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Galatians 4:1–7. The Adoption of Sons

Christmas 1, December 28, 2014 A+D, Emmaus Ev. Lutheran Church U.A.C., St. Louis, Mo.

Dearly beloved: Today’s Epistle reading from Galatians 4 speaks about the family, to help us understand salvation. Our salvation through Christ has to do with adoption into God’s family.

At the beginning of this Epistle reading, St. Paul is discussing an heir who is a child. Here he is speaking about the church of the Old Testament, which has now matured and is no longer under the “elements of the world,” which includes the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. Now that Christ has come, the Old Testament ceremonies are no longer in play. There is only one church of God from the beginning to the end of the world, but before Christ the church of Israel was a minor child under guardians and managers, the ceremonial laws—like animal sacrifices and avoiding pork. Now that Christ has come, the church is free of those oppressive laws. The church has grown up. It’s the same church now as in the Old Testament, but it looks different, and the rules are different. That is what St. Paul was discussing at the beginning of today’s Epistle reading.

But the rest of the Epistle reading deals directly with Christmas. Consider for a moment the best Christmas decorations and what they teach us about family. In the run-up to Christmas we often see one of the best Christmas decorations: A crèche, that is, a nativity scene, with shepherds, sheep, cattle, camels, wise men, and of course, the so-called “Holy Family” of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The nativity scene reminds us of what we celebrate with so much joy from year to year—the birth of the Christ child. We Christians know that Christ is the best Christmas present. But the nativity scene tells us something else. It depicts a family, the holy family. Especially at this time of year people know—even non-Christians—that family is the best earthly gift that there is. Somehow we know this by nature. Whether you are married or single or widowed, blessed with children or barren, you somehow know that having family and being with them is the most important thing. But sometimes people can’t enjoy that gift of family. For one reason or another, there is no family left; maybe there never was much of a family. Or being with family is sheer frustration. And then this time of year is bitter. Either way, whether we have family here on earth or not, somehow we know that it’s important.

Thanks be to God, no matter your earthly family, you Christians have been adopted into God’s family. What St. Paul writes in Galatians 4:6 applies to you. He writes, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ ”

Don’t you love how gender-specific the Bible is? All of us, male and female Christians together, are the bride of Christ. But when it comes to being children in God’s family, St. Paul calls us all “sons.” “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” Why “sons” instead of “sons and daughters”? Other places of Scripture do call believers God’s sons and daughters (e.g., 2 Cor. 6:18). But here it’s just “sons,” because it was the only-begotten Son of God who redeemed us, it is the Spirit of the only-begotten Son of God who comes to us, and because the inheritance that we receive is the very same inheritance that belongs to the only-begotten Son of God. We can’t make the Bible gender-neutral like many modern translations try to do. There is meaning in every word, even the gender-specific words.

So how is it that you became part of God’s family? How did you get adopted into the best family of all? First, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” And this is the mystery of Christmas. Notice the careful language here. “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” If Christ were a mere man, St. Paul would not have said this. A mere human being is not first sent and then conceived and born. No, first we are born, and then once we have grown we may be sent on a mission for the government or the church. But here the sending comes first. “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” That indicates that this is no mere baby. Here we have one who existed long before He was conceived and born. As we learn clearly from other passages of Scripture (e.g., John 1; Heb. 1), He is the eternal, co-equal Son of God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father. Yes, this is careful language, and a clear confession.

The words “Born of a woman” are also worth considering. These words are either totally obvious or else they are confessing something important. Of course, it’s obvious, every baby is naturally born of a woman. That doesn’t seem special. But here the mention of a “woman” is indeed special. From the beginning of time to St. Paul’s time, lineage and inheritance were determined by who your father is. Look at the beginning of Matthew and the first several chapters of 1 Chronicles. Being born of a woman doesn’t matter there. What matters is who your father was. But here, when it comes to our salvation, St. Paul says that “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” Not born as the child of Mary and Joseph. Not the son of Joseph at all! Not simply “born as a human being,” as a gender-neutralist might say. But “born of a woman.” He picks his words carefully. The woman is mentioned here, but no human father, because as we know from other passages of Scripture, Jesus had no human father (Luke 1:26–38; Matt. 1:18–25). He was born of the virgin Mary.

