In the Fullness of Time, God Sent His Son
December 25, 2016 | Andrew Davis
Andy Davis preaches a verse by verse expository sermon on Galatians 4:4-7. The main subject of the sermon is God's perfectly timed sending of the Son into the world.
It's a different kinda feel, isn't it this morning? Or nearly, obviously, we have Christmas on a weekday or some other day than Sunday, but it's kinda fun to be here with all of you, and I'm glad that you have decided to spend your Christmas morning with us, part of it. And I love Ross was praying this morning and talking about us as a family of families. Isn't that great? And as Chris was just praying a moment ago, we have that feeling of having been adopted even as the text says, into the family of God. And so, we are not alone in this world, we have brothers and sisters in Christ, and so, welcome. I'm delighted to share this Christmas morning with you.
This morning, we began, maybe, I don't know, a new family tradition, some of you have different traditions, maybe at this time you would be, I don't know, drinking eggnog and opening gifts and sitting by a crackling fire and just enjoying all that. We were sitting by a crackling fire this morning in a whole new way. One of my kids found a way to stream a crackling fire into our Smart TV. So we were there on the flat-screen TV, and it was really kind of amazing, I don't know who found that out, but that was pretty cool. At one point, Christi asked that we turn it down. So I said, we can just put the fire on mute for a while if you'd like. And that was pretty cool. And there's no cleaning up or any of that kinda thing, we're in a whole different age now of streaming fire, so I don't know if this gonna be a tradition, one year doesn't make a tradition, but it's just a different kinda feel, isn't it? You know, we're all different. We celebrate Christmas differently, we have different traditions, we have different ways of doing that, and there are different reactions. I was listening as Walter was reading the Christmas story and just looking at the different way that characters in that story reacted to the news.
And I get the feeling that the shepherds reacted with great exaltation, they went back glorifying God, that everything was just as they had been told. But then you've got Mary quietly pondering these things in her heart, and I think both of them... Both of those ways of celebrating are fine. And the joy that comes in knowing that Christ has been born.
O For a Truly Spiritual Celebration of Christmas!
And so, we're gathered together today to celebrate that, and you're here in a church, and so it's right for us to focus on Christ. Many of us use that expression, the holiday spirit, or the spirit of Christmas, I was thinking about that this week. And the word spirit, and what does it mean the season... The spirit of the season, etcetera? I think it's an attitude of mind and heart that knits the population together in some loose way. And there are just different aspects of that holiday spirit, there is a secular aspect, and there is a sentimental or traditional or cultural aspect, and then there's a sacred or a spiritual or scriptural aspect.
That's the most alliteration you'll ever hear from me in my life, and that's not even the outline of this sermon. But I was just thinking about these different things, like secular, is just that spirit of the age, and Christmas is a big part of it. And I was amazed when we were missionaries in Japan, to see a lot of the outward trappings of Western... The Western-style of Christmas there in Japan. I'll never forget just walking through a Japanese Mall, and here are all these young Japanese men and women who were there working for the mall, and they were dressed up like elves, and they had the Red Caps and that whole thing, and we're hearing the seasonal music, Silver Bells and Jolly Old St. Nicholas and all that. And I realized, I mean, at that point, the Japanese people were the largest, single largest unreached people group in the world, less than I think 1% of them were evangelical Christians. So it's a completely lost nation on the outside of Christianity looking in, and that's why we were there, and we were delighted to be working for the gospel there, but there was all the outward trappings of Christmas in a very secular sense.
And I experienced that just a few days ago on Friday. I made the vast mistake of driving the Streets at South Point at 3:00 in the afternoon, like, I guess half of the rest of you were there too, I must think most of you are there because I've never seen so many cars in that place in all my life. And it took us like, half an hour just to leave. They didn't want us to leave, I guess, it was just hard to go. And it was just a vast sea of cars and humanity and people buying last-minute gifts and all that, so that's that secular spirit, and we all understand what that's about. And then there's that sentimental side. And so, when I think about the sentimental side or the cultural side of Christmas, I think about just all of those traditions that we have, and you have family traditions, but we in the West, in the English speaking world, we have cultural traditions that are just part of growing up in America or in England, the Western, the English style.
