IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-10-72 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled In the Fullness of Time. In our preaching through the Book of Galatians, we are in chapter 6, but I skipped over a text in the fourth chapter because I wanted to deliver it at the Christmas time. And that day has come. Galatians chapter 4:4: “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law” [Galatians 4:4]. And the text: “When the fullness of the time was come”; to plerōma tou chronou, when the full number of days had arrived, when full preparation was made, “at that time God sent forth His Son, made of a woman,” born of a virgin [Matthew 1:23], “made under the law,” a member of the family of God.
As I read that text, immediately there floods into my mind the recounting of the preparation of the Lord in history and in time for the birth of His Son. “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son,” born of a virgin, “made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4]. God moves, God acts in time, and in ages, and in centuries, and the Lord works unhurriedly, without haste. Sometimes it is eons and eons before God brings to pass that holy purpose that He hath in His heart. But He never changes [Malachi 3:6]. He works and in His sovereign will and grace these great movements progress forward under His surveillance.
The ages and the ages that God took in the formation of this planet—have you been to the Grand Canyon? Up here at the top will be a geological stratum, and beneath that another, and beneath that another, and beneath that another, and another, and another, and another, and down and down and down the record of God’s work through the eons, the ages, is written there in the rocks. Finally, you gaze on the course of the Colorado River, in its serpentine, circuitous, torturous path through solid basalt black rock.
And those geologists who are following the course of the ages will say to you that that black basalt rock down there in the bottom, buried beneath these strata above, at one time were mountains twenty-six thousand feet high. But the ages and the ages wore them away, wore them down, and finally other ages buried them in the record that you see in that great yawning abyss of the Grand Canyon.
So it is with mankind. God works in human history. To us, the age of man seems so elongated. But the geologist says that, if you were to compare the age of the earth to the age of man, it would be like the height of the Empire State Building, 1,255 feet upward, and then at the top place a nickel, and the age of man is like the thickness of that nickel compared to the age of the rocks, which would be the entire height of the Empire State Building. Yet always, and through it all, the sovereign grace of God does move.
So it is here: “When the fullness of the time was come,” God moved through history, through time, through the centuries, through the ages, and brought to pass this epochal moment to plerōma, “the full days,” tou chronou, “the exact time.” There was an exact time known to God, chosen of the Lord, when the Christ should be born [Matthew 1:18-2:1]. There was an exact time when He should die [Matthew 27:32-50]. There was an exact time when He should be raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. There was the exact time when He should ascend into heaven [Acts 1:9-10]. There is an exact time, known but to Him, when the Lord shall descend in glory from above [Acts 1:10-11]. The power, the sovereign grace of God moving in human history; “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born of a virgin, born under the law, a member of the household of the Jewish religion” [Galatians 4:4].
This morning we’re going to take four great moving purposes of God as the Lord shaped the whole civilized earth for the coming of that birth in Bethlehem. First: the religious preparation; and as I think of the hand of God among the Jewish people, preparing for the coming of the Savior of the world, I think first and foremost of the Babylonian captivity. There could have been no sorrow like unto the sorrow of those forlorn and displaced people, when they saw their temple destroyed, their holy city set up in flame and fire, destroyed by the fury of the Babylonian armies, and saw their people carried into captivity [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21]. To them it was the disaster of all disasters. You can feel somewhat the sense of the tragic sorrow of those enslaved, displaced, removed people 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.
The sadness of the tragedy of the Babylonian captivity—yet out of it came three tremendous things, each one of which prepared for the coming of the Christ.
One: the Jewish people were thereafter and forevermore monotheistic. They were never idolatrous again. They never went a-whoring after pagan gods. They never bowed down before idols, never. The Persians were monotheists, and the Zoroastrians––their state religion––the Zoroastrians were in deepest sympathy with the Jews, and under their guidance they were given opportunity to return home [Ezra 1:1-11]. The three magi––if there were three––the magi were Zoroastrian priests, and they had come all the way from the East and Persia to bow down before the newborn King [Matthew 2:1-2]. First: out of Babylonian captivity, the Jews were forever thereafter monotheists.
