Septuagesima| Rev. Rolf Preus| January 23, 2005
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” Then said I: “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.” But the LORD said to me: “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,” says the LORD. Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:4-10
It was a cold day in January thirty three years ago when the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the abortion laws of all fifty states. Abortion ceased to be a crime and became a civil right. The law is a very effective teacher. When abortion was a crime in America, most Americans understood that killing unborn babies was wrong. The law agreed with the conscience of the people. We know by nature that killing children before they are born is against God’s law. Whether there has ever been a time in our nation’s history that most Americans have been Christians is a question that only God can answer. But it’s obvious that there was a time when most Americans believed that abortion should be a crime and abortionists should be prosecuted and punished.
Abortion is an assault on God. God is the Author of life. As God said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you.” It is not blind chance that determines if and when someone is born into this world. It is God. It is God who forms us in the womb. He knows us before He forms us. He forms us to be what He decided beforehand we should be. He decides whether we will be male or female. He chooses the color of our eyes, how tall we will grow, and what our talents will be. It is true that sin corrupts the entire creation. But God is still the Creator. God sanctifies what sin corrupts.
It was wrong for the Supreme Court of the United States to make abortion on demand legal. The State has the God-given responsibility to protect people from violence. The most common violence committed in America today is the violence committed every day against unborn children. These children have done nothing wrong, yet they are regularly slaughtered in the name of the right to privacy. Politicians who are afraid of the pro-abortion lobby permit the slaughter to continue. The unborn have no vote. Even some Christians will argue that, while they personally disapprove of abortion, they have no right to impose their views on others. But they don’t understand. That’s what the law always does. Every law ever written imposes somebody’s view on others.
Since abortion is legal throughout America we Christians must learn to judge what is right and wrong without relying on the moral authority of our own government. We must not look to the generic American religion for guidance. More and more, the laws of our country stand in defiance of the law that God has written in the conscience of all people.
God has given everyone a conscience. As a result of our common sin, it doesn’t always work very well. But even those who don’t know the true God and don’t know His law do understand that there is a God and that His law must be obeyed. We call this the natural knowledge of God and the natural knowledge of the law. The fact that people deny this knowledge doesn’t mean that they don’t have it. St. Paul writes of the natural knowledge of God in Romans 1:18-20,
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.
People by nature know that God is there. The creation points to the Creator. People can learn much about God by looking at what He has made. He is intelligent. He is almighty. He is God. But they suppress this natural knowledge, and worship false gods that they invent for themselves. Why do they do this? Because they don’t want to face God, that’s why. Their conscience tells them they have done wrong and that they are accountable to God. Their conscience makes them afraid of God so they run away from Him into some form of idolatry.
Everyone has a conscience. We invent words to describe people who act as if they have no conscience. We call them psychopaths. That’s just a fancy word for someone who has succeeded in silencing his own conscience. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have one. St. Paul describes how people who don’t have the Bible and don’t know the true God nevertheless follow their own conscience. We read in Roman 2:14-15,
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.
People know by nature the difference between right and wrong. They know it is wrong to kill unborn babies. They know it is wrong to commit adultery. They know it is wrong to commit homosexual acts. They know it is wrong to defy parents and other lawful authority. They know it is wrong to lie about their neighbors or to try to get their property by force or deceit. The human race has always had a conscience. Thousands of years before God gave the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, people lived under human government that enforced the same standards of behavior set forth in the Ten Commandments.
But sinners do not want to confront their sin. So they run away from God. He is good and gracious. He loves them more than they could know. But they know Him only in their conscience and their conscience accuses them. They are afraid of the accusation of their conscience so they hate the God who gave them their conscience and they run after humanly invented gods who they imagine will treat them better.
That’s the religious climate in which we live. That was the religious climate in which Jeremiah lived. The popular religion of Jeremiah’s day was the religion of the Baals and the Asheras. Baal was a fertility god and Ashera was a fertility goddess. These religions promoted sexual immorality. In order to curry favor with neighboring countries that worshipped these idols, the kings of Judah regularly promoted idolatry for political gain. Judah did experience a brief reformation under the leadership of King Josiah, but the nation was on the decline when Jeremiah was called into the prophetic office. No wonder the young man was afraid of prophesying to this nation! He knew that he would face fierce opposition, even persecution. He knew that he would be required to condemn popular sins and that he would be attacked from all sides. The political powers that be would try to silence him. The religious elites would resent and persecute him. And he would watch as the nation and the people he loved fell into the hands of God’s enemies.
