The online poll had one question: “Should the judge terminate the father’s visitation rights?” And the results were pretty clear. Out of 432,818 votes, 41% voted no. But 59% voted yes. So the yes’s had it. Unquestionably in favor of terminating visitation privileges.
Now why would over 250,000 people overwhelmingly vote to say that actor Alec Baldwin’s visitation rights be terminated?
Well, here’s the story. After his 11 or 12-year old daughter failed to answer her father’s scheduled phone call, that was back on April 11, he went berserk on her voice mail, saying “Once again, I have made a fool of myself trying to get to a phone,” and adding, “you have insulted me for the last time.” Now, I have to confess, I actually cleaned that up quite a bit. Other less-than-savory terms were used. And Baldwin then demonstrated his lack of parenting skills, calling his daughter a “rude, thoughtless little pig.” He also said, “Your mother is a thoughtless person,” another word was actually used there, “who doesn’t care about what you do.” And then this explosively angry father went on to spew threats to “straighten” her out when he saw her in person. Before hanging up, he warned her, “You better be ready Friday the 20th to meet me.”
Tell me, would that message make you want to meet with him? I don’t think so!
A family law judge was so alarmed after hearing the tape, she temporarily barred Baldwin from having any contact with his child. And he risked losing permanent visitation rights as well.
Will the real Father please stand up!
Now, we don’t know all the circumstances here. Maybe this father felt like he honestly had a right to be angry or upset. But the expression of such hateful rage and the belittlement of a child. Was that really called for? Was it necessary? If you’ve heard the voicemail, then you know what I mean. The 2-minute tirade probably burned your ears.
Now while I don’t ever recall expressing such belittling rage myself, I’ve often wished that I didn’t know the power of anger, period, in my own life.
And I think of Pilate’s words about Christ. You remember what he said? “I bring Him to you that you may know that I find no fault in Him.” That was Pilate’s assessment of Christ. No fault in Him. Can that be said of us?
“Christians aren’t perfect,” we hear, “they’re just forgiven.” But have you ever wished they were perfect!? Wouldn’t it make life a little easier sometimes? Of course, just talking about everybody else, not yourself.
We know all to well that we, ourselves, get angry at people who don’t like us or who upset us. And we know how we’re tempted to retaliate in one way or the other. That somehow, we want to get revenge, or we harbor grudges for a little bit of time, or maybe a long, indeterminate time. And that we despise people when they make fun of us.
The 7 or 8-year old was just lying on the living room floor watching TV before bedtime, and his grandfather needed to get to the other side of the living room, and tried to step over him to get across. In trying to make it easier for his grandfather to walk across him, the kid actually got in the way, by mistake. He didn’t mean it. His grandfather almost tripped over him, and in anger, he bent over to punch the kid, but then decided not to at the last moment. He didn’t say anything, but the look in his eyes gave away his thoughts, “Why you little runt!”
That situation is nothing compared to what happens these days on an ongoing basis. Now I know that there are many good fathers out there. And there are many good ones right here in this church, and I’m thankful for that. But how many people there are, even in Christian families, in Christian churches, who suffer physical abuse from their angry father or even their mother. And then they often pass on that violent, angry behavior to someone else.
I know what the feel of anger is like in my own life. My grandfather suffered a stroke when my three brothers and I lived with him. That little kid in the story I told you. That was me.
I’ll never forget the change that it made in him. He would get angry very quickly. And when my brothers and I didn’t do what was right, he would put us back in our place. And he did it physically, forcefully, and in anger. I wish I had never known what the back of his large hand felt like, because I have felt that kind of anger boiling up in me sometimes when something didn’t go the way that I thought it should. I needed to have a real Father stand up.
Now, I’m not saying that all anger is bad. Anger can be healthy, especially when it inspires us to correct something that is really, drastically wrong. To take action when someone is being abused or hurt. But I think you know the kind of self-serving, irritable anger that I’m talking about. Even Christians are not entirely freed from it. Have you ever wondered why rumors and gossip can be so prevalent, even amongst Christians? When somebody doesn’t treat you right, you know how you’re tempted to do something against them because you’re angry.
So the question is, what will stop the cycle?
And the answer is, only God. Only God can take all the selfish and inappropriate behavior and anger away from us and give us love and patience and self-control and respect for each other.
Oh we do need the loving actions of real fathers and mothers to stand up and be counted, to represent God. And in order for that to happen we need the ultimate Father in Heaven to stand up and make Himself real to us. And you know what? He has. He already has if we will just remember it. If we’ll just remember that Jesus walked the dusty roads here on this earth, and we spend some thoughtful time reflecting on what He was like. Did He show anger like we know anger?
Let’s take a look.
I invite you to open your Bibles back to Luke, chapter 22, and try to imagine how Jesus’ responses would have sounded.
As Judas comes up to Him, and think of all that Jesus has done for Judas. The patience that He has had with him. The love that He’s shown Judas, and look what happens now. Here he leads this crowd at night, and he comes near to Jesus to signal Jesus out so he can be arrested, and the signal was this kiss. “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”
Now what was Jesus’ tone when He said that? Was it angry, as in, “Judas, how dare you betray the Son of Man with kiss!?” Or was He saddened and hurt and surprised? “Judas, I don’t understand how you could betray Me with a symbol of friendship?” How would you have said it, if someone betrayed you that way?
