The Purpose Of Bethlehem
Sermon preached by Pastor Alan Redpath in The Moody Church on Sunday morning, December 22, 1957.
“But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law that he might redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”—Galatians 4:4–5
These verses come right in the center of a tremendous argument which Paul was bringing to the Christians in Galatia. Perhaps you remember that he was so deeply concerned for them because even though they were believers, they were in great danger of being entangled in bondage. They were not living in the joy and liberty and thrill of Christian experience, and Paul was so concerned that they should enter into the truth, reality and joy of it. There was something unreal and unrealistic about their living; they just lacked that spice of refreshing reality which ought to be the possession of every child of God. So to enforce this truth, Paul takes the illustration in this chapter of a child who is an heir to a great estate. While he is a child, however, he differs in no way from a servant, for until he reaches majority he is under tutors, governors and stewards, but when he comes to the years of maturity, he then enters into the actual possession of all that was really his from the time he was born. So at the time of majority he begins to enjoy and experience the thrill of that which has been his, but which had been kept for him in trust.
“Now,” says Paul, “this is the thing I want you to understand: you are born of the Spirit of God, you are His children and you are to enter into the reality, experience and joy of it all, and to live in possession of it all.” Often when a father introduces a son he will say, “This is my son and heir.” There is a justifiable sense of pride about that introduction: he is proud of him as a son. The Father looks down upon His people today and He says of each one of us, “My son and heir.” The sad thing about it is that so many of us live as slaves and not as sons, as servants and not as heirs, and even though we are His children, how little we do possess and enjoy the thrill of the experience of being His and all the riches and resources that are ours in Christ.
You notice that Paul speaks about the fulness of time: “When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son.” I suppose it is right to say there is a sense in which that simply means the world was ready to receive Him. Politically it was so for Rome now dominated the whole situation. The centuries had passed and had only sufficed to show the constant and repeated sin and failure of God’s people. They had at last come to the place of understanding that except there be an intervention from heaven, there could be no hope for them.
In that sense that would be true, but it is not all the truth. We read in verse 5: “He is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.” The fulness of time in our text does not only mean that the world was ready to receive Jesus when He came as a little Babe. It also means that in a moment of promptness here was God fulfilling something that He said He would do from before the very foundation of the world. It was not just the world’s time, but it was God’s time to intervene. He saw the situation, realized the hopelessness of it and knew that it was time for Him to act, but it was the moment that He had planned from all eternity. When Jesus comes to a heart, it is not only that that heart is ready to receive Him, or that we have got to a place when we recognize that the passing of the years has only confirmed how sinful, hopeless and how helpless we are, except God intervene. It is that God looks down from heaven into the depths of your heart and mine, and He sees our need and that bondage and slavery have gone on long enough. Even though in fact, we are His children we are not living in all the riches and enjoyment of the wealth that should be ours in Christ. God in sovereign grace intervenes and empties the life, though not forcing His entrance against the resistance of our will. God speaks, and at His moment the heart responds because it is in an absolute condition of despair concerning itself.
So you have two aspects of the truth. The one is: we are helpless and hopeless, and can do nothing without Him. The other is that God looks down into the depths of a hungry, helpless, hopeless heart and at that moment He chooses to intervene. For some of us slavery has gone on long enough; formality and legality in our religion have gone on for too many years, and now it is time for God to speak; and for us to enter into all the riches that are ours in Jesus. Oh, that the Babe who was born in the fulness of time in a manger of Bethlehem nearly two millennia ago, might be born in reality in our hearts today.
We see here that the Trinity is involved in the coming of God: First, in the mystery of the love of the Father—“in the fulness of time God sent forth His Son.” Second, in the miracle of the lowliness of the Son of God—“born of a woman, born under the law.” Third, in the marvel of the liberty of the Spirit of God—“that we might receive the adoption of sons.”
- The mystery of the love of the Father.
“When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son.” Elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus said, “God gave his Son.” Yet again He said, “I have come from the Father,” and if you and I would enter into something of the mystery of the love of our Father in heaven, we would need to appreciate those three simple statements and put them together in our minds. God sent forth His Son—Jesus is His messenger. God gave His Son—Jesus was His gift. He came forth from God—He accepted willingly and obediently the commission that was His.
The Father’s mission—He sent His Son. The Father’s Gift—He gave His Son. The Son’s obedience—He came forth from God. Why is that important? That you and I may enter into the liberty of the Christian life. There have been many people in the New Testament of whom it is said they were sent by God. For instance, John the Baptist was a messenger sent from God. Many people have been sent from God through history as God’s messengers, but there is One—only One—through all human history of whom it can be said, “He came from God.” No where in the New Testament do we understand that the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem was the beginning of His life. That was but the fulfillment of God’s promise when the One with the Word and Who was the Word became flesh. Why should that matter? How am I ever to know that Jesus was right when He said, “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father?” Unless it is really true that He is the express image of the Person of God, and that He was with God from before the foundation of the world, how do I know that any of His claims are justified? The authority of everything that Jesus said depends upon the eternity of His existence with God. He could never be the universal Saviour of the whole race unless He was the eternal Son of God. So today when I look into a manger and find in the mystery of the love of God that God has become a Baby, I look beyond it and behind it for centuries, before the foundation of the world, and I know that this is God speaking to my heart, and that this is not merely a man, but a God-man, Who came out from the glory and humbled Himself and took upon Himself the form of sinful man. It is God speaking. The One who came in order that my religion might not be formality or legality, but might be life, liberty, victory, and joy is God—Who became a Baby! Oh, the mystery of the love of the Father!
- The miracle of the lowliness of the Son.
