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Shall We Kill Our Children Today? – Hebrews 11:23

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Sermon 8 of 15 from the Outrageous Faith series

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September 2008 – Are children a burden or a blessing?

I suppose it all depends on who you ask or what you mean or why the question even matters at all. If you have to ask the question, you are bound to come to the wrong answer. The Bible is clear enough on this point. “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3). If we had no other verse, this alone would be sufficient to establish the biblical position.

Children are a gift from God.
They are a “heritage” from the Lord.
They are a “reward” from him.

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We could add other verses to reinforce the point:

“God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant” (Genesis 30:18).
“The children God has graciously given your servant” (Genesis 33:5).
“The sons God has given me” (Genesis 48:9).
“He will bless the fruit of your womb” (Deuteronomy 7:13).

You may wonder why I even raise the question because Christianity (and Judaism before it) has always been a pro-child religion. We were “pro-family” before that became a political term.

Christians love children because God loves children. A friend sent me a copy of a paper by Keith J. White called “A Little Child Will Lead Them: Rediscovering Children at the Heart of Mission.” The paper begins with the observation that some people wrongly assume the Bible has very little to say about children. But even a cursory reading of the Bible proves that it is pro-children from beginning to end. White marshals a vast array of evidence to show how important children are to God.

Christians love children because God loves children. 

The whole plan of salvation depends on Abraham and Sarah giving birth to a son—Isaac.
Jacob’s sons become the founders of the tribes of Israel.
Moses’ parents hide him from Pharaoh, then Miriam saves the baby.
The whole point of the book of Ruth is the birth of Obed, ancestor of David and Jesus.
God spoke through the boy Samuel because the adults had so miserably failed.
Though David was just a boy, God used him to rout the Philistines.
Elijah brought a widow’s son to life—and so did Elisha.
Josiah became king of Judah when he was only eight years old.
Esther was an orphan girl.
Jeremiah was chosen by God before he was born.

What should we conclude from this list? White offers this helpful summary:

It is not just that these people happened to be children but that some of the most significant acts and revelations of God were through these children. Their faith and actions are critically important in the unfolding and outworking of God’s purposes.

The paper goes on in great detail to prove this point from the Old and New Testaments. It is not by chance that the New Testament opens with the story of the birth of Jesus. When we first meet the Son of God, he comes into the world, not as a full-grown man, not as a Savior stepping onto the stage of history in the prime of life, but he is born in a most unusual way.

The New Testament does not shy away from the fact that the Lord of glory came into the world through his mother’s womb

To a young couple.
Betrothed but not yet married.
In circumstances that aroused suspicion.
In a stable that was really a cave.
In a forgotten corner of the Roman Empire.
In a tiny village.
Wrapped in rags.
Laid in a rough-hewn feeding trough.
Born to working-class parents.

Not a likely way for Heaven’s Child to enter the world. But that is indeed what happens. And the New Testament does not shy away from the fact that the Lord of glory came into the world through his mother’s womb. Though conceived of the Holy Spirit, his birth was like any other human birth, although in circumstances that today would routinely end in abortion.

Joseph’s Dilemma

I find it encouraging that the Bible records Joseph’s honest doubts about Mary.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly (Matthew 1:18-19).

In those days, a man could get a divorce in two ways: First, he could get a public divorce by going before a judge at the gate of the city. That would mean that the whole town would know about Mary’s shame. Second, he could get a private divorce by giving her the papers in the presence of two witnesses. It is entirely to Joseph’s credit that he chose to do it privately and thus spare Mary the humiliation of a public divorce.

God loves children, even those born in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Having made his decision . . . he didn’t do it. He had every legal and moral right to divorce Mary but he just couldn’t do it. As one writer put it, there was a “short but tragic struggle between his legal conscience and his love.” He hesitated, waited, thought long and hard. Day after day he pondered the matter. Time was running out. With each passing day, it became more obvious that Mary was pregnant. Late at night he lay in bed staring into the blackness, wondering what to do.

Then one night it happened. He had a dream and in the dream God spoke to him.

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

To us, this seems strange. But not to Joseph. God often spoke to people through dreams in the Bible. It was one means he used to communicate his will to his people. It worked. Joseph needed assurance. He couldn’t marry Mary until he was sure it was all right. He had to know the truth. God met him at the point of his need at exactly the right moment. The final verses of Matthew 1 are insufficiently celebrated as great Christmas verses because they reveal Joseph’s finest qualities.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she had given birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus (Matthew 1:24-25).

Every step he takes testifies to his greatness:

1. By marrying her quickly he broke all Jewish custom, but he protected Mary’s reputation. She was pregnant and he wasn’t the father but he married her anyway.

2. By keeping her a virgin until Jesus was born, he protected the miracle of Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit against slander by unbelievers.

3. By naming the baby he exercised a father’s prerogative and thus officially took him into his family as his own legal son.

How much does God know about the unborn baby growing in the womb? Everything.

