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Who's Your Mommy? (Galatians 4:21-31)

September 23, 2012 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: When Jesus Isn't Enough (Galatians)

Topic: Galatians Passage: Galatians 4:2–4:31

When Jesus Isn’t Enough (Galatians)

Who’s Your Mommy?

Galatians 4:21-31

(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)

September 23rd, 2012

I. Why We Need Mothers

Consider the picture painted by these words from the poet Jane Taylor:

Who fed me from her gentle breast

And hushed me in her arms to rest,

And on my cheek sweet kisses prest?

My mother.

When sleep forsook my open eye,

Who was it sung sweet lullaby

And rocked me that I should not cry?

My mother.

Who sat and watched my infant head

When sleeping in my cradle bed,

And tears of sweet affection shed?

My mother.

When pain and sickness made me cry,

Who gazed upon my heavy eye

And wept, for fear that I should die?

My mother.

Who ran to help me when I fell

And would some pretty story tell,

Or kiss the part to make it well?

My mother.

The writer Edgar Allen Poe summarized this same sentiment with these words:

Because I feel that, in the Heavens above, The angels, whispering to one another,

Can find, among their burning terms of love, None so devotional as that of "Mother,"

Isn't it true that all of us need a mother for exactly these reasons. I know not every child has a mother like this, but shoudn't every child? What can replace the devotion and understanding of a mother? What substitute is there for a mother's tenderness, for her nurture?

Hopefully, you have a special place in your heart for your mom. If you do, keep those feelings in mind as we return this morning to Paul's letter to the Galatians. Let's continue our study where we left off last in time, in chapter)

.II. The Passage: “And She is Our Mother” (4:21-31)

Listen as I read from this final section of chapter 4:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? [22] For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. [23] But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. [24] Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. [25] Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. [26] But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. [27] For it is written, [from Is. 54:1] “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” [28] Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. [29] But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. [30] But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” [31] So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

Okay, let's work on understanding Paul's argument here by thinking about three points that he makes, each one being built on the previous point.

A. The Instructiveness of Two Mothers (4:21-23)

The first thing Paul wants them to see here is the instructiveness of the two mothers he mentions here. And the number one reason this “Tale of Two Mothers” is so instructive is because it comes right of the Law of God, the very Law to which the Galatians seemed so keen to be enslaved.

We have to remember that the Law, the Torah (in Hebrew) was not simply the regulations and commands listed in books like Leviticus in Deuteronomy. The whole Law ran from Genesis 1 to the last chapter of Deuteronomy. That's the first five books of the Bible. So what we see Paul telling them here is, “You say you're listening to God's Law? Well, haven't you heard this part of it?”

The story of course is the story of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, and Hagar, an Egyptian woman who was Sarah's servant. Their story begins in Genesis 16. And as Paul indicates in verse 24, what he wants to do here is look at the story somewhat “allegorically”. Now this isn't pure allegory. If it were, it wouldn't be history, since these women would ONLY be representations of something else. But Paul recognizes that this “Tale of Two Mothers” involves some deeper principles; that these women do represent two important principles.

B. The Identity of Two Mothers (4:24-27)

And that brings us to the second point that Paul makes here. The instructiveness of these two mothers only comes when we understand the identity of these two mothers.

Look at how Paul steadily layers on the contrasting interpretations in verses 22-27:

On one hand you have: On the other hand:

Hagar Sarah (not named)

Slave Woman Free woman

Ishmael (acc. to Flesh) Isaac (thru Promise/Spirit)

A Covenant (Mount Sinai) Another Covenant

Children for Slavery Freedom/Children of promise

Literal, Present Jerusalem Jerusalem Above

Now, in order to understand the argument Paul is making here, we need to remember what he's already said about slavery under the Law. Beginning at the end of chapter 3, and really hitting hard in the opening verses of chapter 4, Paul wants the Galatians to understand that every system that relies on human effort or human performance is, in fact, a system of slavery.

So how does that idea connect to this “Tale of Two Mothers”. Well, the key here is verse 23. What exactly does it mean that Ishmael was born “according to the flesh”? It can't simply mean that Ishmael was Abraham's physical descendant. So was Isaac. Maybe it simply means Ishmael's birth was ordinary, unlike's Isaac's birth. Well, maybe.

But remember what Paul asked in Galatians 3:3: Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? By contrast, At the end of that same chapter, he mad this statement:... if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (3:29) That's the same contrast: the flesh vs. the promise.

Here's what we have to remember: God promised Abraham a child in Genesis 15. But Sarah, and apparently Abraham, grew impatient concerning this promise. In Genesis 16 we see Sarah taking matters into her own hands and convinving Abraham that Hagar, her slave, should be a surrogate mother, that this is the way God's promise will be fulfilled. And Abraham goes right along with the plan.

