Father’s Day And Fatherhood

(Podcast note: we missed recording the first two minutes of the sermon this week, but almost all of it is there. We apologize for the mistake!)

Matthew 3:16-17 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Happy Father’s Day. As we did on Mother’s Day (with motherhood), after briefly considering the (non-Christian) origin of Father’s Day, we’ll take a closer look at the meaning of fatherhood in the bible. Specifically, we’ll see a paradigmatic example of what it looks like to be a good father as we examine the baptism of Jesus. Please pray that God would help us experience Himself as our one true Father and that all earthly fathers would rightly pattern our fathering after God.

In reading two of my favorite blogs ( and I was able to come up with this definitive list of the five essential Father’s Day facts.

  1. After listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909, Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Wash. wanted a special day to honor her father, a widowed Civil War veteran who was left to raise his six children on a farm. The first Father’s Day celebration, June 17, 1910, was proclaimed by Spokane’s mayor because it was the month of Smart’s birth.
  2. The first presidential proclamation honoring fathers was issued in 1966 (Mother’s Day was 1914) when President Lyndon Johnson designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. Father’s Day has been celebrated annually since 1972 when President Richard Nixon signed the public law that made it permanent.
  3. The rose is the official flower for Father’s Day. Wearing a red rose signifies a living father, while white one represents a deceased father.
  4. Father’s Day is celebrated in many countries in the world, including Australia, Bolivia, Canada, China, France, Greece, Honduras India, Iran, Japan, Nepal, Poland, South Korea, Thailand, and Zimbabwe.
  5. According to a 2012 poll, most dads would prefer to either spend quality time with their families on Father’s Day (40%) or receive no gift at all (22%). Gift cards were a distant third, at 13%.

As you can see, just like with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day does not have a distinctly Christian origin. Therefore, just like with Mother’s Day, preaching a sermon on Father’s Day about fathers requires a bit of defense.

My defense is simple. I’m hijacking secular Father’s Day in order to draw your attention to God’s primary presentation of himself. That is, of all the ways God describes his nature (consuming fire, refuge, guide, judge, helper, fortress, rock, shield, healer, etc.), “father” is the most common, consistent, and fundamental. Earthly fatherhood exists primarily to point to heavenly fatherhood. Indeed, earthly fatherhood is designed by God primarily as a means of teaching his people about himself. And that, of course, means that fathering is a high, high calling. Everything that makes for a good earthly father, then, has its roots in the fatherhood of God.

Therefore, it is appropriate for us to celebrate Father’s Day within the church when we are ultimately celebrating our heavenly Father and helping men to pattern their earthly fathering after Him…and that is most certainly what this sermon is intended to accomplish.

With that, then, let’s look at Matthew 3:16-17 in order to gain a handful on insights into God’s fathering in order to better look to him and worship him as Father, and in order to become better fathers ourselves.

Matthew 3:16-17 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Men, when you came in you were (hopefully) given a gift. It is a CD containing a set of sermons by Douglas Wilson. Collectively, they served as the basis for his book Father Hunger. The following six points are from the first message on that CD. I am sharing them with you this morning both as a strong encouragement for you to listen to the messages and, even more so, as a helpful paradigm for godly fathering. That is, the following six points, which flow from Matthew 3:16-17, are (Wilson and I believe) one of the clearest examples of God functioning as Father and how earthly fathers are to think and feel and act toward our kids.

The Father Was Present
The first thing to see is that the Father was present in the life of his Son. This might seem simple, and it is, but we simply can’t allow ourselves to miss it. When Jesus was baptized and about to begin his earthly ministry, his Father was most especially present.

What’s more, Jeremiah 23:23-24 teaches that the particular example of Matthew 3:16-17 is actually a universal truth, “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God afar off? 24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.”

God is always present in the lives of all his children. He is never absent. He is never unaware of what’s going on in our lives. He is continually conscious of our needs and joys and sorrows and fears and trials and triumphs.

What a gift it was to have a father who modeled this for me. I can’t remember a single significant event (or many insignificant events) for which my dad was absent. Never having to wonder if he’d be there was a remarkable blessing and—unknowingly—a remarkable example of the nature of God.

