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“A Tale of Two Adoptions”

Galatians 4:4-7
Bob DeGray
December 24, 2004

Key Sentence

Because he came, we receive the blessings of adoption.


I. A long journey to Kazakstan
II. A long journey to Bethlehem


        Tonight we celebrate the birth of a baby who was God Incarnate, our Servant Savior, our Redeemer, the Prince of Peace and the long awaited king. Christmas Eve is a time for joyful celebration - and all the neon words of Christmas we’ve studied add to that joy. But tonight I want to focus on a very different kind of neon word, a word not used at all in the Old Testament, and only rarely in the New Testament. Yet it is a word rich in meaning and application to us at Christmas and always.

        The word is adoption. The New Testament Greek word translated ‘adoption’ is huiothesia. It’s a compound word: huio means ‘son’ and ‘thesia’ means to set or place or set up. So those who are adopted are given the stranding of sons, or placed as sons - and daughters - in a family. Though the word isn’t used many times, it’s picture and implications are tremendously neon. So tonight I want to tell a tale of two adoptions in order to show that because he came we receive the blessings of adoption.

I. A long journey to Kazakstan

        I want to start with some details from an adoption we’re all a little familiar with: this is the story of a long journey to a far away country at great personal expense to adopt children. It began, in a sense, over 15 years ago, when Luke and Donna Reed were first married. They quickly realized that they might not be able to have children, and began to look into international adoption. But they found the cost exorbitant, tens of thousands of dollars even at that time. Then the Lord blessed them with Bethany, and between caring for her and caring for both their mothers, the door was closed. They learned recently that a factor that kept them from being given a domestic adoption may have been that they were caring for Luke’s mom.

        But after she passed away, in January 2002, the Lord began to re-open doors. The family got involved with a group in Brenham that had brought a number of orphans from Kazakhstan to the U.S. for a summer hosting program so families could get to know them and move toward adoption. It sounded great to the Reeds, especially after they focused on one nine year old girl, but it was still very expensive.

        It was at that time they began to see, repeatedly, God providing people to come alongside and help with the adoption, to the tune of thousands of dollars when their own resources were inadequate. Unfortunately they also learned that not all adoption agencies can be trusted. The first little girl’s adoption and the beginning of an attempt to adopt six year old twins fell through because the agency had failed to offer children who were legally clear for adoption. I hope you can understand how discouraging this was, when repeated attempts to bring these children into their family were met with resistance and failure.

        Within two weeks of the time Luke and Donna finally gave up on the agency they had worked with, God led them to a lawyer in Almaty, Kazakhstan who was a Christian, recommended by local missionaries and other adoptive families. He agreed to take on all the ‘summer’ families, but there were still set-backs. His attempt to help them adopt the twins fell through: they were just unadoptable.

        But it wasn’t very long before the lawyer’s office called and said “‘we have two 2 year olds. Would you have any interest in them at all.’ That was the beginning of this summer. The Reeds hadn’t originally planned to adopt children that young, and they were initially worried by reports of Joshua’s strong will, but on the basis of very limited data and a lot of prayer, they committed to go ahead. Once again God provided for the costs, which just kept going up with every attempt. Another miracle that paved the way for the adoption was the fact that the Reeds Letter of Invitation was not issued in the city of Almaty, where there was resistance, but by the authorities over the remote village where Joshua and Olivia’s orphanage was located. So they got the letter, and obtained visas, and pooled the funding God had provided, and bought tickets for the 8000 mile trip, for departure October 8th.

        At that point our e-mail prayer chain began to capture some of the details of the Reeds journey. I don’t have time to go through all of those, but I will tell you I was moved to tears three times just reading through the e-mail archive. Luke, Donna, Bethany and their friend Diann left as planned on October 8th, and after traveling for 25 hours arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The next day they met the lawyer and his staff, signed some more papers and got permission to begin visitation of the children, a ninety minute drive away through some of the most beautiful scenery they had ever seen. That first day they got to meet Joshua. A bureaucratic error kept them from meeting Olivia until the second day.

