By Charles E. McCracken
Timing is everything. Watching the changing of the guard at Windsor Castle with my son, we couldn’t help but be impressed by that fact. First, the pipe band with kilts swaying entered the courtyard marching in formation with booming drums and howling bagpipes. It was a deafening, but movingly wonderful racket!
Closely following, the Queen’s Guard wearing traditional hobnail boots, black trousers, red jackets and their trademark Canadian brown bear hats was an impressive sight. It was one of those rare events in life that moves you to the core—the group marched with precision according to a predetermined plan that was perfectly choreographed. Nothing happened by chance; no one was out of step.
In a much more profound sense, the events of history are governed by the sovereign God of creation; and, timing is everything.
God is eternal and omniscient. He isn’t bound by time and space; and, unlike man sees all of history like a colossal appointment calendar.
Transcending the time space continuum, God has planned every date of the grand calendar of history and knows what He has purposed for each nanosecond.
There is a “set time” for every detail of God’s plan and purpose to be fulfilled.
SET TIMES REVEAL GOD’S STRATEGIC PLAN
There was a set time when Sarah gave birth to Isaac, the promised heir of God’s covenant with Abraham. God promised Abraham, but My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this set time next year (Gen. 17: 21 NKJV). At the set time, Sarah gave birth to Isaac just as God had promised.
There was a set time for the nation of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. God told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves for 400 years in Egypt, but would ultimately return to the land He promised (Gen 15:13). The book of Exodus records,
and it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years—on that very day—it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt (Ex. 12:40-41 NIV).
Joshua led the nation of Israel across the Jordan River and into the land God promised Abraham and his descendants, Isaac and Jacob.
The psalmist records a set time to favor Jerusalem,
But You, O Lord, shall endure forever, and the remembrances of Your name to all generations. You will arise and have mercy on Zion; for the time to favor her, yes, the set time has come (Ps. 102:13 NKJV).
Most commentators suggest the psalm was written by a Jewish exile, and that it focuses on the return to the land following the Babylonian captivity. It was a set time because God had explicitly declared through Jeremiah the prophet that the Babylonian exile would last only 70 years (Jer. 25:11-12). After 70 years in captivity, the nation of Israel (both Israel and Judah) returned to the land of Israel as promised (Jer. 50:4).
There was a “set time” when the birth of Messiah was scheduled to occur. At that precise moment, God sent His Son. Writing to the Galatians, Paul asserts, But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son (Gal. 4:4 NIV). God was not passively waiting for an opportune moment to send His Son into the world. God scheduled the events of history— including the birth of Messiah.
It was the set time because 500 years earlier, Daniel the prophet provided a timeline connecting Israel’s future with God’s Messianic program (Dan. 9:24-27). He foretold that after 69 weeks of years or 483 years after Artaxerxes’ decree to rebuild Jerusalem, Messiah would present Himself to the nation of Israel in Jerusalem.
The prophecy was fulfilled to the letter when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the foal of an ass (Mt. 21:4-1). Any deviation in the timing of Messiah’s birth would have rendered Daniel’s prophecy invalid.
The Son of God entered time and space at “the set time” on God’s sovereign calendar. He did not casually amble into the sphere of human existence. At the appointed time—the most opportune day—God sent His Son (Gal. 4:4). Over a period of more than 4 millennia, God meticulously superintended the progress of human history creating the right environment for the Jesus’ birth.
SET TIMES OPTIMIZE WORLD CONDITIONS
Between 336 B.C. and 323 B.C., Alexander the Great conquered the then known world. Little did he realize that his swift 11-year conquest was essential preparation for not only the Jesus’ birth and ministry, but also the spread of Christianity.
More than 200 years before it became a reality, the prophet Daniel predicted the meteoric rise of the Greek Empire. Daniel described Greece as a beast, “that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule” (Dan. 7:6). The leopard enhanced with the addition of four bird-like wings symbolizes the speed of Alexander’s conquest.
Suddenly, the world was Greek. Greek culture, Greek institutions and Greek philosophy dominated the world. As a result, a common form of the highly expressive Greek language became the universal tongue allowing people from diverse groups to communicate and engage in commerce. But, as you know from your study of history, the Greeks were subsequently conquered by the ruthless Roman Empire.
The legions of the Roman army stomping across the world landscape had a mission statement that did not include: “Preparing the world for Messiah.” Yet, the ascendancy of the Roman Empire brought with it Roman government, Roman law and Roman roads.