I think a lot of that came through Victorian England, merry old England, 19th century. I did some research on this, I didn't realize that at the turn of the century, from the 17th... No, the 18th to the 19th centuries, just around 1805, 1810, somewhere there, Christmas was nothing in England. I think that might have been the hold over the effect of the puritan view of Christmas as not being something that Protestants should celebrate. And so, it was just a completely nothing holiday. Nobody did anything for Christmas in the early part of the 1800s. But then Queen Victoria came in and everything changed. She had a German Prince that she married, Albert, and he brought in a lot of traditions from Germany, and a lot of those things that are part of our culture, our Christmas celebration came into England at that point, such as the Christmas tree, the lighted Christmas tree and it was literally lighted with candles, which I think, unbelievable danger, but they thought it was worth it. And you think, on every branch, there is a lit candle. Probably in the palace, they were able to have people watching it 24/7, but anyway, that was the lighted Christmas tree, came in, in that era.
And there were magazines that were very popular in England at that point that would show depictions of the Royal Family and how they would celebrate. So there were candies on the tree and different other decorations on the tree. There were gifts under the tree, and a lot of those traditions came in maybe from Germany or maybe they just started them at that point. Christmas carols were big and started to become... Christmas cards, all of those things have come over into our culture, in a huge way.
It was around that time in 1843 that Charles Dickens wrote his famous classic Christmas Carol. And recently, Calvin and I had the opportunity of streaming the actual book. I'd never read... I had never read A Christmas Carol. I've seen three or four different depictions or adaptations, but to listen to Dickens...I mean, the words that he put, he was just a genius at the English language and just a great rich narrator. And just listening... And there were aspects of that story that are almost always cut out of the movies, maybe just they didn't want it to be too long. But I zeroed in on The Ghost of Christmas Present, and he takes this wretched miser, Ebenezer Scrooge on a kind of a trip, a spirit trip, kind of a city-wide and maybe even somewhat worldwide tour of Christmas to unfold all the happiness that Christmas brings to people all over the land. And the Spirit Himself is this overwhelming giant, this huge being with a big booming voice and a powerful personality. And he takes Scrooge on this kind of mystical spirit flight through the streets of London to drink in all of the holiday cheer, as they go from place to place. As they're clearing away snow, a snowball fight breaks out and it's all of good cheer. This is right in the Christmas Carol. And then you're brought to a meat shop selling all manner of meat, which only Dickens can describe. I mean, like, five lines of different meats and the way they were prepared, and the rich descriptions of the meat shops. And then the grocery shop, crowded with shoppers buying last-minute things and then leaving their packages there accidentally on the counters, and then coming back in. And all of these details about Dickens and the way he would see Christmas. And I think Dickens zeroed in on the human interaction, so he would go to the houses of the poor and see how the Christmas spirit brightened their otherwise drab experience. Like the Cratchit home as we know and you see what their meager fees did to lift their spirits. And the Spirit had a torch by which he sprinkled sparkly things down, and then the Christmas spirit, the holiday cheer spirit would just infuse the situation. And all of this joy and mirth and temporary alleviation of suffering would come as a result.
He took Scrooge to a distant desert moor, where the miners lived out their bleak existence and a poor miner and his large family broke out into a Christmas song. And there was this joy because of the Christmas song. Or to a distant coastline, where there's these crashing waves and there's this remote lighthouse, and there's just two men, and they're toasting each other with a Christmas toast, and they're singing, they break out in a song. And then we move out across the heaving waves and there's a ship and the master of the ship is there, and all of these crew members, and each one is saying something about Christmas or singing something or thinking happy Christmas thoughts. To Dickens, this was the essence of the Christmas spirit, eat, drink, and be merry.
