Topic: Stand-alone Messages Passage: Acts 17:24–17:27
If you have a Bible this morning open it up to Acts 17.
We had been married about a year when the subject of adoption first came up; we had both grown up in families that were very concerned about the unborn; I can still remember going to my state capitol once a year for the annual prolife rally.
Now that we were a young married couple and were thinking about our future family, we began to talk about how adoption might play a role in our family’s growth; we talked about our prolife roots and those early memories of rallies on the capitol steps and we began to wonder if there was something more to being prolife.
In the end, after several years of praying and seeking wise counsel, we decided that God, as a part of our prolife convictions, was calling us to adopt and become a father to the fatherless; it was not an easy journey and there were times when we very angry at God but in the end it brought us two beautiful children who now call us mom and dad; and along the way it gave us a deeper understanding of the Gospel and what it means to be adopted in Christ.
This Friday, thousands of prolife supporters will gather on the National Mall to express their support for the unborn; in light of the focus on the unborn this week, this morning I have been tasked with the responsibility to talk about prolife issues from a biblical perspective; rather than throwing a bunch of statistics and facts at you concerning abortion and child development in the womb, I want to establish a biblical foundation for life.
My hope is that God’s word will both convince and convict us of the value of life to the point of action; that being said, let’s look at Acts 17, verses 24-27.
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.
I am sure that most of us are familiar with the context of Paul’s words in this passage; in these verses, Paul is responding to the polytheistic religion of the Greeks; as he passed through Athens, he noticed statue after statue carved in honor of their myriad of deities; in their zealotry to make sure that no god was left out, they even made an altar to the unknown god; even though they didn’t know him, they didn’t want to offend him.
As Paul passes through Athens and sees one statue after another, I am sure that his heart is grieved; as he enters the Areopagus, he can take it no longer and so he stands and addresses the men of Athens; he begins by complementing their religious commitment—in missions we call this building bridges—but he soon turns his attention to what is most important and it is here that we find the foundation for all things prolife.
Paul tells them about the one true God, unknown to them, but who has created the world and everything in it; this may seem like a simple statement but it heavy with all kinds of implications; everything we know, understand, believe and place our hope in hinges on the truth that God has created everything; it is key to understanding who God is and who we are and how we relate to Him, it is central to understanding sin and its consequences; it is foundational to understanding the Gospel and experiencing salvation.
The fact that God has created everything means that he is sovereign over all of creation; unlike the gods of the Greeks who live in temples built by men, God does not need anything; he doesn’t need suns or moons or milky ways (the galaxy or the candy bar) to sustain Him; He doesn’t depend on human ingenuity or strength to remain on His throne; He is completely sufficient within the Godhead; this means that when he does create suns or moons or milky ways, he is creating them solely for His pleasure and for His glory and to accomplish his purposes.
If God creates for His pleasure and for His glory, it means that every expression of His creative power has purpose; this means that the rings around Saturn have purpose to our Sovereign God; it means that the chemical makeup of water has purpose to our Sovereign God; it means that mountains and shorelines and constellations have purpose in God’s sovereign design; he has created everything we see and experience according to His sovereign desires.
Paul goes on to say that God gives to all mankind life and breath and everything; as Paul continues, he moves from the inanimate to the animate, from the lifeless to the living; not only has God created suns and moons and stars and mountains but the zenith of His creative power is seen in us, in humanity whom he creates in His image; Paul says that God gives us our life and breath and everything.
We are all familiar with the account in Genesis 1 where God says, “Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness;” in Genesis 2:7 we are told that, “God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
We marvel at God’s creative power in the garden as the first humans came into existence; God did not create them in response to some divine need; and they certainly did not arise out of some primordial slot machine; the first humans came into existence as a result of God’s sovereign creative will; Adam and Eve were created by God’s design and for God’s purpose.
While we acknowledge God’s supernatural involvement in the creation of Adam and Eve, we sometimes can fall into the trap of thinking that biology has been in control ever since; in other words, we can marvel at the fact that God started it all but since that moment in the garden, it has just been a matter of the right pieces of the puzzle coming together.
To those who think that life today is simply the result of biology, Paul has a word; he says that God gives life and breath and everything to all mankind; that all includes Adam and Eve but it also includes you and me and every person who has or ever will live; the point is that every life is the result of God’s sovereign will; every life is the result of God invading this physical world of air and water and dirt to breathe the breath of life on otherwise lifeless collections of cells; the point is that God is involved in every life; He knows them, His fingerprints are all over them; His sovereign plans involve them; he gives life and breath to all mankind.
