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Worship Theme: What Child is This?: He Turns Slaves into Sons
- CW 90: Brightest and Best
- CW 38: From Heaven Above
- CW 67: What Child is This?
- CW 80: Angels from the Realms of Glory
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Message: What Child is This?: He Turns Slaves into Sons
Pastor Jake Schram
This past week, my lovely wife and I traveled to Wausau, WI to visit some of her family. The weather chose our exact time of travel for a snowstorm to hit. Soon visibility became poor, traction a figment of the imagination. Near the end of our journey, enough snow had been kicked up under our car that it was packing together and making it hard for the tires to rotate. Thankfully, there were tracks to follow. Some car had paved the way for us. The white snow was oddly beautiful as if tempting me to get distracted from the tracks, but the consequences were too great. I knew we had to stay on track to make it safely to our destination. There was no way we could pave our own path. As we go through life, there is only one spiritual path that leads to safety. We cannot afford to be distracted or pave our own path. We have only one hope. Only Jesus will lead us to safety. He is the one who makes us his children, adopting us as his own and making us heirs.
In Galatia a travesty had occurred. The people were starting to go off the path. People were throwing away God’s truth. Paul had visited them earlier and taught them God’s word in its purest form. He told them Jesus was the Savior. Jesus had died on the cross for them. Jesus had brought about a new covenant that didn’t require people to follow the law perfectly. It was a covenant for all who were imperfect. It was for everyone. After Paul had continued his travels, Galatia received some more visitors. Some Jewish leaders had come along and tried to blend the old covenant with Jesus' new covenant. They mixed their own sayings in with God’s Word, and their mixture of half-truth and half-lie was poisoning the minds of the Galatians. Their faith was dangerously close to destruction.
Paul wrote a letter to set things straight once again. He starts with the clear message of a Savior. “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” In ancient times, the image of time being fulfilled was of a cup being filled up. When the cup was filled, the time was right. Maybe a better picture for us today is of an hourglass. The trickles of sand tell us when the time is up for something to happen. Either way the point is, this is not random. Jesus is not an aspect of chance. Jesus came with a purpose at exactly the time that was set for him. God’s hand was involved in the whole process.
This is no ordinary son. He was sent by God, born of a virgin. Jesus was clearly God for this to happen. At the same time, Jesus was born of a woman. He was also born under the same moral law that you and I were born under. These are the precepts God has set on our consciences found in the ten commandments. Jesus was required to follow these things. Jesus was also born as a Jew and so he followed the Jewish ceremonial laws set by God as well. This passage shows Jesus is not only God, but human as well for all these things to apply to him.
Paul wanted to make sure the Galatians knew this God-man came to fulfill the law in our place and redeem the rest of us. All of us were born under God’s moral law. We are all expected to follow God’s 10 commandments completely and perfectly. As we look at the scorecard, it doesn’t look good. We’ve accumulated 0 points for salvation because we couldn’t keep the law perfectly. It’s an all or nothing thing. We've all failed. A perfect God deserves a perfect people in his perfect place of heaven. We don’t fit the bill. This is where Jesus comes in. He followed the law for us, died in our place and redeemed us from all the sins we’ve committed. And he adopts us into his family as children.
Wait. Hold on a second. Adopt us? Why would he want to do that? Let me bring the scenario before you. Which one of these choices would you adopt? 1. Someone who follows all the rules and respects your authority. 2. Someone who brings meaning and benefit to the family. 3. A monster that will mess up your house, disobey your commands and fight against you every single step of the way. This person does not help you or add anything to your family whatsoever. Who would you pick? It probably wasn’t option 3. And yet that is what God chose when he adopted us. Our hearts were hard, contrary to his Word. We disobey God and are selfish beings that don’t always shine when given the opportunity. And yet God never hesitated to pick us. This next bit is from Sermon Studies of the Epistles by E.H Wendland and I thought it summed up everything nicely. “The world is a prisoner of sins (3:22) and without faith in Christ we are held prisoners of the law (3:23). Few of us can probably empathize fully with Paul’s feelings when he was confined in prison. But his picture is not difficult to understand. Sin holds us in bondage, and we cannot free ourselves. To make matters worse, our human nature is perfectly content to be a prisoner of sin. In fact, our old Adam feels that to live outside this cell block would be to deprive oneself of considerable enjoyment and to ask for unnecessary difficulties.”
