Here's last week's message.
THE MISSION OF CHRISTMAS
November 28, 2004
Dr. Glenn Layne
Why do we have Christmas? I had a friend who worked in a campus ministry in Louisiana who set up a table outside the student union. Above the table was a big sign: LET’S CANCEL CHRISTMAS BREAK. Obviously a sign like that attracted a lot of attention, mostly, shall we say unsupportive.
The point was to generate some discussion. Of course, many schools now call it “Holiday Break” or “Winter Break” to skirt the issue. But the reality is that something happened over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem that is still dictating our calendar and shaping our culture.
What I want to do over the next three weeks is look at what Christmas is all about, and to do it by asking three questions:
· What is the MISSION of Christmas?
· What is the MARVEL of Christmas—why is it so attractive and appealing to us? And…
· What is the MYSTERY of Christmas? What’s the story behind the story of Christmas?
Some of the most well known words to a Christian are the first six words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who is in heaven . . .” Our Father–God is known as our heavenly Father. We pray to God as our Father, speak of him as our Father, and even sing to him as our Father. This morning we are going to talk about why we are able to call God our Father and why we are indeed his children. Because if you understand that, then you understand the mission of Christmas—the mission of why Jesus Christ came into the world.
To do that, we’re going to look at a passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, 3:20-4:7:
That passage answers three questions:
· How does a person become a child of God?
· Is anybody excluded from being a child of God?
· How does Jesus’ coming—the first Christmas—make it possible for us to become children of God?
You see, the big question is “What is the Mission of Christmas?” Then next week we’ll look at “The Marvel of Christmas” and then “The Mystery of Christmas.” But really, all the time we have to keep those three before us:
· Christmas is God’s MISSION
· Christmas is a demonstration of the MARVEL of His works
· Christmas is still a MYSTERY of God’s love and plan
How does a person become a child of God? (3:26-27)
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.
Paul is talking about how we become part of God’s family. The idea of family is all over this passage. In the space of ten verses, he uses the word son 4 times, sons 3 times, child once, and children once.
We’re not called to be God’s abject slaves. We’re not called to be mindless robots. God wants us to be his children. As we were reminded during the 40 days of purpose, God’s intent is to build a forever family for himself.
(By the way, in case you wonder why Paul doesn’t use the term “sons and daughters” (as some paraphrases do), it’s because sons had more legal rights in that times than daughters did. So it’s not a matter of Paul being a sexist. Instead, by using “sons” to refer to all of God’s family, he’s actually raising up the status of women.)
So how does a person become a son, a child, of God? Not by ethnic membership, or by ritual, but by faith, faith directed in and through Christ:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…
And Paul has an interesting way of finishing that thought:
…for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.
Now remember, all these believers in Galatia could relate to these words. Baptism was (and is) the mark of conversion. There are many symbols inherent in the act of baptism. Being washed is an obvious one. Paul in Romans tells us that baptism also points to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. But there’s also the symbol of being “clothed with Christ.” As a person is baptized, he is completely surrounded by water—clothed in water, you could almost say. Paul says that just as the water surrounds the baptized believer, so also now and forever, Christ also surrounds and envelops the believer.
This makes me think of a portion of the beautiful prayer of St. Patrick:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when sit down, Christ when I arise…
We are surrounded by Christ!
Paul then answers a Second Question:
Is anybody excluded from being a child of God? (3:28-29)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
If you belong to Christ, then you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Paul’s answer is a resounding NO!
That is, no one is excluded based on ethnicity, status or gender.
But there are limits, and some are excluded:
You see, he says that believers are all one in Christ. You have to “belong to Christ.” Then you are Abraham’s true spiritual “seed” (descendants).
This is a revolutionary teaching. On the one hand, nobody’s left out due to ethnicity, gender or status. On the other hand, there’s only one way to be made part of the family of God—through faith in Christ. It’s a teaching that is inclusive on the one hand—and exclusive on the other.
This was a teaching that turned the world upside down. It turned Roman and Greek racism upside down. It turned Jewish exclusiveness upside down. It turns the Hindu caste system upside down. It turns the world upside down.
But don’t overlook the toughness of this teaching: this kind of oneness is not achieved by singing Kum-by-ya or Rodney King saying, “Can’t we all just get along.” It’s achieved in Christ and in Christ alone.
The third question:
How does Jesus’ coming—the first Christmas—make it possible for us to become children of God? (4:1-7)
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 this world.
But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a women, born under the law, that we might receive the full rights as sons,
to redeem those who are under the law, that we might receive the full rights as 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.
What Paul wants us to imagine is a child of a wealthy father. The son lives under the authority of appointed guardians, teachers, trustees, and so forth until the age set by his father for him to come into the fullness of the inheritance.
· “No different than a slave”
· Under the rule of “guardians and trustees”
· Until a set time
· For us, that “set time” was the first Christmas
In these verses Paul said that those people who accepted Jesus as Savior were heirs to God’s kingdom, but that those people were at one time no different from slaves. Why was an heir, which would have been a son, no different than a slave? To answer this question we must realize that Paul was speaking here of sonship in ancient Rome. In Roman law sons were raised under their father’s power, which was known as patria potestas. Patria potestas was the father’s power of absolute possession and control over a family member. The son was no greater than a slave in his father’s eyes until an appointed age. The son was under his father’s control just as a slave would have been. Until the appointed age, which was about age twenty-five, the son was placed under guardians and stewards appointed by the father in order to teach him the ways of his father and proper moral conduct. One of these guardians was called a tutor. Back in Galatians 3:24 Paul stated that God’s children, the Jewish people, were all placed under a tutor, which was the law. The law that Paul referred to here was the Law of Moses, which included the Ten Commandments and numerous other minor laws. According to Paul, in Galatians 3:23-25, the law was necessary to instruct God’s people in righteousness before Jesus came into the world to bestow the law of the Spirit. When Jesus came into the world, this time was the coming of age for all of the Jewish people who chose to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They were ready to move from childhood to adulthood or from slavery to true sonship and inheritance in the kingdom through the Spirit of God.