Paul isn’t pulling this idea out of thin air; the pages of Scripture are filled with affirmations and confessions that God is the author of life; in Nehemiah 9:6, the remnant prays “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it.”; in Job 10:12, Job says that God has granted him life; in Psalms 36:9, David sings, “For with you is the fountain of life.”; in John 1:3-4, we are told that “all things were made through Him (Jesus), and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life…”; in 1 Timothy 6:13, Paul writes, “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things.”;
The clear testimony of Scripture is that God is the creator and sustainer of life; with intention and purpose He breathes life into each and every person; this was true for Abraham and Moses and King David and the Apostle Paul; it was true for each and every one of us; with all of our imperfections and insecurities; know that there was a moment when the God of all creation stooped down and breathed life into us and he did so with purpose and intention; and, it is also true for the tiny, fragile, helpless baby in the womb; every unborn child, regardless of the circumstances of their conception, has been given the breath of life by a sovereign God who has acted with both purpose and intention.
Paul continues his commentary on God’s sovereignty over life by talking about his control over the periods and boundaries of nations and the people that indwell them; God determines when one nation will rise and when another will fall; he appoints both the beginning and end of life for all of us; God doesn’t just create life but he determines its length; and as the giver of life, he is the only one who has the right to take it away; convenience, tragedy or fear do not give us the right to take life.
That is why in the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:13, we are commanded to not commit murder; that is why this command is repeated over and over throughout Scripture; all of life comes from God and therefore it is not for us to take; only the giver of life has the right and privilege to take life.
In verse 27 Paul gets to the heart of God’s creative desires when he says that God has done all of this, created everything, given life and breath to mankind; appointed the periods and boundaries of people and nations; so that they “should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him because he is actually not far off;” God’s desire in creation, in breathing life into our flesh was so that we might seek God and know Him; not for our sake or the sake of his mental health but rather for the sake of his glory.
The bottom line is that God creates and sustains life with purpose for the sake of His glory; God is glorified in life and fellowship with him; with intention, he creates life for his glory and any attempt to destroy life is an attempt to rob God of what is rightfully his; and this is why, as followers of Christ, we must seek to defend life; young, old, frail, sick, marginalized, forgotten, unwanted; God has intentionally breathed life into every person for His glory and so we must do all that we can to protect life at every stage and in every circumstance; and that is what brings us to our discussion today.
The pro-life issue is pretty broad; it includes everything from the elimination of poverty, education to euthanasia and end-of-life care; Paul’s words in Acts 17 have a bearing on each of these issues; that being said, today we are talking about it specifically in regards to abortion; to the taking of life in the womb; those who gather on the National Mall this week will so to demand that the life of the unborn be protected.
Most people would agree that, once born, every child should be protected using the full extent of the law; what is up for debate is exactly when those rights apply to the unborn; some say it depends on viability, whether or not the child could survive outside of the womb; others would say that is dependent on certain physiological functions; like a heartbeat or brain activity; still others would say that it begins at the moment of conception when a completely unique and separate being is created.
While there may be a lot of debate among doctors, ethicists, politicians and activists, Scripture seems to be very clear and consistent in declaring that life begins in the womb according to God’s sovereign plans.
In Genesis 25 we read about the struggling twins in Rebekah’s womb; in Psalm 139:13-16 David sings, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 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”; in Isaiah 49:1, Isaiah writes, “Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name”; in Jeremiah 1:5 Jeremiah proclaims, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations;” and in Hosea 12:3, in talking about Jacob and Esau in the womb, Hosea declares, “In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God.”
Each of these verses affirm that there is indeed life in the womb; even without the aid of 3D sonograms, the OT writers understood that God was the source of life in the womb; that, just like a painter painting a masterpiece, God intentionally creates each life in the womb with delicate precision; that what is conceived is not a random collection of cells but a person whom God creates with intention and purpose.
Isaiah says that, while in the womb, God called him; Jeremiah says that even before he was formed, God knew him; Moses and Hosea describe how God’s sovereign plans concerning His nation began playing out in Rebekah’s womb; these writers understood that, according to God’s sovereign design, there was life and purpose in the womb; but it wasn’t just the OT prophets and patriarchs, we see it in the NT as well.
In Luke 1:39-42, Elizabeth describes the life inside her womb when John leaps at Mary’s arrival; she understood that there was a baby in her womb who had life; in Galatians 1:15, Paul talks about being set apart before he was born; he understood that he was known and called by God in the womb; the NT writers were in agreement that life began in the womb as God breathed life into the developing child.
