Second Sunday after Easter – April 26, 2020

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Let’s look at the last part of the passage Brent read:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares Yahweh: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know Yahweh,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares Yahweh. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

  1. In the unfolding of the biblical story, you find a narrative arc running throughout the account that… As we saw last week, the Lord made us in his image to share his life in intimate face to face fellowship.
  2. But while the theme of knowing God face to face remains the same, there is this dramatic contrast between the Old and new testaments in how that face to face fellowship is expressed and how it is experienced.
  3. It’s important that we understand this. Sometimes hat we see is that, what was available to only a few people in the OT, is available to every follower of Christ in the new. This is significant. Because most of read the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, David and say, man if only I had that kind of relationship with God. When in fact, i
  4. Deut 12:10, 13-14 vs. John 4:21-24
  5. Today I want to talk about this change, because I want to encourage you to


  1. Title: “From yada YHWH to yada Abba”. First time I’ve used a sermon title consisting of mostly foreign words. But I did so because each of these three words are ones I want you to learn. Get them in your hearts. Make them part of your intellectual furniture, Incorporate them into your prayer life. They are just that important. And if you allow them to inform the way you view your relationship with the Lord, you will never be the same.
  2. So, let’s define the terms.
  3. The two English prepositions you need no help with. From denotes movement away from a thing or place; to denotes movement toward a thing or place. When used in the same phrase, they combine to mean a kind of linear progression from point A to a point B. Simple enough.


  1. Now the verb yada. This is the Hebrew verb “to know”. Many of you are aware of the fact that the OT was written mostly in Hebrew (some Aramaic Daniel and Ezra, a related language). Like Arabic, Assyrian, Amharic, Akkadian, Hebrew is part of the Semitic family of languages spoken in the Near East.
  2. Specifically, yada refers to the process of discovering something by means of the senses and incorporating that knowledge into your perception of reality.
  3. It involves sense data, but it uses those data to restructure experience. It is, therefore, a comprehensive process that can ultimately change a person at a fundamental level.
  4. In Hebrew, Yada can refer to the most intimate types of knowing. Typically, when the OT speaks of sexual relations, it uses the verb yada. Common example is Genesis 4:1 – “Then Adam knew (yada) Eve, and Eve conceived and bore Cain.”
  5. When applied to a person’s relationship with God, it refers to this kind of comprehensive….
  6. Now, both old and new testaments inform us that we can know God. But the way we know him differs. And the means by which we know him is different.
  7. In the OT, God revealed himself by a variety of names: El, Elohim, Shaddai, Elyon… but the primary name by which he revealed himself was a very personal name that applied only to him: Yahweh, spelled in English Y-H-W-H or Yahweh.



  1. This name is known as the Tetragrammaton (Greek tetra-four; gramma-letter): the Four-letter word
  2. In Hebrew it consists of four consonants: Yod-hey-vav-hey, written right to left
  3. In most English bibles, Yahweh designated by The It is the most common name for God by far: it is used 6,807 throughout the OT, more than twice as many as all the names words for God combined. This is the name by which God primarily made himself known.
  4. The name comes from an account found in the Moses narrative of Exodus 3.

         SLIDE 5

Exodus 3:13-15

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am” (hayah asher hayah). And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am (hayah) has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

