The Fullness of Time
Sunday after Christmas| January 1, 2006| Rev. Rolf Preus| 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.”
The law that God gave to Moses was the best law anyone ever gave to anyone. Nobody has been able to improve on it. Even those who don’t know Moses or the Ten Commandments will often put together standards of conduct that imitate the standard that God set down for Moses and the children of Israel. There can be no improvement on perfection. There can only be imitation. Of course, the imitation is never as good as the original.
God gave this law plenty of time. He gave the law to Moses about 1400 BC. For fourteen hundred years God’s people were subject to the Law of Moses. They never did obey it, not even one of them. The law curbed violence. It taught virtue. It trained the people in a devout way of life. Not once, however, did the Law of Moses give life. Rather, it dealt out death.
Years came and went. Children were born, they grew up and had children of their own, they grew old, and they died. They all died. The law saw to that. The law killed them. Everyone who dies dies because the law says so. God said to Adam, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) When Adam and his children die, they die because the law of God requires it. You may not disobey God and live. The law condemns you to death for your disobedience.
This is how we must understand time. Listen to Moses, to whom God gave the law, describe the passage of time. He writes in Psalm 90:
You turn man to destruction and say, “Return, O children of men.” For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is passed, and like a watch in the night. You carry them away like a flood. They are like a sleep. In the morning they are like grass which grows up. In the morning it flourishes and grows up. In the evening it is cut down and withers. For we have been consumed by your anger. And by your wrath we are terrified. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance. For all our days have passed away in your wrath. We finish our years like a sight. The days of our lives are seventy years, and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knows the power of your anger? For as the fear of you, so is your wrath. So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:3-12)
A year comes and goes. A century, a millennium, and time flies by. What does it take in its wake? Death! Your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, you, and me. We die. We all die. And so the law of God has its final word. Time proves that the law of God is not just idle words. Time deals out death, and death is the exclamation point of God’s law. Look at it and see for yourself that God is not fooling when he tells us how we must live. As the hymnist says:
Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.
The sons of time are the sons of Adam. They are the sons of disobedience. They have not loved God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind. They have not loved their neighbors and themselves. They have bowed down before idols made in their own minds. They have used God’s name to cover up their own sin. They have despised God’s instruction. They have dishonored their parents. They have fought and hurt and killed. They have broken the marriage vow. They have taken what belonged to others without fair payment. They have lied about their neighbors. They haven’t been satisfied with what God gives, but have insisted on more and more. And they die. Every one of them dies. They die because they deserve to die.
Time bears them away. Their graves are forgotten. Their memory disappears. Even among the most famous of them, truth and fiction are blended together into myth and nobody really knows who or what they were, except for one undeniable fact. They are dead. They sinned against God’s law. That’s what killed them.
As we watch time flow by and our lives with it, we stop to look at what happened in the fullness of time. God sent forth His Son. It was not just at the right time, but it was in the fullness of time. The time was right, no doubt. Jesus was born at the perfect time for the advance of the Christian faith throughout the world. The Christian gospel took deep root in an Empire that was soon to expire, and with its death the Church of Jesus Christ would be extended throughout the world. So it was most certainly the right time. And it was the time that the prophets had foretold. God directed the affairs of men for the purpose of making his promise come true.
But St. Paul calls it the fullness of time because it is in Jesus that all time has been fulfilled. Jesus was born of a woman, as all of us were. But His birth did not place Him under any law. He is the Son of God! He is over the law. But He chose to place Himself under the law. He did this so that He would redeem those who were under the law and to make them sons of God.
Jesus is the Son of God because he is begotten of the Father from eternity. Christians are sons of God by adoption, and it is only through Jesus that we are adopted as God’s sons because Jesus has redeemed us. Jesus is not the Son of God because of anything that has happened. He did not become God’s Son in time. He is “begotten of the Father before all worlds.” Christians are sons of God because of what has happened.
And what happened? The lawgiver placed Himself under the law that He had given. The law that dealt out only death would now stand in judgment of the Prince of Life. And so it did. God’s holy and immutable law of love examined this man’s heart, soul, strength, and mind. The law could not find anything in His heart that was not pure. The law could not find anything in His soul that was not devoted entirely to the service of God. The law could not find Jesus ever weakening in resolve to do everything the law demanded. Even when He sweat drops of blood as He faced the agony of abandonment on the cross by his dear, eternal Father, Jesus prayed that the Father’s will be done, even the will that requires that He, the innocent, suffer as if He were guilty.
And so He did. He suffered. He who was born without any taint of original sin and who never gave in to sin and so could not be condemned by the law to die nevertheless was condemned by the law to die. The law struck Him down and killed Him.
His obedience for our disobedience. His life of love for our lives of sin. His innocent death for our guilty deaths. He redeemed us. He took our place. He purchased us back from the grave. As surely as time passes by like an ever-rolling stream so we are headed for death. But in the fullness of time Jesus came and stopped it. He stopped time in its tracks.
Now, consider, dear Christian, your sins or this past year. Consider all your regrets. What promises did you break? What bad habits took hold of you again and again? As you are a year closer to the grave, what have you done that makes you fear the grave as the dreaded punishment God requires of every sinner?
Now look at your death, looming even larger, coming even closer, and see where it has gone. It was taken away by Jesus. Yes, your death is no more. The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law. Now look at Him who was born of a virgin, placed Himself under the law, and obeyed it. Look at His holy life. And when the law points you to the grave, you tell the law that he has met his match in Jesus. When the law tells you that God is angry with you, you tell the law to accuse Jesus. That the law cannot do. When your own conscience makes you afraid – afraid of God and afraid of death – you silence your accusing conscience with the words of the Holy Spirit. He tells you that you are a dear child of God. He tells you that the life Jesus lived he lived for you and the death Jesus died he died for you. This is the voice of the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of truth who cannot tell a lie.
This is the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son. He teaches us to cry out, Abba, Father! Only the Spirit of Jesus can give us this confidence, because it is only by the obedience of the only begotten Son that we are adopted as sons.
And we are. We are sons of God. He calls us sons. Not only may we call God “Father”, but we may also claim all the treasures of the household. Male, female, young, old, rich, poor, life long Christian or recent convert, great theologian or simple child, all Christians are sons of God and share the same treasure. That treasure is life.
Let time roll on by and take all of its sons away. When he comes to take us, we won’t be taken, because we have already been taken by Jesus. Let time march on and bring to destruction all the children of men. We are the sons of God. Our Lord Jesus has met the demands of God’s law. He has borne for us the pains of death. His innocence met our sin on Calvary and blotted it out. Now the passage of time is sanctified for us. We can remember the Christian loved one with the joyful assurance that God has set a time for our reunion in heaven. There will be no death there. What we have today by faith will be ours there by sight. Who can imagine the joy we will feel? We will have a greater joy than any child ever felt at Christmas. For we will be filled with the treasures of God’s love in Christ forever and ever. Then time will give way to eternity. Amen.