“Christmas is going to be different this year,” the father proclaimed during an impromptu family meeting. He then challenged his children to be more disciplined in the management of their time during the busy Christmas season to curtail excessive spending on gifts. He talked about better relations between visiting relatives and a more congenial atmosphere around the house. He brought his speech to a climax with a final rally cry, “Let’s make this the best Christmas ever!” Then he asked, “Any questions?”
His second-grade son quickly raised his hand. With a sense of bewilderment, he said, “Dad, I don’t see how we could improve on the first Christmas!”
That question is the burden of this sermon.
• How can you improve on the first Christmas when a virgin teenager named Mary gave birth to the infant God?
• How can you improve on the first Christmas when a star led wise men from the East to the birthplace of Christ so they could worship Him?
• How can you improve on the first Christ 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 proclaimed the news to a group of shepherds; “For there is born to you 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, goodwill toward men”?
I submit to you that no matter how special the gifts you receive this Christmas, no matter how good the food you enjoy, and no matter how warm the fellowship you experience, this day never can measure up to that day when Joseph’s virgin betrothed wife gave birth to the Son of God. In fact, your celebration of Christmas will be ultimately 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, embrace and reflect upon the true meaning of Christ, you will miss the beauty of this day in the clutter of trees, gifts, parties, food and eggnog.
The good news of Christmas is inextricably tied to the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the incarnation of Christ 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 we might receive adoption as sons.” These two verses affirm 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 found in Genesis 3:15. Speaking to the serpent after the fall, 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 heel.” Centuries later in Genesis 12:1-3, God promised Abraham he would have a son and that through his son and his descendents, 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 he one day would have a son who would sit on his throne and reign forever. In Daniel 9:24-27, Daniel was given insight into the exact time from when Christ would come to earth.
The Jews knew these prophecies; although they may not have fully understood them, they understood enough to have a deep desire and great expectations for the imminent arrival of the Messiah. Yet, when we reach the end of the Old Testament, the promise had not yet been fulfilled. In fact, between the end of the Old Testament with Malachi and the beginning of the New Testament in Matthew, God stopped speaking.
When the ministry of John the Baptist began, there had not been a prophetic voice for more than 400 years. When Jesus came on the scene, the Jews, who at the time were under Roman occupation, were desperate for the arrival of the Messiah. When you look at it from a human perspective, it seems as if God was just sitting on His hands, dragging His feet, wasting time. That’s just from the limited viewpoint of earthbound creatures. Verse 4:5 affirms the good news of 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 sovereign timing, providential orchestration and perfect schedule of God. Christ was born in the fullness of the time. Jesus probably was not born on Dec. 25; though we may not know the exact date of His birth, the fact of it is 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. He is the meeting place of time and eternity. The Bible affirms He invaded history in the fullness of time, the right time, the appointed time. It was a time of prophetic fulfillment, religious fervor, international peace, moral decline and 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 in the fullness of time. So the first bit of 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 timetable. God’s timing is perfect, and He proved that ultimately by sending His Son in the fullness of time.
Let me put a footnote here: Jesus will come again in the fullness of time. Acts 17:30-31 says: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.” 2 Peter 3:9 says: “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.” Revelation 22:12-13 says: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Jesus is coming again in the fullness of time.
II. The Source of the Incarnation Is Good News
In verse 5 is the central clause of this sentence. It is a statement that tells us how much the incarnation cost God: “God sent forth His Son.” The phrase sent forth translates a Greek term that referred to the act of sending an army off to war, commissioning a person for some duty or banishing someone. Paul used it to speak of the source of the incarnation. God sent forth His Son.
The statement assumes the preexistence of Christ. That is, Christ is co-equal and co-eternal with God. When a Savior was needed to be man’s substitute, God sent His Son; and the source of the incarnation is good news because it tells us that when a Savior was needed, God supplied what was needed. In fact, He gave His very best. He gave us His Son.
When Adam and Eve ate us out of house and home, God didn’t just send Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. God didn’t send Moses or Joshua. God didn’t send David or Solomon. God didn’t sent Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel. God didn’t send any prophets, apostles or angles. God sent forth His Son.
Imagine you are a criminal who has avoided the law for some time, but you finally are caught. You are arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced. The punishment fits the crime: death. You have exhausted all of your appeals in a futile effort for a reduced sentence. So there you are on death row, awaiting your day of execution. You try not to think about it. You try to ignore reality, but it keeps popping up in your thoughts no matter what you do.
You can’t help but get quiet when you hear footsteps outside your cell, as you wonder if they’re coming for you. Indeed, one day those footsteps stop outside your cell. The door opens. To your surprise, in walks the judge who sentenced you. “What are you doing here?” you scream. He explains his heart went out to you as he heard your case. He wanted to do something to help you, but you were guilty. Justice demanded that you be convicted, but today he came to tell you that you are free to go.
You don’t ask questions, you just get your stuff and get out of there. As they’re leading you out, they’re leading someone else in. “Who is he?” you ask. The judge tells you that someone had to pay your penalty. When he told this fellow about your situation, he volunteered to take your place.
“However, I want you to know,” admonished the judge, “this man has done nothing wrong. He’s totally innocent. In fact, he’s the best person I’ve ever met. I ought to know. He’s my son.”