And as I thought about that, I thought, you know, actually, that is a great gift from God, isn't it? Honestly, every gift that we experience, every good thing there is in life comes from God. Every good and perfect gift, James 1:17, comes down from the Father of the heavenly lights, and he never changes, like shifting shadows. I love that verse. So it is a blessing for us to partake in these things, to enjoy them, to enjoy food, friends, and family, and fun. That's alliterative too. I didn't realize that. It's just happening today. I don't think it's ever gonna happen again. But all of these things are just following, the enjoyment of being together, the anticipation of a gift and opening up and somebody giving it to you, and just the excitement of that, I mean, it never ends. But what about tomorrow, when it's not Christmas anymore? What then?
You know, what about the rest of the year? What about next year? What about the rest of your life? What about eternity? What does that spirit, the sentimental spirit do for you then? And I would say nothing, it doesn't do anything until it returns again next December. Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. And as I was thinking this morning, I think it must have been really excellent bread, must have been, if you can even think this is possible, the best fish you could ever eat. Some of you know why I have to hesitate to say that, but some people like fish, and if you like fish, that was the best fish you could ever have. I think this because when Jesus changed the water into wine, it was exquisite wine, high quality, but what happened the next day? They're the people seeking Jesus out the next day because they want their bellies filled again.
And Jesus said in John 6, Do not labor for the food that spoils, but for the food that lasts or will feed you for all eternity. And this, The Son of Man alone can give you. So, the Christmas joy of Charles Dickens, every detail of it is actually gift from God, but I look on it somewhat like scraps that fall from the heavenly table. That's all it is. If that's all it is to you, it's just scraps that fall from the heavenly table. God has so much more to give you than that, so much more to give you. Yes, that, we Christians can enjoy all of those same things, but we know that there's something infinitely better in Christ, and that's the gift of salvation that we celebrate.
So, I wanna lift our minds and our hearts up to the sacred celebration, the sacred spirit of Christmas, the scriptural spirit, the Holy Spirit. And unlike the ghost that is in Dicken's novel, The Holy Spirit really wants to lift our hearts and move us to a different time, back in time to see. And we can go to prophetic scripture, as we've already talked about, we can go back to the Apostle Paul's writing, which we're going to do in a moment in Galatians 4, but the Spirit wants to lift you out of the immediate circumstances to something better, and he ultimately is gonna bring you to Christ, not just the baby in the manger, but Christ the Savior, Christ the risen, exalted ruling Savior. That's the journey that I wanna take you on. Because for us as Christians, what we're celebrating here is a theological mystery, it's something we will never fully be able to articulate or understand, maybe the greatest theological mystery in the Bible, and that is the mystery of the Incarnation, how God, the infinite God of the universe, the second person of the Trinity became human, became flesh, became Immanuel, God with us.
As John 1 says, in the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. And we have seen his glory. That's what we celebrate. And so this... The more we meditate on this, the infinite majesty of the God of the Bible, the God who created the universe by the word of His mouth and the breath of his power, that God who has eternally existed in three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, that God, there is nothing in all creation that we can use to compare to God. There's nothing like him in creation. And God the Son reigned in glory with God the Father before he was born, working with the Father and the spirit in a very mysterious way. Created the universe, God the Son. His power is infinite, his glory is so overwhelming that even the holy Seraphim who have never committed any sins were covering their faces and their feet as they served him.
And yet this infinitely holy, powerful God laid aside the outward trappings of His majesty and came to Earth as a humble baby. Athanasius, who wrote on the incarnation, several centuries after Jesus said this, the Lord did not come to make a display, He came to heal and to teach suffering men. For one who wanted to make a display, the thing would have been just to appear and dazzle the beholders, but for him who came to heal and to teach, the way was not merely to dwell here, but to put himself at the disposal of those who needed him, to be manifested according to as they could bear it. Not vitiating the value of the Divine appearing by exceeding their capacity to receive it. In other words, we couldn't handle a full disclosure of his personhood, of his glory, and so, He lowered Himself to what we could handle as we came to understand by word alone and by the Spirit, that He is God.
