The text from today’s sermon at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York is below. You can find the link for this Father’s Day message here. While the sermon is geared to fathers and to men generally, you will find that it is fitting for all who follow Jesus Christ to hear today. For more inspiration, you might look at last year’s Father’s Day sermon. Next Sunday, worship will begin 30 minutes earlier (at 10:00 a.m.) for the summer hours and the first service at that hour will be at Ellicott Creek Park on Niagara Falls Blvd. The text for next Sunday is Numbers 3. I encourage you to read it ahead of time and to bring your Bible with you on Sunday. Plan to get there early because you won’t know which pavilion we are using until you find us. [Update on 6/20: we will be in Shelter 19…I would still get there early to find it]
The culture around us has its own ideas concerning real men. There is even a 1987 movie that is a blend of the genres of science fiction and comedy with the name. I don’t recall ever seeing the movie, but a quick internet search shows that the movie stars Jim Belushi and John Ritter as the heroes. Those two might not be exactly who you would picture as real men, but still we know that our culture thinks that real men are womanizers and strong. There is something to be said for the latter—strong. The culture is not too far from the truth concerning real men being strong. Unfortunately, the church throughout the world is missing many strong men. The household of faith is made of many mothers and their kids. This does not mean that there is no “father” at home, but it does mean that there are no real fathers at home. These supposed fathers are absentee fathers when it comes to setting an example for their children by taking them to worship and disciplining them in the Lord. In other words, in these households the mothers are Christians but their husbands are not. This is especially true in areas of the world where Islam is the majority religion. Christianity is seen as the faith for the weak – mothers and their little children. These patterns have consequences. Studies have shown that whether the father attends church or not is the biggest factor as to whether or not the kids will continue to go to church when it is their choice. While it is true that it is in our weakness that God shows His strength, nonetheless Scripture is replete with commands for fathers to take courage and step out in faith. One example would be Joshua, who was commanded repeatedly to take courage, a command that was fitting for him as a father of the nation and as one who had decided that his household would serve the true and living God of Israel—the famous line, “As for me and my house, we will serve YHWH” (Joshua 24:15). That Old Testament example is still fitting for us under the New Covenant. Let’s turn to a few examples from the New Testament. The first is from the final messages and greetings that the Apostle Paul gave the Corinthians in…
1 Corinthians 16:13
- Real men act like men in Christ.
- The title of the sermon builds on that verse from First Corinthians where Paul said, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (16:13). You see, real men act like men in Christ. Real men keep watch rather than neglecting or damaging the sheep entrusted to them; they fight off the wolves, bears, and lions; they stand firm in the faith of Jesus Christ, they act like men or we might say they are brave and take courage and are leaders. Real men are those who would be willing to “[risk] their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ” like Silas and Judas did, these were the two men that the Jerusalem Council sent with Barnabas and Paul in Acts 15:25-27. Real men take courage and set out on the adventure of faith though they cannot see the destination.
- The opposite of real men are men who abuse or neglect their children. I mentioned recently that one of the most common objections to calling God “our Father who is in heaven” is the negative example of some human fathers. Indeed, sometimes fathers provoke their children to anger because of neglect or abuse. Even the best of human fathers will fail to be consistent in their discipline. There are times when the best of human fathers will, for example, say the wrong things in anger. All of our sins against our children will provoke our children to anger. Now if that is true for the best of human fathers then, of course, whenever a father’s sins rise to the level of abuse or neglect that will provoke their children to anger and understandably so. A father who neglects or abuses his children is not a real man, but someone who resembles the serpent more than our Father in heaven. (It is these negative examples that make Father’s Day a difficult day for some people. It can be yet another reminder of real abuse or neglect that one endured as a child. But real men will act like men in Christ. To be more specific…)
- Real men act like men in Christ when they lead others to believe in Jesus Christ.
