THE FULLNESS OF THE TIME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-19-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Fullness of the Time. It is a title from a text in Galatians chapter 4, verse 4:
But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
But to as many as received Him, to them gave He the right, the prerogative, the privilege to become the sons of God, even to them that trust in His name.
“But when the fullness of the time was come, the plērōma tou chronou,” the fullness of the days, the end of the preparatory consummation, plērōma, the full days, the full time, “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4]. God works through the centuries and the ages unchanged, unhurried. The eons pass and the purposes of God sometimes are yet to be realized.
I think of the ages of the rocks and their record of the sovereignty of God. In the Grand Canyon, at the base of that great yawning chasm is the Colorado River cutting its way now one hundred fifty feet deep into that black basalt rock. The geologists will tell you that that black rock, which is the floor of that canyon through which the river is now running, those black basalt strata one time belonged to a range of mountains that was twenty-six thousand feet high; but the ages of the ages have worn them down, and on top of them are these strata of age after age after age up to the top of the canyon. If we could liken creation and the ages of time to the Empire State Building, one thousand, two hundred and fifty-five feet high, and place on top of it a little nickel, the nickel would represent the age of man, how long mankind has been here on this earth; and the great towering structure of the building would represent the ages that are written in the rocks. God works in a sovereign choice and elective purpose through centuries and uncounted immeasurable time.
God also works like that in human history. Sometimes centuries pass before we are able to see the broad outline of God’s elective purpose. And it was so in His fullness of time, when He sent forth His Son, made of a woman: through the ages of human history God worked to that exact consummating moment when Christ should be born into the world. There was a set time for His birth, His incarnation [Matthew 1:20-25; John 1:1, 14]. There was a set time for His death, His atoning sacrificial death [Matthew 27:32-50]. There was a set time for His triumphant resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7]. There was a set time for His return into heaven [Acts 1:9-10]. And there is a set time when the Lord in triumph and glory shall return to this earth again, known but to God [Acts 1:10-11; Matthew 24:36]. And the Lord works through the centuries and the ages to bring to pass His sovereign will. “And when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
First we shall look at the religious preparation under the hands of God for the birth of the Messiah. This was accomplished in one of the greatest sorrows and tragedies in Israel’s history. The preparation for that day, when the Lord Christ should be born, was found in the Babylonian captivity [Jeremiah 52:28-30]. It would be hard for us to realize the infinite, inexpressible sadness that swept over Judah when they saw their temple destroyed, and their faith laid waste, and their people carried into captivity. Something of the pathos of that sorrow can be felt in the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Yet out of the tears and the sorrows of that captivity came the great preparation, in the fullness of time, for the Christ-child to be born into the world [Galatians 4:4].
Three things came out of that captivity [Jeremiah 52:28-30]. One: the Jew was forever and thereafter a monotheist: he never turned to idolatry again. And when Cyrus, king of the Persians, led his army into Babylon, the Persians were Zoroastrian Parsi monotheists; and the Jew found in him and in the Persian government a sympathetic friend. And out of the kindness of Cyrus they were given opportunity, the remnant, to return home to Judah, and there to build their temple and their state again [Ezra 1:1-4, 6:3].
There came out of that Babylonian captivity—second—the Holy Scriptures, the canon. Away from home, in a strange land, Ezra and the great synagogue gathered together the holy writings, and the people pored over them, seeking in tears, in sorrow, and in tragedy to find those holy promises that God had sworn to Israel and forever [Nehemiah 8:1-9]. Out of that captivity came the Bible that the Christians used to preach the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. For the Bible they held in their hands, as they proclaimed the message of Christ in the civilized world, was the Bible that was gathered, canonized, selected under God by Ezra and the great synagogue out of the Babylonian captivity.
And third: out of the tragedy of that carrying away into Chaldea came the institution of the synagogue. The temple was destroyed, the place where God’s people worshiped; so they gathered wherever they were in groups around the Bible, and in prayer, and in confession, and in supplication in those synagogue services, there they worshiped God Jehovah alone. And wherever the Jew went, and wherever the synagogue was established, they carried with them that blessed expectancy, the messianic hope, “There is Someone who is coming; there is a great Son to be born.” And they read it in their Holy Scriptures:
For unto us a Son is given, and unto us a Child is born: 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 of the increase of His government…there shall be no end, upon the throne of His father David, to establish it for ever and ever.
