17 May 2017

Abba, Father: Walking with Jesus’s Father in the “Old Testament” … Preaching the Message of the First Century Church’s Bible

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Faith, Hebrew Bible, Jesus, Love, Preaching, Salvation, Worship

Abba, The God who is All in All

The Hebrew Bible makes up 76 percent of the Protestant Bible. The New Testament writers, and if the Epistles are any indication, and original audience were intimately acquainted with the Scriptures. Imagine reading a book where four out of every five pages was missing.  It would be a book very susceptible to actually being rewritten by various sources than the book itself. For some reason many believe that this can be done with the Bible.

The words of the Hebrew Bible also make up a substantial portion of the actual words of the New Testament as well (approximately 32 percent of the words of the New Testament are direct quotations from the Hebrew Bible).  The Hebrew Bible provides the “framework” or scaffolding for the NT in the following ways:

  • The Story recorded in the “New Testament” continues, and is the climax of, the same story recorded in the Hebrew Bible, sort of a Third Chronicles
  • The Promises of which Jesus is the “fulfillment,” and Paul says are all “Yes,” are made in the Hebrew Bible and no where else. It is impossible to either understand them or know why they are important and be true to them apart from the Hebrew Bible.
  • The ideas or doctrines even the words used to describe Jesus come from the Hebrew Bible and have meaning from that source.
  • The relationship that the New Testament envisions for creation with God comes from the Hebrew Bible.
  • The ethics of the kingdom described in the Gospels and Epistles come from the Hebrew Bible

As important as these are, and they are immensely so. The beam that holds the entire structure together is God. The God we are told to pray to, the God we worship, the God who loves us, the God who saves us, the God Jesus called Abba, is the God of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Miriam, Joshua, Deborah, David, Huldah, Ezekiel and Daniel and no other.

In other words the God Christians believe in is the God of the “Old Testament,” who is the Father of the Lord Jesus. This teaching is on virtually every page of the New Testament. The New Testament authors were not Marcionites, in any sense.

The biblical writers assume, on every page, their readers have a deep knowledge and have been instructed in the Hebrew Bible.  First Corinthians is the proof in the pudding. Paul assumes these not very long ago pagans know (and intimately so) the Law of Moses. The Wilderness narrative (Numbers) is used as the basis of exhortation in chapter 10.  Paul makes two comments regarding the festival or liturgical calendar with no explanation but assumes the Corinthians understand (Passover and Pentecost, 5.7-8; 16.8).  Paul even assumes the Corinthians are familiar with the Law’s teaching regarding sacrifice sufficiently enough to grasp their connection with communion with God at the table (1 Cor 10.14-22) and he assumes the Corinthians know the shema (1 Cor 8) and applies it Christologically to their situation. This is just touching the tip of the iceberg of Paul’s assuming the Corinthians have been taught the “Bible,” which fills in lots of “gaps” in the text.

The God Creeds of the Hebrew Bible

Christians today are often no where near familiar with the basic message of the Hebrew Bible as the first century church. What I want to do for the rest of this blog is make a proposal to all the preachers and teachers out there.  It is an invitation to do a series of sermons for one month (perhaps the summer of 2017) on the message of the Old Testament, we can call it Abba, Father: Walking with Jesus’s Father in the “Old Testament.” We can do this in four sermons and I will outline the basic gist of these four.

The Old Testament as a whole is about God, the Father of Jesus. As you read through the Hebrew Bible there are three “creedal” statements that occur repeatedly throughout the text and condense biblical faith to a handful of words that can be confessed, prayed, used as sources of encouragement.  These creeds should be introduced to your congregation and can be used as the basis of this series of sermons.  These creeds each answer an important question about our Abba.

  1. God Creed: Who is God?
  2. Grace Creed: What Does God Do?
  3. Immanuel Creed: Where Does God Live?

Through these summary statements we can introduce our congregations to the big picture to know scripture and the God Jesus calls Abba.  We want to walk with that God and no other.

The God Creed: Who is God?

The God Creed is of foundational importance in the Hebrew Bible. In a world that was filled with competing deities from Baal to Kemosh to Marduk it was important to know who the God of Israel is.  Each god has a “character.” It does not take long reading in Egyptian theology, Ugaritic tales of Baal and Anat, or Gilgamesh (sort of an Ancient Near Eastern Bible) that these gods were powerful, often vindictive, and radically unpredictable.  We often do not know if these gods care about humanity or the non-human world at all. Worship in these contexts (and they had many of the same forms as Israel herself like sacrifices, temples priests, festivals, even some similar hymns) was an effort to placate the god, bribe the god, or even manipulate the deity.