Sometimes we don’t even want to be saved even though we very much need the Christmas gift of Christ because we like our sins so much. Notice, Jesus didn’t wait for us to call for Him. That might never have happened. God was distressed at our distress and sent Jesus, even using our cruel crucifixion of him for our good. What does a heavenly Father do when his children can’t pay the humongous debt owed (from sin)? He sends payment for them. And this is what Jesus has done for us.
In Roman culture. Adoption involved a tremendous change of status. An adopted son might leave one household and be placed under a new household head (at those times most likely a father). As a symbol, during a special ceremony the adopted would be sold into slavery three times and then redeemed from slavery by the adopting father. After the ceremony, adopted sons would enjoy all the privileges of a natural born son. There was now no difference between the adopted son and the son by blood. Both were considered sons with full rights. An adopted son would receive the inheritance that belonged to him.
In our text, the Greek word used for “adoption into sonship” is the official legal term referring to the full legal standing of an heir in Roman culture. In other words, there is no doubt who you belong to through this adoption. God has officially adopted you into his family and redeemed you from sin. Jesus has taken care of everything for you. Paul here tells the Galatians and us to stop thinking you have to earn your way into God’s family. What you are seeking is already yours.
Paul desperately cares for the people of Galatia, not because it helps him, but because he wants them to know the truth and be saved. Therefore, he continues his letter. And I want you to know the reason he uses the word “sons” and not “children” is because sons were the ones that had full rights way back when Paul wrote this. He is using the legal terminology of the day because he wants all of us to know, regardless of gender, that these full rights really do belong to us in Christ. Therefore, Paul continues, “6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[b] Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
Because of what Jesus has done, God sends his Holy Spirit through his Word to work in our hearts. And it turns our hardened hearts into childlike hearts with love for the one who raises us. Think of why this would be needed. It would be hard for the Pharisee to hear that he does not earn his way into heaven. Many Jews might have asked, “What do you mean, I’m no better than a Gentile? We’ve always been considered God’s People. How could we receive the same thing? That struggle to place salvation on one’s self was great. The Gentilic Galatians would struggle with many of the same thoughts or even be tempted to go back to their old ways of unbelief, shoving God out of their lives. This is apparent because at the moment Paul was writing this, the Galatians were threatening to abandon their Father and their family. They were considering letting go of the adoption by God and try to do it on their own. This is why God needs to send the Holy Spirit to his people. So they can understand and accept what Jesus has done for them.
We need it too, don’t we? I know you know Jesus is your Savior, but still we act like Jesus owes us something when we’ve been a little better in following him than usual. Or on the opposite end, sometimes we think God is punishing us for a really bad sin we committed and his all-seeing eyes certainly didn’t miss. And we carefully watch for stray lightning bolts from the sky as our guilty conscience convicts us and the devil points his accusing finger at us. It’s so tempting to think our salvation rests on what we do even when we know better. And so God sends the Holy Spirit to us through his Word, stating the age-old message of a Savior who saves. We need to hear it repeated week after week, so that our hardened hearts melt and believe in God with childlike faith.
Children are awesome. If you are a child hearing that right now, know that you are. You children are often very good at believing without doubt and adults aren’t very good at that. In our text we see the word “Abba” right next to the translated Greek word for “father”. Abba is the Aramaic word for “father.” The Aramaic and Greek words for father next to each other strongly emphasize this idea of God being our Father. Children would say “Abba/father” fully confident that their loving father would satisfy their needs. In the same way, we can be confident that God will give us what we need. Maybe not what we want, but what we need. It’s what good Fathers do. And we have the very best Father.
And because we are children, we are no longer slaves to sin which would take everything from us and leave us with nothing. Instead, we are heirs of God. Fully adopted, you have nothing to earn, but only reason to rejoice. As an heir, you receive faith, hope, love, forgiveness, and salvation. Jesus is the one who turns us from slaves into sons and daughters of God. Amen.