By Philippe R. Sterling
During the Christmas season, we mostly reflect on the announcements of Jesus’ birth recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. However, we may also reflect on the wonderful aspects of the birth of Jesus described in Galatians 4:4-5. In that passage, the Apostle Paul stated:
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
There are six key questions a journalist tries to answer to make sure a news article has covered the whole story:
- Who? (Agent) Who was involved?
- What? (Act) What was done?
- When? (Timing) When did this occur?
- Where? (Scene) Where did this occur?
- Why? (Purpose) Why was this done?
- How? (Means) How was it done?
Rudyard Kipling memorialized these six questions in the opening of his poem “The Elephant’s Child’:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
Let’s ask these six journalistic questions of our text in order to more fully understand the coming of Christ into our world.
First, let’s take note of WHEN. Paul wrote, “But when the fullness of the time had come…” More than 2,000 years had passed since God gave Abraham the promise of a Seed that would bring blessing to the world. Israel had been struggling for over 1,400 years to try to live in accordance with the Law given through Moses. Finally, the time was right, and God sent the Messiah into the world.
Several factors may have marked the fullness of the time. First, because of their exilic and post-exilic experiences, the Jews had forsaken idolatry and were focusing on the study of the Scriptures. The Scriptures had prepared many of them for their Messiah. They had established a synagogue system that would provide a model for churches and a springboard for proclaiming Christ. Second, Alexander the Great and his successors brought about a common language (koine Greek) and a common culture across the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world. The good news of Christ could spread easily, and the NT could be written in a commonly-understood language. Third, the Romans had brought about a period of peace and stability, the pax Romana. They had also built an extensive system of roads that would facilitate the spread of the good news of Christ. God’s timing was perfect!
Second, let us take note of WHO. Paul stated, “God sent forth His Son…” The main Personages are God the Father and God the Son.
Third, let us take note of WHAT. Paul indicated, “God sent forth His Son…” God the Father commissioned God the Son to go forth. We call Christ’s commission to believers in Matt 28:18-20 the Great Commission. We might call the commission of the Father to the Son the Greatest Commission.
Fourth, let us take note of WHERE. Paul did not specify where God sent forth His Son, but we know from other texts that God sent forth His Son into the world. Hebrews 10:5-7 testifies of Christ:
Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—
In the volume of the book it is written of Me—
To do Your will, O God.’”
Fifth, let us take note of HOW. Paul stipulated that Christ was “born of a woman, born under the law…” The statement born of a woman indicates the virgin birth (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:18-25). It also recalls the messianic promise in Gen 3:15 regarding the Seed of the woman. Jesus is both divine and human. He is the God-Man.
Jesus was also born under the law. He was born to Mary, a Jewish mother. He was circumcised on the eighth day. And, after Mary’s forty days of purification, He was presented to the Lord in Jerusalem with the appropriate sacrifices (Luke 2:21-24). He kept the Law perfectly all His life (Matt 5:17).
Sixth, let us take note of WHY. Paul stated that Jesus came “to redeem those who were under the law…” Redeem means “to buy out” or “to buy back.” It was a term used for purchasing a slave from the slave market in order to free him. Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price to redeem us from our sins.
Furthermore, it was Christ’s purpose to redeem us “that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Adoption meant granting sonship to someone who was not a natural son. In the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day, a wealthy man with no natural children might have freed a young slave, then adopted him as a son. The novel by Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, which was adapted into a movie, relates such a story. We were slaves to sin. Christ paid the price for our freedom. God adopted us into His family when we believed in Christ for eternal life (John 1:11-13). Our adoption as sons made us heirs of God and makes it possible for us to become fellow-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:15-17).
A final question is, SO WHAT? This is not a journalistic question. It is a personal question. What is your response?
God sent forth His Son to make us His children. All that we need to do to become children of God and have eternal life is to believe the Son’s promise: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Have you believed in Him for everlasting life? It really is that simple.
If you have believed in Him for the gift of everlasting life, are you living for Him so that you might be one of Christ’s coheirs in the life to come (Rom 8:17b)?
Philippe Sterling is the pastor of Vista Ridge Bible Fellowship in Lewisville, TX. He and his wife of 45 years, Brenda, live in Denton, TX, near their daughter, Sarah, son-in-law, Ben, and grandkids.