Abba Father

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Come with me back to the time when Mary and Joseph after three days of frantic searching finally found Jesus in the temple. I read that story again a few days ago because, well… because, don’t you too sometimes wish you could have been there yourself? We find the story in the Gospel according to Luke. Mary must have told him about it, along with other things we find in Luke’s gospel alone, details that could only have been known by Mary herself—among them Jesus’ first visit to the temple when Mary and Joseph brought Him there “to present Him to the Lord” (Lk 2:22).

The occasion I have in mind was when she and Joseph and their young family went up to Jerusalem to keep the feast of the Passover, something they did in the spring every year. Jesus was 12 years old, the eldest of several brothers and sisters by this time. The family was part of a larger company of friends and relatives keeping the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a journey of several days from Nazareth. We join them on the first evening of their return home after that joyous week. They have stopped somewhere for the night, and Mary and Joseph start rounding up the children. But where is Jesus? They haven’t given a second thought to His whereabouts all day, “supposing him to have been in the company.” Now in a heart-stopping moment they suddenly realize He is not with them, and hastily return to Jerusalem that very night. But it is three very long days and sleepless nights before they finally find him, of all places, in the temple. He is “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them and questioning them, and all those hearing him were astonished at his understanding and answers.”

It is then that his astonished mother says, “Child, why have you done so to us? Behold, your father and I have looked for you, greatly distressed” (Modern KJV). The King James Version has “son” here, but the Greek is teknon, child, one still very much under the authority of his parents.

Here is the simple response that spoke volumes:

And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not [knew ye not] that I must be about my Father’s business? (Lk. 2:48,49 KJV)

Other translations bring out the sense more clearly—“in My Father’s house,” or “in the things of My Father.” Here is Young’s Literal Translation:

And he said unto them, `Why is it that ye were seeking me? did ye not know that in the things of my Father it behoveth me to be?’

In other words, they ought to have known where He would be—in His Father’s house, intent upon the things of His Father. Note that He said, “must be…” It is necessary, it behooves me, to be about the things of My Father… in the House of My Father.

Father. Eighteen years later when the anointing came upon Him in the form of a dove at Jordan the Voice from Heaven proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son in whom is all My delight.” The Son for His part delighted in His Father, and did “always those things that please Him.” He loved His Father as His Father loved Him. He rejoiced in His Father, as His Father rejoiced in Him. All through the Gospels we find Him addressing God as Father. In the Gospel of John alone He calls God Father something like 120 times.

The Gospel of John tells us of another Passover when Jesus while ministering in Galilee went up to Jerusalem to keep the feast, and again went into the temple. This time He:

…found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;
And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.
And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up (Jn. 2:15-17).

That passage when read carefully reveals that He didn’t lay the scourge on any of the people. “He said unto those that sold doves…” He knew the scourge was reserved for His own back.

But that’s quite something—that His love and zeal for His Father’s house consumed Him. That’s what He was all about. His Father. His Father’s interests. His Father’s house.

 This purging of the temple happened at two different Passovers—this one in the first year of Jesus’ public ministry as recorded by John, who also tells us of Jesus coming up to Jerusalem for another Passover (Jn. 6:4), which must have been the following year, the second year of His ministry. The other purging in the third and final year of His ministry is recorded in the three synoptic Gospels. It took place just before the Passover during which He Himself became the Passover Lamb. At this time He also cast out those who bought and sold in the temple, telling them vehemently, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Mt. 21:13).

We know that it’s never been a temple of wood and stone that God desired for His dwelling place, but He was identified with this one: His Name was there (1 Kings 8:29). And so it was only with the greatest reluctance and sorrow for their hardness of heart that Jesus finally declared as He mourned over Jerusalem, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate…” (Mt. 23:38). As Ron Bailey points outs in The Better Covenant, it is no longer “My Father’s house.” It is no longer “My house.” Now it is your house. And it is desolate. God is done forever with this house.

Not many days after this Jesus is in Gethsemane.

Abba Father

 These words are found only three times in the New Testament. Here is the first:

And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. (Mk. 14:36)

This is the cry of His heart springing from the depths of His love for His Father. Abba Father. That is αββα ὁ πατήρ. Abba is Aramaic for father, and pater is Greek for father. Actually pater is preceded by the article— ὁ, pronounced hothe Father. And so we have, Abba. The Father. Abba does not mean Daddy. Yes, it springs from the tenderest love and devotion, but it carries in it the highest respect and reverence. Jesus is acknowledging that His father is the Lord to whom His utmost obedience is due, and He gives this to Him from His heart.

Abba. Father. The question has been much debated, did Jesus speak both of these words, or is Mark translating the Aramaic Abba into Greek for the sake of his readers? “Abba, that is to say, Father.” I’m inclined to think Jesus spoke both of them, for it appears that the first Christians also used Abba Father when addressing Him. They must have picked this up from reading the passage in Mark’s gospel, the only one that records it, and likely the earliest one to make the rounds of the churches (probably as early as 45 AD).

