Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Fullness of Time

If you could be born at any time in history, when would it be? Perhaps we might say biblical times, or in the prime of some ancient empire, or during a period such as the Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Victorian Era, Colonial days, etc. We might even look forward and choose the future, when perhaps there will be a cure for cancer, or even a better economy! Of course, though we can make many choices in our lives, we are not able to choose the time in which we were born. That was determined by the sovereignty of God. Acts 17:26-27 says, "He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God." According to that truth, God placed us when (historically) and where (geographically) He chose us to exist for His own purposes, namely that we might be most sensitive to Him, and seek Him like we would in no other period of time. But it is fun to imagine what life would be like in another time or place, isn't it?

What about Jesus? If you could determine the time and place for Him to be born, when and where would that be? When it comes to the exact day and year of His birth, there is much uncertainty. The story of how Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25, and the year of His birth as Year 0 (Zero), is complicated and somewhat embarrassing. Most scholars are convinced that He was not born on this date, and many propose a more probable date of the fall season (perhaps in proximity to the Feast of Tabernacles), in the range of 4 to 6 BC. But, though we may never know this side of heaven (and it will hardly matter on the other side) the precise date of His birth, we know that when it occurred, it was the precisely perfect time in history. Just as God sovereignly determines our appointed times and the boundaries of our habitation, so He sovereignly determined the moment that the incarnation would occur. In Galatians 4, Paul says that God sent forth His Son "when the fullness of time came." It is as if all of human history was pregnant, and when it had reached full-term, the incarnate Christ was born to the virgin.

At that time, there was an unprecedented spiritual hunger and religious upheaval in the world. Because of the scattering of Israel across the nations, the idea of monotheism was gaining traction among multitudes who had been previously devoted to the worship of many deities. In most of the world's major cities, there were synagogues where Jews gathered for worship and teaching from the Hebrew Bible. But by this time, most were making use, not of a Hebrew Bible, but a Greek one. Because of the conquests of Alexander the Great and the Hellenization of the world (the spread of Greek language and culture), Greek was the lingua franca of nearly the entire world. By 200 BC, the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) had been translated into Greek (the Septuagint), so most of the world could read, hear, and know about this one true God whom the Israelites worshiped. Greek was also the language in which the New Testament was written, and the language by which the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus began to permeate the globe. To facilitate the spread of this message, God had providentially allowed the Roman Empire to unite the world under a common peace, the Pax Romana, and connect the world through an intricate system of roads and trade routes. So the time when Christ came was the ideal time in all of past and future times for Him to be made known in the world.

We might be tempted to think that the day in which we live would be more opportune for Christ to come. If Jesus was on the earth today, He could make use of the great technological advances that we enjoy today to spread His message. His birth, His teaching sessions, even His death and the events surrounding His resurrection could be simulcast via satellite all over the world. He could write a blog that could be read all over the world, and translated via Google services into almost any language. He could have a podcast that disseminated MP3s of His sermons globally. Can you imagine downloading the Sermon on the Mount onto your iPhone? He could have a Twitter account that would rival Conan O'Brien's in number of followers and buzz created. He could have a facebook page for all of His followers to connect on, and He could share pictures immediately. Think of it ... James could upload a picture of Lazarus coming out of the tomb! Peter could have uploaded video of the transfiguration to YouTube, or better, in High Definition on Vimeo! Surely God must see the technological tower that we have built for ourselves in this day and second guess His own timing of the incarnation! No, perish that thought. God's ways and His timing are always perfect, and when Christ came, it was the fullness of time.

When Jesus walked the earth, His message was heard by sometimes three, sometimes twelve, sometimes a few dozen, a few hundred, and at the apex, perhaps 20,000 or more. With the push of a few buttons and a few mouse clicks, today one can publish a message (like this one I am writing now) that can be seen, heard, and viewed by millions, if not billions! I maintain this blog which has been visited some 18,000 people on every continent since its inception. I have a facebook page with over 300 "friends," and a twitter account that is "followed" by 160 people, some of whom I don't even know. And my numbers are small compared to countless others who are far more important than me. But we, like all humanity, will be swept away in death one day. The keystrokes will fall silent; URLs will expire; a server will crash, something new will come along that renders the sites and services we use today irrelevant, and our words and ideas will turn to dust along with our decomposing carcasses. But, two-thousand years after Jesus walked the earth, He is still creating a buzz, though He made no use of any of these technologies.

These things should affect us deeply in several ways. First, we should become instantly aware of how unnecessary these things are. We are thankful for them, and we should steward them wisely, but God doesn't need them to carry out His task. Second, we should be reminded of both our own fleeting influence, and the ever-enduring influence of Jesus. Whatever splash we make in the world through our online presence and tech-savvy is microscopic (if that!) compared to the wake that continues to follow Jesus. Third, we must consider that God is able to work in "small things" perhaps even more than we imagine that He could in "big things." Our aim should not be for greatness in the world's eyes, but for the world to know the greatness of Jesus. If God could do that before electricity, internet, and air travel, He can still do it without us creating empires for ourselves today. Finally, we must be mindful to avoid what C. S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery." We must not think that we live in a utopian age because of all of our advances, nor must we daydream of returning to a simpler society in which we shun all of these advances. While God did not need the printing press, we are certainly grateful for its existence and we have made much good use of it for the spread of the Gospel. The same could be said of the technology we enjoy today. It has arisen under the providence and common grace of God, and if we would use it well, we would use it to spread the glory and fame of Jesus, not ourselves. Christ is the Word made Flesh. Heaven and earth, and all who dwell upon the earth, and Google and Facebook, and Twitter and YouTube, and HDTV and Skype, and all the rest will all pass away. But God's Word will never pass away. And the Word made Flesh in Jesus will continue to spread His glory in all the earth until He returns.

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