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The Heir & The Son

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Having set out the diverse situations of God’s people living “under the law” [3:23-25] but now living “in Christ” [3:26-29], Paul illustrates what he means in [4:1-7] by the use of the analogy of a son growing up in a patrician household.

Paul’s overall meaning in the situation is clear:

§  The guardianship of the Mosaic Law was meant to be for a time when God’s people were in their spiritual minority;

§  But now, with the coming of Christ, the time set by the Father has been fulfilled and Christians are to live freely as mature sons “in Christ”, not under the law’s supervision.


1.        The Legal Status 

a.       The Promised Inheritance   

The legal status: “the heir, as long as he is a child…” [4:1].

§  κληρονόμος - “heir” [4:1], from klé̄ros, ‘lot’, and némō, ‘to hold, have in one’s power, to distribute’; ‘an heir, or an inheritance divided by lot’;

                                                                                                         i.            The Heir

The verb belonging to this is kleroo, ‘to draw lots, apportion by lot’.

§  kleronomia compounded from kleros and nemo, ‘allot’, is first the activity of ‘dividing by lot’, then the ‘portion so divided, the inheritance’.

§  The kleronomos is one who has been given a kleros, the inheritor.

                                                                                                       ii.            The Inheritance

The concept of inheritance has soteriological and eschatological dimensions. It is linked with God’s historical saving acts.

§  The possession of the Promised Land: “And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying, Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names” [Num.26:52].

§  God is the Psalmist’s inheritance:  “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; thou holdest my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage” [Psa.16:5].

§  The promise of Abraham: “heirs of God…” [Rom.8:15]; “the promise that he should be heir of the world…” [Rom.4:13].  

§  An eternal inheritance:  “an inheritance, imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven…” [1Pet.1:4].

b.       The Future Possession  

The inheritance: “though he be lord of all” [4:1].

§  ὤν – “be” [4:1], present active participle, ‘to be, exist’;

§  κύριος - “lord” [4:1], ‘owner’; ‘one who owns and controls estate land and property’; more like ‘young master’ in comparable English, which connotes both minority position and status as heir.

§  πάντων - “of all” [4:1], ‘everything in a class’; ‘each individual in a class’;

2.        The Current Status  

a.       The Status

                                                                                                         i.            The Minor

The current status: “as long as he is a child…” [4:1].

§  νήπιός - “child” [4:1], ‘an infant’; ‘a minor’; ‘a minor in the legal sense’;  

§  ἐφʼ ὅσον χρόνον - “as long as” [4:1], ‘a period of time delimited by some temporary relationship’: “the law hath dominion over a man as long as he lives” [Rom.7:1].

                                                                                                       ii.            The Servant

The comparison: “differs nothing from a servant…” [4:1].

§  διαφέρει - “differs” [4:1], from diá, denoting ‘transition or separation’, and phérō, ‘to carry, bear’;  

§  δούλου - “servant” [4:1], ‘slave’; ‘relation of servitude to another’; ‘one bound to serve the will of another’;

§  What Paul means is that they are alike in that they both live under rules and regulations.


Before a minor comes of age, he has no legal rights at all; he is a nēpios, literally an “infant,” a word Paul used elsewhere (1 Cor 3:1) to describe spiritual immaturity but which here refers to the status of legal incompetence and dispossession.  

3.        The Current Conditions

a.       The Guardians

                                                                                                         i.            The Tutors

The role of the tutor: “but is under tutors and governors…” [4:2].

§  ὑπὸ - “under” [4:2], ‘submission, subjection’;

§  ἐπιτρόπους - “tutors” [4:2], from epitrépō, ‘to permit’; ‘the guardian of a minor’; ‘has the more specific meaning of a guardian of an orphaned child’;

§  ‘A person entrusted to act in another’s name or to whose care anything is committed by another’: “the lord of the vineyard says unto his steward…” [Mat.20:8].

§  In Roman law, an heir was under the supervision of a tutor nominated by his father until fourteen years old.

                                                                                                       ii.            The Governors

The role of the governor: “under governors until the time…” [4:2].

