Born at the Right Time

What the Incarnation Means for Us All

December 18, 2016 | Galatians 4 (“In the fullness of time . . .”)

born-at-the-right-timeTaiwan, it seems, has one of the highest rates of Caesarian births in the world, which leads to two questions.

“What are you talking about, Al?” and “Why is that?”

A Caesarian section is an operation whereby a baby is born by surgically opening the womb of the pregnant woman, usually because of some medical emergency. It was done in ancient times, nearly always at the cost of the life of the mother. I would have guessed that it was called a Caesarian birth because Julius Caesar was born that way, but that is apparently a myth. In any case, it is relatively common these days, and not terribly dangerous.

It is apparently very common in Taiwan, even when it is not medically indicated.

A study followed 150 women in Taiwan who were pregnant with their first child, and found that 93 of them had caesarean deliveries before 39 weeks, though none of them had any complications.

This seemed decidedly odd, since of course pre-term Caesarean births require more medical and surgical intervention, require longer hospital stays, cost more money and are somewhat more dangerous for mother and baby. To be clear, these were not emergency Caesareans, these were elective Caesareans by women who had never been through childbirth before.

What was going on?

Chinese astrology designates certain days as auspicious birth days — lucky days to be born. In January 2017, the lucky days to be born are supposed to be January 12, January 13 and January 28. In Taiwan, medical science was being called into the service of astrology, and women were scheduling Caesarean deliveries on the dates the astrologers deemed to be most auspicious.

These mothers wanted their babies to be “born at the right time,” and they were willing to go through a surgical procedure to ensure that.

Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “lucky baby,” doesn’t it?

Let’s pray.

* * *

We are in the midst of a short series called “Letters of Introduction: What We Learn of the Incarnation from the New Testament Epistles.” We are very accustomed to reading Matthew or Luke for the Christmas story, and John 1 gives us real insight into what it means that Jesus became a man and lived on earth, and all of the gospels certainly show us what the incarnation looked like, but there are several passages in the Epistles which give us additional insight into what happened when the second person of the Trinity became a man, and why it is significant.

Last week, Billy spoke on 1 John 1, which reads:

11 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

John says “we saw him, we heard him, we touched him — he was here”; and because of that, he says, “we proclaim what we have seen and heard, so that we all may have fellowship with each other and with the Father and with his Son.” So the incarnation, for John, leads to the fellowship of believers.

Next week Ken will speak about 2 Corinthians 8:9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich,” focusing on what Jesus gave up and why.

This week, we look at Galatians 4, where we read this short passage:

44But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father! 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

It is hard to summarize the entire book in just a few minutes, but I need to try, because we are picking it up in chapter 4, and we need to know what has gone before in order to understand these verses.

Paul is writing to a group which had believed when Paul had visited and preached to them. After he left, though, he heard some disturbing news and so he writes them a letter:

16 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel . . . .

Somehow, the Galatians, or at least some of them, had departed from what Paul had taught them in what he considered a very serious way. As you read through chapter 1 and 2 of the book it becomes clear that the “different gospel” — the different “good news” — is not good news at all, it is something like the idea that in order to be a follower of Christ, you must follow the Mosaic Law as well.

Paul says this is totally wrong:

2 16 we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Paul is saying that no one will be declared just by God by keeping the Law, by keeping the rules.

The reason for this, at its root, is that no one can perfectly keep the law:

310 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’”

Paul says, here and elsewhere, that keeping the law means keeping all of the Law.

Paul says that the Law was given by God, but it was not given to provide a path to God, instead it is given to demonstrate our need for grace. The Law is good, but it is not the good news.

311 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ 12 But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’ 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ — 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Paul uses this word “redeem” to describe what Jesus did — Jesus, says Paul, purchased his people out of their slavery to the Law that they could not perfectly keep.

Later in chapter 3, Paul points out that the Law did not supersede the promises which were made to Abraham — promises which were not based on obedience, but on faith. Paul says the Law does not replace faith as a way to God, it has a different purpose.

Paul then uses an illustration from Roman childrearing practices to illustrate the purpose and value of the Law. A Roman child, once old enough to be instructed, would be assigned a slave-attendant — a guardian — to accompany him to classes and teach him manners and make sure he was learning his lessons. That, he says, is similar to the function of the Law:

323 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

To Abraham, God made a promise, not dependant on obedience to a set of rules. The Law came and served as a guardian, but did not remove the promise.

325 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

With that pronouncement — in Christ Jews, Gentiles, slaves, freeborn, male, female are all one — Paul now turns to a last illustration in 4:1:

41 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, 2but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

He is saying that we all — Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, female — were under the bondage of the Law. We were accountable to keep the rules, just like a child in school who is bound to learn the ABCs, the rudiments, the basics, lets say the “elementary lessons.”

But that time ends for children whenever the father determines.

And now, at long last, we come to our passage:

4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father! 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

This is only four verses, but it is fairly complex, so let’s set aside everything but the core of verses 4 and 5:

44 . . . God sent forth his Son, . . . 5to redeem those who were under the law . . . .

