Mark 14:32–36 (ESV) And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
There is a common saying which reads – “the Devil is in the details.” The idea being, that often, when struggling with something difficult to understand fully, there is some “catch”, some mysterious element which is escaping our notice. In actuality, the original phrase (as best as I can tell) was coined by the French novelist Gustave Flaubert and read: “the good God is in the detail”. His thought was, we are often overlooking the goodness of God in things – missing the small connection that brings it all together.
Likewise, there are some exceedingly sweet and precious things to be had in the “details” of certain passages of Scripture sometimes – like ours today. And I note especially vs. 36 and its first few words: “And He said, Abba, Father.”
Mark, carefully notes Jesus’ wording here with unusual precision – so as to call something out to our minds. He transliterates the Aramaic word “Abba” – and then gives its signification – “Father.” Why? Why not just use the Greek word “pater” (Father) and leave it at that? Why bother pointing to Jesus’ use of “Abba” in Aramic while writing everything else down in Greek?
It would seem that he is especially wanting us to understand the true nature of Jesus’ prayer here, and the import it will have for us later.
In Aramaic (the language which Jesus would have most often conversed in), there are two very similar words with overlapping meanings. First there is the word for father Jesus used here “Abba”. And, there is the word “Abbi”. “Abbi” also means father. The difference? Abbi is a very broad term – it can mean a natural father, but also a civil father – as in George Washington being the “father” of our nation. It can also refer to an Elder – a tribal father, or the father of a school of thought, etc. This is how the Jews thought of God as “Father” – as the Creator or progenitor of all things. So what’s the big deal? The deal is in the detail, that “Abba” is never used in the broad sense, but only in reference to one’s own natural father. Jesus was not using a broad term, but the most intimate, familial term there was. He was speaking to His “Dad”, His own, personal – Father. How this must have hit the three disciples who heard Him. The impact must have been profound.
But it doesn’t end there. For the fascinating thing is, this word is found only 3 times in the New Testament, the first being here. The shock, is the two other times it is used – in Romans 8:14 and Galatians 4:6. And what is the context in those two places? That by virtue of becoming partakers of the Holy Spirit in salvation, the Believer gets to address God the Father as intimately as Jesus Himself: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6)
Do you see what Paul does in both of these cases? He carries over this remarkable transliteration so that we get the full power of it driven home to us. It is the soul flooding reality that we get to live with the Father as intimately and truly and God the Incarnate Son. We share the same Spirit. We too – because of the cross, can cry “Abba, Father” – with no less reality and intimacy than Christ our Lord did in His most critical moments.
You beloved – are truly that – beloved. Beloved of God as though natural sons and daughters. As truly His, as Christ Himself.
Now THAT’S, a detail!