When the Fullness of Time Had Come…

by Dave Miller on December 21, 2012 · 9 comments

Galatians 4:4-5   But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Around 400 BC, God spoke to Israel through the prophet Malachi, calling Israel to repent of their sins. He lodged 5 accusations against them and gave evidence that each was true, in spite of Israel’s protestations of innocence. And then, God went silent. For nearly 400 years, there was no prophetic word given to the people of God. There were false prophets who claimed to have a word from God, and there were false messiahs who claimed to be God’s chosen servant, but there was no word from heaven. .

It was a tumultuous 400 years in world history and in the life of Israel. Empires rose and fell, some oppressing Israel in the process. There were several rebellions, large and small, led by self-appointed deliverers, each of which ended in death, destruction and domination. But with all that was going on, God was not speaking.

It would have been easy for someone to assume that God had forgotten Israel or abandoned them, that the blessings of the past had ceased. Was he distracted with other affairs or  God would no longer speak to Israel by his prophets, or work in Israel, or do mighty works on their behalf. Anyone who thought that would have been wrong.

God was still at work among his people, but he was working silently, quietly, behind the scenes. He was working to prepare the world for the most important events in its history, events that would take place in a small and insignificant town named Bethlehem. This would be the turning point in all of human history. And step by step, day by day, year by year, God was preparing his people for this moment.

One day, everything changed. The God who was silent spoke again, to a priest named Zechariah. He was headed into the temple; it was his turn to burn incense. As he was going about his duties, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and the 400-year silence was broken. The sequence of events was set in place that brought the Son of God into this world, that led to his death on the Cross and to his Resurrection, and that change the eternal destiny of sinners throughout time and throughout this world.

Have you ever been through one of those times when you were sure God had forgotten about you? Have you ever prayed and prayed and waited and waited and yet there was no word from heaven? Sometimes, that is just the way life is in this world. We look at things with our wisdom and things look a certain way – hopeless, threatening, discouraging, depressing.

In my first year of seminary, I took Church History from Dr. John Hannah at Dallas Seminary. In one of his first lectures, he told us how God worked in those 400 years, and even before, to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah. That lecture has stayed with me (and fortunately, so have the notes) and is a powerful testimony to the sovereign hand of God in world affairs.

Again, Galatians 4:4-5 says:

Galatians 4:4-5   But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

God sent his Son to be born of a woman and to redeem sinners like you and me, to make us part of God’s eternal family, “in the fullness of time.” At just the right time. When everything was ready, God sent his Son. God had not been inactive since Malachi’s prophecy, he had been working behind the scenes, directing world affairs, bringing everything together perfectly; preparing people, nations, cultures and the entire world to be precisely for the coming of the Savior. God was not resting, he was working to set up the most important events this world would ever see. He had not forgotten Israel, he was making straight the path for their Messiah, the promised one, the hope of the ages.

In eternity past, in the heart of the Godhead,a plan had been devised to redeem a lost and sinful world. Since creation, the plan had been in effect, inexorably driving the world toward Golgotha. In Genesis 3:15, God speaks to Adam and Eve after the fall and tells them that One would come who would, after being struck by him, would crush the Serpent’s head. And since that time, God had been bringing that moment into being.

The time was now and the plan was initiated.

Galatians 4 is not the only place such a principle is seen. In Mark 1, Jesus comes out of the wilderness to begin his public ministry, saying,

‘Mark 1:14-15  Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Now is the time for the kingdom of God to be proclaimed in Israel. The time is fulfilled.

In John 7:8, Jesus refuses to go up to a feast in Jerusalem, because his time has not yet fully come. But later, when the time for the crucifixion was ready, Luke 9:51 tells us that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. It was time to go.

Luke 9:51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

Jesus lived his entire life on a time clock. He came at the right time. He lived at the right time. He went to Jerusalem at the right time and he died at the right time.

God is always at work. When you see him working powerfully, answering prayers, bringing everything together, providing what you need – God is at work. When nothing is working out, when your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling and never get to their destination, when you cannot see God at work – he is still at work. You may not see it, you may not understand it, but God is still at work.

Let’s examine the work that God was doing so that at just the right time, Jesus was born. Let’s look at what God was doing between Malachi and Matthew to get things ready for the Savior’s birth. Here’s what Dr. Hannah told us.

1) God raised up the Greek Empire to provide the fertile philosophical and intellectual soil in which the gospel could be planted.

The Greeks are famous for their philosophers, their thinkers, and their culture. Those were all important aspects of the work of God. The Greeks were used of God to provide two nutrients for the work of Christ.

  • The Greek language became the lingua franca for the entire western world. One of the great barriers to the spread of the gospel is language. People, barring miracles, can only understand the gospel in a language they understand. When Paul traveled from city to city, he did not encounter such problems. Alexander the Great’s conquests also led to the spread of Greek as the common language wherever Paul went.
  • Greek philosophy raised people’s expectations that there was something greater, nobler in life; that there should be meaning and order. They asked the big questions but never were able to answer them. Only Christ could bring the meaning that the philosophers taught people to expect.

