Good Morning and Merry Christmas. Would you do me a favor and turn in your Bibles to Galatians, chapter 4. I want to share some remarks with you before we take the Lord's Supper. We do that a few times a year, and we thought that starting here in December as the Christmas season is before us that we would start it the right way. Galatians, chapter 4, let's pray together.
Lord, you know what we need. You've always known what we need. And you knew what the world needed at the time that you sent your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to assume a body of flesh, to pay for the debt of sin the world has incurred and continues to do so, and to give us hope of eternal life.
I realize, Lord, these are words we often hear. We hear them a lot in church. We as Christians, we know what they mean, but, Father, in this Christmas season I pray we would grasp the depth of your love for us, because some of us are experiencing some very difficult times during this season, and it could simply be the revisiting of an event that happened years ago during this time that always makes Christmas a bitter time for some.
And so we turn away from the trappings of Christmas, on to the meaning of Christmas, and we're comforted because of it. I pray, Father, that as we focus upon the purpose of the manger, which was the cross, I pray that our hearts would be stirred with just how much you love us, in Jesus' name, amen.
Do you have a favorite Christmas song? Do you? What's, what's your favorite Christmas song, Neil?
"White Christmas." It is? That is interesting. He said, " 'White Christmas,' " that is the best-selling Christmas song of all—of all time. It wasn't written until 1940. "White Christmas," best-selling Christmas song of all time. Guinness Book of World Records puts it right at over fifty million sales.
It was written in 1940, in December, by a guy named Irving Berlin. Of course, it was popularized by Bing Crosby, that soft voice. And interesting background about the song: it was written in Palm Springs, California. I checked yesterday, the high there was seventy-seven degrees. So here's Irvin Berlin sitting in Palm Springs, seventy-seven degrees outside.
He's from Russia originally, Belarus, Russia, moved to New York when he was a child with his parents. So, he's looking outside at swaying palm trees in seventy-seven degrees, and those words came to his mind: "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. Where the tree tops glisten," not palm trees, "and children listen, to hear sleigh bells in the snow." A "White Christmas," it's a beautiful song, popular song.
The theme of this Christmas season we have chosen is Red Christmas, not white Christmas, red Christmas. I know it doesn't sound quite right to sing, "I'm dreaming of a red Christmas," but I want you to get this from God's perspective. You see, from, from God's point of view it takes red to get white. The detergent that makes people white spiritually, the detergent is blood red. "Without the shedding of blood," the Bible says, "There is no remission of sins." "The blood of Jesus Christ God's Son," 1 John 1, "cleanses a man from all sin."
So we're thinking of white in terms of Isaiah, chapter 1, which was just up on the screen: "'Come let us reason together,' says the Lord, 'though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them white as snow.' "So it takes red to get white.
I've had you turn to Galatians, chapter 4; in the next few weeks we're going to be looking at some Christmas messages, but these are not your typical Christmas sermons. I've done enough of those and they're in archive.
I'm not going to be talking this year in the weeks leading up to Christmas about mangers, and shepherds, and wise men and gold, frankincense, and smurfs—I mean myrrh [laughter] as often is the case this time of the year; but I'm going to be talking about something out of Galatians, chapter 4. Three verses in particular; three verses that will be our anchor verses.
And I want to give you the theological underpinnings of the event called Christmas. So today, and next week, and the week after I'm going to be giving you some theology and some history and some philosophy, and I think you can handle it. After all, we're told to love the Lord our God with all of our mind, soul, strength. So we're going to engage our mind in this. But by the time Christmas day comes, I hope that you will be thoroughly equipped and knowledgeable more than ever before of what Christmas is really all about.
Today since we have less time, because we're going to take communion together, I want to focus in on one phrase out of verse 4. And it's the phrase, "the fullness of time," or in my version, "the fullness of the time." It speaks of the end of a period of preparation, as if to say, God was readying the whole world for this perfect moment in time. And so this week I'm going to look at "Christmas—The Right Season"; next week, "Christmas—The Right Person"; the following week, "Christmas—The Right Reason."