But God called him to speak His word and that’s what Jeremiah would do. He would go where God told him to go. He would say what God told him to say. God would put His words in Jeremiah’s mouth, and the words Jeremiah would speak would cause nations to be uprooted and pulled down. By the power of His word that He would put into Jeremiah’s mouth God would destroy and throw down nations. He would also build and plant nations. That’s what God’s word does. It is the almighty power of God’s law to destroy nations. It is the almighty power of God’s gospel to establish here on this earth the kingdom of grace that will last forever.
Our own government has declared war on the unborn in service to an idolatrous religion that makes the worship of the Baals and the Asheras seem almost civilized by comparison. It is a religion that teaches, as central to its creed, the woman’s right to kill the fruit of her womb. While it claims that it champions the rights of women, this diabolical religion takes away from women their true God-given dignity. In service to promiscuity and to the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake, women are regularly debased as if they exist to be objects of man’s desire. Adolescent girls who want to be fashionable wear clothes that accentuate their sexual attraction to boys and men. At least the idolatrous religions that Jeremiah condemned acknowledged that children were a positive blessing, even if they didn’t acknowledge the Creator of heaven and earth as the source of the blessing.
God formed Jeremiah in his mother’s womb. God formed you in your mother’s womb. God sanctified Jeremiah to be a prophet before he was even born. God sanctified you to be His holy temple when He baptized you into union with His holy name. Jeremiah spoke God’s word against a godless religion and culture that led God’s people into soul-destroying error. And so God continues to speak His word today.
God speaks today to call America to repentance for the mass killing of the unborn. But He promises nothing to America as America. She is not like ancient Judah. She has no promise from God that God will deliver her. But God does promise deliverance in Him who was born a Jew from the tribe of Judah. His name is Jesus. He was so named because He would save His people from their sins.
God will judge abortionists and those who defend their murderous trade. God will uproot every nation that presumes to defy His goodness. God will judge every single human being in this world, even those whose consciences have been seared into complete insensitivity. But Jesus, whom Jeremiah described as “the LORD, our righteousness,” did not come into this world to judge anybody. He came to save sinners. He came to save adulterers, abortionists, homosexuals, pedophiles, murderers, rapists, thieves, con artists, and terrorists. He came to save you, too. The word God speaks may come to you from timid and fearful men, but it remains His almighty word. It rips apart the façade of righteousness you build around your guilty conscience, laying bare the sin underneath. That’s what God’s law does. Then God’s word brings the forgiveness of sins that Jesus earned on Calvary and gives you that forgiveness so that you can rest confident that Christ really and truly has taken your sin away from you forever. That’s what God’s gospel does.
Christians all over America observe Life Sunday every year at this time of the year. Frankly, I have mixed feelings about this observance. It is true that the Roe versus Wade decision of the Supreme Court that legalized abortion was a terrible decision that has resulted in the killing of millions upon millions of babies with the legal sanction of the government. That must be condemned and Christ’s Church must speak God’s word condemning it. That is true. But is it also true that the central message of our Christian religion is not God’s judgment against evildoers, but it is God’s grace in Christ. Where sin abounded, grace abounded so much more. God loves these people who run around like animals, begetting and conceiving children, and then run off to abortionists who kill these children. There is no sin so great that the blood of Christ doesn’t cover it and blot it out. This is the word God has entrusted to His Church to preach. So we must preach it. We must preach it to sinners whose sins bring them grief so that these sinners will not run away from God but to Him.
So what is your sin? How great is it? How much does your conscience hurt when you think of it? How much harm did it cause others? How much do you wish you had never done it? But you cannot undo it, can you? You cannot silence the conscience because its accusation is true.
Now listen to this word of God! Christ Himself silences the accusations of your conscience. There is no sin you have done for which He did not die. There is nothing for which you are guilty that He did not bear that guilt and remove it by bearing it for you. If your conscience accuses you this morning, direct your conscience to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is God’s word, not my word. This is God’s word, with the power to create life within your heart and to establish in you true faith. God’s word invites you who are burdened by your sins to lay that burden where it belongs: on Christ, the Lamb of God. He has already borne it for you. You don’t need to carry it yourself. That’s the word of God that He put in my mouth to say to you. In response to that word of God we say Amen.