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“The Time Has Come – For What’s Coming to You”

Jan.1, 2012 Gal.4:1-7


So here we are, January 1 of the long-awaited 2012: is this just the beginning of another year, or the beginning of the end? The apocalyptic movie called “2012" released a couple of years ago grossed hundreds of millions of dollars for its producers. With phenomenal special effects, it capitalized on the fact that the ancient Mayan calendar runs out Dec.21 2012, at the conclusion of the 13th ‘baktun’ or period of time. However other Mayan literature does not prophecy that there would be a cataclysmic conclusion at this point. It may be that the calendar’s creator simply ran out of room (as one CARTOON suggests) - or perhaps his wife came in with a hot chocolate and said, “Why don’t you just knock off after a dozen cycles?” Then he got busy with other things and that’s where it was left.
    Unfortunately, secular speculators behind the “2012" phenomenon and movie haven’t been the only ones forecasting the end of the world. Back in May a Christian radio preacher named Harold Camping discredited himself by predicting the end of the world, based on numerology and what he saw in the Bible. His organization advertised this on huge billboards across North America. As most church folk expected, the designated date came and went with no sign of God’s judgment or Jesus’ return. Another theory bites the dust – and Christians in general lose a tad more credibility because one of their own has gone out on a limb unsupported by sound scriptural teaching.
    As we begin another year, we are conscious time is marching on, another 12 months have passed, beyond retrieval. How does the Bible view time? Should Christians be anxious that the Mayan calendar runs out this year? What attitude would God want those who love Him to have about time?


Various well-meaning commentators have developed an elaborate scheme of ‘times’ or epochs relating to God’s dealings with people. These have been called “dispensations”; Easton’s Revised Bible Dictionary has this definition: “The method or scheme according to which God carries out his purposes towards men is called a dispensation.There are usually reckoned three dispensations, the Patriarchal, the Mosaic or Jewish, and the Christian...These were so many stages in God’s unfolding of his purpose of grace toward men.The word is not found with this meaning in Scripture.”
    Are these very significant, or can we dispense with dispensations? When the disciples ask about signs of the end of the age in Mt 24:36, Jesus cautions: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” After Jesus’ resurrection, in Acts 1:7 we hear Him tell the disciples who are keen to understand coming events, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” So, on the one hand, we’d better resist the temptation to delve into these mysteries to the point of getting sidetracked from our main job, which is to spread the Good News about Jesus. On the other hand, Jesus does imply there are definite ‘times or dates the Father has set.’ And as we read the Old and New Testaments, we can clearly see a development in the idea and application of ‘covenant’: God makes various arrangements with individuals, such as Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, David, and Solomon. The Lord is free to dispense His grace and support as He wills. Jeremiah 31(31ff) definitely refers to a coming time when God will make a new covenant with Israel. At the Last Supper, Jesus pointedly calls the cup “the New Covenant in My blood” (1Cor 11:25). Hebrews 9-10 goes into great detail to explain how Jesus has established a better arrangement or covenant in place of the old shadows or pictures of what was to come.
    So, while we had better not get hung up on predicting dates or exact details, it is good to appreciate the broad strokes of how God is moving throughout history towards His goal or purpose. Definite steps are being taken. In today’s reading, Paul uses a potent phrase in v4, “But when the time had fully come [God sent His Son]...” There’s a sense of this being a special, extremely significant time.
    Other prophets echo this. Daniel 9(24ff) refers to 70 ‘sevens’ as a period of time until the Anointed One is cut off; this has been calculated by some as the period roughly between the Old Testament and Jesus’ death at the cross. And the apostle Peter suggests that it’s OK for the godly to be interested in matters of timing as it relates to the unfolding of God’s mercy: he wrote, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you...Even angels long to look into these things.” (1Pe 1:10-12)
    But we don’t want to ‘major in the minors’ - to be so preoccupied with apocalyptic possibilities that we lose sight of what’s most important today; we don’t want to become ‘so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good.’ How does Paul talk about these matters to the Galatians in a way that’s not overly-specific yet both makes them appreciate what God’s done for them AND motivates them to present action?


