One of the greatest theologians of the C20th had his theology forged in the heat of battle during the second world war. TF Torrance was an ordained Church of Scotland minister and was a padre in the army. During the bloody Italian campaign, he ministered to the wounded and dying. Once, a Private Phillips, lay dying and bleeding out from a wound in his chest in Torrance’s lap. The young 20 year old gasped, “Padre, is God really like Jesus?” Torrance assured him, “He is the only God there is, the God who has come to us in Jesus, shown his face to us, and poured out his love to us as our Saviour.” As Torrance prayed, the young soldier died.
Phillips’ question was to haunt Torrance and to shape his theology for all time. Later in parish ministry in Aberdeen, an elderly lady asked the same question: “Dr Torrance, is God really like Jesus?” This troubled Torrance deeply – that such a question should arise from the heart of a believer. He began to ponder and to wonder how the Church had distorted its message and created such obstacles for its members that kept them from joyous participation in communion with the living God that was theirs in Christ by the Spirit.
You see, Christianity is Christ. You do not begin with God – for if you do, you do not begin with God as he is, but with your ideas of who God is. And you end up creating a god in your own image. Similarly, you do not begin with man, for if you do, you begin with the problems of man – and if you begin with a problem you end with a problem. And in the process you will become a problem! We must begin and end with the God-Man, Jesus Christ – from him we see what God is like, from him we know what man is meant to be. In his light we see life – all life. He is the revelation of who God is and what man can become. Hence, the statement: God is like Christ and in him there is no unChristlikeness at all.
All of that nicely leads us to our text: “he will be called ... Everlasting Father” – or more literally, “the Father of eternity”. Now we talk about a leading light, or originator, or founder in terms of ‘father’. Thus, we could say, WG Grace was the father of cricket; Charles Darwin the father of evolution; and Elvis the father of rock n roll. Such a figure gives his identity to an idea or practice.
Now that’s what Isaiah means when he says the child to be born will be called “Everlasting Father” – he means he is the Father, the originator of eternity. By the way, I am sure we are meant to see prophetically the virgin birth in the phrase “to us a child is born” (in his humanity, naturally delivered) and “to us a son is given” (in his humanity a gift of heaven as the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary).
Christ being the Father of eternity means he has always existed and will always exist. It follows:
Everything in the past is under his control – be they sins, failures, pains, triumphs or successes.
The past need not paralyse the present: when Jesus laid the foundation of the world he laid the foundation of your life too.
Christ wants to break the hold the past has on you.
Young people are like astronauts – always looking up and beyond. Older people are like archaeologists – seeking to sift through the layers of their lives. Christ the Father of eternity has been always present from the moment of your conception and he has been working out his good purposes for you.
He is also the Father of eternity future. It follows that there can be no ‘what ifs’ with him – he holds our lives and he holds our future, and our times are in his nail- scarred hands. None of us need worry about an imaginary future. In one sense, worry is not thinking through the implications of Christ being the originator of our futures; and faith is thinking, faith is reflecting on the truth of our good futures in him.
There has never been a time when Christ was not – he inhabits eternity and his name is eternal. He is the eternal provider, “the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the end” who offers to the one who is thirsty “drink without cost from the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 21:6). Because he is eternal he eternally satisfies. He is both self-existent and pre-existent – we are made to dwell in him, for he has placed eternity in our hearts. We were made for permanent perpetual bliss. And Jesus came to reveal eternity. That’s what John says in his first epistle, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father, and has appeared to us. “ (1 John 1:1,2) Jesus wedded dust and deity, time and eternity into one. As the hymn writer and mystic poet FW Faber said, “No age can cast its outward years on thee, dear God!/Thou art, Thyself, Thine own eternity.”
But there is another aspect that Isaiah wants us to see. Jesus is a father in perpetuity in the following ways:
He cares for the helpless, being “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows” and the one who “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:5,6)
He disciplines his children – he recognises the grain of our souls and in his training he goes with the grain, not against it.
In his Davidic kingdom Jesus points to what being a perfect father looks like – “with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth”. We are told “he will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears” – he will flourish in discernment by the anointing of the Spirit.
His perfect fatherhood will display tenderness and compassion; and he will always provide and protect – for that’s what perfect dads do.
In calling Jesus “Everlasting Father” we are not saying this describes who he is in the Trinity – no there he is the Son. But as the Athanasian Creed says, “the Godhead of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is all one, their glory equal and their majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.”
You and I were made for inclusion within the embrace of the Holy Trinity. Before creation, it was decided by Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that the Son should cross every chasm between the Triune God and humanity and establish a relationship, a union of abiding mutual indwelling. The Son would be the mediator, the one in whom and through whom the life of the Trinity would enter our human existence, and through the Son human existence would be lifted up to share the Trinitarian life – for all eternity. The Son pitched his tent in our hell, and our shame and sin broke him on the cross. It was the settled wish of the Triune God that all of us should share their life and love and so this is what the Father wants hammered into our very spirits:
“I did not create you to perish. I did not create you to flounder in misery, to live in such appalling pain and brokenness and heartache and destitution. I created you for life, to share in my life and glory, to participate in the fullness and joy, the free-flowing friendship and goodness and wholeness that I share with my Son and Spirit. And I will have it no other way. It will be so.”
And the Father of eternity, the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and through whom and for whom all things were created, was the perfect person to convey that message in the flesh. And grace only goes one way – down to us.
Let’s apply this truth then...
1. “To us a child is born, to us a son is given”... God loves you, God loves me, God loves us. He’s not mad at any one of us. And he wants us to know that this dangerous, unpredictable world, this unforgiving world is not all we have got – no (if I may express it
like this) there is a gracious spaciousness about God, a roominess which welcomes all. You have a place at God’s table.
2. His Son is given certain names which reveal the Triune God’s good intentions – and him being an Everlasting Father indicates how long he has had you on his heart and mind. Your ache for permanence and significance, your heartfelt desires to be taken seriously – well all these are fulfilled in Christ’s name we have looked at tonight. Jesus could actually sing over each of us better than Willie Nelson, “you were always on my mind”.
3. We must shun the legalistic, hard taskmaster view of God which many of us grew up with. There really is no dark god behind Christ. Look in his face. See his acceptance. God is not at all down on us – except he came down to take us back home with him. This list of names in Isaiah is there to build trust back into our lives – trust that has been crushed by the devil’s distortions.
4. However low you can get, Jesus got lower. However far down you fall, Jesus went deeper. However far away you ran, Jesus outran you. However much you wanted the darkness to cover you, Jesus shone his light to find you. As God has recorded it for all time, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you...” (Deuteronomy 33:27)