  1. From this text, scholars make the observation that the name YHWH to be related to the first-person singular of the verb “To be”, namely “I am”. IOW, God seems to be saying in effect: I am self-existent, self-contingent. I owe my existence to no other. I am God, and there is no one like me. All the other gods of the nations are creatures that I made. I alone am creator. I AM! An I am all you will ever need.
  2. It is the name especially associated with God in his role as covenant partner. It underscores the personal nature of the God of Israel in establishing his covenants God made Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, later the nation of Israel through Moses, and still later, David.
  3. Yet, for all its personal qualities, it is still somewhat distant and abstractly metaphysical. How do you relate to I am? It renders God relatively inaccessible. In this respect, it really captures the tension we find in the OT scriptures, where God is inviting people to know him, yet
  4. SLIDE 6 Consider the images of God we find depicted in the OT…. thunder, lightening, fire, clouds, exotic spiritual creatures, loud trumpets, voices that shake the earth, luminous, brilliant light. Not exactly what you would call warm and inviting.
  5. Why did God reveal himself this way? One reason is that this is who he is. And we must come to God on his terms, not ours. God is infinitely holy, majestic, awe-inspiring. And for perfect beings, that poses no threat. And we were made to be perfect beings who were comfortable in his presence.
  6. But there is a deeper reason God revealed himself in these ways in the OT: to differentiate himself from all the other spiritual beings that were being worshipped at the time in Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Canaan and the Transjordan.
  7. See, all the ethnic groups populating Caanan and the surrounding areas served other elohim, other godlike, spiritual beings that had defected from God’s divine council to ensnare humankind into worshipping themselves rather than Yahweh.
  8. The people living in these lands would create objects from wood or stone representing these spiritual beings, then they would use threats or prayers or incantations to manipulate these idols to get what they wanted from the spiritual being they represented: rain, children, financial prosperity, safety from invading armies.
  9. As a fledgling nation, Israel was extremely vulnerable to these idolatrous influences. They were constantly enticed to hedge their bets by mixing their faith in YHWH with other local deities, whether Baal or Molech or El or his consort Asherah.
  10. So, to distinguish himself from this pantheon of other godlike beings, the Lord took a name that set him apart – I am or Yahweh – and he revealed himself in a way that there would be no mistaking him for those other spiritual beings and no temptation to try to manipulate him into doing what the people wanted.
  11. In fact, under the terms of the covenant with Israel at Sinai, he kept his official worship tightly regulated: The people could offer sacrifices in one and only one temple located in Jerusalem, protected by an army of Levites who were code enforcement officers, making sure that no one could contaminate the divine precincts. The holiest parts of the temple were reserved for the priests: common people could not enter them. The very holiest part was reserved for one man, the high priest, who was permitted to enter just once a year, on the day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.
  12. The people were forbidden to make any physical representations of Yahweh, on pain of death. Their lives were strictly controlled lest they bring contamination onto the land. The 613 mitzvah or commands found in the law of Moses regulated their diet, their time schedules, their civil laws, their moral conduct and their ceremonial life.
  13. What was God doing? He was schooling them so that they would understand the concept of differentness: so they would learn to relate to him in ways entirely different from the other cultures around them. It was a severe schooling, but it was necessary.
  14. The Apostle Paul would later write that the law was a tutor, leading the people to understand how desperately they needed a savior. By highlighting their own moral weakness and utter inability to keep the law consistently, the law itself was leading them to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who would later take away the sins of the world and who would one day send his Spirit to live inside us.
  15. So, the name Yahweh was an important part of God’s over all agenda of teaching the people differentness or serparateness or holiness. Interestingly, what happened, is that the Jews began avoiding the God’s namename. It’s as if they were unconsciously saying, if we can refer to God by other names, we won’t feel the weight of our unworthiness, and we’ll feel better about ourselves. So, sometime between the late 6th and 3rd centuries BC, Jews stopped pronouncing the name. Instead, they would substitute other terms, like “The Name” or “The Holy One” or “the Blessed One” to refer to God. These are called circumlocutions (literally, a way to “talk around” something else).
  16. The most common substitute for Yahweh was and is the Hebrew word Adonai (my Lord). It is still done in devout Jewish communities to this day. A common example is the recitation of the Shema from Deut 6: Hear O Israel, Yahweh your God, Yahweh is one. What God told them to say was, Shema Ysrael, Yahweh elehenu Yaweh ehad. Instead, what you will hear in synagogue services to day is Shema Ysrael, adonai elohenu, adonai ehad.
  17. At the same time that the name YHWH was being ignored, there was a growing tendency among Israelites to relate to God in increasingly impersonal and legal ways. It was during this period in history that the Pharisaical party was born and grew. Elaborate legal systems were developed to insure that no one transgressed the smallest detail of the law, and often God was treated as the ultimate cosmic cop who loved to bust offenders.
  18. I think it is clear that the dropping of the use of the personal name for God by his people was symptomatic of a larger issue: namely, their growing estrangement from God. They drifted away from a vibrant, personal engagement with Yahweh and into a distant, cold legal relationship with his rules. Friends, that is still a danger for us today…
  19. So, it is in this context that Jesus enters the scene. And he becomes the catalyst for ushering in a whole new way of relating to God through the use of a word in his native language, Aramaic: Abba. SLIDE 7
  20. The word represented not just a change in vocabulary, but a conceptual change of the first order: an entirely, fundamentally different way to envision divine-human interactions patterned on his own, unique filial relationship with the Father.


