The Fullness of Time
New Year’s Eve (Christmas 1), 2002| Rev. Rolf Preus| Galatians 4:1-7
“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 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 4:4-7
Since an old year is about to disappear forever and a new year is about to begin, it is appropriate that we consider together this evening what God has to tell us about time. Time is part of the created world. God Himself lives outside of time. The Psalmist put it this way:
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. (Psalm 90:2)
Time is measured by created things. The earth rotates on its axis and a day has gone by. The world revolves around the sun and a year has gone by. Sometimes we measure time by significant events. Isaiah’s vision recorded in Isaiah chapter six is dated by the death of King Uzziah. We often date events by the birth of children. The things of this world and our life in this world cannot even be considered except in terms of time.
Our identity is joined to events for which the dates are well known. As Lutherans we are familiar with October 31, 1517. On that date, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. The Reformation of the church had begun. As Americans, we think of July 4, 1776, when the fathers of our country declared that the thirteen colonies were independent and sovereign states.
But if we want to know what is the most significant date within all of human history, we turn to the words of St. Paul in our text. The “fullness of time” was when the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. That is when our identity as sons of God was established.
It was the fullness of time. Caesar Augustus wanted more money. This was the reason for taking a census. This is what sent Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, their ancestral hometown. It was King David’s hometown, too. King David was anointed by God to be Israel’s king when he was just a boy. From the time of David onward, everyone knew that God’s Anointed One, that is the Messiah or Christ, would be the Son of David. He had to be born in Bethlehem. He had to be born in the fullness of time.
It was the fullness of time. The religious instruction of God’s people had deteriorated to the point where God’s beautiful revelation of His love and grace had been distorted by an intricate system of rules and religious regulations by which sinners tried to justify themselves. God’s people were pining under a spiritual tyranny worse than what they suffered several centuries before while under the rule of the Assyrians and Babylonians. Now was the time for God to reveal grace and truth in His only begotten Son.
It was the fullness of time. The Greek language extended throughout the Mediterranean world. It was not the language Jesus spoke at home, but it was the universal language of that day. It was like English is today. God could not have chosen a more propitious time to send His Son into the world. When Jesus sent out His apostles to preach and teach His holy word, He also gave to them the Spirit of truth who led them into all truth. The Holy Spirit guided their hands when they wrote God’s truth with ink on papyrus in the common Greek language known all over the world. By the time Christ’s apostles had all died, all but one as martyrs, the written word of the New Testament had been written and copied in the universal language of the civilized world. There was no possible way the pure gospel of Jesus Christ could have been lost.
It was the fullness of time.
Everything that happened before the birth of Christ pointed forward to it. Everything that has happened since points back to it. Every promise God gave to our fathers and mothers in the faith from Adam and Eve onward pointed forward to “that birth forever blessed when the Virgin full of grace by the Holy Ghost conceiving bore the Savior of our race.” Every promise God gives to us in our day is fulfilled because, in the fullness of time, the eternal Son of the eternal Father was born of a woman.
He was born to redeem us. He was born to set us free. Since we were enslaved by the accusations of the law and there was nothing we could do to silence those accusations, God’s Son was not only born of a woman; He was also born under the law. It was not enough that God’s Son was born of a woman to join the human race as one of us. He also had to submit Himself to God’s law. The first act of holy submission to God’s law was Christ’s circumcision to which he submitted at the age of eight days. Since the church celebrates Christ’s birth on December 25, we observe Christ’s circumcision on January 1. Jesus did not first shed His blood for us when He sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemene or when He suffered for us on Calvary. Jesus first shed His blood for us when He was circumcised as a little baby. By that act of submission, Jesus obligated Himself to submit in humble obedience to the whole law of God given to Moses. By obeying that law, Jesus fulfilled its demands. He did not do so for Himself. He had no need to fulfill anything for Himself. As St. Paul reminds us, “In Him (that is, in Christ) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9) Jesus did not need to fulfill the law. We needed Jesus to fulfill the law. He did so for us. He did so to redeem us. He paid to the law the obedience the law demanded of us. In so doing, Jesus set us free from the demands of the law. The law may not require anything of us as a condition that we must meet in order to become the children of God. No! Jesus has met all of the demands of God’s law and He has done so for us.
