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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Christmas cheer: God sent forth his Son with gospel gifts
Text:Galatians 4:4-5 (View)
Occasion:Christmas Day
Topic:The Incarnation
 
Preached:2023
Added:2023-12-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 19

Psalm 116:9 (after the Law of God)

Hymn 20

Hymn 24

Psalm 124

Scripture readings:  Luke 2:1-21, Galatians 3:23-4:7

Text: Galatians 4:4-5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

For centuries God had been laying the groundwork for his plan of salvation to be fulfilled.  In Genesis 3 already he promised that someone would come to destroy Satan and bring salvation for human beings.  Then through all the centuries afterward, God was working to bring about the right conditions for that promise to come to reality. 

Finally, about 2000 years ago, the fullness of time arrived.  Everything was in place.  A Jewish person would have been hard-pressed to see it.  The Romans were in control of Judea – it looked like dark times.  But the Romans were part of God’s plan.  They brought something known as the Pax Romana – the Roman peace.  There was peace and stability throughout much of the Mediterranean region.  The Romans brought a system of quality roads like the world had never seen.  Under the Romans, much of the ancient world spoke the same language, at least for trade.  All these conditions were just right for the gospel to come into the world through Jesus and then spread like wildfire. 

So when the fullness of time had come, says Paul, God sent out his Son.  When we’re born, our existence only goes back 9 months.  Our existence goes back to the moment of our conception.  But prior to that, we didn’t exist.  Not so with the Son of God.  He is the second person of the Trinity.  He is God and as such, he existed eternally before coming into the world.  God sent him forth to be the Saviour promised in Genesis 3:15 and the Son of God readily agreed to go.

Through the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit, the Son of God took on our human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  While remaining true God, he became a true human being.  He had both a real human body and a real human soul.  Like every human being, he developed from a zygote to an embryo to a fetus to a baby.  Then the time came for his birth in Bethlehem.  He was “born from woman,” as it says in our text.  This was necessary because already in Bethlehem, God had the cross in mind.  The one who would hang on the cross to pay for our sins, that one had to be a true human being like us.  Only a true human being could bear our punishment.  It was human beings who sinned, therefore a human being had to suffer God’s eternal wrath and die. 

And Paul writes that he was also “born under the law.”  He was born from amongst the Jews, so he had an obligation to the law in the same way all the Jews did.  He was bound to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, to the dietary laws, laws about sacrifices and so on.  But he was also bound to the moral law as summarized in the Ten Commandments.  In that regard, he was born just like every other human being.  Every human being comes into this world as a creature of God, bound by that very fact to obey God’s moral law.  It was no different with the Son of God when he came into this world as one of us. 

When he came, he came with gospel gifts.  This is what makes Christmas a joyful time for Christians.  It’s joyful because with Christ’s coming into this world, we have received these two beautiful gospel gifts of freedom and adoption.  Let’s spend a few moments taking a closer look at those gifts.

Our text says that the Son of God was sent forth “to redeem those under the law.”  Here it’s important to understand the context of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Paul wrote this letter to the churches in Galatia because of the danger posed by these false teachers known as Judaizers.  These were Jewish people who claimed to be Christians.  But they insisted that in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, Christians also had to follow the Jewish ceremonial laws.  So if you were Jewish and you believed in Christ, you had to keep following those laws.  But if you were a Gentile and you believed in Jesus, you had to start following those laws.  If you were a man, that would begin with getting circumcised.  In chapter 1 of Galatians, Paul calls this teaching “a different gospel.”  It was a message contrary to the one being preached by Paul and the other apostles.  They preached Christ alone and faith in Christ alone.  But the Judaizers said, “Yes, you need Jesus, but also you need to be circumcised and then follow the Jewish way.”  So for the Judaizers it was a matter of “Jesus plus,” whereas for Paul and the apostles, the true gospel is “Jesus alone.”

