|The Names of Jesus #12
Son of God (No. 1)
June 28, 1998 / Hebrews 2:10-13
Jesus is the Son of God in a sense that none other can be. He shares the divine essence. In his very nature, he is God from eternity past through eternity future. Yet he has made it possible for us to participate in his status as children of God. We cannot share in the divine essence, but we can experience divine transformation and personal regeneration. We can be "co-heirs with Christ" to all the Fatherís spiritual resources (Rom. 8:17). Here is what Paul wrote on this point:
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir (Gal. 4:4-7).
Abba is an Aramaic word used for oneís father within the family circle. In the Talmud, for example, we are told: "When a child experiences the taste of wheat (i.e., when he or she is weaned), it learns to say abba (i.e., daddy) and imma (i.e., mommy)."1 Even as the children matured and became adults, this term of intimacy and special respect would continue to be used within a close family. Although there is not a single case known to us of God being addressed as abba in Jewish prayer literature, it is the way we are taught to address him. What was thought too personal and too familiar by the rabbis is commonplace for Christians. Why? Because Jesus prayed to his Father as abba, and we share in his sonship to God. In Gethsemane, Mark uses the Aramaic term in his Greek account of Christís prayer: "Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36).
Abba is probably the term Jesus always used for prayer in his native Aramaic. At the least, we know he called God "Father" ó if not abba ó in every one of his prayers recorded in the Gospels. The single exception is his cry from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" (Matt 27:46). In that exceptional case, he was quoting Psalm 22 and used the form of address already fixed in that text.
Jesus didnít learn this intimate language for prayer from others. It was his own personal way of talking with God that we imitate with his blessing. Such language "expresses the heart of Jesusí relationship to God. He spoke to God as a child to its father; confidently and securely, and yet at the same time reverently and obediently."2
Now Jesus invites us to pray: "Our Father in heaven . . ." (Matt. 6:9ff). But how can that be? Can any human being partake of the nature of God and be a Son of God as Jesus was? Absolutely not. Jesus is the Son of God in his own essence, yet we may become children of God by grace. Jesus is the Son of God by nature; we may be his sons by adoption. Jesus is the Son of God by right of holiness; we are sons of God by virtue of regeneration in which his holiness is credited to us.
Your Abba Possibilities
I donít mean to be irreverent when I suggest that the God of the Cosmos wants us to think of him in terms of his Abba-ness to us. He wants to be thought of less as Creator, Rule, and Sovereign ó though he is all that and much more! ó than as a daddy who is trying to help his kids grow up. Yes, we must preserve the mystery and majesty surrounding our human conceptions of God. But we must somehow balance reverence with intimacy, respect with nearness, awe with approachability.
No one ever had an earthly father who deserved more respect and admiration than mine. I was and continue to be in awe of him. He was and is my ideal of Christian manhood. But I never once began a conversation with him saying, "Father, it is . . ." All my conversations started, "Daddy!" And in pressing this point in relation to God, Iím not even suggesting that we now begin our prayers with "Our Dad who is in heaven . . ." (I donít know of anything wrong with that, mind you.) The point is that I want to know God so personally through his ideal and perfect Son that I can sense his love as Jesus did. So here are some things Scripture says about Godís attitude toward us that might help you feel nearer to him or even help you overcome images of a less-than-ideal earthly father you have experienced.
Your Abba has accepted and adopted you. I dare say that you know the terms "unexpected pregnancy" and "unwanted child," donít you? Neither term fits you! "In love, [God the Father] predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will . . ." (Eph. 1:4b). You are a planned and purposed, chosen and adopted child. It isnít that God did something that unexpectedly made him have to deal with you. He acted altogether deliberately to claim you as his own. You are in his family because he wants you there and has pursued you to be his own.
The human adoption process requires a thoughtful decision followed by a multi-paged application. It requires home visits and inquiries into two peopleís work history and financial status. Itís harder than getting babies the way Myra and I got our three. If we had had to prove only our financial worthiness to have a child, weíd never have gotten Michelle when we did. I admit to admiring those adults who are willing to open up their medical histories, family trees, psyches, and relationships for strangers to probe in order to receive a child by adoption. It is a long and grueling ordeal they go through to prove their worthiness to love a child. Yet no one has ever been extended to the lengths God has been in order to make you his child. If you sense rejection and abandonment in other settings and relationships, you are secure in this one.
Your Abba is so proud of you! Is that a shocking notion to your mind? Isnít the central theme of biblical theology how bad and sinful we humans are in Godís eyes? Absolutely not! The dominant and defining truth of biblical theology is Godís grace, not human wickedness. And while it is important for us to realize how sinful we are, it is far more important to accept how loving and forgiving God is. Adoration and worship do not issue from fear but gratitude.