§  οἰκονόμους - “governors” [4:2], ‘manager of a household’; ‘administrator’; ‘an estate manager, normally a trusted slave in the master’s household’: “the lord of the vineyard says unto his steward…” [Luk.12:42].  

§  The οἰκονόμους was different in social status from a guardian, ἐπιτρόπους, the latter usually being someone of considerable social status who was a friend of the family. The steward had no choice but to do his job; the guardian did his voluntarily.

§  In Roman law, an heir was under a curator appointed by the praetor[1] urbanus from the age of fourteen until he was twenty five.

§  Perhaps Paul means us to think of the former overseeing the person and education of the minor, the latter the minor’s property…

b.       The Previous Descriptions

                                                                                                         i.            The Prison Warden

The “before faith came, we were kept under the law…” [3:23].

§  ἐφρουρούμεθα - “kept” [3:23], imperfect passive, from phrourós, ‘a sentinel, guard’; ‘in the NT and generally followed by the accusative, ‘to watch, guard, keep’; ‘to be held prisoner’;

§  ὑπὸ νόμον - “under” [3:23], ‘submission, subjection’; “as many as are under the works of the law are under the curse…” [3:10].

§  συγκλειόμενοι - “shut up” [3:23], present passive participle, from sún, ‘together’, and kleíō, ‘to shut up, enclose’; ‘to shut up or enclose together’;

                                                                                                       ii.            The Supervisory Guardian

The terms used in [4:2] are meant to be synonymous with supervisory guardian: “the law was our schoolmaster…” [3:24].

§  παιδαγωγὸς - “schoolmaster” [3:24], from país, ‘a child’, and agōgós, ‘a leader’, which is from ágō, ‘to lead’; ‘an instructor or teacher of children, a schoolmaster, a pedagogue’;

§  Originally referred to the slave who conducted the boys from home to the school. Then it became a teacher or an educator.

c.        The Defining Moment  

The term of the arrangement: “until the time appointed of the father” [4:2].

§  προθεσμίας - “time appointed” [4:2], from pró, ‘before’, and thesmós, ‘custom’, which is from títhēmi, ‘to set, place, lay’; ‘a pre–appointed day or time, the day or time being understood’;

§  ‘the normal legal term for an appointed day or time when the stipulations of a contract or covenant have been fulfilled after which certain things cease to be true or begin to be true’;

§  πατρός - “father” [4:2], ‘male parent’; ‘ancestor’; ‘it is the father who sets the προθεσμίας in the will, leaving the child in the hand of guardians and trustees until he comes of age should the father die’;

§  Paul has in mind the eschatological time set by God and also referred to in v.4.


The purpose of the “tutor” and the “governor” is to supervise the minor and guard his possessions.

§  Such an arrangement is in force until the period stipulated by the father has lapsed.

§  “the picture he draws is of a boy in a home of wealth and standing who is legally the heir and so the ‘young master’ (kurios, literally ‘lord’ or ‘owner’) of the family estate, but who is still a minor (nēpios) and so lives under rules very much like a slave (doulos).”

4.        The Analogy Applied

a.       The Status

The status: “even so, when we were children…” [4:3].

§  νήπιοι - “children” [4:3], ‘an infant’; ‘minor’;

§  ἡμεῖς – “we” [4:3], pronoun first person plural, ‘referring primarily to Jewish believers’;

b.       The Conditions

                                                                                                         i.            The Bondage

The conditions of slavery: “were in bondage under the elements…” [4:3].

§  δεδουλωμένοι - “bondage” [4:3], perfect passive participle, ‘to be a slave’; ‘be subservient to’;

§  The pluperfect construction with its passive nuance carries the thought of another bringing about the enslavement – either the law itself, or God, or both.

                                                                                                       ii.            The Elements  

The mastery of: “under the elements of this world” [4:3]. 

