The path to resurrection

As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection today, we rightly think of the glory of our risen Lord.

We think, for instance, of how he was transfigured into a glorious new existence. Revelation 1:13-16 describes him in this way, “one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. . . and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.”

We also rightly think of his glory as he is seated at the right hand of God being honored and glorified above all.

But we need to remember what came before all this. First he walked a lowly path, without glory at all. And there’s a connection between this lowly path and the glory of the resurrection. And the connection is this, the one has to come before the other – lowliness before glory.

And this is something that we need to take note of all of us who have set our hope on being raised up on the last day. And in fact, Jesus calls us to this very thing – to take note of his teaching and example and to follow him on the lowly path that leads to resurrection. Let’s look at this.

First, before the glory of the resurrection, comes –

The way of humility

Jesus taught us to be humble. He said, “He who humbles himself will be exalted” – Luke 14:11. In context here, he’s talking about taking the lowest place at a banquet, that is, not seeking out honor or social status. This saying is also used in other places (Luke 18:14, James 4:10) to talk about recognizing our failures and sins and repenting of them. This is a part of what humility means.

So Jesus is saying that it is the humble who will be exalted by God to a place of honor. And this certainly includes on the day of resurrection.

Jesus also modeled humility. He gave up seeking out social status and honor and put himself on the bottom.

  • He became human. Although, John tells us, in the beginning he “was with God, and (he) was God . . . he became flesh and dwelt among us” – John 1:1, 14. As Paul said, “though he was in the form of God, (he) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing” – Philippians 2:6-7.
  • He was homeless. As he said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” – Matthew 8:20.
  • He was dependent on others for food and shelter.Luke 8:2-3 speaks of several women disciples “who provided for (Jesus and the 12) out of their means.”

Jesus took up a very low social place.

And just as he taught he was raised to a place of honor at the right hand of God. So we learn from Jesus’ teaching and example that first comes humility, and then comes exaltation – being raised up by God to a place of honor on the final day. And without humility we will not be exalted. For Jesus also said in Luke 14:11, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” that is by God. If we are busy lifting ourselves up we will not be lifted up by God on the final day. It’s only those who humble themselves who will be exalted in the resurrection.

Also before the glory of the resurrection, comes –

 The way of serving others

Jesus taught us to minister to the needs of others. He said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” – Mark 9:35. He’s talking about lowering ourselves to the lowest place in order to serve the needs of others.

So Jesus is saying that those who make themselves last, are the ones whom God will make first on the final day.

Jesus also modeled being a servant to others. He placed himself below others in order to minister to their needs. As he said, “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve.” – Mark 10:45. He served those who were lowly in that day – women, children, outcasts and the poor. He sought to bless them and lift them up. He served as:

  • He taught people God’s way – He said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God” – Luke 4:43.
  • He healed people – Scripture says he healed “every disease and every affliction among the people” – Matthew 4:23.
  • He set people free from demons – As the crowd said, “he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” – Mark 1:27.

He became last of all and servant of all.

And just as he taught he was raised to the first place in all of creation, above all powers and authorities. He is indeed the first-born of all creation (Colossians 1:15). So we learn from Jesus’ teaching and example that first comes lowly servanthood, being last and then comes being first. And without being last, we will not be made first by God. For Jesus also said, “the first will be last” – Luke 13:30. If we busy putting ourselves first in this life we will find ourselves in the last place on the final day. It’s only those who serve others who will be given the highest status in the resurrection.

Another example, before the glory of the resurrection, comes –

The way of rejection

Jesus taught us that we will suffer for our faith in him. He said, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” – Luke 6:22-23. We are to accept whatever rejection comes our way because of our faith in Jesus.

So Jesus is saying that those who accept persecution will be “blessed.” Their “reward is great in heaven,” waiting for them on that final day.

Jesus also modeled for us righteous suffering.

  • He was slandered – being called a false prophet and a blasphemer – Mark 14:64.
  • He suffered injustice from the Jewish and Gentile authorities – Mark 15:15.
  • He was shamed – being spit on, mocked, ridiculed and taunted – Mark 14:65; 15:16-20.
  • He was beaten and scourged – Mark 15:15.

Jesus was severely persecuted.

