|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Fulness of Time|
|Text||Galatians ch.4 v.4 |
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"But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4, 4-5).
1. THE TIME
2. THE EVENT
3. THE PURPOSE OF GOD
I think you know what I mean by the expression 'missing the wood for the trees'. I think we use that expression to mean that we see a few of the details but we don't see the big picture. Somebody who misses the wood for the trees is caught up in the less important detail and they fail to see the overall message.
Sadly, and without being censorious, I suppose we would have to say this is the problem with people generally at this time of the year. People at this time of the year are caught up in a certain view of what is happening in the festive season. They are aware of the fact that at this time of the year something or other is happening which relates to Jesus Christ and yet they don't, sadly, see the picture, they don't understand the message. It's all caught up in lights, and trees, and cards, and shopping; but they don't see the reason why these events are taking place.
The celebration of the Son of God coming into the world is something which is simply based on human tradition, or church tradition. There is nothing in the Bible to make it an obligation for us to have a special occasion at this time of the year.
On the other hand, seeing almost everybody is thinking about these things, more or less, it is a convenient and an appropriate time for Christians to refresh their memories as to the real message, the big picture, so that we don't miss the wood for the trees. That is therefore why I turn to this text; it is a statement given by the apostle Paul which I think especially looks at three aspects of the coming of Christ into the world.
The first aspect that the apostle deals with is the time of Christ's coming. He puts it like this: "when the fullness of the time was come" (Galatians 4, 4).
Second, the apostle speaks about the great event itself in these words: "God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law" (Galatians 4, 4).
And the third point that the apostle makes is this: the great aim, intention, and purpose of God in sending Him into the world: "To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4, 5).
He says, "When the fullness of the time was come". That's an interesting expression, and reminds us that time is created by God. There were three things that God created in the beginning: one was matter, another was space, and the third was time. These three are inextricably bound together: matter, space, and time. They are all God's creatures, or created beings. They began at the beginning when Genesis 1 gives us that information about the start of all earthly and heavenly beings. Before then, of course, there was no such thing as time. And time is limited; it will come to its end. When our Lord Jesus returns there will be no such thing as time. He will stop all the clocks and calendars and, once again, there will be only Eternity.
God made time for a very special purpose. It was that in the course of history His secret ideas, purposes, plans and intentions should be wrought out and fulfilled upon this earth. The earth, as John Calvin so beautifully says, "the earth is the theatre of God's glory". Everything of importance in the whole history of the world must happen on earth. That's not to rule out things that are happening in heaven and hell; but it is here on earth, above everywhere else, that God is manifesting His glory. Here is the great cockpit of strife between the powers of God and the powers of evil. So time, then, is God's creation which He made for the purpose of exhibiting Himself, His attributes; and working out His plans and purposes for the good of His people and the glory of His own great Name.
In the fullness of time, therefore, it means that when God's purpose was ripe, when the appointed hour had come, when all of history, beforehand, had prepared for the coming of Christ, at exactly the right moment, Jesus Christ was born into this world. There is nothing accidental, nothing haphazard about God's providence or His working. Christ came exactly at the right moment. There was tremendous preparation for His coming: roughly four thousand years of history had elapsed before Christ came in the flesh.
There have been two thousand years since He came, but four thousand years before He came. You can imagine how much preparation there was, how many things had to be put in their place, how many great events had to occur. But, of all the events which occurred or ever will occur on the stage of human history, none of them is in any way comparable to the greatness of the coming of Christ into this world. That is the climax of all God's great purposes. It is the high point of all His thoughts and all His designs and intentions for the world.
Before He came, great nations stood upon the stage for a while and then they were ushered off the stage. The Egyptians had their day, and the Babylonians had theirs. The Medo-Persian empire - Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes - had its day. Then came the Greeks under Alexander and they had their tremendous period of flourishing - 'the glory that was Greece' - then faded away. The Romans came in their place and then we see the decline and downfall of ancient Rome.
It was at that time when the Romans ruled in the world that the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was born. Our reading gave us that. In the days of Augustus Caesar, the very first Emperor of Rome, in his day it was the appointed foreordained purpose of God that our Saviour and our Lord should be born into this world (Luke 2). It was a stupendously wonderful event which had to be marked by the presence of many angels giving their revelation in the presence of these believing humble shepherds. Isn't it interesting the ones who receive the revelation of His coming? It wasn't to the High Priest, it wasn't to the Pharisees or Sadducees, or to Herod or Pontius Pilate that this revelation was made. It was to these poor shepherds looking after their flocks. Why to them?
