Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favour with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Then Moses said to Him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed His name, the Lord. And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshipped.
For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.
Today we will look at the opening statement “I believe in God, the Father Almighty”, of the Apostles’ Creed from two viewpoints.
Firstly we will examine the existence of God, and then we will discuss God as our “Father” – as the Bible describes Him.
The vast majority of people believe that God exists in one form or another.
Many people, even though they have little or no affiliation to the Christian Church, and openly admit that they have no relationship with God, want Church weddings and funerals.
Someone once said that human beings are “inherently religious.”
That means that we are all aware of something or someone who is more powerful than us and has some kind of control or direction over our lives and the universe in general.
Only the most fanatical of atheists can look up on a cloudless night and not be awestruck by the beauty of the universe we live in, and not wonder who or what made it.
So most people would agree that there is a power or being greater than us, but of course there are many different ideas of just what it is.
New Age followers will say that “we” are God, and that the source of life is to be found within each of us. We are all part of a ‘cosmic oneness’. The actress Shirley Maclaine is a high profile new ageist, and she has been quoted as saying “I don't need anyone to rectify my existence. The most profound relationship we will ever have is the one with ourselves.”
And one of her most quoted statements about life is this: “We are at any given moment living the totality of everything. The vibrational oscillation of nature is quickening. Just remember that you are God, and act accordingly.”
Now of course, this is about as far away from the Christian understanding of God as you can get, but if you were to ask Shirley Maclaine, and countless other people whether they believed in God, their answer would be a very emphatic “Yes, I do believe in God.”
There are many other religions and belief systems that have their own interpretations as to who or what God is, but if you had to ask any of these people if they believe in the existence of God, they would say yes, they do.
But of course, some are very different to the Biblical definition of God.
So to simply make the statement, “I believe in God”, does not really set Christians apart from the rest of the world.
In order to understand what it is we’re professing, we need to be clear on who we believe this God to be, and the best place to start is with God as Creator of the universe.
We will cover this in more detail next week, but for now it is important for us to know the difference between our understanding of God from the world’s understanding.
The principle of cause and effect tells us simply that the universe must have been caused by something or someone. The effect is what we see around us, and if we work backwards, it is logical that there must be a cause behind the effect.
In other words, it is logical that the universe as we know it had a beginning – a cause.
So either there is an infinite Creator or the universe is infinite, but there is a fundamental flaw in the second theory.
By applying the second law of thermodynamics, which deals with the principles of heat and energy, scientists have proved that the universe is cooling down.
This means that it is reasonable to assume that at some stage in the future the universe will end, and if it has an end, it is only reasonable then to assume that it had a beginning.
So the universe cannot be infinite, which leaves only one option: it had to have been brought into being by someone or something who is not of the universe, someone or something which is over and above the universe – an outside force, and the Christian belief is that this outside force is an infinite God.
Simply put, if a watch proves the existence of a watchmaker, then the universe must prove the existence of an intelligent universe creator.
It would be absurd to assume that a watch can create itself, and the same principle applies to the universe.
There are many other theories and explanations as to where we came from, but it is reasonable to accept that the universe was created by an infinite being. Of course, there is also the “big bang” theory, but this is something we’ll also deal with next week.
What we have looked at so far is the argument that God exists from the viewpoint of reason, and there are passages of Scripture which support this view.
Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”
Paul wrote in Romans 1, “Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
What these and other verses imply is that if we apply simple logic, we will come to the reasonable conclusion that there is an intelligent and infinite creator of the universe.
The next step for Christians is the understanding of the existence of God by revelation.
In God’s conversation we read with Moses from Exodus 33, God tells Moses that “My Presence will go with you.”
What this means is that as finite beings of limited intelligence, we are unable to comprehend God for whom He really is. The only way we will ever gain an understanding of God, is if God reveals Himself to us. Exodus 34:5 says, “The Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed His name, the Lord.”
In the next few verses, God reveals to us some of the essence of His character. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” These character traits are not something we have discovered about God. Rather, they are what He has revealed to us about Himself.
God takes the initiative in revealing Himself. This is the essence of revelation, which of course, is best revealed in Jesus Christ – God in human form.
This simple illustration might help to understand the principle of revelation: You can’t put the ocean into a bucket, but you can get enough ocean into a bucket in order to understand some of the characteristics of the ocean.
A bucketful of ocean will never fully explain the ocean, but that is enough to get some kind of grasp on its nature and properties.
Finite mind cannot understand infinite God, but God reveals enough of Himself to us, even if the only thing we understand is that He is too big to understand!
This is something the Bible does for us – it is a means God uses to reveal something of His character to us.
Through Scripture we are able to grasp something of just who God is, and what He is like.
A mistake which most non-Christians make is that they are happy to accept by reason that God exists in one form or another, but they will not accept by revelation that God exists.
The danger of this is that we end up redefining and reshaping God to suit our own purposes.
When we put God in a box, we reduce Him and in a sense disempower Him to such an extent that we are no longer accountable to Him. We make our own rules, and truth becomes relative, rather than absolute.
Once Moses accepted that God is who He says He is, he then begins to put his trust and confidence in God. This is all about faith, which is a crucial element behind the saying, “I believe in God.” Moses reached a conclusion about just who this God is, and then he applied what he had learned in his own life. You’ll remember from last week that what we believe matters. In other words, we need to know what we believe, why we believe, and also how we believe.
