Away from the Manger

An empty manger at night under the fog.

TEXT: Galatians 3:23-4:7

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of Christmas for believers and non-believers alike is the celebration of the baby in the manger without the rest of the message.

Honestly, Santa does not worry me anymore; the decorated trees cause me no grief; Rudolph, presents, snowmen, mistletoe, and even the ridiculous songs about merriment, jingle bells, and kissing Santa Claus are of little consequence.

What upsets me greatly is when people make peripheral comments about the “little Lord Jesus” in the manger who does not cry, who is harmless, who is cute, and who really does not mean much at all. O that bothers me greatly!

What these people fail to see is that this little baby is going to ride in on a white horse one day and banish them to eternal hell because they did not believe His gospel. People love the baby but hate the man. They appreciate the manger but despise His message. The child excites them, the cross infuriates them.

Today my intention is to lead us away from the manger, not because it is unimportant, but because it is only the beginning of God’s plan of salvation. I am preaching a message I have entitled: Away from the Manger.

Before I pray, I have some important introductory comments to make about the text before us.

The Book of Galatians was written to correct some very dangerous heresies that had entered the early church. It is perhaps Paul’s “sternest letter” and also his clearest in terms of the true gospel message.

The church at Galatia (as well as others) had moved away from the truth that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. They had added the works of the law (such as circumcision, maintaining ceremonial law, etc) as prerequisites for salvation – something that we refer to as “legalism”.

The message of Galatians transcends time and is relevant to the church in every epoch of time. In our context, some “churches” demand membership, baptism, perfectionism, maintaining the sacraments, and many other legalistic practices before they believe someone can be saved.

Paul wrote, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal.2:16).

The text before us is dealing with the role of the Old Testament law before Christ came, and then the transition that took place after He instigated the New Covenant. 

Let’s take a few moments to understand the context.

Galatians 3:23 We were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.

  • Speaking of the Children of Israel (Abraham’s physical descendants).
  • The law could not set anyone free, in fact, it passed sentence and judgment on all.
  • Until faith came, none could truly be saved (explain OT saints “justified by faith” Rom.4:1-12).

Cf. Romans 8:1-4

Galatians 3:24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

  • “Guardian” (school master) – In Ancient Greece, this referred to a slave who was responsible for taking care of the master’s children until adulthood. The tutor escorted them to and from school and watched over their behaviour at home. These guardians were often very strict and were not afraid of disciplining the children as they had been delegated this responsibility.
  • In this context, the law was our tutor which, by pointing out our sins and their consequences, was escorting us to Christ.
  • The purpose of the law was to ultimately free us from the law by bringing us to Christ who fulfilled the law.
  • Nobody can be justified by keeping the law which is why Christ came. Only through faith in Christ can anybody be declared righteous.

Galatians 3:25-26 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

  • The coming of Christ brought freedom from the previous administration (the law), but it also changed our status from slaves that are captive, to sons and daughters that are free!

Galatians 3:27-29 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

  • “Baptised” – (not by water) but identified with Christ (or saved).
  • To be saved is to have “put on” Christ. This speaks of an unbreakable spiritual union.
  • To be positionally “in Christ” means that race, social status, and gender are all irrelevant when it comes to justification. The door is open to all who would believe by faith: “red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight….”
  • To be “in Christ” is to be “grafted into the vine” which makes all of us the offspring of Abraham and the heirs of the promise, “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…” (Gen.22:18).

Galatians 4:1-3 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, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

  • The point Paul is making here is that no matter how great the estate; no matter how wealthy his father; no matter how elevated a rank he may be raised on the moment that he enters on his inheritance, yet until that time he is in the condition of a servant. Though he be appointed by his father’s will heir of all his possessions yet till he arrive at the legal age he is master of nothing, and does not differ from one of the common domestics.
  • The “elementary principles of the world” is a Jewish phrase and simply means: the rudiments and principles of the Jewish religion.

Adam Clarke wrote: The apostle intimates that the law was not the science of salvation, it was only the elements or alphabet of it; and in the Gospel this alphabet is composed into a most glorious system of Divine knowledge: but as the alphabet is nothing of itself, unless compounded into syllables, words, sentences, and discourses; so the law, taken by itself, gives no salvation; it contains indeed the outlines of the Gospel, but it is the Gospel alone that fills up these outlines.

Now with that introduction and context, let’s pray and then we will look into the text laid out for us today.

POINT #1: God’s Punctuality

“But when the fullness of time had come…” (Galatians 4:4a).

Have you ever been tempted to wish you had been born in a different time period?
Perhaps when Jesus was on earth, or during the reformation, or when revivals were breaking out in America, England, and Scotland.

