In the Fullness of the Time
December 11th, 1966 @ 8:15 AM
IN THE FULLNESS OF THE TIME
Dr. W.A. Criswell
12-11-66 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled In the Fullness of the Time. When Paul writes of the nativity of our Lord, he couched it in that language and with those words. In Galatians 4 and verse 4:
But when the fullness of the time was come,
God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.
God works in time, through the centuries, through the ages, through the millennia—unhurried, unrushed, and unchanged. We see the record of God in the rocks. Eons and ages sometimes pass as God brings to fruition His sovereign, and eternal, and unchanging purpose.
We see that same sovereign will of God worked out in the long story of human history. And to us, ofttimes, it will take centuries and centuries for us to understand even the broad outline of the sovereign elective purposes of God. But He works, and He guides, and He brings to consummation in time and in history. “In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
To us, time comes like turning a corner, moment at a time, hour at a time, day at a time, month at a time, year at a time. To us, we see events come to pass one after another, in their order. But to God, all of history is in the present tense: “I Am That I Am” [Exodus 3:14], as though someone stood on a high vantage point and watched a vast parade, seeing the beginning and the end, and all of it moving together. To a watcher on the street below, the parade would come around a corner, around a corner, group at a time, event at a time. But to the watcher high on the eminent, the whole moves as one unit.
Thus it is in human history before God. To us it happens day at a time, event at a time. But to God it moves as one complete unit. It is an eternal present before the Lord. And as God looks upon time and history, this is a time for this event; this is a time for this event; this is a time for this event. In your own life, when God looks through the whole story of human history, here you were born, and here you shall die, and these are the events that lie in between. God sees them all from eternity.
So in the life of our Lord, in the fullness of the time, when the preparation of God was complete, here was a set time in which our Savior was born [Matthew 1:20-25]; here is a set time in which our Savior was crucified [Matthew 27:32-50]; here is a set time in which our Savior was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]; here is a set time when He ascended up into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], and the ascension gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the earth [Acts 2:1-4]; and here is a set time when the Lord shall come again [Revelation 1:7].
In the greatest providences of God, He will reveal ofttimes to His prophets—the servants of the Lord—these great, glorious, future coming events. For example, in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Exodus is revealed the crucifixion of our Lord. He is our Passover Lamb [Exodus 12:1-28; 1 Corinthians 5:7]. In the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Leviticus, God reveals the day of the resurrection of our Lord; on the day after the Sabbath, on the Sunday, the first day of the week [Leviticus 23:10-14]. In the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, God let the prophet see a vision of the Passion and the suffering of our Lord [Isaiah 53:1-12]. And in the chapters of the Revelation, God gave to John a foreview of the glorious coming of our Lord and the consummation of the age [Revelation 1-22].
In the fullness of the time, God works through human history. So it was in the preparation of the world for the nativity of Christ, the birth of our Savior. In the fullness of the time, when the preparation of human history was complete, God sent forth His Son—born, made, created in the womb of a woman [Luke 1:30-35; Galatians 4:4]. The hand of God in human history, preparing for the coming of the Savior into the world, can be seen by us in the broad outlines by which God’s choices were implemented through the years and through the centuries.
We see it in the religious preparation of the world and in the purposes of God for His chosen people, the Jewish nation. They were carried into captivity. Their holy city Jerusalem was razed to the ground. The temple of Solomon was destroyed, and the people were carried away to a foreign and a strange land [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21]. There in Babylon did they sit down—they hung their harps upon the willows in the midst thereof, for they that wasted them required of them a song, and they that carried them away captive required of them mirth, saying, “Sing unto us one of the songs of Zion. But how can we sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land?” [Psalm 137:2-4]: the indescribable, unutterable, pathetic sorrow of the people of God, weeping by the rivers of Babylon.
But out of that captivity and out of that infinite sorrow came three great things. First: no longer or ever again were God’s people idolatrous, polytheistic. They became then, and forever after, monotheistic. Second: out of that sorrowful captivity came the Holy Scriptures, the canon of the Bible. And those first Christians cut up those long scrolls and bound them at the back, that they might find more quickly and easily those holy prophecies that spake of the coming of our Lord. This codex that I have in my hand, this Bible is an invention of the first Christian preacher who stood up to show by the Word of God that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah of heaven. And third: out of the sorrow of that captivity came the institution of the synagogue. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, James—the Lord’s brother, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem—says that at every city Moses is read in all of the synagogues of the land [Acts 15:13, 21].
And out of that wonderful, marvelous, scattering abroad of the Holy Scriptures, and out of the institution of the synagogue that announced the prophecies of the Lord, the world was made ready for the glorious announcement that the Savior has come to walk among men [Matthew 1:20-25; John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16], to die for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3], to be raised to heaven for our justification [Romans 4:25], and in glory someday coming again [Acts 1:9-10]. Little did the Jewish nation ever realize how their sorrows and their Babylonian captivity was in preparation for the coming of the great King [Galatians 4:4].
“In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” [Galatians 4:4]. Again, the hand of God in human history was preparing the earth for the coming of the Savior in its cultural life and development.