        That began a daily routine of 90 minute drives and two hours getting to know and bonding with their children. From their side, the bonding went really fast. Donna writes “As we drive over the bridge into our children’s village each day my heart starts beating faster. I am trying to make the car go faster to get there. I am going to see my babies. And when we catch he first glimpse of them as they come running down the hallway my heart does flip flops. I never knew I could love someone I had just met so completely, so consumingly. Just as your husband or wife stole your heart at some point, that is what these children have done to us.”

        Toward the end of the 14 day bonding period Luke and Donna began to look forward to their court date, and to pray that the required 15 day waiting period after adoption would be waived - a rare event, but one they greatly desired, especially because of Olivia’s malnutrition. Then came what was probably the biggest glitch in the process. Remember, Luke and Donna had already had two adoptions fail because the children were not clear for adoption.

        Donna writes: “Today we were called back into our attorney’s office and he had bad news. Our little girl’s mother had been asked to complete a new, more detailed, relinquishment. In the process the mother very strenuously and in the presence of two witnesses stated that she wanted nothing to do with her daughter. She has never visited her child once in her life. Last week, however, the birth mother contacted the social worker to suggest she may have made a mistake. The social worker says she still has no interest in her daughter, but is looking for a way to make herself feel better. We have heard some of the details and we cringe at thinking of her getting custody. By law, however they have to give her a chance to prove herself.

        All of this is ripping our hearts out. It would have been one thing if we had never met her, but we’ve spent two weeks with her and love her as our own child. We really have no idea what is going to happen. What we feel is that only God can do this thing. It is way too big for us. It will take prayer to get that little girl home with us.” And it was only by God’s gracious intervention that this problem was resolved, and the Reeds had their court date, on November 11th. Not only was the adoption finalized, but the fifteen day waiting period was somewhat miraculously waived, and Joshua and Olivia went back to Almaty with their parents. Donna wrote: “Once again thank you for the prayers lifted up for us over the past 16 months of this adoption journey. It is an amazing thing to be on this side of the process. At this moment the two newest additions are slumbering on the living room floor; we have no idea why but neither of them will have anything to do with a bed, mattress, or pallet.”

        Earlier she had written “I stand in awe of a God who knew these children existed and planned that they’d be part of our family, brought us to the right people at the right time, took us to the other side of the world to connect us and has knitted our hearts together in this inseparable bond. It puts a whole new perspective for me on God adopting us as His children. Adoption is far from second best, far from just the thing people do when they can't have kids of their own, far from just helping children who are in need. Adoption is a miracle.”

II. A long journey to Bethlehem

        It is. The other tale of adoption, the Biblical account, is also the story of a long journey to a far away country at great personal expense to adopt children. This one began, in a sense, in eternity past, when God decided that though his creatures would rebel and turn from him into sin, he would redeem them. Our Scripture for this evening is very brief. It’s Galatians 4:4-6 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."

        Let’s look at this great text phrase by phrase, but briefly. It starts out ‘when the time had fully come’. This is a recognition that God had a plan and only at a certain time, known only to him, would all the conditions be in place for that plan to be fulfilled.
We’ve seen for weeks now how that plan was spelled out in the prophecies, and fulfilled in the birth of Christ. But just as the Reeds had to trust that God had a plan in mind for them, so the people of Israel had to trust that God would keep his promises of a messiah. Only God knew ‘the fulness of the times’, when the Greek language and the Roman government and the dispersion of the Jews and the disillusionment of the Gentiles would come together to create a world prepared for the Messiah. Those things could be called coincidences, just as all the events of the Reed’s journey could be called coincidences, but they were really God’s timing and provision.

        So God sent his son, born of a woman. The son, through his own choice, but in obedience to the Father, made more than a 25 hour journey, stayed more than a few months. He came that long, long way, from heaven to earth, from blessing to burden, from love to hatred, he chose a mortal life, and suffering and death. He paid an incredible price to adopt. Paul says “Being in very nature God, [he] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!” After thousands of year of failed adoption attempts, God the Son finally came himself, and paid an incredible price to make this one work.

