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March 15 - Galatians 4:1-5:1 - "Enjoying Emancipation"

MPC 15th March 2009.

Phil Campbell


If you've watched Eli Stone on TV, let me be very quick to say Eli Stone is not the show to go for if you're looking for good theology. Eli's the lawyer who keeps having visions from God. That usually help him both win cases and help people. But I don't want to debate the theological merits of the show this morning so much as to reflect for a moment on the theme of last week's show. Which had a sixteen year old boy filing a law suit for emancipation from his father.

His dad was so controlling that James Cooper Junior could live with it no longer. JJ's dad wouldn't let him have a girlfriend, JJ's dad wouldn't let him go to swim training, and most of all JJ's dad wanted to force him into a medical trial. And JJ was desperate for his freedom. Because he was sick of living like a slave. And not a son. And so Eli Stone petitioned the court to declare him free from the rule that he's been under all his life. The technical term they used was emancipation. Which means set free from slavery.

Now I've got to tell you, the story had a happy ending. The story ends with James set free and his dad loving him like a son. Which is how it should be. And neither of them would ever want to go back to how it was before.

And there's a very similar scenario here in Galatians chapter 4. It's all about slaves and sons. It's all about emancipation. It's all about two sons who used to be a slaves. Who have been offered emancipation. Who have been given their freedom. And yet it seems in this case they don't really want it.

Because somehow they want to keep living how they did before... when they've grown up. They want to be under old covenant law... when there's the freedom of a whole new covenant to enjoy.

Born Under Law

We're picking up in verse 1 of chapter 4, and Paul says even if you're James Packer, when you're a kid you're going to be treated like one of the staff.

What I am saying is this, verse 1, "That as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He's subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father."

Now there's that until word again. The key word from last week: until... the time set by his father.

You'd think you'd be counting down the days, wouldn't you? And the hours and the seconds. You know, I'll bet you didn't even notice back on the 13th of February. There was a day and and an hour and a minute and a second that a large part of the world was counting down for and they celebrated. And it came and it went without most of us even noticing.

The world unix clock - a clock on a computer system - started counting off the seconds at midnight January 1 back in 1970. And the clock on this computer system that other systems synchronise by, it's counted off the seconds ever since. And just after 3pm on February 13th 2009, the clock reached the number... 1234567890 seconds. Which is kind of a neat landmark. And when that exact moment came, computer nerds all over the world went quietly ecstatic.

And the rest of us were quietly oblivious.

Paul says, when we Jews were chilren we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. A term he explains in Colossians 2:21-22 to mean the basic religious principles like do not taste, do not handle, do not touch. The sort of restrictions common to any religion. When we were children it was like that.

But now, says Paul, the time has come. When we were children we were in slavery to that stuff. But look at verse 4...

But when the time had fully come... God sent his son born of a woman, born under law... to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights as sons.

Did you notice? Did you stop and celebrate? Whether they noticed it or not, the clock ticked over. Their coming of age; at the point where God's own son, born under the law. fulfilled the law. And redeemed those under it. Paid every penalty of the law in full. And so says to those Jews who put their faith in him, don't live like slaves any more. You've got full rights as sons.

Now that's who Paul's talking about at this point. Jewish Christians. He says, by faith in our Messiah, we Jews have been emancipated. We were waiting for him. And he came. So our slavery under the law is a thing of the past.

Welcome to adulthood. Welcome to the full rights of sons.

Gentiles Free Too

And guess what you Gentiles? Guess what you Gentiles who have believed on Jesus and received the spirit when you heard the gospel and believed it? You're not slaves either.

Look at verse 7. So you are no longer a slave but a son. Just like us Jews. And since you are a son, God has made you also... an heir.

Now this is the incredible bit to get our heads around. Which we very much just take for granted I think. But there's Israel, see, the heir, the kid just waiting up to inherit the promises of God's blessing. And Paul's saying now the time has come, you Gentile outsiders who didn't even know God... are invited into the family. That you're adopted as sons just in time to share in the inheritance. You've been made heirs just like the original kids.

