Six months before Jesus was conceived, the mother of John the Baptist became pregnant. An angel prophesied concerning him that he would "go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). God provided His Son with a forerunner to prepare His people. What a gift of grace and love!
Have you considered that God still provides His people with gifts of grace and love to prepare His people? They are called fathers! I'm not saying that people can only be saved who have fathers who are living, though. Just as John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit in order to be God's forerunner, so also fathers who are filled with the Spirit can be a means of grace to their children. Fathers are forerunners for the Lord.
What is a Forerunner?
Luke wrote, "It is he who will go before Him…" A forerunner is someone who "goes before" someone else. The Encarta World English Dictionary provides these three definitions.
1. An earlier person or thing that had a role or function similar to somebody or something coming later.
2. Somebody or something that brings news of or is an indication of what is to happen.
3. Somebody or something that goes ahead of others, for example, a skier who skis down a course just before the beginning of a race.
Someone who foreruns for someone else is a precursor or predecessor to others. Fathers provide a role and function similar to the heavenly Father to their children. They also bring news of a future relationship with the heavenly Father. Like the skier cutting the first trail in new powder down a slope, you are teaching your children and showing by example how the course of life is to be run.
Your Son is your Disciple
Just as important as understanding your calling as a father and forerunner, your son needs to understand his calling as a son and a disciple. For most of the first two decades, you are God's provision to him to lead the way into life and relationship with God. A disciple is a learner, a follower. So most of all, as forerunners, we fathers have the responsibility and privilege to teach our children what it means to be disciples. This week, please consider these three responsibilities of fathers as forerunners to their children.
1. You must keep your heart turned to God and your children.
2. You must become like a child.
3. You must remain at the "River" until Jesus is revealed.
You Must Keep Your Heart Turned to God and your Children
The ministry of a spiritual forerunner is first and foremost a heart ministry. From the entrance of Israel into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 6) to the entrance of John the Baptist, fathers keeping their hearts turned to God and to their children was God's blueprint for blessing. Luke wrote, "And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
The Spirit of Elijah, the Holy Spirit, the influential force in John the Baptist lives in you if you are a true believer in Jesus Christ. He will not only keep your heart turned to God, but will also keep your heart turned to your children and they to you. The importance of this shouldn't be overlooked. It is the key to your children's future relationship with God. As they experience the life of Jesus through your relationship with Him, their spiritual appetites are whetted. You are like the appetizer before the meal, the sampler to entice them to know Him personally.
To whatever your heart is turned; expect your children to be affected. There are plenty of negative examples in the Old Testament. When God removed Israel and Judah He made this comment, "Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets.' However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God" (2 Kings 17:13-14). Children of stiff-necked fathers become stiff-necked fathers and mothers. If your children's hearts are turned away from God to other things, the first place to begin analyzing the problem and making corrections is with you. Could it be that you have not kept your heart turned to God and your children and instead have set your heart on establishing an earthly kingdom to their neglect?
The Power of a Repentant Father
After hearing the importance of fathers leading their children, Jeff went home to his wayward 19 and 21 year-old children to repent. His children told him later they thought he was going to throw them out of the house. That's how difficult things had become between them. Jeff had never turned his heart to his children. The fruit was evident.
That evening, as he poured his heart out to them in the living room in repentance, God's Spirit swept through the hearts of those two rebellious youths. They wept together, forgave each other, and purposed to restore their relationships and seek God. Jeff told me he would never have believed it was possible. In fact, he had been sick that day and stayed home from work. At the last minute he felt prompted to attend the meeting where I was speaking, not realizing the entire day's events had been orchestrated by a gracious, loving, forgiving Father in heaven. Those children needed a renewed and repentant forerunner to be saved from their futile way of living. As they saw their dad turn to the Lord, they followed him. That's God's plan!
Have you expressed the heart of the father in Proverbs 23:26? "Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes delight in my ways." Can you hear the spirit of the forerunner in that invitation? As God's forerunner to your children, keep your heart turned to God and to your children.