The only other comment I would make is that the story is told exactly as a man would tell it. I like Joseph. I wish I could meet him.

Besides the many obvious theological lessons being taught through the birth of Jesus, I would simply point out that God loves children, even those born in less-than-ideal circumstances. We know that because he sent his Son into the world in a way that teaches us that children matter to him—and therefore they ought to matter to us.

Psalm 139:13-16 takes the matter a step further with its explicit description of God’s involvement with the unborn:

For you created my inmost being: you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

This is the strongest statement on God’s prenatal care in the Bible. How much does he know about the unborn baby growing in the womb? Everything. Like a skillful weaver God takes the tiny hands and legs and joins them to the body. He forms the heart and then sets it beating. He watches over the thumb and makes sure it finds the mouth.

Sarah Palin’s Baby Boy

I started thinking about all this when the Republicans nominated Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be their vice presidential nominee.  Like most people, before the nomination I knew very little about her. But that was about to change, given the 24-hour news cycle. From being unknown, overnight she has become one of the most talked-about figures in American life. And one part of her story revolves around the fact that she recently gave birth to a child with Down Syndrome. That fact, along with the reality that she is an evangelical Christian, has reignited the abortion debate in a way that we have not seen in recent years. Clearly many people are very uncomfortable with her pro-life stance, and some people feel vaguely uneasy that she didn’t choose to abort her baby (a five-month old boy named Trig) when she learned he would be born with Down Syndrome. After all, over 90% of the babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted.

Trig Palin is a perfectly beautiful baby boy.

Over 90%.

I suppose that should shock us, but I doubt that anyone is shocked. Once abortion became legal and prenatal testing became sufficiently accurate, it was inevitable that most parents would choose not to bring a child with Down Syndrome into the world. But Sarah Palin was different. Motivated by her Christian faith, she gave birth to her son. When she spoke at the Republican Convention in St. Paul, she introduced each member of her family. This is what she said about Trig:

And in April, my husband Todd and I welcomed our littlest one into the world, a perfectly beautiful baby boy named Trig.  
“A perfectly beautiful baby boy.” That is wonderfully said—and perfectly accurate.

Not everyone is thrilled with Sarah Palin’s decision. Writing on a blog sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism, Nicholas Provenzo begins this way:

Like many, I am troubled by the implications of Alaska governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s decision to knowingly give birth to a child disabled with Down syndrome. Given that Palin’s decision is being celebrated in some quarters, it is crucial to reaffirm the morality of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome (or by extension, any unborn fetus)—a freedom that anti-abortion advocates seek to deny.

Lest we misunderstand, Provenzo calls any decision to have a child “a profoundly selfish choice.” He is not here referring to knowingly giving birth to a child with Down Syndrome. He means the very decision to have a child—any child—is profoundly selfish. Of course, if his parents had not made that “profoundly selfish” choice, he wouldn’t be around to make such a profoundly evil statement.

Far from being a “single issue” among many others, abortion stands as a dividing line between two different—and opposing—worldviews.

But it gets even worse. Because Sarah Palin knew that Trig would be born with Down Syndrome, her decision not to abort him is nothing less than the “worship of retardation.” This is evil compounded by evil and darkness upon darkness.

Writing in the blog Mere Comments (sponsored by Touchstone Magazine), James Kushiner puts the issue in proper perspective:

This highlights a great divide in our culture, one that will not go away all by itself, and is widening, as it devours everything from the unborn to those who are dying, with killing on both ends, called choice and euthanasia, sweet words for a bloody business. Many citizens, including many who call themselves serious Christians, and intend to be, are dancing on the edge of this abyss, seemingly unaware of the dangers as well as ignorant of the clarity of the long moral tradition upon which the Christian faith has stood for ages.

He is exactly right. Far from being a “single issue” among many others, abortion stands as a dividing line between two different—and opposing—worldviews. One side protects life; the other side wantonly kills it. This is not primarily a political issue because there are pro-life and pro-abortion supporters in both major parties. To me this issue far transcends who will sit in the White House in January. Abortion is a “bloody business” that devalues human life from its earliest moments and asserts the right of one person (who happens to be outside the womb) to determine the fate of someone else (who happens to be inside the womb).

They Did Not Fear the King’s Edict

And that brings me to the story of Moses’ parents in Hebrews 11:23. This is a story so important that it is told three times in the Bible:

Exodus 2:1-10
Acts 7:20-22
Hebrews 11:23

Here is the story in short form. Because the king of Egypt (the pharaoh) hated and feared the Jews, he ordered the Hebrew midwives to put to death all the male babies. Because they feared God, the midwives refused to follow the king’s decree. In a further act of deranged madness, he ordered that all the male babies born to the Hebrews be thrown into the Nile. Soon thereafter a Jewish couple named Amram and Jochebed gave birth to a baby boy. For three months they managed to keep him hidden, in direct defiance of the king’s command. They feared God so much that they didn’t fear the king at all. But eventually they knew they couldn’t keep the child hidden forever so they placed him in a basket among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. That was a wise thing to do because it was the place women would come to draw water. When Pharaoh’s daughter found the child in the basket, she knew it was a Hebrew baby. And in one of the divine serendipities that fill the Bible, Moses’ sister Miriam (who had been watching from a distance) came and volunteered to find a Hebrew mother to nurse the child. So it turned out that Pharaoh’s daughter ended up paying Moses’ mother to nurse her own baby! Still later the parents gave Moses to Pharaoh’s daughter to raise in the Egyptian court. All of this was not only God’s protection. It was also God’s preparation for the day when Moses would go before another pharaoh and say, “Let my people go!”