But let's go to verse 1 for the sake of getting the context of what it is written about: "Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world."
"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 [Jesus] Christ."
In the context Paul is simply saying, "The law of Moses that governed the Jews for thousands of years accomplished its purpose." God gave the law keeping Israel in a state of immaturity until the full picture could come. Israel failed to keep the law. All people fail to keep the law in totality, so God introduced a new era of redemption which is summed up in the phrase: "When the fullness of the time had come."
The amplified Bible puts it: "When the proper time had fully come." You might want to picture a glass that is being slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly filled up with water throughout time, throughout year, after year, after year, until it finally reaches the proper fullness. The time reached its fullness; it was the proper time, the appropriate time, the right time, the fullness of the time.
Why did God send Jesus when he did? Why not earlier? Why not in Old Testament times? Why not now in modern times? Why, why at that time—two thousand years ago? Why in that culture: Greco-Roman culture? Why to that part of the world: the Middle East, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Judea, Jerusalem, the Jews?
Why would God send the most important person ever, to do the most important work ever, at the time that he did? The answer, according to Paul, is because that was "the fullness of the time." It's the right time, and I'm going to explain that today.
There's two main thoughts that come to me in verse 4. Two main thoughts that we want to kind of wash over us today, and that is, God always keeps his appointments. Number one: God always keeps his appointments. He's on a timetable. He announces it. He always keeps it.
And number two: God's time is always the right time. God always keeps his appointments, and God's time is always the right time. God always keeps his appointments. One of the things as I notice as I read through Scripture is that God speaks a lot about the right time. He's on a timetable; he's on a schedule.
Which is interesting because God is Everlasting Father, he's the God of eternity. He's outside the realm of the time-space continuum, but we're not, we're trapped by it. So he speaks to us, condescends to our level, so that we can get it, but shows us that he makes appointments and he always keeps them.
Now, God is a God who is perfectly on time. Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, says, "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." In other words, he's never late, he's never early, he's right on time.
I had an earthly father who was quite the opposite. He meant well, but he was a busy dad. And when he said he was going to pick me up at this time, I could add about thirty minutes to it just automatically. I'd be the last kid in line or at the school. I'd be the last kid on the baseball field if dad was going to come or pick me up.
But not our heavenly Father, our heavenly Father is perfectly on time. Peter put it this way, "God is not slack," or slow, "concerning his promises as some men count slackness."
Charles Spurgeon wrote this: "There are no loose threads in the providence of God. No stitches are dropped. No events are left to chance. The great clock of the universe keeps good time, and the whole machinery of providence moves with unerring punctuality."
Now, when Jesus Christ came on the scene in Mark, chapter 1, he went down to where John the Baptist was at the Jordan River. He then went to be tempted for forty days in the wilderness and he came back, and when he came back he was starting his ministry.
And according to Mark, in that book the first words out of Jesus' mouth—get this—were these: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand." He was saying, essentially, what Paul is saying in Galatians, chapter 4, "This is the fullness of the time."
And we find references to that throughout the Gospels. When Jesus went to Cana, and he performed that water-into-wine thing. Remember his mom suggested: "Here, here; make this water into wine." And remember what Jesus said? He goes, "Woman, my hour has not yet come." He's always talking about his hour.
John, chapter 7, they tried to take Jesus by force and make him a king, but they didn't do that because the text says, "His hour had not yet come."
John, chapter 13, the Last Supper scene, Jesus gets up from the table to wash his disciples feet because it says, "Knowing that the time had come for him to depart and go to the Father." Jesus did that.
And then he announced in his most famous prayer of all, John, chapter 17, in the garden of Gethsemane, I believe that's where it was uttered, he said, "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you."