God is always present with his children and therefore, in every reasonable way, dads, we must imitate him with our own children. Be there for them and make sure they know you will continue to be there for them as long as you have breath. Give your kids the gift of being able to assume your unwavering presence in their lives.

The Father made His presence felt by sending His Spirit
It gets better still. God was not only present, he made his presence felt. God has (and is) a Spirit. At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit served as the visible image of the Father; as one of the means by which the Son was able to feel the presence of the Father.

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him…

Mankind too has been given a spirit by God. We are not merely physical creatures. Our spirit, like the Father’s Spirit, is an essential part of our being. If we are to follow the Father’s example we must not be merely physically present—present in the body—we must also be spiritually present—present in attention and engaged.

Having a dad who is physically around is more than some in this room have ever known. But if we are to be truly godly dads, our physical presence is only part of our responsibility.

On a practical level this means that coming home each evening after work is good, but if you come home only to zone out in front of the TV or newspaper, you are not present in spirit. It means that going to your kids musical or dance or sports or academic performances is good, but insufficient if you spend the whole time on your phone. And it means that making sure that your kids have every physical thing they need is good, but that providing for their spirits is also a significant part of rightly imitating God.

Dads, let us truly engage our kids. Let’s make sure that they know deep in their bones that second only to their mothers, they mean more to us than anyone else on earth.

God is always present and he is always engaged.

The Father Made His Presence Known by Speaking
The third thing to see is that God made his presence known both visibly and audibly.

…behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The Spirit and the word of the Father evidenced his engagement in this remarkable scene.

I tried this out the other night. At their track meet I made it a point of emphasis to let our older girls know that I was there and there for them. During their events I’d cheer them on. After their events I’d congratulate them. In between their events I tried to embarrass them by calling them over for hugs. They might have been a little annoyed, but I left no doubt that they were my focus.

I know there are healthier expressions of these first three points, but however you do it, dads, do it. Engage your kids. Be present as God is present: physically, spiritually, visibly, and vocally.

The Father Identified with His Son

I love this next point. The heavenly and earthly implications of it are hard to overstate.

…behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my [beloved] Son…

Both for the Son’s sake and for the sake of those close enough to hear, God the Father indentified Jesus as his Son. This, of course, was true before the Father said it. Saying it didn’t make it so. And yet, there is something remarkably powerful about this declaration.

Jesus was fully God, and Jesus was also fully human. In his humanity, filled with the knowledge that his baptism marked the beginning of a life of sorrows and grief, this reminder of his Father’s presence and blessing would have been a great source of comfort for Jesus.

What’s more, the Father’s declaration of Jesus as his Son—the Father’s identification with Jesus—left no doubt for the nearby listeners as to the legitimacy of Jesus as a man of God, as the Son of God, and one who would speak and work on the Father’s behalf.

Grace, all of you, if you are hoping in Jesus find rest in the certain knowledge that this is God’s declaration to you as well. You too are his sons and daughters.

1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

And dads in particular, make sure that your kids know how eager you are to name them as your sons and daughters. Let them see the pleasure and pride on your face when you introduce them. As the Father did (and does), leave no doubt (in public and private) that they are your children and that you are earnest for everyone to know it. That leads us straight to the next point.

The Father Expressed His Love for His Son

In our passage we are able to see that the Father was present, that he made his presence seen and heard, and that one of the primary purposes for doing so was to make it known that he identified with the Son as his Father. But that’s still not all. The Father didn’t merely name Jesus as his Son, he named him as his “beloved” Son.

…behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son…

God the Father genuinely and fully loved Jesus.

Christian, dad, this is true of you and I as well. We too, by grace through faith in Jesus, are beloved children. (Ephesians 5:1 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”) In Christ God’s primary relationship to us is familial and his primary disposition is love. Rest in that. Rejoice in that. And, dads, imitate that in how you treat your kids.

