December 23, 2007
“Who am I? Do I matter? Am I loved?” Our response to such weighty questions reveals how we think about ourselves. In this message, Alistair Begg explains that our heavenly Father pursues and secures relationship with us through the cross of Christ. When we place our trust in the saving work of Jesus, we are forgiven completely, known thoroughly, and loved eternally.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to take your Bible and turn to Isaiah chapter 9. And we read again words that are becoming increasingly familiar to us as we turn for the fourth occasion to the sixth verse in our study:
“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by … way of the sea, along the Jordan—
“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.”
Well, we are on page 489, Isaiah chapter 9, turning for the fourth time to Isaiah’s prophecy concerning this child with the four names. Isaiah introduces this passage by announcing in quite striking fashion that into the darkness of the world that he and his friends inhabit, light has come. Into their superstition and into their corruption and into their materialism a light has dawned. And as we saw, he was able to speak both of the then and of that which was yet in the future.
And as we read our Bibles, we discover that one of the metaphors that is provided in the Bible for what it means to come to know God, for God to come and meet with us, is this whole concept of light shining into darkness. And the picture of darkness that is described in Isaiah chapter 9 is simply a representation of the darkness of the hearts and lives of men and women until the light of the gospel shines in. And last time, in the prologue of John’s Gospel, we saw that John was saying very much the same thing but just from a different vantage point. And he says in his prologue, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” Once again, light penetrating darkness.
When you go to Luke’s dramatic story concerning the arrival of the angelic host coming to meet with the shepherds, again, it’s no surprise to us that Luke says that it was that the light of the glory of God shone all around them, and so much so that the shepherds threw themselves on the ground in fearfulness. And when Luke in his second volume describes the encounter with Saul of Tarsus with the risen Lord Jesus Christ, he describes again Saul throwing himself to the ground because a light from heaven that was brighter than the noonday sun had flashed all around them.
Now, this picture of light, which is pervasive and speaks to the clarity of the good news of the gospel, is in direct contrast with cultish teaching and cultish behavior. There is nothing secretive about Christianity. It is all out in the open. The story of the Bible is an ever-widening lens, if you like, letting in more and more light, or displaying more and more light. There is nothing of the cultish behavior that introduces us to secret societies, to darkened rooms, and to activities that are only for those who have advanced to particular and peculiar stages of awareness of the information. No, not in Christianity. It is light that comes to penetrate all of the darkness.
And this light is found finally and fully in the Messiah, whom Isaiah introduces us to as the child with the four names. He is the one whom he has already referenced two chapters earlier as “Immanuel,” “God with us.” He is the one who is Jesus, the Savior of our sins. And we have seen him as Wonderful Counselor, establishing his plan from all of eternity; as Mighty God, able because of his majesty and dominion to execute his plan, because of his power; and now, in the third instance, in our fourth study we come to he who is Everlasting Father. And in my desire to get four Ps out of it, then I’ve got “plan” for Wonderful Counselor, I have “power” for Mighty God, I have “paternity” for Everlasting Father, and, of course, I have “peace” for Prince of Peace. The final one I’m still working on, where “he will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom … forever.” And I’m sure that someone will, of course, send me an email with the requisite P for that, and that will be very helpful.
But we’ve come this morning to “Everlasting Father.” Everlasting Father. And as in the previous cases, we have the challenge before us of seeking to work out just exactly what this conveys.
There are two things that we need to know immediately about this—two things that are not the case.
First of all, we need to know that this is not a reference to the first person of the Trinity. We would immediately go wrong if we thought somehow or another that Isaiah, having spoken first of the Messiah, was then speaking of God the Father. He is not doing that. What we have here is a designation of a quality of the Messiah with respect to his people. When we think of the way in which the Messiah deals with those who are his own, he acts towards them as a father towards his children.
Henry Lyte, in the great hymn which begins, “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven,” penned from the central section of Psalm 103, captures this perfectly in one of his stanzas, which begins,
Fatherlike he tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame he knows.
In his hands he gently bears us,
[And] rescues us from all our foes.
So you need to be clear that this is not a reference to the first person of the Trinity but rather an indication of the quality of the Messiah with respect to his people.
Secondly, it is important for us to understand that the adjective “everlasting” is not referring to the eternal nature of the Messiah’s being, as eternal with the Father and with the Son, but rather it is referencing the never-ending nature of his care. The never-ending nature of his care. I was finally helped as I wrestled with this by writing down on my notes, instead of “Everlasting Father,” I wrote down “Father Forever.” Father Forever. Because the adjective is qualifying the nature of his fatherlike care. It goes on and on forever. Having taken on the charge of the parental, paternal care of his own, he is not going to abandon it. There need be no fear that this father will leave home. There need be no fear that this individual will abandon his charge somewhere along the line. He is Father Forever.
And again, the hymn writers are helpful, aren’t they? In that lovely twentieth-century hymn which begins “Day by day, and with each passing moment,” the hymn writer in the course of that captures this as well when, in a phrase or two, she writes, “The protection of his child and treasure is a charge that on himself he laid.” “The protection of his child and treasure is a charge that on himself he laid.” And that charge, having taken it on, adopting us into his family, he will never throw us out, he will never abandon us, he will never relinquish his responsibilities, he will never renege on his promises. Why? Because he is not only Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God, but he is Everlasting Father.
Now, last time, in order to try and give flesh, as it were, to the skeleton of “Mighty God,” we went to the New Testament. On this occasion this morning, I want us to stay in the Old Testament and turn just to one passage, and that is to Psalm 103. Psalm 103. It’s page 428, if you wish to use the Bibles there in front of you. Page 428.
Incidentally, if you go to a golf tournament to watch it, you will find that you either are a sitter or a flitter. Either you’re running all around the golf course trying to see as much as you can on as many holes as possible, or you will find that you would much rather park yourself somewhere and then have it come to you, as it were, and have the procession come past you. And if you are a sitter, then it is very annoying to be with a flitter, and indeed, if you are a flitter, you just have to leave the sitter all by himself and get on with life as you desire it. I mention that because I don’t want to be a flitter this morning when it comes to providing cross-references. I want to be a sitter, and I want you to sit with me here at Psalm 103, and we will seek to understand something of what is meant by this phrase.
And indeed Psalm 103:13 takes us to the very heart of the matter: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” Here is a designation of the quality of the Messiah. How does he treat us? Well, he pities. In fact, if you have a King James Version, or if you remember it from growing up, you will remember that this verse reads, “As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” And I think there’s something good about “pitieth.” I would be in favor of just keeping that strange verb, because it highlights the warmth, the emotion, the significance of the Hebrew verb which is used here. It is a verb which, if you like, distinguishes or defines or marks the nature of true parenthood.
Every father views his children in a way that he doesn’t view anyone else’s children. You cannot on your best day view someone else’s child the way you view your own. You may admire them. You may compliment them. You may do all manner of things to them and say about them. But it is a peculiarity of fatherhood that when you look on your own children, there is something in that dimension of relationship that cannot be duplicated outwith the bounds of that relationship. And that is all contained in this Hebrew verb: “As a father pitieth his children.” It’s all of that empathy and compassion and everything else. And, says the psalmist, this is the way in which the love of the Father is defined—immeasurable love conveyed not only in the vastness of the distances but also in the intimacy of family life: “as far as the east is from the west,” all of the vastness of this to convey the vastness of his goodness, and then “as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” He narrows, as it were, the angle down; he brings the lens in, into the intimacy of familial relationships.
Now, let us notice just three aspects of what it means for the Messiah to be eternally a father to his people.
First of all, it means that he forgives us completely. He forgives us completely.
If you look at the language of this psalm, it comes out very clearly. Verse 3: The Lord should be praised, for he is the one “who forgives all [of] your sins.” He is the one, in verse 4, “who redeems your life from the pit.” In verse 10, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” And then, of course, he goes on to say, “As far as the east is from the west, so far,” verse 12, “has he removed our transgressions from us.”
Now, don’t make the dreadful mistake of sitting there and saying, “Oh, well, that’s terrific! That means that somehow or another—I haven’t really understood this—but God just overlooks sin; that he is a forgiving God, and that it doesn’t really matter what I’ve done, and it’s all taken care of. Apparently, that’s what Psalm 103 is saying.” No, that would be a dreadful mistake to make. That would be as if God was some kind of benevolent Santa Claus who said, “I know you’ve been naughty all year, but I want to be nice to you just the same. I know you deserve this, but I’m going to give you that.”
No, actually, it is far more complex and far more significant. Because when we take what it says, the Bible, concerning the forgiveness of God—a full and a final and a complete forgiveness—it has to be set within the context of God’s character. And because God is holy and because he is just, he cannot, he does not, and he will not condone our sins and our transgressions, nor will he overlook them. That is immediately a problem for each of us. Because each of us has broken God’s law. Each of us has transgressed against him. Each of us knows what it is to have that bias within our very beings which veers towards our own selfish agendas and seeks to turn our back on the way that God has marked out for us.
And incidentally, because as moral beings we are aware of moral rectitude, we are aware of a sense of oughtness, we are clear in our minds that God has established the rules, and, if you like, to stay within the realm of golf for a moment, there is a very clear delineation on the course about where the white markers are and what is out of bounds—and because we know that, we realize that when the examination papers are given out, we’re in trouble. And that is why many of us try and fill our lives with every kind of distraction. Because at the core of our being we recognize this. We don’t know what to do about it. And so we either embrace materialism and try and fill up our toy chest, or we engage in philosophical speculation and try and think deep thoughts that will distract us, or we immerse ourselves in our career so as to be known for something, or we go to the gym routinely so that we might be the toughest and the strongest of the group. But when we lie in our beds, and the searching gaze of our conscience spins around, and when we open up our minds to the truth of the Bible when it’s taught, then we recognize that the justice of God must punish sin. And if he grants forgiveness, it cannot be because he has chosen to overlook the fault.
Some of you will have noticed in the bookstores this past couple of weeks a magazine that bears a succession of photographs and one-page biographies of individuals who, according to the magazine authors, have left us too soon—those whose lives have been snuffed away prematurely, from a human perspective. I picked it up while I was standing in line the other day waiting for my for my name to be called—not my name, actually, but “Next!” And actually, it was it was nicer than “Next!” They were saying, “I can help the next guest here.” And that was infuriating me in itself, because I said, “I need to give this person a dictionary, because I’m not here as a guest. I’m here as a customer. And you can’t make me buy anything more by trying to kid me that I’m here as a guest.” Fortunately, by the time the lady called me, she just said, “Next!” She probably saw in my face the danger that was represented.
But I was filling in the time by looking at those whose lives were snuffed out, and I wasn’t at all surprised—in fact, I was sure before I opened it—that I would know who the first picture was. And the first picture was John Lennon, at the age of forty gone in a moment. But as I went through, I came to the classic picture of one of the alternative superstars of the ’80s in the Seattle band Nirvana, and the blue eyes and the tousled blond hair of Kurt Cobain, who died in 1994. And in an interview he gave before he took his own life, he wrote in reply to a question, “I am a stain. I am so ugly. I hate myself. I want to die.”
Well, was he wrong? Well, yes, he was wrong in part, wasn’t he? Because he was tremendously talented. He was handsome. He was a clever musician. He was a kind and generous person. But he was stained. And the reason I can say that with confidence is because the Bible says that we are all stained—that everyone is bearing the marks of the stain of our rebellion against God, our indifference towards God, and that there is only one solution, one solvent, that may remove the stain. Not “all the perfumes of Arabia” could do anything with the stains on the hands of Lady Macbeth, you will recall. There was no physician that could be called that could deal with her predicament. No, only the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ cleanses from every sin.
And the story of forgiveness we cannot get to simply by looking at a baby in a manger. We need to follow the line of Isaiah’s dramatic portrayal of he who is Father Forever to discover that this child grows to manhood, and in his manhood he is described as the one who bears our sins, who takes our punishment; the chastisement that brings us peace is upon him, and by his stripes, by his bearing the wounds that we deserve, we are healed. And then the writers of the Gospels and the Epistles tease this out for us and help us to understand that he doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve because the Messiah has died in the place of sinners—that God does not count our sins against us because he counts our sins against his only begotten Son. But his only begotten Son lived in perfection. His only begotten Son never sinned. There is no reason in the world why he, if death is the condemnation for sin, should die—unless, of course, he died in the place of sinners.
God in Christ did the unimaginable. He covered himself in shame so that we might be covered in glory, that all of the accusing load of my rebellion and my self-satisfied, self-focused living is nailed to the cross, and it’s nailed to the cross once and for all, and it needs no repetition, nor does it have to be supplemented by human endeavor. It is perfect because the Messiah is perfect. It cleanses perfectly the most darkened, fearful, and troubled conscience.
Secondly, not only does he forgive us completely, but he knows us thoroughly. He knows us thoroughly.