2. Of Age/Adulthood/Majority
· “When the time has fully come”
· THE SON comes to make us fully sons
To anyone today who does not know Jesus Christ, he or she is still under the law and is seen as a slave in God’s eyes. Today we are not under the Ten Commandments, but under the laws of men and common rules of social morality. The laws that we are under, which are taught by our parents and the government of our country, are necessary to instruct us in morality. But, as Paul said in verse 3, the laws of men are of the “elements of this world”, and if we still live by these laws then we are held in spiritual bondage. We are slaves to sin. If we do not know Jesus Christ as Savior then the Spirit of God does not dwell within us. Though the laws of men can teach us to be good people, we are incomplete and are like slaves without the Spirit of God, which teaches us the laws of the Spirit. If we do not know Jesus Christ then we are still slaves to the laws of men and are lacking the freedom found in the laws of the Spirit.
But now—Jesus’ coming “flips a switch” in the plan of God.
It reminds me of the line in C.S. Lewis’, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in which we are told that Narnia is a place where it’s always winter, but never Christmas. Winter is the same as the child under the rule of guardians and trustees.
Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, was born of a woman, meaning that God came in the form of a man to dwell on this earth for a short time among mankind. He was born under the law to redeem those who were under the law. He was born to set us free. He was born to make us part of God’s family. The great Bible scholar F. F. Bruce says that when God came to the earth in the form of Jesus Christ that, “…He entered into the prison house where his people were held in bondage so as to set them free.” In other words, Jesus went to prison and then led the greatest jailbreak in history!
We just heard that sons were as slaves to their father until they became a certain age. What God did was to enter the house of another father and ask to adopt that father’s sons, or should we say that he demanded to adopt them if they so desired to go with him. In ancient Rome a father adopted a child by paying for him. The price for our adoption was paid in full with Jesus’ death on the cross. Once a father chose to adopt a child there followed a ceremony called vindicatio. The adopting father went to the praetor, one of the Roman magistrates, and presented a legal case for the transference of the person to be adopted into his own household. After the vindicatio ceremony the adoption was complete. What English word does vindicatio sound like? It sounds like “vindication.” The word, “vindicate” means, “To clear of accusation, blame, suspicion, or doubt with supporting proof.” If we choose to follow God through Jesus Christ, then we will be cleared of any accusation of sin placed upon us, and we will be cleared of the accompanying consequence of sin, which is eternal death. Paul said that our sonship with God is like being adopted from the father of one family by the father of another family. If we do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior then we are not a part of God’s family but a part of the family of the elements of this world. When Paul spoke of the elements of this world back in verse 3 he was referring to the realm of Satan. Satan is the ruler of this world, and the elemental powers involve evil spirits and demons. If we do not know Jesus then our father is the father of lies, Satan himself, and the inheritance we will receive from the father of lies at our coming of age in him is hell and damnation. The laws of men cannot save our souls, only the laws of the Holy Spirit of God can. If we follow Jesus, we are redeemed from being under the power of the laws of men, and we will be adopted as sons of the living God. In Roman law, there were four main benefits of adoption, that are ours as well.
1.) The adopted person lost all rights in his old family and gained all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family. In the most binding legal way, he got a new father.
2.) It followed that he became heir to his new father’s estate. Even if other sons were afterwards born, it did not affect his rights. He was inalienably co-heir with them.
3.) In law, the old life of the adopted person was completely wiped out; for instance, all debts were cancelled. He was regarded as a new person entering into a new life with which the past had nothing to do.
4.) In the eyes of the law he was absolutely the son of his new father.
If we accept Jesus as our Lord then we will receive a new Father, God the Father, and we will become heirs of the kingdom of heaven, and all of our former debts, or sins, will be wiped out and our past ways forgotten. Our new Father in heaven will not hold our past against us.
Now this is interesting. During the process of adoption there were seven witnesses required to be present. If anyone later accused a son of not being adopted then one of these seven witnesses were to step forward and declare his true sonship. Paul said that God’s Spirit witnesses with our spirit to declare that we really are God’s children. Because the Holy Spirit testifies on our behalf we can cry out to God with confidence and say to him, “Abba!” What significance is there in the word “Abba?” Abba is a word that could not have been spoken by a mere slave, for it is a very intimate word reserved only for the closeness between a father and his son that is earned either after the child’s coming of age or after his adoption. Verse 6 tells us that the word Abba means, “father,” but Abba actually can be translated, “Daddy” or “Poppa.” That’s a very special word, especially today, because there are many people who don’t know what it is to have a Dad. If you want someone who will always be there for you and be a true father to you, then call upon the Lord as your Daddy. If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, then God will accept you as his own son or daughter. That’s the mission of Christmas. God sent His Son into the world to adopt us as His children.Paul says something similar in Romans 8:15-17: “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”And that is the mission of Christmas. At great price, Jesus, God’s Son, comes into the world to pay the price to make us part of the family of God. And that is what Christmas is really all about.
© Glenn Layne 2004