The answer is because they were the people of God. They were looking for the consolation of Israel. They lived in an evil day (as we do), a day of abounding irreligion and darkness, of superstition and of immorality. That was the nature of life then. Religion had fallen upon evil days, faith was low; but these shepherds were men of faith, as there are men of faith and women of faith today in the world. It is upon them the Lord has His eye and the revelation was given to them: "For unto you (meaning, "to you who believe") is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you..." (Luke 2, 11-12). They went to see for themselves, and saw the babe laid in the manger, with the mother and the foster father.
Well, now, my very dear friends, it might seem a mystery to us. Why did God take so long before He sent His Son into the world? That's a good discussion question. I'm not pretending that we could know all the answers, of course, but it is possible, I think, for us to suggest part of the answer to that. Four thousand years of history went by before Christ came. I think Adam and Eve expected the coming of Christ almost immediately. Do you remember in Genesis God said to our first parents, after they had sinned, that from the woman would come One who would bruise the serpent's head (Genesis 3, 15). It's very interesting that at the beginning of Genesis 4, after that event, we see that when Eve gives birth to her first son, Cain, she says, "I have gotten a man from the Lord," (Genesis 4,1). It may very well be that she thought that this child was the promised Messiah. I don't think we can prove that absolutely, but there is reason to think so. "I have gotten the man," she said, "from the Lord." But if she thought this was the Messiah, she was far wrong. Four thousand years of dreary sinful human history had to take place before He came; but in the fullness of the time He came!
Why did God wait so long? All those years, years in which the greatest part of the human race lived and died in ignorance of the truth: they worshipped they knew not what (John 4, 22), they had gods of gold, and wood, and silver and stone (Deuteronomy 7, 25). Apart from the Jewish nation and a tiny trickle of Gentiles who became Jews in Old Testament times, the world as a whole lived and died in ignorance, in darkness, in superstition, and were lost - millions upon millions of immortal souls went down to the grave. Part of the answer, I believe, into the question of why God waited so long before He sent the Messiah is, I think, in order that He might show to the world the exceeding sinfulness of sin (Romans 7, 13). There are some people who don't like to talk about sin. They would rather speak about jolly things, even in the name of religion. But one of the reasons why God waited all that time, I do not think we may doubt it is, I think, because He intended the world to see what sin is, to give an exhibition and a demonstration of the exceeding wickedness of sin: the events before the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, all the cruelty that occurred in the days of the Judges (and they were the best nation alive). So I believe that's one reason why God waited. You see, you and I have a very poor view of the gravity of sin. People talk about sin as though it was just a word on paper. My friends, sin is diabolical! It is enmity against God and must be taken with the utmost seriousness. The course of human history has demonstrated that.
Another reason why God waited so long before He sent His Son is to show the inadequacy of human wisdom. In Old Testament times, in the heathen world, there were brilliant men and geniuses: men of profound learning, and insight and scientific knowledge, especially among the Greeks. They were the people amongst whom literacy and philosophy, and learning and architecture, and all these wonderful skills reach their utmost flowering and excellence. You can still see it in the statues and in their writings. They were brilliant men, learned men, profound thinkers: Socrates, and Aristotle, and Plato and all those that came after. We have many of their books still and they are worth reading and studying to this day. Their contribution was very important but their wisdom did not find the solution to the problem of sin. They couldn't solve it! All the greatest minds of all history couldn't solve the problem of sin! So God waited until it would become clear that the foolishness of God is wiser than these wise Greeks were (1 Corinthians 1, 25); that the foolishness of God is wiser than Plato, Socrates and Aristotle; and God's way of dealing with sin is the very thing that nobody ever dreamed of! It never entered into anyone's head that the way to deal with sin was the way that God would choose (which is my second heading).
How did God deal with sin? What was the way of putting sin right? Well, it is the great action that God undertook in the fullness of time - He sent His own Son into this world, born of a woman, or, if you like, made of a woman: "made of a woman, made under the law" (Galatians 4, 4).
So there are three things there. First of all, God sending His Son. What does that involve?
Second, what is meant by "made of a woman"?
And third, what is meant by "made under the law"? Jesus Christ is the Son of God essentially. We mustn't make a mistake here, as many do. When did Jesus begin to be the Son of God? The answer is, He was always so. It wasn't the incarnation at Bethlehem that made Him the Son of God. He had been already the Son of God. It wasn't His resurrection that made Him the Son of God. The Resurrection proclaimed Him to be the Son of God (Romans 1, 3-4), but did not make Him the Son of God. Jesus Christ's Sonship is an eternal Sonship. He belongs to what we call the great Holy Trinity; and in order to be sent into this world, it meant He had to take our nature. He had to become a child first, and then He had to grow as we all had to grow. He had to mature as most of us have had to mature; and He had to come to His full manhood and to live in this world.