The how is about application (remember the example of your belief that an aeroplane will get you to a certain destination, but that will only happen once you apply that faith by actually stepping onto the aircraft).
Moses now opens himself to God, and starts building the relationship.
In 33:13 he says (and this should be our prayer too), “Teach me your ways so that I may know you and continue to find favour with you.”
God has revealed Himself, Moses has expressed his belief in God, and the next step is for Moses to ask God to help him build a relationship.
This is at the heart of those who profess belief in the God of the Bible.
Confucius said, “The essence of knowledge is having it to apply it.”
So this is the first step. ‘I believe in God, and His authority.’ Now as Christians we move into a different realm – intimacy with God – God the Father.
There are two theological terms which are sometimes used to describe God.
Firstly He is transcendent, which means He is over and above all things.
The second is that God is immanent – He is close and intimate and wants a personal relationship with each of us.
So when we begin by saying we believe in God we are basically talking about His transcendence, but if we say we believe in God the Father, we have moved to a whole new level. We are now talking about His immanence. We have an affinity with Him.
The prophet Malachi asks in chapter 2, “Have we not all one Father?”
This verse (and others like it) is often misinterpreted to mean that because God created us, we are all His children, and therefore we are all going to go to Heaven when we die. This is a heretical teaching called Universalism, and is clearly not what Jesus teaches us in the New Testament.
In fact, God answers Malachi’s question in the previous chapter: “If I am a father, where is the honour due me?”
Jesus often spoke of God as the Father. In fact, in the original Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke in 1st century Israel), He used the word ‘Abba’ when speaking of God as the Father.
The closest English translation of this word is ‘daddy’, which describes the intimate relationship which God wants with us as Father.
As we know from the Gospels, Jesus was not popular with the religious leaders of His day, and this is one of the reasons. To the Pharisees, it was scandalous and blasphemous to speak of God in such personal and intimate terms.
This is a struggle we still face in the Church today. Christianity is about a relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ, but for many of us this relationship is crippled by tradition and religion. It’s been said many times before that Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship.
In John 10:30 Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.”
He repeatedly spoke about the intimate relationship He has with God the Father, and He used the term more than a hundred times in the Gospel of John alone.
But Jesus then takes this relationship even further by inviting us to share in it. In John 20:17 on the first Easter morning, the resurrected Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
As Christians we are invited into a living relationship with Almighty God of the deepest intimacy.
We call Matthew 6:9-13 “The Lord’s Prayer.”
This is actually a mistake. If you read the text carefully, you will see that the disciples were asking Jesus how they should pray, and Jesus then teaches them this prayer. So it is not “The Lord’s Prayer,” but is in fact “The Disciples’ Prayer,” and it begins with the invitation to call God “our Father.”
Pause for a moment and think about what this actually means…
The infinite creator of the universe invites us to share in the same intimate relationship with Him that He has with His own Son!
The apostle Paul picks up this concept in a language we are better able to understand when he calls us the adopted children of God. He speaks so clearly about this relationship and some of the character of God in his opening greetings in 2 Corinthians: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
Stuart Briscoe tells of a time he was talking to a child who was adopted. She knew she had been adopted, and her parents had taken great care to affirm her while she was growing up. They also had their own biological daughter, so Briscoe asked the adopted sister if she felt any different, and this was her amazing answer: “Yes I do feel different. My parents just had my sister, but they chose me.”
We need to understand that because of our sin, we are God’s enemies, but because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, God has chosen not only offer us forgiveness, but He has also chosen to adopt us by inviting us into an intimate, one on one relationship with Him.
God has chosen to reach out in love to us, and that gives us the right to call Him ‘Abba, Father.’ Calling the creator of the universe ‘Abba, Father’ is not blasphemy. We call Him these things because He has adopted us into His own family. God has taken the initiative and He the grand designer of this plan of amazing grace. Calling Him ‘Abba, Father’ is His idea – not ours.
In conclusion, there is an important point which needs to be made.
For many people, their relationship with their earthly fathers was anything but close and intimate, and was the cause of much pain and heartache.
This obviously creates a problem in building a relationship with God as a father, so much so that in an attempt to blot out this concept of God as a male father, some theologians and Churches have rewritten their liturgies, calling God our heavenly parent. Some translations of the Bible have been printed in which there is no reference made to God as the Father.
This though, is a very short-sighted attempt to fix something which isn’t broken.
We need to understand that God is not a human being – He is a spirit, and is in fact genderless.
Dr Carl Henry was the first editor-in-chief of the magazine ‘Christianity Today’, and he wrote this in one of his articles: “The God of the Bible is a sexless God. When Scripture speaks of God as ‘He’, the pronoun is primarily personal and generic, rather than masculine and specific. It emphasises God’s personality.”
In other words, when we speak of God as the Father, we are speaking of God not as a “He” as opposed to a “She”, but rather we speak of God as a “He” as opposed to an “It.”
God as Father describes His love, His care and His provision for us. ‘Father’ speaks of His personal nature – not His gender.
Psalm 91:1-2 says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”
When we say “I believe in God the Father almighty,” as Christians we are saying far more than simply that we believe He exists. What we are really saying is that we understand we have been adopted into His family, that we have an affinity to Him, and that He, the great transcendent God, is known immanently by us.