Father’s Day 2004 – At the Gate

 

Ninety five years.  It’s been ninety five years since the third Sunday in June was first recognized as a day to remember our fathers.  Six weeks ago, we celebrated Mother’s day but today it’s Dad’s turn.  Like Mother’s Day, the campaign to establish Father’s day began with a daughter, in this case, Senora Dodd in Spokane, Washington.  She got the idea after hearing a Mother’s Day message in church and talked to the minister about honoring fathers.  She had her father in mind – a Civil War veteran who had raised six children on after his wife died.  The third Sunday in June was chosen for the day and on June 19, 1910, the first Father’s day was celebrated.  It wasn’t until 1966 that Lyndon Johnson proclaimed Father’s Day a national holiday.

 

Like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day didn’t start out as an opportunity for businesses to make money but it’s not the greeting card industry that makes Father’s Day number one.  In fact, Father’s Day trails the leaders.  It ranks fifth, well behind Mother’s Day in the number two slot.  But Father’s Day does come in first in another industry – the long distance phone companies love this day.  More collect calls will be made today than on any other day of the year.

 

But Senora Dodd didn’t have stock in AT&T when she approached her minister.  She didn’t have Verizon or Alltel or Sprint in mind when she decided to do something to honor her father.  She had in mind the man who had to work a farm in eastern Washington state by himself, a man who, in addition to the farm had to care for six children.  She had in mind the man who was the leader of her family.

 

Surely, there must be some passage in Scripture that describes the praises of such a person.  Surely, there must be something in the Bible for fathers that is comparable to the twenty two verses we find in Proverbs 31 that praise the virtuous woman, the wife and mother.  The word, “father,” appears in the Bible over fifteen hundred times, so surely, at least once, there would be a passage that praises the father.  You might think so, but there isn’t.  Nowhere is there anything like what we see in Proverbs 31.  But it is in Proverbs 31 that we get a glimpse into the role of the father, it is in Proverbs 31 that we can begin to understand what it is a father does that makes him so special.

 

After over a dozen verses praising the wife and mother, and before eight more verses of admiration we find this phrase:

Proverbs 31:23   23 Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land.

 

Here we are in Proverbs 31, a chapter that describes the super-human abilities of a woman who gets up early in the morning, makes breakfast, then goes about the business of taking care of the household – she buys and sells land, she plants a vineyard, she makes high-quality clothing and sells it, she gives to the poor, whenever she says anything, it’s the right thing to say, not biting or sarcastic but encouraging and worth remembering.  And where’s her husband while she’s doing all this work?  Where is the father while she is taking care of the home?  He’s sitting down.  He’s sitting down with other men.

 

It would be easy to ask, “What kind of a jerk is this?”  “What good thing can be said about a man who would sit around while his wife is working her fingers to the bone?”  Yes, it would be easy to ask, but the answer to those questions come a little harder.  Let’s take another look at verse twenty three:

Proverbs 31:23   23 Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land.

 

“Her husband is known in the gates.”  What is so special about the gates that makes it so remarkable?  Quite simply, if there is anything everyone who wants to enter the city must come through a gate.  But not everyone who wants to enter a city wants to benefit the city.  When an army approaches the city, the gates are shut against it to protect those within.  Dishonest merchants and thieves are not welcome in the city.  They are turned away at the gates.  But who decides when to open the gates and when to close them?  Who decides what people are welcome to visit the city and what people are not?  Who looks after the welfare, not of a wife, not of a family, not of a household, not of a business, but of all wives, of all families, of all households?  Who is concerned for the welfare of everyone living inside the gates?  The answer is given in Proverbs 31:23.  It is the elders of the land.

 

It is the elders, those who have been around for a while, those who have learned by experience and from the experience of others, those who know the difference between right and wrong and who understand the implications of choosing rightly or wrongly.  It is the elders, those who are looked to in the community for wisdom and guidance, those who are respected in the community for their contribution to the good of all.  And it is there among those elders that we find the husband so that, while his wife works to take care of her husband, her family, and her household, he works to ensure the safety and future of his wife, his family, his household.

 

This is not a new task, not a responsibility that arose when the words of the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs were written.  Let’s go through the Bible and look at examples of those who, like this husband, looked to the welfare of those they held dear.

 

The first man that comes to mind is Noah.  In Noah’s day, the threat to his family was very real and very near.  We read in chapter six, verse five:

Genesis 6:5   5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.

 

“… the wickedness of man was great … every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually … the LORD was sorry that He had made man …”  We think our times are dangerous, we believe the days we live in are rough, and they are.  But they could be worse.  We live in a nation governed by laws and enforced by a legal system.  It’s not perfect, the faults and shortcomings are all to evident.  But what would our society be like if there were no police officers working to curb the lawbreakers?  What would our community be like if there was no one to enforce the right and punish the wrong?  Our lives would be like Noah’s, surrounded by those who were interested only in taking, not giving; stealing, not earning.  What kind of future could Noah make for his family in these circumstances?  What opportunities did his children have for happiness and blessing?  None.  None whatsoever.  And how do we know this?  Because the Lord who breathed the breath of life into every man then alive said,

Genesis 6:7   7 So the LORD said, "I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them."