Before our text, Paul was making the case that there’s a difference between before Christ and after Christ.  Before Christ, anyone who wanted to follow God whether Jew or Gentile, was “under the law.”  They were brought under its dictates, its precepts and requirements, including all the ceremonial aspects of the law.  Both Jews and Gentiles were also under the curse of the moral law of God.  God required perfect obedience from all, but no one was able to do it.  So the period before Christ was a type of captivity.  Chapter 3 verse 24 says, “Now before faith, we were held captive under the law…” 

But after Christ has come, after faith in Christ has come, we have been redeemed.  That’s to say that we’ve been given freedom.  Christ has liberated us.  On the one hand, he’s liberated us from all the requirements of the ceremonial laws.  He’s fulfilled all those perfectly.  Because he’s made the perfect sacrifice, we don’t have to sacrifice lambs and oxen as sin offerings or guilt offerings.  Because he has cleansed us perfectly, we don’t have to follow the laws of clean and unclean and all the dietary laws of the Old Testament.  We’ve been freed from all of those demands that the Jews lived under before the coming of Christ.  To go back to those would be to go back to a kind of captivity.  Why would you want to do that?

On the other hand, Jesus has also liberated us from the curse of the moral law.  He came into this world and he obeyed God’s law perfectly in the place of everyone who would believe in him.  If you believe in Jesus, God sees you through him as a perfectly obedient person.  Not only that, but he then also went to the cross to redeem those under the law.  Jesus took our place and bore the wrath of God we deserve for our sins.  He freed us from the eternal death penalty the law imposed on us.  We have been redeemed.  We’ve been liberated from everything the law condemned us for.  Now if we have placed all our trust in Christ, we’re forgiven and we’re obedient in God’s eyes. 

Loved ones, these are wonderful gospel gifts that have come through Christmas for us.  If someone is standing before you offering you a gift, what are you supposed to do?  You open your arms and take the gift with your hands.  You accept the gift being offered.  And what’s what we have to do with this gospel gift too.  To have this redemption, this liberation, we need to take hold for ourselves of what Christ has done in our place.  On this Christmas morning, if you haven’t already done so for yourself, God calls you to.  Believe that Jesus came to redeem you as one of those “under the law.”

The second wonderful gospel gift that Christmas brings us is “adoption as sons.”  Adoption was a common thing in the Roman Empire in Paul’s day.  If a father adopted a son, that child was legally considered to be part of the family in every respect.  He was no different than any natural children born to the father.  That included being an heir.  If the father were to die and leave behind an inheritance, the adopted son would be treated no differently than any natural sons.  He would get an equal portion of that inheritance like everyone else.

That background is why it’s important for our ESV Bibles to translate the relevant Greek word as “adoption as sons.”  It’s not just “adoption” or “adoption as children” in a general sense.  We’re adopted as sons, which means we have all the legal rights a natural son does, and we’re also in line to receive an equal share of the inheritance.  I think the New English Translation gets it best when it translates this word with the phrase “adopted as sons with full rights.”  Whether we’re male or female, it doesn’t matter.  All believers have the equivalent of what an adopted son would have received back in the days of the Roman Empire.

And let’s think for a moment about what we have received in our adoption as sons with full rights.  First of all, there’s what I mentioned already, the inheritance.  What is the inheritance that adopted sons of God receive?  It’s described in 1 Peter 1:4 as being imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.  It is being kept in heaven for us.  In 1 Corinthians, our inheritance is described as the Kingdom of God.  You could also think of it like the Promised Land.  Our inheritance is a place of blessing.  Our inheritance is the new creation.  Our Father will give us a place in the new creation where we can dwell with him forever.  Let that sink in.  No Christmas gift you receive today will compare with that.

