for him, rest in him, terminate on him, abide in him. And when we don’t, we rob him, of the glory he deserves.

But He will not give his glory away. He will satisfy his glory - either in punishing us or in punishing Jesus on our behalf.

And he is not honoured as the Heavenly Father that he is, when his children only want him for his gifts and not for him.

Matthew went away for two nights this week and I missed him – we allmissed him.

When he came back he embraced me and said he’d missed me too. And I could tell he meant it. I was honoured, as his father, to know that whilst he was away from me, he was yearning to be back with me.

And it wasn’t because I put good food on his table, or give him a safe place to sleep. It was because he loves me – and his wanting to be with me, where I am, testifies to it.

He wanted to be near me, for me – because he loves me. Not mainly for the things I can give him.

There’s no room, Riverside, for competing affections. The Father wants our hearts.

But he doesn’t want them reluctantly and he doesn’t want them burdensomely. He wants them freely and he wants them readily. And if we know the Father as he truly is, then we can be sure that our affections cannot be directed to a better place in all the world.

It is not burdensome to love this God. He is our joy and the fullness of allthat our hearts are searching for.

Let me show you: In commandment 4 is the promise of rest in him. In commandment 5 is the promise of heaven. In commandment 6 is the promise of peace. In commandment 7 is the promise of faithfulness. In commandment 8 is the promise of provision. In commandment 9, the promise of truth. And in commandment 10, the promise of satisfaction.

All these commandments are pregnant with promise of what God will be for us – not what he will give us, but what we will encounter when we come to him and make our home with him.

Listen, there will be no need to labour under the burden of worry. Jesus says, ‘the flowers don’t labour or spin, yet you worry about your clothing’ (Matthew 6:28). When you hide yourself in this Heavenly Father there is no need to labour on in worry. There is rest for our souls in him.

When we come to him wholeheartedly, we do not need to get ourselves on a level footing with our parents, for our Heavenly Father will be pleased to hear our names publicly acknowledged before him at the final day (Revelation 3:5).

When we take him above all others, we can suffer being wronged and not resort to murder in our hearts because, we know our Heavenly Father will forgive us if we forgive them (Matthew 6:14).

When we delight ourselves in him we find that his faithfulness manifests itself in our own lives so that we can shun the fleeting pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:25) and remain true to our spouses.

When he is our abiding place, there is no need to steel because he is a Father who will meet all our needs according to the riches of his glory (Philippians 4:19).

When God is our supreme confidence, there is no need for falsehood; our Father is faithful and will provide a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13).

And when he is our all in all, we need never covet our neighbour’s things, for our Heavenly Father has been pleased to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32).

The unblushing promises of joy in the Father are not burdensome they are the deepest longings of our souls and their firmest hope.

We live in a world full of sin and suffering; regret and shame. There is no lasting and meaningful hope for a single soul outside of this God.

He alone must be the refuge of our souls, and the refuge of every soul.

This doesn’t happen mainly at an intellectual level – though knowing who this God is, is vital. It mainly happens at a profoundly relational level. Where God is prized and desired and known, experientially.

Yet we know: none of that can happen without a miracle.

Our hearts will forever reject their greatest good – namely God – unless a miracle happens in the soul of a person.

Lois and Martha are going to testify this afternoon, that that miracle was performed on their behalf. It was a miracle that was designed, by the Father, executed by the Son and is empowered by the Holy Spirit.

It is the miracle of the new birth and it provides new spiritual taste according to the Psalmist. ‘Taste and see that the LORD -YAHWEH/God the Father - is good!’ (Psa 34:8).

Lois and Martha both say they have tasted and found him to be exceedingly good. And they know that Jesus has made that their experience by his cross-work.

Think of (or imagine if you can’t think of) someone who is deeply hurting. It could be the death of a loved one. It could be cancer. It could be deep social anxiety. It could be feelings of inadequacy – so deeply felt, they shake that person to the core.

The ultimate answer to their problems is right here. Medicine, counselling, doctors all have their place and we should not dismiss them, but the turmoil of the human soul is too big, too deep, too profound to be mended with spiritual plasters, we need the physician of souls.

David knew it when he preached to himself in Psalm 37: ‘Do not fret’. Followed by these directives:

‘Trust in the LORD’,

‘Take delight in the LORD’,

‘Commit your way to the LORD’,

‘Be still before the LORD’,

‘The LORD upholds the righteous’,

‘The blameless spend their days under the LORD’s care’,

‘Those the LORD blesses will inherit the land’,

‘The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him’,

‘The LORD upholds him with his hand’,

‘The LORD will not forsake’,

‘Hope in the LORD’.

David knew the eternal worth of his Heavenly Father for his own soul. We need to know his worth for ours by experience too.


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