in the fulness of time

All According to Plan

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:13-18 ESV

After having spent more than three years of his life with Jesus, Matthew had come to believe in two things: The Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and the providence of God. Over time, he had come to recognize that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that the prophets had written concerning long-awaited “anointed one” of God.

Matthew would have remembered the words of Jesus, spoken at the synagogue in Nazareth immediately after He had read the following passage from the scroll containing the writings of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19 ESV

Jesus had read from Isaiah 61:1-2, a text that the Jews in His audience would have known carried Messianic implications. And when He had finished, He had sat down and stated: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

Jesus had boldly claimed to be the fulfillment of this passage. He was the anointed one of God, who possessed the Spirit of God and had been sent on a mission by God. And more than three years later, after Jesus had died and resurrected, He had suddenly appeared to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. Once they recognized Him as their risen Lord, Jesus had provided them with insight into His Messianic pedigree.

…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

Those disciples had returned to Jerusalem, where they shared the news of Jesus’ resurrection with the rest of the disciples, including Matthew. And Luke records that Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst and said to them:.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. – Luke 24:44-45 ESV

Matthew fully believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But he also believed that God had been working providentially in the life of Jesus from the moment of His birth to the final minutes of His life on the cross. Nothing had happened that God had not ordained and providentially orchestrated, including the arrival of the Magi and the sinister reaction of Herod to the news of the birth of Israel’s new king.

All of the events surrounding Jesus’ incarnation were planned by God from eternity past. He was not operating in a reactionary mode, responding to events as they happened or forced to alter His plans based on the whims of men. Nothing was a surprise to God. There was never a moment when He was caught off guard or found Himself having to come up with plan B. 

Matthew had come to recognize that every detail concerning Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection had been providentially planned by God. Even the flight of Joseph, Mary, and their newborn son to Egypt had been part of God’s divine strategy. Matthew records that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, warning him in advance that Herod had evil intentions for their son.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13 ESV

Joseph had done as the angel commanded, taking his young wife and newborn son to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod. And we know from the following verses, that the threat had been real, because Herod had all the male children under the age of two murdered, in a vain attempt to eliminate any potential threat to his throne.

But Herod’s plan would fail. He would prove unsuccessful in his efforts to kill the rightful heir to David’s throne. In fact, according to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod would die a painful and miserable death. Even Luke records that Herod would be “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:23 ESV).

But Jesus would find refuge in Egypt, much like the people of Israel had done hundreds of years earlier. Jacob and his family had also turned to Egypt when faced with a famine in the land of Canaan. And 400 years later, God would lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and return them to the land of Canaan. And the prophet Hosea would later record the news of God’s providential rescue of His people from their captivity in Egypt.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son. – Hosea 11:1 ESV

Matthew uses this very same Old Testament passage to illustrate how Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of what happened when God had returned His “son” from Egypt. Jesus would return from a distant land “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, (and) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

When God had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, He had done so in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. He had plans to return them to the land of Canaan, which He was going to give them as an inheritance. He had promised to give Abraham a land, a seed, and a blessing. But while the Israelites finally made it to the land and eventually occupied it, they had never fully lived up to God’s expectations for them. They had proved disobedient and unfaithful. But God was still going to bless the nations through the “seed” of Abraham. And Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise. The apostle Paul made this point perfectly clear when he wrote:

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.

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:13-16 ESV

God would once again call “the seed” of Abraham out of Egypt, but this time the blessing would come to the Gentiles. Jesus would do what the Jews had failed to do. He would live in perfect obedience to the will of God, carrying out His commands and accomplishing His will. And there was nothing Herod the Great or his son and successor, Herod Antipas, could do to thwart the plans of the sovereign God. Jesus would not only return from Egypt, but He would also survive childhood, grow to be a man, and begin His earthly ministry just as God had sovereignly ordained. All according to the divine plan and in keeping with on God’s predetermined timeline. 

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. – Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Faith In A Faithful God.