So God makes appointments and God always keeps his appointments. I just want you to think about that because in January we're going to be starting a new series on Sunday morning on the book of Daniel. And if you want to see a God who keeps his appointments, down to the day when he announces it years in advance, wait until you check out Daniel, chapter 9. God always keeps his appointments.
The second truth here is that God's time is always the right time. When the Father sent the Son into the world, it was at the fullness of the time.
Now, typically we don't even think about that. What we think about is usually BC or AD, that's how we look at time. That happened at 332 BC. That happened 312 AD. Now, what we mean by that is: BC, "before Christ"; AD, anno domini, "in the year of our Lord," that's what that means.
Now, that has been changed in recent years, have you noticed that, by secularist? It's not BC anymore; it's BCE, before the Christian era. They don't want to say "Christ," it's just before: "What Christians say is 'Christ,' before the Christian era."
Okay, whatever. You still have to admit Jesus divided time. You are still admitting every time you write a check—no document is valid—that this man came at the time that he did and split time forever. God's time is right time.
The question still remains: Why did God send Jesus when he did? What factors were going on in the world that made this time the fullness of time? Well, there are several. I have time to really only give you three. Three things going on, you can jot them down, that made that time the right time. And it was the convergence of these three that sums up in the verse: "When the fullness of the time had come."
Number one: It was the right time spiritually. Spiritually it was the right time. Historians will tell us that there was at that time a pervasive hunger in the general population of the Roman Empire for spiritual things, more than before. And one of the reasons they point to is: the influence of monotheistic Judaism throughout the Roman Empire.
When Alexander the Great took over Jerusalem in 332 BC, he told the Jews to colonize the world. He gave them that freedom. He encouraged them to spread what they believe and their culture in different parts of the world; so they did that. And so, Jews in different places in the Roman Empire with their belief system, greatly influenced unbelievers, and they were attracted to Judaism for a couple of reasons.
Jews were monotheistic, they believed in one God. Most peoples in the Roman world believed in polytheism, many gods. They were attracted to a group of people who believe there's one true Creator, almighty God, and we have a special, unique covenant relationship with him. It was very attractive to them.
There was a second reason for it. The Romans had conquered most of the world, and the superstition back then is: if somebody conquers you, their gods are responsible for it, which makes your gods inferior. So because Rome had conquered the world, all of these different people groups: Bythynia, Cappadocia, Galatia, etcetera; whatever gods they prayed to were feeling a bit embarrassed.
That: "Well, we prayed to our gods to protect us from the big bad wolf of Rome, and they didn't. They didn't protect us." So now they suddenly became open to believing in an alternative belief system.
There was another reason that the world was ripe spiritually. The Jews believed in the coming Messiah, a Deliverer, because of the prophecies of the Old Testament: "There's coming a Deliverer, a Savior, King." What's interesting about that is Romans also believed that there would be a coming savior, king, a deliverer for the Romans.
And one of the Roman poets by the name of Virgil announced that Caesar Augustus was the ideal savior, king, the one who would fulfill all of the expectations of humanity. And he said, and I quote, "This one will be the divine king bringing salvation of which the world has waited."
He said that about Augustus. So they were already open to the idea of a deliverer coming. They didn't see that as time went on with Augustus, but now they were open to it. So there was a hunger more than ever before in the Roman world.
The world was ripe. It was right spiritually, not only among the Romans, but among the Jews themselves. I mentioned that the Jews believed in the coming of the Messiah. Again, history will tell us that the expectation of the Messiah coming reached fever pitch right about the time Jesus showed up on the scene.
Let me read you a quote by a very famous rabbi; Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, who said, quote: "Prior to the first century the Messianic interest was not excessive. The first century, however, especially the generation before the destruction of the second temple, that's the time of Christ, witnessed a remarkable outburst of Messianic emotionalism."
"When Jesus came into Galilee, 'spreading the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying "the time is fulfilled" and the kingdom of God is at hand,' he was voicing the opinion universally held that the age of the kingdom of God was at hand. The Messiah was expected around the second quarter of the first century of the Christian era." Close quote.