Second: out of that Babylonian captivity came the canon of the Holy Scriptures. Under Ezra and the great synagogue, the holy writings inspired of God were gathered together and were taught to the people and reverenced by the nation.
And third: out of that Babylonian captivity came the institution of the synagogue. It is that kind of a service, and that kind of a sunagogos, that kind of a gathering together that we enjoy as the church of Jesus Christ today. And all over the civilized world were those synagogues to be found, and in those synagogues was the Holy Scriptures to be taught, and there was created in the whole civilized world an expectancy that out of the East there should come a Savior and a Deliverer for mankind.
How little did the Jewish people realize—in the tears and sobs and sorrow of the loss of their homeland and their deportation in the Mesopotamian Valley—how little did they know that, in the sovereign hand and purpose of God, He was preparing for the coming of the Savior into the world [Galatians 4:4]. Oh, if we had time, how we could speak of that! Out of tragedy and out of sorrow come practically all of the great blessings of God in human life.
I think of the first Christian martyr, when Stephen was stoned to death [Acts 7:54-60]. The Scriptures say that devout men buried him and made great lamentation over him [Acts 8:2]. Yet look at the next sentence: “Upon the persecution that arose around Stephen, the disciples were scattered every where, preaching the Word” [Acts 8:4; 11:19-20]. Look at the next chapter: “And Saul was consenting unto his death” [Acts 8:1].
And when Saul of Tarsus saw the martyrdom of Stephen, the Lord Himself said, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” [Acts 9:5]; it stayed in his mind, in his soul, and God changed the persecuting Saul of Tarsus into the flaming evangelist and missionary Paul the apostle [1 Timothy 1:13-16], in the death and in the martyrdom of Stephen. God preparing for the coming of His Son: “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
Second: the cultural preparation; in about 350 BC, there arose in Macedon the son of the Macedonian King Philip, and he named that son Alexander. And there was born in the heart of Alexander an ambition to conquer the world, which he did in a comparatively short span of twelve years. And when Alexander the Great took his army and overwhelmed the entire known world, he carried with him his teacher, Aristotle, the philosopher. And so significant and so permanent was the influence of the conquests of Alexander that the entire world became Greek.
It became Greek in its culture, Greek philosophy, Greek institutions, Greek art, Greek drama, Greek literature, Greek architecture, Greek thought, Greek patterns of life, and Greek in its language. Little did Alexander the Great know that he was preparing for the preaching of the gospel of Christ to all men everywhere. Alexander was followed by his four great generals who divided the Alexandrian Empire into four great quadrants, and they continued that Greek life and culture.
In Egypt, in 280 BC, the Holy Scriptures of the Hebrews was translated into Greek, into the Septuagint, and that was the Bible that the first apostles and disciples of Christ used for the preaching of the gospel to the whole world. When Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome, he wrote it in Greek, and when John the sainted disciple and beloved of the Lord wrote his seven letters to the churches of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22], and the Apocalypse with it [Revelation 4:4], he wrote it in Greek. It was the universal language of distinction and of culture and of intellectual teaching. Little did Alexander the Great realize that he was in the hand and purpose of God in his conquest of the civilized world. “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
Third: the political preparation for the coming of the Christ; in the peninsula that to us on a map looks like a boot stuck down there in the heart of the Mediterranean, there was a little city called Roma, and a little nation around it. But they were disciplined and they were fierce and mighty warriors, and that little country annexed to itself all of the little countries around until they possessed the entire peninsula.
Then they spilled over into Europe above, and then into Africa below, and finally to the Middle East beyond. And the Roman had a genius for government and for pulling people together. They laced the entire civilized world with Roman roads. They are traveled on today, those paved roads. You could go from one side of the Empire to the other. And they rid the whole world of pirates on the sea and robbers on the land so that merchants and people could travel from one side to the other without fear of molestation. And they inaugurated the finest postal service that the earth had ever known so that letters could be written and carried in dispatch all over the known world. And they brought to the world the Pax Romana, the universal peace.
Their god Janus, who has two faces looking this way, looking the opposite way, the god of doors and gateways, his shrine in Rome was closed when there was peace. Janus, January, the month of January is named for him, Janus; the doors were closed when Christ was born—there was universal peace, and men could go everywhere preaching, teaching, proclaiming, announcing the good news of the birth of the Son of God. Little did the Romans realize that in creating their empire they were preparing the earth for the coming of the Christ.
Why, look. The Scriptures themselves say in the first chapter of Luke that when God sent Gabriel from heaven to announce to a virgin Jewess that she should be the mother of this foretold, foreordained Child, God sent Gabriel to a little city in Galilee named Nazareth [Luke 1:26]. But Micah, seven hundred years before, had said that He should be born in Bethlehem in Judea! [Micah 5:2]. Second chapter, “And there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the earth should be enrolled” [Luke 2:1]—a census, possibly for tax purposes—“that all the earth should be enrolled.”
And according to the custom of the Jewish people, “Joseph of Nazareth went up to Bethlehem, there to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child, for he and they were of the lineage and household of David” [Luke 2:4-5]. “And while she was there, the fullness of the time came”: when God sent forth His Son, born of the virgin, made of a woman [Galatians 4:4]; the hand of God in human history [Luke 2:6-7]. Little, little, little did Caesar Augustus realize that when he made that decree, he was carrying out the infinite sovereign purposes of the Almighty God.
Fourth: the personal preparation; sometimes it is almost impossible for us to enter into the infinitude of the mind of God. For the Scriptures say that He was “the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the earth” [Revelation 13:8]. Before God flung the stars into space, and before God spoke these planets into orbit [Hebrews 11:3], God saw the gift of His Son, His sacrificial death, and the plan of salvation for our lost souls [Revelation 13:8]. Before the earth was made, before the foundations were laid, all time and all history and all ages are in the present before God.
To Him there’s no yesterday, there’s no tomorrow. To God it is always now. He is the great “I Am” [Exodus 3:14], and He looks upon all history in the present. He sees it all before Him. He sees the end from the beginning. All of it is before His review. And in the purposes and in the plan of God, in the beginning there was a volunteer in heaven [Hebrews 10:4-14].
The Lord saw the fall of the race, and He saw our desperate plight of death and judgment. And in the beginning, before the foundation, the creation of the earth, sometime in the eons of the eons, back, and back, and back, in the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews we are told that there was a volunteer in glory—“Lo, I come; in the roll of the book it is written of Me to do Thy will, O God” [Hebrews 10:7]—when the Lord said, “The sacrifices, the blood of bulls and heifers and goats could not wash away sin, nor the ashes of a heifer” [Hebrews 9:13; 10:4].
But in the atoning grace and poured out life of the Son of God should we find remission for our sins! [Matthew 26:28]. And all of these other sacrifices, the pouring out of blood, the burnt offerings, all of them were but types, symbols, figures of the glorious, complete, once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our sins [Hebrews 9:9-14]. And back there, back there, back there, before the beginning of the beginning was there the volunteer of the Son of God in heaven, to be a propitiation, to be atonement, to be expiation, to be sacrifice, to be the instrument of the washing away of our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14].
For it behooved Him, not to take upon Him the form of angels; but He took upon Him the seed of Abraham
And He was made like unto us, that He might be a faithful High Priest, understanding, sympathizing.
For in that He Himself hath been tried, He is able to encourage, and succor, and bless, and help all of us who are tried.
[Hebrews 2: 16-18]
And thus did He find Himself in heaven, our sacrifice, and the Lord worked it out through the centuries and the generations in the earth [Revelation 13:8].
