Just the Right Time

Have you had several things come together simultaneously so that without one, the other couldn’t have happened or couldn’t have been as successful?

Science is good at this. Take a look at how Watson and Crick arrived at the final structure of DNA. In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published an article entitled “Molecular Structure of DNA.” It was the very first time the classic double helix structure of DNA had been published.

But you don’t come up with ideas like that overnight.

In 1869 a Swiss biochemist called Friedrich Miescher found a new substance in the nuclei of blood cells. He knew that the formula was C29H49O22N9P3, but not how it all fits together.

Ten years later, microscopes became so good that German scientist Walther Flemming could observe thin threads of material in the nucleus.

By 1900, they had worked out that the C29H49O22N9P3 was arranged in a number of sugar and phosphate groups, and they knew the four basic building blocks, A-T-C-G.

Swedish researchers Torbjörn Caspersson and Einar Hammersten showed, in the 1930s, that DNA was a polymer formed from these blocks.

At the same time, progress was being made in a new technique for examining the structures of complex crystals using X-rays.

Competition heated up in the late 1940s after WWII, and three separate groups started looking at the question of how it all fits together—one at King’s College London, one in Cambridge, and one other.

The race was on.

London was focused on the X-ray pictures while Cambridge, where Watson and Crick were based, studied the chemistry side.

One day Watson was down in London, and one of the scientists there showed him an X-ray that he probably shouldn’t have, and suddenly, it all fell into place for him.

Shortly after, Watson and Crick, having worked out that the double helix flowed in opposite directions, published their famous paper—when the time was just right!

As they say, timing is everything!

In Romans 5:6, we read, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” And then again, in Galatians, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (4:4-5).

Theologically, linguistically, politically, and through many coincidences (God-incidences), Christ’s birth was “at just the right time.”

The Right Time: Theologically

After centuries of God speaking to Israel through his prophets, there was about 400 years of quiet—a 400-year God-drought. Also known as the intertestamental period. Some call it the “400 Silent Years,” as no new prophets were raised during this time, and God did not reveal anything new to his people.

The Judaic religion of the time, the Pharisaic formalisation of the law, brought home this foreboding sense of God’s law and sin and sacrifices. The Jews had known these rules and regulations for hundreds of years, but nothing like during the New Testament era when it was so broadly taught, systematised, and universally accepted.

Additionally, as the apostle Paul calls them, “God-fearing Gentiles,” those considered second-class citizens in their synagogues were interested in this monotheistic religion without being able to reap all of the benefits of it because they weren’t Jewish. They understood the right way to God, but were being left on the outside looking in. With this understanding of sin and the need to be put things right with God, they anticipated the arrival of the Messiah.

With the birth of John the Baptist, there was an urgent growing expectation of the Messiah. The Jews believed the Scriptures were pointing them to when God would send his chosen one to intervene for Israel as David had done.

The Right Time: Linguistically

In 300 BC, Greece had been united under one leader: Alexander the Great. Under his influence, the Greek empire consolidated several regional languages under one central language. Additionally, this was a written, precise language, a military language, developed to be unambiguous. And this was the language of scholars and intellectuals at the time of Jesus. Even the Old Testament had been translated into Greek (the Septuagint).

So the time was right linguistically for communicating the biblical message clearly and unambiguously.

The Right Time: Politically

We tend to view the Romans as enemies of Christianity. Certainly valid when we think of individuals like Pilate or Nero, but the reality here was the presence of a great empire, a monoculture that dominated the Mediterranean region with its culture, its infrastructure, and all that went it—communication, trade, roads.

Pisidian Antioch was on a major trade route running east-west from Ephesus to the Euphrates at a point where you could access the Mediterranean to the south without climbing a mountain range to get there. The Jewish nation had spread through parts of the Roman empire, with a significant Jewish presence in several regions. We know that there were synagogues in Pisidian Antioch and Iconium.

As an aside, religion was surprisingly regulated at this time. If your particular belief wasn’t an officially sanctioned religio licita then you weren’t allowed to follow it. Officially, you were breaking the Pax Romana. False teaching is probably the charge brought against Paul and Barnabas in Pisidian Antioch and the reason they were expelled. It’s also probably why Luke was at pains to point out throughout Acts that Christianity wasn’t a new religion but “the true daughter of Judaism.”