        In fact, Jesus himself, on an earthly level, was an adopted son. In the Scripture we read earlier we heard that when Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy, he planned to divorce her. But when the angel appeared and told him that this baby was from the Holy Spirit, and was to be the Savior, and ‘God with us’, Joseph changed his plan, and took Mary as his wife, and thus became the adopted earthly father of the baby she bore, the baby he named Jesus. Stephen Curtis Chapman noted the wonder of this on his album The Music of Christmas: “Oh what a precious promise, Oh what a gift of love. Joseph makes his choice to do What few men would have done To take Mary as his bride, When she’s already carrying a child, that isn’t his own. Oh what a precious promise Mary and the child will have a home.”

        So Jesus in a sense experienced adoption - and what Joseph experienced had some faint resemblance to what Luke and Donna have experienced. But that wasn’t the main reason he came. He was ‘born under the law to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” – or the adoption as sons. He was born under the law, because he was the only one who would ever obey it. If you think of the law as a tutor, then Jesus was the only one the law could look at and say: “Aha - success! Finally, somebody has passed the final exam, and can graduate.”

        But Jesus went further than that. He not only satisfied the law’s demands for himself, he also redeemed those under the law - that is, he paid the price that they owed. We’re all orphans, living in spiritual poverty and slavery to sin, and held hostage by the ruler of this world, with no hope.
But now, in the fullness of time, Christ has come, and he paid the price we owed, paid with his blood, through which, Paul says, “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Donna told me about a conversation that too place among adoptive parents. They commented on how bad it was that countries like Kazakhstan made the cost so high to rescue their children from misery, poverty and malnutrition. But another parent remarked that it was simply the cost of redemption, and no cost is too high to redeem a life. Jesus knew the cost of our redemption and paid it in his blood.

        And its only then, having been bought with a price, that we receive the adoption, the full rights of sons. I was looking at Packer’s Knowing God and I noticed that his chapter on “Sons of God” was very long. Sure enough, Packer had more to say on the topic of our adoption than any other topic. More than God’s sovereignty, grace, love, anything. In that chapter, Packer says: Adoption is the highest privilege the gospel offers, higher even than justification.” He says that justification is the primary blessing, the fundamental blessing, but not the highest gospel blessing. Adoption is higher because of the richer relationship with God it involves. Justification, he says, is a forensic, or legal idea, but adoption is a family idea. In adoption God takes us into His family and fellowship, and establishes us as his children and heirs. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater. So it’s a great thing to rejoice in at Christmas.

        Paul lists three benefits of our adoption. First, we have the Holy Spirit to dwell with us. Jesus was Immanuel - God with us - in the stable at Christmas. But it is the Holy Spirit who is Immanuel - God with us - today. He comforts us, strengthens us, gives us words to say and to pray, He guides, convicts, commends. He sanctifies us, transforming us, over time, from the image of fallen natural man, to the image of Christ. I’ve been praying that the Reeds will experience what the DeGrays have experienced - that over a not very long time our children have become like us - DeGrays to the core. And we are to become like Jesus to the core.

        The second benefit of sonship follows naturally from the first. the Spirit who lives within us allows us to call out “Abba, Father.” to recognize that we are children, and God is our loving and caring daddy. Paul says in Romans 8: Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. What a tremendous privilege this is. All through the Old Testament no one called God father in this way. It was Jesus, who first called God ‘Father’ - Abba, in Aramaic. And he called him that all the time. It was one of his most striking phrases. Now, because of what he has done, he has redeemed us and adopted us, so that we too can call God ‘Abba’, and we can trust our ‘Abba’ Father God to love and care for us, just as he loves his own son Jesus.
        The third benefit of adoption is inheritance. Verse 7: So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. Again, Packer describes this well in ‘Knowing God.’ He says: New Testament Christianity is a religion of hope, a faith that looks forward. For the Christian, the best is always yet to be. But how can we form any notion of that which awaits us at the end of road? Here the doctrine of adoption comes to our aid. To start with, it teaches us to think of our hope not as a possibility, or even a likelihood, but as a guaranteed certainty because it is a promised inheritance. God’s adoption makes us His heirs, and so guarantees to us the inheritance he has in store for us.