There are some who may respond to these verses by saying that using these verses to justify life at conception is a modern invention; that the prolife movement is really fundamentalism gone wild where women don’t have control over their own bodies; while that may gain attention in the media it is just not the case; the idea that life begins at conception is not a new idea; throughout its history the church has been consistent in its understanding of when life begins; listen to what these early church fathers had to say…
In Paedagogous 2, around 150 AD, Clement of Alexandria writes, "Our whole life can go on in observation of the laws of nature, if we gain dominion over our desires from the beginning and if we do not kill, by various means of a perverse art, the human offspring, born according to the designs of divine providence; for these women who, in order hide their immorality, use abortive drugs which expel the child completely dead, abort at the same time their own human feelings;" in Apology 9, around 200 AD, Tertullian writes, "For us Christians, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter when you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one: you have the fruit already in the seed."
These are just two example of many that show that the early church fathers understood Paul’s words in Acts 17 when he wrote that God gives life and breath and everything; they saw life as originating in the sovereign mind of God; for them, they knew that life didn’t happen by chance but by the providential hand of God as he creates each child in the womb and then breathes life into them; they understood that it was a child in the womb, created in the image of God and for the purposes of God so they rightly called abortion murder; the church fathers recognize that Scripture seems pretty clear in regards to life in the womb.
The bottom line is that life begins as God breathes life into the stillness of the womb; children in the womb are not simply a fetus or embryo or a random collection of tissue; they are not simply an extension or part of a woman’s body; but rather, from the moment of conception, they are lives; God-ordained and God-breathed lives; lives that are precious to Him; lives that reflect His image even as they develop in the womb.
Based on Paul’s words in Acts 17 and the overall understanding of life found throughout Scripture, we can affirm with confidence that God is the source of all life; that He ordains and animates it from the very beginning in the womb; we can also affirm that every life, beginning from the moment of conception that God, has purpose and intention; that God creates every child with a purpose to know and glorify him; this is established in Scripture and affirmed throughout the history of the church, beginning with the earliest church fathers.
That being the case, the question for us today is, how do we respond; how do we respond to these tiny, delicate lives in the womb?; how do we glorify God through our response to these beautiful, unique creations who are made in His image?; and, finally how do we react to those who would say that these children in the womb are not a life or, even if they are, have no value?
It is these questions that I want to answer as we wrap up our time together this morning; it would be a shame for us to sit here as a church and nod our heads in agreement as we affirm that God is the author of life and that children in the womb are created in his image and then walk out of here taking no time to think about how we can defend the lives of the unborn; having said that, I want to end our discussion this morning by talking about several specific ways that we can respond to life in the womb and those who would seek to take it.
In Proverbs 31:9, King Lemuel gives instruction to, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy;” the king instructs us, in response to injustice to open our mouths; in other words, we are to speak against oppression and corruption and evil; rather than staying quiet and shrugging our shoulders we should raise our voice on behalf of the voiceless.
He goes on to say that we should judge righteously and defend the rights of the poor and needy; I would affirm that the child in the womb certainly qualifies as poor and needy; therefore a proper response from those of us who follow Christ, who understand that God is the source of life and that the child in the womb is created in His image; we should use our mouths and whatever other resources that we have to defend the life of the unborn.
So first we should speak up on behalf of the unborn; through our conversations, through rallies like the one happening this week on the mall, through petitioning those who make and interpret laws; through the ballot box and supporting those who support life.
I recognize that the prolife issue is a hot topic with very passionate people on both sides of the debate; that being the case, I understand why some are hesitant to engage in these discussions but the reality is that there are hundreds and thousands, even millions of lives at stake; if we really believe that there is life in the womb and that to take that life is murder, then we should take every opportunity that God gives us to speak on behalf of life.
With only a couple of weeks until the first votes are cast in the presidential race, there are some important decisions that we face as a nation; just this past week, the president vetoed a bill that would have limited Planned Parenthood’s ability to perform abortions and result in the saving of some children; the reality is that the person who leads our country holds great power in regard to the unborn and so I would encourage you to speak on behalf of the unborn as you cast your vote.
Some will say that we shouldn’t be single-issue voters and I agree with that to an extent; but I would respond by saying that if one candidate supported killing children up to a year old then, regardless of his economic plan or his view on foreign affairs, most people wouldn’t vote for them; if we believe that there is life in the womb and that destroying it is murder, then we should be unwilling to support any candidate who supports abortion.
The bottom line is that each of us have a voice and the means to defend life in the womb; we should speak up for the sake of God’s glory and for the sake of the life of the unborn.
The reality is that speaking up is probably the easiest thing we can do; in my office we get calls almost every single day from people back in Oklahoma who implore us to do what we can to protect the unborn; I am connected to a lot of people via Facebook who are very prolife and their feeds constantly proclaim the prolife message; while all of that is good; there are things that we can do that give weight to our words.
