Hugely significant incidents in life sometimes are described in very simple language. I am old enough to remember the shock in our household upon hearing the words on the radio, “The King is dead!” when King George VI passed away in 1952. However there was another very significant king whose birth was referred to in very simple terms in Galatians 4:4. In this verse St Paul is looking back to the Christmas event. But simple language is enveloped by majestic language as he writes, But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son… . As we approach another Christmas season we should look at those majestic words to see what we can learn about the King who was described in these terms as He came at that first Christmas.
1. Jesus came at just the right time (in God’s timetable). “when the fullness of time had come”, verse 4. We may give human reasons why the time was right for Jesus to come. For example there were these factors. There was a common language at that time. Koine Greek was the lingua franca and the language in which the New Testament was written. There had been a spreading of Jewish people throughout the known world and many synagogues had been built in various places. These were places where Jesus and Paul and other missionaries exercised part of their ministries. There was also the pax romana, a peace throughout the world of that time so that it was possible for people to travel safely. Roads had been built which made travel both easy and safe.
But only God knows why He chose that time. Human timetables do not always correspond with God’s timetable, something we need to remember as we pray. As Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The birth of Jesus came at exactly the right time, in His plan and purpose.
2. God the Father sent His Son into the world. “God sent forth his Son”. It shows that the initiative for the salvation of humankind comes from God Himself. The magnitude of the Christmas event is that God sent His only Son. Not an angel. Not a robot especially built for the occasion, but His beloved Son.
3. His birth was unique. born of woman. His birth was both natural and supernatural. Natural in the sense that He was born like other humans, of a human mother, Mary. Supernatural in the sense that the conception leading to the birth was from the Holy Spirit and not from a man. It means that He became a real human person, not a ghost or an apparition. He became flesh and blood like other humans.
4. He came to belong to the people of God. born under the law. His birth in this way had been planned from eternity. God’s people throughout the ages had been prepared for His coming. They were a people “under the law”. They were to obey it and to live by it. But they failed to live as they should. But He as the TRUE JEW did live by it. Perfectly. By His life He fulfilled the law of God in perfection. It meant that no one can ever get right with a God by attempting to obey the law. A man had done it! Jesus! Now there was a new way of getting right with God. It was through faith in what He had done in His life, death and resurrection and the benefits deriving from that ministry.
5. The purpose of His coming. (5) to redeem those who were under the law. The word for “redeem” is εξαγοράζω (exagorázō) which means to set free, to release. It is found only 4 times in the NT. Twice it means to buy back (redeem) time, Eph 5:16 and Col 4:5. But the other 2 references have a much deeper meaning. In Gal 3:13, the expression is “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’.” It means that Jesus came to set people free from the law’s curse. The law pronounced judgement on those who broke it. Jesus as the innocent One bore the penalty that was due to all of us as He died on the cross for sinners. He died in our place as the Robertson’s Word Pictures Dictionary puts it, “We were under (hupo) a curse, Christ became a curse over (huper) us and so between us and the overhanging curse which fell on him instead of on us. Thus he bought us out (ek) and we are free from the curse which he took on himself. This use of huper for substitution is common in the papyri and in ancient Greek as in the N.T. (Joh_11:50; 2Co_5:14.)”.
The word here in Gal 4:5 is used simply as “to redeem those under the law.” The emphasis in this passage is to place the focus on the result of that redeeming, that is, the possibility of adoption into the family of God.
6. The result of His coming. Our adoption into the family of God. so that we might receive adoption as sons. The term “adoption as sons” is just one word in the Greek, (υιοθεσία or huiothesia). It is only used in the Bible on 5 occasions. The other references are in Romans, in 8:15 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!” and in 8:23, And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies, and in 9:4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.
The other reference is in Eph 1:5 which helps give meaning to these references in Romans and to our text in Gal 4:5. Eph 1:5 reads he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. What this verse tells us is that God had chosen people to belong to Himself from all eternity. It was always His will. That will was fulfilled when Jesus redeemed His people through His death on the cross, through His resurrection and His ascension to heaven. There He received the gift of the Holy Spirit which He poured out on His believing people.
7. The Privilege we can enjoy. Personal Intimacy with God. (6) And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” The gift of the Holy Spirit was not just an objective truth to take hold of. Rather it was an experienced reality in which the recipients of the Spirit were inwardly motivated by the Spirit to cry out in personal intimate terms to God. The experience gave one the sense of belonging. To a Heavenly Father. To One whom they could trust like a young child trusts his or her earthly father.
8. Our new status before God. (7) So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Paul wants His readers to take hold of the freedom Christ has won for them. They weren’t meant to serve God with the mentality they were slaves. Rather as they lived for God they were to have the mentality that they belonged to God as His children. Indeed heirs of God. As Paul wrote elsewhere, they were fellow heirs with Christ, Rom 8:17 and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.
SUMMING UP. No wonder so many people, when they hear the words of Gal 4:4 being read out, when the time had fully come…, have a deep sense of excitement within them. They know they will be hearing in the words that follow, the gospel in a nutshell. That Christ came and died for them. That God adopted them into His family. That Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit to indwell them and to give them a deep sense of His grace and love for them. No wonder they feel like crying out, “Abba Father”! Not just at Christmas. But every moment of every day!
Simple words in Galatian 4:4. But what depth of meaning is found in every phrase that follows!
May you and your loved ones this Christmas know the joy of belonging to Him and become the recipients of His amazing grace, love and His indwelling presence by His Spirit.
Blog No. 136. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Sunday 15th December 2013