2016-12-11 Born under the Law

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          December 11, 2016

“Born under the Law”
Text: Galatians 4:4-5

God sent forth His Son.  This is the theme of our series of sermons leading to Christmas 2016.  In the past weeks, we have seen God send forth His Son—both in the fullness of time and born of woman.  Today—continuing the theme—we see God send forth His Son, born under law.  Let us give our attention to God’s Word read and proclaimed in this place this day.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Jesus, born under the law, was born into a Law-abiding family.  Apparently, this family was steeped in the knowledge and observance of God’s Law—given at Sinai and codified in much of the earliest books of the Old Testament.  The evidence lies in how they conducted their lives.  They had Jesus circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21, Leviticus 12:3), they presented Him at the Temple in Jerusalem (forty days after His birth: Luke 2:22-24, Leviticus 12:4 6 ff.), and they kept Passover [and likely the other appointed feasts as well] as a family (Luke 2:41-52, Exodus 23:14-17).  These instances suggest that Mary and Joseph kept the Law scrupulously.

Not only this, but Jesus, born under the Law, kept it perfectly.  This is important for our salvation.  James, the half-brother of the Lord Jesus, wrote by the Spirit ca. A. D. 45 that, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10).  Yet the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus, tempted in every way as we, sinned not (Hebrews 4:15).  We shall see later how this is necessary to effect our salvation.

Jesus, born under law, is Himself the fulfillment, not the abolition, of the Law (Matthew 5:17).  The Old Covenant, as granted to Moses on Mount Sinai and codified in much of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, may be view in two parts: the ceremonial law and the moral law.[1]  The ceremonial law has been fulfilled in Christ, Who is its substance; hence, we observe these ceremonies no more.  The moral law’s demands are fulfilled by Christ—and that for our sakes.  Make no mistake though: the Law is not abolished, but, rather, it remains useful for Christians today.

The Law reminds us of our sin and drives us to the Cross in God’s good providence.  The Law, in the wider culture, also to some degree restrains those who would practice lawlessness.  The Law also shows us what God is like and spurs us to imitate Him.  This third use is today God’s principal use of His law for His people.

Jesus flawless obedience to the law is infinitely meritorious.  The merits of that obedience, by faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, He imputes to us (2 Corinthians v.21).  This brings to bear the great exchange, or the ultimate double switch, if you will.  Our sin—not in part, but the whole—is laid to Christ, Who atoned for it.  His perfect righteousness God places on us—and when He looks at us, He sees not our sin, which Christ bore in our stead, but Christ’s righteousness.  This is good news indeed this holiday season.

  1. M. Toplady (1740-78), a Calvinistic Anglican, knew our case well, “Not the labor of my hands/Can fulfill Thy law’s demands/Could my zeal no respite know/Could my tears forever flow/All for sin could not atone/Thou must save, and Thou alone.” This quote, from the timeless hymn “Rock of Ages,” reveals that Rev. Toplady also knew the remedy for our case.  No work of ours carries sufficient merit to atone for it—our best works, considered in the aggregate, yet fall far short of God’s infinitely righteous standard.  What we needed was Christ’s active obedience—and the merits of the same imputed to us.
  2. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) was a professor of New Testament at (Old) Princeton Seminary and later at Westminster Seminary, which he helped found. On a preaching tour in North Dakota, during which he contracted his fatal illness, he dictated one last telegram to his friend John Murray, which said, succinctly, “I’m so thankful for active obedience of Christ.  No hope without it.”[2]  Happily, He Who was sent forth by the Father, in the fullness of time, born of woman, and born under law, hath accomplished everything needful for us in our stead.

Our happy duty, then, both individually and corporately, comes to us on several lines.  First, let us either receive Him by faith or continue in Him Who some time ago rescued us from an unspeakably horrible eternity.  Second, let us praise Him for His Person and work.  That is, we praise our three-in-one God both for Who He is and for what He does.  More than this, we praise His Person and work in time past, now, and to all eternity.  Third, let us be conformed increasingly, by His Spirit, to His moral law.  We do this not to earn salvation, but to display the fact that salvation has come.  Moreover, our world needs to see more happy obedience to God’s good moral law—and it needs to see the benefits that flow therefrom.  May God use this to draw a good number of folks to Himself in these days.

Finally, beloved ones, rejoice in Him Who was born under the Law.  Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was born under the Law for the glory of the triune God.  He was born under the Law for our sakes as well—and, God willing, we shall examine this in greater detail next Sunday morning.  Again, God willing, I look forward to seeing you then.

AMEN.

[1] Or, if the dietary portions of the Old Testament law be divided from the rest of the ceremonial law, then we have a three-fold division of the Old Testament law (moral, ceremonial, dietary).

[2] Christ’s active obedience, that is, His perfect observance of God’s Law, is contrasted with His passive obedience, that is, His submission to death on the Cross.  Both are indispensable for our salvation.

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