You Must Become Like a Child
How do you teach a child how to be a child when you are an adult? You teach them as a child of God. Consider Jesus' words to his disciples.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:1-4).
We primarily act as forerunners for our children by reflecting our sonship to our Father in heaven. Let's not miss Jesus' point. He was not saying we must act childish. Nor was He teaching that all children are saved. Jesus referred to the humility of the child sitting before Him. Here's the point: You cannot enter the kingdom of heaven without being converted and humbling yourself like the child who sat at his feet.
How did the child humble himself? It's difficult to answer this question without having been there, but there must have been something about how the child came to Jesus. I imagine he came quickly into Jesus' arms, eyes fixed on the Teacher, and with a yielded heart to serve whatever purpose Jesus had for him. Apparently this child displayed a reverence to Christ that required humbling himself.
How can you humble yourself like this child? Jesus said a conversion is necessary. Humility is one of the unquestionable evidences of a true child of God. Adults typically become independent and self-confident. Without realizing it they may demonstrate the very opposite of what true childhood should be as well as godly manhood and fatherhood. God intended sons in Christian homes to see their fathers reverence their heavenly Father by turning from self-reliance and self-will. When you offer yourself to Jesus to be used for His purposes you're humbling yourself like that child.
There was something about how the child humbled himself to Jesus that illustrated the attitude of the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Wow! As forerunners to our children, we teach them to reverence their parents as practice for a relationship with the heavenly Father. Quick responses to us require humbling themselves, but it's great practice for when God calls them. Being attentive and obedient to every request prepares them to honor Jesus in the same way. Humbling themselves to be taught and put to useful service trains them to be disciples in the kingdom of heaven.
Most of all, becoming a disciple takes faith in God and a distrust of one's own understanding. That's the powerful truth of Proverbs 3:1-5. As sons of God, fathers demonstrate their trust in God, the Father, so their sons have a living example of discipleship.
The writer of Hebrews also described a forerunner's humility: Forsaking the sin of unbelief, which so easily entangles us, laying aside every encumbrance, and fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. That's how we're to run the race set before us by a loving heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:1-2). He sets the course, and we humbly follow it. You must become like the child that Jesus set before Him if we are to be a faithful forerunner.
You Must Remain at "The River" until Jesus is Revealed
God told John the Baptist to go to the Jordan River and preach about the coming Messiah. By the Spirit, John knew Jesus was coming to the river. So he preached and prepared the way of the Lord. The answer for those who waited, was the baptism of the Holy Spirit by Jesus. I imagine John in the wilderness rolling out of his sleeping bag wondering, "Is today the day?"
But he wasn't the only one with that question. Everyone in the "Hanging-out-at-the-River" club wondered if today was the day. They fully expected the Messiah to come to the river and believed that when he came they would never be the same. John's message was simple, but life changing. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). What did he mean? What did repentance look like for those Jews? First, it meant they turned from known sins. Second, it meant they had to quit hanging out at the temple and start hanging out at the river! John's message was to quit looking and trusting in the temple and its sacrificial, legal system. They were to get ready for the real thing by preparing their hearts for the Messiah's coming.
A forerunner gives a message of a future event. John's message was essentially this: What religious form hasn't been able to do; God will do when he reveals His Son to you. When you see Him and respond, you'll never be the same because He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. So join the "Hanging-out-at-the-River" club, and wait expectantly.
I suggest our message as fathers is exactly the same. The only difference is this: The Jordan River represents another river, and the manner of Jesus' appearance is different. Let me explain by my own testimony with my son.
For ten years I was pastor of a church in Southern California. Micah was about ten at the time a woman, who considered herself a child evangelist, visited our church. As she approached, she noticed Micah playing up in a tree and decided to engage him in a spiritual conversation. After exchanged greetings, somehow the conversation progressed to the point that Sharon asked, "Micah, are you saved?" Expecting the pastor's son to reply in the affirmative, she was shocked when Micah replied with a simple no, not yet. Incredulous, she queried further thinking he certainly must be mistaken, "Haven't you invited Jesus into your heart?" Again Micah's answer stunned her. "Yes, but there's a lot more to it than that."