I have often imagined being on Mt. Carmel with Elijah when the fire from heaven fell or watching the Children of Israel pass through the Red Sea. Fascinating moments in history!

Let us consider a few realities about time:

  • God created space and time (Genesis 1:1).
  • Being the creator of time and space, He is also the authority over it:

Cf. Acts 1:6-7; Acts 17:26

  • God exists outside of time (from everlasting to everlasting – Psalm 90:2)
  • Jesus died at the right time:

Romans 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

  • Jesus Christ is unchanged by time (not physically, but characteristically):

Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Understanding the text:

  • “The fullness of time” – This refers to God’s appointed time. The moment in redemptive history decided upon by God alone before the foundation of the world. This was the time agreed and fixed upon between God and his Son from all eternity.
  • The phrase speaks of the “right time”, the appointed time, the best time.
  • It was the appointed end of the “legal dispensation” and the introduction of a new dispensation by the Son of God Himself.


  • Whenever God does something it is ALWAYS at the right time. He may not work to our timeframe, but He makes all things beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
  • God never promised to save your loved ones, but if He does, it will be at the right time.
  • Single people in the room, God may not have called you to marriage, but if He has, the right person will appear at the right time.
  • God is never late; He has not forgotten; He does care about you; He will do all that He wills in His time.

Psalm 115:3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (and whenever He pleases).

POINT #2: God’s Plan

“God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law…” (Galatians 4:4b)

God’s plan is herewith set forth in three specific and profound statements:

1. God Sent Forth His Son

“Sent forth” is one word in the original and speaks of one given a mission who is then dismissed to fulfil it.

In this sense God commissioned His Son to bring about redemption and then dismissed Him from the heavenly corridors of power and glory to fulfil it.

“Sent forth His Son”

This implies that the Son of God had an existence before his incarnation; The Saviour is often represented as sent into the world, and as coming forth from God

John 16:28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.

Furthermore, this text implies that the Son of God was more than a mere concept or force because only a person could be sent on this mission.

The heaven-sent Son was the plan of the godhead forged before time began.

Alexander MacLaren: Jesus, like all other great men, is a product of His age, and the immediate result of the conditions under which He appeared. But when we look far beyond the manger of Bethlehem into the depths of Eternity and see God so loving the world as to give His Son, we cannot but recognise that He has intervened in the course of human history and that the mightiest force in the development of man is the eternal Son whom He sent to save the world.

2. Born of a Woman

On the face of it, this phrase seems a little redundant.
Why explain to us that the Son of God was born of a woman?


This text is building on the previous premise that the Son of God is eternal, and the second person of the Godhead (the Word that was with God and Word that was God).

With this in mind, Paul wants the Galatians to be assured of the fact that the Son who is truly God became truly man. Two distinct natures in one person – human and divine.

If Jesus had only been a man, it would be gratuitous to say that he was born of a woman!

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Virgin Birth

Although not directly mentioned, I believe that there is a sense in which His remarkable birth is here implied too. This expression witnesses to His unique Person and the unique mode of His birth.

Luke 1:35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

In the first clause we have the word “sent” and in the second we have the word “born”. A great mystery exists between this glorious juxtaposition. We have the Son of God and now, the Son of Man (woman).

3. Born Under the Law

If it was not enough that God took on human flesh, now consider the fact that He who created all laws, is born under the law in order that He might fulfil it.

The lawmaker who existed outside of time and space was born in human form, submitted to the laws He created within time and space. It is absurd; it is beyond reason; It sounds like a fantasy; It is mysteriously glorious.

Why did the Son submit Himself to the law?

As Son of God, the Lord Jesus would never have been under the law; He was the One who gave it. But, in condescending grace, He put Himself under the law that He had made, in order that He might magnify it in His life, and bear its curse in His death.

The law demanded a price from those who failed to keep it—the price of death. Before God could bring men into the wonderful position of sonship, this price had to be paid. So the Lord Jesus, coming into the world as a member of the human race and of the Jewish nation, paid the price which the law demanded.

Because He is God, His death was infinite in value, that is, it was sufficient to pay for any number of sinners. Because He was Man, He could die as a substitute for man.

One Commentator Wrote: “Christ, by nature Son of God, became Son of man, that we, by nature sons of man, might become sons of God. O Wonderful exchange!”

POINT #3: God’s Purchase

“To redeem those who were under the law…” (Galatians 4:5).

“Redeem” – To purchase, buy back, atone for, release on receipt of ransom paid.”

Redemption necessitates payment. Since the guilty cannot ransom themselves, there must be another who, untainted by Adam’s sin nature, can offer Himself in the place of law breakers, and thereby procure salvation for those who are captive to sin.

