Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen
Jesus taught us to pray, “Abba”, “Father”.
In contrast to the Jewish way of referring to God, as we find in many of the Jewish blessings, “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe” “Father” evokes an image of intimacy and caring, and also, of course, an understanding that we are indeed God’s children, hence able to call him “Father”.
Many people, me included, have pointed out that “Abba” was a more intimate, familial term than the formal “Father”.
After doing a bit of research, I found out that in the Aramaic language that Jesus would have spoken, there was only one term for father and that was “Abba”. It was both the intimate address of a child to their father, as in “Daddy” but also the more respectful address as “Father”.
But in either case, there was a clear shift in emphasis from the phrase “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe.” It was a shift away from the holy, awesome, all powerful and fearful God who wreaked havoc in the Old Testament, to one who loves, cares, and is as intimate and close to us as an earthly Father.
This is a wonderful image of God that Jesus gives us, and in most cases, probably the image that we have in our minds when we offer our prayers to him.
And yet, there is the other side, the other reality that also must remain. God is not just a good friend in whom we can confide.
God is, was, and always will be “King of the Universe”.
As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
These words from Daniel do not suggest a ‘dearest daddy’ image for God, not at all.
Holy, Awe inspiring, even terrifying in a good way.
Isaiah also had a vision of the heavenly throne, which is recorded for us in the sixth chapter:
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings:with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.
3 And one called to another and said:
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said:"Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"
And again in Revelation we have the image of God’s throne:
At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 3 And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. 4 Around the throne are twenty- four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty- four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; 6 and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.
Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind:7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle.
8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
"Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come."
I find myself wondering about that day when I die and enter into the heavens.
What will I find?
What will the experience be like?
One of the images that many people have is they look forward to meeting Jesus, often in a very pastoral and placid setting, and Jesus reaching out to take their hand in a warm and loving way.
But then another image is that as we enter heaven, we will approach the throne, walking amids all of the thousands of heavenly beings, to stand before the almighty. Fear and trepidation is what I imagine when I think of walking through the heavenly sanctuary toward the throne of God.
What is it?
I’d like for you to consider the experience of our own nation.
One of the things I remember about George Bush, when he ran for the presidency is that he impressed the American people as the candidate that they could most imagine ‘sitting down and having a beer with’—ironic because Bush did not drink.
There was a warmth about George Bush.
He and Laura conveyed a friendliness that was highly attractive to people.
The defining moment of his presidency came when he stood on the rubble of the twin towers, speaking to the crowds, and someone shouted out “we can’t hear you”, to which he responded “We can hear you?”
Someone who not only cared, but was a listener, and one you’d be delighted to have as a neighbor.
And yet, he was President, and as such commanded the most lethal military force the world has ever seen as was evident when he order the attacks on both Afghanistan and Iraq.
You only have to watch the friendship he established with Michelle Obama to conclude George Bush is genuinely a nice man, a compassionate man, a friendly man.
Yes, but, the city of Bagdad was lit up at night by the awe inspiring display of military might he commanded.
The point that I’m trying to illustrate is that sometimes love and might are wed together.
And if we believe the Bible, they certainly are in the person of God.
Yes, Jesus reveals to us the marvelous love and compassion of our God.
Yet, this God, our God, also is the King of the Universe.
And both of those images are important.
If we are terrified because of our sin, we need desparately to know that God loves and forgives us.
Yet if we are overwhelmed by the evil in the world, we need to be reassured that God is God, and God’s will will prevail, and that we need not fear the chaos of the world around us because God will one day defeat every force of evil.
Jesus stood before Pilot, on trial.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilot asked.
Pilot understood government.
Pilot understood Kings.
The Romans were quite accomplished in such matters.
What Pilot didn’t understand was Jesus.
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
What is incomprehensible for Pilot is to imagine a King, willing to stand there and be sentenced to death for the sake of his people.
Kings don’t do that.
That’s why Kings have armies.
But Christ was different.
In his suffering, death and resurrection Christ destroyed the power of death, and opened the gates of heaven for all of us.
Will it be a fearful experience to walk up the aisle of the heavenly sanctuary to stand before the Lord our God?
It might be terrifying if we had to do it alone.
But I’d rather imagine we will not be alone.
Christ will be by our side.
All of the faithful who have gone before us will be cheering us on.
And those loved ones who have themselves just recently made that walk, will be there to offer their own encouragement and hope.
And then, as we stand before the throne of God, the Ancient One who spoke the world into being with a word, will with that same word make us anew.
See, I am making all things new.
The first things have passed away.
“I will be your God, and you will be my child.”
And with those words, eternity will begin.