Dad called a family meeting and proclaimed, “Christmas is going to be different this year.” He challenged them to be more disciplined in their time management during the busy season and to curtail excessive spending on gifts. He talked about having a more congenial atmosphere in their home and better relationships with visiting relatives. And he brought his speech to a climax with a final rally cry, “Let’s make this the best Christmas ever!” Then he asked, “Any question?” His second-grade son raised his hand and said “Dad, I don’t see how we could ever improve on the first Christmas?”
That little boy’s complaint is the burden of this sermon.
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when a teenaged virgin gave birth to the infant-God?
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when a star led the Magi from the East to worship the baby Christ?
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when King Herod went into an infanticidal rage upon hearing of one who was born King of the Jews?
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when an angel of the Lord proclaimed to a group of lowly shepherds: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when an angelic choir sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
No matter how special the gifts you receive or how good the food you enjoy or how warm the fellowship you experience, your celebration of Christmas today can never measure up to that day when Joseph’s virgin betrothed wife gave birth to the Son of God. In fact, your celebration will ultimately be meaningless if it does not flow from your understanding of, faith in, and gratitude for what happened on that first Christmas Day. If you do not acknowledge, believe, and reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas, you will miss the beauty of this day in the clutter of trees, gifts, parties, food, and eggnog. The good news of Christmas is essentially and inextricably tied to the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the Incarnation is succinctly explained in the creedal statement of Galatians 4:4-5 – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” These two verses teach four aspects of the good news of the Incarnation.
I. THE TIMING OF THE INCARNATION IS GOOD NEWS
The first promise of the coming of Jesus is recorded in the Genesis 3:15. Addressing the Serpent who deceived Eve, God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal.” Centuries later, in Genesis 12:1-3, God promised Abraham that he would have a son through which all the earth would be blessed. Several generations later the promise of the coming Savior was given in the words of Genesis 49:10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God promised David that one day he would have a son on his throne whose reign would be everlasting. And in Daniel 9:24-27, the prophet was given insight into the exact time frame when Christ would come to earth.
The Jews knew these prophecies. And even though they may not have fully understood them, they understood enough to have a deep desire and great expectations for the imminent advent of the Messiah-King. When the Old Testament ends the promise is not fulfilled, even though it is repeated many times. In fact, between the end of the Old Testament in Malachi and the beginning of the New Testament in Matthew, God stopped talking. And when the ministry of John the Baptist began, there had not been a prophetic voice for over four hundred years. When Jesus came on the scene, the Jews – who were under Roman occupation – were desperate for the arrival of the Messiah. It seemed as if God was sitting on his hands, dragging his feet, and wasting time. But that was just from the limited viewpoint of earthbound creatures. Galatians 4:4 declares the truth about the timing of the Incarnation: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.”
The Incarnation of Jesus took place according to the sovereign schedule, providential orchestration, and perfect timing of God. Christ was born in the fullness of the time. Admittedly, we do not and cannot know for certain that Jesus was actually born on December 25. But even though we may not know the exact date of Christ’s birth, his coming into the world was so significant that it split history into B.C. and A.D. The life of Christ is the hinge of history. Jesus is the blending of deity and humanity. He is the intersection of earth and heaven. And he is the meeting pace of time and eternity. And the Bible affirms that he invaded history in the fullness of the time, at the right time, at the appointed time.
• It was a time of prophetic fulfillment.
• It was a time of religious fervor.
• It was a time of international peace.
• It was a time of moral decline.
• It was a time of cultural harmony.
In the fullness of time, God sent his Son into the world. The Incarnation was no last minute solution for sin. It was not a hastily thrown together rescue mission. It was not too early or too late. It was the fullness of the time. The good news proclaimed in the Incarnation is that God’s timing is perfect. Because God is God, there are no such things as accidents. Nothing just happens. Everything happens according to God’s sovereign will, schedule, and timetable. And God’s timing is perfect. He is never late and he is never early. He is always right on time. God proved that ultimately by sending his Son in the fullness of the time.
Jesus will come again in the fullness of time. The Old Testament believers were waiting for the Messiah to come. As New Testament believers, we are waiting for the Messiah to come again. Yet the church still wrestles with the same doubts, questions, and impatience. When will the Lord come again? Why has the Lord come again yet to rapture the church, consummate the kingdom, and judge the world? Is there a reason why the coming of the Lord is being delayed? 2 Peter 3:9 answered, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” God’s timing is perfect. And Jesus will come again in the fullness of time. But the Lord is delaying because he is being patient toward those who have not repented of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ. In his mercy, the Lord is giving the lost time to defect from the life of sin and to run to the cross to put their faith in blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.