Formerly, verse 8, when you did not know God, you were slaves as well. Slaves to those who are not gods. Bowing down to idols made out of blocks of wood, or to statues of the Emperor or to whatever else you've been serving. But now you are heirs as well.

And most significantly, can you see, not joining Israel at the point where they're going to be slaves together. But joining Israel in their grown up freedom. You're adopted right at the point where the kids get the keys to the car.

So what's gone wrong?

Back to Slavery

So the question is, what could go wrong?

A whole new era. Who wouldn't want to stop living like a slave and start living like a son? How could such a gracious plan come unstuck?

Well, we're going to see it in verse 9.

You know, the radical thing about real Christianity is, it's got just nothing to do with what most people think of as religion. Did you realise, the original Christians, in the Roman empire they were called atheists. Because they didn't do all the religious stuff of the Roman Empire. They just didn't do all the smells and bells and holy days and sacrifices.

They didn't do all the rules and observances, all the "Do this, don't do that. Eat this, don't eat that." They didn't do "This day's special, that day's a feast day. This law, that law."

And so the Romans called them atheists. Real Christians seemed like the least ritualised people on the planet.

Which is hard to believe, when someone tells you this is the second Sunday before Lent and you're not meant to eat meat on Good Friday and have you put the ash on your head and that the liturgical colour for today is meant to be purple.

Let me read to you from the Catholic Encylopedia. "Red is used the week of Pentecost, on the feasts of Christ's Passion and His Precious Blood, the Finding and Elevation of the Cross, the feasts of Apostles and martyrs; and in votive Masses of these feasts.

"Green is employed from the octave of the Epiphany to Septuagesima, and from the octave of Pentecost to Advent, except on ember-days and vigils during that time, and on Sundays occurring within an octave. Violet is used during Advent and from Septuagesima to Easter, on vigils that are fast days, and on ember-days, except the vigil of Pentecost and the ember-days during the octave of Pentecost."

That's the Catholic Encyclopedia. Then the other day I drove past an Anglican church near here with a sign outside that says "What am I going to give up for Lent."

Well, let me read you from verse 9. And hear what Paul says. "But now that you know God... or rather are known by God... how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles. Do you with to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, verse 11, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you."

He says, you just don't get it. Slavery to principles like that, slavery to religious observances... that's what slaves do. That's all about trying to win God's favour, stay on his good side. Try, try, try. Do, do, do. Don't you realise you've got God's favour already? Because you've put your trust in Jesus. Don't you realise God already knows you even better than you know him?

It's funny, isn't it, people who like to name drop. Talk about the celebrities they've met, drop the names of the people they know. I don't care if you've got Brad and Angelina's number on speed dial in your phone. I'm more impressed if they've got you in theirs.

I'm not impressed if you say you're best mates with Tom Cruise. I'm impressed if Tom's telling people he's best mates with you.

Paul says it's like that. Here's how good it is. Not just that you know God. But God's saying he knows you. You're in his good books already. And yet here you are acting like slaves... all over again. Being drawn into the rituals of Jewish religion... just when Israel has been emancipated. Why go back?

"I fear for you," says Paul, verse 11. That somehow I have wasted my efforts on you."

And so I plead with you. As he does in the next few verses in a very personal way. Reminding them of the way they loved him and they cared for him so joyfully when he first came. And now they're treating him like an enemy. Because he's telling them the truth.

An Old Story Upside Down

It all reminds Paul of a very old story. About a slave son. Born of Hagar the slave woman. And a free son. Born of Sarah the free woman. The son of promise. It all reminds Paul of the way the slave son kept on persecuting the free son. And so from verse 21, he takes them back to the story from the very Law they want to be under.

It's a story you can find back in the book of Genesis. The names of the boys are Isaac... and Ishmael. Sons of Abraham. Ishmael born to Hagar, slave woman. And Isaac, born to Sarah in her old age, the result of God's promise.