That, then, is what is meant by God "sending His Son". My friends, never was there an exhibition of the love of God faintly comparable to this, that God sent His Son into this world. That indeed is the highest expression of His love for the world. However we understand God's love for the world, we mustn't tone it down, we mustn't make too little of it. God loved the world, says the Bible (John 3, 16), and although it's a great mystery how God could love such a world as we are, we cannot change the statement of truth. God has loved this world! And the proof is that in the fullness of the times He sent forth His Son on a great mission, and the work and the mission were to deal with sin. That was His work. Because sin is the one thing man could never solve. He had tried to, by a million different processes and methods of his own devising - none of which worked, none of which works. The method that God devised and appointed has worked and does work: God sent His Son.
"He was made," we're told, "of a woman" (text), that is to say, of the Virgin Mary (as we saw in the reading). You understand why Jesus had to be born of an unmarried woman. You understand that. Had our Lord proceeded from two parents (as all of us do) our Lord would have inherited the sin of Adam. All who are born by ordinary generation, or birth, have the sin of Adam imputed to them even before they leave their mother's womb. They are born in Adam's covenant, they have the sin of Adam reckoned to them, they have his depravity conveyed to their nature; and, therefore, there had to be a virgin birth. It was not a question of option - there was no alternative. Mankind needed a second Adam, a last Adam, a new Adam, a new root of mankind into which we were to be grafted, in order to deliver us from the consequences of the broken law or broken covenant under Adam. So, here was this sweet and marvellous mystery. The angel Gabriel appeared in a vision - or an encounter at any rate, if not a vision a real encounter with Mary - and explained to her that she was highly favoured because she was to become the mother of our Lord. What a privilege. The mother of the Son of God (according to the human nature, not according to the divine nature)!
As to His divine nature, Christ had a Father but not a mother; and as to His human nature He had a mother but not a father. So God brought this proposal to her. God did not give her this blessing without an announcement as to explain to her what it was. If you like, He sought her consent first. Oh, the sweetness of God! He did not force it upon her; He explained to her she was to have this privilege of becoming the mother of the Son of God. It was, of course, her extraordinary privilege to be the mother of the Messiah promised all through the history of her nation from the beginning. "Be it unto me according to Thy word," she said (Luke 1, 38). Immediately she began to be the mother of the Son of God! That "holy thing" (Luke 1, 35) began to be begotten within her body; and the Holy Spirit so overshadowed the growth of that foetus within her womb as that all sin would be eradicated: there was no transmission of sin from her to the Child she was to bear. Christ's human nature came from her body (as with every child, from the mother's body), but not the sin. There was no transmission of the sin because there was in this case the miraculous presence of the Holy Spirit purging, cleansing, protecting, the development of the human nature of Christ so that the holy thing which was born of her was without sin. He was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners (Hebrews 7, 26). Such is what is meant here by the Apostle when he announces that He was born of a woman, or made of a woman.
And the other thing he says about Him is that He was made, or born, "under the law". We mustn't hurry over these expressions. Our Lord, in virtue of His Godhood, is the Lawgiver; and He is above His own law, as every king is above the law which he gives. Kings are above the law; and our Lord is above the law. God is not subject unto His own law: the law is for angels and men, and all rational beings. The Ten Commandments are the moral law; they are the way we should live, which means to love God with all our heart and our neighbour as ourselves. Our Lord Jesus Christ, in His divine nature, is, and was, above the law; but - when He took our nature He placed Himself under the law, and He condescended to live those thirty-three years in subjection to the very law of which He was the Author and the Giver, so that He was obliged to fulfill all the laws of that time: all the ceremonial law, all the judicial law, all the moral law; which He did. No one could convince Him of sin, not even His enemies. They tried to find sin in Him, but they never found so much as a smudge of sin at which they could point the finger. Our Lord was sinless in every aspect of His growth from childhood to manhood to the Cross.