WHEN HE SHALL COME WITH TRUMPET SOUND
OH MAY I THEN IN HIM BE FOUND
DRESSED IN HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ALONE
FAULTLESS TO STAND BEFORE THRONE
II. THE SOURCE OF THE INCARNATION IS GOOD NEWS
Verse 4 says. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” This clause, “God sent forth his Son,” tells us how much the Incarnation cost God. The term sent forth means to send forth or to send away. It was used to refer to sending an army off to war, commissioning a person for some duty, or even banishing someone. Paul uses it here to speak of the source of Incarnation: God sent forth his Son. This statement assumes the Preexistence of Christ. Christ is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father. And when a Savior was needed to be man’s substitute, God sent his own Son. When a Savior was needed, God gave us his very best. When Adam and Eve rebelled against the government of God, and humanity needed a Savior to restore us to right relationship with God, God did not send Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Isaiah, or Jeremiah. God did not even send an angel. God sent forth his Son.
Matthew 21:33-46 Jesus tells of a landowner who planted a fully equipped vineyard a leased it to tenants. When the season of fruit came, he sent his servants to get his fruit. But the tenants beat one, killed another, and stoned another. The master of the house sent more servants. They did the same to them. Finally, he sent his son, thinking, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they plotted, “This is the heir. Let’s kill him and have his inheritance.” And they killed his son outside of the vineyard. Then Jesus asked, “What do you think the owner of the vineyard is going to do to the tenants when he comes? Everyone knew the answer. Then Jesus quoted scripture to back up his parable: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
When the religious leaders heard these things, they perceived he was talking about them. They would have arrested him on the spot, but they feared the crowds. At least the religious leaders understood the theological implications of Jesus’ life and ministry. If Jesus claimed to be a wise rabbi, a mighty prophet, a miracle worker, a social reformer, or a revolutionary leader, they would have known how to deal with him. But Jesus claimed that he was the Son of God and that God will make sure that everyone answers for how they treat his Son. This is still a scandalous idea. Some ask, “Why did God sent his Son? Did Jesus have to die on the cross? Couldn’t he just declare us forgiven?” The answer is no. To ask this reveals that you do not understand how sinful your sin is to God. Our sin offends the holiness of God and Jesus is the only who is able to satisfy God’s righteous demands. So God sent forth his Son to pay the penalty for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
III. THE MANNER OF THE INCARNATION IS GOOD NEWS
A little girl heard sounds in the dark and became afraid. So she rushed into her parent’s bedroom, begging to sleep with them. They refused. Instead, they prayed with her and sent her back to bed, instructing her to remember that God would be with her. She went back to her room and tried to sleep. But it didn’t work. So she went back to her parent’s room, only to be sent away again with the reminder that God was with her. So she went again to her room and tried to sleep. And, again, it didn’t work. So she made her way to her parent’s room one more time. They were less patient with her this time. “Didn’t we pray with you?” they scolded. “Didn’t we tell you that God was with you? What’s the problem?” Her reply was classic: “God doesn’t have any skin on him!”
Before the Incarnation, every method God used to declare his love for humanity was misunderstood. God didn’t have any skin. So his expressions of love – like the Law of Moses, for instance – were viewed as acts of divine tyranny. But in the Incarnation, God perfectly declared his love for us. He spoke in a language that we could understand. He did so by becoming one of us. In fact, that is what the term Incarnation means: “in the flesh.” God took on human form. Paul put it this way: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” Think about that. The statement, “God sent forth his Son,” can only be said of one person – the Lord Jesus Christ. But the phrase “born of woman” can be said of every one of us. So much so that it is ridiculous for Paul to point out that Christ was born of woman if he was no more than a mere man. But the fact is that on Christmas the eternal Son – the second Person of the undivided Trinity became human in the Person of Jesus Christ.
• God became a fetus.
• The creator of life was created.
• He who is larger than the universe became an embryo.
• The omnipotent one made himself breakable.
• He who had been spirit became pierceable.
• The ancient of days became of the infant of days.
• He who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.
The question of the ages is how can one get to know God personally? In Jesus’ day, the answer was shockingly simple: You know him the same you get to know anybody else. You walk up, shake his hand, introduce yourself, and ask how he’s doing. Matthew 1:23 says, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call his name ‘Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’” Jesus is the God-Man – fully divine and fully human at the same time. He was born. He grew. He lived. He ate. He drank. He slept. He cried. He even died. The God who fills the universe imploded and became a baby who, like every other infant who ever lived, had to learn how to walk and talk and dress himself. In the Incarnation, God’s Son deliberately handicapped himself, exchanging omniscience for a brain that learned Aramaic, omniscience for two legs and an occasional donkey, and omnipotence for arms strong enough to saw wood but too weak for self-defense. God became a human being.
IV. THE PURPOSE OF THE INCARNATION IS GOOD NEWS
Salvation comes through faith in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. So the Incarnation is essential to salvation, because it affirms the Person of Christ – who he is. But we must not forget that the hope of salvation rests in both the Person and Work of Christ. The Incarnation alone does not save. According to the Bible, Calvary – not Bethlehem – is the center of Christianity. MARTIN LUTHER hit the nail on the head when he described Christianity theology as “THEOLOGIA CRUXIS” (a theology of the cross). Yes, we praise God for the virgin birth, irreproachable life, matchless teachings, astonishing miracles, and moral example of Jesus. But all of these wonderful things would have availed nothing for our salvation had they not found their consummation in his perfect atoning sacrifice on the cross. So why verse 4 proclaims the timing, sacrifice, and manner of the Incarnation, verse 5 proclaims the purpose of it.