2) God raised up the Roman Empire as a vehicle for the spread of the gospel.

The Romans made several contributions to the preparation of the world for the coming of Christ.

  • The Pax Romana, won by the iron boot of Rome, provided a safe environment in which Paul could travel. We hear nothing of Paul being waylaid by thieves or robbers. He could travel from city to city in safety.
  • The Roman roads were the means by which he traveled. He did not have to hack his way through the wilderness – the Romans had built roads for ease of travel throughout the Empire.
  • The Roman army, though it was often used to persecute, was also a vehicle by which the gospel spread. Paul tells us in Philippians 1 that his imprisonment has served to advance the gospel and that “it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard that I am in chains for Christ.” Dr. Hannah reminded us that Paul was guarded by Roman soldiers around the clock while imprisoned. But if he could not get away from them, neither could they get away from him. If you spent several hours with Paul, you were likely to hear about Christ.

3) God prepared Israel as the birthplace of the Messiah.

Christ was born as a Jew among Jews. While God’s heart was for the whole world, the backbone of the work was with Israel.

  • Judaism was the theological framework of the gospel. The Old Testament spearheaded monotheistic religion in a world of polytheistic paganism.
  • The Old Testament made it clear that sin could only be atoned by a blood sacrifice and laid the foundation for the substitutionary atone of Christ at the Cross.
  • During the time of Christ, there was great messianic expectancy in Israel. Dr. Hannah told us that there were at least forty men during those years who claimed to be the Messiah. As today there are a lot of folks making wild eschatological claims, in that day there were a lot of messianic claims being made. Of course, Jesus fooled them by coming as a Lamb to seek and to save, not as a lion to conquer and rule, but the expectations were there, nonetheless.
  • The Jewish Diaspora was crucial to the early spread of Christianity. The Assyrians sent Israelites around the world, when the conquered the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC. They formed communities and built synagogues. When Paul went into a new town, he would go to the synagogue and proclaim Christ. A few converts would be made then he would be kicked out and would take his small core with him as he went to the Gentile world.

For those 400 years, God was not inactive, he was preparing the perfect world for the coming of the Messiah, for the foundation of the church and the spread of the gospel to the four corners of the world.

Sometimes, the activity of God is clear and evident. But often he is working behind the scenes, in ways that we cannot see. But he is always at work to accomplish his purposes, to glorify himself among us, to redeem a people for himself from this wicked world and to transform us to be like Christ.

In those silent times, when God feels far away, we can know that he is near, he is active, he is working all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. He may be preparing our world for the great thing that lays ahead or simply teaching us to walk by faith when our sight is gone. But he is always at work.

His amazing preparation of the world for the coming of Christ demonstrates that.

 

1 Bruce H. December 21, 2012 at 9:55 am

Great presentation, Dave.

God’s ability to work unseemly and unknowingly among 6 billion people to accomplish His will without affecting anyone’s personal will is an incomprehensible thought. We can see the outline but not the detail. It was a personal study on the attributes of God that helped me find peace and rest and fear in Him. How wonderful our God is.

2 Dave Miller December 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Thank you, Bruce.

3 Bob Cleveland December 21, 2012 at 10:50 am

I guess it all boils down to really trusting God, doesn’t it?

Seems logical to me….

Great post.

4 Dave Miller December 21, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Thanks.

5 Jess Alford December 21, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Dave,

I think during the silent times is when God could be speaking the loudest. Working behind the scenes, even though we may not hear. The King of Kings working in our behalf. Good post.

God, never ceases to amaze me..

6 Dave Miller December 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Yep.

7 Christiane December 21, 2012 at 2:30 pm

” for you who revere My Name,
the Sun of Righteousness
will rise
with healing in His wings ”

(from Malachi 4:2)

8 Christiane December 21, 2012 at 6:44 pm

O Antiphon for December 21 – the coming of ‘The Light of the World’

‘O Dawn of the East,
Brightness of the Light Eternal and Sun of Justice,
come
and enlighten them that sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death.’

and from ALAN CROSS’s blog, this

O Oriens
“O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal
and sun of righteousness:
Come
and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.”

and from Malcolm Guite, this:

‘every trace of Light begins a grace in me, a beckoning.
The smallest gleam is somehow a beginning and a calling;
“Sleeper awake,
the darkness was a dream.” ‘

9 Christiane December 23, 2012 at 7:14 pm

O Antiphon for December 23

from ALAN CROSS’s blog, this:
O Emmanuel
“O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.”

from Malcolm Guite, this:
“O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden Spring of Light.
Come to us Wisdom, come Unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and Holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O Heart of Heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny Hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made Hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S3Ehe9DdlU

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