Taking Life Seriously

Jeremiah 1:5

January 18, 2009 | Brian Bill

I came across some post-it notes that contain brief notes that kids wrote to God.  Here are a few funny ones…

  • Dear God, I went to this wedding and they kissed in church.  Is that OK?
  • Dear God, I think about you sometimes even when I’m not praying.
  • God, thank you for the baby brother but what I prayed for was a puppy.
  • If you watch in church on Sunday I will show you my new shoes.
  • Dear God, if you give me a genie lamp like Aladdin I will give you anything you want except my money or my chess set.
  • Dear God, please send Dennis Clark to a different camp next year.
  • Dear God, maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they had their own rooms.  It works with my brother.
  • Dear God, please put another holiday between Christmas and Easter.  There is nothing good in there now.

The words of the Old Testament prophets cut through the millennia, grab us by our shoulders, and shake us from our slumber.  Written long ago but relevant for today their message calls us to fresh places of spiritual growth.  

Please turn in your Bibles to Jeremiah.  We see in the very first verse that Jeremiah’s father was a priest.  Actually, his grandpa was a priest as well.  To be a priest was a pretty cool thing.  But Jeremiah was called to be a prophet.  That wasn’t so cool because a prophet was not always real popular among the people.  

Everyone liked having priests around but not everyone liked it when the prophet showed up because his preaching wasn’t always positive.  Jeremiah’s 40-year ministry focused on the nation’s sinfulness and impending judgment.  His was not a prosperity message but was rather a message of coming tragedy.  As a result, he was misunderstood, arrested, imprisoned, and was in constant danger of losing his life.  

This book is a challenge to outline because it’s really an anthology of sermons delivered during the reign of several kings in Judah.  In the midst of all the tough words, there are several tender passages that I’ve put in my personal “favorites.”

  • Jeremiah 9:23-24: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.”
  • Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”
  • Echoing the words of Pastor Joe Michael as he challenged us last week to never stop communicating the gospel of grace, we read in Jeremiah 20:9: “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.”
  • Jeremiah 29:11-13: “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
  • In reading through the book I was struck by how a parent’s spiritual commitment has the potential to greatly impact their children.  As we continue to focus on families at PBC, I commend Jeremiah 32:39 as a prayer for all parents: “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them.”
  • Jeremiah 33:3: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” 

God’s Word About the Womb

As I pondered these passages, it struck me that had Jeremiah not been born, we might not have these weighty words.  To use today’s language, if Jeremiah had been aborted when he was in his mother’s womb, we would have a huge hole in our Bibles.  

Please turn to Jeremiah 1:5.  This passage, along with many others in Scripture, establishes the sanctity of human life.  Before we read verse 5, I want you to notice verse 4: “The word of the Lord came to me, saying…”  This is God’s Word about the womb.  Individuals will have their opinions, organizations will offer their expertise, politicians will differ about the preborn, but this is what God says.  Let’s read it slowly: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” 

Let’s make a few observations.

  • The word “before” is used twice.  This moves us back in time from the point of conception to sometime in eternity past.  
  • The word “I” is used four times to indicate that God is not only the one speaking these words, but He is the one at work in the womb.
  • The word “you” is used five times. This shows us that what is in the womb is a person; not a blob or a bunch of cells.

This leads us right into the first truth this passage teaches.

1. The preborn are people. 

We see this in the very first phrase: “I formed you in the womb.”  Before Jeremiah was even conceived, God knew him as a person.  The word “formed” is the Hebrew word used to describe the creative work of a potter as he molds and shapes a piece of clay.  It means to squeeze into a predetermined shape.  It’s also the same word found in Genesis 2:7 where we read that the “Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground…”  Just as God purposefully formed Adam from the dust of the earth, so too He does His creative work in the womb.

In Psalm 139:15-16, we see that God was there when we were being formed in utter seclusion: “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…” Nothing is hidden from God.  He personally puts our skeleton in place and then creates all the delicate parts of our bodies, weaving them together to form His living masterpiece.  

On this Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, we affirm, along with thousands of other churches, that every person from conception on, is an image bearer of God, stamped with divine dignity and worthy of protection.

The fact that the preborn are people is no small point.  Scott Cox points out that the first thing any society does if it is going to mistreat a particular class of people is “to dehumanize them.”  Some theologians in the 19th Century espoused the idea that blacks had no souls in order to justify slavery.  How much easier it is for our society today to do this “when the voice and even the form of those who are being dehumanized and mistreated cannot be heard or seen because their cries are silent.” 

