The Perfect Picture of the Father's Love
Updated: Jan 18
Jesus came to show us what His Father is like. He was and is the exact representation of His Father’s being (Hebrews 1:3). When we look at the life of Jesus, we get a glimpse into the nature of the Father.
Forgiving, a heart full of mercy, loving and forgiving of His enemies, gentle, strong, kind and nurturing, wise, witty, full of joy, and full of compassion. This is what our heavenly Father is like.
So often we struggle, for many different reasons, to get the image out of the back of our minds of an angry judge - or at least a stern righteous person, or at best a good, but fairly impatient Father. This is not the picture Jesus painted.
If the story of the prodigal son is perhaps the greatest picture onto God in the scriptures, and perhaps best depicts the whole story of scripture… If this is the case, then we have to realise, as has so often been said, the parable - which more fully depicts a running and extravagant Father more than it does a prodigal son (and is therefore wrongly named) - really blows away all our false images of God in one fell swoop! As Kenneth Bailey tells of reading this story to people in the middle east with a more similar culture to that of those who first heard the parable, the thing that most surprised them was that a man of such rank and dignity would ‘lower himself’ to run, as dignified men in that sort of culture do not run. It caused them to laugh out loud when they first heard the parable.
The whole gospel is meant to be like this; if we really hear its message as it was meant to be heard, then we are meant to go ‘wooah’!! And feel all our false images of God begin to crack upon reading. But from years of religion, and fear, and culture changes, the impact of these scriptures has sometimes been more hidden from us. But it is still there to simply hit us between the eyes if we will just listen.
Also we have learnt more to listen with the mind, rather than the heart and that sometimes makes it hard to see in this way. It is good to enquire and research with the mind and can be very enlightening to do so, but really only the heart can open to the reality of the love of God and touch and receive that reality.
God is love. When we come to God as Father we come to pure love, to the very essence of love – the very source of love itself. You won’t find anything outside of love in God or in His nature. Jesus came to reveal this love, and to reveal this Father who is love. One of the things Jesus is saying, particularly shown in Johns gospel, is ‘I came so that you might know the Father’ (see John 10:10, John 17:3 and John 17:25-26).
‘I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters’ (2 Corinthians 6:18). I will be a Father to you… These are such intimate words. He wants not just to be theologically ‘God the Father’ to us, and He wants to be more than ‘the Father’. He wants to be Father… to be A Father to you! To Father you, to love you with a Father’s love, and to actually Father you in your experience, for Father is who He is!!
But what sort of Father is he? Perhaps if your experience of someone attempting to be a Father to you was a painful one, it will be hard to receive those words. I think the best way I can describe Him, to actually show what He is like is a Servant Father. That is the sort of Abba we have, a servant. We so often don’t see God like this, we focus on the fact that we are meant to serve him, but skip over the fact that he revealed Himself as a Servant, and someone who wants to serve us. His love is a servant love. It must be so – for he only ever asks us to become what He himself is.
I think we have more easily seen Jesus as a servant – the one who ‘made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…’ (Philippians 2:7), but then we forget that He is the exact representation of the Father, and that He only ever did what he saw the Father doing.
I think one of the best places to look for two wonderful pictures, painted through His wonderful Son, of the nature of the Father, is at John 12 and 13, where Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey and then washes His disciple’s feet.
In between these two incidents he says, ‘When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me’ (John 12:44-45). So, we can be sure that He is painting a picture of his Father in these acts.
Firstly, He comes into Jerusalem seated on a donkey's colt (John 12:15). This is such a prophetic act. The way of the world, and all the kingdoms of the world we have known, has been in one way or another the way of force. Warriors would so often be represented as riding on a powerful horse. But Jesus prophetically as He takes His place as king of the earth, the Messiah, is saying, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (different to anything you’ve yet seen). My kingdom is based around a Father serving, rather than a God forcing you to do things. It has its beginning and end in my Father, and I represent His nature and ways best by riding in on a young donkey rather than a mighty horse. He would choose gentleness over force, for that is what He’s like. Perhaps that’s why the prophet said, ‘Do not be afraid, O daughter of Zion; see your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt’ (John 12:15, Zechariah 9:9). Do not be afraid for His ways are love and servant heartedness rather than force.
Secondly, I love how we are built up towards the foot washing incident. ‘For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it…Whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say’ … ‘Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love…’ (John 12:49 - 13:1). What a build up to what He is about to do! He kneels before His disciples and washes all the dirt off their feet. Every depiction of religion we have known requires us to bend the knee in a semi forced submission to a God or Gods, to keep them happy. Jesus turns every religious picture on its head in one fell swoop and paints instead, with His own actions a picture of a God who will kneel to serve us, before He will ever ask us to. A servant Father who thinks of our needs ahead of His, and wants only to heal and make things better for us. And the cross is the full expression of this, and the greatest revelation of the nature of the Father, who would prefer to bear our pain, struggles, and sin, rather than to see us suffer for it.
Jesus, the Son, the exact representation of His Father’s being, has painted us a picture of His Daddy through his life.
He shows that Father is Servant.
He shows that Father is Gentle.
He shows that Father is merciful, infinitely merciful.
He shows that Father is kind.
He shows that Father is Healer.
His love is way beyond your grasp of that love.
His love is meant to blow your mind.
The story of scripture – of Israel, and of Jesus radically appearing to complete the story and announcing a kingdom of love, is meant to cause us to stop and say, 'What? No? Really?? That good? That much love?'
The picture has been covered in dust over the years, and has sometimes not had the full impact it was intended to. But the dust can be cleared and cleaned away and the picture remains – a picture which is the exact representation of the nature of the Father – love beyond measure, love that blows our minds!
 Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008).
 John 18:36
 Zechariah 9:9 actually says, ‘gentle and riding on a donkeys colt’. Italics added.