Sermon: The Life of Christ part 1—The Fullness of Time
Intro: Good morning. Just one and a half more weeks until Christmas. I won’t ask if you have your Christmas shopping done yet. If you’re anything like me, you would have had your Christmas shopping done by now, but life seems to get busier and busier and your shopping gets done later and later each year.
I thought I’d start out with a couple of short humorous Christmas stories. You’ve probably seen or heard of the TV show, Kids Say the Darndest Things. I think there’s a new version of that out now. Well, this isn’t from that show, but I came across a few stories of some of the darndest things kids have said around Christmastime:
- There was an art contest held in an elementary school one Christmas season a few years ago in East Texas. One of the prize winners was a picture drawn by a nine year old boy showing three men, offering gifts to the baby Jesus in his manger. What made the picture unique is that the three gift presenters arrived in a fire truck. The principal asked the boy about his decision to draw the truck and the boy, in his heavy East-Texas accent, was quick to reply: “Well, the Bible says the wise men came from a-far.”
- A little boy and girl were singing their favorite Christmas carol in church the Sunday before Christmas. The boy concluded “Silent Night” with the words, “Sleep in heavenly beans.” “No,” his sister corrected, “not beans, peas.”
- There was the little boy who approached Santa in a department store with a long list of requests. He wanted a bicycle and a sled, a chemical set, a cowboy suit, a set of trains, a baseball glove and roller skates. “That’s a pretty long list,” Santa said sternly. “I’ll have to check in my book and see if you were a good boy.” “No, no,” the youngster said quickly. “Never mind checking. I’ll just take the roller skates.”
Turn with me to Galatians 4:1-5. Today, I am going to do something that I have never done before, and that is, recycle a sermon. I’m going to take a sermon that I gave here two years ago, and retell it. It’s a Christmas sermon, and it fits in with our series on God’s promises. This sermon is from when I came here monthly, and I started going through the life of Christ. And it hit me that if I’m going to give a sermon today regarding the birth of Christ and a promise, I might as well revisit a sermon I had already given on that subject. Now, it was two years ago, so it’s probably going to seem new to all of us. We’re going to take a look at the coming of Jesus as foretold in the Old Testament, but we are going to do this via the New Testament––in fact we’re going to go past the gospels and go to one of Paul’s letters.
Scripture: Like many passages in the Bible, the chapters are broken off in the middle of a thought. No one knows why those monks way back when decided to do it that way, but Paul’s thought began in the previous chapter, where he is explaining to the Galatian church that it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you came from, you can belong to God. Here’s the continuation of that thought, beginning in chapter 4, verse 1:
What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
Central Truth: You notice how Paul talks about the coming of Jesus by using the phrase, “when the set time had fully come?” That’s what I want to emphasize today. God’s perfect timing. God has a way of doing things, orchestrating things, with precision. Just look at God’s creation. From the human body to the stars in the universe, everything is set in a specific and detailed order. And I want you to know, that God has set a time for you, it’s on his calendar. We’ve talked all year long about God’s promises. God promises that his promises for you will not only be fulfilled, but fulfilled in perfect timing.
Point 1: As we look at scripture, we know that the need and the promise of a savior arose long before Jesus’ birth. In fact, from the time of Adam’s fall to the time of Jesus was 4,000 years. And if we look carefully at scripture, the first prophetic hint of the coming Messiah was doled out not to man, but to Satan at the time of the fall. This is what is said in Genesis 3:
14 Then the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed
more than all animals, domestic and wild. You will crawl on your belly, groveling in the dust as long as you live. 15 And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Overall, The Old Testament gives us more than 300 glimpses as to the coming Messiah over the period of those 4,000 years. In fact, many of these prophecies only hint at a Messiah, and like the one I just read, can be easy to read without knowing there was anything specifically prophetic about it, while others are more direct.
But the point is, that even though God knew it would take 4,000 years before He would send His Son to earth, God wanted to encourage his people in the coming of the promised one, and that when His son finally arrived on earth, there would be no doubt from that time until the end of the world, that Jesus was certainly the one foretold in those scriptures.
But what about the timing? Why did God wait so long? I mean, 4,000 years is a long time to wait for a promise. There are several reasons. Let’s look at just the time between the end of The Old Testament and the beginning of The New Testament:
Malachi was the last prophetic voice in Israel before the time of Jesus. Between his time, and the time of Christ was a span of about 400 years. Significant events happened in world history that helped set the stage for the coming Messiah.
