If you have ever heard me preach during this time of year you will recall my distaste for Christmas as a holiday season, a calendar event. I still maintain it is a distraction and a side-show for most of the people who claim to be celebrating the birth of Christ.
Even unbiblical ideas germinate in people’s minds based on the way we see and celebrate Christmas as illustrated in an account I heard of in 1980. It was December of that year but nearer to Christmas day than we are today and this deacon was praying about the violence in Jamaica then and said in Jamaican “Gawd tings bad inna Jamaica yu haffi du supn. Come dung Gawd and change up Jamaica. Come dung yuself nuh sen Jeesas cause dis a nuh pikney sitn.”
Though it spoils the poignancy of the Jamaican language I’ll attempt a translation for those of you who are not familiar with Jamaican. “God, things are bad in Jamaica you must do something. Come down God and change up Jamaica. Come down yourself, don’t send Jesus because this is not child’s play.” Jesus was still a baby in that poor deacon’s theology. Has anybody ever pulled out your baby photo when celebrating your birthday as a mature individual?
Every Christmas then preachers have to try and refocus the minds and priorities of Church folk especially.
In that regard, I want us to probe three critical issues related to Jesus’s coming.
Three issues that arise from vv. 4-5 of Gal. 4.
In the first place let us probe,
1. THE MOMENT OF CHRIST’S COMING (v.4a)
“When the fulness of time came…”
Maybe Charles Wesley would argue with me but in light of verse 4, I have a slight theological problem with the beginning of the 2nd stanza of his carol ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ which says “late in time behold him come’
This incarnation [coming-in-flesh] verse, this Christmas verse, this advent or ‘coming’ verse, comes against a very important background in the train of a very important argument that began in Gal. 3.16.
In Gal. 3.16ff, Paul is arguing about the role and duration of the Mosaic Law. He is arguing about what the Mosaic Law was given to do and for how long the Mosaic Law was intended to do that job.
Let me summarize that argument for you. The Mosaic Law, Paul says, was a temporary tutor/teacher and a filler between the Abrahamic promise and its fulfilment in Jesus Christ (3.8, 16-19; 4.1-7)
The law was given to reveal the evil of transgressions until Christ. It was designed to regulate conduct until faith. It was to act as custodian or slave-guide leading to Christ. The Mosaic Law was to act as a tutor and governor of spiritual minors until sonship.
Now here is a technical but critical point which will come up again in my final main point.
There are two different Greek words for child or children used in Gal. 3.26 and 4.1 and if you don’t know this and you are using the KJV you could be confused.
In 3.26 Paul gives the reason why we are no longer under the slave guide, the tutor, the custodian called the Mosaic Law. The reason? We are now huioi[sound=whioi, mature children or sons]. Huioi is Greek plural of huios [sound=whios].
In 4.1 he is showing who we were before maturity came and he uses another Greek word for child or son which means ‘infant, under age child/son, ‘likkle pickney’ in Jamaican, that Greek word is nēpios [sound=naypios], the plural nēpioi.
So then Gal. 4.1-3 speaks of the reality of the 1st century Roman Empire – a tutor is appointed by a father to guard the infant’s person, a governor is appointed by the father to guard the likkle pickney’s property until the infant comes of age.
Spiritually, the world was like an infant, a likkle pickney prior to the coming of Christ.
‘When the fulness of time came’ suggests the Divine blueprint, God’s involvement in and control over the succession of moments and events that we call time.
Daniel 9. 24-27 had prophesied that 483 years after the edict (the royal order) to rebuild Jerusalem, Messiah as Prince would appear and so he did.
The moment of Christ’s coming was ‘in the fullness of time’.
The Mosaic Law had done its preparatory work well, showing that all needed grace.
The moment of Christ’s coming was ‘in the fullness of time’.
Jesus was born during what was called the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, established by Emperor Augustus in 17 BC. The Pax Romana (or Age of Peace) “remained comparatively undisturbed until the time of Nero [54-68]” especially from the fire of Rome in AD 64 and the Jewish–Roman war from 66-70. Travel for missionaries of the gospel would be relatively easy because of the tremendous road network in the Roman Empire. Despite the fact that the Romans were rulers of the then known world, Greek was the universal language and was utilized in the spread of the gospel.
The moment of Christ’s coming was ‘in the fulness of time’.
Let’s move now to the second main point. The text suggests not only the moment of Christ’s coming but as well,
2. THE MANNER OF CHRIST’S COMING (v.4b)
“…God sent forth his son…”
The verb used in this section of the text is important. The verb is a compound verb meaning that Jesus was sent out from the presence of the Father as the ambassador of the Father on a special mission.
Christ’s coming was no vacation away from home, no earthly time of cooling out. He came on special mission.
The manner of His coming ‘sent on special mission’ should radicalize and revolutionize how we celebrate His birth. The manner of His coming should force us to contemplate my final point which we go to presently.
But before that let me mention the section of the text saying he was ‘born of a woman, born under law’.
Jesus was incarnate, in flesh in the human race. He became human, real human, fully human though not merely human. Jesus was born ‘under law’, that is, subject to the Jewish legal system as any other Jew, until Calvary.
The manner of His coming is a challenge to all of us about the cruciality of sensitivity to God’s purpose, God’s plan and God’s priorities.
The manner of His coming? He came on mission. Are you any at all involved in that mission?
Finally, we explore not only The Moment of Christ’s Coming, not only The Manner of Christ’s Coming but as well,
3. THE MOTIVE FOR CHRIST’S COMING (v.5)
“…so that He might redeem…so that we might receive…”
When Christ came, the moment, is linked to how Christ came, the manner, and must be linked to why Christ came, the motive.
He came that He might redeem us – this is an emphasis on salvation, but there is a peculiar edge to the word translated as ‘redeem’. To redeem is a figurative expression meaning ‘to buy out of the slave market’.
Being under the Mosaic Law spelt servitude and slavery. Look at Gal. 3.10, 13-14 in light of our text in Gal. 4.5.
Jesus Christ came and died to secure our salvation, our redemption but the text adds another thought ‘that we might receive the adoption as sons’.
There is just one compound word in Greek translated as ‘adoption as sons’.
Now let’s see what you remember of the Greek lesson on son and child I gave you earlier. Christ came that we might receive ‘adoption as sons’. Which word for son do you think is used here, nepios or huios?
The word is huiothesian – because of Christ’s redeeming work we are no longer nepioi (infants) under the law but we are huioi (mature sons), under grace. So its adoption as mature children!
Giving a holiday was not the motive for Christ’s coming, salvation, redemption was the motive for Christ’s coming.
The moment of Christ’s coming was neither incidental nor accidental. He came at the right time when the Law had done its preparatory work well showing that all needed grace. He came when there was one language that almost everyone knew to aid the spread of the gospel. He came in fulfilment of the prophetic time-line in Daniel 9.
The manner of Christ’s coming has nothing to do with a holiday, a break from normal duties but relates to a special mission from the Father.
The motive of Christ’s coming is challenging. He came to save you to redeem you and give you the benefits of sonship.
This Christmas then if you celebrate with consciousness you must face the personal questions “Am I saved, am I redeemed, have I received sonship?”
He left His home for you, question: is there room in your heart for Him?
©Rev. Clinton Chisholm November 29, 2020