Theme: The Best Example of Obedience is also the Only Way to Life
When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Today we begin the season of Advent, which means “Coming” or “Appearance.” We call this time of year by that name because we are focusing on our Lord’s coming to earth in human form and so Advent concludes on Christmas Day. You’ll notice that our altar cloths are also a new color today. Purple is the traditional color for Advent because it represents Christ’s entrance into the world as the King of Kings, what we sang about in our opening hymn.
Advent is certainly a joyful time of the year and it reminds us of many reasons to praise the Lord. But this morning we look at one thing that is often not associated with Advent; the honor, respect, and obedience that children are to give their parents. This is the theme of our service today as we focus on the Fourth Commandment. And although it may not be a traditional thought around Advent time, it fits well. For what we see is that Jesus came to the earth, born as a baby, for the express purpose of being obedient. He took on human parents, if you will, and gave them the honor due under God’s Law; while respecting His heavenly Father at the same time.
When you get down to it, the season of Advent has a lot to do with obedience. But the truly amazing thing is that this isn’t some minor coincidence in the Scriptures and something to sit back and ho-humly say, “oh, that’s nice.” The obedience that Jesus displayed during His first Advent was absolutely essential to His entire work as Savior. Without obedience, there would have been no sacrifice for sins. What we see through this is not only an example that is left for our lives, but the very path to heaven opened freely for us.
It’s absolutely true that Jesus is an example for our lives. The way that He respected Mary and Joseph, even though He was also their eternal God, stands as a testament to us when we think of our parents. Mary and Joseph didn’t even deserve Jesus’ respect, and yet He showed it anyway because it needed to be done. How often we, even into adulthood, treat our parents in shameful manner, often because we think that they don’t deserve our respect. You’ll notice that nowhere in the fourth commandment does God say we should only respect our parents in so far as they deserve it. In contrast, He expressly points out that we are to submit to them because He has put them in our lives. There’s plenty of other passages from the Scriptures that reiterate this point which we simply don’t have time to address directly. But the constant theme is clear, we are to respect those in authority because God has appointed them to that position. And furthermore, each time we fail, we are also disrespecting God.
So, yes, Jesus lives as our example; but if that’s all He is than we’re still left in our sins. The very purpose of our verses from Galatians today is to show us that Jesus is also the Redeemer from sin. Paul says that Jesus was born in the position to take our place, as One who was “under the law.” To be “under the law” is to be subject to the law and all of its demands. Certainly this pertains to the more than just the law of the fourth commandment. We could say that this passage is a perfect example of the hope we can have when faced with all of the Ten Commandments. But today we consider the human Christ-child; and as a child He had earthly parents. That makes the fourth commandment stand out in particular.
What’s the point of telling us that Jesus was “born under the law”? To lead us to why He had to come in that position – to redeem the ones caught under the law. As God, Jesus was above the law. In fact, He was the author of the law. There was no need for Him to keep the law because He was already perfectly in tune with it. But His incarnation introduced something new. From the moment He chose to take human form; the very second that the Father chose to send His only Son, Jesus would eventually have to be subjected to that law.
This was a new dimension for God, coming as One born under the law, who was required to keep all of its righteous commands. All of this was needed because only under that scenario could redemption be acquired for all people. Jesus could have stayed above the fray, and never have come down to our level. Nothing would have really changed for Him for He wasn’t the one who introduced the disastrous change of sin into the world. In that situation Jesus could have remained an example for us, though One we would never be able to live up to. But that situation, as nice as it may sound on the surface, is one that should fill our hearts with gloom, for there is no redemption in it.
In order to be a Savior, Jesus had to be more than an example. He had to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But to do that He had to get His hands dirty by experiencing the sinful world as we experience it, fully subject to all the temptations, dangers and potentials for sin. And the first step along that path was to get hands of His own, through His conception and birth.