Ray Stedman said that: “During this time, [God] rearranged the scenes of history, much as a stage crew will rearrange the stage sets after the curtain has fallen, and when the curtain rises again there is an entirely new setting”
- There was a religious preparation for His coming – The fact that the many false idols had failed to give victory over the Roman conquerors caused many to abandon the worship of those idols. At the same time, in the more “cultured” cities, the Greek philosophy and science of the time left others spiritually empty in the same way that the atheism of communist governments leaves a spiritual void today.
The mystery religions of the time emphasized a savior-god and required worshipers to offer bloody sacrifices, thus making the gospel of Christ which involved one ultimate sacrifice believable to them. The Greeks also believed in the immortality of the soul (but not of the body).
Another religious preparation was that the body of Old Testament literature was pulled together in a single volume; thus paving the way for the preaching of the coming Messiah.
The Babylonian captivity that happened in the interim of the Old Testament and the New Testament created the Jewish synagogue. Until the time that the Jews were displaced from their homeland, they had worshiped exclusively at the Temple in Jerusalem. Now, there was no longer one single temple, and so the Jews developed a method of assembly we now know as the synagogue. The synagogue is the pattern on which the Christian church is fashioned.
- There was also a cultural preparation for His coming – In 350 B.C., there arose a man whom you might have heard about – Alexander the Great. He conquered the entire known world in twelve years. And because of Alexander’s influence, the world became Greek in culture. This, of course, is very important because in 280 B.C. the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. Now, a “common” language was spoken throughout the empire, making it possible for the first time to communicate to many different people groups through one common language.
- Finally, there was a political preparation for His coming – After the Greek empire, came the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire had unified much of the world under its government. So the Greek Empire unified the culture and language, the Roman Empire gave a sense of political unity to the various lands. Also, because the empire was relatively peaceful, travel was possible, allowing the spread of the gospel.
William Lane Craig gave another answer as to the timing of the Messiah:
Human beings have existed for thousands of years on this planet before Christ’s coming. But what’s really crucial here is not the time involved; rather, it’s the population of the world. The Population Reference Bureau estimates that the number of people who have ever lived on this planet is about 105 billion people. Only two percent of them were born prior to the advent of Christ. Erik Kreps of the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research says, “God’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Christ showed up just before the exponential explosion in the world’s population.”
So why did God wait so long? As we search the prophetic scriptures, we see that in order for everything to have had a maximum impact, they could only have been fulfilled at a certain place at a certain time. This is also how God works with us. He knows. Like the need for a savior 4,000 years before the Messiah came, He had a plan already in place before the foundation of the world, a day and a time set for it all to unfold. When it seems we go through life, day after day, going to work, raising a family, wondering when our moment will come; God has had a plan already set, a time already fixed. Like He did during those 400 “silent” years between the Old and New Testaments, God is working behind the scenes to set the stage and we don’t even see it. And like with Adam and Eve, he’s even probably already told Satan, the enemy, before telling us.
Point 2: So what are we to do in the meantime? What do we do when we’re stuck in the “4,000 year period?” When we feel like God is silent, like He was during the 400-year period between the Old and New Testaments. Well, we do as the people of Israel did as they waited for their Messiah. We remain faithful and trust in the Lord and look forward to the deliverance God will bring.
I’m reminded of the words Paul gave to the Roman church:
“11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality (Romans 12:11-13).”
Paul is telling the new Roman church how to live as Christians ought. That’s what we are to do. Keep going. Don’t give up. Keep serving the Lord in areas where you can serve. Be faithful. Don’t get so stuck on your problems or your fears in one area that you miss out on what you are supposed to be doing in another area.
Paul says we are to serve the Lord with spiritual fervor. The New Living Translation uses the phrase “serve the Lord enthusiastically.” It’s easier said than done, isn’t it, to keep your spirit alive when things are tough? The enemy wants to wear us down with discouraging thoughts. He wants to tear down our faith.
So how do we keep our faith while it seems like it’s taking an eternity for our breakthrough? I have found that it’s by serving the Lord and being in the company of other Christians that we gain our faith and the strength for our endurance.
Hebrews 11, the writer encourages us to do this:
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 11:23-25).
There have been times in my life when by the time Saturday night came, I was beat. And I really didn’t want to get up in the morning and go to church. I know there have been times when my kids have felt exhausted from all that they do. Last week, Evelyn didn’t come to church because she didn’t get home from a track meet until almost midnight.
But any time I got up the next morning and went to church anyway, I felt more refreshed, not more exhausted.
