This year our Christmas at Shoreline theme is "Love Came Down". We're going to look at how, when, and why love came down in the event we celebrate each December 25th. We'll also explore this theme in three consecutive blog posts. For more info, visit christmasatshoreline.com.
4But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
It's Christmas. We celebrate the arrival of King Jesus, born of the virgin Mary and laid in a manger in swaddling clothes. We remember verses like John 3:16, that tell us that God sent Jesus because He loves us. But have you ever considered the timing/precision with which God sent Jesus?
Think of the differences between the Old and New Testament. From the time of Malachi to John the Baptist, there was an awkward silence from God and the lack of prophetic voice was troubling. After the last of the Old Testament prophets was off the scene, much had changed in the culture and scene from Old testament to New.
When we leave Malachi, worship of God took place in the temple. In Matthew, we are introduced to synagogues.
When the Israelites came back from captivity under Ezra and Nehemiah’s watch, they reestablished the identity of Israel as a nation. But in the New Testament, a foreign ruler holds the iron scepter: Rome.
The shepherds of Israel at one time were the prophets, but when Jesus comes along, there are men known as Pharisees and Sadducees, and a religious ruling council known as the ‘Sanhedrin’.
Even the traditional Hebrew language had been replaced with Koine Greek a language of the common man. Some things had changed, and the fields were getting white for harvest.
There were political, social, economical, religious, and cultural changes that were all setting the perfect stage for Christ, the Messiah, to arrive.
The Jews were now under the control of the Roman Empire. Pontius Pilate was the governing body over the region, and Herod the Great was the appointed Jewish leader over Israel. Herod wasn’t that great, actually. Here is a guy who constantly feared losing his power that he even resorted to having his family members executed out of suspicion they might be conspirators. His lust for keeping his power intact even caused the murder of thousands, if not millions, of innocent babies. Not exactly the guy you’d want on the cover of a magazine for ‘man of the year’!
Rome’s policy of peace was Pax Romana, which was a forced peace, the peace afforded at the end of a sword. You kept the peace, or else! The empire was not to be messed with. Enter any city, and outside the city gates you would see those who had been crucified, a stark reminder that you were not truly a free citizen. You were under the control of an outside influence. After the rise and success of the Maccabean rebellion, the Jews were more of a formidable opponent, but certainly no match for the Roman machine. Now that Caesar was in control, people in Judea took on different reactions.
Some of them found solace in making friends with the empire. They took political positions at the local level, collected taxes (which didn’t help their reputation), and were proverbial brown-nosers that didn’t gain them much national popularity.
Another reaction was to rebel. A group of passionately political idealists began to question the status quo, more intense than Rush Limbaugh at a Hillary Clinton roast. They acknowledged that Rome should no longer be the governing body and cried out for their Messiah to come and overthrow the powers that be. They were identified as ‘zealots’ in scripture, and Jesus chose one of them, Simon, to be one of His closest followers. Putting Levi, a sell-out tax collector, with Simon, a militant extremist, was certainly an interesting mix! But Jesus can call anyone with any political baggage and change them into new creations, not necessarily into right wing evangelical Republicans. Perhaps that’s why it took an entire night of prayer before Jesus selected His twelve closest followers: it would be a constant competition over who was the greatest, rather than making Jesus the greatest among them!
On the social scene, the traditional language of Hebrew was becoming less and less used among the people, and solely used by the scholars. As the Greco-Roman culture was expanding beyond Europe into Asia Minor, the need for a common means of communication became paramount. Koine Greek became the language of the people, and thankfully the language employed strategically for the furthering of the gospel and New Testament. Here in Florida, pick any atm in any city and you will have English or Spanish as your language choices. Spanish was the Koine Greek in the first century!
Decades before Jesus walked the earth, the Old Testament was translated into a version that most people could read and understand. This translation took the Hebrew and Aramaic languages and translated the Hebrew scriptures into Koine Greek. We call this the Septuagint.
The religious landscape of temple worship also began to change. Synagogues, which were localized congregations of ten or more Jewish men, were now sprouting up all over the countryside in cities and towns near and far. Traveling rabbis would move around the circuit as itinerant preachers. This was clearly how Jesus and Paul began their ministries and outreach to various cities.
Even in the midst of this seemingly grass-roots revival and spread of Judaism, there was a strange and eerie absence of prophetic revelation. It had been four hundred years since Malachi had uttered his final words, speaking of Elijah coming soon, but there was no such promise on the horizon.
In the midst of silent change and tumultuous political and religious rumblings, as society stood on the brink of corruption and confusion, God was tilling the soil to begin a great new chapter of grace and truth.
To launch a new religious idealogy, there needed to be, in practical terms, some “x-factors”.
- There needed to be a way to communicate this religion to as many people in as many places as possible. Rome had linked the pagan world together in a vital and general way with the advancement of their kingdom and with roads. The common language of Koine Greek afforded people the opportunity to hear and understand the gospel message as it was heralded.
- The lack of prophetic revelation was stirring an unrest and spiritual hunger in the masses.
- The political jockeying had raised up people ready to put their faith in someone. The time was ripe.
- One other development seemed to intersect at just this right time as well. Rome had invented and perfected a new means of capital punishment. Only in God’s providence would this new horrific and excruciating form of torture and death be employed near the birth of Messiah. it was called crucifixion, of which the Hebrew Scriptures overwhelmingly describe.
So all at once, with a stable government, a time of relative peace, roads that connected cities with one another and through various towns and villages, along with a common language and a deep spiritual hunger and religious bankruptcy, the stage was set, the fruit was ripe. At just the right time, Christ came into the world.
Paul described this phenomenon in Galatians 4:3-4: and that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were slaves to the spiritual powers of this world. butwhen the right time came, God sent his Son,..
(the NKJV puts it this way): “but when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son”
At just the right time, when Jewish society was ripest, God sent Jesus to redeem those born under the law to offer salvation and sonship to all who would receive Him. But Paul moves from interpretation to application, and tells you and I that ‘that’s the way it was with us’ before Christ came into our lives! We were slaves to the spiritual powers of this world, whether lust or law, religion or wrongdoing.
Romans 5:6 says "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly." Right now, though you may still be powerless, Christ is revealing Himself to you. His timing is impeccable. His ways are perfect. Will you receive Him today?
Join us at Shoreline Church on Saturday, December 24th at one of our two services: 4pm or 6pm (there will be candlelight at the 6pm). Bring the whole family to this exciting celebration of Jesus our King!