Well, that happened to be exactly when Jesus came in "the fullness of the time." No wonder when John the Baptist was down at the Jordan River, the first question people asked is: "Are you the Christ? Are you the one we've been waiting for?" Because of that Messianic expectation.
Now, let me just tell you one of the reasons the Jews believed that would be the time. Here's one of the reasons: There was an ancient prophecy in the Book of Genesis, chapter 49, where Jacob is going to all of his kids, all of his boys and telling them about their future. All of the future of them and their progeny, the tribes that would come.
So he gets to Judah, one of his sons that will become the tribe of Judah; the tribe of which Jesus came, by the way. And he said this, "The scepter will not depart from Judah . . . until Shiloh comes." "The scepter": the right to rule, the right of autonomous rule, the right to enforce the law of Moses. "Will not depart from Judah . . . until Shiloh," Shiloh means "the one to whom it belongs." And most rabbis since that time, the time immemorial, believe that that is the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. The scepter will not depart from Judah until the Messiah comes.
So, Josephus the Jewish historian tell us that in the first quarter of the first century when the Romans took over, they took the right of tribal rule from Judah: the right to, in inflict capital punishment according to the law of Moses.
According to the Talmud, according to the Mishnah, excuse me, when that happened the Jewish Sanhedrin put sackcloth and ashes on their body, marched through Jerusalem, and this is what they were bewailing: "The scepter has departed from Judah, but Shiloh has not come." They were bewailing the fact they believe God broke his promise, and didn't send the Messiah once that scepter had departed.
What's interesting is that while they were making that little procession in Jerusalem, there was a young man up in Nazareth just about ready to lay down his carpentry tools and march down toward the Jordan River. His name was Jesus. Shiloh had come, and he was about to come on the scene. It was the right time spiritually.
Number two: It was the right time culturally. For the first time since the Tower of Babel, there was now a universal language that was governing the world; it was the language of Greek. Up until this point there wasn't that kind of universal trade language.
And the way it all started is several years before, a few hundred years before, a young boy—very, very confident young man; very, very gifted young man—by the name of Alexander, his mom thought he was great,[Laughter] thought that the world should be Hellenized; that is, become Greek. They should have the Greek culture; they should have the Greek language.
So basically, he took over the world. By age thirty-three he was, he was the ruler de facto in the world, and he managed to go as far as India and make Greek the official language of the east: vernacular Greek, Koine Greek, the language of the east. Well, he died, Rome came on the scene, and when Rome came on the scene, they made Greek the official trade language of the west.
So now you have the unification, the cohesion of east and west, so historians said you could go from Britain to India in those days speaking the same language; it was understood. Culturally it was perfect.
Now why is that important? Because now you can express ideas to people in the same language and they're going to understand it. They're all going to be on the same page together, free-flow thought and expression and ideas in the Greek language.
And by the way, Greek is the most precise instrument to convey human thought. The nouns have to agree with the adjectives. And there are seven cases for Greek nouns: nominative, genitive, ablative, dative, locative, instrumental, and accusative—all of that is in one noun.
It will tell you how it functions, and the adjective has to agree. All the verbs have tense: past, present, future. Or they also tell you: is the action continuous, is the action over, is the action intermittent. You get that from just looking at one verb.
So the verbs have tense, they have voice. They'll tell you if it's an active voice, if it's an indicative voice, if it's an imperative voice. They'll tell you what mood it is. It tells you if the action is real or potential, etcetera, etcetera. It's so very precise.
It's interesting to me that God waited culturally for the most precise language to be the language that the New Testament would be written in and conveyed in throughout the world. It was the right time spiritually; it was the right time culturally.
Number three: It was the right time politically. Who was in charge? Who was in charge politically of the world? Rome was; Rome was at its very peak, its very height.
