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Trading Places (Galatians 4.1-7)

The First Sunday After Christmas

“Trading Places”
Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus           

Galatians 4.1-7

26 December 2021

 

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

The 1983 movie classic, Trading Places is a movie is about two brothers who make a bet to see whether they can pluck a man off the street and – by providing him with the proper environment – turn him into a successful commodities trader.  Its stature is such that a real-life statutory amendment, intended to plug the regulatory loophole exploited by the film’s characters, is colloquially known as the “Eddie Murphy Rule.”  The Commodities Futures Trading Commission first exercised its authority under the new rule in 2015. [Source: Business Law Prof Blog, March 11, 2017]. It bans insider trading. 

The movie is a farce in which a rich man, Dan Ackroyd, conspires with the poor man, Eddie Murphy, to depose Ackroyd’s greedy, malevolent uncles through insider trading. The two men are thrust into unexpected roles, that of opposites. Hence, the title, Trading Places.

The Apostle Paul describes a situation where there is a trading of places, but there are no malevolent uncles nor scheming others, only a loving heavenly Father. Paul describes how God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, traded places with sinful humanity, not for God’s amusement, but in order to save a lost and condemned humanity. 

During the time between Christmas and January 8 our catechumens should be memorizing a segment in the catechism called The Great Exchange. It describes more in detail what Christ has done to be our substitute before the heavenly tribunal, how he traded places with sinners to set them free.

Paul describes a situation that still holds in our day. Minor children do not have a say in an inheritance until they reach the age of majority or the age set by a parent’s trust or will. In the Jewish world a boy could become a Son of the Law when he passed his twelfth birthday. It’s called a Bar-Mitzvah. It is said that on that day a Jewish boy becomes a man. Paul refers to what happened in the Greek and Roman world. Everything was governed by the Law. Elaborate ceremonies were held to show others that the young man had assumed control of his life. As a child under the law he could not exercise control, but now he was in control of his own life. 

Paul’s point is that while he was a child he was under the rule of the law. He might be the heir of a large fortune but he could not control it in any way. Basically, he had no more privileges than a slave. All of this pictures a far greater reality, that of the stewardship of the Law of God.

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. [Gal. 4.4 NKJV]

At the right moment of this world’s history God acted. According to God’s perfect schedule Jesus entered history. When all the conditions were right, when all the prophecies could be fulfilled perfectly God sent his Son. And so, Jesus came into our world, a real flesh and blood human being to take our place under God’s perfect Law.

He came in utter humility. He was born into poverty. The Incarnation, which means becoming fully human, is the greatest and most profound mystery of all, that the Son of God should trade places with us. This is the exchange that our catechumens are memorizing. 

Jesus was born under the Law, not above it. It is often said that kings, Presidents, and Congressmen think themselves above the law, that they have the privilege of keeping it or breaking it even if it is contrary to the law of the land! People in authority often break the law because they think they can! Yet, politicians often get caught in illegal and immoral activity. Even the British royal family is not spared public humiliation for breaking laws against immoral behavior.

But Christ came to be completely subject to his own Law, the same Law over which he is Lord and King. The Law of God demands perfect obedience if one hopes to be saved by it, but no one can be saved by keeping it because no human being is able keep it perfectly, to say nothing of original sin. Earlier in this Epistle Paul wrote of the curse that lays on all who cannot keep it:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” [Gal. 3.10]

Christ became a real human being subject to his own Law for one purpose: to redeem all those who were enslaved by this Law. To redeem has the idea of buying someone back from slavery. All humanity lay in this condition of slavery. In our reading we were helpless children under the tyranny of the Law. 

The innocent Son of God made himself subject to all of the Law’s demands and fulfilled them perfectly for humanity. He traded places with all sinners in order to become THE sinner who pays the ultimate penalty to set mankind free from eternal death and damnation. He traded places with you! He says, “Look, this Law will kill you eternally. Let me take your place so that you can escape. I will die in your place and you can escape. Then you will be free” 

From slavery to son is what happens to us, you and I, who had no inheritance in the things of God, become sons of God by adoption. In Christ God calls us his sons—and that includes females—because only sons could inherit in the ancient world. We become sons through God’s gracious adoption because of Jesus Christ. We become sons because Christ became a slave, humbling himself to a shameful death on the cross. He traded places with us.

In the ancient world a man without a son might seek a boy to become his son. The formal ceremony had to take place in the Agora, or marketplace, in public before the assembled citizenry. The adopted son was introduced to the family and all the assembled citizens. The adopted son took on his new father’s name. What is more, this adopted son was then given the full rights of a son. He was included in his father’s will, gaining access to his property and title. Can you imagine going from a slave to a son!! The hymn writer Nicolaus Herman said it this way, a hymn we sang yesterday on Christmas morning:

He undertakes a great exchange,

Puts on our human frame,

And in turn gives us His realm,

His glory, and His name,

His glory, and His name.

He is a servant, I a lord:

How great a mystery!

How strong the tender Christ Child’s love!

No true friend than He,

No truer friend than He.

He is the key and He the door

To blessed paradise;

The angel guards the way no more.

To God our praises rise,

To God our praises rise. [LSB 389, st. 4-6]

That’s exactly the picture Paul paints for us here. Because of your baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection you have been adopted as God’s true sons [and daughters]. In Holy Baptism God claimed you and put his saving Name on you. Your baptism is your legal adoption paper. It is the act of God which makes you his child.

How we have traded places! Once we were slaves to sin, death, and hell, but by God’s gracious act in sending his Son to become incarnate, to live, suffer, die , and rise for you, you have a new life and a new name, one that lasts forever. You can forever come to your heavenly Father and call Him Abba! Father! “You are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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