And just as he taught he was blessed for his acceptance of rejection. He received his reward when God raised him from the dead. So we learn from Jesus’ teaching and example that first comes rejection for our faith, and then comes the blessing of God, an eternal reward from God on the final day. And without accepting persecution we will not be blessed. For Jesus also said, “Woe to you” speaking of those who compromise, so that they don’t have to suffer for their faith. He teaches us that the only reward and blessing such will have is what they get in this life. There will be nothing for them in the next life – Luke 6:24-26. It’s only those who accept rejection for their faith who will be blessed in the resurrection.

Finally, before the glory of the resurrection, comes –

The way of death

Jesus taught us to lose our lives. He said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” – Mark 8:35. In context, to lose your life is to deny yourself, to take up your cross; to give up your life for Jesus. And we are to do this in smaller ways even daily – Luke 9:23. The phrase, “to save your life” comes to us in different versions: It means that you will “find it” – Matthew 16:25; you will “keep it” – Luke 17:33 on the final day. It means that you “will keep it for eternal life” – John 12:25. This is talking about resurrection.

Jesus also modeled for us losing his life.

  • He gave up his life every day. He denied himself to serve others, as we have seen.
  • He was crucified and killed –  Mark 15:34, 37.

And just as he taught, since Jesus lost his life, he saved his life. He found his life in the resurrection. So we learn from Jesus’ teaching and example that first comes losing one’s life, and then comes saving one’s life. And without losing our lives, we will not save our lives. For Jesus also said, “Whoever seeks to preserve his (earthly) life will lose it” – Luke 17:33. It’s only those who take up their cross and lose their lives in service to God, who will find their lives in the resurrection.

So for us who have set our hope, not on this life, but on the life to come, and the resurrection of the dead –

Jesus shows us the way

He is, after all, the Risen One. And he shows us the path that all must take. First comes lowliness, servanthood, rejection and death. And then and only then comes resurrection – new life, blessing, being first and exaltation.

May God strengthen us to take the lowly way, so that we may each find the glory that God desires for us.

Christian love

Our topic today is Christian love – how we are to love our neighbors, our fellow church members, our spouses, our kids, our parents, our co-workers – and whatever other relationships you want to add in here, including any enemies you have. I want to talk about what Christian love is, what it looks like, some of the core components of it and how it’s different than what the world calls love.

Let me set the stage for all this by making the point up front – 

Love is the most important thing of all

Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 13. Here he says that:

  • You can exercise spiritual gifts, like speaking in tongues, but if you don’t have love for others, you’re just a “clanging cymbal” – v. 1.
  • You can be prophetic and have all knowledge, but if you don’t have love for others, Paul says, you are “nothing” – v. 2.
  • You can work amazing miracles, but if you don’t have love for others, you are “nothing” – v. 2.
  • You can even sacrifice greatly giving away wealth or dying for a cause, but if you don’t have love for others in this, you “gain nothing” – v. 3.

We can add any number of other examples: what you accomplish with your career, your life achievements, your reputation, your wealth, your relationships with your family and friends, your volunteer work, the roles you have filled in church. The point is the same: without love, you are nothing.

Paul is saying in this passage that these other things are partial and will pass away in the age to come. But “love never ends” – v. 8. It goes on into eternity.

So, for instance, if I come to God on the final day saying, “look at all the knowledge I have!” God could say to me, “the least in the eternal kingdom knows a thousand times more than you.” It’s like I’m boastfully bringing a brick of gold to a kingdom that has so much gold that it uses it to pave its streets.  

Love is what’s all important in God’s kingdom. Love for God for sure, and our topic here – love for others. So here’s some questions to consider: Have you loved others in this life? Have you made loving others the focus of your life? Have you shaped everything you do in life toward the end of loving others?

Now, since love is the most important thing of all, it’s extremely important to ask and then answer the question –

What is Christian love?

1. Love is about actions. Love begins within; in our hearts. But it must come to fruition in deeds of love. 1 John 3:18 says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Good thoughts or even good words aren’t enough. When there’s a need and you can help, to love “in truth,” as John says, is to act.

The example from this context is helping someone who lacks basic material needs. 1 John 3:16 says, “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his sister or brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” It’s not enough to say good things, “Oh, you don’t have food and clothing?” “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” (James 2:16). Love requires action.