 Genesis 21-22, Matthew 11

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. – Genesis 21:1-2 ESV

God can be trusted. This is the story of the Bible. He is faithful to His Word and always does what He says He will do. But the greatest test for mankind and especially those who call themselves the people of God is to learn to trust God and take Him at His Word. Too often, we place our hope in the promises made by God and fail to worship the promise-maker. At this point in the Genesis story we see God miraculously fulfilling His promise to Abraham and Sarah to give them a son. God does as He had promised. In spite of old age and barrenness, a son is born to them. With the birth of Isaac, Abraham and Sarah finally have the longing of their heart and the fulfillment of their dreams. God has blessed them. But He also has a dramatic lesson for them to learn.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God was faithful to His Word. He delivered on His promise – "at the time of which God had spoken to him." In other words, at just the right time, God did what He had always intended to do. Part of the lesson of faith Abraham and Sarah were to learn is that God works on His own schedule, and His timing is perfect. Faith requires dependence on the wisdom of God and a willingness to wait on the timing of God. God always does what is right and He does it right on time. The same would be true of another "son" to be born. Paul writes, "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" (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). When the appropriate time had come, God sent His Son. God is never late. His timing is perfect and He works His divine plan to perfection.

But while God had fulfilled His promise to Abraham and Sarah, He had another valuable lesson for them to learn. He knew that their tendency would be to make the long-awaited promise, Isaac, more important than the one who had the promise possible. There is no doubt that, as proud parents, Abraham and Sarah would have had dreams and aspirations for their new son. They knew he was the hope of their future and the key to all of God's promises being fulfilled. They held in their hands the tangible proof of God's faithfulness. But their faithful God was going to test their faith and demand that they let go of that for which they had so long waited.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Once Isaac had arrived on the scene and Sarah had seen God's promise fulfilled, she began to have second thoughts about Ishmael, the son Abraham had had with Hagar, Sarah's maid servant. Suddenly, Sarah's plan didn't look so good. Ishmael was a constant reminder of her unfaithfulness. Not only that, he posed a threat to Isaac, representing a potential competitor for the family inheritance. So she determined to get rid of Hagar and her son. She demanded that Abraham send them away, and God told Abraham to comply with his wife's wishes, assuring him that He would take care of them. He even promises Abraham," I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring" (Genesis 21:13 ESV). It seems that what Sarah determined to do out of a spirit of jealousy and anger, God would use for blessing. And yet, Sarah's plan to use Hagar as a means to fulfill the plan of God in her own way was going to eventually create a problem for the people of God. She could send Ishmael away, but she would not eliminate the threat. His descendants would eventually produce the Arab nations that have long been the antagonists of the people of Israel. These descendants of Abraham would prove to be the persistent enemies of the descendants of Isaac. All because Sarah had been unwilling to wait on God and determined to take matters into her own hands.

But the real lesson in this passage appears to be God's desire for them to learn to worship Him alone. He knew that they had made Isaac the focus of their lives. He had become their everything. He was the answer to their dreams and the hope of their future. They had what they had so long waited for. So God demands that they give it up. He commands Abraham to sacrifice that which He had provided. They must let go of the promise and obey the promise-maker. This was the ultimate test for these two. But God wanted to know whether Isaac meant more to them than He did. Were they putting their trust in Isaac or in God? Abraham's obedience and faith was tested and he passed with flying colors. His willingness to do what God had commanded proved that His trust was in God. He believed that God would fulfill His promise even if Isaac, the fulfillment of that promise, was somehow eliminated. Abraham's faith was in the promise-maker. His trust was in God, not that which God had given. What an invaluable lesson for each of us to learn.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

