Once upon a time there was a father who took his little boy to a huge toy store at Christmastime. The smell of holly and ivy filled the air. “What do you think?” the daddy asked his boy as he looked around and delighted in the store all decked out in Christmas lights.
“Oh, everything is so great!” the little boy exclaimed.
“Would you like this?” the father said, pointing to a huge brightly colored train set.
“Really?” answered the little boy.
“Or how about one of these?” The father indicated the latest in electronic games.
“Wow!” The boy was almost speechless.
The two wandered the store for a half an hour, with the father pointing things out and the boy gazing and dreaming. And finally, when the time came to leave, the father looked at the son and said, “Well, now that we’ve seen all that the store has to offer here at Christmastime, I want you to know…that I’m never getting you any of this. Now come on, we’ve got to get going.”
The pastor/theologian Sinclair Ferguson tells a version of the story above, explaining that Satan tells the believer that God is like the father in the toy store. It is after all, what the serpent was basically telling Eve in the Garden – God is not good, and He does not want your good.
But here’s the question – what does it do to you if you believe God is like this?
Ferguson answers, “It is (this) distortion…that inevitably produces a child who will either willfully rebel or find himself always feeling he has got to do something to earn his father’s love.”
In other words, if you come to believe that God’s character is basically like that toy store father, your misbelief will cause you to ruin your life in one of two ways: First, you may decide that obeying such an evil character would be a foolish thing to do, and therefore in the end refuse to do anything He says. Thus you will live your life like the Prodigal Son, far away from the Father in a distant country.
Or, in contrast, you may come to the opinion that pleasing this God is nearly impossible, but longing for His love, you will want to try, and so you will be constantly slaving like a legalist in order to win His smile.
In other words, the reason why we refuse to obey like the Prodigal Son or why we live the joyless life of the legalist, is that we do not believe that God’s character is basically good.
But in his sermon in chapter 3 of Acts, Peter does his best to correct this misunderstanding of God, first by calling people to repent in verses 19 and 20, “that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”
You see, it’s not, “Repent, so that you can live a hard, cold joyless existence.” No! God is good, and therefore, when He calls us to follow Him in obedience, He does it so that times of refreshing may come!
Adam and Eve were called to obey in the Garden for their good, not because God wanted to keep good things from them.
And, then, when Peter closes the sermon, he says this:
“God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” Acts 3:26 (ESV)
So I imagine that someone reading this today might be hesitant to trust in and bow before the Lord, imagining that His character is one of cursing, not blessing. Don’t believe Satan’s lie. The truth is that if you bow before Him, times of refreshing will come. And if you are already a believer, struggling to obey in a particular area, remember that He calls you to turn away from your wickedness, in order to bless you.
So come to the Father, and walk in His ways. It’s Christmas, and there are glorious gifts under the tree.
For Friday, February 13th: Acts 4