It is natural to believe your son or daughter is the best, brightest, most beautiful baby in the whole world.

When the writer of Hebrews makes his list of the heroes of the faith, he includes the parents of Moses this way:

By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict (Hebrews 11:23).

Note several key facts:
1) They hid Moses in direct disobedience to the king’s command. He said, “Kill all the male babies.” They said, “We won’t cooperate with that evil command.”

2) They somehow knew that he was “no ordinary child.” In a sense, parents always feel this way about their children. It is natural to believe your son or daughter is the best, brightest, most beautiful baby in the whole world. As far as we know, no angIn this case, I think it means that they sensed that God had a particular purpose in mind for Moses, one that they could not have imagined at the timeel came and said, “Your son will someday deliver God’s people from Egypt.” But they knew that he was a gift from God, a special delivery child from heaven, deserving of their love and protection. And so they risked everything to keep him alive.

3) Their faith rose above their fear. No doubt they flinched every time the baby began to cry because it meant that he might be discovered by the Egyptians. Surely they took careful pains to keep him quiet and out of sight. Perhaps only a few others even knew the baby had been born. In a situation like this, you never know who you can trust. Perhaps some of their neighbors would have turned the parents in, thinking that their disobedience invited the wrath of the king on the whole community. Every day Amram and Jochebed risked everything to keep their son alive. But they did not shrink back from their God-appointed task.

Strange as it might seem, Moses was safer in that basket than he would have been in the home of his parents.

4) They could not have foreseen how God would honor their faith. Putting the child in a basket in the Nile was a desperate attempt to save him. Knowing they could not keep him, they put him in the water, hoping against hope that someone who loved babies would come along and find him. By the way, the word translated “basket” in Exodus 2:3 is used elsewhere in the Old Testament only to refer to the ark of Noah. The basket in which his parents placed him was as safe for him as the ark was for Noah. Strange as it might seem, Moses was safer in that basket than he would have been in the home of his parents. All of it—every part of it—was overseen by God who always intended to raise up Moses to one day deliver his people from Egypt.

Thus does God overrule the evil designs of wicked men.

Moses and Jesus

And there is yet one further parallel to be drawn. When Jesus was born, Herod’s irrational fear moved him to an act of monstrous cruelty.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi (Matthew 2:16).

Can you imagine the scene? Soldiers on a death squad breaking into Bethlehem homes in the dead of night, taking the baby boys and covering their faces with a sheet. One soldier grabs the legs while another takes the knife and slits the young boy’s throat.  To one side the mother screams and wails.

For as long as God is on his throne, children are forever a blessing, not a curse.

Through the streets they go seeking every baby boy. Killing all night long.  They had their orders. Kill every baby boy. Don’t miss one. They did their job well. By morning the slaughter is over, the soldiers gone, the babies dead.  Over the town of Bethlehem ring out loud cries and mourning, mothers who refuse to be comforted. Their children are no more.

Herod the Great slaughtered the infants of Bethlehem. But he didn’t get the one that mattered the most. God saw to that. He murdered thousands in his lifetime . . . but he couldn’t kill the most important person of all.

Pharaoh tried to kill all the Hebrew baby boys.
Herod tried to kill Jesus—and ended up killing the baby boys of Bethlehem.

Later Moses would deliver his own people.
Later Jesus would die for the sins of the world.

By faith Moses’ parents hid him.
By faith Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus and fled to Egypt.

Shall we kill our children today? No! For as long as God is on his throne, children are forever a blessing, not a curse. Are they a burden? Sometimes they are, and often the burden is heavy indeed. But will we will kill our children today, even if they are imperfect? No, we will not kill our imperfect children for they are “perfectly beautiful” in the eyes of God. And we ourselves are imperfect too. Who are we to wantonly destroy God’s gift of life?

We are not on the side of the child-killers.

Who knows what God will do through our children if we receive them with love, protect them from those who would hurt them, and raise them up with all the strength and love and wisdom and courage, with all the grace that God himself provides? If we do that, who knows what God will do with our children?

We are not on the side of the child-killers. We are not now and never can be on their side. We stand with Moses’ parents who hid him to save him, and we stand with Mary and Joseph who loved their son enough to protect him from a tyrant. Most of all we stand with the Lord Jesus who loved little children and said, Let them come to me for of such is the kingdom of heaven. When we welcome a child in his name, we have opened our hearts to him. Amen.

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