Let them know that you are not first their disciplinarian or teacher or janitor or banker or chauffer or anything other than their father. Your primary relationship with them is dad. And let them know that above pride, frustration, fatigue, satisfaction, or any other disposition, love drives you in your relationship with them.

Tell them that you love them. Hug them. Kiss them. Constantly work for what’s best for them.

All of this together leads to the final point…

The Father Was Well-Pleased with His Son
The Father was well-pleased with Jesus. Grace, never make the mistake of believing that there isn’t joy shared within the godhead. Eternally, the Father, Spirit, and Son have been in a confederacy of joy. Eternally, the Father, Spirit, and Son have produced and received infinite joy from one another. And in this simple, minute-long exchange, we see the pleasure of the Trinity in one another.

In hearing his Father’s voice and message, Jesus was genuinely able to rejoice in it.

Again, dads, this is your example. This is your paradigm. This is fatherhood in basic and pure form. Let your kids know that you are pleased with them. Let them know that you are proud of them. Let your kids regularly feel your pleasure and joy in them. Tell them how much you delight in them simply because they are your kids. And when they act wrongly, make sure you address it through the lens of the gospel. Your kids have never—indeed, can never—wrong you as much as you have wronged God (not within a million miles). And yet, in Christ, your heavenly Father’s primary disposition toward you is still grace and love and pleasure.

There is, of course, much more that could be said about fathering (God’s fathering and ours), but nothing less. This is a good start for all of us to consider the nature of the relationship between God and his children as well as the one God intends between his children and theirs.

It is vital for us all to understand that God designed his people to hunger for these things…to need them for sustenance, for life. When we have them in our earthly father’s, therefore, we experience glimpses of fullness and strength. But when we lack them, we can experience profound emptiness and weakness.

And yet, as we all know, ultimately, no one but God alone fathers perfectly. Our Father hunger can only be truly met in the Father. And that is why we look to him to meet any needs our fathers lacked and why we look to Jesus for forgiveness for any shortcomings in our lives.

This is good news for all of us. Regardless of how poorly your earthly father loved you, your heavenly Father is able to make up for anything and everything he lacked. You are able to have the full and complete love of a Father—to have your father hunger entirely satisfied—even if you never knew your biological dad. You are able to have the full and complete provision and protection of a Father even if your earthly dad was lazy and abusive.

And the good news for all the dads in this room who have not been the kind of fathers God made us to be (which is all of us), is that Jesus died to take away our sins, change our hearts, reveal the will of God, and strengthen us to walk in righteousness beginning right now.

In our passage for this morning we see the baptism of Jesus. And we know that the baptism of Jesus began a ministry that ended at the cross. The cross means that you need not be defined by your past failures, that you need not remain in them, and that by grace through faith, you are presently being made into the kind of father you were made by God to be.

Look to God, ultimately, to satisfy your father hunger, and look to Jesus, dads, and in him find forgiveness from your failures and strength to father as the Father fathers.

I’d like close with a simple prayer I first read/prayed a few years ago. It’s the prayer printed on the inside of your Father’s Day gift.

Dear heavenly Father, on this Father’s Day, it’s a great joy to affirm that you are the Father we’ve always longed for and needed. The best earthly fathers offer a great taste of what it means to be your beloved children, but they can never be to us what you are. Our hearts overflow with thanksgiving, as we cry with joy today, “Abba, Father!”

Thank you for adopting us through the finished work of Jesus, and for robing us in Jesus’ righteousness and forgiving ALL our sins. Thank you for freeing us from our slavery to sin and our orphan-like ways, and for giving us the Spirit of Sonship, a secure place in your family, and an inheritance that can never spoil or fade.

Thank you for being the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. Thank you for promising to complete the work you began in us, and for always disciplining us in love—never shaming, chiding, or withdrawing from us.

And Father, thank you for grace to forgive our earthly fathers who didn’t love us as you intended—including those who broke our trust and hearts. Continue to heal us, Lord, help us to love them, and free us to parent to your glory.

Lastly, Father, we thank you for the spiritual dads you’ve given us—the gospel-fathers who help us discover more and more of the multi-dimensional love of Christ. So we pray ‘Amen,’ in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name.