He said He must "fulfil all righteousness" (Matthew 3, 15). He had to keep every ordinance of God, blameless: every detail, every jot and tittle (Matthew 5, 18) - in body, in mind, in heart, in thought, in imagination. Everything was flawless and sinless and had to be! He was living a representative life. He was our Representative before the law, before God. He was living our life for us. He was achieving a righteousness by His own obedience, which would become ours. So great was the purpose of God in dealing with the sin of the world. But even that doesn't exhaust the meaning of this phrase that our Lord was "made under the law". He was made under the broken law. This was the terrible fact. He was not like the first Adam who was made under the law and he himself perfect and the law satisfied. Our Lord was born under the broken law, under the curse of the law (Galatians 3, 13). From the cradle to the grave therefore, our Lord had to suffer the consequences of the law which you and I have broken. Life in this world, for our Lord, was one long catalogue of pain, sorrow, and anguish and we should never forget that: He was "a man of sorrows" (Isaiah 53, 3). As a great preacher once said, Jesus Christ was a melancholy man. Now, some people don't like that. Some object to that. They would like 'a smiling Jesus,' they would like to domesticate Him, and to tame Him; they want to put a smile on His face, they want to make Him seem to be a man of jollity because that's the kind of man the world would love to know! People don't like sadness but, unfortunately for us, He was a man of sorrows. Every time He saw sinners sinning, it was painful.
You know the meaning of this. When you go through the High Street, or through other places, and you see people laughing their heads off, and getting drunk, and behaving foolishly (if not, indeed, criminally) it's a stab of pain. Every time you hear the blessed name of God cursed - on the radio, perhaps, or in company - it gives you a pain. You feel it's so wrong that people should be like that. Well, I say, our Lord's whole life was like that! Everything He saw gave Him pain. He was living above the angels, essentially, in His holiness; and yet, living amongst sinners like ourselves. No wonder life was a pain from birth to death. And, of course, supremely on the Cross He met and dealt with, by His death, the consequences of the broken law; and by dying for it He mended the law for His people. He repaired our relationship to the law. God sent Him forth in order that the law and the problem of the law should be dealt with.
Briefly, finally and thirdly, let me say to you there was an end in view, a purpose, an intention stated. Why did He come? Why was He sent? He was sent - "To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (v.5). This was the purpose, this was the aim and intention of God: to redeem our souls that we might become ourselves the sons of God. It is a two-fold purpose: first of all the redemption, and then, secondly, the adoption. These, says the Apostle Paul, were the consequences of the coming into the flesh of Christ.
First of all, to redeem us. The word redemption means to buy back. We were sold under sin by nature, and the payment had to be made in order to recover us. The payment was made, of course, to the justice of God. There were some early Christian thinkers who took the strange notion that Christ paid the debt to the devil. It's called 'the ransom to Satan theory'. It's nonsense! The devil was no righteous prison governor needing to be paid to let the prisoners go free. He was a usurper of the people of God. So the debt was paid to the justice of God. By His holy life and propitiatory death our Lord satisfied all the claims of law and divine justice, and so was able by His one death to redeem His people from all nations, tribes, tongues and peoples and to bring us to God. Even in this life we are not simply saved sinners. We have something above that great privilege, great indeed it would be. But we have something more: we have this further privilege as Christians in that we are in receipt of the adoption of sons.
Adoption is something more than justification. To be a son of God is more than to be a saved sinner. What Christ intended to do by becoming man was to make us the very sons of God (John 1, 12; Romans 8, 14; Philippians 2, 15; 1 John 3, 1-2); and this He did by His finished work. Every believer is now adopted into the family of God. We have a right, as Christians, to look upon God as our Heavenly Father: One who loves us with a perfect love, One who will care for us and provide for us and keep us from falling in this world, One who is preparing a glorious feast in Heaven for us when we leave this world. Adoption is a legal arrangement whereby those who were in another family are admitted into a second family. They were born into one family but by this legal arrangement which we call adoption, they are put into another family. This other family, here, is the family of God. We were all born into Satan's family, into Adam's fallen race, but Christ has both redeemed us by His blood and also placed us in this highly honoured position in which we are the very sons of God! The name of God is on us. That's why the Christian cannot behave like the world. We must behave in a manner worthy of the God who is our Father! We must remember Whose we are, and Whom we serve, and what has been done for us, because all of this was the aim and intention.
Why did Christ come into the world? It was to give us the great gift, the supreme gift of becoming the sons of God by faith in Him and in His glorious Person and work.
So, I ask you these questions. Are you redeemed yet by Christ, or are you still in Adam's family? Are you looking to the Son of God to make you a friend of heaven? Are you looking to Him to take you to heaven when you finish your earthly course? Are you relying on this Son of God for yourself? Have you understood why He came? - made of a woman, made under the law. Do you understand the virgin birth now - why He had to be born of a virgin: that He might be sinless. Are you resting your hope of eternal life upon His finished work?
These are the questions which you and I must face when we consider the wonder of His coming: such a Saviour, and into such a world.
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