My wife later welcomed a very inquisitive Sharon that day. She wanted to know what Micah meant when he said there was more to being saved than just asking Jesus into his heart. That's all she had ever heard. Alma explained to Sharon how we were leading Micah and our other children to wait actively (by preparing their hearts) and expectantly for the Lord to reveal Himself to them.
Believing we were God's forerunners to our children, we told them there was more to being saved than repeating a formulaic invitation to Jesus to come live in their hearts. Many children are being "house-trained" in the church–living by a religious set of standards to show people how "saved" they are. We wanted to lead them into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. Like John the Baptist, by God's grace, we could live filled with the Holy Spirit and lead them to the "river" where Jesus has promised to reveal Himself.
We told them that God has revealed where He is going to appear, just like He did to John the Baptist. Thankfully there's not just one place on the earth where Jesus has promised to show up. We find in His Word that the Spirit of God reveals Jesus through the Bible, preaching, prayer, the fellowship of believers, and discipleship. These spiritual streams flow together to form the "Jordan River" ever since Jesus ascended into heaven. Our promise to our children was that if they would join the "Hanging-out-at-the-River" club and consistently put themselves there, at some point in time, Jesus would reveal Himself to them. When that happened, they would never be the same because He would baptize them in the Holy Spirit and "cleanse their hearts by faith (Acts 15:9). Until then, they were to prepare their hearts at the "River" for His coming by confessing sin, obeying God as best they knew how, and believing God's promises regarding Jesus.
As forerunners, like John the Baptist, we hang out at the "River" of God's designated means of grace and preach hope to our children. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Make ready the way of the Lord" (Matthew 3:2-3). They need to know that nothing short of a powerful, spiritual encounter with the living Lord Jesus Christ will transform their lives and equip them for life and eternity. They also need to be convinced that we believe the same because we've encountered Jesus personally. We're not forerunning religion for our children; we're forerunning a relationship! We may be confident that God will keep His Word to all who sincerely fix their hope on the grace to be received in a revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13).
I believe the "River" and the "gate" of Matthew 7:13-14 are the same: the road of discipleship. It's a narrow way that leads to life. It's not the means of salvation, but a means of grace that leads to salvation. Those who truly listen to Jesus words, do them, pray them, and fellowship with others are disciples of Christ. This is where Jesus has promised to reveal Himself. The broad way to destruction lies in the temple (the church) where people are trying to demonstrate publicly their spirituality without relationship. In fact, that's exactly what Jesus declared about such people, "I never knew you" (Matthew 7:23).
Many of our sons and daughters labor under the delusion that they are Christians because they have prayed a prayer of invitation to Jesus, yet they are what Matthew Meade, a seventeenth century preacher calls, "almost Christians." Many are very religious in appearance and action, but don't have their hearts turned to God by the Holy Spirit. Both parents and children wonder what happened. Or more importantly, what didn't happen. Deep inside the children feel hopeless and many have lost heart and given up on God (feeling powerless to do what they know to be right). Why? Because they did what they were told...and nothing happened. In their minds, God didn't keep His promise. He can't be trusted, they think, but that's not true.
How did that occur? Forerunners gave the wrong message and false promises. What caused sincere forerunners to be misguided? Perhaps what they didn't realize was that the promises of God are not given about a formulaic prayer, but about Jesus and those who sincerely "hang out at the river." Let's not put God to the test by giving the wrong message and example. Lead your children and others to join the "Hanging-out-at-the-River" club. Fill their hearts with hope in God's Word and promises to those who wait on the Lord. That's a faithful forerunner on the order of John the Baptist.
Honor the Heavenly Father on Father's Day
Although Father's Day is usually a time for earthly fathers to be honored, fathers may also honor their heavenly Father by turning their hearts to Him and asking Him to fill them so they can be faithful forerunners for the Lord to their children. I encourage you to meditate on these things and offer yourself anew as God's forerunner. God wants to use you for His glory.