Father God help us to understand why you sent Jesus to earth and by your Holy Spirit help each one of us here to know what it means to be your accepted daughters and forgiven sons. Amen
Karl Marx, the German Communist revolutionary, is often quoted as saying "Religion is the opium of the people".
"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion". That one is from Nobel prize winning Physicist, Steven Weinberg.
How about 'Religion is used for two reasons - to ease the fear of death and to judge and control others'. Apparently a clever looking Cat said that!
Search on the internet for 'religion' and it's not hard to find plenty of quotes just like those. While they don't all mean the same thing by the term, 'religion' there are plenty who believe that religion is more likely to be a cause of evil in society and hatred, discrimination and wars between rival religions rather than a force for good in the world.
My task tonight is to look at the reading we had earlier from Galatians 4:4-7 as we consider our topic of 'The Saviour's Birth'. Please open that up, if you've not done so already, so we can look at it more closely together.
These words were written by one of the earliest leaders in the church - a man called Paul. They were written about 2000 years ago to a church he helped start in Galatia (the area we now call Southern Turkey).
The first thing I want you to notice from the passage is what Paul calls
1.'Slavery Under the Law'.
You may be surprised to hear that Paul also hates religion! In fact, he says that religion is just like slavery!
We'll soon see that the main point he's making is that Jesus was born in order to rescue us from religion. For now, I want to point out two phrases that both describe those Jesus came to help.
In verse 4, we read that God sent his son Jesus 'to redeem those who were under the law'. When he talks about the law, he's not meaning rules given to us by the government. He's talking about religious laws. Those 'under the law' includes religious people who are trying to do the right thing so that God would be pleased with them.
Then, in verse 7, he goes on to say about the same group of people, 'you are no longer a slave'.
So Paul says that religion is slavery. Some of you may be surprised to hear that in the Bible! Please don't believe what others have told you about what the Bible says - make sure you read it for yourself! A great way to do that is to join the Christianity Explored courses that we mentioned earlier.
Some of you know you Bibles very well and know that those Paul was writing to- the Galatians - were not Jewish. Unlike Paul before he became a Christian they were not desperately trying to follow the standards of the book of the laws and commandments given to them by God. Yet he still describes them as being 'under the law'.
In verse 9 he uses another phrase about them - he says they used to be slaves to 'weak and worthless elementary principles of the world'. But interestingly, he uses exactly that same phrase to describe the religious Jews in verse 3. Paul says that he - a Jew - was 'enslaved to the elementary principles of the world'.
What does that mean? It means this:
The way Paul defines being 'under the law' or religion is any attempt to justify ourselves before God or to ourselves. That includes the Jew who takes the Law of God that was designed to show us how sinful we are so that we turn to Jesus for his righteousness by faith and turns it into a way of pleasing God by his own efforts. It also includes those from pagan religion that seek to appease the gods by various magic or religious activities. It also includes those who appear to be non-religious, and who look at their lives and say, 'I have not done anything wrong. I am no worse than anyone else."
This definition of religion covers every single human being - even me. We all attempt to justify ourselves - whether before God or other people. As someone who works for the church full-time, it may be hard to accept, but true that it's a constant hazard to drift into thinking I'm more acceptable to God because of what I do for him. Equally, the person who would never define themselves as 'religious' when filling in those official government forms - most likely recognises in themselves that universal human tendency to think 'I am right, and everyone else is wrong" or at least not quite as right as me!
From God's point of view, all of those are just expressions of human pride and are deeply offensive to him. They also makes us into slaves. Slaves who keep doing things they know are wrong and even when they want to stop doing those wrong things they can't. If we're honest with ourselves, we all recognise that feeling- We feel trapped. And we are trapped. There is nothing at all that we can do to set ourselves free.
We are all slaves under the law. God could have left us there. But he didn't. Instead...
2. God sent his Son
This is where we come to the events we celebrate at Christmas, so don't miss it! Look at v4
"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law" (v4)
This is where we see God's response to religion and the pride of man. God sent Jesus to redeem us from slavery and adopt us as his sons.
God sent his Son. Time and time again at Christmas, we find ourselves reading, watching, singing about and listening to the familiar Christmas story. We read about of shepherds and wise men, of God's angels and Herod's soldiers. The journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem to a manger filled with straw and a baby swaddled in a blanket. That extraordinary day when God came to live with us. The details of the nativity are not unimportant, but Paul sums it all up in two simple phrases that basically mean the same thing: God's Son was "born of a woman, born under the law". In other words, God's son became a man. Jesus is fully God and fully man. And that's really important because he needs to be both to save us – he can only do what he did for us because of who he is. If you stop for a minute in the middle of all the food and business of Christmas and really think about that it should blow your mind away.
I've had the privilege of a very powerful visual aid this Christmas - a couple of months ago my wife had a little baby. I keep looking at the baby and thinking about that day that changed everything when God sent his son as a baby. God - who is infinite, all knowing, all wise, all-powerful, holy and righteous became a baby who cannot do anything for himself. I can tell you, I've had some amazing times thinking about all this in the middle of the night recently.
Seriously though - don't just remember the facts of the Christmas story this year - make sure you stop and worship - as Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men did all those years ago. Stand in awe of God and His Son, the King of kings who came to rescue us.
