For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. -Matthew 6:32
Sometimes a thing is so visible we do not give it a second thought. Such is often the case with calling God “the Father.” It seems so natural that many of us never question how this name came to dominate all the other names for God in the Bible. But our relationship with God as the Father is founded in the good news of the kingdom.
As Jesus taught his way through the Sermon on the Mount, he often referred to God as the Father. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” “Our Father in Heaven.” And here, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Speaking about God in this way was different from the Old Testament where God revealed Himself as Elohim and Yahweh, as well as variations of these names. Each name revealed some attribute about His interaction with His people. He provides. He is almighty. He is Lord. He sees. He is supreme.
But behind the language of the New Testament was Jesus speaking Aramaic. God is not just THE FATHER. He was Abba. The way Jesus talked about God as the Father was so different from the one that the Pharisees portrayed in their talks about the law and righteousness.
Not that the Pharisees denied that God was the Father. They too talked about the Father who was in heaven. They also believed that He was the object of every person’s worship and the Being who called people to be obedient. Only their version of God as Father was not someone who was actively involved, but someone who was waiting—waiting for His people to live up to their side of the covenant. So the teachers of Jesus’ time period parsed and defined the law to the nth degree. Thousands of nuances to the Law came into circulation as earnest law specialists addressed the one thing that they wanted most—that God would intervene in the lives of His people and save them from foreign military oppression. If people would just be holy enough, just tip the scale of God’s favor, the Messiah would come and the restoration of Israel would be front page news. They would be free at last! In the meantime, God waited.
Then Jesus comes along with all his Abba talk. The Father, he declares, is actively forgiving people for their sins now. Moreover, Jesus did not portray the Father as his religious counterparts did. ‘Father’ is not just a religious way of thinking about God, an object of people’s awe and worship—the great and powerful Oz, so to speak. Jesus’ Father is one’s personal Abba. We know Jesus used this way of speaking to God through Mark’s record of his Gethsemane prayer.
Paul, who was not someone who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry, echoes Jesus by using this intimate term, Abba, showing how the Spirit defines our relationship with God. While this is the word used by little children learning who daddy is, it is also the way a son of the house—the heir—addresses his father. What Jesus established, Paul explained. When people put their faith in Jesus, they are adopted into God’s personal family and given all the rights of an heir. “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:6)
We do not always grasp why Jesus’ teaching was so amazing to his hearers. But when people sat at Jesus’ feet to hear what he had to say about Abba and them, it literally blew them away. This is why calling God Father became unbreakably linked with Jesus’ gospel.