God with Us, In His Timing

Galatians 4:4-5

Intro—this is a beautiful passage in the middle of Paul’s great treatise (research paper?) on Christian freedom.   It’s his Christmas passage:  Jesus was born to a woman—he was human.  Born under the law to redeem those under the law—he did what we can’t.  He obeyed the law perfectly.  And more than that, previously in chapter 3 Paul hit the highlights of Easter with 3:13-14  “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

All of this is according to God’s plan—as it says in v. 4 “in the fulness of time”.  In God’s providence God with Us happened just as God decreed it would from the foundations of the earth.  Within that decree all the other events that had to take place were also decreed and by God’s providence they came to be.  Three points:   what’s providence got to do with it? (a theological perspective), providence and history, and providence and our story (providence and trials)

  1. What’s Providence got to do with it (a la Tina Turner)
    1. Literally everything
      1. The Confession doesn’t leave anything out…
    1. If God is sovereign then providence means this…(wcf 5)
      1. Section 1:  “he directs, regulates and governs every creature, action, and thing.”
      1. Section 2: “God is the first cause”—the prime mover, or unmovable mover.  He makes everything happen.  You could get the idea of a clock maker at this point who, builds a clock, winds it up, and lets it work according to its intended purpose. 
        1. Which is correct to a certain degree, but even in its working the clock metaphor depends on God’s divine ordering—not even the secondary causes can happen without God’s active work.
        1. “God orders things to happen from secondary causes.” 5.2
    1. Providence is a doctrine b/c of sin and the curse
      1. In a perfect world you don’t need this doctrine b/c everything makes sense.
      1. Providence asserts that our Good God exercises his absolute rule over this fallen world, b/c we can’t make sense of God’s good plan in the midst of such pain and suffering.
      1. In God’s providence, Adam and Eve sinned and brought the curse on the world.  The curse is what causes all of our suffering and pain.
      1. And in his providence, God loved the world in this way, he sent his only son that whoever will believe in him will have eternal life.
    1. The incarnation is the answer to the question of pain and suffering:  God took on flesh experiencing our suffering to put our suffering to an end.
  2. Providence and history—the fullness of time in Jesus’ birth
    1. Church history—Justo Gonzalez
    1. The Roman Empire—
      1. A fulfilment of Daniel 7
        1. Vision of Four Beasts coming out of the water
        1. 7:7  After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.
      1. Also the fullness of God’s timing for Jesus to be born, that had everything to do with what the Roman Empire brought to the world
        1. Pax Romana—safety and travel
        1. Roads—travel with ease
        1. Universal empire—easy commute within the empire, even between foreign nations b/c all combined in one empire
        1. Common language
        1. All these things are part of the fulness of time, Gonzalez wrote, and they each helped the spread of the gospel
  3. Providence and our story (providence and trials)
    1. It’s a mistake to simply say b/c everything is in God’s providence we can trust him, b/c he can fix it
      1. It’s not wrong
      1. We should hold on to that truth and do our best to believe it in the midst of trial
      1. It’s a mistake, b/c it over-simplifies life
    1. Over-simplifying trials misses some crucial details about providence, about who God is and how he works.
      1. Timing—it took time for God to bring the trial upon you
        1. The events that had to take place to cause it
          1. They were put in place long before your trial was evident to you.
          1. You aren’t the only secondary cause in your life—many of the events happened outside of your ability to change them.
          1. Asking why is natural.  Asking why can be helpful, too.  The answer will point you to God as the source, the prime mover, but might not be the answer you were wanting.
          1. John 9:2, “who sinned this man or his parents?”  “It’s not that this man or his parents sinned, but so that God’s works might displayed in him.”
            1. God’s works of light in a dark world.  Little moments of redemptive grace—seeing God’s kindness in spite of the worlds hatred, or even our own sin.
        1. God’s timing in delivering you is a part of his providence too
          1. The events that have to take place to bring you through the trial will take time to develop.
          1. S?ome of them you will be able to change, you will be able to take part in them becoming reality.  It’s so encouraging when we see that what we are doing is helping. 
          1. But some of those events that have to take place are outside of what you can control.  And you’ll not see what they are, or how they helped until after God has delivered you.
        1. Waiting on God is not always to teach you patience, sometimes it just takes time for the physics of the situation to take shape.
          1. Like the Roman Empire in Jesus’ birth…
          1. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
      1. The side effects of your trials are also a part of God’s providence
        1. Grief
        1. Mourning
        1. Anger
        1. Denial
        1. Healing
        1. Each of these side effects are caused by the trial, at the same time they are also a part of God’s providence, in a sense, your emotions are caused by God.  The trial is the secondary cause, God is the primary cause.
        1. Don’t negate them—acknowledge them, move toward them and allow them to wash over you, allow them to remove your delusion of control.
          1. You can control your emotions, but these emotions tell you that you can’t control your world. 
          1. Experience your emotions, embrace them even.  The ups and downs accentuate life.  The downs make the ups so much sweeter, because you know more of what God has saved you from.
    1. To simply say God will deliver me ignores the in between time of intense difficulty and it ignores God’s work in that in-between time.  It ignores the truth that God ordained your suffering like he ordained Christ’s.
      1. Life in a Fallen world requires a real-world perspective.  The benefit of the Bible, the benefit of Ecclesiastes.
        1. The first refrain, “Everything under the sun”—what we can perceive is limited by our finitude. 
        1. The second refrain that follows is “vanity, all is vanity” sometimes he says it is a “striving after the wind”.  Not so much hopelessness as it is just a truthful reflection of what we experience within the cursed world.
        1. The real-world perspective means to see a world that is fallen, where good things happen for bad people, and bad things happen to good people and all of it is in God’s hands—everything happens according to his providence.
        1. We can’t ignore that, we want to, I think—and some of us do a better job ignoring it than others.  But there’s a danger to ignoring it.  Because ignoring can block out personal pain, allowing us to “keep calm and carry on”, the people who make that their go-to are generally not any help to the rest of us in our pain. 
          1. How could they be?  They’ve never allowed themselves to feel their own pain, how can they truly sympathize with us in ours?
        1. God’s providential ordering of our suffering and pain doesn’t fix anything for us, in fact in some ways it makes it worse.  But it does add meaning to it.
          1. God has a purpose in the world’s suffering. 
          1. He has purpose for your grief, your mourning, and all of your hurts.
    1. Reason to Hope:  Gal. 4:4-7  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. And because you are sons, God has 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 an heir through God.
      1. Remember all those great things God used the Roman Empire for to spread the gospel?
        1. Peace of Rome
        1. Roads
        1. Universal empire—travelling easily between countries
        1. A common language
      1. From the Jewish perspective, all those things were supposed to be Israel’s. 
        1. Over and over in the OT Israel was prophesied to become the strongest, most capable, and universal empire in the world.
        1. But 1500 years after leaving Egypt, they’re still basically the smallest, least powerful, nation in another Empire’s world.
        1. The pagan Romans have everything the Jews thought God would give them.
        1. That hurts, it’s disappointing, and it makes you question the God you serve.
    1. No one could see all those pieces fitting together.
      1. Just like you can’t make sense of the pieces of your suffering fitting together.
      1. There will come a time when your trial reaches its fullness
      1. For the in-between, embrace the trial, grieve well acknowledging what was lost, mourn well knowing pain is appropriate in this fallen life, seek help in your trial from God’s people, seek your savior in it as the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and in the end Hope well by remembering that your God’s son became your savior so that you can call God, “Abba, Father” just like Jesus does.

193 Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Lord’s Supper

Nicene Creed

195 Joy to the World

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.