It has been said, “It is much easier to become a father than to be one,”1 and Pope John XXIII reportedly said, “It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father,”2 but Jesus would say, “a real father would lead his children to God the Father through me.” When the apostle Paul says that the father is to bring up his children in the discipline and instruction in the Lord that discipline and instruction includes the gospel. When our children sin, we help them to see it while recognizing the many times that we sin in similar ways and we share the gospel that Jesus died for our sins and has reconciled us to God the Father. I’m not talking about sitting down with your child to have “the talk” about Jesus—where you sit them down and get them to admit that they are a sinner and that they need salvation and that Jesus is their Savior and they need to submit to Him as Lord and Savior, etc. But rather, I’m talking about leading your children to God the Father through Jesus when you talk in the car, when you get up in the morning and go to bed at night, when you eat together and sit on the porch together, when one kid hits the other and when they fight over their toys, and the like. (But let’s take this a step further: Real fathers act like men in Christ when they lead their children to believe in Jesus and go to church.)
One form of neglect common in modern parenting is to neglect leading your children to church by example and command. I say both example and command because there are those fathers who insist that their children go to church but the father himself neglects to go and there are those fathers who go to church but neglect to tell their teenager they have to get out of bed and come too. These are forms of neglect. Now I know that someone will want to object and say that calling this neglect is going too far—that there are much more serious and dangerous forms of neglect and abuse that parents do. So to illustrate this danger, let me tell you the story of the south side rebellion as it is told in Numbers 16. Maybe someday I’ll preach on this text, but for now I’ll just try to hit the highlights to make the point we need to see today. In Numbers 16, Korah, who was a Levite, and Dathan and Abiram who were from the tribe of Reuben, and others, assembled themselves together against Moses and Aaron to challenge their leadership. The tribe of Reuben and Korah’s division of Levites camped on the south side of the tabernacle. Korah was challenging Aaron’s religious leadership and Dathan and Abiram were challenging Moses’ political leadership. Those that lived south of the tabernacle were not at the bottom of Israelite society. Actually, they were close to the top of society. Those at the top lived to the east of the tabernacle, then came those to the south, then those to the west and then last were those to the north. Their complaint was not that all were not equal – even though on a first read you might think they were asking for equality – what they really wanted was to be at the top. Korah wanted to be a priest and the descendants of Reuben wanted to be restored as the firstborn of Israel, a status they lost because of Reuben’s sin. When Moses responded to Korah he challenged him to a contest to see who God had chosen as a priest. Korah and his followers were to bring incense burners and fire. Moses noted to them that they should be content with the place in society that the Lord had given to them and that they were not revolting against Aaron but the Lord. Dathan and Abiram complained that Moses had not lived up to their expectations – he had not delivered on the Promised Land. Their complaint appears to assume that the Lord does not even exist. This rebellion put the entire people of Israel at danger. But Moses interceded, as a prophet is supposed to, and asked for the Lord YHWH to give the people an opportunity to distance themselves from these rebellions. So the Lord did just that – He told the people to move away from the south side camp and those who distanced themselves from the rebellions would live and those that identified themselves with the rebels would die. Moses warned the people that the earth would swallow Korah, Dathan and Abiram, as well as their wives and their children and their little ones. The rest of the account makes clear that this is exactly what happened.3 Did you notice how Korah, Dathan and Abiram failed to be real fathers? A real father would lead his children to God the Father through Jesus Christ but these fathers rebelled against the Lord and his chosen leaders (Korah rebelled against the high priest Aaron, Dathan and Abiram against the prophet Moses and ultimately against the king who would come from the tribe of Judah). A real father would model contentment in the Lord to his children. But Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were not content with their place in God’s kingdom; they wanted power rather than to serve the Lord. And their failure as fathers brought judgment upon their children. These fathers’ actions condemned their children, and even their young children and infants, to death. This was a small scale picture of what will happen on judgment day. There will only be two family groups in the final judgment – those outside Christ and those in Christ. The consequences can be nothing less than eternal exile from God. It should be clear now how serious it is to neglect leading your children to church by example and command. (But this does not need to be the case. The good news in Jesus Christ is that you do not need to be identified with the rebels. In fact, not all of Korah’s descendants died that day. In Numbers 26, we see in the census that Dathan and Abiram had no surviving sons but there are some descendants of Korah. The only way this could be is that some of his children joined those who separated themselves from the south side rebellion. The same can be the case for you: there is no reason why you should die even if your parents are not Christians. You too can join the community of faith. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram are examples of those who did not want to walk on the journey of faith. But the rest of Israel shows the positive results of covenant headship. That is, the children of fathers who distanced themselves from the rebellion were saved along with their fathers. Salvation will come to those households where fathers take courage and step out on the journey of faith with their family. Remember that real men act like men in Christ when they lead others to believe in Jesus Christ. But since faith and repentance go together, let’s make that next step and say…)
Real men act like men in Christ when they lead others to repent and believe.
