The Sunday after Christmas
December 31, 2017
“The Fullness of Time”
Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. Galatians 4:1-7
As 2017 gives way to 2018, let us take a look at the passage of time. We believe in him who governs time. God decided when this world began. He said, “Let there be” and there was. God decides when this world will end. We cannot bring it about or prevent it. God is the Lord of creation and time. We turn to God’s word to understand the passage of time.
God has a different understanding of time than we do. We think of the time in which we live and we see the amazing advancements in technology, medicine, and related fields. How could people who lived in the olden days get by without all of the things we take for granted? Set aside the smart phone, turn off the computer, and open up your Bible. You will learn that this is not the fullness of time. The fullness of time was some two thousand years ago when God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem them that were under the law. What does this mean?
God chose Abraham. Abraham came from a family of idol worshippers. He had no future but the grave and after that the eternal torment that comes from estrangement from God. Abraham was ungodly, that is, without God. God was gracious to him. God promised him a Savior from his sin. Abraham believed God. God justified Abraham, that is, he reckoned Abraham to be righteous, not because of Abraham’s faithfulness, but on account of his own. Abraham trusted in the God who justifies sinners who don’t deserve it. He is the father of the faithful because he believed against all evidence to the contrary. Abraham didn’t look at historical events in his own life to determine whether God would be faithful. He trusted that God would be faithful because God is God.
God promised Abraham a land that Abraham never possessed. He promised him a son that he did not give until Abraham was in his nineties. God promised him a Savior, to be born of his seed, yet born of a virgin. God kept the promises that he gave to Abraham.
Abraham had a son named Isaac. He was born of a miracle. Many years after his mother, Sarah, could not conceive, she conceived. Isaac wife, Rebekah, had twin sons, Jacob and Esau. God graciously chose the younger over the older. God tried Jacob. Jacob, with his many sins and flaws, held onto the promise of God. He wrestled with God. God called him Israel. He had twelve sons, who became twelve tribes. His son, Joseph, was a great leader in Egypt. After he died, the children of Israel suffered abuse from the rulers of Egypt for many years. They endured four hundred years of slavery – four hundred years of brutal oppression. God sent them Moses to set them free, and he did.
The people of Israel are usually considered to be the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In fact, the true Israel has always been those who believed as father Abraham believed, as Isaac believed, and as Jacob believed. They believed in the promise of a Savior who would take away their sins. Those who were biologically descendants of Abraham were not necessarily Israel. Only those who trusted in the promise were the true Israel. And these people were subjected to God’s discipline under the Law of Moses for about fourteen hundred years.
God taught his people through the laws and regulations that he gave to Moses. While they were heirs of the true freedom that comes from living under God’s grace, that is, under the forgiveness of sins, they were required to learn discipline as a people. They were heirs, but they were treated as servants would be treated. They had rules governing every aspect of life: circumcision for all the male children at eight days old, dietary requirements, worship regulations, rules about who could go where and when – all of these regulations disciplined them and prepared them for the fullness of time. That fullness of time came when Jesus was born.
Jesus fulfilled all of the rules and regulations that God gave to Moses. God’s eternal law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, was fulfilled by Christ. God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law. That he was born of a woman didn’t automatically place him under the law. The law is made for sinners. The law is not made for the righteous and the law doesn’t make you righteous. The law is made for sinners, but Jesus wasn’t a sinner. His mother, Mary, was a virgin. He had no human father. He was preserved from the stain of original sin that infects every other child of Adam. In fact, Jesus was the new Adam.
Our text says that he was born under the law to redeem those who were under the law so that we would receive the adoption of sons. This teaches us two things: first that the church is Israel and Israel is the church. Israel was placed under the guardianship of the law for nearly one and a half millennia. Israel received the adoption of sons. Israel is not those connected to the body of Abraham. Israel is those connected to the body of Christ. Abraham trusted in Christ whom God revealed to him. We trust in the same Christ. Abraham was a Christian. The faithful Israelites who labored under the requirements of the Mosaic Law while trusting in the Savior to come were Christians. We who have the Holy Spirit, who elicits from our hearts the faithful “Our Father,” are Christians.
The second thing this teaches us is that we who trust in God’s Son, born of a woman and born under the law to redeem us who were under the law, are no longer under the law. What does it mean to be under the law? And how is it that we Christians are not under the law?
The sons of God are those who have the Holy Spirit. They are male and female, young and old, rich and poor, Jew and Greek and every other nationality under the sun. They all have the same Holy Spirit who brings them to the same faith and elicits from them the true worship of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Abba, Father!” We are not slaves. The law doesn’t determine who we are and what our status is. Christ does. He who obeyed the law in our stead has set us free from the judgment of the law. God the Father has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.
Jesus says in St. John 15:26 that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. The original Nicene Creed had the words, “Who proceeds from the Father.” The Nicene Creed was written in part to combat the antichristian heresy known as Arianism. Arius taught that the Son was created, was not eternal, and was not true God. His soul-destroying heresy was popular in northern and western Europe. In response to the ongoing threat of Arianism, the western church added the words “and the Son” to the Nicene Creed, so we confess, “Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The church in the east objected to the church in the west adding words to the Creed and objects to this day to the addition of the words, “and the Son.” Whether or not the church in the west should have added words to the Creed two hundred years after it was written is one matter. The doctrine the words “and the Son” confess is another. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit does proceed from the Son. Here in our text, St. Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of God’s Son.
The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is not only the Spirit of the Father, but also the Spirit of the Father’s Son. Without the Holy Spirit you cannot know the Son of God. The Holy Spirit reveals to us the Son of God and he does so by means of the gospel that is written in the Bible, preached from the pulpit, and joined to the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Where the Spirit is, Christ is. Where Christ is, the Spirit is. The Spirit sets us free by applying to us the redemption of Christ.
The Holy Spirit rules over us by the gospel. We are not driven by the law’s demands and threats of punishment. We are free. We are children; not slaves. We are set free from guilt, from shame, from all the worries and anxieties of life. Satan cannot accuse us. Our conscience cannot condemn us. Time cannot wear out the promise the Holy Spirit seals to us. The Father of the Son who redeemed us continues to send the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. Redemption means freedom. We are free. We are free to submit to our God because he has won our hearts. We don’t earn his favor by obeying his rules. We earn nothing. We receive everything by his grace, as children receive from a generous Father.
If you try to make yourself right with God by obeying the law you will remain forever a slave, under the law’s judgment. If you try to escape the judgment of God’s law by running away from it and living a live you think is free, you will remain a slave to your own desires and will never find peace. Only Jesus can give you true freedom. The Holy Spirit gives you Jesus. As one year leaves and another begins, the Spirit of God’s Son puts us in the fullness of time. He joins us to Jesus who has set us free. There we stay and there we are ready to face eternity!
Rolf D. Preus