The Right Time: Other Coincidences

Paul hadn’t planned to go to Antioch. He probably wanted to head back to Jerusalem to share what he had experienced in Cyprus with the Jewish believers. Antioch is about 1200 meters up on a high plateau, and it’s thought that Paul sought these higher, cooler climes because of a bout of malaria.

Sir William Ramsay suggested that Paul “was suffering from ‘a species of chronic malaria fever’ (which the ancient Greeks and Romans both knew and feared); that it involved ‘very distressing and prostrating paroxysms’, together with stabbing headaches ‘like a red-hot bar thrust through the forehead’ (perhaps his ‘thorn in the flesh’ 2Cor.12:7); and that it was his fever which necessitated leaving the enervating climate of the low-lying coastal plain, in spite of the rigorous climb involved, in order to seek the bracing cool of the Tarsus plateau some 3500 feet above sea level.”*

So we see how the ground had been ploughed for Paul’s visit and the proclamation of the Gospel, first in the synagogues and then in the streets. Not only the Jews but also the God-fearing gentiles were ready for this message of redemption. When Paul taught in the synagogues, he started from what his audience would have known and then used logic to carry it forward. It appears the leaders of the synagogue in Antioch quickly regretted their invite to let Paul speak at their meeting, but the people in the congregation couldn’t get enough of it!

When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43).

Word had gotten out that there had been some sort of scandal at the last meeting because the whole town turned out much to the great annoyance of the synagogue leaders at the following Sabbath. So much so, “the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district” (Acts 13:50).

Josephus suggests that “the Jews of Asia Minor were concerned to preserve the social and political rights and privileges that they had enjoyed since Julius Caesar, which had come under pressure in different places at different times and which would be threatened if pagans joined the community without being asked to submit to circumcision and to other Jewish traditions such as the food laws. Concerns about the financial viability of the local Jewish community and about the relationship with the Jewish commonwealth in Judea may have played a role as well.” **

But the Gentiles “were glad,” and those “who were appointed for eternal life believed” welcomed this hope-filled message of redemption.

The apostle Paul declared that: First, Jesus is God’s promised one, the answer to their problems, although not quite the answer they had expected. The Jews had been looking for someone to deliver them from their political oppression—a king like David. God had sent them Jesus to deliver them from a greater problem—their sin oppression.

Second, the gates to God’s mercy and grace are thrown open wide. What was previously reserved for God’s chosen people is now freely available to all. Up until the birth of Jesus, they had been locked out of God’s forgiveness—if they broke the law, there was no way they could make it right with God.

The apostle shares the joyful news: “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).

The law hasn’t been changed, but now it has been revolutionized. There’s grace. There’s free forgiveness brought through Jesus’ death—justification, a very compact way of saying that God removes the guilt and penalty of sin (permanent separation from God), while at the same time declaring us right with God because Jesus died on the cross in our place.

Our sin put up a wall between God and us, separating ourselves from him—spiritual death. Jesus accepted that separation on our behalf. Our guilt, shame, and sins’ consequence are gone as soon as we recognize what Jesus has done for us.

Simply, it’s sorry, thank you, and please.
Lord Jesus Christ, I’m sorry for the things in my life that have been wrong. Thank you for dying for me on the cross. I now turn away from everything that I know is wrong and receive your gift of forgiveness. I put my trust in what you did on the cross for me. And I ask you, please, to come and fill me with your Holy Spirit, to give me the strength to lead the kind of life that deep down I’m longing to lead. Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen.

How does this Gospel message apply to us today?

Most people I work with daily have no concept of who Jesus is or the fact that they’re sinners. Or if they do, they don’t know how to process that. Our job is not to go around pointing out our friend’s sin, but it is our job to live as good witnesses of Jesus and point others to him. Make them curious, make them ask questions. Love them. I love Billy Graham’s position: “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.”

God is preparing good works for us to do. Just as he arranged history for Jesus, He also does it for us on a smaller scale, so let’s watch out for the things that we can do that advance God’s Kingdom on earth, whether they’re little things or big ones.

When we are effective for God, we will meet resistance. Like the apostle Paul, whether that’s in terms of being driven out of town in Antioch (Acts 13:5), threatened with being stoned as in Iconium, or wholly misunderstood and then stoned like in Lystra (Acts 14:19-23), we will be subject to opposition and persecution. Sometimes, the best response will be to fight. Sometimes, it will be to flee. And some will be called to be martyrs. There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:17).

Photo by Murray Campbell on Unsplash

Mike Page
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