Look at what we’re told here in verse 14a: “For he knows how we are formed.” “He knows how we are formed.” Scientists have been spending so much time… I noticed an article in the Wall Street yesterday by Topol, who used to be here with us in Cleveland, and he’s off somewhere now, I don’t know where he is. But he was writing about the Genome Project—and I finally got bored with the article, and I didn’t finish it, I have to confess. But it made me think again about the vast resource that is employed in seeking to understand the complexities of the human frame. And here the psalmist says that he who is Father Forever “knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
We arrived with the Maker’s instructions, if you like. Each of us has a sell-by date. Each of us has a shelf life. You realize that, don’t you? That we’re not just drifting around haphazardly. We really don’t need to be unduly concerned about all these considerations that are pressed in upon us all the time—not if we know God as our Father, not if we know this wonderful Savior in Jesus.
You see, the undeniable facts are unavoidable facts. You say, “Well, I didn’t really want to come here on this day before Christmas Eve and be confronted by these awesome questions.” Well, today’s as good a day as any, wouldn’t you say?
I mean, if your view of the world—can I say this to you kindly?—if your view of the world, if your attempt to get through life and deal with death, does not have a decent answer to these three questions—Who am I, where did I come from, and where am I going?—then it would be a good time to think about having a change in your view of the world. Because in the darkness of the night, in the essence of our most perplexing thoughts, we eventually come to these questions in some form or fashion.
And what I want to suggest to you is that this phrase “Father Forever” addresses in a wonderful way not only the issue of guilt, which we all understand and need an answer to, but also the issue of identity: “Who am I? Where do I come from?” And it is the psalmist, again, who answers this later on in one of his poems, where he says, “Where am I?”
My frame [is] not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
I praise you because I[’m] fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
… You created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb. …
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
So what? Well, at least this—at least this: when you read that and understand it and believe it and know it, then you know that you’re not just a number. That you’re not just a number. You’re not just the last four digits: “Could I have the last four numbers of your Social Security?” I mean, if we had a buck for every time we’re asked for the last four digits, we would all be just going out buying each other extra Christmas presents, wouldn’t we? And sometimes you may feel as though you are just that.
“Hello, my name is Alistair.”
“Forget that. We don’t care your name. Just give us your number, last four digits.”
“Well, I was born in Scotland.”
“Couldn’t care less, be quiet. Let’s get the numbers out.”
“Well, I’ve been coming to this shop for seventeen—”
“We don’t care how long you’ve been coming here. Last four numbers! Hurry up, we got places to go.”
I’m not just a number. “I have a Father. He knows my name. Before even time began,” he knew me. I’m not worthless, and neither are you. If you have this Father Forever, you’re not worthless. The story of your life is not plankton soup, to become a gene carrier, to go out like a candle. But that’s the story for many people. Do you understand why they fill themselves up with
Eighty-six-proof anesthetic crutches
Prop[ping them] to the top
Where the smiles are all synthetic
And the ulcers never stop.
Because when they think about the deep questions, and they lie in their bed: “Who am I? Don’t know. Where’d I come from? Haven’t a clue. Where am I going? I hate to think. Pour me another one. Turn the music up. Party on, dude!” Why? “’Cause I don’t have an answer to the question.”
Yeah, well, you will if you meet this Father Forever. Then you’ll discover that you’re created by God and for God, for a relationship with him; that the brokenness in that relationship is on account of your sin; that he has come and done something about it in Jesus, the Messiah; that he is the righteous for the unrighteous, bringing us to God; that in this Forever Father, there is forgiveness, there is freedom, and there is a whole new family. It’s fabulous! I’m completely unashamed about this story. I want to stand up on the top of a building and shout it out. I want to stand up in Beachwood Mall and say, “Excuse me? Could I just have a moment, please?” But, of course, you’re not allowed to do that. They’ll throw you out as a crazy person. They’ll ask for your number, and then you’re gone.
Finally, he forgives completely, he knows thoroughly, and he loves us endlessly. He loves us endlessly.
Look at what it says in verse 8: that he abounds in love. He abounds in love. It’s a great word, abounding, isn’t it? He abounds in love. He overflows with love. “God is love.” His love brings people to repentance when they realize that “what I deserve I will not receive because of a love which has provided a Savior in this Messiah, who is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and Everlasting Father.” “From everlasting to everlasting,” you will notice—verse 17—“the Lord’s love is with those who fear him.” This is his covenant love, a love which takes the initiative in binding to himself a people that are his very own.
This is appealing, I know, to many in our day: those for whom family life has been, if not a disaster, at least a disappointment; those for whom institutional religion has left them high and dry—scandals and self-aggrandizement, self-promotion, has left them disenchanted. And they’re looking for something, and here they’re introduced to a love that seeks us out, the kind of love that pursues us and woos us like a lady looking for the final piece of her necklace that she dropped somewhere when she was busy around the house. Like a shepherd who has ninety-nine sheep safely in the fold, but there’s one outside, and he goes to look for it. Like a father who looks and longs for the return of a wayward son.