Okay, that’s almost something I can understand. God is the actor here, Jesus is the one acted on, and the task given to Jesus was the task of redeeming those who were under the Law.

What does “redeem” mean?

The root word Paul uses here is simply a word meaning “to buy” — agoradzo — in the account of the feeding of the five thousand, when the disciples are expressing concern that the people have not eaten, they say:

“This is an isolated place and the hour is already late. Send the crowds away so that they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

Matthew 14:15. There are many, many examples like this. The bridesmaids in the Parable are unable to buy oil; when Judas throws the 30 pieces of silver into the Temple, the chief priests buy a field for the burial of the poor. In one or two places it is used of the special sense in which believers have been “purchased”:

18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6.

In Galatians 4 Paul uses a more intense version of the word — ex-agoradzo — and it strengthens the meaning so that most translations have not just “buy,” but “redeem,” picking up the idea of something purchased out of, say, slavery or debt. This is the way we talk about something that is bought back after being pawned, and other similar ideas are very familiar to us.

This is the way Paul has just used the word in chapter 3:

313 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us . . . .

44 . . . God sent . . . his Son . . . , 5to redeem those who were under the law. . . .

So God sent Christ to purchase us out of our bondage to the Law, like slaves purchased out of slavery.

Let’s add back in the rest of the verse

44 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, . . . , 5to redeem those who were under the law,. . . .

“When the fullness of time had come” is the time that the father had chosen for the schooling to be done, the time when the child was deemed prepared for adulthood.

It was, of course a “red letter day,” an auspicious day.

So God had chosen this time for Jesus to be born — when the Romans had established peace throughout much of the world, when the Greek language was nearly universal, when the Jews were hungering for Messiah to come and deliver them.

God, like a father, had waited until the time was right.

Back to Galatians:

44But when the fullness of time had come,

God sent forth his Son,

born of woman,

born under the law,

5to redeem those who were under the law, . . . .

At Christmastime, “born of a woman” reminds us of Mary, and Paul may have been making a subtle reference to the virgin birth. But more important is the fact that Jesus was human, and that he came into the world in the usual way. This is the central fact of the Incarnation, and historically the most difficult for people to grasp. Jesus is God, but is (also!) as human as you or I.

“Born under the law” reminds us of what Paul has been saying — Jesus, too, was under the guardianship of the law — “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.”

Jesus had to submit to the rules, just like the rest of us.

44But when the fullness of time had come,

God sent forth his Son,

born of woman,

born under the law,

5to redeem those who were under the law,

so that we might receive adoption as sons.

And finally “so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

(By the way, if you are female, I don’t want you to bristle at the “son” language. Part of it is cultural, part of it is the fact that Jesus was human male, part of it is that Paul is playing off the word “son” in the passage, but he just wrote “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We are adopted as equals to one another and to the natural children.)

The son born into a wealthy family might feel a sense of entitlement, but a slave would never feel that the riches of the family belonged to him. Since we were outside God’s family, Jesus was sent to purchase us so that we could be adopted.

And with that, Paul tells us about the second great sending:

6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father! 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

God does not just send Jesus, but once we have been brought into the family, he sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts.

The emphasis here is on the intimacy that the Holy Spirit gives us with God, as we cry out “Abba! Father!”

You may have heard someone say that “Abba” is the equivalent of “Daddy,” but that probably goes a little wrong — it is as intimate as “Daddy,” but it could easily be heard on the lips of a grown man speaking to his father. The point here is that the Spirit gives us this kind of intimacy with the Father.

You are no second class citizen if you have been adopted into God’s family. You are an heir, with all the privileges of an heir.

How? Why?

Because

44 . . . when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father! 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Jesus was sent by God to be born in poverty and  to die as a criminal so that we might be redeemed, adopted into God’s family, converted from a slave in bondage to the law into a freeborn child who has an intimate relation with God.

* * *

The Taiwanese mothers want their babies to be born at the right time — at an auspicious time — and they are willing to undergo a certain amount of medical risk to assure an auspicious birthday for their child.

I cannot think that Mary, mother of Jesus, thought there was anything auspicious about being told that she was pregnant before being married.

When we look at the life Jesus led, “lucky” is not the first word which would come to mind.

Nevertheless, in Galatians 4 Paul tells us that Jesus was born at the right time — in the fullness of time, when God was ready.

As Paul puts it in Romans:

56 For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. . . .

“while we were still helpless,” later he writes “while we were still sinners,” and even “while we were enemies.”

Jesus, the baby, was born at the right time, so that he could die at the right time, so he could redeem us.

While we were helpless,

while we were sinners,

while we were enemies,

we were redeemed and adopted into the family of God,

not on the basis of our obedience,

but on the basis of God’s promise and

the work of Jesus Christ.

That’s why Jesus was born at just the right time.

Christmas Day is an auspicious day . . . for us!

Let us pray.

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