Pax Romana was an enforced peace that characterized the golden age of the Roman Empire beginning with Caesar Augustus in 27 B.C. and lasting until Marcus Aurelius around A.D.180. This enforced peace drove an unprecedented upsurge in travel, communication and trade essential for the future spread of the gospel.
Interestingly, the masses living under the tyranny of the Roman Empire were disillusioned with their impotent pagan deities in the face of Roman conquest. Consequently, the conquered masses were characterized by a universal spiritual void.
Thus, when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship (Gal. 4:4).
In the same way a builder prepares a foundation and frames the walls of a house before attaching the roof, God prepared for the most spectacular and momentous event in human history. A widely spoken language allowed for the rapid spread of the gospel; a vast infrastructure facilitated travel to the known world for those communicating the gospel; and, the world population because of the oppression of the Roman Empire was primed to receive the Good News.
God, who sees the totality of history from beginning to end, has set specific times for the events of history.
History is not careening out of control toward an uncertain end, but rather is unfolding according to an overarching plan.
SET TIMES FULFILL GOD’S PLAN
God has an appointment calendar spanning the course of human history. And, before the earth was brought into existence, He scheduled an event and notified man as recorded in Genesis 3:15:
I will put enmity between you [serpent/Satan] and the woman [Eve], and between your offspring and hers; he [Messiah] will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
For millennia, God consistently reiterated the redemptive purpose of His long held appointment. He even sent prophets to establish the predetermined time and place for the appointment. Then, at the “set time,” God sent His Son to earth as humanity’s promised Savior.
The apostle Paul declares,
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir (Gal. 4:4-7).
This appointment was scheduled to accomplish two objectives:
1. “to redeem those under the law”
2. “that we might receive adoption to sonship”
The expression, “under the law,” conveys the idea of being imprisoned, bound or enslaved—in this case, bound or enslaved to the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). Jesus didn’t free man from moral accountability to God, but rather from the curse imposed on man’s inability to keep the law.
Sending His Son as a human baby is inseparably linked to the substitutionary death of His Son as the perfect sacrifice for sin (Rm. 8:3). God alone had that right. As difficult as it is to comprehend that fact, He is God Incarnate—God’s only begotten Son.
As a human being, He was born under the law. He was born of a Jewish mother; circumcised according to Mosaic Law; at the age of 13, became a bar mitzvah (son of the commandment); made pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the required feasts; ate a kosher diet and attended synagogue. He lived a perfect life as a man within the stringent context of Judaism.
Only as Man could He die as a substitute for man’s sin, but only as God could His death have efficacy to redeem lost humanity.
Simply redeeming man from bondage to the curse of the law is in itself astounding, but there was an added benefit.
God’s purpose was not only redemption, but also adoption. He was determined to make children out of slaves! The apostle Paul illustrated the concept using a prevalent Greek and Roman practice allowing the head of a household to adopt a slave and make him an heir. It is mind-boggling to think that the God of creation would not only orchestrate the redemption of humanity, but also the very “adoption to sonship” that makes us His children.
God wants us to have the privilege of an affectionate, intimate and personal relationship with Him. His Spirit indwelling us not only makes that relationship possible, but also defines it in the tenderest relationship of a father and child.(1)
Paul told the church at Galatia and all who have trusted God’s sacrifice for sin, because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying out, “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6).
This is wonderfully important to grasp! We have not been redeemed in a cold sterile formality; we have been made His children:
So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir (Gal. 4:7).
Jesus’ Incarnation and birth was appointed by God to fulfill the promise made in the Garden of Eden, but also made a personal relationship possible that allows us the privilege of calling Him not just Father, but Abba Father!(2)
What God accomplished at the nativity of His Son demonstrates His amazing and infinitely brilliant plan for the continued unfolding of human history!
Don’t be disheartened by deteriorating world conditions or unforeseen personal challenges.
Just as God planned the events leading up to and including the birth of the Savior, the remainder of history is also under His sovereign control.
Be encouraged that the God of creation is so awesome and mighty He will accomplish every detail of His plan at the predetermined set time.
1) The relationship Paul describes is more than a self-professed identity; it is verified by the Holy Spirit Himself. At the moment of God’s adoption, the Holy Spirit indwells the adopted individual to confirm and provide evidence that they are truly His children. It’s like an adoption certificate. In point of fact, it is even better. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we receive, His divine power [that] has given us everything we need for a godly life (2 Pet. 1:3).
2) Abba is the same word for “Daddy” children use in Israel and many Jewish communities today. On every trip to Israel I’ve taken over the past 20 years, I’ve heard this word used regularly. It is a term of endearment used by children demonstrating a reliant, but affectionate relationship with one’s father.
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, text content. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author.