“He was born of a woman, born under the law.” Born of a woman, and therefore from the virgin Mary receiving a human nature. Entering into human life, sharing all the experiences that are ever yours and mine: sorrow, trouble, sadness, temptation, trial, triumphs, happiness—every human experience except that of our sin. Yet, in the midst of it all, if you look into His life you find an unbroken communion with heaven all the time. You find Him living and sharing poverty few on Earth have ever known; loneliness that very few people have understood; misunderstanding and reproach that very few of us have entered into. There was one, a Roman soldier, who knew the secret of the life of our Master when he said to Him, “I perceive that thou also art a man under authority.” He was under the law, yet radiant under it and joyful in it, for the secret of it all was simply this, “I delight to do thy will, Oh, God!” You and I are born into this world under the law of God, and as we grow up in life we sense something of its condemnation and dread and punishment, and we tremble with a sense of guilty conscience. We are under the law, but we are under it in dread. Christ is under it in gladness. We are under it with a sense of condemnation, but Jesus came and fulfilled every little bit of it and lived under its authority, and in the doing of it was glad to do the will of God. It is the Son of God who came and did that in order that you and I might be free. Oh, the miracle of the lowliness of the Lord Jesus! Born of a woman that He might have our nature. Born under the law to live as the only Man who has ever lived in perfect freedom, perfect gladness, perfect obedience to the law of God in order that He might remove us from under its condemnation and impart to us that same glad, happy liberty and freedom.
- The marvel of the liberty of the Spirit of God.
“Born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them which are under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” Christian friends, your redemption in Christ is the moment when you receive His nature. Your adoption before God in Christ is the moment when you enter into all the rights and privileges that are yours by virtue of your kingly birth into the family of God. I must be redeemed before I can be adopted. The condemnation must go before the character of the Son of God can be formed in me. The load of guilt must be removed before the liberty of His child can be enjoyed. Today if I am His child, then I have been redeemed and I have His nature. From that point I am redeemed not in order that I might live as a slave under bondage, but that I might enjoy the privileges of sonship as the son of a king. “Born under the law” that He might bear my condemnation and guilt, and therefore that I might be redeemed and inherit His lovely nature and His lovely character. Therefore God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying, “Abba, Father.” Notice here that God sent forth His Son—Bethlehem. Born under the law that He might bear my condemnation—Calvary. God sent forth the Spirit of His Son—Pentecost. Which do you think is the most wonderful? We cannot answer that question because one prepares the way for the other. There would be no Calvary without Bethlehem, and there would be no Pentecost without Calvary. The Lord Jesus lived for 33 years, holy, harmless, separate, and undefiled, and yet the Friend of sinners. But the Holy Spirit has lived for 20 centuries in the very heart and personality of every child of God, and as far as I know, He is going on to live there until one day every one of the elect of God is complete and God comes in Jesus and takes His people home.
That brings God so near, for He comes not to my brain or to my mind but to my heart. He has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying “Abba, Father,” and He has come to the very depths of our personality that He might change our affections and desires, and therefore transform every part of our being. In Romans 8:15 Paul says, “We have received the spirit of adoption whereby we cry ‘Abba, Father.’” But here in Galatians 4, “God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying, ‘Abba, Father.’” He is doing the crying, but we cry too. More precious still, we find our lovely Lord going into the garden of Gethsemane alone and saying, “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto Thee. Take this cup from me. Nevertheless not my will but Thine be done.” The cry of the Spirit in my heart, “Abba, Father.” The cry of Jesus in the garden, “Abba, Father.” The cry from His child, from my heart to His, “Abba, Father.” It brings God so near.
The word “Abba” is an Aramaic word, and the word “Father” is from a Greek word “pater,” but “Abba” was the language of the Lord Jesus. When Jesus cried, “Abba, Father” in the garden, He was praying in His own language. The first sign of the liberty of the Spirit of God really getting hold of the child of God is that he begins to use language like this in talking to God. It’s a warm, loving word fit for one who is just like a little child in talking to the Lord, and yet who is bold to enter into the presence of God by the blood of Jesus and to lie down in His faithfulness and look up into His face and say, “Abba, Father.” Sometimes if I can’t even cry, the Holy Spirit can. He cries for me, “Abba, Father.” For He it is in me who maketh intercession for me according to the will of God. He it is, when I cannot say a word because the burden is too heavy, makes sighs within with groanings that are too deep for words.
The man who has begun to talk like that at the throne is the man who has really begun to pray. Sometimes when a soul really begins to pray, it is not formal speech, but a sob. It is not the utterance of long prayers and great language that matters, but something that takes place in solitude with the Lord. The earnest cry that says, “Lord, I will not let you go until you bless me!” When we talk like this at the throne, we are getting beyond the formal, orthodox approach, and are entering into the privileges of sonship and calling Him “Father.” It is not the cry of a slave, but of a son and heir.
I am quite baffled to know how ever to describe what it means when Paul says in this verse, “He hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba, Father,’ wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son and if a son then an heir of God.” An heir of God. Not simply an heir of His blessings, not simply an heir of His promises, but an heir of God. An heir of the very character of God. An heir of the destiny, the eternity, the very person of God. Yes, I am the inheritor of a great estate because I am the son of a King, but what is the estate? Where is my fortune? Where are my resources? GOD. Nothing less than that. GOD. Not a blessing, not a thing, not promises, not simply the Scriptures, but GOD. An heir of GOD.
Do you feel very poor today? All His riches are yours. Do you feel very fearful today? Well, then, all His strength is yours. Do you feel very sinful today? All His purity is yours. All things are yours and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. Beloved, here is the purpose of Bethlehem: to redeem us and then to adopt us that we might live in all the liberty and the joy of being His children. Go out and live on God. You are going to live with Him soon, but live on Him right now—on all His resources in Christ.