The Fullness of Time
So we've come to celebrate this mystery by the power of the spirit in a study of His word. So turn in your Bibles to Galatians, chapter 4. And we're going to look at what Paul writes there and walk through it briefly this morning. You've heard the text already, but let's look at it again. It says in Galatians 4:4-7 when the time had fully come, or in the fullness of time, God sent His son, born of a woman, born under the 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. So we begin as we just walk through it with the phrase in the fullness of time. Or when the time had fully come. I like the fullness of time. The idea here is the purpose of history, that history has a very intentional purpose in its unfolding. That history is a story that is unfolded logically and theologically, from beginning to middle to end, it's not willy-nilly, it has a purpose, it's rational.
And many question whether there is a purpose to life, whether there is a purpose to history? Shakespeare and his suicidal character Hamlet, through his character Hamlet, said this, history is nothing but ‘a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing’. In other words, everyday life, and then the stringing together of days like that, history is utterly meaningless. It's like the ravings of a lunatic, that's what Hamlet thought. But we Christians know better, we know that it's not the ravings of a lunatic, everyday life has meaning and all of history has meaning. And there is a consecutive unfolding of history from the mind of God lived out on the pages of history, right up to this present moment. We believe that history is a magnificently complex tapestry filled with significance and meaning, a narrative first established in the sovereign mind of God, and then unfolded from the mind of God established before the foundation of the world, then unfolded in space and time in history by His sovereign power.
Isaiah 14 puts it this way, ‘This is the plan determined for the whole world. This is the hand stretched out over all nations, for the Lord Almighty has purposed and who can thwart him, his hand is stretched out and who is able to hold it back.’ This is the plan, this is the hand. Also in 1 Corinthians 2:7, Paul writes, ‘We speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden’, listen to this, and ‘that God destined for our glory before time began.’ It's incredible. So, history has a purpose, and we go beyond that, there's a consecutive unfolding of history. The idea of an Alpha and Omega, and every letter in between, a sequencing. And so, Jesus said in Revelation 22:13, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega. I am the first and the last, I am the beginning and the end.’
So Jesus is history, he's the point of history, he's every day in between the first day, the last day, every day. History means nothing, it really is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, if there's no Jesus. But he ultimately is history in every sequential day, so he's the beginning, the middle, the end. And Galatians 4 tells us that Jesus was born in the fullness of time. Or you could think of it like a piece of ripe fruit, when the fruit was ripe and ready for the picking, it dropped off into the hand of the one who picked it. Before that it wasn't time, it wasn't ripe yet. It wasn't the time for the Messiah yet, but at the right time, in the fullness of time, Jesus came in the fulfillment. So, God was waiting for precisely the right moment for Jesus to come.
Now, we are continually questioning God's wisdom on this, and we wonder why he's doing what he's doing in history, especially if you're going through afflictions, going through suffering. You don't really understand what is God waiting for? Why doesn't he do what he can do? Why doesn't he bring the healing? Why doesn't he bring the money that we need so desperately? Why doesn't he bring a spouse into my life? Says a single Christian man or woman. Why doesn't he bring the child? Says the childless couple who's praying and waiting and wondering. But for the Jews as a nation, they were waiting, especially for the Messiah to come, the anointed one, the Son of David. When will he come? How long, O Lord, how long must I wait, forever? Psalm 13:1. When is it gonna come?
And you think about Jewish history and all the things they are going through under gentile domination, think about after the Greeks dominated and took over that part of the world, then Alexander the Great died, and then other Greek kings came along and there was this wicked king named Antiochus Epiphanes, and he was blaspheming, and he was wicked. And he was doing all kinds of evil things, and the Jews were wondering, when would the Messiah come? But it wouldn't come for another two centuries.