The second thing that we can do is to promote life through involvement; oftentimes we are tempted to avoid messy situations out of fear that they will disturb our comfort or disrupt our plans; like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, rather than involving ourselves we choose to cross to the other side of the road; but Jesus commands us to be like the Samaritan, to insert ourselves into the broken lives of those whom he places in our path.
In regards to supporting life, we can involve ourselves with those who are considering abortion or with groups and organizations that work with those who are considering abortion; we can offer support and resources to those who feel that they have no other option; we can partner with crisis pregnancy centers in their efforts to help women and families in crisis.
One other way we can be involved in the prolife movement is by being a champion for the orphan; in James 1:27 we are told that pure and undefiled religion is to care for widows and orphans in their affliction; this is the verse that brought us to Benjamin and Tabitha; this is the verse that God used to convince us that, for us, to be prolife meant that we were to be a father to the fatherless.
One of the attacks against the prolife movement is that we only care about children in the womb; that once they are born, we are not nearly as concerned about them; with a foster system that is overwhelmed and the number of orphans growing every year, it is hard to offer a convincing rebuttal.
I want to share two numbers with you: 397,000 and 350,000; the first is the number of children in the foster system in the US; of those, a little over 100,000 are eligible for adoption; the second number is the number of churches in the US; the bottom line is that the church could wipe out the orphan crisis in the US if just one family in every congregation adopted a single child (actually 1.1 children but I don’t know how that would work); can you imagine what that would do for the prolife movement if the church really got serious about what James calls true religion?
The reality is that adoption and foster care are prolife issues and therefore should be a part of the discussion; the bottom line is that being prolife demands our voices but it also demands our hands and feet and so, like the good Samaritan, we must be a good neighbor to both the child in the womb and the one who is considering taking that child’s life.
Finally, we can support life by showing mercy to the broken; although most of the focus is rightfully on the life of the child in the womb, abortion also affects those who choose them; it is accurate to say that there are always two victims involved in abortion, the child and the one chooses death rather than life.
I was reading an article this week concerning abortion and it talked about the high numbers of supposedly prolife or religious people who have been involved with an abortion; the thought is that many of these abortions are an attempt to avoid the shame and judgement that comes from an unexpected pregnancy; the bottom line is that judgmental believers can encourage abortion with their overzealous reaction to sexual sin; when we respond like the religious leaders who accused the woman caught in adultery; we can cause people to see abortion as their only option.
This is not to say that we excuse one sin in order to avoid another but it just means that we follow Christ’s example as we respond to broken people.
Abortion is evil; killing a child in the womb is sinful and an affront to God’s glory but we must not forget that God’s grace is sufficient to forgive and cleanse and make new; to the thief on the cross, Jesus offered the hope of heaven; to the woman caught in adultery, Jesus offered a fresh start; to the denying disciple; Jesus offered restoration and a calling.
We must remember this as we interact with those have been involved with an abortion; either by having one, performing one or encouraging one; God’s grace is sufficient and we must reflect that grace to those who have fallen short in regards to abortion; rather than responding like the religious leaders who were ready to stone the adulteress; we must respond with the Gospel; we must proclaim that there is grace that goes deeper than guilt.
In a gathering like this, it may be that one of us have been involved with abortion and, try as you may, you cannot imagine that there is forgiveness and cleansing for you; if that is the case then know that God is ready to forgive; while he knows your sin and is greatly offended by it; he is ready to forgive you of it if you will allow him; John tells us in his first epistle that, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Whether our sin is abortion or greed or pride; God’s promise is true for each of us today; if you are suffering from the pain and guilt of abortion then know that there is freedom and forgiveness; if you are struggling, I know that our elders would very much want to visit with you and point you to the one who gives life.
The bottom line is that we are a church full of broken people who have been shown mercy by God; we can be prolife by showing mercy to those who are either considering or have had an abortion.
When we were going through the adoption process, we were given information concerning Ben and Tabitha’s birth parents; there were some troubling things that we read; when I think about some of the things my kids experienced at a very young age, it makes me mad; but, while I may be mad at them for the way they treated our kids when they were most vulnerable; I will be forever grateful that they gave them life; because, when I see Ben reading to Judah, I see the tender compassion of God; when I watch Tabitha cooking alongside her mom in the kitchen, I see the servant-minded heart of our Savior; they may not have been ready to be parents but because they chose life, we are able experience and enjoy two children who reflect the image of God in countless ways.
All of life is the result of God’s sovereign plans and purposes; God breathes life into every child in the womb for the sake of His glory and that gives every child in the womb infinite worth; that being the case, we who follow Christ, for the sake of His glory must promote and defend life; we must use our voice, we must use our hands, we must use our feet and we must do so all while proclaiming the grace and truth of the Gospel.