Second Sunday after Christmas| Rev. Rolf Preus| January 2, 2005| Galatians 4:4-7
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 become 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.
Nothing is more pathetic than a son who desperately wants the approval of his father but cannot get it. He knows what his father wants him to do. But he just can’t do it. He keeps trying to win that ever-illusive approval, but it always remains out of his reach. Such a son cannot really love his father. He may fear him, possibly even respect him, but he cannot love and trust in a father whose approval he simply cannot obtain.
And, of course, this is the condition of every sinner who stands before God without faith in Jesus Christ. It is not enough to believe that God is our father and we are his children. This is the faith of many who don’t know Christ. We must know that God our Father loves us and accepts us as we are. We must know that we have his joyful approval of us. We must know that he regards us, not as the child who brings him nothing but disappointment because of his failure, but as the child whom he honors and to whom he gives every blessing in heaven and on earth. And we cannot know God in this way unless we know him through Christ his Son.
When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his Son.
How does God love us? Look and see how much he gave. Long before the fullness of the time had come, in fact, before time had begun, God the Father loved his only begotten Son. God is love, St. John writes. And God has always loved. Before the world was created, in eternity, God, who is pure love, loved. God the Father loved God the Son. He rejoiced in him. He honored him. He approved of him. No love of human imagination can compare with that eternal, divine love which the Father has always had for his only begotten Son. No love is more pure, more holy, more devoted, more intense. No love is broader, deeper or longer lasting.
It was this Son, this eternally beloved Son, whom God the Father sent forth in the fullness of time. At just the right time. At the time appointed by God to fulfill all biblical prophecy.
God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.
This is, as we know, the mystery of the incarnation. God the eternal Son of the eternal Father has now been born of a woman, taking on himself our human nature. And that was not all. He was also born under the law. But the law had no claim on him. The Bible says that the law was made for sinners, but this child was born without sin and remained entirely free from any kind of sin. Not only that, but he was the eternal God. He was the giver of the law. The law has no jurisdiction over God. Still he chose to be born under the law because this is what divine love required of him. The Father who had loved him from eternity now in time sent him to become one of us and to be placed under the law which we had broken.
To redeem those who were under the law that we might receive the adoption as sons.
All of us were that pathetic son who so desperately wanted the approval of his father yet could not get it. God the Son was born of a woman, born under the law, that we might receive that approval from God that we were powerless to gain for ourselves. We lived under the accusation of the law. God’s holy law accused us and it had every right to accuse us because we were disobedient to its holy demands. God’s law had every right to condemn us and that is what it did.
The law had no right to accuse Christ. It had no right to condemn him. Yet this is what the law did. Christ took our place under the law. He, the sinless Son of the Father, took the place of sinners. He, the only obedient one, took the place of the disobedient. He paid to the law what the law demanded from us. The law had no right to demand it from Christ, still Christ is the one who met the demands of the law. And the law had no right to condemn Christ, yet Christ is the one who received condemnation.
So what do we have, here? We have Christ stepping between us and the law’s demands, stepping between us and the law’s threats. This is what the Bible means when it says that Christ redeemed us who were under the law. Now we who have Christ, who have been baptized according to his command, who are trusting in him, are adopted as sons of God. Our text says sons, because the son was the heir of everything the father had. Just as Christ is the eternal Son of the eternal Father and has everything that belongs to the Father, just so we who have Christ have everything that Christ has.
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, Abba, Father!
Let us take to heart this precious truth this morning so that we can be sure of who we really are and where we really stand before God. What do you think God, your Father, thinks of you? How does he regard you? Is he, even now, putting you under trial? Or, do you have his full approval?
It is very easy for us to learn the correct doctrinal formulations and still to live as if that biblical teaching had nothing to do with us. Do we live under God’s approval or not? May we in confidence cry out to God, calling him Abba, that is, the address of a trusting child to his dad? Or should we assume that unless and until we get our act together God will stand in judgment against us?
The Holy Spirit who inspired these words of Galatians 4 is the same Spirit who has come into our hearts and established our Christian faith. He wants us to have every confidence that we do have God’s full approval, that God is not putting us on trial, that we have, right now, the full right to believe that every treasure of heaven belongs to us.
Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
Notice what our text says. It does not say that you will become an heir of you do this or that or the other thing. It says that you are an heir, right now, through Christ. It is not a promise that waits for you and me to do our share before it comes a reality. It is firm, it is true, it may be relied upon right now, and it should form the basis for everything we say and do as God’s children.
What should we do when we feel like that tormented son who so much wants but cannot get his father’s approval? To what can we appeal when we feel only God’s judgment and our sin and cannot rest secure in his love? We must appeal to the truth of Christmas, that when the right time came God’s eternal Son did indeed do what God had promised. He really did step between the law and us and he silenced the law’s judgment against us. This is the divine reality in which we Christians live. We must learn to tell the law to keep its proper place. Should the law instruct us on what is pleasing to God, we will listen. After all, don’t children want to please a loving father? And should the law tell us that we indeed deserve nothing but punishment from God we will say, “Amen we certainly do, and this is why God in love sent his Son to take our punishment upon himself.” But should the law begin to tell us Christians that we don’t have God’s approval, that we cannot be sure that we are heirs of everlasting life, that our God does not take pleasure in us and rejoice in us, then we will tell that law to keep silent. We will point the law to Christ and say: “Find fault in that man! Show me where that man has disobeyed. Point out how that man has disappointed his Father or failed to do what you demand.” And when the law cannot find fault in Jesus, we will then tell the law to cease in its judgment against us, because Jesus belongs to us, and everything he did he did for us.
We don’t pretend to have a Savior and we don’t have a pretend Savior. We have a real Savior who was really born, who really placed himself as our substituted under God’s holy law and really did deliver what we could not deliver. He really suffered and he really died, so he really did pay what we owed to God. And this gospel of Christ has really been given to us by the Spirit of Christ and because of this we will take on stand on the gospel and refuse to let the threats of the law discourage us or keep us from making the confident claim: “I am a son of God! I have the approval of God! God regards me as righteous, holy, and blameless, on account of Christ. And as surely as God’s law could find nothing in Christ to condemn, I who claim Christ my Savior cannot and will not be condemned.” We have the right to pray to our God with every confidence that he gladly hears and answers every prayer. Jesus came into this world so that we today might, in the words of the little catechism, “With all boldness and confidence ask God as dear children ask their dear Father.”
Some Christians pray for miracles. Others pray for wealth. Some pray for dramatic signs. But God gives us far greater things than these. He gives us the right to call him Abba, Father. We don’t pray in order to get God’s approval. We pray because have already have his approval because of Christ. We don’t pray in order to gain a hearing from God. We pray because Christ has already gained this for us. We don’t pray in order to change God’s heart or affections. We pray because we are indeed his holy children to whom his heart and affections were given in the manger and on the cross. We know that we are God’s dear children because the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth, tells us so in our baptism. We know who we are.
Children go astray. They forget who really loves them. They make deliberate and wrong decisions to ignore the voice of their father and mother. And Christians go astray. They ignore their Father in heaven by despising the gospel and sacraments of his Son, thereby shutting out the voice of the Holy Spirit. They forsake holy mother church, leaving behind her comfort and her love. They stand accused. They may talk about being children of God, but they don’t know what it means anymore. They have fallen into slavery. The law is their master, and he cruelly accuses them.
They are prey for every religious con artist who comes along, promising them if only they do this or pray that or go through a certain religious exercise or decision, they will find God. But of course, it is all a con. We know, brothers and sister, where our loving Father is to be found. Our Father is here with our mother, the church. He is here where Christ is proclaimed, where his gracious word and sacraments are given to us. He is here among us, inviting us to cast our cares on the one who cares for us. We are here as well. We are children who love the approval of their Father and who have it and know they have it because they have the Father’s dear Son Jesus Christ.
Since God no longer puts us on trial, we no longer put one another on trial. We look at one another as God looks at us. Since we know what it is like to feel the judgment of God’s holy law we don’t stand in judgment of our brothers and sister in Christ. Since we have received in Christ the forgiveness of all our sins, we forgive those who have sinned against us. In this way the gospel of Christmas bears rich fruit in our lives and the same love we have received binds our hearts together as one.