The first stage in our development as spiritual people is described by Paul in Galatians 4:1-3; we could call it ‘the time of slavery’. This builds on analogies he introduced a few verses earlier in 3:23-25: “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.” Here we have the imagery of a jail or prison or penitentiary, being ‘locked up’ or kept under guard lest our evil actions should damage other people. Vv24f, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” There’s a subtle change in imagery here to that of the household or schoolyard: “the law was our disciplinarian” [NRSV], “our tutor” [KJV], literally ‘pedagogue’ in the Greek. Robinson explains this is an “old and common word for the slave employed in Greek and Roman families of the better class in charge of the boy from about six to sixteen.The paedagogue watched his behaviour at home and attended him when he went away from home as to school.Christ is our Schoolmaster and the law as paedagogue kept watch over us till we came to Christ.” Today we might talk about a nanny, or babysitter: somebody put in charge to watch over the youngster lest they get into trouble.
    At the beginning of chapter 4, the image shifts slightly from the domestic or educational sense to a legal one. Vv1-3, “What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world.” Although the juvenile may be legal heir, he’s put under custody of a ‘guardian’ or ‘trustee’ (steward, the manager of the household) – he’s not allowed yet to actually run things, even though he’ll eventually have the RIGHT. Robinson notes, “Under Roman law the tutor had charge of the child till he was fourteen when the curator took charge of him till he was twenty-five.”
    What are these ‘basic principles of the world’ Paul refers to that are enslaving? In context, the church at Galatia was being swayed by false teaching from the circumcision party - Jewish legalists who insisted you needed to keep the Old Testament law in order to be right with God. 4:10 refers to observing “special days and months and seasons and years”. We see the same threat in Colossians 2(20ff), “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"?” Also harsh treatment of the body (23).
    Basic principles of the world are common rules that society requires in order to function morally and ethically. The Ten Commandments and Law of Moses would be one example. CS Lewis in an appendix to The Abolition of Man contended that all societies and world religions share a basic Natural Law he called the ‘Tao’ - laws of justice, duties to parents, to posterity, laws regarding sexual behaviour, honesty, magnanimity, and so on. So the Judeo-Christian religion is not unique in this regard. Lewis argued this ‘Tao’ had a divine, objective basis (which today’s relativists should think about). Lewis pointed out though that no other religion except for Christianity offered a solution that provides real forgiveness for the guilt we incur when we transgress these basic rules. In that sense, apart from Christ, we are enslaved to these principles: they become a burden, because we find we are unable to keep them perfectly. And as Paul notes in Colossians 2(23), “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom...but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” They may constrain us, but they don’t actually help us when we’re struggling.


The second half of our passage celebrates the freedom and responsibility, the empowerment and maturity Jesus has made possible in stark contrast to the limited ‘babysitting’ offered by the world’s ‘basic principles.’ Vv4-7, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” Let’s consider this carefully.
    “God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law...” Here you have a concise affirmation of Jesus’ divinity (being God’s Son) and humanity (born of a woman, born under law). He was born under the same restrictive ‘basic principles’ (Ten Commandments etc.) but kept the law perfectly so was without sin (Heb 4:15). God sent Him “to redeem those under law” - the word ‘redeem’ is literally ‘to buy up’. And why did He make that purchase? “That we might receive the full rights of sons.” Adoption in that culture conferred the entire legal force as if the man was one’s actual offspring. If you’ve trusted in Christ, you own the whole estate! You are God’s heir – you have a legitimate share in God’s inheritance!
    Skip ahead a bit to v7 - here we get to the main point I’d like to emphasize today, the change in “timing” to being God’s dearly-loved and qualified child: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” What’s that? What do God’s sons and daughters ‘inherit’? Various Bible passages talk about inheriting various things. Titus 3:7, “we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” Hebrews 1:14, salvation; 11:7, the righteousness that comes by faith. 1Peter 3:7, Christian husbands and wives are “heirs...of the gracious gift of life...” And Revelation 21 talks of the new heaven and new earth, where God will dwell with His people, and we’ll be able to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life; then in v7 God promises, “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”
    All those are wonderful things to inherit – eternal life, salvation, righteousness, grace, and a new creation! But the very BEST part about being God’s heir? Look closely at Galatians 4:6, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."” When you are God’s heir, you don’t just get the farm (so to speak), you get GOD HIMSELF - His Holy Spirit dwelling within. Back up to Galatians 3:14 to grasp the big picture, God’s overall plan to empower His people, that arches from Abraham in ages past to you here today, January 1 2012: “[Christ] redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive [WHAT? A MILLION BUCKS?!] the promise of the Spirit.”
    Don’t gloss over or miss the significance of this. God doesn’t just give you external gifts, like so many cardboard boxes that are forgotten by the next Christmas: God gives you HIMSELF. The Spirit of His Son in our hearts crying out “Abba, Papa, Daddy - Father.” What could top that intimacy with the Infinite Loving Eternal?
    Talk of planets colliding, calendars stopping, the end of the world, pales by comparison with what the Bible portrays as TODAY’s time, the day of salvation - the time in which we can shift from being a slave to the world’s ‘dos and donts’ to God’s precious and dearly-loved son or daughter. Romans 5:5, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”


