It’s one of the first sounds a baby will make. ‘Ma ma ma ma’. Or ‘Ba ba ba ba’. Which is why, in so many languages, the proud parents take their babbling children to be speaking their names. ‘Mama’ or ‘Amma’ is a very common word for ‘mother’. And ‘Papa’ or ‘Baba’ is similarly common as a word for father. In Aramaic it’s “Abba” which a child will call their father from the very earliest age.
Yet the name is not only reserved for childhood (as “Daddy” might be in English). The toddler who cries “Abba”, will continue to call their father “Abba” long into adulthood. It is not only an intimate term, but one of respect.
But here’s the question: Who gets to call God Most High “Abba”?
If I called the Queen “Liz” that would be a gross dishonour, but at least such familiarity makes no claim on the Queen. I have no right to call her “Liz” but in doing so I haven’t established any claim to her throne or right to protection or provision. “Liz” is intimate but it doesn’t set me in a particular relationship to her. But if I claim to be family, that’s something else entirely. If the Queen were not only Ma’am but also Mum, that would put me in a very privileged position. As family I am in on what she is in on. As family I can inherit.
So let’s return to our question: Who gets to call God Most High “Abba”? Answer: the Son of God. And, really, only Him. Only Jesus can articulate that degree of intimacy. Only Jesus can make that kind of claim on the God of Heaven.
In the New Testament we read three “Abba, Father”s. The first is in the garden of Gethsemane (of which, more tomorrow). There Jesus prays in blood earnestness to His Father as He contemplates the cross. The obedient Son calls out to the Father with a title that only the obedient Son can.
And yet, the phrase is used twice more by the Apostle Paul.
In Galatians 4:6 he writes:
“God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6)
Here we see the Spirit sweeping up the believer into the perfect prayer-life of the Son. The Spirit of Christ prays Christ’s prayer in us and through us. We are drawn by the Spirit into the union and communion which the obedient Son enjoys with His Abba, Father. The believer’s new heart-beat is “Abba, Father, Abba, Father, Abba, Father” because the Spirit is making that cry from deep within us.
But not only this, Romans 8:15 says:
“ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
“Abba, Father” is no longer just what the Son prays. And it’s not just what the Spirit of the Son prays in us. The Spirit now teaches us to pray “Abba, Father” for ourselves.
What right do we have to call the King of Kings “Daddy”? None. Not in ourselves. But Christ has that right. And by His Spirit, He shares that right with us.
As Mike Reeves has said: “To be the son of a millionaire would be nice. To be the firstborn of some wealthy king would be wonderful enough. But we are the beloved children of the Emperor of the Universe.” And we can call Him “Abba, Father.”
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” (1 John 3:1)