But how did this come to be—the words Abba Father in the mouths of Christians? What was it that brought about this new relationship, that they themselves could call God their father?

After His resurrection when Jesus revealed Himself to a broken-hearted Mary Magdalene, He gave her a message for… for whom? He bids her, “Go to My brethren…” But it is not James and Jude He has in mind.

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (Jn. 20:17)

It’s His disciples He has in mind; they are about to come into a relationship with God that they had not known under the old covenant, nor yet as they had walked with Jesus as His disciples. What had He done that would enable this new relationship once He ascended? It was the result of the redemption He had wrought on Calvary, redeeming those who had been under the law, liberating them into the same kind of relationship with the Father that was His own. Here are the passages that speak of this—and now we have come to the two other times Abba Father is found:

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal. 4:4-7)

“The adoption.” It means, “the son-placing,” and this is not about gender, it’s about filial relationship whether male or female; it is for all those who are born of God. Here it is again in Romans:

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. (Rom. 8:14,15)

Abba Father. This was the heartcry of The Son of God all His days on earth. We, then,  who have received the Spirit of God’s son, how can it be otherwise than our having that same cry? Abba Father. This is our own cry now—we who have received the Spirit of the ascended Son into our hearts—it is our testimony that He continues to this day to cry out, Abba, Father. And we who have received His Spirit cry out with Him.

There is so much more that could be said. Perhaps John says it all when He writes, “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God.” Children… of God?

…So I leave us with this. May this be an ever-fresh revelation and inspiration to you and me: that to be a child of God, a son of God, to have received “the adoption”—the Spirit of the Son of God into our hearts—this can mean no less than being the Son of God meant to Jesus. For Him it meant being about the things of His Father—His Father’s interests, His Father’s glory, impassioned zeal for His Father’s house, His Father’s will… though it meant the cross for Him daily, and ultimately. You and I who have received the Spirit of God’s Son, are we seeking to gratify the passion of that Spirit? Are we too crying daily, Abba, Father?

16 responses »

  1. So refreshing and inspiring, bro. Allan. Thanks for breaking the bread to us once more and serving up this rich meal!

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  2. I enjoyed this Allan – It leaves me with a cry out to the Father to bring relief to all creation!

    20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,

    21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

    Father bring to pass this deliverance. We hear the cries and hear the groaning yet we are powerless without you!

    I hope & pray this deliverance begins soon!

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    • Allan Halton

      Hi Joe. I pray this as well, and I pray for the grace to be faithful to the responsibility involved. I seek to lay to heart that creation’s release depends on my walk as one of the children of God. So I must give myself earnestly to being led by the Spirit of God today. And every day. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).

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  3. What an uplifting post, Allan!

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  4. Thanks for these precious insights Allan. I love the perspecuity of Scripture. The blessed and edifying truth within the Gospel narratives are plain to the reader who has ears to hear and eyes to see, revealing the greatness and wonder of the incarnate Son from his birth to his Cross, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God. Thank you!
    I appreciated our brief chat during the Fellowship Gathering. It would be good to communicate on line! What’s the best time that coincides with GMT and what s.m do you like to use?

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  5. Thx Allan !
    My earthly father was an alcoholic and expected a lot from me . As an only child his little bit of praise came only when I had achieved well academically.
    Imagine when I was radically “ born again “ by the Spirit in 1979!
    I knew earthly fathers that were nothing like mine but now I heard about a Heavenly Father who is omnipresent, all around me and I don’t have to perform to please Him!
    I please Him because He loves me and I love Him.
    And this only child received a whole new family that loves me too !
    My heart can burst just thinking about it !
    Much love Rose

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    • So precious, Rose! “I please Him because He loves me and I love Him.” That is first love! May we abide in first love all our days, not as the Ephesians, who, although they had much, were in danger of losing all, because they had left their first love.

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      • You talk about first love ….
        I have been though many trials and sorrows and the Lord gave me this about 5 years ago when I despaired of no end in sight.
        Hosea 2:14,15
        “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
        I will lead her into the wilderness
        and speak tenderly to her.

        There I will give her back her vineyards,
        and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
        There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
        as in the day she came up out of Egypt.”

        He restored to me my first love last year during covid lockdown …the love of God shed abroad in my heart !
        Even me !
        If He did that for even me He can do it for even anyone.
        Praise God ! Even me ! Xx

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        • That passage from Hosea is about a restoration of first love, isn’t it, Rose.
          You likely know that “Achor” means “trouble.”
          And so because our Father’s love is a love that will not let us go, The Valley of Trouble becomes a door of hope.

          “Even me.” Such is His love for each and every one of us.

          I am so glad that Jesus loves me,
          Jesus love me, Jesus loves me,
          I am so glad that Jesus loves me,
          Jesus loves even me.

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  6. Hi again Allan
    I forgot to mention the song “ I have a Father, He knows my name “
    Marvellous ! Xx

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  7. This is particularly appropriate to Father’s Day, Allan.

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