The Father Heart of God

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Preparing the recent Lifeline article on bereavement set the stage for me to approach Lent from a slightly different perspective this year. I have more often focused on the suffering of Jesus during Lent than what the experience of our Father God must have been like. Most people would agree that the loss of a child is likely the most painful event we endure in this life. As heartbreaking as the loss of a parent or even a sibling may be, none of us believe we should outlive our children. When we see our children suffer, we would much rather it be ourselves.

Why? Because, as author, Tim Keller states, “the more you love someone, the more the person’s grief and pain becomes yours.”

Jesus’ Father also must have suffered deeply anticipating the purpose and necessity of the cross and then experiencing the agony of His beautiful, sinless Son as He was tortured and brutally murdered by crucifixion. Even more heartbreaking must have been the final moment of total separation when he had to turn from his own Son as Jesus bore the sin of all humanity. God is holy and therefore cannot be in the presence of sin, and in His perfect and righteous justice, the penalty of sin is death and total separation from him. God, the Father poured out the weight of judgment for all the sin ever committed or to be committed on his only Son, who bore this unspeakable wrath utterly alone.

Tim Keller writes in his book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, that Jesus “was abandoned, denied, and betrayed by all the people he had poured his life into, and on the cross, he was forsaken even by his father (Matthew 27:46). This final experience, ultimately unfathomable to us, means infinite, cosmic agony beyond the knowledge of any of us on earth. For the ultimate suffering is the loss of love, and this was the loss of an eternal, perfect love. There is nothing more difficult than the disruption and loss of family relationships, but here we see that ‘God knows what it is like to suffer…because he has personally suffered in the most severe way possible…the agony of loss by death, the separation from a beloved, and the disruption of his own family (the Trinity) by the immensity of his own wrath against sin’...God the Son took on the punishment we deserved, including being cut off from the Father. And so God took into his own self, his own heart, an infinite agony- out of love for us.” Both Father and Son willingly submitted themselves to this excruciating event to fulfill the law and pay the only price that could restore us into the loving relationship with Him for which we were created.

What is in a name?

After Jesus was arrested, he was brought before the crowds in a custom of the current governor (Pilate) that is referred to only in scripture.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted. At the time, they were holding a notorious prisoner, Barabbas. So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus, who is called Christ?” …and they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Crucify Him!” Matthew 27: 15-17; 21-22

A name says something about our identity that is significant. We are often named for honored family members; most notably sons are named for their fathers and grandfathers. In Aramaic, “Bar” means, “son of,” and the endearing term for Father is “Abba.” Barabbas means “son of the father,” and this man likely was named by an earthly father who loved him with tender, nurturing affection. I imagine it might have been one of the loveliest names a man could bestow upon his son. Scripture tells us that Barabbas was in prison for insurrection (rebellion) against the Roman government. We are also told that he was a murderer (Acts 3:14) and a robber (Matthew 27:16; Luke 23:18). People don’t usually rob when they are secure in their provision, and they don’t decide to kill or rebel against authority unless they are terribly wounded and full of pain and anger. Barabbas was the wayward son of a loving father who didn’t know who his true father was.

Is it simply coincidence that the prisoner who was chosen for release was named Barabbas?

The first sin committed in the garden was rebellion and this was also the crime for which Barabbas was accused. Could this be why the one who was released had to be named Barabbas? Barabbas was standing next to Jesus in front of the crowds.  He had to know his guilt and that he was being set free at the expense of another man’s life. Jesus must have looked at him, with eyes full of the very love that took and held Him to the cross. He was coming to bring us all home to His Father. Barabbas, son of the father, was set free by the Son of the Father. We are all Barabbas. God, our loving Father, is always seeking to bring his children home, back into a secure relationship of unconditional love. And our precious Savior, Jesus, along with His Father, provided the way.

In reflecting upon Jesus’ question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” nineteenth century preacher, Robert Murray M’Cheyne concluded the answer must be,

“For me- for me.

Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13

A father I know who lost a child shared recently that as he walked with other grieving parents, he was told that they were comforted because he understood what they were going through even more than their other own family members.  God, our heavenly Father, personally understands the excruciating pain of losing His Only Son. In the infinite wisdom and compassion of our Tribune God, Jesus willingly laid down His life to restore us to a loving and secure eternal relationship with His Father; this was the joy set before Him, as He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2).                           

In the very last words of His final prayer before the crucifixion, Jesus said, “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them.” John 17: 25-26

As we move into Holy week and Good Friday, let us prayerfully meditate on the greatest sacrifice of love ever made by a Father and a Son with deep gratitude.

Article previously published in the April 2017 edition of The Carolina Compass.