God sent Jesus “to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Gal 4:5) The news carried reports before Christmas of human ‘angels’ going into stores where people who’d been encountering economic hardship had put items on ‘layaway’ but not been able to come up with the money to pay for the item. These human ‘angels’ paid the price for the item, thus allowing the parents in question to be able to obtain the gift and pass it on to their children. For instance, the Colorado Springs Gazette reports: “A store manager at the Powers Kmart...said about 25 donors paid off $14,000 worth of layaway items.The Kmart on North Nevada Avenue reported about 40 people donated $12,000 toward layaway gifts.” (http://www.gazette.com/articles/christmas-130866-catron-layaway.html) A Kmart spokesperson said that, overall across the USA as of Dec.22, more than $450,000 in layaway payments had been made by about 1,000 donors. (http://www.windsorstar.com/life/Angels+bail+layaway+customers/5907625/story.html)  In a way that’s a picture of what this passage says Jesus did for us: He ‘redeemed’ those who were ‘on the shelf’ - limited by the law, bound by the world’s basic principles - so we could be freed up, put into circulation, achieve the purpose for which we were created. Jesus buys us at the price of Himself to get us out of ‘layaway’.
    We spent much of this past week with Keith and Darcie and family at their new house near Ottawa. Isaiah is 4 and Lucy is two-and-a-half. In the course of unpacking, they came across an “Anne of Green Gables” doll which they’d set aside for Lucy when she was older: the doll was very pretty but had a ceramic head, which they feared Lucy might break if she were given it too soon. As Darcie presented it to Lucy she said, “Here’s your Anne doll, she’s been waiting for you.” To which older brother Isaiah responded: “She hasn’t been waiting; she doesn’t even talk, she just sits around.”
    Are we Christians like that ‘Anne’ doll – we’ve been redeemed, empowered as God’s children, made alive in Christ by the gift of the Holy Spirit – but are we actively waiting for Him, shaping our worldview according to His timing, or are we just “sitting around” like a lifeless doll? Are we mature in our faith, old enough to ‘drive the car’ as it were, or ineffective like young children who need a babysitter? As you begin this New Year, evaluate where you’ve grown spiritually, and where you need to set some better priorities. Are you showing yourself ready to accept responsibility as God’s maturing son or daughter?
    We embrace the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but are we demonstrating the Spirit’s fruit and gifts in our lives? How’s that kindness, goodness, self-control coming along? Do you need to ask someone to be your mentor to coach you in some area? Would you benefit from a small group that you can trust and that would help you be accountable?
    Blessed with the Spirit, have you discovered your particular spiritual gift? See Ephesians 4; Romans 12; 1Corinthians 12. Our Elders have chosen to focus on the NCD quality characteristic “Gift-oriented Ministry” in coming months; our church ought to be a place where believers feel supported and encouraged in exercising their spiritual gifts.
    2012 COULD see the end of the world – Jesus may return at any moment. But whenever He returns, may He find us actively waiting for Him, employing the diverse gifts He’s planted in us to attract others until that time. Romans 8:23, “...we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” 1Corinthians 1:7, “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.”
    2012 is a time for sonship; for heirdom; a time to get off the shelf, and be active for Him who redeemed us from layaway. Let’s pray.