Why? So that we might receive the adoption as sons. Jesus is the eternal and only begotten Son of the Father. We are adopted as sons. That is to say, we weren’t sons of God, but slaves under the law. The law not only told us what to do; the law told us what we were and what we were not. Those who are under the law are slaves to the law’s demands. The law tells them where to go and what to do. The law doesn’t enable anyone to go and do. It can only command, order, threaten, rebuke, and finally condemn. The law is holy but it can do nothing to make anyone holy. It can only show that we are not holy. If all we know from God is His holy law we cannot love God but we can only fear Him and try in vain to run away from Him. As St. Paul puts it, “The law brings about wrath.” (Romans 4:15) The law shows us that God is angry with us. In so doing, the law makes us angry with God. The law is holy and we are not. So the law of God can only leave us helpless in our sins.
We look back on 2002 in the light of God’s law and what do we see? We see our sin. The law tells us that the close of this year heralds another year of missing the mark and piling up more evidence against us. The law examines 2002 and in so doing is passes judgment on us.
So we say to the law, “Let me try once more. Here’s the list of New Year resolutions I will keep. Oh yes, this time I will! I won’t fail you this time.” But the law cares nothing about our promises. He cares only about our behavior. He stands ready to accuse. And he will. Count on it. The law will shine its death-dealing rays of judgment on your sin before you even know what you’ve done and all of your sorrow over the past and promises for the future will accomplish nothing.
But Jesus has accomplished everything. In the fullness of time, He fulfilled the law. The law presumed to put Him on trial. He, who was innocence incarnate, who was incapable of a sinful thought, word, or deed, was put on trial. More than that, the law condemned Him. Yes, it did! The holy law condemned the one and only holy Man. And that, brothers and sisters in Christ, was the law’s undoing! For whom was the law really accusing when it accused Jesus? Was it not accusing you and me? But we did not suffer. We did not die. We did not pay the price that the law demands all sinners must pay. Jesus suffered. Jesus died. Jesus paid the price that the law demands all sinners must pay. So then when Jesus suffered, died, and paid sin’s price, who was it who was relieved of suffering, death, and damnation? It was we whose sins He bore. Therefore, when the law accuses us of sin and threatens us, we can remind the law of what Jesus has done. He did it in the fullness of time and it is the Holy Spirit Himself, the Spirit of Christ, who has come into our hearts and joined us to that time. When the law says to us that we may not call ourselves God’s children because we have failed God in the past year, we tell the law to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. He silences the law. He silences the law by the promise of the gospel. It was Jesus who said, “If you continue in my word . . . you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” It was Jesus who said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Tell me: what can the law say to Jesus? How can the law argue with Jesus? Did not Jesus forever silence the law by fulfilling its demands and suffering its punishment even though He was without sin?
This Jesus is ours. He has given Himself to us. He was there with us throughout 2002. His righteousness was covering our sins and his obedience was silencing the law’s condemnation of us all. And He is here as this year closes and another begins. He is here to give us to eat and to drink the very body and blood that He once and for all offered up on Calvary to the penal justice of God. When we eat and drink this body and blood of Jesus and we believe that this body was given for us and this blood was shed for us, the law that attacks our consciences must be silent for he has no authority to level any charge against us.
Jesus did not come into this world as a new Moses. He did not come to give us God’s law. He came to fulfill that law. He came to set us free from the guilt, the terrors, and the judgment the law evoked in our hearts. He came to set us free to become God’s children. He did what he came to do and we are now, even this evening, free children of God. The law’s judgment against us is silenced. We are free. We call God, Abba, Father! We confess to Him our sins and our failures. We entrust to Him our lives, our time, and our hopes for the future. He gives us the Holy Spirit and the right to call Him Father. We can all have a Happy New Year!