3rd Sunday after Epiphany January 22, 2017
77:1-6, 38, 32, 126:4-5
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And now the LORD says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength—he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
Prayer: O Lord, we live in a depraved age when people think little of taking the life of the unborn or the terminally ill. Preserve us, O Lord, from such a callous disregard for Your gift of life. Grant us, rather, through the instruction of Your Word an increasing appreciation of all Your gifts and an understanding of the value of all human life. Move us, as You give us opportunity, to share Your message of grace and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake. Amen. (selected)
When a woman learns she is going to have a baby, she often begins to wonder, “What is this child going to be?” Will it be a boy or a girl? Will it have blue eyes or green? Will it be large or small? She may even think beyond this to the further distant future. What will this baby grow up to be? A nurse who helps those who are sick? A teacher who shows others what they need to know? A musician or an artist? A whole world of possibilities lies in front of that child. What is this child going to be?
Tragically, life ends for some children before this question ever really gets answered. There are examples in the Bible of young ones whose lives were prematurely shortened. The king of Egypt once ordered all the Hebrew infant boys killed. The mother of Moses made a floating basket out of reeds and placed her son in the Nile River to save his life. But others did not survive. Ironically, centuries later, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt for safety because King Herod had ordered that all the infant boys in Bethlehem should be put to death. The deaths of such tiny children at the whim of adults so much more powerful is heartbreaking—by adults who just wanted these little ones out of the way for the sake of their own personal gain or convenience. What is this child going to be? Many mothers would never know.
The tragedy that surrounds us today is no less heartbreaking. It is the killing of children before they even come out of the womb. Abortion is nothing especially new, but it gets a lot of press, and concerned Christians often think about it during the month of January, the month that it was legalized in the United States some years ago. Such slaughter is really no different than what the king of Egypt did, and no different than what Herod did. And it is done for the same reasons as they did it—as a former Surgeon General admitted that 95% of abortions are carried out for the sake of “convenience.” They just want the children out of the way.
What is this child going to be? When a child’s life is taken before it even has a chance to enter the “outside world” that question can never be answered.
The fact that God recognizes the individual life of a person in the womb is well established by Scripture in many different places. An unborn child has its own body and its own soul, its own eyes and ears, its own brain and heart. It is not part of the mother’s body. The mother is the incubator. She keeps the child warm and she feeds it during those months until it is strong enough to live outside—just like she warms and feeds it after it is born. There is no difference.
God said to Jeremiah “I formed you in the womb” (1:5). He did NOT say, “I formed an extension of your mother in the womb.” When Mary visited her pregnant cousin Elizabeth in the hill country, the child in Elizabeth’s womb (John the Baptist) leaped for joy. King David, in writing Psalm 51 said that he was even responsible for his sins while in his mother’s womb (51:5): “Surely I was sinful…from the time my mother conceived me.”
If God says to Jeremiah, “I formed you,” and John the Baptist can be filled with the Holy Spirit within the womb, and David says that we are affected by sin even before we are born—is it not clear that a child living inside its mother is a separate and distinct person? Of course it’s clear. Scripture never refers to a child in the womb as anything else than another human being.
Finally, look at how Jesus Christ speaks of Himself. In our verses for this morning, through the prophet Isaiah, 700 years before He became human, Jesus looked far ahead to His own months inside His mother. It is Christ speaking here in Isaiah 49 and He describes His Heavenly Father as, “He who formed me in the womb.”
Those in our society who say that “It’s a woman’s choice to do what she wants with her own body,” are refusing to recognize what God shows us should be obvious—that it’s not her body in there! That child may be relying on her body for support (don’t all children?), but that life is not hers, and she has no right to harm it.
What is this child going to be? You know that God pays very careful attention to that question even before a baby is born. Let’s look once again at Jesus talking about His Father. “He who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself.” Did you catch that? Jesus is explaining what His Father’s purpose would be for Him while He was in the womb. Jesus would be formed in the womb in order to be God’s servant and to gather Israel.
What is this child in Mary’s womb going to be? It is answered here. The Father had big plans for Jesus. Enormous.
Jesus was to turn the hearts of the children of Israel back to God. Israel had sinned and turned away, they had done great evil and wickedness before heaven. They were deserving of terrible judgment and they had it coming to them. But Jesus would go in and “save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). He would offer Himself in their place. He would suffer for their sin. He would accept the judgment Himself. He would be forsaken. He would go to hell for them. They could count on this and live.
Even from the womb all this was being set in motion. Jesus would provide a pathway for the people of Israel to return to God. He would become a bridge to lead them back across the river of death which had come between them and their Creator. “I am the way,” Jesus would say to them.
Jesus would not only be the way for Israel; that’s not enough for God. “It is too small a thing for you [Jesus] to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob…I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Jesus’ life would be used not just to turn Israel, but to turn all of us back to God. The Father had in mind that through His Son all should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. He had in mind that the little One growing inside the virgin Mary would be a Savior for all people on earth, a way for anyone to find rescue and escape from the destruction and judgment their sin would have brought to them. Whoever believes in Him has eternal life and shall never perish.
But what if Jesus had died prematurely? What if He had been killed before He had a chance to become what He was supposed to become? We know where we would be, don’t we, if Jesus had not been able to complete His mission.
In a similar way, what happens when a baby is put to death before it is even born? That child never has a chance to become what God hopes and intends it will become. God has something in mind, but it can never be realized if we take matters into our own hands.
Some of you have probably heard the story of the college professor who asked his class: “Here’s the family history. The father has syphilis. The mother has tuberculosis. They already have had four children. The first is blind. The second has died. The third is deaf. The fourth has tuberculosis. Now the mother is pregnant again. The parents come to you for advice. They are willing to have an abortion, if you decide they should. What do you say?” The class recommends it unanimously. The professor replies, “Congratulations, you just took the life of Beethoven.”
Life is precious to God because of the tremendous things He has in mind for these children who are now less than nine months from being born. Will one of them discover a cure for a previously incurable disease? Will one of them become a great leader? Will one of them make decisions that will help millions? Will one of them become a loving father or mother who will inspire their own children? Will one of them become a source of loving companionship for someone in their old age? And most important of all, will one of them become an angel—that is, a messenger, to deliver the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins to someone else. Isn’t it true that God will use some of these unborn to bring others to faith, leading them to the resurrection from the dead? God uses people, jars of clay, to deliver His greatest blessings. Each person touches so many others. Your life affects thousands of other lives, and that’s true of every life. Think of how God can make use of that! What is this child going to be? Isn’t it exciting to watch God in action and find out!
What is this child going to be? You know, Jesus brings salvation to the ends of the earth. That means to everyone. He came to save everyone in every corner of the globe through faith in the forgiveness of sins. So He is even concerned about saving those who have been conceived but not yet born.
What is this child going to be? We pray that the children now developing within their mothers will be touched by Jesus and will become Christians; that their hearts will be moved to know and love what the Lord did for them at the cross and in the empty tomb; that they will trust in Him and at the Last Day come triumphantly from their graves and join the saints in heaven where we will live again to the glory of God.
For this reason we give God a chance. We let the children live, so the light of Christ can reach to every place, so the Epiphany light can shine upon every person. We let the little ones come to Jesus and we do not forbid them.
Abortion is murder, but it is also a sin that is covered by the blood of Christ. We therefore ask His forgiveness and mercy for wrong that has already been done in the world, and we ask Him to guide and lead us to treasure all little children even as He does. Amen.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.