But isn't this precisely what Paul has been arguing against? Either Abraham and Sarah were going to rest on God's promise, or they were going to trust in their human efforts. Therefore, even though the Jews prided themselves on being Abraham's descendants, they were spiritually descendants of the slave-woman, since children of a slave are born into the same state of slavery. And slavery under the Law was exactly what had defined Judaism for so long.

And so one mother repesent spiritual slavery in the shackles of human effort, and the other mother represents spiritual freedom on the rock of God's promises.

And so Paul wants the Galatians to see how this story (from the Law!) highlights the very danger he has been explaining to them. If like Sarah and Abraham you are trying to take matters into your own hands, you will end up shackled and enslaved.

C. The Incompatibility of Two Mothers (4:28-31)

But because of the instructiveness of these two mothers, in light of the identity of these two mothers, Paul makes his final, and ultimately, his MAIN point in verses 28-31. He ultimately wants them to see the incompatibility of these two mothers!

Genesis 21:8-10 tells us this: And the child [Isaac] grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. [9] But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing [most likely, mocking]. [10] So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.”

Paul wants the Galatains to understand that just as Ishmael mocked Isaac, so too will those on the path of human performance persecute those who are standing on God's promise. And that's exactly what was happening to Paul. And that's what would have happened to the Galatians had they not bowed under the pressure of these false teachers.

But as Paul emphasizes in 3:30, there is only one heir. And that heir inherits the blessings, not because of human performance, but because of God's promise. Therefore, those who represented this kind of slavery were cast out of Abraham's household. And in the same way, Paul wants the Galatians to cast out this slavish system.

Either we are made right with God through performance or we are made right with God through promise. It cannot be both. For as Paul wrote in 3:18...For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

III. Nurtured by Grace

Brothers and sisters, once again Paul is reminding us that human effort will never make us right with God; it can never earn us God's acceptance. He's been making that point over and over again in this letter.

But along with that idea, I believe God wants us to think more carefully about these phrases: [26] But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother... [31] So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

I know not every person has a mother like this, but shouldn’t every person?

Paul began this chapter with an emphasis in verse 6 on the fatherhood of God. And here we see that he is ending the chapter with an emphasis on the motherhood of the Jerusalem above; which, we might say, is really the motherhood of God’s promises; and if the literal Jerusalem represented the spiritual slavery that comes from relying on human performance, then I think we could say that Paul is ultimately talking about the motherhood of grace.

To talk about the motherhood of grace is not to put someone or something on the same level next to God, as if He needed a partner or helper. No, this grace is God’s own grace; it’s God giving us exactly the opposite of what we deserve. To personify this grace with the image of a mother is simply a reminder that we desperately need to be nurtured by God’s grace.

As the author of the book of Hebrews expressed it: Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. (Hebrews 13:9)

The famous 19th century preacher D. L. Moody once declared, “A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough today to last him for the next 6 months, nor can he inhale sufficient air into his lungs with one breath to sustain life for a week to come. We are permitted to draw upon God's store of grace from day to day as we need it.”

And we do need it, desperately. Like the tender devotion and nurture of the ideal mother, God’s grace is there to comfort and carry and call us forward. You see, grace by its definition does not require us to earn its motherly nurture. We do not experience it through the right amount of religious performance. No, we experience God’s grace through faith.

And as Paul has shown us here, this grace is liberating grace (it helps us rest in God’s promises, not in our religious and moral performance). God’s word promises us true freedom when we admit that we are slaves of sin. God’s word offers us true freedom when we admit that we are not good enough; that we are not wise enough; that we are not strong enough.

Have you come to that same conclusion? Do you make that very admission each day?

I like how the author Jerry Bridges put it:Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.

When you stumble and fall spiritually, when you are suffering under the sickness of sin, when you are struggling to do God’s will, who’s your mommy? Are you a child of the slave woman or the free woman? Do you turn back to your performance, or are you comforted by God’s promises? We need to cast out that mindset of performance, don’t we?

Brothers and sisters, what can replace the devotion and understanding of our true mother? What substitute is there for our true mother's tenderness, for her nurture?

To be adopted into God’s family is to come under the nurture of His grace. And the only reason we can be adopted is because God’s own Son took the burden of our slavery upon himself. On that splintered and blood-soaked cross, Jesus redeemed us from slavery by paying the ransom with His own life. But through His resurrection, He has burst the bonds of our slavery. Forgiveness is possible. Isn’t that good news? The best news ever!

The only human effort that you or I can ever depend on is the perfect effort of the God-man, Jesus Christ. He secured our security. God’s grace can comfort us because of His misery. The motherhood of grace is only possible because He fulfilled the promise of blessing made to Abraham.

If we only experience God’s grace through faith, then that faith must be focused entirely on Jesus Christ. I pray that you will look to motherly nurture of God’s grace this week, and that His word will regularly remind you of what Peter described in II Peter 1 as “his precious and very great promises” (II Peter 1:4).

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