And Caesar Augustus managed at that time, during the height of the Roman government, to establish what is called the Pax Romana, "Roman peace." A two-hundred-year span of time where there was almost a complete absence of military conflict.
Now up until that time there had been a lot of wars, there was even a temple in Rome to the god of war. That was over; now there was a peace which brought stability, which brought cultural growth.
And during that time of Roman peace, Romans built a road system. And, man, you gotta just travel a little bit over there and check it out. The Roman road system was two hundred and fifty thousand miles of roads, fifty thousand miles of which are paved by stone pavers. You can go today and see remnants in almost perfect shape of Roman roads.
So now you have a time of relative peace, and the ability to travel around the world safely and freely. Roman guards stationed at different key places in that road to protect travelers.
According to one historian, he said for Paul to do the kind of extensive traveling that he did would have been impossible after the Fall of the Roman Empire until modern times. Paul traveled, we believe, about fifteen thousand miles by land and by sea, bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever he went.
And by the way, some of those soldiers, the Bible tells us, as well as history, came to believe in Christ. So wherever they would get stationed around the world, they would bring those ideas with them.
So basically, you have the gospel in the most precise language ever, under the most ideal circumstances ever, to people who are hungrier than ever, going to places more freely than ever before. It was the fullness of the time. It was the perfect time. It was the right time.
Let me underscore it all by just saying this: By the year AD 312 every one in ten people in the Roman world, the known world, every one out of ten claimed to be Christians. That's an incredible spread from one Messiah and twelve followers, to one out of every ten people in the known world claiming to be a Christian.
"When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his Son," that's God's timing. God's timing is perfect timing. Now, I just want to comfort you and say that God's timing in your life is perfect timing. I know you don't always feel that way. A lot of times you go, "God, where are you? You should have showed up, like, last week. You had a perfect opportunity to do that, and you blew it."
I'm glad the Lord doesn't consult me when he wants to do something. We don't always understand God's timing. The people of that era didn't understand that that was the perfect time, but it was. We don't always understand it.
This could be, this season could be, this day could be God's perfect timing in your life. He might be stirring things up in you. He might be shaking things up in you; he might be bringing you to a place of comfort that you've never known before.
He might be bringing you today to a place of release and confidence and trust in him in a personal relationship, or you're going to receive Jesus Christ. This could be the fullness of the time for you. Paul put it this way: "Today is the day of salvation; now is the accepted time."
I'm going to pray, and I'm going to ask the communion board to come up when I do. But let me just say this to you: If you've never asked Jesus Christ to be your Savior, you've never invited him in, you've never surrendered your life to him, it's not been really personal with you. It's just sort of been churchy and religious to you in the past, but it's not personal.
You've never laid down your life and said, "Here, take all of me, Lord, I'm surrendering to you." If you've never done that, or if you did something like that a long time ago, you're not walking with Christ today, do it right now.
Commit your life to Christ right now, because here's the deal: We're going to pass out these elements, and if you don't know Jesus Christ personally, you shouldn't take any of these. You shouldn't have communion, because the Bible says if you do, if you take the elements, Paul said you are basically an advertisement for damnation, saying, "Over here, I don't believe in Christ, but I'm taking the body and blood," (or the elements that speak of it).
So don't do it, pass it up. If you're not a believer in Christ, if you're not born again, pass it by. Or—or ask Jesus right here, right now, to forgive you of your sin. Invite him in and then take communion with us. I think option number two is a better deal, don't you?
Let's pray together. Father, we thank you for what this means to us, and for some in a new way for the first time.
And if you're willing to accept Christ, if you are here today you can say something like this to the Lord right now, say: Lord, I admit I'm a sinner. Please forgive me. I believe, I put my faith in Jesus Christ that he died on the cross that he shed his blood for me, that he rose from the dead.
And so I turn from my sin, I leave my past; I turn to you as my Savior. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and help me to live for you as my Lord. I sincerely ask that in faith, in Jesus' name, amen.