Israel confessed a god.  Her confession which is sounded in one form or another in every section of the Hebrew Bible and has nearly identical wording.  The whole creed appears repeatedly and then portions of it occur dozens of times.  The creed states THIS is our God.  It answers the question WHO is God, what is God like? What is God’s essence? What is God’s character? The God Creed answers these questions forthrightly.

This creed is the foundation of Jesus’s life in the pages of the Gospel.  This creed first appears in Exodus 34.6-7.  Who is God? Yahweh! What is Yahweh like? Hesed or Steadfast love! Our God is Love that never ends! This is not a New Testament message rather it is the central affirmation of the Hebrew Bible regarding the one Jesus taught us to call Abba.  We want to walk with that God of steadfast love. Yahweh’s hesed is the foundation of all things in the Hebrew Bible.

Yahweh, Yahweh God,
compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger,
abundant in steadfast love and truth,
keeping steadfast love for thousands,
forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin;
yet he will by no means clearing the guilty

The context in which this bold statement is given by Yahweh is the blatant breach of covenant at the Golden Calf, which is essentially Israel’s personal Genesis 3.  This creed is the faith that Israel holds onto even in the face of their horrific failure at precision obedience.  When Israel rebels, rejects Moses, rejects the Exodus and wants to return to slavery in Numbers 14, it is the God Creed that becomes the shred of hope (Num 14.18f).  In Joel the God Creed becomes the basis on which the community believes that God will not destroy them (2.13).  The Creed shows up in Nehemiah’s prayer of confession with the confidence that Yahweh is the God of the Creed (9.17, 31).  The Creed, as the hope of Israel, is prominent in worship as attested in the Psalms (86.15; 103.8-10; 111.4; 116.5; 145.8-9; etc). It is the basis of Hezekiah’s plea for Yahweh to accept worship that is not according to the pattern (2 Chron 30.9). And shockingly it is the basis of Jonah’s rage against Yahweh (4.1-3).

To walk with Jesus’s Father is to confess that God is our loving Abba. God defines himself (the creed begins with the revelation of God’s own personal glory, the glory of his Hesed!), his glory, as his love.  Israel believes Yahweh and memorized and held onto the God Creed for dear life. When the rest of the world asked “who is your god?” Israel confessed Exodus 34.

The God Creed: Who is God is a wonderful place to begin a summer series on Abba, Father, to walk with our Father is to know God as the God he claims and proves himself to be.  The New Testament says “God is Love,” when John says this in 1 John 3.16, he is confessing what Israel had for over a thousand years before Jesus was born.  Helping our congregations see and understand the God Creed will go a long way to knowing the God we worship and tie Jesus’s mission to the Hebrew Bible.

Some resources for preaching the God Creed see:

Preach the Old Testament: The Gracious & Compassionate God (Ex 34).

Exodus 34: Pulse of the Bible.

The Grace Creed: What Does God Do?

The Hebrew Bible confesses who God is, God is steadfast love. Yahweh’s love is the bedrock for all God does. Again this creed helps to identify the uniqueness of the God of Israel. If other deities are detached and you pray the deity both notices you and that he does not, Israel’s deity not only loves with infinite love (hesed in the God Creed is new every morning, Lam 3.22) but rescues, redeems and saves the least of these.  So Israel confessed the Grace Creed to tell the world what her God of steadfast love has done. The Grace Creed is a summary statement of the Mighty Acts of Yahweh.  These summary statements occur throughout the Hebrew Bible and can be memorized and form the basis of hope and worship and proclaim the one Jesus calls Abba.

What does God do? God rescues us! God Redeems us! Yahweh takes on the “giants” and sets the captives free.  This is what our God does.  The basic creed is given in Deuteronomy 26. It is offered in the context of grateful worship for the gifts of Yahweh’s bounty at the Festival of First Fruits (=Pentecost). As the worshipers bring a token of the treasures of what God has provided, the token of gratitude is accompanied by the Grace Creed, the summary of Yahweh’s acts (not our acts).

