Christmas according to the Apostle Paul — Gal 4:4-5 (Pt. 2 of 3)
In our first installment in this series on Christmas according to Paul, we learned that, for the Apostle, Jesus is the Child for whom all of time had waited and who was born of a woman. In the second part of our series, we learn two more truths about Christmas from Paul as he writes in Gal 4:4-5.
The Apostle’s statement in Gal 4:4 gives us a third insight by which to answer the question, what Child is this? Paul says, He is the Child who was “born under the law.” Added to the phrase “born of a woman,” this phrase refers to a second circumstance that marks His birth, a feature that again points us to His humiliation. What does the Apostle mean by this phrase? He means that the Son was born a servant. That is, born a Jew under Moses, the Son of the Father was born a servant of the Lord His God, to whom He owed a perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience, both active and passive.
From His circumcision eight days after His birth, to His celebration of Passover with His disciples just before His death, every detail of Jesus’ life was under the direction of the law. As a son of Abraham, the Son-born-servant lived under the pedagogy of the ceremonial law. For His sake the ritual ordinances and shadows of the law were instituted, and their principal end and fulfillment were found in Him.
The Son was also born under the moral law and the civil law. As a servant of the Lord, He was subject to all the precepts of the law and to its rewards and penalties. And the law demanded a righteous man, a man who kept the commandments of His God and Father. The Son, says Paul, the One born of a woman, was just such a man. He was born under the law both as a man and as the surety of His people. No wonder the author of Hebrews can say (Heb 10:5, 7) that, “when Christ came into the world, He said, … ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book.’”
What Child is this in the manger, then? He is not only the Child for whom all of time had waited and who was born of a woman; He is also the Child born under the law.
As the Apostle continues to discuss the first advent of Jesus, he provides a fourth part of his answer to the question before us. The Babe in the manger, he tells us, is the Child who was born “to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal 4:4). Here our focus shifts from the circumstances of Jesus’ coming to the purpose of His coming.
We need to pay special attention to the meaning and background of the Apostle’s words here. By “redeem,” Paul has in mind the act of rescuing, releasing, delivering from slavery by the payment of a price. The story of Israel’s redemption provides the backdrop here. The price paid for the nation’s deliverance from Egypt was profound: it was the death of the firstborn. Through Moses Israel learned of God’s penal substitute for their firstborn, and thus Israel offered the Passover lamb and saw their redemption from slavery in Pharaoh’s kingdom to liberty under the Lord their God.
There is, thankfully, a redemption greater than that of Moses. Israel’s deliverance from Egypt exemplified the gospel fully revealed in Jesus Christ. He came as the true Israel and the greater Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19; John 1:29). He poured Himself out in death for His people (Isa 53:12; Heb 2:10-13; Rev 5:6-9) and thereby brought about the new and true exodus from spiritual slavery in Satan’s kingdom of sin and death (Luke 9:31; Matt 1:21). So great was the redemption wrought by Christ that He brought a benefit that Moses could not provide, namely, the forgiveness of sins, the sinner’s release from legal liability to endure the punishment that sin and its guilt required.
Believe or not, there is still more in the Apostle’s statement! Notice that in Gal 4:4 Paul describes those whom the Son redeems as “those under the law.” By “those under the law,” Paul here describes all whom the Son came to redeem, but what is the point of such a description? His point is to reach those who know they are obliged to obey God’s law from the heart (Deut 6:6; Gal 3:12) but who, in their bondage to sin, are powerless to satisfy its requirements (Deut 5:28-29; 29:4; Gal 3:21). His point is to get the attention of those born beset with original sin for whom the law has proved to be a covenant of condemnation, bondage, and death (2 Cor 3:6-14; Rom 7:10-11; Gal 3:10, 22). For such as these the Apostle has “good tidings of great joy”: the Son came to bring release and rescue to you. In life and in death, the Son rendered to God the obedience required by the law, and on that basis He has asked the Father to apply the merits of His obedience to all sinners who believe. Thus does the Son answer all accusations against His people and quiet their restless consciences. Thus does He gain their access to God and secure their acceptance before God.
What Child is this? He is the Child for whom all of history has waited, the Child born of a woman and under the law, the Child sent to redeem us.
In our final installment we shall look at two more truths that the Apostle Paul teaches us about the Babe in the manger.