When Jesus appeared on the scene, He came as the fulfillment of God's promise of a Messiah. He was the long-awaited Savior of Israel. He was the descendant of David and the rightful King of Israel, and the disciples followed Him believing that He was all that He claimed to be. Jesus told His followers, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV). Those words spoke to them of rest from oppression, freedom from Roman rule, and a change in their current status as an enslaved people. But their Messiah was to die. Their promise was to be gruesomely eliminated on a cruel Roman cross. The one for whom they had long waited was going to be killed right before their eyes. The Son was going to be sacrificed. But Jesus had told them that He would die and He had warned them that His death was a necessary part of God's plan for their future redemption. His death would secure their eternal life. His sacrifice would satisfy God's just punishment for their sin. Their promise was going to have to die, so that their faith would be in God, the ultimate fulfiller of all promises. Their faith had become ill-placed. They had made a god out of their concept of the Messiah. They were looking for Jesus to be their political Savior. They wanted Him to be their earthly king ruling from a physical throne in Jerusalem. They wanted to be set free from physical oppression. But God had more in store for them. He wanted them to trust Him and His plan for them, not their perverted version of that plan. Their dreams had to die. The promise to which they had clinged had to be wrenched from their hands. Jesus came to offer them a different kind of rest, a release from a different kind of burden. But they would have to trust God. And the same is true for me today. I can still twist the promises of God and try to make them about my comfort, pleasure, and fulfillment in this life. I can make my walk with Him all about my happiness, instead of my holiness. I must continually place my version of the promise on the alter and worship the one who made the promise in the first place. I must trust God and worship Him. His plan and timing are perfect.

Father, thank You for the promise of Your Son. But forgive me for making salvation all about me and my own selfish pleasure. Your plan is far greater than my comfort and convenience, just as Your plan for Abraham and Sarah was far greater than their enjoyment of a son. They had to learn that Your promise was far greater than one small boy. It was far more involved than just their short-term enjoyment of having a son of their own. Give me a future perspective that allows me to see beyond my own blessings and recognize that Your plan is far greater than I could ever conceive. Amen.


Galatians 4:1-20

Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. So now that you know God (of should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? – Galatians 4:8-9 NET

Why would anyone who had been set free from slavery ever voluntarily subject themselves to it again? That is Paul's question in this section of his letter. He reminds the believers in Galatia that they were at one time slaves to the basic principles of this world. In other words, they had been subject to the sad state of affairs made possible by the fall. They had been under the constant influence and control of Satan, their own sinful flesh and the world. At one time they had been slaves to their so-called gods – gods that didn't even really exist. Theirs had been a pointless and hopeless existence attempting to search for release by turning to false gods that offered false hope. But Paul reminds them that "in the fulness of time" – at just the right time – God sent his Son to buy them freedom. Jesus Christ had bought them out of slavery and set them free. As a result, they were no longer slaves, but God's own children, adopted into His family. They knew the one true God and He knew them. But now, as a result of the influence of the Judaizers, these so-called Jewish believers who were attempting to convince the new converts in Galatia that they must keep the law and adhere to the rituals and requirements of Judaism, the Galatian Christians were becoming enslaved again. Paul accused them of "trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years" (Galatians 4:10 NLT).

Paul plead with them to live in freedom, not slavery. He begged them to not return to the same kind of slavery from which Christ had set them free. Paul's greatest desire was that Christ would be fully developed in their lives. But he knew that a return to those basic principles of this world would hinder their spiritual growth. Even as believers, we are all still under the influence of Satan, our sinful flesh, and the world. We can still fall prey to the temptation to earn favor with God through our own self-effort. The enemy would love nothing more than to enslave us again to a life of works and pride-based effort. He wants us to see God as a task-master who demands what we can't deliver. He wants us to live in fear of God, not as children, but as slaves. Satan doesn't want us to see ourselves as God's children, but as His powerless pawns, condemned to try to keep Him pleased in order to escape His punishment and earn His favor. But Paul won't stand for it. And while he can't personally visit them, he does the next best thing – he writes them and pleads with them. He speaks truth to them. He exposes those who would do harm to them. Because unless they learned to embrace their freedom in Christ, they would never truly grow in Christ. Those who see themselves as slaves will tend to live and act as slaves. But those who truly understand that they have been freed from the basic principles of this world will enjoy all that freedom brings. They will relish their status as children of God. They will take advantage of His indwelling Spirit and allow Him to do in them what they could never have done on their own.