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor/father;
he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien,

few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.
When the Egyptians treated us harshly

and afflicted us, we cried to Yahweh, the God of our ancestors;
Yahweh heard our voice and saw our affliction,

our toil, and our oppression.
Yahweh brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand
and an outstretched arm,

with a terrifying display of power,
and with signs and wonders;
and he brought us into this place and gave us

this land, a land flowing with milk and honey
(Deut 26.5-9)

This narrative summary, sometimes with more details, occurs repeatedly in the Hebrew Bible.  You can find it in Deuteronomy 6.21-23; Joshua 24.1-13; Judges 11.15-27; 1 Samuel 12.1-18; Nehemiah 9; many Psalms 78, 106, etc.  Essentially the Grace Creed is a summary of the contents Exodus chapters 1-15.  The Pentecostal declaration has the following outline:

  1. Ancestors (Jacob)
  2. Oppression in Egypt noticed by Yahweh
  3. Exodus
  4. Faithfulness of Yahweh
  5. Gift of land

The Grace Creed tells the Story of what the God of Steadfast love has done … God heard our cry, saw our oppression, and unlike any god in the universe, our God redeemed us.  The God of Steadfast love is the God of amazing grace.  The New Testament frequently notes that the rescuing grace of our Abba flows out of his amazing love. Notice the progression in Romans 5.6-11, the gift of Jesus proves and demonstrates God’s love and Ephesians 2.4-8 God’s mercy and grace come “out of his great love.”

What does God do? He saves us! Many Christians have no appreciation for the significance of the “Mighty Acts” of God.  Moses waxes eloquently upon them in Deuteronomy 4.32-38. The Exodus is the stunning earth shattering entering of the God of Love in human history to take on another who claimed the power of life and death, one who claimed to be deity incarnate–Pharaoh. The Grace Creed is the foundation of Israel’s self-identity. They are redeemed nobodies whose little boys the state sanctioned feeding to the crocodiles.

The Grace Creed is the narrated in the Passover Feast and was celebrated by Jesus. Indeed to this very day, Christians celebrate the Grace Creed every Sunday as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper does not cast aside the Exodus.  Rather, as noted in the opening paragraph, the Story of our Lord’s Supper is the climax of God’s Mighty Acts. We remember the Exodus and the “New Exodus.”  The greatest act in human history, according to the Hebrew Bible, was the Exodus, Yahweh’s redemption of a people so worthless they were expendable.

The Grace Creed forms the identity of God’s people. They are redeemed people. They are saved people. They are graced people. Yahweh cares, Yahweh loves, Yahweh redeems.

Walking with our Abba, Father means knowing as surely as the Israelites that we exist by pure grace. The Grace Creed ties the mission of Jesus with our Abba and it forms the basis of our identity as the assembly of God in the world.

It is a great theme to preach for the second in our sermon series on Old Testament.

The Immanuel Creed: Where Does God Live?

If you asked an ancient Israelite who is god and what is god like, she would reply, “Yahweh is God and Yahweh is steadfast love.”

If you asked an ancient Israelite what does god do, she would reply that “God remembers the powerless and redeems them.”

This brings us to the third creed. If you asked an ancient Israelite, where does god live? She would grasp the Immanuel Creed and say “our God dwells with us.”

Of all the creeds of the Old Testament this one is the one that is known the least but is the goal of the previous two. The Hebrew Bible proclaims that Yahweh, created the world to dwell in love with creation. This was Eden. Humans through their hubris were exiled from the dwelling presence of the Lord.  Dwelling is, in essence, the sign of the relationship. This sheds great light on prophets like Ezekiel and Haggai and many others.

But God is the God of Steadfast Love therefore he acted to redeem the least valued people on the planet in order to dwell with them for the sake of all creation. Steadfast love and gracious redemption find their goal in the Creator of the universe living with Israel. Immanuel! The most common word for this in the Hebrew Bible is covenant. Yahweh is in a “covenant of love” with Israel (Deut 7.9, 12; 1 Kgs 8.29; 2 Chron 6.14; Neh 1.5; 9.32; Dan 9.4) they have gotten married.  Married people live together!

The Immanuel Creed expresses the relationship that the God of steadfast love has with the saved by grace people, they are the people or object of God’s love bound together in a covenant of God’s own making.  The initial proclamation of this nuptial imagery pointing to God’s dwelling/living among his people is Exodus 6.7, where it occurs connected to the Grace Creed,

I am Yahweh, and I will free you from the oppression of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with might acts of judgment.

