How do you address your father? I call my father “pa”, pronounced “pa-h”. (I call my mother “mummy” but that’s another story.) Jesus called his heavenly Father, “Abba”. I’m not sure how he addressed Joseph, but scholars since Jeremias are in agreement that Jesus addressed his heavenly Father with the Aramaic term “Abba”.
We have heard various preachers tell us that “Abba” is equivalent to “daddy”. That may very well be true as long as we bear in mind that “Abba” is NOT a childish term. It is a term of intimacy.
As James R. Edwards reminds us in his recent commentary on Mark:
‘Only in Mark does Jesus calls God “Abba”, a term of intimacy, trust, and affection? “Abba” recollects Jesus’ original Aramaic (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), displaying an intimacy, boldness, and simplicity in address to God that was not characteristic of Jewish prayers.’
James D.G.Dunn further adds that “Abba”:
‘was typically a family word, or expressive of a degree of intimacy with reverence which would be characteristic of children (but not just little children) within the family circle, or of disciples of a loved and revered teacher.’
It is instructive that the only place in the gospels that Jesus is recorded as addressing God as “Abba” is Mark 14:36, when Jesus was praying in Gethsemane. Facing the full horror of the Cross, Jesus prays:
‘ “Abba, Father,” he said, “all things are possible to you; take this cup from me. Yet not my will but yours.” ‘ Mark 14: 36 REB
This single verse captures a number of truths: the horror of the Cross (a holy God having to bear all the sins of all humanity?), the fact that Jesus asked to be spared of that horror, and his ultimate commitment to submit to the will of his heavenly Father.
How was Jesus able to submit to the horror of the Cross? How was he able to say “not my will but yours”? Because he knew God as “Abba”. Because of the intimacy and trust that marked his relationship with his heavenly Father.
It must be said that this was an intimate relationship that didn’t just happen. His relationship with God as his “Abba” was cultivated daily, as Jesus sought God in prayer and in the Word. Jesus was walking so close to his heavenly Father that when the crunch came he could still submit to his “Abba”. He could still make the right call.
This last week was a particularly demanding one for me. Not for the first time I railed against my “lot in life”. And then as it so often happens, a divine “coincidence” took place. Night before last, just as I was about to drift off to sleep, I reached out for the bible and “just happened” to turn to the Gethsemane passage in Mark.
How often had I wanted to knock away the cups that have been put before me. The Gethsemane passage reminded me that we do not always recognize what is good for us. Let us not forget that the Cross was the road to glory and the salvation of the world. Because I often do not recognize ‘what’ is good for me, I need to know ‘who’ is good for me.
I need to constantly bear in mind (because I so quickly forget) that God is my “Abba”. He loves me more than I could ever love myself. “Abba” would never jerk around with my life.
And if there are times when He allots me difficult paths and bitter cups, He has His reasons — reasons born out of His perfect will and His perfect love.
After all, if a sinful earthly father like myself tries to do his best by his children, how much more will Abba seek to bless His children.
In the confusing, painful times of lives, our natural instinct is to try to understand why terrible things happen. There are times when things just don’t make sense. At times like that maybe we shouldn’t be asking ‘why’. Maybe we should be asking ‘who’. Who is our heavenly Father.