This, my friends, is the story of the gospel. This is the most amazing and wonderful story: that the God whom I have chosen to ignore comes looking for me, pursuing a relationship with himself—that the God in whom I have expressed, to this point in my life, zero interest is the God who seeks me out.
I was listening earlier this morning to some of Handel’s Messiah, just to stir my heart. And I went looking for a quote from Jennens, who was the man who dealt with the biblical text that accompanies Handel’s Messiah. And Charles Jennens, in arranging the words for the text of the Messiah, wrote to a friend, expressing his hope that Handel’s music would be good enough to accompany the biblical text. It’s funny to think, isn’t it? Because you tend to think, “Oh, Handel! That’s amazing. Oh, yes…” Yes. And this is the quote from his letter: “I hope he will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excell all his former Compositions, as the Subject excells every other Subject. The Subject is Messiah.” It is fantastic that he who is so vastly different from us became “one of us”—not “just a stranger on the bus” but a friend and a constant companion, as a loving Father Forever, prepared to share his life with us as we share our lives with him.
He forgives us completely. He knows us thoroughly. He loves us endlessly.
Well, that’s the cue for a song. If this was a different kind of church, then we could finish with a country song. But you should be thankful that it isn’t. But it made me, as I finished my notes, I wrote down just two words at the bottom of the page. I wrote down “forever, amen.” And as soon as I went to “forever, amen,” then I was with Randy Travis, then I was with Paul Overstreet, and then I was sitting at my desk with words running through my head like
As long as old men sit and talk about the weather,
As long as old women sit and talk about old men …
[Honey,] I’m [going to] love you forever …
Forever and ever, amen.
I understand that. That’s why in an earlier era somebody wrote “Endless Love,” didn’t they? In fact, that’s why countless popular and country songs have been written about the idea of an endless love: because the human heart longs for an endless love. And sin breaks love relationships, and death changes them irrevocably—in every instance save one. And that is the endless love of a Forever Father, who in a way that I cannot understand, before I was even made, knew me, and set his love upon me, and came and met me in my childhood home in Glasgow, and kept me through my rebellious teenage years, and against every run of play turned me into what I endeavor to be for him. And when that day comes, and the yogurt carton of my life is turned up, and my sell-by date is exposed for everyone in the store to see, then he will love me “forever and ever, forever and ever, amen.”
And I want to say to you: if you want to know that love, trust Christ. And I want to say to you that if you spurn that love, there is no other love in the entire universe that will be able to fill the gaping hole that is left in your heart, for you were made according to the plan of he who is Mighty Counselor, you may be changed by the power of he who is Mighty God, and you may luxuriate in the personal care and attention of he who is Father Forever to each one of his adopted children.
Father, thank you for your love that is endless, for the forgiveness that you bestow which is complete, for your knowledge of us that is thorough. And I pray that none will wander into another Christmas celebration content with a superficial awareness of what we have, many of us, contrived to make the story, but rather that we might be brought face-to-face with our great need of the one who comes to penetrate our darkness, forgive our sin, and love us endlessly. And we ask it in his precious name. Amen.
 John 1:9 (NIV 1984).
 See Luke 2:9.
 See Acts 9:3–4; 26:13.
 See Isaiah 7:14.
 Henry F. Lyte, “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” (1834).
 Karolina W. Sandell-Berg, trans. Andrew L. Skoog, “Day by Day” (1865).
 Psalm 103:12 (NIV 1984).
 See, for instance, Kurt Cobain, “Lithium” (1992), “Stain” (1992).
 William Shakespeare, Macbeth, 5.1.
 See Isaiah 53:5.
 Psalm 139:15, 14, 13, 16 (NIV 1984).
 Tommy Walker, “He Knows My Name” (1996). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Ray Stevens, “Mr. Businessman” (1968).
 See 1 Peter 3:18.
 1 John 4:8 (NIV 1984).
 See Titus 2:14.
 See Luke 15:1–32.
 Charles Jennens to Edward Holdsworth, 10 July 1741, quoted in Donald Burrows, Handel, Messiah, Cambridge Music Handbooks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 11.
 Eric Bazilian, “One of Us” (1995).
 Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, “Forever and Ever, Amen” (1987).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.