§  ὑπὸ - “under” [4:3], ‘subjection, submission’;

§  τὰ στοιχεῖα - “elements” [4:3], from stoíchos, ‘row, line, rank’; ‘to stand or go in order, advance in rows or ranks’; ‘members of a row’; ‘elements that make up a series’; ‘the basic parts, rudiments, elements, or components of something’; ‘basic principles’; ‘elementary truths’; “the first principles of the oracles of God…” [Heb.5:12].

§  κόσμου - “world” [4:3], ‘the natural world’; ‘the creation’;

c.        The Mosaic Law  

Paul takes κόσμου in an ethical sense to mean “worldly” with its synonym being “fleshly”, as opposed to “spiritual”.

§  The Mosaic Law comprised in the Jewish experience those ‘basic principles’ given by God in preparation for the coming of Christ:

§  Thus Jews under the law were “under the basic principles of the world”, with τοῦ κόσμου used here in much the same way as it appears later with reference to the tabernacle: “a worldly sanctuary” [Heb.9:2], a[gion kosmiko,n.

§  The “world” in its lost state and in need of redemption: “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world and not after Christ” [Col.2:8].

§  In the context, most certainly associated with: “under the law…” [3:23]; “under a supervisory guardian…” [3:24-25]; “under tutors and governors…” [4:1-2].

§  The fencing in of Israel by the law until “the seed should come to whom the promises were made” [3:16].

§  The purpose of the law was always that of ‘keeping in’ and not of ‘getting in’.

§  The passage as reference to definite principles and axioms according to which men lived before Christ without finding redemption in them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! >>> ‘what men thought they possessed in the way of potentials for redemption outside of Christ………


Although destined for freedom in Christ, they were before His coming made entirely subject to the law.

§  This application links Paul’s earlier discussion of the Jewish tutelage under the law in 3:23–25 with the pre-Christian experience of the Galatian believers who were just as enslaved in their pagan idolatry as the Jews had been in their servitude to the law.

§  Realised eschatology: “they are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages have come” [1Cor.10:11].


1.        The Eschatological Event

a.       The Plan of God

The plan of God: “but when the fullness of time was come…” [4:4].

§  πλήρωμα - “fullness” [4:4], ‘completeness’; ‘total quantity’;

§  χρόνου - “time” [4:4], ‘indefinite amount of’; ‘occasion, particular event’;

§  ἦλθεν - “come” [4:4], aorist active, ‘to move toward or up to’;

                                                                                                         i.            A Central Element

The idea of the “fullness of time” was central to the gospels and to the life of the New Testament Church:

§  It was central in the gospels: “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet…” [Mat.1:22].

§  The self-consciousness of Jesus: “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand…” [Mar.1:15].

§  A central element in the preaching of the early church: “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” [Acts 2:16].

b.       The Event

                                                                                                         i.            The Sending of the Son

 The sending of the Son: “God sent forth his Son…” [4:4].

§  ἐξαπέστειλεν - “sent forth” [4:4], aorist active, from ek, ‘out, forth’, and apostéllō, ‘to send away or forth’; ‘to send away or forth out of the place where one is’;

§  θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ - “His Son” [4:4],

§  Comprises two thoughts: the going forth of the Son from a place at which he was before; his being invested with divine authority.


§  Instances of the sending formula: “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son…” [Rom.8:3-4]; “for God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world…” [Joh.3:16]; “God sent his only begotten Son into the world…” [1Joh.4:9];

                                                                                                         i.            The Pre-Existence Son

The statement implies the pre-existence of the Son: “in the beginning was the Word…” [Joh.1:1].

§  Paul’s doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ: “who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature…” [Col.1:15-17].

§  The Sonship designates not merely an official but also an ontological relationship: “who being in the form of God; thought it not robbery to be equal with God…” [Php.2:6].


The statement tells us that Jesus, God’s Son par excellence, is the culmination and focus of all of God’s redemptive activity on behalf of humanity.

§  Implicit in these words are two ideas, both of which are fundamental to a holistic Christological affirmation: divine intentionality and eternal deity: ““Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God’” [Heb.10:7].

§  As E. Schweizer has put it, “When we repeat the New Testament phrase ‘God sent his Son’ we are talking about God and at the same time narrating a story that happened in our worldly time and space. It is the story of the living God who decided to live in our world in Jesus of Nazareth.”