John Calvin said this: We could ask why God delayed when we were all lost and condemned the moment Adam fell. Why did he wait? Why did he not give the remedy sooner? Paul, however, has no interest in satisfying men's curiosity, said John Calvin. Paul, therefore, puts us in our place when he says that the fullness of time had not yet come. What does he mean by the fullness of time? He is referring to a time that God had appointed according to his will, and not a time that man would choose simply because men are not competent to judge the best time. "We must submit to God and delight in what he has established." Calvin's right, we're not qualified to choose the time for anything. And how much less than when the Messiah would break into human history. It was the fullness of time.
So, this is a sober lesson for all of us. I just wanna stop and apply it right now, just be patient and submit to God's mighty hand in your life. He knows the best time for all the biggest events in history, like Jesus coming into the world, and He knows even the best time for the smallest events that seemingly are insignificant, like a sparrow falling to the ground, and even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So, he knows the best time for all of those things. Trust Him. Wait patiently. Submit under God's mighty hand and wait for him in the fullness of time. Now, why was that the right time? Well, we can only speculate. God didn't say why it was the fullness of time, he just said that it was. We could try to wonder why. Perhaps it had to do with the rise of the Roman Empire.
John McArthur answers the question this way, why is it the fulness of time? It was the right time religiously, the Jews had come back long since from their exile to Babylon, they had repudiated the idolatry that had led to the exile, they had set up a system of synagogues in which the laws of Moses were read all over that region of the world, so it's the right time religiously. He also said, MacArthur did, that there had been sufficient time for us to realize the law couldn't save us, that we couldn't keep the precepts of the law to the end of our own salvation. The Jews had had plenty of centuries to prove that the law couldn't save anybody. So it was the right time for the Old Covenant to end and for the New Covenant to come.
He also said it was the right time culturally because of Alexander the Great's conquest in that part of the region, almost everyone in that part of the world spoke Greek, so there was a cultural-linguistic unification of that region that made it easier to preach the gospel. And then the Romans came along with their genius for engineering and organization, and the Pax Romana came, and the Roman peace, and there were great Roman roads and an economic system that unified and so we can surmise that might have been why it was the right time. At any rate, it was the right time and the fullness of time. Everything about Christ and his timing has been planned, and even after he was born, there was a timetable to his life. You know how the number of times that the Jews would try to seize Jesus and arrest him and like in John's Gospel, it said his time had not yet come. But then in John 17, at last, he prays, Father, the time has come.
And so there's a timing for Jesus's death, and there will be a timing for the second coming of Christ as well. All of us are eager for the second coming, we're saying, Amen, come Lord Jesus. Maranatha come. We're looking forward to the second coming of Christ, but we wanna know when. And we're not the first generation of Christians that were wondering that. Actually, the apostles were wondering that. And then 40 days that Jesus spent with them, they're asking about timing. Acts chapter 1, Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? Jesus said It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you'll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth. So you may wonder why the delay? What is he waiting for?
God Sent Forth His Son
In 2 Peter 3, Peter says, He's waiting for people to come to repentance and find salvation. Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, that's 2 Peter 3:14. So that's what the timing is. So in the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son. Look what it says there, in the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son. Jesus was sent by the Father. He didn't take it on himself to go, he was on mission from the Father, and the Father sent him forth, is a very emphatic Greek word here. He was sent forth by the Father, sent out, a heavenly ambassador, a heavenly apostle sent forth from heaven. John 3:17 says, ‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him’.
So God sent forth his Son. And so, the saving initiative comes from the Father, just as God looked with compassion on the Jews when they're in bondage, they're in slavery in Egypt. You remember that in Exodus 2, it says, it's very powerful, the Israelites groaned in their slavery and they cried it out and they're crying for help because of their slavery, it went up to God, and God heard their groaning. And he remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And so God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. Talking there about physical slavery, the torments of being under the slave master's lash. But now expand that worldwide, God was concerned about the bondage, the slavery of the entire human race.
