Monday, January 24, 2011

Sanctity of Life: Chosen and Adopted by Grace for God's Glory

Scripture Text: Ephesians 1:3-14

This past week brought news of a horrible series of crimes committed in Philadelphia1, where hundreds of babies many mothers were killed by an abortionist. The doctor in question has been charged with multiple counts of murder, infanticide, conspiracy, abuse of corpse, theft, and other offenses.2 His practice, if that is what we can call it, preyed on the young and the defenseless. The conditions of the clinic were so horrible that investigating crews could only enter the premises wearing HAZMAT gear. This week, I saw pictures of human parts wrapped in plastic or placed in clear plastic containers for “research.” I could not believe what I was seeing. This side of abortion is, of course, never publicized in the popular media. And it is because of this reluctance, and the urgency on this issue that I feel in my own heart, that I have started the sermon in this way.

It so happens that the prosecution of these terrible crimes in Philadelphia corresponded with preparations for Sanctity of Life Sunday, a day in which churches all over the country are proclaiming and celebrating the miraculous gift of life from Almighty God. Originally, my intent was to simply preach from the lectionary texts this week. But the story of this horrible series of crimes against the unborn and their mothers has gravely affected me. Christians everywhere should be rising up in protest against this ongoing slaughter. As long as abortion is continually presented merely as a “choice,” like the decision to get a tooth filled or what to order off the fast food menu, these stories will continue. 55 million children have been killed in this way, since the Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade in 1973, 38 years ago.

It is the sanctity of human life that drove the selection of texts this morning. We all need to be reminded what God says about human life in his Word. What is its origin? Who creates and develops human beings? And what is the ultimate purpose for the existence of human beings. You need to know what the bible, God’s Word, says on these things, not just what Pastor Chris’ opinion is about them.

Origin: Human Beings Are Created in the Image of God

The first text is Genesis 1, the first chapter of the first book of the bible, at verses 27-28, which reads:
[27] So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. [28] And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Men and women are created in God’s image. Did you notice that the scriptures say this twice in a row? Why the duplication? In Hebrew, doublets like this one add emphasis. Human beings are absolutely created in God’s image. I do not think this image is only recognizable after a child is born. Biology and the bible both tell us that human life begins in the womb before birth. Therefore, the image of God is somehow present even in the microscopic zygote making its way through the fallopian tube to the lining of the womb. God’s image is even in that tiny, tiny package of humanity. To be created in God’s image means, in the context of this passage, that humans are representatives of God. They are granted, in Genesis, authority in God’s name over the whole of the creation. There is divine dignity, therefore, in the unborn.

Development: Human Beings in the Womb Are Fully Human Throughout Development

Other scriptures make it clear that there is a baby in the womb, not just an impersonal fetus. Here is just one example from Genesis 25, where Isaac’s wife Rebekah becomes pregnant after a protracted season of barrenness. Here’s what we read, beginning at verse 22:
[22] The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. [23] And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” [24] When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb.
Human beings are human beings from the get-go, and are formed and developed by the hand of God. Consider again these words from Psalm 139, which we just read responsively:
[13] For you [God] formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. [14] I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. [15] My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. [16] Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
It could not be clearer the God is the actor in the womb, bringing forth new human beings in his likeness and image, by means of a male and female created in God’s image.

The sanctity of human life can also be seen in the one-flesh union of marriage. In Matthew 19:4-5, Jesus is asked about the permissibility of divorce. Here is what our Lord said in response:
[4] He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, [5] and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? [6] So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
In this statement about marriage, Jesus affirms several truths about human life. First: God created humanity in God’s image as male and female. Jesus testifies and affirms the truth of Genesis 1. Second: God performs marriage, which should give us great pause as we consider the existence of something called “no-fault divorce.” Third: God crafts humans in the womb as the fruit of the marriages God creates and performs. In other words, God’s command to the humans in Genesis 1 to be fruitful and multiply is enabled by God’s fashioning of life. God creates what God commands.

Why does God do these wonderful things; the creation of human beings in God’s likeness and image; and the formation of unions in which new human beings created in his image are formed and developed for life inside and outside the womb? Psalm 139 makes it clear that there is a divine purpose in mind. There are, in God’s book, days formed for every human being created in God’s image. Why?