2.        The Features – The Christology

The last part of v.4 consists of two parallel participial clauses that set out two features regarding the person and the work of God’s sent Son.

a.       The Condition    

The first feature emphasises the Son’s true humanity and representative quality: “made of a woman…” [4:4].

§  γενόμενον - “made” [4:4], aorist middle participle, ‘to come to exist’;

§  ἐκ - “of” [4:4], ‘motion away from’;

§  γυναικός - “of a woman” [4:4], ‘adult female’; ‘wife’;

§  The use of ἐκ points to the fact that the woman was not only the medium of His coming into the flesh, but from her He took all that belongs to the human.

                                                                                                         i.            The True Humanity

A Jewish locution for a human birth or idiom simply for being human: “For man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble…” [Job.14:1].  

§  The necessity: “as the children are partakers of flesh and blood…” [Heb.2:14].

§  The promise: “the seed of the woman…” [Gen.3:15].

§  The event: “made in the likeness of sinful flesh…” [Rom.8:3].

b.       The Status   

The second feature regarding the Son’s coming: “made under the law…” [4:4].

§  γενόμενον - “made” [4:4], aorist middle participle, ‘to come to exist’;

§  ὑπὸ - “under” [4:4], ‘subjection, submission’;

§  νόμον - “law” [4:4], ‘rule prescribing what a person must do’;  ‘law according to its use in Galatians: the Mosaic Law with its regulations for life’.

                                                                                                         i.            The Law

Jesus was under obligation to God’s Torah, so fulfilling the requirements of the law in his life and bearing the law’s curse in his death [Gal.3:13].

§  The idea of ‘yoke of the Torah’ comprised the very meaning of existence for the Jews.

§  To some extent Jesus’ life “under the law” was comparable to the heir of Gal 4:1–2. Of Jesus it was quintessentially true that he was “no different from a slave although he was the Lord of all.”

                                                                                                       ii.            Under The Law

In Paul’s thinking, for the Son of God to be born under that law which he rejoiced to fulfil involved his voluntarily taking on himself the curse which others, by their failure to fulfil it, had incurred.

§  Only so could he accomplish the purpose of redeeming those who were ‘under law’ (v 5). ‘He not only became man, bound to obedience…; but He became curse for us. He made our doom His own.

§  He took on Him not only the calling of a man, but our responsibility as sinful men; it is in this that His work as our Redeemer lies, for it is in this that the measure, or rather the immensity, of His love is seen’ (J. Denney, The Death of Christ, 156).  


The early church spoke of Christ not only as being truly human and possessing a representative quality (“the Man”) but also as “born under the law” to offer perfect obedience to God the Father on behalf of those under the law (“the Jew”).

§  As F. F. Bruce has noted, while Jesus was “under the law,” he was nevertheless not under sin (cf. 2Cor.5:21). Thus “he himself had no need of slave-attendant, guardian or steward, and he came to bring his people to the point where they too could dispense with their services.”

§  Jesus entered into the prison-house where his people were held in bondage so as to set them free.

§  He himself had no need of slave-attendant, guardian or steward, and he came to bring his people to the point where they too could dispense with their services. 

3.        The Purpose – Soteriology

a.       Redemption

The objective work of Christ: “to redeem them that were under the law…” [4:5].

§  ἐξαγοράσῃ - “redeem” [4:5], aorist active subjunctive, from ek, ‘out or from’, and agorázō, ‘to buy’; ‘to buy out of, redeem from’;

§  τοὺς ὑπὸ νόμον - “under the law” [4:5], ‘submission, subjection’;

                                                                                                         i.            The Redemptive Work

The more particular reference to the redemptive work: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law…” [3:13].

§  The penalty paid: “condemned sin in the flesh…” [Rom.8:3].  

§  As J. Denney expressed it: “Christ not only became man, bound to obedience …, but he became curse for us. He made our doom his own. He took on him not only the calling of a man, but our responsibility as sinful men; it is in this that his work as our Redeemer lies, for it is in this that the measure, or rather the immensity, of his love is seen.”  