There arose out of Macedonia a brilliant, possibly the greatest military strategist the world has ever seen—his name was Alexander, the son of Philip of Macedon. And in a comparatively short period of eleven years—as the prophet Daniel describes in script, like a leopard with four wings [Daniel 7:6]—Alexander the Great conquered the then known world, and he made it Greek: Greek institutions, Greek language, Greek culture, Greek life. And when Alexander was succeeded by his four generals—Cassander, who married his sister, Thessalonike, all of Graecia was his; and Lysimachus, all of Asia Minor was his; and Seleucus, whose father was Antioch, all of Syria was his; and Ptolemy, all of Egypt was his—they continued that march and thrust of Greek life, and Greek culture, and Greek language, so much so that when Paul wrote to the church at Rome, he wrote in Greek. So much so that when you dig up the papyri in Egypt, you find them written in the Greek language. And when the announcement came that the Christ was born the Savior of the world, there was a universal language that all learned men everywhere in the civilized world could understand. “In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” [Galatians 4:4]. Little did Alexander the Great realize, or Cassander, or Lysimachus, or Seleucus, or Ptolemy, that they were preparing the world for the coming of the Son of God, when they gave to the world a universal language and a universal culture.
In the fullness of the time, in the plērōma of God, the Lord came into the world, born of a woman [Galatians 4:4], and in those centuries God prepared the political world for the nativity of our Savior. The entire earth, when the Savior was born, was under the aegis of one imperial government. Rome reigned supreme over the earth. There was Roman law, there was Roman government, there were Roman roads, and the whole world was interconnected. There was universal peace, there was a universal language, there was universal communication, and men in merchandizing ships and in caravans moved from one side of the known world to the other, from Great Britain down to India.
In the fullness of the time; and little did Rome realize she was preparing the way for the coming of the Savior of the world: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin whose name was Mary” [Luke 1:26-27]. But Micah said:
In Bethlehem, for thou Bethlehem,
though thou be little among the cities of Judah,
yet out of thee shall He come who shall be the Governor of My people; whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting.
Out of thee, Bethlehem . . .
But the story begins:
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to Joseph of the house of David;
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
But Micah said Bethlehem! [Micah 5:2]. But the virgin lives in Nazareth! [Luke 1:26-27]. I turn the page:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus,
that all the world would be enrolled, a universal census . . .
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth,
into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem:
To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
How little did the imperial Augustus Caesar realize that he was fulfilling the sovereign purposes of God when he announced that universal census [Luke 2:1]; in the fullness of the time, in the sovereign and elective preparation of God, for the birth of the Lord into the world [Galatians 4:4]. So down that Bethlehem road we see the holy couple travel, Joseph and his espoused wife Mary, being great with child [Luke 2:4-5].
No wonder the angelic host cried with triumph from heaven, “And this shall be the sign unto you; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” [Luke 2:12], a sign to be wondered at, to be marveled at [Luke 2:12, 18]. There is womanhood glorified. There is motherhood sanctified. There is childhood magnified; a sign to be wondered at. This is the incarnation of God made flesh to live in the earth [Galatians 4:4].
There’s a song in the air! There’s a star in the sky!
There’s a woman’s deep prayer And a baby’s low cry!
And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing,
For the manger in Bethlehem cradles a King!
There’s a tumult of joy O’er the wonderful birth,
For the virgin’s sweet Boy Is the Lord of the earth.
And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!
[“There’s a Song in the Air,” Josiah G. Holland]
“In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4]. And one other brief comment—and how desperately did the world need and await that Savior. For all the earth, all the earth was in the power and in the grasp of a tyrannical, imperial government. To the Roman, all other men were slaves; to the Greek, all other men were barbarians; to the Jew, all other men were dogs. And the world had known no other thing than one empire after another, the marching armies that enslaved other nations and other people, and the whole world lived in hopeless, dark, unmitigated despair. And into that world the angels sang and made the glorious announcement of the birth of the King, the Savior of the world [Luke 2:9-14].
And how we need—oh, how we need that glorious gospel preached among the families and nations and men of our world today! In those awful and trying years of the First World War, when the armies dug trenches, and the lines of battle stayed stationary sometimes year after year after year, when Christmas came, on Christmas Day, one of those soldiers stood up and sang a Christmas carol, and hearing his voice, an inspired solder found a tree and set it there in no man’s land. And both sides laid down their arms, sang together, exchanged food, and forgot the arts of war. I have come to understand the climactic description in that ninth chapter of the Book of Isaiah:
For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given:
and the government shall rest upon His shoulder:
and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
And if there is a mother here who has a son in Vietnam, you will know what I mean; the climax of the glorious description of the Son of God: the Mighty God, yes! The Everlasting Father, yes! The Prince of Peace, as Micah wrote:
And when men look up to Him as Lord and King, then shall they beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruninghooks:
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
But every man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree; and there shall be none to make them afraid.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the ferocious lion will eat straw like an ox.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6]: “In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4]. And in the fullness of the time, in God’s elective purpose for us, someday we shall see that glorious Prince coming again, descending on the clouds [Luke 21:27]; “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20].
Now while we sing our song of appeal, somebody you give himself to Jesus. “Here I am, pastor, and here I come. I have this day taken the Lord as my Savior, and before men and angels I am confessing my faith in Him.” You come and stand by me. A couple you, to put your life, your home in the fellowship of the church: “This is my wife, pastor, these are my children; all of us are coming today.” However God shall say the word and lead in the way, make it now. On the first note of the first stanza—we’re all God’s people, we’ll all remain here in prayer, singing this song of appeal—in the balcony round, somebody you, come. The press of people on this lower floor, in the aisles and down to the front, “Here I am, preacher, I make it now.” We’re going to sing that, oh, so beautiful a song, “There’s A Song In The Air, There’s A Star In The Sky.” And while we sing that song, you make it now, “Here I come, pastor,” while we stand and while we sing.