Listen as I read from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, starting at Galatians 3:27. Paul writes:
For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise. Now I say that as long as the heir is a child, he differs in no way from a slave, though he is the owner of everything. Instead, he is under guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were in slavery under the elements of the world. When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir. (Galatians 3:27-4:7)
Though it isn’t apparent in our English translations of the Bible, the apostle Paul refers to God using two different languages in this passage. He says, “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Gal 4:6). While these words mean the same thing, oddly enough, Paul repeats himself in two languages. He speaks of God the Father first in Aramaic, then second in Greek. But why?
As Paul writes here about our adoption as sons into the family of God, his mind goes to a seemingly unusual place (Gal 4:5). He seems to be thinking back to the Lord Jesus Christ in the garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion. In the garden, Jesus suffered terrible agony in his soul. Mark says, “He began to be deeply distressed and troubled” (Mk 14:33). Then, he fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from him (Mk 14:35). At that moment, he cries out to God and says, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will” (Mk 14:36).
Paul’s use of two languages, Aramaic and Greek, is significant primarily because of the allusion to Christ in the garden. As he writes to the Galatians about God sending the Spirit of his Son into the hearts of his people, he uses the very titles for God that Jesus used as a subtle illustration (Gal 4:6). It reminds us that believers are God’s children. We are not only accepted by God, but he also elevates us to the status of his sons and daughters. His Spirit brings us into the same intimacy with him as Christ the Son. Just as Jesus called out to God, “Abba, Father,” we, too, can call out, “Abba, Father!” (Mk 14:36; Gal 4:6).
Paul says to those who were baptized into Christ, “You are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir” (Gal 3:27; 4:7). How is this possible? How do enemies of God and slaves to sin become God’s beloved children? Paul answers, “When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4, 5).
Let’s consider what Paul says here, one piece at a time.
When the time came to completion
Paul begins, “When the time came to completion—“ (Gal 4:4). Some Bibles say, “When the fullness of time had come,” alerting us to the fixed nature of God’s plan. Think of filling a glass with water. Before pouring water into it, you know how much it can hold. If it’s an eight-ounce glass, it will hold eight ounces of water. Similarly, God’s plan to send his Son was known and fixed before it began. The apostle Peter says, “Christ was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1Pe 1:20). God always knew—better yet, he predetermined according to his sovereign will—the exact moment his Son would be born into this world. He was not born one second early or one second late. He arrived precisely when the time was fulfilled.
We should take comfort in the precision and perfection of God’s plan of salvation. When our grandfather, Adam, sinned in the garden of Eden, God was not left to fumble around for a way to rectify the situation. He wasn’t caught off-guard, asking himself, “Now what?” He knew Adam would sin. He knew humanity would be plunged into the darkness of depravity. And before it ever happened, he knew what he would do. When the time came to completion, according to his perfect will and purpose, God would send his Son (Gal 4:4).
God sent his Son
Obviously, Paul doesn’t explore the depth and details of Jesus’s incarnation in this text, but he says enough to remind us of Jesus’s deity. He says, “God sent his Son” (Gal 4:4). Jesus is the eternal Son of God, equal with the Father, and the exact representation of his Father’s nature. At the start of John’s Gospel, we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). Later in the chapter, John writes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). As the book of Philippians says:
who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
The eternal Son of God willingly left the glory of heaven, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin, and was born the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth. Paul highlights this contrast here in Galatians when he says, “God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). The Son was with God in heaven, came to earth in submission to his Father’s will, and was born of a woman. The word sent implies his eternal deity while the word born reveals his humanity.
As we often sing this time of year, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see. Hail th’incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.” He is Immanuel—God with us. Apart from sin, God became all that man is.
I love the following commentary from Martin Luther. He writes:
[Christianity] does not begin at the top, as all other religions do; it begins at the bottom. … Therefore, whenever you are concerned to think and act about your salvation, you must put away all speculations about the Majesty, all thoughts of works, traditions, and philosophy—indeed, the Law of God itself. And you must run directly to the manger and the mother’s womb, embrace this Infant and Virgin’s Child in your arms, and look at Him—born, being nursed, growing up, going about in human society, teaching, dying, rising again, ascending above all the heavens, and having authority over all things. In this way, you can shake off all terrors and errors, as the sun dispels the clouds.
Christianity begins at the bottom. It begins in an unthinkable place. Defying all the wisdom of this world, it begins in a manger with a newborn baby boy.
Born under the law
Next, Paul says, “Christ was born under the law, to redeem those under the law” (Gal 4:4, 5). In his sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill,” and fulfill he did (Mt 5:17). As a man, he walked this earth, tempted in every way as we are, yet he was perfectly obedient to God’s law from beginning to end (Heb 4:15). He was circumcised on the eighth day as the law required. He never broke a single commandment. He followed the biblical prescriptions for worship and good works. He did absolutely everything the law required.
Furthermore, Christ died under the law. In the fullness of time, men rejected and crucified him. Jesus bore man’s sin on the cross, suffered God’s wrath, and died in man’s place. Why? “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro 6:23). God is just, and justice demands lawbreakers be punished with the death penalty. As Paul says earlier in this letter, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13). Jesus was born under the law, and he died under the law to redeem those under the law (Gal 4:4, 5).
To redeem those under the law
This is why Christ came. This was God’s plan all along. When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law (Gal 4:4, 5). Paul says, “We were in slavery under the elements of the world” (Gal 4:3). This world held us in bondage, but Christ paid our redemption price with his blood. He gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen (Gal 1:4, 5).
Three days after his death, God raised Jesus from the dead. His resurrection is the divine declaration that the Father has accepted his Son’s death as a sacrifice for sin. Jesus paid the penalty for man’s disobedience, satisfied the demands of justice, and appeased the wrath of God.
Forty days after the resurrection, the Son of God ascended into the heavens, sat down at the right hand of the Father, and was given glory, honor, and dominion over all. There, in the presence of God, he represents his people and makes requests to God on their behalf.
And now, all who acknowledge their sinful, helpless state and throw themselves upon Christ, God will fully pardon, declare righteous, and reconcile unto himself. This is the gospel of God and of Jesus Christ, his Son.
But, of course, there could be no Good Friday, no Easter, no Ascension Day, and no salvation for us without Christmas. So when we run to the manger as Luther suggested, we can sing praises along with Mary, who said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Lk 1:46, 47).
If our celebration of Christmas overlooks or ignores the identity and purpose of that baby in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, we have missed everything. Commercialism and sentimentalism may proceed unabated, but Christianity, not to mention our salvation, depends on what we believe about that baby.