Purpose: God Has an Eternal Plan and Purpose for His Human Children

That question brings us to Ephesians 1:3-14, one glorious sentence in the original Greek. A series of sermons could be preached on this single chapter, but I want to focus on three crucial verses because of what they say about the God’s plan for human beings. Those verses are 1:3-6
[3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, [4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Several things can be said about these verses.

First, God chose his children far in advance of their conception and birth. That is why Paul writes, “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” Reflect on that great truth for a few seconds. God knew you before you were conceived, before your parents were conceived, before their parents were conceived, before everything. In his eternal council and will, God has chosen his children, born and as yet unborn. The existence of abortion is a declaration by our society we don’t believe this.

Second, those children were chosen because they were predestined for something, namely, adoption. Every single Christians is an adopted child, no exceptions. You are the son or daughter of your biological parents when you were born, but you become a child of the Most High God by adoption into God’s family, and those so chosen were destined for this adoption from the before the time of the creation. The reason for this adoption by God is that he loves his children. Verses 4-5: “In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” The sign of that adoption by God is the sacrament of Baptism, which we will administer to Crosby in a few minutes. The existence of abortion in our culture is a proclamation by the society that there are unborn children who are unqualified for God’s love.

Third, ultimately God’s choosing of children for adoption out of love is of grace for something. Verses 5-6 tell us what that something is:
[5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Human beings chosen by God for adoption as children of God through Jesus Christ for the purpose of praising and glorifying God. The existence of abortion in our society declares that we think our individual autonomy is of greater importance than the praise of God’s glory.

Earlier this week, a pastor named Jared Wilson said, “There is no ‘least of these’ lesser than unborn children.” That means ultimately issues like the sanctity of human life and abortion are ultimately about Jesus.

Our Hope Can Only Be Found in the Gospel

These things are incredibly difficult to hear, but we need to hear them. We need to know the depth of our sin and ask God to forgive us. We need to repent, which means to decisively change course, so that human life will be treated with the sanctity is has been blessed with by God. And we need to hear again the message of God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. God’s grace is infinitely larger than our sin, and it is there that we find our hope.

What does that mean for the us? I can tell you one thing it means for this congregation. The session late last year authored a resolution requesting our presbytery to grant this congregation relief on conscience from the abortion provision of the Board of Pensions health care plan. The presbytery will decide weather or not to grant such relief at the next meeting of the Presbytery this February 5th. I would ask that you pray for the presbytery as it makes its decision. If granted, a dollar amount equal to the cost of abortion procedures from the prior year is set aside from the Medical Plan dues of employers that have relief of conscience status. These monies are transferred to the Board of Pensions Assistance Program, where they provide a small portion of the funding for Adoption Assistance Grants to Benefits Plan members.

Second, other churches in our denomination with greater resources than ours have undertaken the tremendous ministry of connecting pregnant women with adoption agencies and parents who are eager to adopt. Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta has pledged to help anyone who walks in the door or who is referred to them. If you know of someone who might need to avail themselves of such a ministry, please let me know, and pray for these churches and these important ministries. As Paul makes clear in Ephesians, every Christian is adopted. Having been so graciously adopted, should not adoption be a huge ministry of the church?

I am deeply aware that there may be, in our congregation, wildly divergent and conflicting views on this issue. I am also aware that this topic can be the source of tremendous pain and grief. There may be some listening who are feeling intense feelings of guilt or judgment as a result of hearing from God’s word. That is why we need to know that God’s grace in Jesus Christ is sufficient to cover any number and any magnitude of sin. That is why we need to know that Jesus’ love is so deep for his children that he was himself willing to sacrificially give up his life for sinners who are themselves “the least of these.” Those who believe in Jesus are granted, free of charge, eternal freedom from sin and sin’s guilt and death. For this an all other difficult issues, look to Christ our Head. He will see us through. Jesus said, “[10:10]The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. [11] I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” He grants mercy where there is hopelessness and life life where there is death. As Paul wrote to Timothy so many years ago:
[1:15] The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

1One news account can be read here.
2The entire indictment can be read here. Be warned that the content is very graphic.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
January 23, 2011
Sanctity of Life Sunday
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew