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Abba

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4.4-6.

I wrote yesterday (“Holy to the Lord” 2 February 2009) about the “unredeemed” Jesus becoming our Redeemer … and here it is again — spelled out for me, in this morning’s random piece of scripture. Here Paul presents Jesus, born of Mary but God’s Son (and a Son who was not bought back by Mary and Joseph in accordance with the redemption provisions of the Mosaic law under which he was born), coming to redeem and set free those who are enslaved under any kind of law. (In the Greek, there is no “the” in front of the second “law” in this passage so it does not particularly refer to the law of Moses as does the “law” mentioned earlier which does have the definite article.)

But free for what? Free to join him — Jesus himself — in his sonship of God. A son of God! That is what I become when I accept redemption at the hands of Jesus … hands stretched out to me on the cross. But how can I be sure that that is what I have become? What is the proof? Is it that I receive the gift of tongues? That I suddenly find myself gaining new insights into Scripture? That sick people sometimes get healed when I pray for them? No, absolutely not! The proof is that I find myself quite naturally calling God “Father” — not in any formal, liturgical way but in an intimate, real expression of a relationship I have entered into and am experiencing with joy … an Abba relationship.

What does Abba mean? In “The Shack” — the bestselling novel that has recently taken the Christian world by storm — one of the characters, Nan, addresses God as “Papa” and, early in the book, Mack, Nan’s husband, explains: “Papa was Nan’s favourite name for God and it expressed her delight in the intimate friendship she had with him.” Well “Papa” is a good translation of the Aramaic word Abba that the early Christians used to address God. It was the normal loving form of address that children (of all ages) would use to address their father in a Jewish household.

But who first dared to call God “Abba”. The answer is Jesus. We know from Mark’s Gospel that, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14.36-37). And the fact that he used that form of address then suggests that it was his normal way of addressing God. It came naturally to him because the Holy Spirit within Jesus left him in no doubt about just who he was and who God was — they were Son and Father; and the relationship between them was rooted in such a totality of love and trust that any other name for his father but Abba was, to Jesus, unthinkable.

And that is why Paul says it is “the Spirit of his Son” that God has sent into our hearts. It is an unusual way of describing the Holy Spirit but Paul uses it because it is precisely the same Spirit who made sonship of God a living reality for Jesus, whom God sends into my heart to make my sonship a reality too … to transform the distant, austere, powerful, stern, forbidding deity of my nightmares into the loving, waiting, longing, forgiving father of the prodigal son (Luke 15).

Abba Father, let me be
Yours and Yours alone.
May my will for ever be
evermore Your own.
Never let my heart grow cold,
never let me go,
Abba Father, let me be
Yours and Yours alone.

Dave Bilborough

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