Wherever the Jew went, wherever that synagogue service was held, there did you find that messianic hope. Out of the captivity of Babylon came God’s preparation for the birth of His Son, “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
Second: the cultural preparation for the birth of the Son of God. In Macedonia, was a brilliant general and statesman; his name was Philip. But he was given an even more gifted and world-famous son, Alexander. And when Alexander conquered the world, he changed completely its cultural, intellectual, and philosophical conception. For when Alexander marched his armies through the Mediterranean nations, he carried with him his tutor and mentor and teacher Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher. And wherever Alexander went, there he built, inculcated, established, Greek institutions. Alexander died when he was thirty-three; and the four generals who carved up his empire—Cassander in Macedonia, Lysimachus in Asia Minor, Seleucus, whose father was Antioch, in Syria, and Ptolemy in Egypt—they carried on and furthered the Greek culturalization of the civilized world. And the whole earth, from one side of its civilized processes to the other, became solidly Greek: Greek culture, Greek philosophy, Greek institutions, Greek art, Greek drama, Greek literature, and above all Greek language. It was the language of the civilized man for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Down there in Egypt, in 280 BC, seventy-two scholars translated the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language; it is called the Septuagint. And that Greek Bible is the Bible that the Christian missionaries and preachers held in their hands when they were scattered abroad throughout the Greco-Roman world. Those Christian preachers took the scrolls of the Septuagint, and cut the pages, and put them together at the back in what was called the codex—you call it a Bible—that they might the more readily and easily turn to the text that proved that Christ is the very Son of God. That was done in Greek. And the Bible they held was Greek. And the message they delivered it in was Greek. From one side of the empire to the other the Christian message was delivered in Greek. When Paul wrote his letter to Rome, he did not write it in Latin, he wrote it in Greek. When John wrote his letters to the seven churches of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22], he did not write them in the languages of Misthia, or Cappadocia, or Bithynia; he wrote them in Greek. Little did Alexander realize when he was conquering the civilized world, that he was preparing a universal language that all men might understand the glorious goodness of God in the gift of the Son. “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
Not only the preparation under the sovereign hand of God religiously and culturally, but the preparation under God’s elective grace politically. Rome had conquered the whole civilized earth, and held the nations of the world in an iron hand. She bound that world together by roads, Roman roads. I have walked upon them many times; they are used today. From Great Britain, up there to Northumbria in Scotland, clear to the Indus River in India, travelers could meet, merchantmen could travel, people could go from place to place without fear of violence or molestation. She bound the empire together in the best postal system the world up to that time had ever known. Letters could be written from place to place, and carried fearlessly from city to city and province to province. And over those Roman roads did the missionaries travel, the evangelists, bearing the good news of the Son of God. And over those roads did the messengers carry letters of encouragement from church to church.
It was a world of peace—enforced, I know, held in tow by the Roman government, these forces of violence, warfare—but it was a world of universal peace. The god Janus, the god of doors and gateways, whose beautiful temple was in Rome, Janus, January, a face this way and a face that way, in times of peace the doors to the temple of Janus in Rome were closed. In times of war they were open. But in times of peace they were closed. And when Christ was born, for years and years the doors of the temple of Janus were closed. It was a time of universal peace. “In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
And little did the Caesar who sat in the emperor’s throne in the imperial city realize that what he did was under the supremacy and the sovereignty of Almighty God. Look at it: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary” [Luke 1:26-27]. But as I read the passage, the first introductory chapter in Luke, as I read the passage, the angel Gabriel is sent to Galilee, to a town named Nazareth [Luke 1:26]. But Micah said He should be born in Bethlehem! [Micah 5:2]. I turn the page; [Luke] chapter 2, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus,” the imperial potentate of the entire civilized world, Caesar Sebaste, Caesar the reverent one, an appellation of God, Latin, “Augustus,” a decree from the ruler of the earth, namely, “That all the world should be enrolled”; a census. “And all went to be enrolled, every one to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child” [Luke 2:1-5].