In the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, the Lord says, “He shall be born of a woman, it shall be the Seed of the woman that shall bruise Satan’s head” [Genesis 3:15]. In the twelfth chapter of Genesis and thereafter it is to be the Seed of Abraham, “For in thy Seed, as of one, shall all the families of the earth be blessed” [Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:29]. And in the forty-ninth of the same Book of Genesis, there do we learn that the prophet Jacob, turning to his fourth son, Judah, says to Judah, “For a lawgiver shall not depart from Judah, nor shall the scepter be taken out of his hand until Shiloh come”; He shall be born of the tribe of Judah [Genesis 49:10].
And in the seventh chapter of 2 Samuel, there do we learn that God hath promised to David that “He should have a Son who shall sit upon his throne, and reign forever and ever, and of his kingdom there shall never be end” [2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16]. And then in Micah, chapter 5, we learn He is to be born in the little city of David, called Bethlehem [Micah 5:2]. And upon a day of days, and upon a night of nights, “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law” [Galatians 4:4]…”And according to the mandate of government, Joseph, with his espoused wife Mary, being great with child, heavy with child, made their way to Bethlehem” [Luke 2:4-5].
And in that night, in the fullness of the time, when the exact day, night, moment came, toward which God had moved in all the ages and in all history, the Child was born [Luke 2:6-7]. The heavens opened, and the angels, who’d been in expectancy, watching the sovereign work of God through those ages, the angels in their hosts came down, and to the startled, watching shepherds announced, “For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be the sign unto you: Ye shall find the Babe in a manger, dressed in swaddling clothes” [Luke 2:10-12], so poor He had no garments, just rags around Him. And the shepherds were invited to go look and see for themselves [Luke 2:10-12, 15-16]. Then, unable to contain heaven’s joy any longer, the moment of moments had come, they burst into song: “And glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will, toward men” [Luke 2:13-14].
“In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law” [Galatians 4:4].
There’s a song in the air!
There’s a star in the sky!
There’s 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,” J.G. Holland, 1874]
“When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, born of a virgin [Matthew 1:23], made under the law” [Galatians 4:4], to redeem us from the curse of the law [Galatians 3:13], “that we might receive the adoption of sonship, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” [Romans 8:15]. The God of time, the God of the centuries, the God of history, the God of all the ages, the God of the present, the God of the future, the God of glory, the God whom some day we shall see face to face [Revelation 22:3-4].
To give your heart to that promise, to give your life in praise to that King, today, would you come? “Pastor, I accept the Lord as my Savior, and here I am” [Romans 10:9-10], or “We’re putting our life in the fellowship and circle and circumference and communion of this church, and here we are.” Make the decision now in your heart, and on the first note of this first stanza, come. In the balcony round, you, down one of these stairways, and there’s time and to spare, if you’re on the back row of the back seat; on this lower auditorium, into the aisle and here to the front: “Today, pastor, I make that choice, and I’m coming.” Do it now. Make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand coming down that aisle; do it, do it. Come now this Christmas season, this glorious, happy, incomparable, meaningful, significant day. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.
FULLNESS OF TIME
A. God works through
time, unrushed, unchanged
– ages in the rocks
history – age of man
exact time known to God for Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, ascension and
II. Religious preparation
A. Babylonian Jewish
1. Thereafter and
forever the Jew was a monotheist
2. Canon of the
3. The institution of
B. God’s purpose of
grace through loss, sorrow(Acts 8:1-2, 4, 9:1,
5, 11:19, 22:20)
III. Cultural preparation
A. The Greek
B. Greek became
IV. Political preparation
A. Entire civilized
world in the Roman Empire
connected all the nations
2. There was
universal Roman peace
B. The decree of Caesar
Augustus(Luke 1:26, 2:1-7, Micah 5:2)
V. Personal preparation
A. The Lamb slain from
before the foundation of the world(Revelation
time, history and ages are present before God(Exodus
volunteered in heaven(Hebrews 2:16-18, 4:15, 9:13,
10:4-5, 8-10, Philippians 2:7)
in the Old Testament (Genesis 3:15, 12:3, :10,
2 Samuel 7:13-16, Micah 5:2, Luke 2:4)
The day came when the preparation was finished(Luke
2:10-14, Romans 8:15)