V4 again: "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..."
Verse 5 explains that God sent his son Jesus to redeem us. That means to buy us out of slavery. It's a word taken from the context of a slave market: it meant to release a slave from his or her owner by paying the slave's full price. Jesus, by his perfect life and sacrificial death, purchased us to be sons and daughters of God. It is not something we could have done by ourselves- it required someone who was like us - in other words born of woman, born under the law. But it also needed someone NOT like us. It needed someone who was perfect and who could pay the debt of those who were not.
That is why God's Son had to become human so that he could suffer and die in our place to pay the ransom and free us from slavery. That is the meaning of Christmas.
Paul David Tripp sums it up beautifully:-
"Jesus was born in a [stable and laid in a] manger, not so you could try to work your way into his favour, but to give you rest from that kind of labour that only his grace can give."
Verse 5 again: God sent his Son..."to redeem those who were under the law..." But it doesn't stop there! There's more! It goes on to say "...so that we might receive adoption as sons." Which leads me to my third point.
3. Sonship under Christ
It's not as if Jesus came to just arrange for our sins to be forgiven and then set us off with a new start where we could then earn his approval. He does even more than that. If we trust in him, our sins are forgiven and we are adopted as his sons. You do understand, of course, that this applies to both men and women. However, I'm going to stick with the language of son's because it's how it was written, coming as it was from a culture where it was sons that inherited property and were the legal heirs.
Where once we were slaves, now we can be adopted as sons if we have faith in Jesus. That means first, recognising that we are slaves under the law and second, that God sent his son Jesus to die instead of us on the cross so we can be forgiven. If we simple tell him that in a simple prayer and ask him to he promises to adopt us as children. And when we are sons it means we do what sons do (call their father Abba- for instance) and receive what children receive: blessing and inheritance.
If you want to study the book of Galatians in more detail, I would recommend Tim Keller's book 'Galatians for You'. Here is a quote from that book.
"So to understand what God sent His Son to do, we need to travel to an ancient slave market to appreciate redemption, and to an ancient wealthy household to grasp the concept of sonship. Only together do they give us a complete picture of what Christ has accomplished for us.
Yet it is very easy and common to think of our salvation only in terms of the first and not the second – that is, only as the transfer from us of our sins, but not as the transfer to us of the Son's rights and privileges. When we think like that, we are really only "half-saved by grace". We can get pardon, but now we have to live a good life to earn and maintain God's favour and rewards. Paul wants to show the Galatians, and us, that not only did Christ remove the curse we deserved (3:13; 4.5a), but He also gives us the blessing He deserved (3:14; 4:5b). God's honor and reward are just as secure and guaranteed as our pardon...
Unless we remember this, we will be anxious and even despairing when we sin or fail. We will think our slate has been wiped clean, but now it is up to us to write good deeds on that slate so that God will love us and accept us. That is where we are left if we remember only half of verse 5. But our slate has been wiped clean and Jesus has written His righteousness onto it. Our inheritance is not a prize to be won. It is a gift from Christ." Galatians for You: Tim Keller, page 98-99.
The great thing about it being a gift is that it is yours. It doesn't matter how you feel about it, the objective reality is that you ARE adopted as a son of God.
I know Christmas is all about God sending Jesus, but we must not miss that God has sent twice. First Jesus was sent to redeem and make possible our adoption and Sons. Then God sends the Holy Spirit. His job is to help us to feel like sons. This is one of the precious gifts of the Holy Spirit - he assures us that we are loved by God, that we have nothing to fear because we are his children and that we are accepted, fully and unconditionally. That is why we can cry out to him in prayer, just like Jesus did! See v 6:
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" (v6)
This all leads us to a question: would you rather be a slave or a son? A servant or a beloved daughter?
Surely no one would choose slavery over sonship, especially after being freed from slavery and having enjoyed all the benefits that go with being adopted as a member of God's family? But that is exactly what the Galatians were in danger of doing. They were now adopted as God's sons, set to inherit every spiritual blessing in Christ. That includes having all our sins completely forgiven, unlimited access to the Father, being a membership of Christ's church, the Holy Spirit to live in us and the promise of eternal life. However, the Galatians were buying into the lie that it took more than gracious adoption to be a child of God. You had to work your way into the family.
John Stott Quote:-
"Oh, the folly of these Galatians! We can certainly understand the language of the Prodigal Son, who came to his father and said 'I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants' or 'slaves'. But how can anyone be so foolish as to say: 'You have made me your son; but I would rather be a slave'? It is one thing to say 'I do not deserve it'; it is quite another to say 'I do not desire it; I prefer slavery to sonship'. Yet that was the folly of the Galatians, under the influence of their false teachers."
Let's not allow the Galatians Folly become our folly. Let us stop trying to earn the approval of our Father, who has already accepted us - and adopted us - in Christ Jesus. "Abba! Father!" is the cry of sons and daughters, not slaves.
There are countless temptations to try and make God accept us: being good people, going to church, giving money to the work of the gospel, and on and on and on. Both subtle and not-so-subtle ways to attempt to gain God's inheritance by obeying the law.
Verses 4-5 should help us put an end to such nonsense and with those verses, I will end:
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 that we might receive adoption as sons. (v4-5)