These statements back up and support our creeds, our statements of faith. What a comfort to know that when we confess the ancient creeds, it’s not just ancient truths that we are confessing, but truths that go all the way back to the apostles and eyewitness of the Lord Jesus, and to their holy writings. Your faith, which you confess here each Lord’s Day, is based squarely on Scripture. We have not invented it. We do not make up this stuff up; it is all taken from the writings of the true prophets and apostles. You can rely on it! “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” That is the first part of how you were adopted into God’s family.

Second, God’s Son was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.” He willingly became obedient to the Law of Moses—both the ceremonial law and the moral Law. And then He suffered the penalty that you deserved for disobeying God’s Law, the penalty of death. Christmas has a sad side to it. The baby was born to be a sacrifice. This Lamb of God was not going to be a pet, but was just awaiting the time of slaughter. By being born under the Law, by keeping the Law, by suffering the Law’s punishment, He has redeemed you, bought you back, and sealed your adoption into God’s family.

Third, He did all this, as I said, “so that we might receive adoption as sons.” This “receiving adoption” happens through faith in Christ, as St. John’s Gospel says: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Through the preaching and hearing of God’s Word, God is at work. He breaks your hearts through the Law and He draws you, so that through the preaching of the Law you come to know your sins and God’s wrath, and you experience true terrors in your heart, along with sorrow for your sins. But then, through the preaching, hearing, and consideration of the holy Gospel about the gracious forgiveness of sins in Christ, a spark of faith is lit in you, and this faith accepts the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, and comforts itself with the promise of the Gospel. And then the Holy Spirit is given to you. He comes into your heart, begins to make you holy, and brings about true prayer.

True prayer. That is the result of being adopted. St. Paul writes: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” (Gal. 4:6). “Abba” means “Father,” and it calls to mind the prayer our Lord taught us. “Our Father, who art in heaven.” You can call upon God now not just as a master or a stern lord, but as a loving Father.

Therefore: Cry out in prayer and song, saying “Abba,” or rather, “Our Father.” Live in freedom not from the Law, but in the Law. That is, live in freedom in love, which is the fulfillment of the Law, and in thankfulness for this adoption of sons, the best of presents. Family is important. But being in God’s family by adoption is the most important. In conclusion, please listen to a paraphrase of today’s Epistle reading:

“I am declaring something similar to what I said: However long the son of the household, to whom the father’s goods are due, is still of minor age, with regard to possessing the father’s goods he has no prerogative more than the slaves, because he still lives under tutors, until the time elapses which the father defined to the tutors. In the same way, we too in the Old Testament were like little children, occupied with ceremonies and works of the Law like rattles, and as though still under the discipline of tutors, although heirs of divine benefits. But after the time defined by the heavenly Father had been fulfilled, God sent His only-begotten Son to assume human nature from the virgin Mary and in it to fulfill the Law, and to take upon Himself the curse of the Law due to us, and in this way to pay the price of redeption for us, who were debtors to the Law, and in order that we might be received into the true inheritance of the sons of God. And this pertains also to you, O my [Galatians]. For you, too, have become sons of God; therefore you have accepted the Holy Spirit, whom the Son of God acquired for you by His departure to the Father, who works in your hearts so often as you groan to God as to your most kindly Father. And thus you are no longer under slavery, but rather have taken possession of the inheritance of sons through Christ, who appeared in the flesh on account of this your freedom.”[1] Amen.

Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes

[1] Friedrich Balduin, Commentarius In Omnes Epistolas Beati Apostoli Pauli (Francofurti: Mevius, 1654), p. 815.

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