To His betrayer, for the record, Jesus merely asked this simple question. It doesn’t tell us how He said it. But you can make guesses by the fact that He didn’t call down condemnation and curses on Judas.
What else do we read about Jesus’ responses? Well let’s continue with verse 49. “And when those who were around Him saw what would follow, they said, ‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And He touched his ear and healed him.” Does that sound like an angry response to you? Healing the man’s ear? Can you picture Jesus bending down and picking up the ear and putting it back on that man? Does that sound like an angry response?
And look at verses 52 and 53. “Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and the elders, who had come out against Him, ‘Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.’” What kind of a comment or question was that that Jesus made? Seems like a respectful type of thing. A respectful response. Did you notice any resistance reflected in those words? Did you notice any anger or curses or threats of retaliation? Did you sense any bitter denunciations there?
No, not there. Just calmness, gentleness and graciousness. But Jesus could have wiped them off the face of the earth, He had that much power in His grasp. So apparently, the God of the universe is not only infinite in majesty and power, but also infinitely gracious. Even toward those who are His self-avowed enemies. And that’s how He desires to rule, for all eternity. Because power or force was not the issue here. It never was. The quiet, confident authority of truth is really speaking very loudly here.
Now, have you ever noticed what a person is really made of when everything’s going really fine, smoothly, no problems whatsoever? Not really. It’s not until you see that person under the heat of the moment, in a crisis situation that you see what they’re really made of. And that’s what’s going on here. The real God is standing up, showing us what He is made of.
And picture Jesus later on in the courtyard suffering a mock trial of justice. Those miserable wretches, we might call them, spat in His face. They covered His head with a cloth and hit Him in the face, and then they said, “Prophesy! Tell us who hit You.” Some of them, whom we might say, the scum of the earth, yanked out patches of His beard. I believe if it hadn’t been for the Romans intervening, Jesus would never have made it to the cross alive.
And when they got to Calvary, the thieves who were crucified with Jesus struggled and had to be forcibly nailed to their crosses. But Jesus? Can you picture Him resisting? No, He didn’t resist at all. He laid Himself down on the cross. And as they nailed those spikes through His wrists and ankles, can you imagine curses coming from His mouth? Instead, not curses, but the prayer, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Does that sound like a selfish, self-serving, irritable, angry God? Does it? In all these things Jesus not once retaliated. Not once did He utter a word of resentment or anger or hatred. All that ever showed in His face was pity and love.
But let’s rewind, let’s go back, to an earlier time.
Come with me as we see how Jesus responded to one of His closest disciples who denied ever knowing Him. Luke 22. Look at verse 54 and onward.
It says, “When they seized Jesus, they led Him away, bringing Him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. And then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, ‘This man also was with Him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know Him.’ And a little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I’m not!’ And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, ‘Certainly this man was with Him, for he too is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about.’ And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.” Verse 61. “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how He had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.”
That verse 61 is so amazing to me. “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” Away from His own suffering, and looking at this disciple of His, whom He had been with for three years, three and a half years. The one He had shown so much love and kindness and patience and gentleness. What kind of look was that that He gave Peter? What did Peter see? What did he read in the eyes and the expression of Jesus?
Scripture doesn’t record any word spoken by Jesus to Peter at that moment. It doesn’t record any condemnation. No anger expressed. Only deep pity and sorrow. That calm face, those kind eyes, that look of compassion and pity and forgiveness. That look on Jesus’ face is what pierced his heart like an arrow. Those words came flooding back to Peter’s mind, “Simon, Simon. Behold, Satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Now all Peter could remember at that moment was the patience and the kindness and the gentleness that Jesus had consistently showed him. Over and over again. And now he’s denied ever knowing his Master.
Have you ever noticed that kind of look? Have you noticed that response recently when you have disappointed God? Have you ever imagined what was on His face when He looked at you? I can assure you that what registered on His mind and in His face was not anger, but caring and patience. That’s why, it’s always meant so much to me when Scripture says that God is slow to anger.
Oh yes, Jesus did get angry at times, but if He did it was because somebody else was being hurt or taken advantage of. Or His wonderful, loving Father was misrepresented. But He never got angry at somebody who was hurting Himself. That’s the difference that lies between our human anger and Jesus’. Our anger is selfish and it’s quickly formed. It lashes out in not-so-sweet revenge. Subtly or not so subtly. But Jesus, our God, slow to anger. I’ve always loved that. Because I grew up knowing a Grandfather very quick to anger. But after I became a Christian, I learned that Jesus said, “If you have seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.” The real Father. And that’s how I learned that the Father is just as gracious and loving and forgiving as the Son.
And so I ask you this question. Wouldn’t knowing and loving a God like that make a difference in our lives? To not retaliate, but to be gracious and respectful when things don’t go our way? To have the same kind of love for those who hate us and despise us? To even be as forgiving as Jesus was?
What is the bottom line? What’s the bottom line for you and for me? Do we go beyond Pilate’s advice, “Behold, the Man.”? Do we let this God make a real difference in our lives? Do we? Are we willing to let the real Father stand up through our own words, and through our own actions? Are we willing? Are we willing?
I want to let Him do that. Do you? Let’s do that!
And let’s sing our closing song. Number 482.
Hymn of Praise: #250, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing Scripture: Luke 22:47,48 Hymn of Response: #482, Father, Lead Me Day by Day
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 5/13/08