That’s the good news of the gospel. John 3:16-17 says: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” First 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.” 1 John 4:14 says: “And we have seen and testify the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.”
III. The Manner of the Incarnation Is Good News
Upon hearing sounds in the dark, a little girl became afraid and couldn’t sleep. She rushed into her parents’ bedroom, begging to sleep with them, but they refused. Instead, they prayed with her, sent her back to her room, and told her to remember God was with her.
She went back to her room and tried to sleep, but it didn’t work. So, she went back to her parents’ 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. Again, it didn’t work. So, she made her way to her parents’ room one more time. This time, they were a little less patient.
“Didn’t we pray with you?” they scolded. “Didn’t we tell you 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 was misunderstood. God didn’t have any skin, so His expressions of love were viewed as acts of tyranny. In the incarnation, God perfectly declared His love for us. He spoke in a language we could understand. He did so by becoming one of us. In fact, the term incarnation literally means, “in the flesh.”
Paul puts it this way: “But in the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law…” Think about that. “God sent forth His Son” can only be said of one person, 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 a woman if He were no more than a man. However, the fact is that on Christmas the eternal Son—the second Person of the undivided Trinity—became human in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Luke 2:7 says, “And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Philippians 2:5-7 says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
Not only does the Bible teach us that Jesus is God; it also teaches us that Jesus was human. He was born. He grew. He lived. He ate. He drank. He slept. He cried. He died—yet was raised again. Jesus was not some phantom deity who came in the appearance of human flesh. Jesus was just as much human as we are. 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, talk and dress Himself.
In the incarnation, God’s Son deliberately handicapped Himself, exchanging omniscience for a brain that learned Aramaic, omnipresence for two legs and an occasional donkey and omnipotence for arms strong enough to work as a carpenter, though not used in 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 divine Person of Christ. We must not forget the hope of salvation rests in 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 Christian 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 would have availed nothing for our salvation had they not found their consummation in His perfect atoning sacrifice on the cross. So while verse 4:4 proclaims the timing, source and manner of the incarnation, verse 4:5 proclaims the purpose of it; verse 4:5 describes it as a twofold purpose.
A. Redemption from Sin
Verse 4:5a says the incarnation happened “to redeem those who were under the law.” Redemption means “to release a slave by paying a ransom price.” It’s an economic term that powerfully describes 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 in our own strength. Without a Redeemer, the bondage of sin will separate us from God for time and eternity. In John 8:35-36, Jesus goes on to say, “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’s the purpose of the incarnation. Jesus was born with an assignment from the Father to die on the cross, where His blood was the ransom that sets us free from the bondage of sin.
• If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
• If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
• If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
• If our greatest need had been to be more pleased, God would have sent us an entertainer.
• Our greatest need was salvation, so God sent us a Redeemer.
Matthew 20:28 says, “even as 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 place, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.” 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, “knowing that 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 purchase price for our redemption from sin was the blood of the Lord Jesus.
• He stood before God with all our sin upon 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 owe for those who owed a debt we could not pay.
• On that cross, God treated Jesus as if He had committed all of our sins so He could treat us as if we had practiced all of the righteousness of Christ.
B. Adoption as Sons
The doctrine of redemption is three-dimensional. First, we are redeemed from something (the bondage of sin). We are redeemed by something (the blood of Jesus). We also are redeemed unto something (the adoption as Sons). Verse 4:5b proclaims the result of our redemption is “so we might receive adoption as sons.”
A man would redeem a slave for one of two reasons: to set him free or to personally enslave him. A man would not redeem a slave, take him home and make him the heir of his estate. That’s the good news of the incarnation. God dispatched His Son to the marketplace of sin in order to set us free from its bondage, but the grace and mercy of God didn’t stop there. In Christ, not only did God redeem us, but He also adopted us.
The moment you are saved, God takes you from slavery to sonship. He adopts you as His own. John 1:12-13 says, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but 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!'” Ephesians 1:5-6 says, “He predestined us for adoption 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.”
Now, don’t 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 to Christ. It is the radical change God makes in us so we can know, acknowledge and believe the gospel.
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. Don’t let the desire for inclusive gender language cause you to miss the blessing of this text. Verses 4:1-3 say, “I mean the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything. 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 His sovereign grace, God chose children for Himself; but they were under bondage. So how did God move His children from where they were to where He wanted them to be? “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 doesn’t 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 His riches, rules and righteousness.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
Oh what a foretaste 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’s the word receive. We receive the adoption as sons. We are not forgiven because we deserve it. We are not saved because we worked for it. 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 done for us through His Son.
• 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.
Only a holy, sovereign and gracious God would step out of eternity into time and do for us what we never could do for ourselves. That’s exactly what God did for us through Jesus Christ.
Billy Sunday, the great evangelist of a century ago, was helping workers take down the tent after a meeting when a young man came running up to him. Out of breath, the young man said, “I wanted to come to the revival, but I missed the meeting. Please tell me, what must I do to be saved?” Sunday simply responded, “You’re too late,” and kept on 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 said, “No, you’re too late to do anything to be saved. Jesus did it almost 2,000 years ago. Now you must receive the finished work of Jesus Christ.”
Alas, indeed, my Savior bled, and did my Sovereign die
Would He invoke that sacred head for such a worm as I?
Was it for crime that I had done He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree?
At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light
And the burdens of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And not I am happy all the day.