A week ago I was called to the hospital to minister to a young couple that doesn’t live around here.  The woman had been pregnant and more than halfway through her pregnancy found out that her baby had died.  When I arrived, the nurses told me what happened and referred to the baby as a fetus.  I understand this term medically but when I went into the room and saw the father holding a bundle of blankets it became quickly obvious that they had lost a baby, not a fetus.  I asked his name and then decided to pull back the covers to see the baby’s face.  I was not prepared for what I saw.  At just over 22 weeks, this was a baby, not just a tangled web of tissue.  

That’s why pictures of the preborn in the womb are so powerful.

2. The preborn are preknown. 

Look at the next phrase: “I knew you.”  The word, “know” in Hebrew speaks of a personal intimate knowledge and was used of Adam “knowing” Eve.  The idea is that God has a close personal commitment and intimate relationship with the person He creates, even before He creates.  

God knows us before we’re even formed in the womb.  If we are known to God even before He began His creative work, how much more are we a person after conception?   I’m glad the answer to the question of when life begins is “not above God’s pay grade.”

3. The preborn are prized. 

Check out the next clause: “I set you apart.” This verb was used of setting something or someone apart for a specific and special use.  Even before Jeremiah was born, he was set apart for a special task.  God did the same thing with Paul in Galatians 1:15: “…God, who set me apart from birth…”

About a month ago, the Vatican released its official position on bioethics in a document called, “On the Dignity of the Person.”  I like that title.  Chuck Colson reminds us that the world is watching what churches say about human dignity: “So in these troubled times, I believe that the Church’s greatest calling is to uphold human life and dignity.  Because as we do, we ultimately point all those who are made in God’s image back to Him who created them and loves them beyond all comprehension.” 

4. The preborn have a purpose. 

Each one of us has a purpose according to God’s plans

The last part of verse 5 tells us about Jeremiah’s purpose: “I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”  Jeremiah had a job to do and so do you!  Note that God’s word is not just for one group of people; it is for all the “nations.” A prophet’s primary purpose was to “announce” God’s message, exposing sin and calling sinners back to their covenant responsibilities before God.  Each one of us has a purpose according to God’s plans.  

In Psalm 139:16 David recounts the fact that God created him with purpose: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  God has the length of our days all figured out, and He has plans and purposes for our children.  When God creates, He does it with purpose.  What we are is God’s gift to us; what we do is our gift to Him.

God’s Word about the Womb

I have a good friend who avoids coming to church when we focus on the sanctity of human life.  We like each other a lot but we disagree on this issue.  Other pastors might hesitate to speak out on abortion but I cannot, and will not.  Some avoid the issue altogether because they say that it’s too political.  I don’t see it that way.  To me, the issue is moral.  Some suffer from “abortion fatigue” and feel like things will never change.  While it is discouraging, this is no time to quit.

Tomorrow we recognize the incredible impact that Martin Luther King had in our country in helping to establish the dignity of every person, regardless of skin color.  Someday I hope that our country will gain the conviction to stand up on behalf of the preborn.  I appeal to my fellow followers of Jesus; it’s time for us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.  Proverbs 31:8-9 compels us to do so: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Just as Jeremiah was given a job to do, so too, we have been commissioned by Christ to take the message of life and the way to eternal life to those around us.  As Pastor Joe Michael reminded us, we have to stop fishing in bathtubs and go to where the people are.  When Jeremiah was given his job, he looked for a way out, claiming that he wasn’t a good speaker and that he was much too young.  Many of us give excuses as well when we’re given a tough task.  

God doesn’t buy this explanation in Jeremiah 1:7-8: “…You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you…Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now, I have put my words in your mouth.  See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” 

Let me put Jeremiah’s job description in simple terms that I can understand.

  • Go to everyone God sends you to.
  • Speak whatever God wants you to say.
  • In your going and speaking, don’t be afraid because God is with you.
  • God will give you the words to say.
  • Sometimes the message will cause destruction before construction can begin.  

After receiving his commission, God then gives Jeremiah two object lessons in verses 11-14.

  • An almond tree.  This was known as the “wake-up” tree because it was the first tree to blossom when winter was over (believe it or not, spring is coming).  The almond tree branch represented God who was awake and watching to see that His word is fulfilled.  

The tree is like an alarm clock, telling the people that they had better listen to the Word of God.  Perhaps this sermon has served as a wake-up call for us.  We don’t have any almond trees around here, but beginning February 8th we’re encouraging everyone to participate in the “60/60 Experiment.”  Here’s how it will work.  We’d like you to set your watch or cell phone to chime every hour and when you hear it go off, simply look up and say, “God, I know you’re watching.  What’s your word for me right now?”  The other part of the “60/60 Experiment” is for each of us to work at meeting one new person every day for 60 days.  The pastoral staff has already started doing this and we’ve seen God do some incredible things.