        Paul’s list is good. But as the Reeds, the DeGrays and others have experienced adoption, we’ve been struck by several other significant spiritual lessons that can be learned from it. I want to close tonight by sharing two closely related blessings and one obligation we have as God’s adopted children.

        One of the unique facts about adoption is that when you adopt children, they are issued a birth certificate that shows you to be the birth parent. Donna wrote in an e-mail a few days after their adoption was finalized: “And today Luke went to apply for the new birth certificates and by days end we had in hand new birth certificates and adoption certificates, both of which show us as the parents of these children. I cannot say what an amazing and precious thing that was to receive.” The same thing is true of a domestic adoption. Tina’s birth certificate says that she was born to Gail and me at the Central Texas Medical Center in San Marcos, Texas, a place we’ve never been, certainly not in 1996. But in legal terms that is exactly what happened. John says that when we believe on Jesus we become children of God__ children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.” And in a sense that birth certificate is back dated, because Paul teaches that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” So as a believer your second birth certificate says that God is your father, and you are legally his.

        The same thing is true of citizenship. Donna pointed out when she and the children got home that Joshua and Olivia were provisional citizens of the United States as soon as they were issued their passports by the American authorities in Kazakhstan. But there is a feature of the immigration laws for children of citizens that says that their citizenship is not complete until they set foot on United States soil. In the same way we are foreigners who have been made citizens. Paul says, Ephesians 2:19 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people” and he teaches, Philippians 3:20, that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are citizens of another country. We haven’t set foot on that soil yet, our citizenship there is not yet fulfilled, but that country is our home, and that’s where we ought to long to be.
Finally, remembering that because of the child in the manger we are given the blessings of adoption, I want to mention one obligation of adoption that is also ours. There is a phenomenon that happens to infants called bonding, in which the infant learns to trust their mother to provide their needs. If their needs are not met, if there is no mother to bond to, the child can easily develop a series of behaviors called attachment disorder, and this is especially common in children who have been neglected as infants, whether in an orphanage, a foster home or a birth home. The characteristic behavior is antagonism toward the primary care-giver. The child will do anything but trust, because people have never proven themselves trustworthy. The child may be charming and outgoing to everyone else, but to the adoptive mother or the foster they can be as abusive and hateful as their age allows, much to their own ultimate sorrow. Our foster son Alex really struggled with this, and y’all need to pray for Olivia and Joshua that they don’t. Pray especially for Olivia. Joshua lived with his birth mother, in prison, for over a year, and he shows signs of proper bonding toward Donna and Luke. But Olivia was a crib baby in a Russian orphanage all her life, rarely held, with no primary care-giver to bond to. And her behaviors lean more toward attachment problems. So pray that she would bond strongly and quickly with Donna, and with Luke and Bethany.

        But what I want to warn you about is the attachment disorder of the Christian life. If you believe in Jesus, if you’ve been adopted as a child of God, you need to learn to trust and to bond to your primary care-giver. When we tell ourselves the truth, we realize that God loves us better than the best father who ever existed. But do we believe it? Or do we retreat from the one who loves us, push away from him, despise his commands, mis-understand his discipline and behave toward him, and thus toward ourselves in abusive and hateful ways. Dozens of behaviors could grow out of this problem, but let me give just one example. I have known too many Christians who are manipulating or controlling or domineering especially toward family members and in church relationships, and who respond horribly when that control or manipulation is threatened. I’ve come to the conclusion in watching these situations that the person has major problems trusting God - and I would call this Christian attachment disorder.

        Adoptive children, like you and me, have to learn to bond with God so that like a well bonded child we have assurance in our lives, and a boldness to go and do and explore because we know where we can run if anything bad threatens. What is it David says? “when I am afraid, I will trust in you.” That’s bonding. There is no greater source for the assurance we need than the Christmas story, the story of a God who came a long, long way and paid the ultimate price that he might adopt us.