Summary: The ripeness of the times for the coming of Jesus into our hearts.
HERALDING THE FULLNESS
The Apostle Paul speaks of a 'fullness of time’ (Galatians 4:4). Well, if ever there was a time that was ripe for revival, perhaps it is now?
‘So much drunkenness, cursing and swearing (even from the mouths of little children),’ wrote John Wesley in his Journal. ‘Surely this place is ripe for Him who “came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”?’
There is a time for everything under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1). God has set limits to the times and boundaries of the nations from all eternity (Acts 17:26). Even in the days of Father Abraham, God was shaping the destiny of the wicked nations in the Holy Land (Genesis 15:16). Furthermore, if we are the people of God then our times are in the Lord's hands (Psalm 31:14-15).
The ‘fullness of time’ also has a historical context. The hope and expectation of the coming of Messiah was at its zenith among the faithful remnant of Israel: people like Simeon and Anna, living in the Temple (Luke 2:25; Luke 2:38). Even among the Gentiles there was a sense of anticipation: people like the wise men from the East (Matthew 2:1-2).
The conquests of Alexander the Great had brought about a common culture, and a common language (Koine Greek, in which the New Testament would be written). The armies of Caesar had secured the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, whereby it was easier for the Gospel to cross the borders of the known world than it had ever been hitherto. There was a hunger after knowledge, and a sense of dissatisfaction with the old ‘gods’ of Greece and Rome.
Luke speaks of such a time. After the nativity accounts of his first two chapters, we are fast-forwarded thirty years, and a list of rulers is introduced to mark the date (Luke 3:1). It surely is ‘the fullness of time’ when such scoundrels hold the reins of power?
In the State, Tiberius Caesar, Herod and Philip, and so on. Worse still, TWO high priests in the Temple (Luke 3:2a): apparently alternating year about (cf. John 11:51). The high priest was originally appointed to serve for life (cf. Numbers 35:25; Numbers 35:28; Joshua 20:6)!
Anyway, Luke certainly doesn’t name these names to impress. Remarkably, the word of God did not come to the palaces of any of these men. The word of God came to John, in the wilderness (Luke 3:2b).
The time was ripe, too, because for 400 years, since the close of Malachi’s ministry, there had been no word of prophecy. But now one came in the spirit of Elijah and the prophets (cf. Malachi 4:5-6).
Matthew tells us that John was dressed in camel’s hair and lived on a diet of locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). The forerunner of Jesus (for such he was, cf. Malachi 3:1a) was content to live in seclusion until the time of his showing to Israel (cf. Luke 1:80).
John preached a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Luke 3:3). John’s message was straightforward: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3:2). This was echoed in the opening salvo of the message of Jesus: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 4:17).
John the Baptiser’s message is a message of preparation, of levelling the land and clearing the highway to make way for the coming of the LORD (Isaiah 40:3-4). This is a familiar picture to those who are acquainted with the ‘progressions’ of England’s first Queen Elizabeth, who would have a herald go before her, so that when she and her huge entourage arrived in any town or city, village or country house, all things would have been made ready to receive her. God has a preparatory work for the Gospel, too, preparing hearts to receive Him.
If we are being called by God, then His Holy Spirit is already at work in our hearts to shape us into the image of Christ, to free us from the bondage which comes from a slavish keeping of legalistic rituals and ceremonies (Galatians 4:10). ‘If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed’ (John 8:36). If we have been set free by Christ, then we are truly free, and have no need to wander back into the slavish fears of our pre-conversion days.
John the Baptiser’s message is a message of revelation (Isaiah 40:5), when the presence of the LORD draws near in the Person of His own Word (cf. John 1:14), aka “the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6). ‘You shall call His name JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21).
‘In the fullness of the time God sent forth His Son’ (Galatians 4:4). What a momentous sentence!