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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Children and Heirs of God

First Sunday After Christmas

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.

Galatians 4:4-7

In our Epistle lesson, we read that “God sent His Son… that we might receive the ‘full rights’ of sons.” I also want to remind you that just five verses earlier, Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In matters of our relationship to God, we are one – so when Paul writes about “sons” in his Epistle, understand he’s speaking to all of us. He uses “sons” because in those days only sons were heirs – only sons inherited the father’s property and goods. I didn’t want you to think that these words only applied to half of us here – they apply to all of us! So we read, “When the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.” “God sent His Son… that we might receive adoption as sons.”

A lot of controversy surrounds adoption these days. Some people question whether adoption is always the best thing for homeless children. Some even say it’s better to kill an unborn baby than to have the baby and then give it up for adoption. Answering the statement that “Adoptive families aren’t real families,” Lutherans for Life answers, “Adopted children are real children; adopting parents are real parents; and adoptive families are real families.”

But whatever our opinions might be about human adoptive practices, today’s Epistle lesson makes it clear that God is very much in favor of adoption. As a matter of fact, except for Jesus, the only children God has are adopted children! And He doesn’t want us to have any doubt or uncertainty about our place in His family because we’re adopted. He has sent the Spirit into our hearts so that we can call Him “Father,” and He tells us, “You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” God wants us to know that as adopted children we belong!

But in spite of God’s assurance that we are His children and heirs, we sometimes doubt the validity of our adoption, don’t we? Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that we doubt that our adopting Heavenly Father is a real parent – that He really pays attention to us – that He really cares about us, I mean about you, and me – personally. Sometimes we have a problem, or a question, that we want to talk to God about, and we just don’t know what to say. And we aren’t sure He’s listening anyway.

That’s when we need to remember that because we know Jesus as our Savior, we are sons and daughters of God, and we have the promise that “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” “Abba” is the Aramaic word for “father” that we would best translate as “daddy.” “Abba” is what Jesus called His Father when He prayed to Him in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And we read in Romans 8:26 that “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

The fact that the Spirit of Christ in our hearts cries unto God, and makes intercession for us with groanings, should reassure us greatly. But there are many things that prevent that assurance, aren’t there? We are born in sin. To doubt the good will of God is an inborn suspicion of God with all of us. Besides, the Devil, our adversary, goes about seeking to devour us by roaring; “God is angry with you and is going to destroy you forever!”

In all of our difficulties, our questioning, our doubting, our agonizing, our suffering – we have only one support: the Good News of Jesus. To hold on to it – that’s the trick!

Christ can’t be perceived by our senses. We can’t see Him. Our heart doesn’t feel His presence. When He speaks to us, we don’t hear Him with our ears. And especially in times of trials, a Christian feels the power of sin, the infirmity of his flesh, the stinging darts of the Devil, the chills of death, the scowl and judgement of God. All these things cry out against us.

Martin Luther put it well when he wrote, “The Law scolds us, sin screams at us, death thunders at us, the Devil roars at us. In the midst of the clamor, the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts, ‘Abba, Father.’ And this little cry of the Spirit transcends the hullabaloo of the Law, sin, death, and the Devil, and finds a hearing with God.”

The Spirit cries in us because of our weakness. Because of our infirmity, the Holy Spirit is sent into our hearts to pray for us according to the will of God, and to assure us of the grace and love of God.

In the 14th chapter of Exodus, the Lord speaks to Moses at the Red Sea: “Why are you crying out to me?” Moses hadn’t cried out to the Lord! He was afraid. He was so scared he could hardly talk. His faith was being sorely tested! He saw the people of Israel sandwiched between the sea and the approaching armies of Pharoah. How were they to escape? Moses didn’t know what to say! So how could God say that Moses was crying out to Him? God heard the groaning heart of Moses, and the groans to Him sounded like loud shouts for help. God is quick to catch the sighs of our hearts!

Again, Luther sums this up by writing, “This goes to show how hard it is to believe. Faith is feeble, because the flesh wars against the spirit. If we could have perfect faith, our loathing for this life in the world would be complete. We would not be so careful about this life. We would not be so attached to the world and the things of the world. We would not feel so good when we have them; we would not feel so bad when we lose them. We would be far more humble and patient and kind. But our faith is weak, because our spirit is weak. In this life we can have only the first-fruits of the Spirit, as Paul says. Left to ourselves, we would be in terrible bondage!”

But God has set us free! “When the time had fully come” – in other words, “At just the right time, God sent His Son!” These are wonderful words! This is the Christmas story. This is the turning point of history. Without these words, life offers no future hope for anyone. We are lost and without hope without God. But God has intervened and brings us an effective and complete salvation. He has made it possible for all to become His children through adoption. If only everyone would receive His gift! If only all those we love would receive His gift. If only they would hear what God has done, and receive it for themselves! If only they knew that God sent His Son into the world to redeem mankind from the bondage of sin and make it possible for God to adopt them as His children. If only they knew that God sends His Spirit into the hearts of all His children, so they can even call Him “Father”, “Abba”, “Daddy!” Maybe we could tell them!

The Rev. J. Vernon McGee was the speaker on the “Through the Bible Radio” program. He was a man who knew God as his daddy – but he was also a man who was very human, and he knew it. Speaking on these verses, he gave a very personal witness of God’s sending his Son into the world, and His Spirit into the heart of a believer. He said, “My friend, we are always God’s foolish, little children. We are always filled with ignorance and stubbornness and sin and fears and weaknesses. We are never wonderful; He is wonderful! The Lord Jesus is wonderful, and faith in Him will give us an experience.” He goes on to say, “I recall when I was taken to the hospital to be operated on for cancer. No one was ever as frightened as I was because I am a coward, and I don’t like hospitals. (I thank God for them, but I still don’t like them.) I put on that funny-looking night gown they give you that is open in the back instead of the front, and I was trying to get up into the bed. I just couldn’t make it. A nurse came in and said, ‘What’s the matter? Are you sick?’ I said, ‘No, I’m scared to death!’ Then, when she came to get me ready for the operation, I said, ‘Just let me have a few moments alone.’ I had visited in that hospital many times as a pastor – in fact, several hundred times. Now I turned my face to the wall just like Hezekiah did and I said, ‘Lord, I want you to know that I have been here many times, and I have patted people on the hand and told them that you would be with them. As their pastor I prayed for them and then walked out. But I’m not walking out today I’m going to have to stay and be operated on myself. I don’t know what the outcome will be.’ I had some things I wanted to tell God. I wanted to tell Him how He ought to work it out. But I just welled up inside, and said, ‘My father, I’m in your hands. Whatever you want done, you do it. You’re my father.’ He was so wonderful to me. That is when He becomes a reality, my beloved. We need to experience Him as our Abba, Father. ‘The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God.’ Now, I don’t wish you any trouble, but I think it is generally in times of trouble that God makes himself real to us. I hope that some day you will have such an experience with our wonderful Heavenly Father. The Lord stood by Paul. He stood by me. How reassuring it is to have a father like that! At such a time He says, ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you.’ I trust you are His son.”

What a privilege it is to say with confidence, “Abba, Father.” It’s a privilege that has become our right only because of the coming of our brother Jesus Christ. It was normal and natural for Jesus, the Son of God, to address God as “Abba, Father.” But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son that we might be redeemed, set free from sin and Satan, and be adopted as sons and daughters of God.

Now He wants us to share the Good News of salvation to those who are not His children, that they too might be adopted as sons and daughters. It’s obvious that we have a father who loves children, and wants a very big family!


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