A. THE REDEMPTION FROM SIN
Verse 5 says that God sent forth his son in the fullness of time “to redeem those who were under the law.” The word redeem means to release by paying a ransom price. It is a commercial term that was used of buying slaves or purchasing the freedom of slaves in the marketplace. That is the picture of our sinful condition. In John 8:34 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Sin is bondage from which we cannot get free through our own goodness, wisdom, strength, merit, or resources. Without a Redeemer, the bondage of sin will separate us from God for both time and eternity. In John 8:35-36, Jesus declares, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The only way you can avoid the holy wrath of eternal judgment is if the Son sets you free. That is the purpose of the Incarnation. Jesus was born with an assignment from the Father to die on the cross, where his blood would be the ransom that sets us free from the bondage of sin and its consequences.
• If information was our greatest need, God would have sent an educator.
• If technology was our greatest need, God would have sent us a scientist.
• If money was our greatest need, God would have sent an economist.
• If pleasure was our greatest need, God would have sent an entertainer.
• But our greatest need was salvation, so God sent us a Redeemer.
Matthew 20:28 says, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Colossians 1:13-14 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:12 says, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” And 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” The blood of Jesus was the purchase price for our redemption from sin.
• He stood before God with all our sin on him that we through faith might stand before God with none of our sin on us.
• He who was righteous was judged as unrighteous that we who are unrighteous should be judged before God as righteous.
• He was made for us all that God must judge and by faith we are made in him all that God cannot judge.
• At Calvary, Jesus paid a debt he did not know for those who owed a debt we could not pay.
• On that cross, God treated Jesus as if he had committed all of our ss so that he could treat us as if we had practiced all of the righteousness of Christ.
B. THE ADOPTION AS SONS
The doctrine of redemption is three-dimensional. First of all, we are redeemed from something (the bondage of sin and its consequences). We are redeemed by something (the blood and righteousness of Christ). But we are also redeemed unto something (the adoption as sons). Verse 5 says that the purpose of the Incarnation is “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” A man would redeem a slave for only one of two reasons: to set him free or to personally enslave him. But a man would not redeem a slave, take him home, and make him the heir of his estate. But that is the good news of the Incarnation. God dispatched his Son to the marketplace of sin in order to set us free from the bondage of sin. But the grace and mercy of God did not stop there. In Christ, God redeems us and adopts us. The moment you are saved, God takes you from slavery to sonship. He adopts you as his own.
John 1:11-12 says, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God.” Romans 8:15 says, “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 Ephesians 1:5-6 says, “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
Do not confuse adoption with regeneration. Regeneration is the act of the Holy Spirit taking a heart that is dead in trespasses and sins and making it alive in Christ. It is the radical change God makes in us so that we can know, acknowledge, and believe the gospel. But adoption speaks of the resulting relationship with God enjoyed by those who receive regeneration. We are adopted into God’s family. And we are adopted as sons. Do not let the desire for inclusive gender language cause you to miss the blessing of this text. Galatians 4:1-3 says: “I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” In spite of sin, God has always had children in this world. But they were under bondage. So how would God move his children from where they are to where he wants them to be? Galatians 4:4-5 answers: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” God does not want you to be a slave. So in redemption, he doesn’t just make you his child. He puts you in the place of a son. He makes you an heir. He gives you access to riches, rule, and righteousness.
BLESSED ASSURANCE, JESUS IS MINE
OH WHAT A FORFEIT OF GLORY DIVINE
HEIR OF SALVATION, PURCHASE OF GOD
BORN OF HIS SPIRIT, WASHED IN HIS BLOOD
In closing, let me point out one more word in the text. It is the word “receive.” We receive the adoption as sons. We are not forgiven because we deserve it. We are not saved because we work for it. And we are not redeemed because we earned it. Independent of any good works we do, God adopts us into his family through the agency of Jesus Christ and his perfect atoning sacrifice on the cross. The good news of the Incarnation is that in order to be saved all we have to do is receive by faith what God has doe for us through his Son – Jesus Christ. Only a phony god would be pleased with our self-righteousness. Only a temperamental god would be satisfied with sacrifices. Only a puny god would be impressed with our pain. Only a heartless god would sell salvation to the highest bidder. And only a holy, sovereign, and gracious God would step out of eternity into time and do for us what we could never do for ourselves. That is what God did for us.
The evangelist, BILLY SUNDAY, was helping workers take down the tent after a meeting, when a young man came running in. Out of breath, the young man said, “I wanted to come to the revival, but I missed the meeting. But please tell me, what must I do to be saved?” Sunday responded, “You’re too late,” and kept taking down the tent. The young man responded, “Just because I missed the meeting, you’re not going to tell me how to be saved?” Sunday answered, “No, you’re too to do anything to be saved, because Jesus did it all almost two thousand years ago. Now you must receive the finished work of Jesus Christ.” What good news! Because of what Jesus did on the cross, you do not have to do anything. God has offered salvation free of charge through the offering of his beloved Son. So do not try to earn his love. Just receive it.