                                                                                                       ii.            The Exchange Principle

M. D. Hooker finds here the further instance of the ‘interchange’ principle (‘Interchange and Atonement’, 479):  

§  ‘It is because Christ is acknowledged as righteous, that believers are “justified”;

§  ‘It is because he is declared to be Son of God that we, too, receive sonship;

§  ‘It is because he is glorified that mankind is restored to glory’.

b.       The Age of Maturity

                                                                                                         i.            The Possession

The υἱοθεσία is the subject in the forefront of Paul’s mind at this point in his argument: “that we might receive the adoption…” [4:5].

§  ἀπολάβωμεν - “receive” [4:5], aorist active subjunctive, from apó, ‘from’, and lambánō, ‘to receive, take’; ‘to receive fully’; ‘to receive in full what one is due’;

                                                                                                       ii.            The Adoption

The goal of Paul’s argument: “receive the adoption of sons” [4:5].

§  υἱοθεσίαν - “adoption of sons” [4:5], from huiós, ‘son’, and títhēmi, ‘to place’; ‘adoption, receiving into the relationship of a child’; the normal Greek term for adoption; ‘to have the full right of sons’;  

§  τὴν - “the” [4:5], definite article, restrictive in function: pointing to the hope of Israel for the culmination of God’s promises and to the time referred to in vv.1-2 when the boy reaches the age of maturity: “the time set by the father” [4:2]. 

§  The theological background: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” [Hos.11:1; Exo.4:11].

                                                                                                     iii.            The True Heir

In Paul’s view it is Christ who is the ‘natural’ son and heir, the true seed of Abraham and true Son of God.

§  The true heir: “to Abraham and his seed were the promises made…” [3:16].

§  Others can be included in his inheritance only by adoption: “predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ…” [Eph.1:5].  

§  The Heir and the church: “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ…” [Rom.8:15].

                                                                                                     iv.            Roman Law

In Paul’s day the institution of adoption played an increasingly important part in Roman life.

§  For example, from the late first century to the mid-second century AD and beyond successive Roman emperors adopted men not related to them by blood with the intention that they should succeed then in the principate.

§  If the son to be adopted was not yet of age, his original father conveyed him into the potestas of his adoptive father by a pretended sale.

§  Once adopted into the new family, the son was in all legal respects on a level with those born into that family.

§  If the son to be adopted was of age, he was adopted by his new father in the ceremony of adrogatio, in which the pontifex maximus and the augurs were involved. It was also possible, later, for a testator to adopt some one in his will.


Paul is here working from a Christological confession of the church and so speaks of sonship as the basis for God’s gift of the Spirit.

§  “in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose…” [Eph.1:11].

§  “Just as Israel, as heir to the Abrahamic promise, was redeemed as sons of God from slavery in Egypt at the time appointed by the father, so also believers were redeemed to adoption as sons of God from slavery under the ‘elements of the world’ at the fullness of time and thereby became heirs to the Abrahamic promise.…

4.        The Pneumatology

a.       The Status  

A declaration of the Christian’s status: “because you are sons…” [4:6].

§  Ὅτι - “because” [4:6], causal,

§  ἐστε - “are” [4:6], present active indicative, ‘to be’;

§  υἱοί - “sons” [4:6], ‘adopted sons’ having the ‘full legal rights of sons’;

b.       The Possession

Just as God sent his Son into the world, so now: “God sent forth the Spirit of his Son…” [4:6].

§  ἐξαπέστειλεν - “sent forth” [4:6], aorist active indicative, from ek, ‘out, forth’, and apostéllō, ‘to send away or forth’; ‘to send away or forth out of the place where one is’;

§  The aorist tense points, not to the God’s historical act of sending the Spirit at Pentecost, but as stating in punctiliar fashion what God did in the Galatians’ experience when they responded to the gospel by faith:

§  τὸ πνεῦμα - “the Spirit” [4:6], noun accusative singular neuter,

                                                                                                         i.            The Spirit of the Son

The description of the Spirit: “Spirit of his Son…” [4:6].