In Galatians 4:3 it says, ‘We were in slavery under the elemental principles of the world’. A difficult expression, but there's a demonic sense to that. We were enslaved to demonic forces of wickedness. We're in bondage to sin, because Jesus said, ‘Everyone who sins is a slave to sin’, and we were enslaved to death, we were certainly going to die and there was no hope. So we're in slavery, and God looked on our bondage and was concerned about us and sent forth his Son. Sent forth his Son. So Romans 5:6 says, ‘You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless’. Think about that word, powerless. ‘Christ died for the ungodly’. Powerless. Or another passage in Matthew 9, it says, ‘When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd’. We're powerless, we're helpless, we were enslaved, and so God sent forth his Son, the greatest gift, the greatest love gift he could ever give, he sent to the world in his Son Jesus.
At Jesus's baptism in Matthew chapter 3, as Jesus came up out of the water, there was this voice from heaven saying, ‘This is my Son, my only Son, whom I love’. It's a sense of the Father's tremendous affection, the infinite affection of the Father for the Son, that's what he gave to us, that's the love gift of Christmas. And who is he? Well, in Hebrews 1:3, ‘The Son is the radiance of God's glory, and He is the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word’. Colossians 1 says ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation’. Colossians 2 says, ‘In Christ, all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form’. That's what he sent to us, the fullness of deity in bodily form. And he couldn't have sent us a greater gift.
Romans 8:32, ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also along with him graciously give us all things?’ What does that mean? In the economy of God, in the pricing of everything, there's his only begotten Son and everything else in the universe, and the logic of Romans 8:32 is, if he didn't spare his Son, he wouldn't hold back anything else in the universe. So in other words, Jesus is worth more than all the universe to God. That's what he sent, his only begotten Son. And the text says he was born of a woman, born under the law.
Born of a Woman, Born Under the Law
So here we have, as I said, the mystery of the incarnation. The Son of God, Son of Man in one person. The focus here in the phrase is, he's born of a woman, and this must bring us back in our minds back to the beginning of human history, back to the Garden of Eden, when Eve was being tempted by the serpent, you remember, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is there, the fruit on the tree, and she took some of that fruit and ate it and gave some to her husband who was also with her, and he ate it, and then God came and brought judgment at that moment. And God spoke this word to the serpent who had tempted them, saying, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed or offspring and hers, he will crush your head, you will strike his heel. So I think this is why Paul uses this expression, born of a woman. This is the fulfillment really of the first prophecy ever made about Jesus. The seed of the woman who had grown up and crushed the serpent by the head. And so, she was his mother, he was born in that way, in the natural way.
And so Jesus got his humanity from his mother in a very mysterious way. And you may say, How could this be? That's the very thing that Mary wondered. You remember when Gabriel came to say that this Holy One who would be born of her would be called the Son of God, and she said, How can this be since I'm a virgin? And the angel Gabriel answered the question as far as we can possibly understand. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, so the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. So that's the most explanation we're going to get. You know, in any biological conception, you've got a human baby with 46 chromosomes, and 23 come from the father and 23 come from the mother, so we must imagine, I guess that the 23 that would have come from the father came in some mysterious way from God through the Holy Spirit, that's as far as we can go.
To Redeem Those Under the Law
He's born of a woman, and it says also that he was born under the law, and friends, this is absolutely vital to our salvation. Jesus was a Jew, he was circumcised on the eighth day, he obeyed the law of Moses his entire life. He was born under the law, he walked every day under the law, he lived under the law, he died under the law's condemnation, as a substitute. And so, the essence of the law here is its relentless commands for perfection, perfect obedience to God, that's what the law demands of us. This is the righteousness that comes from the law. The man who does these things will live by them. That's the only way that the law could save you if you perfectly obey every precept of the law every day of your life.
1 John 3:4 says, ‘Everyone who sins breaks the law. In fact, sin is lawlessness’. James 2:10, ‘Whoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles at just one point, is guilty of breaking all of it.’ That's the relentless demand of the entirety of the law, every jot and tittle, every little pen stroke is over us, our whole lives. And Ezekiel 18:4 says, ‘The soul who sins will die.’ So it's the death penalty for violating the law of God. It's relentless. The Apostle Peter called the law a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear.