Now if we ask, what kind of actions, the answer is – 2. Love acts for the well-being of others. We are to “do good” to all, even if they harm us, as Jesus teaches in Luke 6:27 and Paul teaches in 1 Thessalonians 5:15. Let’s look at some specifics:

  • God loves us in that he feeds us, giving rain and sunshine to all so that our crops grow – Matthew 5:45
  • God loves us in that he gave his only Son to die for our salvation – John 3:16; Romans 5:8
  • Jesus teaches us to pray for, bless others, even if they mistreat us – Luke 6:28
  • Jesus healed the ear of the one who arrested him – Luke 22:50; and he prayed for those who crucified him – Luke 23:34

These are all good actions, aimed at doing what is best for another.

Now, if love truly means doing what is best for another then we can’t just go around being nice. We can’t reduce love to niceness. Being nice and keeping up good social etiquette is often more about staying out of people’s problems and needs. For example quickly giving money to a homeless person, hoping they go away. Or not saying anything to a fellow believer who is involved in sin, lest you make waves.

We keep up social etiquette so that we can feel good about ourselves, but we get ourselves off the hook of actually having to love them. Love, however, means doing what is best for the person. And so sometimes love has to be tough and deal with issues, precisely because this is what is in the best interests of the person.

Also, if love means doing what’s best for another, if they harm us,  we can’t just harm them back. Even if you have the legal right to have the person punished, love calls us to a higher standard. Yes, make sure that you and others are safe, but also consider what’s best for your enemy. 

Love acts for the well-being of others.

3. Love is an enduring commitment to act for the well-being of others. This is where our culture is so wrong. Love is not based on feelings. It may involve certain feelings, but these can waver or even go away for a time.

This might be one reason there is so much divorce today, and you see this especially in celebrity culture, the feeling leaves and so the relationship ends. But Christian love is based on a deep commitment to the other person and their good. It’s a choice that we make. That’s why God can command us to love others. You can’t command a feeling, but you can a choice.

This kind of love is a defining characteristic of God. As God says about himself in Exodus 34:6, the LORD is a God “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . . keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation.” The word here “steadfast love” has to do with unchanging love. It’s God’s sustained covenant loyalty to his people. It’s based on his commitment to our well-being.

Think of God’s love for his people throughout the centuries, calling us, teaching us, walking with us, bearing with us – his love isn’t based on warm feelings. It’s based on this firm commitment to us and for what is best for us. And so as well, Christian love is based on an enduring commitment to act for the good of another.

4. Love involves sacrifice, laying down our lives for others. As Jesus said about himself in Mark 10:45, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 1 John 3:16 speaks of Jesus’ love in this way, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for” others.

Often the world portrays love as focused on finding personal fulfillment, you know, for yourself. It’s about what you get out of the relationship. But Christian love is about what you give to the one you love, or what you give up for them – serving and sacrificing.

In the world if you’re not feeling fulfilled in the relationship you leave. But Christian love teaches us that true fulfillment only comes when we move past self-centered love and learn to serve and sacrifice for the one we love.

5. Christian loves includes all people. It is always easier to limit our love to a certain subset of people, but Jesus teaches us that all are included.

  • It’s easy to love those who like us, but we are to love those who don’t love us; those who harm us. Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” – Matthew 5:46.
  • It’s easy to love those who are similar to us, but we are to love those who are different than us – different race, nationality, economic or social status. Jesus said, “And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” – Matthew 5:47.

Jesus teaches that our love is to be perfect or “complete,” like the Father’s love is perfect or complete. The word here in Matthew 5:48 can be translated either way. This is a love which is complete because it includes both the “evil and the good” and the “just and the unjust” – Matthew 5:45.

Let me end by saying –

This kind of love only comes from God

It doesn’t come from our flesh, our self-centered existence apart from God. In the flesh we want what’s best and easiest for us. Christian love!? What!?

  • Good words and thoughts aren’t enough, I have to something?
  • I can’t just be nice or payback wrong, I have to act for their well-being?
  • It’s not based on feelings? I have to hang in through thick and thin? When I don’t feel like it?
  • It’s not about me? I have to focus on giving, even sacrificing?
  • I can’t limit it to people who like me, or who are like me?

The flesh doesn’t want anything to do with Christian love.

No, this kind of love only comes from God, who is love. As 1 John 4:7 says, “God is love.” And only God can produce this kind of love in our hearts. Christian love is “the fruit of the Spirit” who is at work within us (Galatians 5:22) empowering us and enabling us to love in all these ways.

Behold the kindness & the severity of God!

