Before Birth

“Before Birth”

June 26, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 1:57-66, 80                Acts 13:22-26                 Isaiah 49:1-6

 

How many of you have noticed that our culture, over the last forty years of more, has spent a lot of time arguing over the legality, morality, and ethics of abortion from the time of conception to the moment of birth?

Don’t get yourself worked up, because this isn’t a sermon on abortion (although I have preached them).  Instead, this morning I want to bring to mind an idea about God that while it may, or may not, inform our thinking on the issue of abortion, has even bigger implications for each one of us and how we choose to live our lives.

The message of scripture is one that you have undoubtedly heard before, and it is this:

Our God is the god who goes before us.

What that means, is that God is omniscient, which means all-knowing.  God knows everything, past, present, and future.  God knows everything that is know-able and that includes the things that happen in secret.

Most likely, we’ve all heard that before.  But what does it mean?  How does that play out in history?  And how does that have anything at all to do with me?

Let’s begin this morning by reading a bit from the prophet Isaiah, who lived and wrote the words of God, about 800 years before the birth of Jesus.  (Isaiah 49:1-6)

49:1 Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
and my reward is with my God.”

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 my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Isaiah proclaims that God knew him by name, and called him to be a prophet, before he was born.  Isaiah even has a Jimmy Stewart moment that sounds like something from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  He admits that there was a time when he believed that he had worked for nothing and wasted his life, but then realized that he has worked in the service of an all-powerful God.  In the end, Isaiah trusts that whatever reward is owed to him because of his life and his work, is in the hands of a good, loving, and trustworthy God.

But Isaiah also proclaims that God has plans for the future, plans to restore Israel to its former glory, to return to Israel those whom God has protected, and finally, God intends to create a person who would call to the Gentiles so that God’s rescue and salvation could expand across the entire world.  This person was known to God, and their mission and ministry established, long before they were born.  Clearly, it is a reference, 800 years before his birth, to Jesus, the rescuer of all humanity, but it may also speak of the ministry of John the Baptist who announces the coming of Jesus.  If this passage does not speak of John indirectly, there are other passages of scripture that describe John quite clearly.  In Luke 1:57-66, 80, we hear John’s story begin this way…

57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

The Old Testament prophets told of one who would come to announce the coming of the Messiah and that person was described as someone who would be like Elijah the prophet.  But closer to the time of his birth, Elizabeth and Zechariah are told about his coming, what his name was to be, and that God had already set him apart for a special ministry.  All these things were known by God long before John was conceived in his mother’s womb.

And of course, in Acts 13:22-26, Luke reminds us of another similar story.

22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’

26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.

God knew everything that David would do, long before he did it and in fact, God not only knew what David would do, God knew that David would do the things that God wanted him to do.  Further, Luke makes sure that everyone reading his letter, including both Jews and Gentiles, that God’s message of salvation has been sent to us so that we could be rescued, but also entrusted to us so that we could rescue others.

So let’s review for a moment.

Isaiah tells us that God called him to be a prophet, by name, before he was born and also that God made plans for the future of Israel at least hundreds of years in advance.  Isaiah also tells us that eight hundred years before it happened, God was already planning the arrival of the Messiah and preparing the people who would surround him.

Elizabeth and Zechariah are told that they will have a child, and what God has named him, before that child is even conceived.  In addition, the mission and ministry of that man is already known to God.

And Luke tells us that the message of Jesus Christ is intended for the children of Israel and for the rest of the world.  That message of salvation and rescue was intended for us even before we were born and it is intended for future generations even before they are born.

But so what?

How does this help us to think about abortion?

What does this mean for our lives?

First of all, I promised that this isn’t a sermon on abortion, but it is worth mentioning because it crosses paths with the main point.  As we consider the abortion debate, we may not come to the same conclusions, but regardless of our personal thoughts on these matters, it is important that we think about these things.

So what does this all mean?

What it means is that our God is bigger than the ways in which we often think about him.  God is all powerful (omnipotent) and all knowing (omniscient), and exists outside of time.  The creation story tells us that God created night and day, and by doing so is arguably the creator of time itself.  But regardless, God not only knows the future, God plans and prepared the future.  More importantly, God’s plans and preparations are not vague generalities, but specific plans, involving the lives, missions, and ministries of specific people that he calls by name hundreds or thousands of years in advance.  God raises up and destroys nations and shapes cultures over vast expanses of time to prepare each moment for the mission and ministry of his people.

And if you boil that down to what it means to your life and to my life, it means that God knew you, by name, hundreds and thousands of years before you were born.  God knew about you, your life, your personality, and everything about you, before the creation of the universe itself.  God knew what you would be good at, what gifts, skills, and abilities that you would have and God knew what mission and ministry he had in mind for you, for me, and for every human being ever born.

The universe is not without meaning.

This world is not without meaning.

Your life is not without meaning.

God has a plan… and you, your gifts, your skills, your abilities, your personality, are a part of that plan.

Knowing that, we are obliged to do whatever we can, through study, meditation, and prayer, and other spiritual disciplines, to discover what God has called us to do.

And then, we must help others to know Jesus Christ, and help them to understand what God has called each of them to do.

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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