There have been many other times when we’re supposed to host or go to an evening Bible study, and it seems that sometimes beforehand, that’s the last thing we want to do. We’re so tired. It’s the end of the week. Can’t we just stay home after a long, busy day…on a weeknight? I mean, I gotta get up at 6 a.m.
But what happens when we start? We find ourselves refreshed and renewed. Our spirits are lifted. Quite often, this helps give us the faith and encouragement needed to accomplish the other things listed in Paul’s message:
Such as: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. While we wait on the Lord, we are to have the right kind of attitude when it comes to holding onto our hope, enduring our hardship and not letting those things affect our prayer life.
It’s hard to be joyful all the time. Trust me, I know. It’s hard to be patient in affliction, I know. But the good news is, being challenged in those areas helps me be faithful in prayer.
Paul also tells us to: Share with the Lord’s people who are in need and practice hospitality While we wait on the Lord, while we go through our hardships, while we pray over our situations, we need to remain faithful in doing. We can’t let our time and talents go to waste thinking that we’ll only accomplish something once we get this one other thing that we need over here; or that we feel so down and discouraged that we can’t be of use to others. Like I said, it’s serving that often lifts our spirits and is as good for us as it is for the people we are serving.
This leads me to my last point:
Point 3: Perhaps it’s through this waiting period that God is preparing us for our breakthrough. Just like God prepared the conditions of the world for the Messiah to come and the Gospel to be preached. Maybe there’s a lesson or two to learn first, maybe there’s some practice that we need to have before we receive the responsibility that comes with the promise.
Remember the parable of the talents? What did the master say to his faithful servants? ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
God, the master carpenter, the artist, takes His time crafting the right person for the right job. Take a look at David. Why did God choose an obscure shepherd to be king of Israel? Just as with the plan of The Messiah, God had David planned to become king all along—and of course be the lineage of the Messiah. And when it seemed like David was wasting his time day in and day out, in the monotony and solitude of tending sheep, God had him in training to be king all along.
In addition to David, what can we say about Joseph? God brought him into dire circumstances, made him wait 13 years before he became the second in command of Egypt in order to save the Hebrew people.
Moses? Similar situation. Banned from Egypt where he was the adopted grandson of the pharaoh, waited in the wilderness tending sheep until he was 80 years old, then God called him out of nowhere to also save the Hebrew people.
I won’t go on about David, Joseph and Moses in great detail. But you’ll notice they seemed to have gone through similar situations in order to acquire similar traits. For example, when all was said and done we can say:
Principled, Humble, Courageous, Gracious, a man of faith, a man after God’s own heart
Principled, Humble, Disciplined, Faithful, Gracious and forgiving, Competent, Wise, Strategic.
Principled, Humbled, Disciplined, Faithful, Courageous
You get the point? Is God delaying because he needs to prepare you for your breakthrough? Does He need to prepare the conditions of your breakthrough just so, in ways we cannot see or understand, like 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments or like the disciples, who didn’t understand what was going on until afterward when they saw how it all came together? It may be like I said last week, I used the quote from Bill Yount that said, “Your delay is marinating you.” It means that while we wait, God is doing a work within us to prepare our character for that moment we have been waiting for.
Conclusion: I want to encourage you this morning that you are not forgotten about. That you are in God’s hands and that you are right on track to receive your promise. I want to encourage you that God has not abandoned you. He might be silent, like He was with the Israelites for 400 years when there were no prophets between the Old and New Testaments, but that does not mean that he’s not working on your behalf. Like the years of slavery the Hebrew people were in, He has not abandoned you or His promise of deliverance. I don’t know what you are going through, and I don’t know God’s timetable, but I want you to know that God has a plan. God has the time and date marked on his calendar. You will see the salvation of the Lord—in the fullness of time.
What have you been waiting on? What prayer has not yet been answered or promise of God have you been waiting for? I want you to keep on praying, keep on trusting, and keep on serving the Lord until the fullness of time has come.
Let’s pray: Dear Lord thank you for your great and wonderful promises. Lord, we have spent a year examining in detail 50 of your promises, and they apply to each and every one of us. While we are still waiting on some, we pray that you would marinate us, and do that work within us that needs to be done, and that work around us that needs to be done behind the scenes so that we can be well prepared for the arrival of your promise, just as the world was prepared for the arrival of the birth of your son.
Lord, please help us to be productive in the waiting. Help us to not sit in our spiritual waiting room doing nothing, thinking that we can’t until a certain promise has been fulfilled, but help us to be productive and faithful Christians in whatever place we are in during the time of our waiting.
We thank you and praise you in Jesus name, amen.