If heaven had a den with a family picture table in it like we do at our house, your Father would put your picture on it. If he had a refrigerator, he would have something stuck to its door to remind him of you. I know he would, for that is how parents are about the children they love. I am so proud of my three children. Got a minute? Iíll tell you something special and wonderful about each one of them in turn. Are they perfect? Havenít they ever messed up? Didnít I ever have to discipline or even punish them? The blotches on my kidsí records donít mean a thing to me. Iím proud of them. I love them unconditionally. Thereís no way I will ever be ashamed to claim them.
Hereís a verse you may have missed in reading your Bible: "Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers" (Heb. 2:11b). Whoís the "them" of this verse? The rest of the children God has taken into his family. Do you know what Jesus will say to his Father on the Last Great Day? He will take his place with all of us who have been touched by his blood and say, "Here am I, and the children God has given me" (Heb. 2:13b). It sounds like a big brother who has just fought off the neighborhood bully and who has made it home to his Dadís house. "Dad, Iím home," he says, "along with the rest of the kids you told me to look after!" If Jesus isnít ashamed to call you his sister or brother, his Abba must be proud of you too.
With your Abba, you have the security that he is big enough to take care of you. The only reason I ever thought it would be desirable to "freeze" our children at a given age was not some cute lisp or expression or trick in their repertoire ó for I can honestly say that I have "enjoyed" each of them more and more as they have grown and matured. It was an altogether selfish thought that I would have occasionally to the effect that I hated for them to grow up and find out that I wasnít able to do everything they needed or wanted, wouldnít always be able to keep them safe or fix what went wrong. Let me explain what I mean.
When my Michelle was five years old, she came to me one night sobbing her heart out. When I could calm her enough to find out what had happened, she explained to me that Michaelís head had fallen off! Michael was her favorite doll, and I still believe she learned some of her excellent mothering skills on him. But he was one of those "basic" dolls that Fisher-Price would hardly consider making today. He was just plastic head, feet, and hands on a cloth body. That day Michaelís head had come loose and fallen off, and my baby girl was devastated. So I constructed a scenario of a hospital that could repair baby dolls. With her and her mother as nurse-assistants, I did "surgery" to reattach Michaelís head with a loop of wire far stronger than the string that originally held it in place. Last Sunday night, my daughterís daughter came to our house and brought a doll with her. Do you want to guess his name? When they came in the house with her baby hugging Michael, she asked, "Do you remember this doll?" Do I remember? It may have been the biggest day of my life with my own daughter. She thought her daddy could do anything! And I distinctly remember thinking that night that I dreaded the day when things would happen in my little girlís life that I wouldnít have a clue how to tackle. With God as your Father, you have the security of knowing that he is never at a loss to know how to help his sons and daughters through their great life challenges. "In [Christ] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence" (Eph. 3:12). "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear" (1 Cor. 10:13b). "[Nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:39).
Your Abba will challenge you to be more than you ever dreamed you could be. An eleven-year-old girl who had been seriously injured in a car wreck and whose crushed left hip had been rebuilt by doctors was frustrated with her physical therapy. One day when her father was trying to encourage her through some painful exercises, she fell into his arms and began crying uncontrollably. "Daddy, donít you love me just the way I am?" she asked. Sensing how she felt, he held her close and answered through his own tears to say, "Yes, sweetheart, I love you just the way you are. But I love you too much to let you stay that way."
God loves you just the way you are ó flaws, handicaps, injuries, repairs, open wounds. He loves you even though you are struggling with sin. And there is nothing you can do to make him love you more than he already does. He loves you because you are his child and not because you are perfect, wonít sin any more, or will serve him in some spectacular way. He has forgiven you and adopted you as his child on the basis of the saving work of his Singular, Incomparable, Beloved Son Jesus. But he loves you too much to let you remain as you are. In all your weakness, difficulties, and sinfulness, he is working to change your personality and character to be more like Jesus.
For the sake of his Incomparable and Beloved Son, God is completing in us the work he started in him. On the basis of Christís triumph, then, be confident of your own. Donít look down at your tired feet. Look upward to the Son in glory. And rejoice in this biblical text about our shared sonship with Jesus:
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says,
"I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises."
"I will put my trust in him."
And again he says,
"Here am I, and the children God has given me" (Heb. 2:10-13).
1 Berakoth 40a; Sanhedrin 70b.
2 Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology (New York: Charles Scribnerís Sons, 1971), p. 67.
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