§  τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ - “Spirit of his Son” [4:6], genitive of source, origin;

§  The phrase “Spirit of his Son” is used here to highlight the integral nature of sonship and the reception of the Spirit – not as two stages in the Christian life, but as two mutually dependent and intertwined features in the subjective experience of salvation.

                                                                                                       ii.            The New Covenant

The new covenant promise: “into your hearts…” [4:6].

§  εἰς - “into” [4:6], ‘motion up to and into’;

§  τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν - “your hearts” [4:6], ‘the seat of the person’s intellectual and emotional life generally’;

§  The eschatological promise: “and I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes…” [Eze.36:27].

c.        The Assurance

The operation of the Spirit is characterised by this that he brings the believers to the Father, and grants them the assurance of kinship, just as the Son himself lives in unbroken communion with the Father….

                                                                                                         i.            The Cry

The Spirit is engaged in: “crying, Abba, Father” [4:6].

§  κρᾶζον - “crying” [4:6], present active participle neuter, ‘to call out’; ‘to exclaim’;

§  As a neuter participle κρᾶζον agrees in gender with τὸ πνεῦμα, “the Spirit” [4:6], and so identifying its subject; it is the Spirit who cries out on behalf of the believer, though synonymously Paul can say that the believer cries out to God the Father as energised by the Spirit: “the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” [Rom.8:15].

                                                                                                       ii.            The Cry of Sonship

The Spirit witnesses to the filial relation of the believer with God: “crying Abba, Father” [4:6].

§  αββα πατήρ - “Abba, Father” [4:6], the Aramaic and the Greek form of “father”;

§  The acclamation Father stemmed primarily from Jesus’ own consciousness and usage: “And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee…” [Mar.14:36].

§  As those “in Christ”, believers experience a more intimate and truly filial relationship with God the Father, one that displaces the legal relationship that existed earlier for God’s own. 

§  The content of the cry epitomises the believer’s new relationship with God:


Note same verb used in [4:4] – the sending of the Son and the sending of the Spirit were two parts of the one purpose and salvific work of God, who in both cases is the sender…GIFTS

§  The word Abba directly links the Christian believer as an adopted heir and son of God to Jesus himself, the unique Son of God, for it was he who first dared to use this term of familial intimacy in his own prayers to the Father (cf. Mark 14:36).

§  The Holy Spirit is the sign and pledge of our adoption so that by his presence in our hearts we are truly convinced that God is for us, not against us, that indeed he is our Heavenly Father.


1.        The Status

The believer is to live in the full freedom of sonship: “wherefore thou art no more a servant…” [4:7].

§  οὐκέτι - “no more” [4:7], ‘negative extension of time beyond a certain point’;

§  δοῦλος - “servant” [4:7], ‘slave’; ‘one whose will is given up to the mastery and the will of another’;

§  ἀλλὰ υἱός - “son” [4:7], ‘adopted son’; having the full rights of sonship;

2.        The Inheritance  

The enjoyment of the inheritance: “if a son, then an heir of God…” [4:7].

§  κληρονόμος - “heir” [4:7], from klé̄ros, ‘lot’, and némō, ‘to hold, have in one’s power, to distribute’; ‘an heir, or an inheritance divided by lot’;  

§  The promised inheritance: “heirs according to the promise” [3:29].

§  The promised inheritance through Christ: “but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ” [3:16].

§  διὰ θεοῦ - “of God” [4:7], ‘by way of’; ‘through’;


Reminds Paul’s leaders that their status as heirs is entirely the result of God’s grace, not of their works or merit; and (ii) assuring them of the certainty of their possession of that status, since it is the result of God’s work on their behalf ad not their own endeavours.

§  It is the status of being a son of God that Paul wants his Galatians converts to hold onto and cherish. The contrast is between being a son and being a slave.

§  ‘Believers are now full-grown sons and daughters of God; they have been given their freedom and the power to use it responsibly…


[1] An annually elected magistrate of the ancient Roman Republic, ranking below but having approximately the same functions as a consul

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