The Son of God, born of Mary, a Jew who met all the requirements of the law completely and perfectly was sent to set free those who were bound by the law.

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Although the means of redemption is not here explained, we know that it came about through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

John MacArthur: His sinlessness made Him the unblemished sacrifice for sins, who “fulfilled all righteousness,” i.e., perfectly obeyed God in everything. That perfect righteousness is what is imputed to those who believe in Him.

Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

POINT #4: God’s Progeny

“So that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5).

The transition from slaves of sin to sons of God is here complete.

God’s plan before the foundation of the world was to redeem those whom He elected to salvation, though children of wrath by nature (Eph 2:3), now children of God by adoption!

John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Ephesians 1:5 He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.

Romans 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Ephesians 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.


  • To focus on a baby in a manger is to miss the message of the gospel.
  • It is essential we appreciate the entire message of redemption.

Some questions for your consideration:

  • Are you trusting in God’s timing in all things?
  • Do you understand God’s plan of redemption?
  • Have you believed by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ the Son of God?
  • Do you believe that he is truly God and truly man?
  • Do you believe that He was born of a virgin?
  • Are you a child of God?








Let me close with this poem by Walter C. Smith called: Earth was waiting, spent and restless:

Earth was waiting, spent and restless,

With a mingled hope and fear;

And the faithful few were sighing,

“Surely, Lord, the day is near;

The desire of all the nations,

It is time He should appear.”

Still the gods were in their temples,

But the ancient faith had fled;

And the priests stood by their altars

Only for a piece of bread;

And the Oracles were silent,

And the Prophets all were dead.

In the sacred courts of Zion,

Where the Lord had His abode,

There the money-changers trafficked,

And the sheep and oxen trod;

And the world, because of wisdom,

Knew not either Lord or God.


Then the spirit of the Highest

On a virgin meek came down,

And He burdened her with blessing,

And He pained her with renown;

For she bare the Lord’s Anointed

For His cross and for His crown.

Earth for Him had groaned and travailed,

Since the ages first began;

For in Him was hid the secret

That through all the ages ran—

Son of Mary, Son of David,

Son of God, and Son of Man

Grace Giving: The Greatest Gift (at Christmas)

TEXT: Ephesians 4:29-32

For many of us Christmas is not the season of cheer and merriment, it is a time marked by fear, loneliness, disagreements and conflict.

Although the notion of goodwill toward men is noble, it is often quite the opposite. We are faced with family members who hate all things religious, co-workers who mock the gospel, celebrities singing songs that they have no understanding of, finances are often strained, everything is so much busier, and the whole ordeal can appear to be more trouble than it is worth.

Emotions are high; Feelings are easily hurt; relationships are severed; songs of truth are butchered; expectations reach a new level; culture calls us to enjoy what is often a financially, relationally, physically, and mentally depleting time!

How do we as Christians approach this period of time? The same way we approach every other time – with Christlikeness and grace.

This morning I would like to preach a message entitled: “Grace-Giving: The Greatest Gift you can Give This Christmas”.

1.    Guard your Mouth: Ephesians 4:29

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths…”


  • Imperative.
  • It is possible for Christians to operate with corrupt speech.
  • Our mouths (tongues) are dangerous.
  • The Bible has zero tolerance for corrupting talk: “no corruption”


“Corrupting” – rotten or putrid. Bringing impurity and pollution.

In short, this refers to speech which injures virtue, produces vice, scoffs at truth, is reproachful or harming of another, unseasoned by gospel salt, unsavoury, and includes but is not limited to: foolish talking and jesting, filthy speech, dirty talk, unchaste words, angry communication, proud and haughty boasts, arrogant expressions, lies, perjury, blasphemy, obscene vulgarity, slander, profane oaths and curses, and any dialogue which discredits, maligns, or inadequately represents the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Cf. James 3:1-12

2. Good & Gracious Speech: Ephesians 4:29

“…but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”


  • The word “but” provides us with a contrast.
  • The word “only” speaks of exclusivity.

“Good” – Morally upright, virtuous, agreeable with all things holy, of the character of God.

“Building Up” – from an architectural term referring to promoting sound structure. This concept is sometimes referred to as edification.

The speech of the believer is to encourage, instruct, and uplift.

“As fits the occasion” – These words do not appear in the KJV text, but they are very important. This is the concept of modesty. To speak the right things at the right time.

God is not just calling us to “say good things”, but to say good things at the appropriate time.

Solomon said, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

In other words, modest speech is like luscious, well-picked fruit presented to you on an ornate basket or vessel of silver. Both the fruit and the vessel are presentable and fitting for the occasion.