 

When something bad happens to those around us, sometimes you’ll hear someone say, “Well, it could be worse.”  But that was not the case for Noah.  It couldn’t be worse.  It was as bad as it could get.  That’s why God decided to wipe the slate clean.  But there was one bright spot, there was one exception that stood out.  We read in verse eight:

Genesis 6:8   8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

 

“… Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”  Out of all the people on the planet, only one would be spared, only one would be able start all over again, only one “… found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”  And that was Noah.  It was Noah who proved the words David was to write hundreds of years later in his first Psalm:

Psalm 1:1-3  Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;  2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.  3 He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.

 

Noah didn’t seek the security of his family among the ungodly.  He sought his security from God.  Noah didn’t walk the path of sinners, those who were interested only in themselves.  Noah walked in the path of the LORD and he led his family down that path.  And when Noah sat down, it wasn’t among those who were only interested in mocking others, denigrating what others had done while doing nothing themselves.  Noah sat down with the one who had done everything by himself, Noah sat down with the Lord who executes right judgment.

 

Among those around him, Noah was an alien, a stranger, he was the odd man out.  But Noah was able to see the future prospects of those around him, he was able to see their end, just as David did:

Psalm 1:4-6   4 The ungodly are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.  5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.  6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

 

Noah was not to be like the chaff, blown away by the end.  Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD and as a result of God’s grace, Noah was able to stand, he was able to live while those around him perished.

 

Another man comes to mind who looked to the future of his family.  The LORD had blessed him and his uncle but the blessings they enjoyed were so great that the land they shared was too small to hold them both.  So the uncle gave his nephew the choice of where to live, where to make his future.  But the nephew looked only to the physical circumstances and not to the God that made his uncle great.  For the future security of his family, he chose the rich, fertile land, the ground where he could easily see his wealth growing more and more.  The Scriptures tell this better than I.  In Genesis 13, starting in verse 10 we read,

Genesis 13:10-13   10 And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar.  11 Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other.

 

Lot saw the land was rich.  He saw that life would be easy there, that he would want for nothing and that his family’s future would be safe and secure.  So Lot chose by sight and left faith to Abram.  But the Scriptures tell us a little more about Lot’s choice:

Genesis 13:12-13   12 Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom.  13 But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD.

 

Lot’s hope for the future of his family was based on the wealth and prosperity he could see with his eyes.  But the outcome of that choice resulted in a future of trouble and sorrow that Lot never would have chosen.  He lost all his worldly possessions, he lost his wife, and, because of the desperate actions of his daughters to continue the family name, he lost his reputation.

 

Lot’s motives were honorable, his desires respectable but his focus was wrong.  Lot saw the land.  What did Abram see?  What was it that Abram held to for the security and future of his family?  If there had been a lottery in his days, he would not have bought a ticket.  I say that because of less than a dozen words, the words in verse two of chapter thirteen:

Genesis 13:2  2 Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.

 

Abram was rich.  He was very rich.  He didn’t need the lottery because he could have financed a lottery!  But what was the value of these riches to him?  How did Abram come to see the wealth he enjoyed?  I believe he saw no future in it.  He was the richest man in the land, perhaps the richest man in the world, but he saw no future in his wealth.  He saw no future in his wealth because he saw no future for his family.  But Abram didn’t look to his riches.  He didn’t look to his wealth.  Abram looked to God and God looked upon Abram:

Genesis 15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward."  2 But Abram said, "Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"  3 Then Abram said, "Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!"

 

Abram received a great promise from the LORD, a promises of blessing, a promise of a future.  But right then, right at the moment when the LORD was speaking to Abram, Abram couldn’t see the value of it.  He couldn’t see the worth of all that God had given him.  For all his physical prosperity, he felt the same way Solomon did when that wise king wrote these words in Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes 2:18-20   18 Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me.  19 And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity.  20 Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun.

 

Abram wanted a future, he wanted a family but all he had for a family was a wife that could bear no children and so all he had for a future was what remained of his life.  In his desperation Abram said to the One who had given him everything, “Look, You have given me no offspring …

 

Abram, a man who spoke with the LORD, who had received blessings from the LORD, who had seen the LORD fulfill His promises now received one more promise.

Genesis 15:4-5   4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir."  5 Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be."

 

Abram received the promise of a future, he received the promise of a family.  And so we read in the next verse,

Genesis 15:6   6 And he believed in the LORD, …

 

I want to talk about one more person this morning.  One more man whose life is described in the Bible.  This is a man who, from the very beginning, was focused on the future and He wanted those around Him to focus on the future.  This is a man who was focused on the promises that had been made and He wanted those around Him to focus on the promises because those promises would be fulfilled.  And in the last few hours He was able to spend with those who were closest to Him, he spoke these words:

John 14:1-3  NKJ John 14:1 "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  2 "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  3 "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

 

This is a promise greater than any received by Abram.  This is a future more secure than any Lot could have imagined.  This is a hope for a new start that far exceeds what Noah was given.  But this promise, this future, this hope is given to you and I by the same God who extended His grace to Noah, who told Lot to flee the city, and who promised Abram that he would become the father of many nations.

 

Jesus gave us this promise and he established an ordinance so that we would remember that promise.  It was in an upper room that He celebrated His last supper, that those who followed Him would remember and not forget His promise.  And so, though the years, through the decades, through the centuries, His church, the people who are called by His name, have remembered as we remember today and as did the beloved apostle, so too do we offer this prayer:

Revelation 22:20  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

 

 

Prepared for Sunday, June 20, 2004

335 - Standing on the Promises

74 - O God, Our Help in Ages Past

333 - Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

62 - All the Way My Savior Leads Me

373 -We Worship Round This Table

375 – A Parting Hymn We Sing