Father, we live in a fallen world and we are surrounded by the basic principles of this world. Ever since the fall, mankind has been in a hopeless quest to rectify their relationship with You. They have been searching for You. They have been trying to figure out to fix all that is wrong with them and with the world in which they live. But You have provided the solution through Your own Son's death. You have set us free from having to search for a solution or from having to earn back Your favor. But it is so easy to fall back into that old mindset. It is so easy to think that nothing is free and we must do something to get You to love us. But it's all a lie. Keep us focused on the truth. Keep us aware of the fact that we are free in Christ. Amen.

In the Fulness of Time.

Luke 1:5-80

“For nothing is impossible with God.” – Luke 1:37 NLT

Galatians 4:4 tells us, "But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children." At just the right time. The imagery here conjures up pictures of a pregnant woman ready to give birth. Her day has come. After months of preparation, the day of delivery finally comes. Something long-awaited and highly anticipated is about to take place. The same is true of the situation in Israel as we read Luke's account of the coming of Jesus. For more than 400 years, the Hebrew people have been waiting anxiously for a word from God. They have been desperately and eagerly waiting for the promised arrival of the Messiah. But unlike a pregnancy, they have no timeline to go by. They have no idea when the Messiah might come. During the period between the close of the Old Testament and the time recorded in the Gospel accounts, God has been silent. He has cut off communication with His people. There have been no prophets and therefore, no word from God. There have been no miraculous manifestations of God's presence. It is a dark period, a virtual blackout, void of God's abiding presence. And it would have been easy for the people of Israel to have lost hope. During those 400 years they had suffered considerably. They had had to endure repeated invasions by various enemies, and it culminated with the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans. By the time Jesus came onto the scene, the Jews were living under Roman rule, subject to Roman laws and Roman taxes. Herod the Great sat on the throne, having been appointed "king" over all of Palestine by the Romans. He was wicked, oppressive and a political schemer who had clawed his way to the top. Things could not have looked worse for the average Jew living in Judea at that time.

But at just the right time, God put His long-awaited plan into action. Luke records it for us. Breaking the long silence, suddenly God begins to speak again. He sends angels to Zechariah and Mary. He begins doing works of power and wonder. An elderly and barren couple miraculously give birth to a son. A young virgin girl becomes pregnant – by the Holy Spirit. Luke records for us the birth of John the Baptist, the conception of Jesus, and the foundational events that would set up the birth of Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of the World. At just the right time – God acted. When things looked bleak and impossible – God did the impossible. "For nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37 NLT). Mary echoed this sentiment when she sang, "For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me" (Luke 1:49 NLT). "His mighty arm has done tremendous things!" (Luke 1:51 NLT). Zechariah praised God saying, "Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David" (Luke 1:68-69 NLT). God was fulfilling the promises He had made centuries ago to Abraham and David. He was doing exactly what He said He would do, at just the right moment in time.

Nothing is impossible with God. Circumstances are no match for Him. Wicked kings and powerful nations can't stand in His way. Barrenness and old age are no problem for God. Normal human biological and reproductive requirements don't limit God. Mary's virginity, Elizabeth's barrenness, Zechariah's old age, Herod's wickedness, Rome's dominance, and Israel's weakness were not going to keep God from accomplishing His will and unleashing His redemptive power on the world.

"Because of God's tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace" (Luke 1:78-79 NLT).

Father, nothing is impossible with You. You are limitless in Your power and unstoppable in regards to Your will. Yet I tend to place limits on Your effectiveness and doubt Your ability to handle all that goes on in my life. Forgive me for my fear and floundering faith. Use the story of Your Son's coming to remind me of Your sovereign control over all. Amen.