“that it may give grace to those who hear.” – To “give” or “administer” grace to those who hear is to impose divine influence on them.

Gracious speech is godly speech. It does not mean that every conversation has God as the subject of it, but rather that every conversation springs from a heart that has God at the centre of it.

As God’s people, we are instruments of His grace. The primary way that this will be realised is through our speech.

One of the greatest gifts you can give to those around you this Christmas is good, edifying, modest, and gracious speech.

3. Grieving the Holy Spirit of God: Ephesians 4:30

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”


  • Imperative.
  • The Holy Spirit of God is referred to as a person, “whom”
  • The Holy Spirit was responsible for “sealing”.

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” To afflict with sorrow, to hurt.

In the context, this grieving is a direct result of polluting words, but also covers all aspects of sin in the life of a believer.

The Holy Spirit is grieved by our spiritual inconsistencies. In other words, as redeemed people with a new heart, He is hurt by our fleshly responses, words and deeds which are not in accord with our redemption.

“By whom you were sealed for the day of redemption”

A seal speaks of ownership and security. He is the seal that guarantees our preservation until Christ returns for us and our salvation is complete. Interestingly enough, Paul here uses the eternal security of the believer as one of the strongest reasons why we should not sin.

The seal cannot be broken by sin, but the relationship is strained.

It grieves the Spirit of God to see the believer’s progress interrupted by sin.

4. Putting Away Evil: Ephesians 4:31

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Paul now lists six specific sins which need to be removed from the lives of believers. Each of these grieve the Spirit of God and are at odds with our new life in Christ.

  • Bitterness: The picture of one cutting open a lemon and licking its centre. It is a coldness fused with poison. It is the opposite of sweetness and kindness.

Bitterness begins in the heart, spreads to the mind, and produces poisonous speech. The writer of Hebrews warns against the “root of bitterness” and its effects (Hebrews 12:15)

  • Wrath: Although wrath and anger are similar, the word used here speaks of the commencement of anger’s passion. That initial frustration, annoyance which sparks the fully-fledged anger spoken of next.
  • Anger: This is the passion carried to its highest pitch. This leads to violence, rage, indignation, the desire to exact vengeance, and reaches its climax at murder.

Cf. James 4:1-3

  • Clamour: This word is used on only three occasions in the Bible. It carries the idea of: loud outcries of anger, noise, shouting down opponents, violent assertions of perceived rights and wrongs, railing boisterous talk.

All of these outbursts are highly unbecoming the meek, loving, quiet, sedate mind of Christ and his followers.

  • Slander: Sometimes translated “evil speaking”. This is speech which blasphemes the name of another. It is said with the purpose of bringing disrepute to the character of another. It is tale-bearing, backbiting, mockery, ridicule, defamation, character assassination.

John MacArthur: “Bitterness reflects a smouldering resentment.”

  • Malice: This is a basic and general term for all forms of evil. It is the root of all vices.

Some have suggested this list is a progression: beginning with bitterness within, which breeds internal anger and rage, which then produces violent and hurtful outbursts, which then gives birth to slanderous words intended to hurt deeply those who we oppose, and then finally culminating in all manner of evil.

What started as an internal root of bitterness within the heart of the believer (seemingly harmless) finds its final destination in all manner of sin, both internal and external.

5.    Grace-Giving Defined: Ephesians 4:32

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

What does grace look like practically? Here it is.

“Be kind to one another” – be polite, courteous, not rough, abrasive or sour. Be useful, helpful, actively easing the burden of others.

John Gill: “looking pleasantly on each other, speaking kindly to one another, and mutually doing every good office that lies in their way, and in their power.”

“Tenderhearted” – Compassionate, merciful, full of pity.

Cf. Mark 6:34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

Cf. Matthew 14:14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Cf. 1 John 3:17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

“Forgiving one another” – To pardon, rescue, graciously restore one who has offended or violated us, to exercise kindness in the place of vengeance.

It is the highest Christian virtue to forgive, and it is the essence of the gospel. An unwillingness to forgive is the proof that God’s gospel is not fully understood.

Cf. Colossians 3:13 Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Cf. Luke 23:24 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

“As God in Christ forgave you.”

Here lies the heart of gospel truth.

You have been forgiven; therefore, you must forgive.

READ: Matthew 18:21-35


For many of us Christmas means opportunities to catch up with unsaved relatives. Let me encourage you to be a grace-giver this Christmas, and look for opportunities to build up, to demonstrate Christ in word and deed, and when things are difficult, operate with compassion, and always be forgiving remembering that Christ forgave you.