  • A boiling pot.  The second image that Jeremiah sees reminds him that judgment is coming to Judah.  While the almond tree speaks of hope for those who watch for God’s Word, the boiling pot represents horror for those who turn away from Him.

Understanding the Atrocity of Abortion

While the number of abortions performed each year has actually been going down, in large part due to Christians who are speaking up, we have now hit a milestone that is nothing to be proud of as a nation.  Since 1973, when Roe v. Wade became law, there have been 50 million preborn children murdered in their mother’s wombs.  Did you know that abortion is the leading cause of death in the world, killing as many people as all of the other causes of death combined?

Let me try to demonstrate how huge this number is by using three object lessons.

  1. This is the combined population of 25 states.  Can you imagine every single inhabitant of these states being wiped out?  Here are the states: Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, West Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.
  2. 50 million pennies. The ushers are going to come in right now but before you think we’re taking another offering because the first one wasn’t big enough, you can relax.  Instead of collecting your money, the ushers will be passing the plate filled with pennies.  I’d like each of you to take a penny out of the plate.

A penny today is not very valuable is it?  I can remember when I was in grade school and one of my classmates named Dave Theider would take pennies and throw them up on the gym roof because he said they weren’t worth anything.  I thought he was really cool for doing that because to me, a penny was a big deal.

In order to help people grasp the magnitude of the atrocity known as abortion, the Mississippi Baptist Convention constructed a shed made out of glass and filled it with 50 million pennies, one for each baby that has been aborted in the United States since 1973.  This “Memorial to the Missing” weighs 300,000 pounds and the pennies add up to $500,000.  

The penny you hold in your hand represents a life created by God – a real person who is preknown, who is prized by God and planned with a purpose.  Whenever you see a penny from now on, I want you to think of a preborn baby.  But instead of viewing a penny as having little or no value, remember that a human soul is of immeasurable worth in the sight of God.  In fact, we can’t even put a price on life.

3. For Whom the Bell Tolls. 

Another way that you and I can remember the magnitude of abortion is to focus on the fact that statistically there is an abortion performed every 20 seconds in the United States.  The bell you have been hearing during the service has been ringing every 20 seconds as a way to honor a life taken by abortion.  Incidentally, during our 75-minute service, 225 babies will have lost their lives, which is more than are in this room right now.  It would be like having every one of us suddenly disappear.

Action Steps

I can’t tell you specifically how to respond to the issue of abortion, but I urge you to follow the Holy Spirit’s nudges.  We can’t just sit back and do nothing.  Proverbs 24:11 lays it out in pretty strong words: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.”  In some of Moses’ last words, he urges us to choose life in Deuteronomy 30:19: “…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Let me close this morning by listing some ways that you and I can get involved.  

1. Offer grace and forgiveness to those who need it. 

Abortion is a sin but it’s also forgivable.  While we need to speak out against moral concerns in our society, we must also offer love and compassion to those who need help.  Studies show that the majority of women who’ve had abortions have significant emotional, physical and spiritual scars.  The Elliot Institute in Springfield recently conducted a comprehensive survey of 260 post-abortive women.  Not surprisingly, 92% report that they have experienced feelings of guilt and 87% indicated that they suffered depression.

2. We need to watch our attitudes. 

Satan is the enemy of life, not doctors, people who are in favor of abortions, or politicians.  It’s way too easy for us to become self-righteous, smug and condemning.  As I’ve said before, we’re prone to get angry with people who sin differently than we do.  We are often more caustic than Christian in our dealings with people.  Instead of building bridges with those who are lost, our venom can erect long-standing barriers that end up isolating people from the gospel.

3. We need to balance our “prophetic” and “priestly” roles as believers. 

Society’s views on abortion are changing but it takes time.  William Wilberforce campaigned for 35 years to get rid of slavery in Britain.  Christians are making a difference and we need to keep speaking out (like prophets) but we must also offer love and compassion (like priests) to those who need help.  We need to remember that the primary biblical call is to make disciples, not win arguments.

4. Be informed and pray for the preborn.

5. Have the courage to do what’s right.  

6. Be consistently pro-life. 

We need to value all human life – the preborn, orphans, widows, the physically and emotionally challenged, the homeless, those with AIDS, the hungry, the poor, those in prison, and older people.  We must also practice purity.  

7. Speak for those who cannot speak.     

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?