  1. Over 165x in the Gospels, Jesus refers to God as “Father”. This is astonishing when you consider the fact that that Father was used in reference to God only 15x throughout the entire OT! In the words of one scholar, “His use of the word has no parallel in all Jewish tradition”
  2. In Greek, the word Father translates as Pater. In Jesus’ native tongue, Aramaic, a linguistic cousin to Hebrew, the word is Ab or Abba.
  3. Abba is both a form of endearment and honor. In those days, little children might use it to refer to their dads. But even adults would address their fathers as Abba as sign of intimacy and respect. Daddy is too casual translation, scholars suggest that “Dear Father” is probably the best English equivalent.
  4. In any event, the movement from knowing God as YHWH in the OT to knowing him as Abba in the ministry of Jesus is nothing short of revolutionary. Probably, living on this side of the cross, it’s impossible for us to appreciate just how significant a change this was for the typical Jew.
  5. In our case, there are two things we want to keep in mind. First, it’s important that we understand that it is Jesus who defines what fatherhood looks like. Jesus didn’t say, God is a father to you in the same way that your earthly dad is a father to you. That comes as a relief to us, because, let’s face it, all of us had imperfect dads, and we need to be careful not to import our own experiences with fatherhood into our relationship with our heavenly Father.
  6. Instead, what Jesus did was to claim that God is a Father to you in the same way that he was a father to Jesus. See the difference? Perfect love, unrestricted affection, this is the way God the Father relates to Jesus, and this is the way He relates to us.
  7. Jesus redefined fatherhood through his own actions and his words. Remember during his arrest, the soldiers come for him with swords and he asks, who are looking for? When they told him, he said that’s me, now let these guys go. He protected his guys with the heart of the Father.
  8. And Jesus taught about the Father who is wonderfully present to us at all times, who has every hair on our heads counted, who takes care of all our needs, who clothes us like he does the flowers and feeds us like he does the birds, who doesn’t let a sparrow fall to the ground apart from his say so.
  9. And, of course, he really turns the religious world upside down when he tells the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. SLIDE 8 This is Rembrandt’s way of capturing the moment when the son returns to the father…
  10. There’s a second thing we want to keep in mind. Jesus introduced a new way of referring to God in the word Abba. But he also introduced a new way to connecting with God as his sons and daughters. Look at the way the Apostle Paul describes it in Romans 8.

         SLIDE 9

Romans 8:15-17

15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ

  1. Whose spirit is in you? The Spirit of Jesus himself. And the Spirit who has been given to you instinctively reaches out to his Father in affection and recognition.
  2. Of all the ways God might want to communicate himself to us, SLIDE 10  this is the primary image he chose: the intimacy shared between a father and his child
  3. As you spend time with the Lord this week, lean into your identity as his son or daughter. Call him Abba. Get used to relating to him the way a child does to its father.
  4. Let’s pray

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Benediction – Tom