Now, there's the ceremonial law, like circumcision and the dietary regulations, and the animal sacrificial system, all of those, the ceremonial aspect of it. Charles Spurgeon wrote about that. The Jewish nation of old was under the yoke of the law. Its sacrifices were continual. Its ceremonies were endless. New moons, festivals had to be kept, jubilees had to be observed, pilgrimages made. In fact, the yoke was too heavy for feeble flesh to bear. The law followed the Israelites into every corner. The law dealt with him upon every point, the law had to do with his garments, his meat, his drink, his bed, his board, and everything about him. Relentless. And that's just ceremonial law. What about the moral law?
‘I am the Lord your God, he said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And the second law is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself.’ That's the moral law. It's a perfect thing. It's beautiful. We just can't keep it. We haven't kept it. We haven't loved God every moment of our lives, and we have not loved our neighbors ourselves. We have not obeyed the law. And Jesus, in his teaching, took it, impressed it right into our hearts. You have heard that it was said in the law, ‘You shall not murder, but I say, if you're even angry with your brother, you're in danger of the fire of hell’. And you've heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery, but I say that if you even look at a woman lustfully you commit adultery in your heart.’ No one can keep this, and that's why it says when Jesus was born of a woman, born under the law, he stepped under that law for us and walked under it every day of his life perfectly.
Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin. He kept the law. Jesus himself said about himself, John 8:29, ‘The one who sent me, God, is with me, he has never left me alone because I always do what pleases Him.’ Which of us could make that kind of a statement? I always do what pleases Him. I pictured Jesus like a mighty Samson. Remember how Samson, this powerful warrior who picked up the jawbone of a donkey and killed a thousand Philistines with a jawbone of a donkey, and I picture Jesus fighting off every temptation every day of his life, and they all lie dead at his feet, everyone. Or picture Samson in Hebrew, and I think he was. And he gets up and picks up the city gates, remember that? And carries the city gates up the hill and throws it over the hill. That would have been something to see. So here's this one greater than Samson, living under the law every day of his life.
Some time ago, I read the book about Louis Zamperini called Unbroken. You probably saw the movie and one of the climax of the movie, Louis Zamperini was a pilot in World War II whose plane went down in the Pacific and then floated in the Pacific for many days, was captured by the Japanese and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp, and there was a particularly sadistic guard named Watanabe, who was just after Louis Zamperini, particularly. He was a masochistic, sadistic man to everyone, but especially to him. And at kind of this climactic scene, he makes Louis Zamperini hold this 6-foot-long wooden beam over his head, threatening him with a beating. A guard stood right near if he should lower it, and he was just trying to break him. And he stood there, Louis Zamperini stood there under this massive weight for 37 minutes unwavering. It's unbelievable.
If you don't think it's hard, just get two books of normal size, hardcover please, or maybe Encyclopedia Britannica, then hold them straight out like this. After about three minutes, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about as the lactic asset starts to build up in the arms. And this guy is unbelievable, 37 minutes straight over his head. But at some point, at some point, the relentless pressure of the weight is going to cause those arms to buckle. There's not been a single human being in history that has stood under the yoke of the law perfectly, except one man, and that's Jesus and his doing so is essential to our salvation. He won for us perfect righteousness that he is just now offering you as a gift, and if you don't have that perfect righteousness that he's offering you as a gift, you will not survive judgment day, you'll be condemned to hell.
But if you, by simple faith, receive through faith in Christ, the gift of perfect righteousness, he'll give that to you, at the same moment taking all of your guilt and wickedness and the ways you have not kept the law, and he died under the wrath of God for you. That's justification, that's salvation. That's what Jesus came to give us. Tim Keller put it this way, ‘Jesus lived the life we should have lived, and died the death we should have died’. And John Owen said this, ‘The Lord Jesus fulfilled the whole law for us.’ He did not only undergo the penalty of it due for our sins, but he also yielded to God that perfect obedience which the law required. Christ's fulfilling of the law in obedience to its commands, is no less given to us as a gift for our justification, then he is undergoing the penalty of it as well. It's a double gift. Our guilt gone; his righteousness given. Simply by faith.
