Family Devotional 03/18/2020: “When We Call God Our ‘Father'”

Devotional Text: Matthew 6:7-13.

If you’ve heard me preach over the past year, you probably know about this beautiful, perfect creature named Ringo. Ringo is an English Springer Spaniel—he celebrates his first birthday in a couple of weeks—and he has absolutely melted my heart. I couldn’t love him more. 

Well, I shared the following anecdote in a sermon recently, but it bears repeating: When I talk on the phone, I like to go outside and walk around, if possible. And I was doing just that about a month ago. I was out in our backyard, and I walked to the other side of the street, where the sidewalk is. I was talking on the phone; I wasn’t paying attention to anything else—including the fact that Ringo had followed me outside.

Now we have an invisible fence in our yard, which keeps both of our dogs safe—since we live in between a couple of busy roads. If they go beyond a certain point in the yard, they get a shock from these collars that they wear. The fence has worked perfectly up to this point. Neither of my dogs ever goes beyond the boundary of the invisible fence—until this particular day. You see, Ringo really, really wanted to be with me. And so when I walked across the street to the sidewalk on the other side, he was willing to endure the shock if it meant being with me.

But like I said, I wasn’t paying attention; I was wrapped up in this phone call. I didn’t see until too late that Ringo had followed me outside the fence and was in the middle of this busy road… and there was a car fast approaching. It threatened to run over my dog! The moment I saw this, I wasn’t even thinking, I ran into the road, my hands raised: “Stop,” I shouted. The car slammed on its brakes and stopped. I put myself in between the approaching car and my dog—which, in a way, was kind of a crazy thing to do. I should have valued my life and safety far more than a dog, you know? But I didn’t care! I just wanted my sweet little boy to be okay.

As I say, my heart melts for this little guy. Like all puppies, he’s a pain in the neck sometimes, but he’s perfect to me, and I love him.

But if you have a dog, or a cat, or some other pet that you love, you know what I’m talking about.

Why do I share this story? Because of those two remarkable words at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, which we probably don’t even give much thought to anymore: “Our Father.” We say the prayer by rote; we take for granted the fact that God is “our Father.” But believe me, when Jesus called God his Father, literally no one before had ever spoken of God that way. There are a few references in the Old Testament to God as a father—but that was always in terms of God being father to the nation of Israel, not the “father” of any particular individual. That would have been way too presumptuous, way too disrespectful…

Yet in the gospels, Jesus often speaks of God as my Father, as if God belonged to him, and as if he belonged to God. Before Jesus, no one had ever dared to speak of God in such a familiar, intimate way. We know that Jesus’ primary language was Aramaic, a language related to Hebrew. Although like many Jews Jesus would have also spoken Greek, the language the New Testament written in, he probably spoke Aramaic to his disciples. 

And we know that when he gave them the Lord’s Prayer, the “model prayer,” he would have used a more intimate term than the Greek “Pater” that we find in verse 9. He would have used the word Abba. We know this because elsewhere in the gospels—in Mark 14:36—when Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark records Jesus as saying, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark, who was writing in Greek, is signaling to his Greek-speaking readers the actual word, the untranslated word, that Jesus used to address his Father is Abba. 

You can hear in the very sound of the word that this would be one of the first words a child learns to speak. Just as in English, a child says, “Papa” or “Dada” or “Mama” because it’s very easy to say. So in Aramaic… Abba.

It’s no longer fashionable for preachers to point this out, because Bible scholars are quick to remind us that even adult Aramaic speakers also called their father Abba. But the fact remains: Calling God our “Abba” is more intimate and informal than calling him our Father. Even in these ancient languages. There’s a nuance to Abba that doesn’t get communicated in Greek (or English) by the word “Father.”

The apostle Paul understands this nuance, for instance, in Galatians 4:6, when he writes, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Why would Paul emphasize the word Abba if it were exactly equivalent to the word “Father”? He wouldn’t… He knows there’s a difference in meaning… He wants us to know that God isn’t merely our Father—as amazing as that is—no, he’s our Abba… He’s our Papa… Can we be so bold to imagine that God is even our Daddy? Because that’s nothing less than the meaning of calling God our Father.

All that to say, when we call God our Father, Jesus is inviting us into the same intimate relationship with God that he himself enjoys. If God is our Father the same way he’s Jesus’ Father, think of what that means!

Think, for example, of that time when Jesus was baptized: He hears the voice of his Father from heaven say, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Well, the Bible says that when we are in Christ, what’s true of Jesus is true of us—that we also become sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ. We’re adopted by our Father into family, whereas Jesus was begotten by his Father… but… we are his sons and daughters just the same; which means the Father’s love for us is exactly the same as his love for his Son Jesus. 

Jesus himself says so, for instance, in John 17:23 and 26.

“…that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” [v. 23]

“I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” [v. 26]

Listen: If you are in Christ, if you have been born again through faith in Christ, our Father takes pleasure in you; he delights in you; you are the apple of his eye… Can you even comprehend how loved you are! How precious you are to your Father?

I began this devotional talking about my love for my dog Ringo. When I look at him, I feel nothing but affection. He’s perfect to me. I couldn’t love him more! As silly as it may seem to use Ringo, my dog, as a point of comparison, I believe God has used Ringo over the past year to remind me of how great my Father’s love is for me

And that’s not silly at all. Thank you, Lord.

And how does this happen? How does God become our Father like this? Through the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. He suffered and died in order to pay the penalty for our sins—which had previously separated us from God. So now, all our sins—past, present, and future—are forgiven as believe in Jesus. And not only that: he gives us the gift of his righteousness in return. So we stand before God as perfect, holy, and righteous.

Again, I began by talking about how I nearly got run over trying to save Ringo a couple of months ago. Well, that’s what a father’s love looks like, right? And that’s what our Father’s love for us looks like: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Back in 2011 I went to Israel on a Holy Land tour. In the video you’re about to see, a native Aramaic speaker that we met is going to share the Lord’s Prayer in the same language that Jesus spoke it. When Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, in other words, it sounded something like this… Enjoy!

2 thoughts on “Family Devotional 03/18/2020: “When We Call God Our ‘Father'””

  1. Thank you, Pastor Brent, for doing these daily devotions. They are very inspirational, and I appreciate them. For those of us that do not get to hear you speak as often as we would like, it is indeed a blessing.

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