Our text is today’s Epistle (Galatians 4:1–7): 1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (ESV)
God sent forth his Son…to redeem those who were under the law. Here St. Paul uses a word from the slave markets of his day to describe how Jesus has saved us. You see, in Paul’s day, the words “redeem” and “redemption” were used to describe what sometimes happened in the slave market, where soon-to-be slaves were sometimes “redeemed” by their friends. Let’s imagine for a moment that you are living in Paul’s day and that you suddenly lose your job. Because you cannot pay off your debts, you are taken to the slave market, where you will be sold as a slave. You are now standing on the auctioneer’s block, with not one shred of hope in your heart. You fear that you will be sold to a cruel master who will make your life miserable. But then suddenly you see twenty of your closest friends going up to the auctioneer and handing him money. When your friends heard that you were going to be sold into slavery, they passed the hat and collected enough money to pay the price for your freedom. All of a sudden, you are released from your chains, and you step off the auctioneer’s block and join your friends. Now how do you feel? One moment your heart was full of despair and completely without hope. Now your heart is overflowing with joy and peace and hope because your friends have paid the price for your freedom.
In Paul’s day, that is what it meant to redeem someone; redemption was the act of paying for someone’s freedom. No wonder Paul borrowed this word from the slave market to describe what Jesus did for us! We were all born as slaves to sin. We were all born under the condemnation of the Law, which we can never keep. The Law is everything that God rightly demands of all people—all that we are suppose to be and to do and to not do. But we entered the world unable to fulfill God’s demands, and so we were all born as condemned sinners. As Paul says in Romans, none is righteous, no, not one…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (3:10, 23). There was nothing we could do to free ourselves from our slavery to sin and from our condemnation for not keeping the Law. That is why Jesus came to redeem us. Jesus paid the price for our freedom from sin. But Jesus paid for our freedom in a way that few friends, no matter how close, would ever think of doing.
It is one thing to pass the hat and collect money to pay for a friend’s freedom. It is another thing entirely to take the place of a person about to be sold into slavery so that he can go free. That is what Jesus did for you. He took your place; He became a slave so that you could be set free. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13-14). Jesus took your place on the cursed cross, where He suffered the Law’s condemnation in His own body.
Even though Jesus kept the Law perfectly, through His dying on the cross, He willingly suffered the Law’s condemnation, which was the fate you deserved. And so now, even though you still do not keep the Law perfectly, you are free from the Law’s condemnation because Jesus was condemned in your place. In His death and resurrection, Jesus also broke the power of sin. And so now, you are free to walk by the Spirit…and not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16). Thanks be to God that Jesus paid for your freedom from condemnation and sin, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”
The Gospel—the Good News of our forgiveness in Christ—can be described in terms of Jesus redeeming us, in terms of Jesus paying the price for our freedom from sin and condemnation through His death on the cross. Another way of describing the Gospel is in terms of adoption. St. Paul tells us that the reason Jesus redeemed us is so that we might receive adoption as sons. Now, to our modern ears, it may seem strange that Paul only speaks of our adoption as sons and not also as daughters. But Paul is making a very important point. You see, in the ancient world, only sons could inherit. And so, Paul speaks of our adoption as sons to drive home the point that all we who are in Christ—men as well as women—will receive a full inheritance from our heavenly Father.
Let’s imagine that we are back at the slave market. Once again, you are on the auctioneer’s block, about to be sold into the slavery. This time, instead of being redeemed by your friends, you are bought by a stranger. This stranger takes you to his home. You expect him to start ordering you about as his slave, but instead he does something you never could have anticipated. He takes out of his desk a legal document and hands it to you with a smile. You cannot believe what you are reading. It says that this stranger has adopted you to be his child and heir! Can you believe it? You came to this stranger’s home, expecting to be his slave; now, you are his child. You came, expecting to call him “Master”; now, you call him “Father.” You came owning nothing; now all this man’s wealth is yours. You came as a slave with no rights; now you have all the rights and privileges of a free citizen. As an adopted child, you have all the freedoms of a child born into that home.
An adoption is a legal declaration that someone who is not your own child is henceforth to be treated and cared for as your own child. No wonder Paul used this image of adoption to describe what Jesus did for us. We were born as slaves to sin, but Jesus paid the price for our freedom from sin and condemnation, and in doing so, Jesus made it possible for us to become children of God.
In his Gospel, St. John tells us that to all who believed in [the name of Jesus], He gave the right to become children of God (1:12). When did you first believe in the name of Jesus? Now, of course, some Christians first believed in Jesus in their adult years, but for most of us, it was while we were still infants, at our baptism. That is when God adopted you; that is when God gave you the right to become children of God. In the words of our text, that is when God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!” “Abba” is an Aramaic word for “father.” Because God has adopted you as His children and because the Holy Spirit is in your hearts, you have the right and privilege of calling God “our Father.”
When you were still slaves to sin and condemned under the Law, God adopted you to be His children, and so now you can call Him “Father.” You can call God “our Father.” Do you realize what this means? It means that you are no longer condemned slaves. It means that you are God’s forgiven children. And as God’s forgiven children, you have inherited all the riches of heaven, for Paul tells us that if you are God’s forgiven children, then you are also heirs of heaven. As heirs of heaven, you will someday enjoy eternal life in heaven, but the Good News is that even now you possess eternal life. Even now you get a sneak preview of your heavenly inheritance every time you feast on your Lord’s body and blood in the Holy Supper, for this Holy Supper is a foretaste of the heavenly feast that awaits you as a child of God and an heir of heaven.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus was born of a virgin, without a biological father, so that you could have a heavenly Father. Jesus, the Son of God, was born in a poor stable so that you could inherit the riches of heaven. Jesus, true God and yet true Man, suffered the fate of a condemned slave so that you could experience the glorious freedom of God’s forgiven children. Thanks be to God, who sent forth his Son…to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Amen.