Now, the text ends with this beautiful phrase, ‘to redeem those under the law that we might receive full rights as sons.’ So look what it says, ‘When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law’, to redeem those under the law, to buy us out of slavery, redeemed from bondage to sin, redeemed from the condemning power of the law, that we might receive the gift of adoption. Look at verse 5, this is the ultimate purpose of Christmas. Just look at it right on the text, ‘to redeem those under the law that we might receive the full rights of sons, the rights of adoption. Because you are adopted 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 an heir.’
That We Might Receive Adoption
So here, going back to the original illustration. The spirit of Christmas, the ghost of Christmas present, and all of this rich physical, sensory blessing, all of those things are gifts from God, but they're mere scraps falling from God's table. He doesn't want you crawling around like a dog, eating scraps off the ground, he wants you to sit at his heavenly table forever as an adopted son or daughter of God, that's what Christmas is about. He wants to give you the rights of sons and daughters of the living God. In order to do that, he had to redeem you from the Law's curse, and he did that at the cross, and he wants to give you the power of a whole new life, which he has won for you by the power of the Spirit, through his resurrection. He wants to put his resurrection life in you by the power of the Spirit. That's the gift that he gives us at Christmas.
So, applications, just celebrate in a scriptural way. You're gonna celebrate in a traditional way, and that's fine. Enjoy your family today. Enjoy fun, have some friends over, enjoy the food, enjoy the good gifts, but realize these are just mild foretaste of a heavenly joy that God wants to give you so celebrate in a scriptural, spiritual way. Meditate on the phrases of this passage, this was actually a pretty easy outline to write, just read it. So it's like phrase, phrase, phrase, phrase. Just walk through Galatians 4, just do that. Just go back through the text and say, these are powerful things. In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those in the law so we might receive full rights as sons. Just go phrase by phrase, and meditate on each one.
And then delight in Christ's perfect obedience to the law. He ran in the path of the law for you. And now he is by the Spirit calling you to follow him. Psalm 119:32 says ‘I run in the path of your commands, for you set my heart free.’ So we are now enabled to obey the moral law by the power of the Spirit, let's do it. Pretty soon, 2017 is coming, a whole new year, a chance for a fresh start. Why don't you make 2017 a year in which you grow in sanctification more than any other year of your Christian life, in which you put sin to death more by the power of the Spirit than you ever had before? Don't settle for anything. Grow in holiness and follow Christ in holiness, and delight in your true wealth. Enjoy the food, enjoy the gifts and all that, but understand these are just a foretaste of the real wealth. The real wealth is God himself. In effect, God is saying there's infinitely more where that comes from, and the streams all come back to me. God is your life.
And finally, I just wanna invite those of you who walked in here this morning, knowing yourself to be outsiders, knowing that you have not yet committed to Christ, I just wanna invite you today, you've heard it before, but I wanna invite you to come to faith in Christ. I wanna urge you, even right now as you're listening to my words, to repent of your sins, to acknowledge that you have violated the law like all of us have and that you have no hope on judgment day. But the real joy of Christmas is that God sent a Savior for you like he said to the shepherds. Today in the city of David, a Savior has been born for you. And by faith, receive him into yourself as your own Savior. Close with me, if you would, in prayer.
Father, we thank you for the beauty and the truth of Christmas. We thank you for its spirituality. We thank you for its theological depth. Lord, we do thank you for all of the temporal gifts that we enjoy. We thank you for the food, and we thank you for the joy and the celebration of the spirit of the season, and we're grateful for it and we should laugh and enjoy the lights and enjoy the beauty and enjoy the day, but we know it's very quick and temporary. Father, we want a joy that lasts day after day. We wanna walk in joy by the Spirit. So give us the ability by trusting in your word and by the power of the Spirit to do that, and I pray for those that know themselves to be lost, that they would trust in you and call out to you for salvation, even now. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen