THE FULLNESS OF THE TIME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-15-85 10:50 a.m.
And we welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who are sharing this praiseworthy service with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message, an exposition of a verse in Galatians 4:4. It is entitled The Fullness of the Time. And the verse, in Galatians 4:4:
But when the fulness 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.
[Galatians 4:4, 5]
That we might be included in the wonderful, worthy, praising family of God. "When the fulness of the time was come" – the plerōma, translated "fullness," plerōma. It means the completed preparation; God’s purpose of grace, extending through all the eons and the ages and the centuries and the years; the plerōma of God. The full preparation of the Lord God for the coming of His Son into the earth.
Time is a creation. We live in time. There is no time with God. God looks upon the whole story of human history, the Alpha and the Omega, and it is all present before Him. To us, we may be here or there, but to God it is always present. He sees the end from the beginning [Isaiah 46:10]. There’s no time with God. I think of the eons of our Lord in the created work of His hands, the ages in which God hath wrought the wondrous world around us.
If you’ve ever been in the Grand Canyon, you can look down for one solid mile. And when you get to that mile in the heart of the earth, the Colorado River is winding its way three hundred feet deep in basalt, solid, hard, adamantine rock. And the geologist will say that that basalt at the bottom of the canyon was at one time mountains twenty-six thousand feet high, and that the ages and the ages have worn them down until now they are buried at the bottom of that canyon.
God is unrushed, God is unhurried, and God is unchanged. And in the plerōma of the Lord God, He works out His purposes of grace through the centuries and the centuries. Sometimes in human history it will be centuries before we can see the purpose of the hand of God, but He works and He guides and He directs – the plerōma of God.
"But in the fullness of the time" – chronos, we use that word in many of our English combinations – a chronology or chronicles, chronos, time. God has an elected time for everything, so the Book of Ecclesiastes says. "There is a purpose and a time for everything under the sun" [Ecclesiastes 3:1]. There’s a time when you are born – you had nothing to do with that. There will be a time when I shall die [Ecclesiastes 3:2], in God’s purpose and grace. There will be a time when God shall raise us from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. There will be a time when we are before Him in heaven and the Lord gives us the rewards of our work [2 Corinthians 5:10] – a time, a set time, in the plerōma of chronon, of time.
Thus there was a time for the Lord to be born and all history and the ages moved towards that moment [Matthew 20-25]. There was a time, a set time for Him to be crucified [Matthew 27:32-50]. There was a set time, a chronon for Him to be raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. There was a set time for Him to ascend into heaven [Acts 1:9-10]. And there is a set time when the Lord is coming again [Acts 1:11, Revelation 19:11-16].
In the Book of Romans 11:25, Paul uses this exact word. Listen to it: "I would not have you without knowledge, my brethren, concerning the blindness that in part has happened to Israel." It is a musterion, a secret that God has kept in His heart "until the plerōma, until the plerōma of the Gentiles be come in" [Romans 11:25] – until the last Gentile that is to be redeemed, walks down that aisle.
Then, in the next verse, verse 26, then shall the great Deliverer, our Lord Christ, King, come from the heaven to be the Lord of all the earth [Romans 11:26]. There is a set time for the coming of our Savior. In the purpose of God, all history moves toward that final consummation; the plerōma of history.
So he avows, "when the fullness" – the plerōma of the chronon – "of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman" [Galatians 4:4].
The preparation of the Lord God for the coming of His Son into the earth; I speak first of the ecclesiastical, the religious preparation under the hand of God. When the Babylonian captivity took his people into slavery and destroyed the temple in Jerusalem [2 Chronicles 36:19-20], and there was no more sacrifice, and no longer a priest to stand before the Lord, to the Jew, to the captive slave nation, it was an indescribable agony. The one hundred and thirty-seventh Psalm reflects that infinite hurt and sorrow of the destroyed nation:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps upon the willow trees 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.
But 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.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Out of the agony and the tragedy and the sorrow of that destroyed nation and that Babylonian captivity, came the great purposes of God for the coming of His Son into the world. There were three things that arose out of that Babylonian captivity.
Number one: thereafter and forever the Jew was a monotheist. All of his history he had fallen into idolatry and image worship, but after the captivity, in a world of polytheism and image worship, the Jew was alone, standing in monotheism, pointing to the one true God in the earth.
Number two: out of the sorrow and hurt of that slavery in Babylonian captivity came the canon of the Holy Scriptures. Ezra and the great synagogue gathered together the holy writings of the Lord and they became the Bible of God.
And number three: out of the Babylonian captivity came the assembly of God’s people; no longer a temple or a ritual or a sacrifice, but the gathering of the people – synagoga – the gathering together of the people of the Lord. The synagogue was born in the Babylon captivity.
And that was the plerōma of God for us. Standing before the world, the Christian preacher and missionary, pointing to the one Lord God Savior of the earth, than which there is none other [John 14:6; Acts 4:12]. He alone is King and Lord in heaven and earth. Number two: the Christian preacher with a Bible in his hand, the inspired, holy, infallible Word of the living God [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 2:20-21]. And three: the assembly of God’s people in the house of the Lord, the congregation of the redeemed family of God [Hebrews 10:25]; the plerōma, the purpose of God, moving in human history.
Dear people, let me turn aside here and just for a word away from the sermon itself. There is always, always an ultimate purpose of God in human suffering, always. I may not understand it. I may not see it. I may not be able to enter into it, but there is a plerōma – there is a purpose of grace, in human suffering.
I think of the story of the martyrdom of Stephen in the Book of Acts [Acts 7:54-60]. Devout men made great lamentation as they carried the stoned and executed and martyred body of that wonderful preacher to his grave [Acts 8:2]. But out of it, the persecution that revolved around the death of Stephen sent the Christian preachers and missionaries over the civilized world [Acts 8:1-4]. That was one.
And the other was, when Saul of Tarsus met Jesus on the road, the Lord said to him, "Saul, Saul, it is hard for you to kick against the pricks" [Acts 9:1-5]. What did He mean by that? The Book of Acts and Paul’s testimony is plain. Paul never saw a man die as Stephen died. And however he tried to drown it in his mind and memory, there was Stephen, kneeling down, while the stones were beating his life away, praying for those who were slaying. And it changed him. And it called him. He became God’s brave emissary and affirmation of the faith. Always there is a purpose in suffering, and it’s in your life. It’s in our lives. And if we will but look up and trust and have faith, God someday will make it plain. He will explain it to you. There was a reason for it. There is a plerōma working in the earth, God’s purpose of grace.
"In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman" [Galatians 4:4]. Not only was there an ecclesiastical, a religious preparation for the coming of our Lord into the world, but there was also in history a cultural preparation.
Alexander the Great, when he began the conquest of the civilized world, took with him his teacher Aristotle. And Alexander the Great made the whole civilized world Hellenist, Greek. Greek institutions, Greek philosophy, Greek architecture, Greek culture and Greek language; from one side of the empire to the other, the whole civilized world became Greek. They spoke Greek. When Alexander died at the age of thirty-three, he was the same age as our Lord. When Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided by his four generals into four quadrants, and they carried through that Greek Hellenization of the civilized world. Cassander took Macedonia, the European part of the Greek Empire. Lysimachus took Asia Minor. Seleucus, whose son was Antioch Antiochus, took Syria. And Ptolemy took Egypt. And they continued that Hellenization of the civilized world; it became Greek from one side to the other.
Therefore, when the Christian preacher and the evangelist went forth, declaring the wondrous works of God in Christ Jesus, they spoke in a universal language. From one side to the other they preached in Greek, and the whole world could understand. When Paul wrote his letter to the great capital city at Rome, called the Book of Romans, he wrote it in Greek [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. And when the sainted apostle John wrote his letters to the seven churches of Asia, he wrote them in Greek. From one extremity of the empire to the other, it was Greek.
And those first Christian preachers, soulwinners, proclaimers of the wonderful grace of God, when they stood anywhere in the civilized world, they could be understood and they could hear Greek. Little did Alexander the Great or his successors dream that in building a Greek empire they were preparing the way, the plerōma, for the grace of God in the coming of Christ Jesus. "In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman" [Galatians 4:4].
Not only in the plerōma of God, the purposes of God in human history, was there a religious preparation and a cultural preparation, there was also a political preparation for the coming of the Christ-Child into the world. The Roman Empire laced all the nations of the earth together like that with Roman roads. You can walk anywhere. You could go anywhere. From Great Britain on the north to the Indus River on the east, Roman roads were everywhere, and they were free and protected. They had one of the finest postal systems the world had ever seen. You could send letters from one side of the civilized world to the other. And the people lived in an enforced peace. There were no wars. There were no battles. There was a Pax Romana, a universal Roman peace.
In the city of Rome was a temple of Janus, the Roman god of doorways, and highways, and gateways. He had two faces, opposite faces. And the month of January, named for him, was his feast. One face looking back and the other face looking forward. In times of war, the gates, the doors, of the temple of Janus were open. The soldiers were on their way to battle. But in times of peace, the doors of the temple of Janus were closed. And for years and for years, in the days of the Christian beginning, the doors of Janus were closed.
And the Christian missionaries and the apostles of our Lord and the preachers of the gospel of Jesus went forth over Roman highways, down Roman roads, in peace and in safety, declaring the saving grace of the Son of God, the plerōma, the fullness of the time. Little did any Caesar ever realize, that what he was doing in building the Empire, he was making ready, and making way for the coming of the preaching of Jesus our Lord; a miracle of God’s grace.
Not only in the plerōma of God, the purposes of grace, the completed preparation for the coming of our Lord [Galatians 4:4] – not only religious, God working through His people, and not only cultural, with Greek and its institutions, and not only political, with the Roman Empire and its roads and its universal peace, but there was also personal preparation in heaven. I’ve often wondered, and you have too: what does that mean when the Book of the Revelation, the Apocalypse, describes Jesus as the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world? [Revelation 13:8]. Back and further back, in the dim uncounted eons and ages of history, before the creation of the world, Jesus, before God, the Lamb slain for the sins of His people.
In the Book of the Hebrews, there is described a scene [Hebrews 10:5-14] in which and at which time the Son, the second person of the Trinity, offered, volunteered, to be the Savior of the world: "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God [Hebrews 10:7]. A body Thou hast prepared for Me" [Hebrews 10:5], before the world was made. [Hebrews 10:5]. Then the author of Hebrews expatiates upon that incarnation: "Verily, He took not upon Him the nature of angels, but He took upon Him the seed of Abraham" [Hebrews 2:16], "made in the likeness of human flesh" [Philippians 2:7]. "And as such, was tried and tempted as we are, though He without sin" [Hebrews 4:4-15]. Wherefore He became a faithful and high priest who understands all about us and is able to mediate and to intercede for us, because He also knows the trials of our flesh [Hebrew 2:16-17]; the plerōma of God, the purposes of God, before the world was made [Revelation 13:8].
Then, in time and in earth, the Seed of the woman, the Protevangelium, the gospel before the gospel; in Genesis 3:15: "The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head." The old rabbis pored over that and wondered at that: "the Seed of the woman." A woman doesn’t have seed! A man has seed, yet the prophecy, "the Seed of the woman shall crush his head" [Genesis 3:15]. Then the same glorious promise appeared again in Abraham. "And in thy Seed, as of one," Paul says, "in thy Seed, as of one, shall all the families of the earth be blessed" [Galatians 3:16; Genesis 22:18], the Seed of the woman.
And the beautiful prophecy of Micah, in Micah 5:2: "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, little though you be among the towns and cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall be governor and Ruler of My people, whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting" [Micah 5:2]. He always watched. And the day came in the plerōma of God, born of a woman [Galatians 4:4]. And on the rocky road to Bethlehem, she makes her way, great with child; and by her side, Joseph [Luke 2:3-7].
And the day came, and the moment came, the plerōma of God, when the full preparation was finished. And the angel host burst into singing, saying, "And this shall be the sign unto you: you shall see the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" [Luke 2:12], an eternal sign to be wondered at forever. Wrapped in swaddling clothes, so poor there was no little garment made, no little dress made for the Baby, she had wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, in rags. Born in a stable, lying in a manger [Luke 2:12], a sign to be wondered at forever. There, womanhood was glorified. There, motherhood was sanctified; and there, childhood was magnified, glorified. Lord God in heaven, how could such a thing be?
"In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman" [Galatians 4:4], that He might redeem us to be adopted into the family of God [Galatians 4:5]. Lord, Lord, what a gospel, and what a praise, and what a joy, and what a thanksgiving – Christmastime, incarnation time, nativity time, Jesus’ time, coming into the world to redeem us to God.
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
At 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 Gilbert Holland]
Who couldn’t be glad at Christmastime? Who couldn’t join in the worship of the magi and bow at His feet [Matthew 2:11], and who couldn’t lift his heart with praises to God for such an unbelievable, loving grace? It would never have been thought for, it’s so astonishingly wonderful!
And that is our message for your heart, to give yourself to the grace of the Lord Jesus. "Pastor, today, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand." A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church, "Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming today." Or to answer the call of God in some purpose of grace, "I give Him my heart and my life, and here I stand." In a moment, we will sing an invitation hymn and when we sing that song, in the balcony around, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "This is God’s time for me, dear pastor, and I’m answering with my life." Make the decision now in your heart, and in this moment when we sing, be on the way. "Here I come, pastor. Here I am."
And Mary, could I say to your sweet, wonderful people: not to join the church, but if one of you gifted, dedicated young women would like to reconsecrate and rededicate and regive your life to the Lord, come. We’ll have a prayer together, and you can go back to your seat. Or any other somebody you; a beautiful time, a wonderful time. "Lord Jesus, this is Your time, and I give my life to Thee." To that end, may we share in the prayer?
Our Lord in heaven, could there be any more beautiful season of the year than Christmastime? And could there be any more meaningful gospel than the one the Lord Jesus has brought to us in His humanity, made of a woman? [Galatians 4:4] Born into this world in human flesh [Matthew 1:20-25], lived our life, understands all about us, is our friend, our Savior, came to defend us, to guard us, to keep us, some day to raise us from the dead [1 John 4:14] and to present us faultless in the presence of the great Glory in heaven. O God, what the Lord Jesus has done for us! We praise Thee. We exalt Thee, Lord, Lord, that we could do it better, say it better, sing it better, live it better. And our Father, give us now a gracious harvest.
These who come, "I want to regive my life to the Lord Jesus," or "I want to take Thee as my Savior," or "I want to put my life in the fellowship of this dear church, and here I stand." May angels attend in the way, Lord, as they come, in Thy precious name, amen. While we stand and while we sing.