Adoption as sons with full rights also means access to the Father.  If you were a slave in the time of the New Testament you couldn’t go to your master and ask him for whatever you wanted.  You had no right to approach him.  He approached you and told you what he wanted you to do.  But if you are a son with full rights, you’re given access to the Father.  Ephesians 2:18 says that through Christ both Jew and Gentile “have access in one Spirit to the Father.”  We can draw near to God in prayer and he will hear us.  God’s fatherly heart is inclined towards us in love.  His ears are open to our pleas.  And not only that, but he also promises to answer us.  Our adoption as sons with full rights means we can pray to God with confidence. 

There’s one more blessing we’ve received in our adoption.  With God as our Father, we’re pitied, protected, and provided for.  All of that falls under God’s providence.  In God’s providence, he has mercy on us living in a broken world.  In his pity for his adopted sons, he restrains the evil of a broken world.  He protects his sons.  He protects believers from the harm of any ultimate evil that might destroy us eternally.  Our Father preserves us so we endure and persevere in our faith to the end.  In our Father’s providence, he provides us with everything we need each day for body and soul.  Our Father takes care of us, because that’s what Fathers do for their children.  And since we’re God’s adopted sons with full rights, we can be absolutely sure he’ll pity, protect and provide for us too.

Loved ones, what a blessing it is to be God’s adopted sons.  It’s a privilege which we ought to reflect on regularly.  As we do that, it leads us to worship and love for God.  The beautiful gospel gift leads us to want to live as God’s children, calling on him each day, and living to please him.  Because that’s what children do – they want to please their Father because they love him dearly.

At least that’s the way it normally is, the way it should be.  I want to acknowledge those here who may have had or do have a difficult relationship with their earthly fathers.  That can be especially hard at this time of year when so many people are getting together with family.  Sometimes human fathers can really let us down, disappoint us, or even worse.  That can make it difficult to appreciate the Bible’s doctrine of adoption.  If you’ve never really known a decent father on earth, it can be hard to see how a heavenly Father is good and loving.  The whole idea of a father might even be repulsive.  That’s a real struggle for some Christians.  If that’s you, then I’d urge you to shift your focus for now to other ways in which God reveals himself to us.  For example, focus on Jesus.  He is the gentle and lowly One who promises to a faithful friend.  Or focus on the Holy Spirit who promises to our Comforter and Counselor.  In due time, you may be able to appreciate God’s fatherhood and his adoption of us, but if you can’t right now, be gentle with yourself and remember that the Bible presents our salvation in many different ways.  Some of those ways are going to speak more powerfully to us at some times than others.  And that’s all right.  It doesn’t mean adoption isn’t real or that God isn’t our Father, it just means that your experiences make it challenging for you to see value in that at the moment.  But that can change – and the Bible promises us that someday it definitely will change.  When you receive your inheritance, you will appreciate these biblical truths as much as any other.

Celebrating Christmas means looking back at how God has blessed us with gospel gifts in the past.  At Christ’s first coming, we were blessed with gospel freedom and adoption.  But celebrating Christmas should also mean looking forward to how God will bless us with more gospel gifts in the future.  At Christ’s second coming, we’ll be blessed with our inheritance, we’ll be blessed with joy and peace, and most of all, we’ll be blessed with communion with him.  God is the best gift-giver and as such we have reason to have Christmas cheer today and always.  AMEN.

PRAYER

Holy God and Father,

We’ll always be grateful that you sent your Son with gospel gifts for us.  Thank you that he was born of woman, born under the law.  He came as one of us to bear our curse and bring our blessing.  We praise your Name because through your Son we have been redeemed from under the law.  In Jesus, we have freedom from the law’s curse and condemnation.  We praise you for that.  Thank you that in Christ we have the adoption as sons with full rights.  You’ve promised us the inheritance of the new creation.  You’ve given us access to you in prayer.  You pity, protect, and provide for us.  What a great and loving Father you are!  Please help us with your Holy Spirit always to appreciate these gospel gifts.  Please give us a blessed Christmas celebration today as we continue to remember your goodness in giving us your Son as our beloved Saviour.       




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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