I will take you as my people and I will be your God.

You shall know that I am Yahweh your God, who has freed you from the oppression of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession, I am Yahweh” (Exodus 6.6-8)

I will take you as my wife and I will be your husband is what verse 7 means.  This covenantal language occurs throughout the Hebrew Bible.  Some one once said that “covenant in the Bible is more like making love than following rules.”  This is exactly how the Bible understands and envisions the relationship.  The key symbol of this relationship is the Tabernacle or Temple.  A wedding ring or marriage license is not the relationship and the temple and the covenant document is not the relationship.  The map is not the territory.  But the Tabernacle/Temple is almost a sacrament in Israel where the Creator God has made the astonishing decision to live within time and space with God’s people.  So we read, with echoes back to the creation narrative, in Leviticus 26.

I will look with favor upon you and make you fruitful and multiply you; and I will maintain my covenant with you. You shall eat old grain long stored, and you shall have to clear out the old to make way for the new. I will place my dwelling  in your midst, and I shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am Yahweh your God brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be their slaves no more; I have broken the bars of your yoke and make you stand tall” (Lev 26.9-13)

Husbands and wives dwell together.  Where does God live?  God lives with us! God walks among us and blesses us by his Presence (again clear echoes of Eden). Yahweh is not into long distance relationships.  The God of Israel is not somewhere over the rainbow looking down upon us.  Rather, Israel confesses that God is in our midst, Immanuel.  The covenant is envisioned both as a Husband/Wife relationship and a Father/Son relationship.  Israel is in a loving relationship with Yahweh, not a contract with Yahweh.

The Presence of God among Israel brings forth life and rich abundance. The Immanuel Creed is why the tremendous riches of the land can be brought forth in thanksgiving in the Feast of First Fruits/Weeks/Pentecost.  The Presence of the Lord displays the intimate, loving and caring relationship the Hebrew Bible envisions between the people of God and Yahweh. God expresses love and salvation concretely by choosing to live with creation.

The mission and identity of Jesus is directly connected with the Immanuel Creed. John’s Gospel explicitly connects the two in John 1.14 where the Evangelist says the Word has come and “tabernacled” with us.  The Glory of the Lord dwelled in the Tabernacle/Temple (Exodus 40.34-38; 2 Chron 5.13-14; 7.1-2) is now on display in Jesus.  God became one of us in the incarnation of Jesus … the Immanuel Creed as Matthew says, “his name shall be called Immanuel.”

Knowing Abba, Father

Our congregations need to know God.  Our Abba is responsible for our existence, our salvation, our community of faith and invites us to walk with him and God promises to walk in our midst. This is the God, Paul proclaimed that even the non-believer would fall down within the assembled gathering and confess that “God is really among you” (1 Cor 14.25). A sentiment straight out of the “Old Testament.” It is the Immanuel Creed at work in Corinth.

Our congregations need to know how the Testaments are, at the most fundamental level, about the same reality:

  • the God who loves forever
  • the God who saves by grace to the uttermost
  • the God who performs the miracles of miracles by placing God’s infinite self within space and time to dwell with creation for all eternity

In one short month you can take this outline and share the fundamental message of a full seventy-six percent of the Bible.  The Story of God with his creation.  The amazing invitation walk with the God of Jesus, our Abba, Father.


Helpful Resources

Ronald M. Hals, Grace and Faith in the Old Testament (out of print but if you can find it buy it immediately)

Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing God the Father through the Old Testament (outstanding easy to read volume)

Christopher J. H. Wright, How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All its Worth (wisdom on approaching the text for purposes like this blog)

Thomas H. Olbricht, He Loves Forever: The Enduring Message of the Old Testament (suitable for an adult Bible class or small group study too)

For exegetical commentary on Exodus 34 see Terence Frietheim’s Exodus: Interpretation Commentary.

One Response to “Abba, Father: Walking with Jesus’s Father in the “Old Testament” … Preaching the Message of the First Century Church’s Bible”

  1. Dwight Says:

    If we read through the scriptures we will find that God has always been closer to man, then man has been to God. And that the thread that was sewn by God from the beginning cannot not be unraveled from the front without compromising the whole. The tapestry is full and complete and was made by God for man.

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