THE FULLNESS OF THE TIME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Galatians 4: 4
12-10-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing a Christmas message entitled The Fullness of the Time. In our preaching through the Book of Galatians, we are in chapter 6. But I skipped over a verse in chapter 4 because it is a message that fits and presents this beautiful time of the year when we rejoice in the incarnation, the nativity, the birthday of our Lord. The text is Galatians 4:4: “Now when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” And that passage, of course, refers to the birth of our Lord in the city of David in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1].
“When the fullness of the time was come,” to plerōma, the full days, the full preparation, chronos, the exact time, “when the exact moment came, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman,” born of a virgin [Matthew 1:23], “made under the law” [Galatians 4:4], a member of the house of David and of Abraham. “In the fullness of the time,” God working and preparing for the coming of the Lord, God moves, God works in time and in the centuries and in the ages. And He moves unhurried and unrushed, but always in preparation for these prophetic events revealed beforehand in the Word of God. How sometimes deliberately does the Lord move through the ages.
If you have ever been to the Grand Canyon, one age after another age, a stratum followed by another stratum, down and down the record of the geological ages in the rocks, and finally, in the bottom of the great canyon, the Colorado River is cutting its way through solid black basalt. And these geologists will avow that that black basalt buried beneath the ages and the ages of the strata above, that that basalt used to be mountains that were twenty-six thousand feet high, but the ages and the ages have worn them down, and they’re buried now beneath those vast geological strata up above them.
If we were to consider the age of man, the whole story of mankind since he’s been here in the earth; a geologist one time likened the story of man, the age of man, compared to the age of the rocks, as being as if on the top of the Empire State Building, 1,255 feet high, you put a nickel, and the breadth and the depth and the thickness of that nickel is the age of man compared to the geological ages of the rocks. God moves through the eons unhurried, unrushed.
Sometimes in the story of history it takes centuries for the man just to see the bare outline of what God is doing. That is the meaning of the phrase, to plerōma tou chronou, “in the fullness of time.” “At the exact moment,” with the years and the centuries of past preparation, “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law” [Galatians 4:4]. We shall look this morning at some of the years and centuries of God’s preparation for the birth of the Christ Child into the world.
We speak first of the religious preparation. And when I think of the religious preparation for the coming of our Christ, I think first and foremost of the great tragic sorrow that overwhelmed the people of God in the Babylonian captivity. The sorrow of the loss of their temple and of their holy city and of their nation in Judea [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21] is reflected in the sadness of the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion … For there 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 shall 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.
[Psalm 137:1, 3-6]
But out of that sorrow and out of that captivity came three great things. One: monotheism; the Jewish people were never again idolatrous, polytheistic. They were then and forever since the great monotheistic teachers of the world. Zoroastrianism is monotheism, and the Persians were sympathetic with the Jews, allowed them to return home [Ezra 1:1-11]. And when the Christ was born, it was Zoroastrian Parsee priests, called the magi, translated “the wise men” who came from Persia to worship the newborn King [Matthew 2:1-2]. Out of the sorrow and tragedy of the Babylonian captivity, first, was born the monotheistic dedication of the Jewish people.
Second: out of the sorrow of that captivity came our Bible. Under Ezra and the great synagogue, the Holy Scriptures were gathered together, and were taught the people as being the divine revelation from heaven.
And third: out of that sorrow of the captivity came the birth of the synagogue. You have its format and its services in the church that we meet in today. Since their temple was destroyed, the altar taken away, the people gathered for the study of the revelation of God around the Holy Scriptures. And the synagogue services came into being in the Babylonian captivity. Little did they realize when their nation was destroyed and they were carried away, little did they realize that God was preparing for the coming of His Son and for the propagation of the gospel to the ends of the earth! [Matthew 24:14].
It is hard for us to realize that out of the tragedies and sorrows of life come those blessings that God uses to exalt His name among men. I think of the martyrdom of Stephen, the first Christian to lay down his life for the Lord [Acts 7:54-60]. The Bible says, “And they buried Stephen, and made great lamentation over him” [Acts 8:2].
But look at the next story! The next verse says, “And upon the persecution that arose about Stephen, the disciples of the Lord went every where preaching the gospel of Christ” [Acts 8:4; 11:19-20]. And the next story: “And Saul was consenting unto his death” [Acts 8:1]. And from the prayer of Stephen [Acts 8:59-60], and from the example of the martyrdom of Stephen, God converted and changed Saul, the persecuting zealot from Tarsus, into Paul the apostle of the word and message of Christ [1 Timothy 1:13-16]. Thus the preparation for the coming of the Lord into the world religiously; out of the sorrows of the Babylonian captivity came that great Jewish mission to the world that made possible the preaching of Christ in every city and community in the civilized world.
Second: the cultural preparation; when Alexander the Great, in about 350 BC, began his conquest of the civilized world, he took with him his teacher, the philosopher Aristotle. And in a comparatively short period of time, the entire civilized earth became Greek; Greek institutions, Greek culture, Greek philosophy, Greek architecture, Greek thought, Greek poetry, Greek drama, Greek literature, Greek language. It became the universal, cultural language of the Greco-Roman world.
And when Alexander the Great died, his four generals that carved up his empire into four parts, Lysimachus, Cassander, Seleucus, Ptolemy, they carried to completion the Greek culture and institutions and color and life of the entire world. In 280 BC, when in Egypt the Holy Scriptures of the Jewish people were translated into Greek, it became the Bible of the Christian preacher. Wherever in the world that he went, there did he take the Greek Septuagint with him, the Greek Bible, and preach the gospel of Jesus.
When Paul wrote from Asia Minor his letter to the church at Rome, he wrote it in Greek. And when John the apostle wrote the seven letters to the churches of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22], on the other side of the empire, he wrote it in Greek. Little did Alexander the Great realize that under the hand of God, the Lord was preparing the world for the coming of His Son. “In the fullness of the time” [Galatians 4:4], the entire civilized world spoke Greek.
Third: the political preparation for the birth of the Christ Child; there arose in that peninsula that looks like a boot, there arose a people in a little enclave around a small city called Roma. And those people were warriors of the first class and of the first order. And they began to conquer the little city nations all around them, and then beyond that peninsula they began to cross the seas and into Europe, Africa, and finally into the Near East, until they molded the greatest empire the world had ever known.
And when they made their empire to cover the civilized world, they laced it together with Roman roads, up until that time, the finest roads that the earth had ever seen. You could travel from one side of it to the other on paved roads, some of which are used to this day. And they inaugurated a postal system so that the letters to the churches could be mailed and carried, and swift messengers could go from place to place with the glad and wonderful tidings of the Son of God. And they brought into being a Pax Romana; there was universal peace under the iron disciplinary hand of the Roman government.
The temple of Janus, Janus was the Roman god of gates and of doors, and he has two faces, one looking one way, one looking the opposite way. And in days of peace the door to the temple of Janus––our January named after him––the temple of Janus was closed, and the doors to the temple of Janus were closed in the days of Augustus Caesar, when Christ was born. And little did the Romans realize that they were building an earth into which the gospel of the Son of God was to be preached.
You see, when the angel Gabriel was sent from heaven to visit the virgin Jewess who was to be the mother of this foretold and foreordained Child, he was sent to a town in Galilee named Nazareth [Luke 1:26]. But Micah, seven hundred years before had said He should be born in Bethlehem [Micah 5:2].
“And in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled” [Luke 2:1]; we suppose for the purpose of taxing the people, but there was to be a census of the whole earth. And according to the custom of the Jewish people, each one went to the home of his fathers, there to enroll in the geological families of the nation of the Lord [Luke 2:3]. “And Joseph took his wife Mary, being heavy with child, for he was of the line and descent and genealogy of David, and he took her to Bethlehem, the city of David, there to be enrolled” [Luke 2:4-5].
And the time was fulfilled, and the day and the exact moment came, and He was born in Bethlehem, in the city of David [Luke 2:6-7], according to the prophecy of Micah, seven hundred years before [Micah 5:2]. Little did Augustus Caesar realize that he was carrying out the great mandate of God when he established the decree and promulgated the mandate that the whole earth was to be enrolled: “In the plerōma tou chronou,” in the fullness of the time, at the exact moment, God preparing the world for the coming of the Christ [Galatians 4:4].
Fourth, and last: the personal preparation—the religious, the cultural, the political, and last—the personal preparation for the birth of Christ into the world. Before the stars were made, and before this creation, before the foundations of this planet were laid, before God by fiat spoke it into existence [Hebrews 11:3], “Before the foundation of the world the Lamb was slain” [Revelation 13:8]. Isn’t that an almost, almost infinite conception beyond what we can realize, how God sees the end from the beginning?
All of it is present to Him. What happened yesterday, what is happening now, what is happening to the end of the ages, all of it is present with God. “And before the foundation of the world was laid, the Lamb was slain” [Revelation 13:8]. The tenth chapter of Hebrews presents a scene in heaven before civilization, before the man fell [Genesis 3:1-6], when Christ volunteered and a body was prepared for Him [Hebrews 10:4-14].
And He was made, not after the likeness of angels, but according to the seed of Abraham; like unto His brethren, of flesh and blood, that He might be a sympathetic and understanding High Priest—
for all of us who are tried and need a Savior—
The personal preparation.
For the Lord said in the beginning, in the third chapter of Genesis, “He shall be born of a woman, the Seed of the woman” [Genesis 3:15]. And the Lord said in the twelfth chapter of Genesis, to Abraham, “And in thy Seed, as of one, shall all the families of the earth be blessed” [Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:29]. And Jacob, turning to his fourth son Judah, said to him as he lay dying in the forty-ninth chapter of Genesis, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh, until the Savior come” [Genesis 49:10]. And in the seventh chapter of the 2 Samuel, God said to David that he “shall have a Son, and He will sit upon His throne and reign forever and forever” [2 Samuel 7:12, 13, 16].
He is to be born of a woman [Galatians 4:4]. He is to be born of the seed of Abraham [Genesis 12:3]. He is to be born in the tribe of Judah [Genesis 49:10]. He is to be born in the household of David, and to be a king forever [2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16], and He is to be a native of the little town of Bethlehem [Micah 5:2].
“And in the fullness of time” [Galatians 4:4], at the exact moment, the angels burst through the ramparts of heaven, and the very sky was opened, and they announced to the startled, watching shepherds that, “There is born unto you this day, this moment, this hour, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” [Luke 2:10-12, 15-16].
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 as the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a king
There’s a tumult of joy at the wonderful birth,
For the virgin’s sweet Boy is the Lord of the earth
Ay, the star rains its fire as the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King
[from “There’s a Song in the Air,” J. G. Holland]
“When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, made under the law” [Galatians 4:4].
God reigns, and God moves, and God directs in human history. Sometimes it is difficult for us to follow the outline of what the divine Sovereign grace purposes for us and for the earth. But He lives, and He reigns, and He moves, and He directs, and blessed are those people who find themselves in the purpose and will of God.
And bless you this morning as you come, some to confess faith in Christ as Savior [Ephesians 2:8], some to put their lives in the fellowship of this precious church. As the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now. In this balcony all around, there’s a stairway at the front, at the back, and on either side, and there’s time and to spare, come. Come. Make the decision now in your heart and come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I decide now.” When we stand to sing, stand walking down that stairway or walking down this aisle, do it now. Make it now, 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)