Coop's Column - Father - Like He Tends and Spares Us
Jesus never tired of referring to God as his Father.
This article is the first in a series dedicated to exploring God’s character, the qualities which mark his identity and make him worthy of our worship. We begin with “Father,” Jesus’ favorite term of address for God.
Among all the Jewish rabbis from the Biblical era who have left us record, only Jesus called God “Abba,” i.e. “Daddy,” a child’s term of endearment. Jesus never tired of referring to God as his Father. Whereas the entire set of Old Testament writers uses “Father” a mere 15 times to describe God, in the New Testament gospels alone the term is used more than ten times that often. (The synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—record Jesus as using it at least 65 times; in John’s Gospel he uses it over 100 times. It goes without saying: Jesus was keenly aware that God cherished him as his son—a “beloved son, in whom God was pleased (cf Matt. 3:17). Jesus, in turn, made it his life’s aim to delight his Abba—to do what his dear Father wanted him to do (cf Heb. 10.9). Jesus was confident and secure in his Father’s presence, joy-filled and reverent toward him. Deep intimacy marked the relationship between the Father and his Son.
Jesus taught his disciples, too, to call God “Father.” Twenty-two times in the synoptics he speaks about God as “your Father. ” In response to their request, he gave them first lessons in how to speak to God: “When you pray, say, ‘ Father, hallowed be your name…’” (Luke 11:1-2).
Jesus’ early followers, chiefly Paul, spread far and wide throughout the entire ancient world Jesus’ revolutionary news that God is Father to his children. As a result—astonishingly, and quite unheard of ever before—even Greek-speaking Gentiles in faraway places like Galatia and Rome began to imitate Jesus; they, too, called God their Abba, just as he, now their Savior and Lord, had done. In fact, that single word,Abba, St Paul says, is shorthand for describing the world-shaking transformation in believers’ new relationship with God: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you receive the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, Abba,Father.” Romans 8.15. Early Christians used “Father” in blessings (cf. 1 Cor. 1:3), in prayers (Col 1:12), in commands (cf. Eph 5:20), in doxologies (cf. Rom 15:6), in statements of belief (Eph. 4:6).
Implications abound from the Christian claim that God through Jesus has become Father to his people, and now delights to call them “dearly loved children.” (Eph. 5:1). I single out three of them. The heavenly Father, whose power over his children is shaped by his love for them, now summons them to:
1. Trust him.
Jesus said: “Fear not…for it is your Father’s good will to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32) He carefully reminded his followers—and us—that as Father God will protect us and see us home. Thus, when things go against us, we can be patient; when things go well, we can be grateful; and for the future, come what may, we can be confident. (cf. Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 28).
2. Obey him.
Jesus said that obeying the Father’s commands, as he did, is key to remaining in God’s love. ” I have obeyed my Father’s commands, and I continue in his love. In the same way, if you obey my commands, you will continue in my love.” (John 15:9) Good fathers require their children to obey them because it’s for their children’s welfare. Obedience, therefore, is not burdensome, joy-killing, or limiting; rather, it protects and blesses—helps children flourish. Says Spurgeon, “if [God] be a father, let me note his commands, and let me reverentially obey; if he hath said, ‘Do this,’ let me do it, not because I dread him, but because I love him.”
3. Delight him.
In Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead, Pastor John Ames comments:
Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behavior, and the reaction of God to us might be thought of as aesthetic rather than morally judgmental….I do like Calvin’s image, because it suggests how God might actually enjoy us. I believe we think about that far too little. It would be a way into understanding essential things, since presumably the world exists for God’s enjoyment, not in any simple sense, of course, but as you enjoy the being of a child….
Our ability as humans to bring delight to our Father’s heart is itself his gift to us. He enables; we perform. Thus, we make the circle complete when we use his gift as He intends.
When Christians congregate each week to worship God, they boldly declare what fellow Christians have been confessing for generations and centuries: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty Maker of heaven and earth.” Each time they do, they receive fresh strength to keep believing:
That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them,
Who still upholds and rules them
By his eternal counsel and providence,
Is my God and Father
Because of Christ his Son.
And thereafter they celebrate the claim in full-throated thanks and praise:
How great is the love of the Father,
the love he has shown to us—
So great that he calls us his children,
and children of God we are.
Thank you, Abba Father, for giving us your Son, And leaving your Spirit till, your work on earth is done (There is a Redeemer)