This is the outstanding miracle that we have the blessed privilege of celebrating each Christmas season. God came as a human and lived the perfect obedient life that the world had never seen before and has never seen again. But we must learn even more than this amazing fact. We must also believe and trust that God did this for you and me, not just to show us the way, but to unlock that way for us. The way you look at Jesus is not a “believe what you want to” type thing. Your life with God hinges on what you believe about His Son. Remember this striking statement on the matter from Jesus: “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord! ' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name? ' 23 Then I will announce to them, 'I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers (Matthew 7:21-23)!”
This is only one of many similar statements from Jesus. Think of it in terms of our theme for today. Many people look to Jesus as the miraculous Child born on Christmas; a product of the virgin birth and the very Son of God who came “born under the law.” That’s all true, and rest assured that many in churches across the world confess it! But if we don’t also include the rest who Jesus is, the Redeemer who rescues fallen and lost sinners who are not members of God’s family with Him, we are no better off than the most wretched scoffer.
I believe we need this kind of a wake-up call in Christianity, particularly in America and particularly at Christmas time. Jesus did not go through all the pain and hardship of being born under the law just be looked at as a Godly example of the right path to heaven, but nevertheless a path we must travel by ourselves. The reality of our time is that many who claim to call Him “Lord” are preaching and promoting that very thought. It sounds good on the outside, and we really can’t argue with the doctrinal truth, but it leaves us in the rat race of the law by leaving out redemption.
If at the end of the day I believe everything about Galatians 4:4-5 but leave out the importance of what that little word “redeem” means, I’ve lost and I have only myself to blame for it. Those who leave simple Christians with the impression that Jesus is a great Master and Guide, but not the total and complete Savior from sin, are doing more damage than any persecutor has ever done to God’s Church. The scene that Advent paints is not just as a cozy and cute manger scene of peace and joy on Christmas night. Our hearts must also see the impending purpose of the incarnation. The humble life of obedience and servitude that our Savior endured which absolutely had to end at the cross in death. Advent marks the beginning of that long walk to Calvary, as the battle line that was drawn in Eden begins to take shape on earth.
Think now of what this means as you consider primarily the fourth commandment obligations in your life. If Jesus is only a guide and example for your life, you don’t have to be as upset about your lack of showing respect. There’s wiggle room for improvement if you just try harder and pray more. As a church we don’t have to emphasize the importance of the commandments as much, for they become broad and arbitrary in their application to our lives. Furthermore, God’s expectations for you become loosened and your focus drifts from what He alone has done to what you need to do better. Your faith won’t feel dead or weak, because you’ll constantly being doing things, always striving to improve. But at the end of the day, there is no difference in your life, because you’re still just running along on the treadmill of God’s law, with no end in sight.
That’s the result of looking at Jesus as just the Great Teacher, the Rabbi, and guide. When it comes to Advent or the Christmas season, not much is changed on that path. Everything from Galatians 4 remains the same, except that one tiny word, “redeem.” But what a difference that word makes! All the power of God to salvation is unlocked in that word. The Holy Spirit expressly put that word in these verses so that we could calmly step off the treadmill of the law rest in the peace of forgiveness. Do we still run? Yes, but in the freedom of Christ’s redemption. It’s the response of our faith, the joyful activity of obedience and service that comes when you know with full confidence that your salvation does not hinge on everything you do! Paul likened it to fighting the good fight. Yes, we do it all the time as Christians, but only because our Savior did it perfectly for us first.
That’s what it means that Jesus is our Redeemer. Without that concept, there is no faith and consequently no life with God. When it comes to the fourth commandment don’t shortchange respecting your superiors, especially your parents. The obedience we display mirrors and reminds us of the very obedience of the cross which started with the young Christ-child respecting His parents. God descended to earth to not only to show us what that obedience looked like, but to give us the ability to practice it in our lives. Every time you respect someone out of loving obedience to Christ, not out of the threat of the law, it’s a testament to the power of God’s redemption. This is the victory of our faith, the results of which we live with and display each day; a victory that was put into action that very first Advent. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.