“In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4]. That Caesar never realized, nor did he ever guess that what he did was in the sovereign purpose of Him who rules over the whole universe [Proverbs 21:1].
“In the fullness of the time,” the religious preparation, the cultural preparation, the political preparation, and last, the personal preparation: this was in heaven. Before the foundation of the world, before God had flung out into space these myriads of stars, these sidereal spheres, these Milky Ways, our system with its planets orbiting around; in the beginning of the beginning of the beginning of the ages, preparation was made in heaven for this day of birth and incarnation [Matthew 1:20-25; John 1:1, 14]. For somewhere, sometime in the immeasurable ions before God made the world, there was a session between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Three in One. And before the Lord God was the vista, the panorama of all of the ages that lay ahead; for there is no yesterday or tomorrow with God, just an eternal now. He is the great “I Am” [Exodus 3:13-14]. And looking through the vista of the ages ahead, He saw Adam’s fallen race [Genesis 3:1-6]. And there, according to the Word of God, the Savior Christ, the Prince of Glory, volunteered to be a man, and a sacrifice, and an atonement for our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14]. As the Revelation describes Him, “He is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world” [Revelation 13:8]. And as the tenth chapter of Hebrews describes that scene in glory:
Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body, a body hast Thou prepared for Me . . .
Then said I, Lo, I come, (in the volume of the roll it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God.
[Hebrews 10:5, 7]
In the beginning of the beginning of the ages of the ages, the Prince of Glory volunteered to become flesh, to become a man, a body prepared in which He suffered for the sins of the world, that we might be made children of God [1 John 3:1].
And the Lord worked out that sacrifice, that prepared body, through the ages of human history. In the beginning, the Seed of the woman [Genesis 3:15]: so His body should be made and fashioned in the secret part of a woman. “In the fullness of the time, God sent His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4]. God fashioned that body in the deep, secret part of a woman, with the promise that He would break, destroy, crush Satan’s head [Genesis 3:15]. And in the days and the centuries that passed, God chose Abraham, and said to him, “In thy seed, as of one, shall all the families of the earth be blessed” [Genesis 21:12; Galatians 3:16]. And that seed was promised through Isaac, and the seed was promised through Israel, through Jacob [Genesis 13:14-15; Psalm 105:8-11]. And Jacob gathered his twelve sons around him as he lay on bed to die, and said to Judah, his fourth son, “Judah, the lion’s whelp, the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come” [Genesis 49:9-10]. There should be a state and a government of Judah until the Lord Christ shall be born. And out of the tribe of Judah, God selected the throne of David; sent Nathan the prophet to David to say to a man after God’s own heart, “After thee, thou shalt have a son who shall sit upon thy throne forever and ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end” [2 Samuel 7:12-16]
And Micah prophesied, “Thou little Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou art tiny among all the great cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall rule My people; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” [Micah 5:2]; the Prince of Glory, who in the beginning of the beginning, from everlasting, has been God’s incarnate only begotten Son, He shall be born in little Bethlehem. “In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
When the angels made the incomparable and celestial announcement, they said, “Go to Bethlehem, and see for yourself. This shall be the sign that it is so: ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” [Luke 2:11-12]. And down that Bethlehem road came Joseph and Mary, being great with child [Luke 2:4-5]. “And in the fullness of the time, He was born, made of a woman.”
There is a song in the air! There is a star in the sky!
There is a mother’s deep prayer and a baby’s low cry!
And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing,
For the manger of 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.
Ay! 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 His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Everlasting Father, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the world [Isaiah 9:6].
A dear member of this church said to me, “I wish I could walk with you down that Bethlehem road.” Do it today. Let’s walk down that road and bow in the same reverential adoration of the uncouth, untutored shepherds [Luke 2:8-16], in the same bowing of worship and devotion of the magi, the Parsi priests, the wise men [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11].
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.
[“O Come, All Ye Faithful,” John F. Wade]
And while we sing that hymn, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, while we sing the hymn, come; down one of these stairways from the balcony, into the aisle, here to the front on the lower floor, “Here I come, pastor, and here I am” [Romans 10:9-10]. Do it now. Make the decision now. On the first note of the first stanza, come. God bless you, angels attend you in the way as you come, as we stand and as we sing.