- Notice the way that Hebrews says that true children are disciplined. Discipline is a response for disobedience of commandments and for failure to fulfill commandments. For Israel, God’s promise of the commandment, “honor your father and mother,” was long life in the land and that it would go well for them (Eph 6:3). Yet the curse if they did not keep the law, which they were unable to keep, was that things would not go well for them and they would be banished from the fruitful land flowing with milk and honey. The author of Hebrews tells us elsewhere that the fathers of our faith were seeking out a heavenly homeland (11:13-16). And we know that when Israel’s fathers did fail to be real fathers the people went into exile from the land as a picture of the danger they faced of permanent exile from God. As with the example of the rebellion in Numbers, the fruit of a failure to be real fathers can include not only difficulties here and now for you and your children, but also has the potential to be eternal punishment for your children and their children. Take a look at the Ephesians passage at verse 3. To be sure, children are expected to honor their parents even if they are not Christians in so far as that honor does not lead them to dishonor God. Yet Paul is writing these things to Christian households. And he notes that the promise for children especially in a Christian household who honor their parents is “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” This is a classic statement of the blessing of God. In other words, if you honor your Christian parents as you would honor the Lord then you will be blessed. The commandment puts this in the language of it going well with you and living long in the land. This blessing points forward to eternal life in the new heavens and earth. This is the good fruit that awaits children of real fathers: fathers who know that they are strangers and exiles on the earth awaiting a heavenly land (Heb 11:13-15). The author of Hebrews says that the people of God should not regard the discipline of the Lord lightly. It is no small matter. It is serious. Do not just go through trials as if they are unavoidable and you have nothing to learn from them. And yet they are not to be weary when reproved by the Lord (12:5). Trials in life are not a sign of God’s neglect – He is not being an absentee father. Trials in life are signs of God’s fatherly care for His people. True children are disciplined.4
- To be sure earthly fathers will make mistakes when practicing the discipline of the Lord, and yet we learn to respect our earthly fathers. We respect them most if they set clear boundaries and enforced them. If a father abdicates this responsibility and just wants to be a friend to his son then he will actually be looked upon with disdain and contempt rather than respect and admiration.5 Such a father might as well have abandoned his children. Fathers can provoke their children to anger when they do not set clear boundaries; when they enforce the rules only part of the time and leave the children guessing when they will be in trouble. But the result of the discipline of the Lord in the hands of a Christian father should yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it (12:11) just as the discipline of our Heavenly Father does. Such discipline is heart training – it is not aimed at outward conformity but heartfelt obedience to God; the goals of such discipline is not the father’s dreams but the goals of God. Notice that the word discipline and the word disciple have the same root. This is because Biblical discipline is a form of teaching your children in the Lord. It is as our perfect Father sets the example of leading His children to Christ so that they might live with Him forever that we are to take our cue as fathers. We have the perfect Father in heaven who gives us the courage and wisdom for salvation in Christ.
1 Attributed to Kent Nerburn, U.S. Author and Educator, according to Mary Fairchild, “Father’s Day Quotes for Christian Fathers,” accessed 15 June 2007, available from http://christianity.about.com/od/fathersday/qt/fathersdayquote.htm.
2 Attributed to Pope John XXIII, according to the same source as above.
3 My telling of the story paraphrases the following commentary: Iain Duguid, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 199-208.
4 Richard Phillips, Hebrews, Reformed Expository Commentary, 545-546.
5 Ibid., 547.