How can Jesus be addressed as “Everlasting Father” when he’s the Son? That was the starting point for the Third Sunday in Advent’s sermon. And I was glad it was, because it happened to be my question that morning.
“For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given…
and his name shall be called:
Prince of Peace.”
Our creeds identify God as Trinity: One God who eternally exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To call Jesus, “everlasting Father” seems to confuse the Father with the Son–a heresy for which you and I could have been burned at the stake in previous centuries. Yet here it is, in our authorized text of Isaiah’s writings.
What surprises will be find as we unwrap this Messianic title?
His “Father-like” Qualities
According to our preacher, the Old Testament is full of the Hebrew word for father, Avi. It often refers to paternity, in other words, to the male who passed on his DNA to you. Perhaps your blue eyes or your wicked sense of humor came from your own earthly father. You might chuckle to yourself when you remember a favorite shared joke.
Or maybe you have difficult memories of your father, so that remembering him brings more pain than pleasure. Perhaps he was rarely around when you needed him or seemed easily angered when he was at home. In that case Isaiah’s prophecy promises a better father than the one you have, a Redeemer for every father who turns to him in faith.
But “father” can also be used in a more behavioral sense. Is there someone in your life who has acted like a father to you? Perhaps an uncle or an older man who was geographically, or even emotionally, closer to you than your own dad. Psalm 103 spells out this analogy in a memorable way:
“As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.”
Psalm 103:13, 14
Showing compassion marks him as our Father. Knowing our frame informs his tender care. This truth is so precious it has been put to music: “Father-like he tends and spares us; well our feeble frame he knows; in his arms he gently bears us; rescues us from all our foes.”
Who has been that person in your life?
Protector of the Father-less
In Jesus’ life, Joseph was the earthly father who cared for him. He was a humble man of high moral standards. We see only a few snapshots of him in Scripture, but they show his fear of God and concern for Mary’s reputation, even before the angel told him the whole story.
Jesus may have heard this story directly from his dad, but he would also have experienced Joseph’s fatherly example first hand. Perhaps Joseph shaped Jesus’ work ethic in the carpentry trade: informing when he rose to start his day, how he handled his customers, where he might be tempted to cut corners.
Not only by example, Jesus also knew form the Scriptures about the vital necessity of earthly fathers. The Law showed God’s care through his specific provisions for widows and orphans. Jesus himself cared for the fatherless during his ministry. Surely some of the children who were brought to Jesus were in that category (Luke 18:15-16). Despite his disciples’ scolding, he welcomed them.
Finally, notice the “father-like” quality of Jesus’ words to his disciples in the upper room. Three times Jesus tells them “I will come to you.” The first instance is an explanation– he has to leave so he can prepare a place for them. But then he will come (John 14:3). The third instance points out his joy in returning to the Father (John 14:28).
But it is the middle “I will come to you,” that marks Jesus as their Everlasting Father:
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
How could God the Son promise to treat his disciples as father? Much more as an adoptive father (Romans 8:15)? Because as Messiah, it is one of his titles.
Even the best dads die. No matter how old you are when it happens, you feel the loss. For my husband it was the loss of his wisest counselor and best joke teller. For me it was the gentle man who taught me to cast a bass lure into a tin can and showed me how to sketch while we sat side by side on the neighbor’s stoop.
Mark’s dad died suddenly after he fell and hit his head. Despite my husband’s quick trip across the country, he didn’t make it in time to say a final goodbye. On the contrary, my dad lingered for eight years with Alzheimer’s, giving me repeated opportunities to say goodbye as each bit of him slipped away.
But we will never have to say farewell to our Everlasting Father, our Father in Perpetuity (as Alec Motyer translates it). He will forever be our advisor, mentor, defender, and friend.
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
‘I dwell in the high and holy place and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
How do we go from Isaiah’s lofty picture to the Jesus we’ve come to know by faith? The prophet even unwraps that part of the present for us. The great King who commissions (Isaiah 6) reveals that he is also the Lofty God who descends (Isaiah 57:15), not just to visit, but to dwell with the lowly. To move in with the marginalized. To camp with the contrite.
We first learned about him as Jesus of Nazareth from the gospels, and came to believe in him as Jesus the Christ by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
Yours by Faith
One more thing. He is not just an Everlasting Father, but your Everlasting Father. The first person possessive pronoun means that this Christmas gift is handed to you with your name on it. Like every gift, you have to not just take it, but open it to fully enjoy all that is inside. So…
- When you’re worried, cast all your cares on him “because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
- When you’re weak, turn to him for help because he has compassion for all those “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).”
- Tempted? He will help you, for he, too, “suffered when tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
All these benefits we can receive now, by faith. But someday our Everlasting Father will return for us. Today, our fellowship is invisible, but then it will be face to face.