Now Paul says he's going to take the story figuratively. He's going to use it to illustrate his point.

And as he does that, I want you to notice how offensive his point is. Because there's a sting in the tail for anyone with pride in their Jewish heritage.

It's a bit like those old your mother wears army boots kind of insults. Because the point is, the nation of Israel, the whole Jewish people in real life descended from Sarah's son Isaac. While the Gentiles descended from Hagar's son Ishmael. But Paul turns the story on its head.

Take a look what he's does. Verse 21. Tell me, you who want to be under the law, don't you know what the law says? Let's have a lesson from Genesis 21. For it is written that Abraham had two sons... one by the slave woman, and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.

Which Paul says, can be taken figuratively. And here's the sting in the tail. Because if you're Jewish and you want to be still be slaves to the law, he says you're son's of Hagar. And if you're a Gentile come to faith in Jesus then it's you guys who are part of the Sarah covenant. A child of promise. Free.

Verse 25 locks it in. Have a look. Now Hagar stands for mount Sinai. That's where the law was given. It's called the Sinai covenant. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.

Remember the guys who have come from Jerusalem saying the Gentile Christians have got to be circumcised like Jews and take on the law? Remember the guys from Jerusalem saying you should celebrate the holy days and the religious festivals and the rituals? Slave boys. They're Ishmael.

But the Jerusalem above is free. And celebrating. Sarah, the mother who had no kids at the start, is now the mother of a multitude of Gentiles who follow Jesus.

Can you see the switch. You judaizers, he says, you who have so much pride in your Jewishness... your mother's the slave woman. Because you're still slaves to the law. Instead of enjoying your emancipation.

And even worse than that, just like Ishmael did, you're persecuting your free brother. Verse 29. At that time, the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It's the same now. But what does the Scripture say? Genesis 21 again. "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son."

Hard words. For these teachers back then who are wanting to say to the Gentiles, trusting Jesus isn't enough. You've got to be circumcised. Become Jewish. You've got to keep the law. You've got to observe the sabbath. You've got to celebrate the feast days. You've got to take on the Sinai covenant. Paul says, that stuff's got no place here. Get rid of it. Because this is the new era. The age of the Spirit.

We need to remember the words of verse 29. Therefore brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

Consequences

Friends, what do you lose... when you give up your freedom? What do you lose... when you live your Christian life thinking thinking it's all about keeping rules, observing special days, going through the same rituals over and over again, don't drink this, don't touch that; living like slaves instead of living like sons and daughters? What do you lose when you make that mistake? What do you lose when you try to live your life by the Sinai covenant and tell others they should do the same? Because it's a mistake often made.

Let's backtrack a little. Because we skipped over verse 15 before.

Do you notice if you've met the kind of people who are big on all the religious rules and regulations, big on observing the holy days, that so often the joy... is conspicuously absent.

Paul says it in verse 15. "What's happened," he says, "What's happened to all your joy?"

Where's it gone? As you've put yourself under the heavy load of Israel's laws again. It's like your joy has just been crushed under it.

Losing Love

And it's not just the joy. They've lost their love as well. Paul says, when I was there before, you cared for me. You loved me. Keep reading in verse 15. "You would have torn out your own eyes and given them to me."

But now they're like enemies. Which is what he said in verse 16. "Have I now become your enemy... by telling you the truth?" And so now there's fighting. And backbiting. And rumour spreading.

The joy is gone. The love is gone. And now, just like Ishmael, the slave son is intent on persecuting the free son. And making his life a misery.

Hard to imagine, isn't it. The Galatian Christians self-righteously persecuting one another over issues of the law. Berating one another over holy days and rules and rituals. Instead of serving one another in love.

But that's what happens. And I don't know about you, but I've seen that played out in plenty of churches these days. I don't want MPC to be one of them. I'd rather keep the joy. And keep the love. I'll finish with the words of chapter 5 verse 1. And then we're going to sing them in our final song. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."