In Romans 11:22 Paul says, “note then the kindness and the severity of God . . ..” He goes on to speak of God’s severity toward those that walk in unbelief and sin, but kindness to those who choose God’s way.

I want to focus on two things: I want to show you the danger of walking in sin. It’s dangerous because of the severity of God’s judgment on us when we do, not just on the final day – but even now. I want to show you why you should fear sin, even dabbling with it. But I also want to show you the depth of God’s kindness and mercy to those who turn from their sin to walk in God’s way. I want to encourage you to turn from any sin in your life and come to God so that you will know this kindness.

First –

God’s severity

There are seven stages in a downward spiral of judgment and destruction on us when we continue in sin.

1. Our sin separates us from God. As Jesus says in Mark 7:23, our sin comes from our heart’s wrong desires and when we act on them, we are defiled. We become filthy and unfit to be in God’s presence.

  • As Ephesians 4:18 says, we are “alienated” from God
  • Isaiah 59:2 says, “your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear you.”

Our relationship with God is broken.

2. God gives us over to the power of sin. We see this in Romans 1. It says several times that God “gave them up” to their sin. This is our judgment. God says, “You want sin? You can have it! And that’s your judgment.”

Just like the Israelites of old, when they desired to be like the nations around them and worship their gods. God gave them over to those nations and their gods and they suffered greatly under them.

So it is with us. Jesus said in John 8:34, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” In Romans 6 Paul portrays sin as a “power,” a god or a master that enslaves us so that we do its will.

When we sin, we think, “I can do my own thing! I’m free! All those ‘rules’ God wants to put on me . . . not anymore!” But in fact, sin masters us, just like a drug addiction. It rules us and it ruins our lives under its tyranny. Romans 7:15 portrays this well. Here, even though the person wants to stop sinning, they can’t. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” Sin becomes our master.

3. The spirit of Satan comes into our lives. When we remain in sin, we grieve the Spirit of God. We quench the Spirit. We drive the Spirit of God out of our lives. But not only that, we open our lives to Satan to work in and through us. We are in effect saying, “Satan, I agree with you and your way; the way of rebellion.”

Judas is our example here. Just before he betrayed Jesus it says, “Satan entered into him” – John 13:27. Ephesians 2:2 says that Satan is “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” This refers to anyone who walks in sin. As 2 Timothy 2:26 says, we are held captive by the devil “to do his will.”

4. We suffer brokenness and pain. The power of sin and Satan gradually destroys us in one way or another. Sin is like a vicious, malignant cancer in our inner person that brings destruction and death to every part of us.

We lose our wholeness:

  • Our soul is wounded and disfigured.
  • Our physical and mental health suffers.
  • Our relationships with others become broken.

This is the irony of sin: we choose it because we think it will make us happy. We think that God’s way is too hard. Sin is easier; our way is better. But in reality it makes us miserable and destroys us.

Now we come to the lower end of this downward spiral of judgment and destruction. When we cling to our sin in rebellion against God . . .

5. Our minds are darkened. We come to think that our sin is a good thing; even though it’s destroying us. We become deluded in our thinking and blind to the truth. This is a fearful judgment from God!

Several texts describe this reality: Ephesians 4:17-18 says, “you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God.” Romans 1:21 says, “for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.”

God makes fools out of us! We who think we are so wise that we can choose our own way! We come to think that good is evil and evil is good and laugh at anyone who disagrees with us. We think the very thing that is destroying us is what we need.

6. God hardens our hearts. God gives us an obstinate heart that desires more and more sin. Ephesians 4:19 speaks of those with a hardened heart. It says, “they have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”

We become stubborn in our sin. No one can tell us that what we choose is wrong. When we walk in the flesh we become hostile to God’s way – Romans 8:7. We can’t stand to listen to God’s word to us.

This is also a fearful judgment from God because it keeps us in our sin so that, if there is no intervention, we will be destroyed.

7. Finally, we receive eternal death. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” James 1:15 says, “when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.”

Don’t even begin to think that this doesn’t apply to you because of this or that. It does. There are no exceptions to these Scriptures. If you continue in your sin you will die.

On that final day, we will hear from Jesus, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41)

Behold the severity of God! Realize the danger of sin. Fear it! Don’t even dabble with it.

But also recognize –

God’s Kindness

 – so that you might turn to him and be saved.

When we continue in our sin we are separated from God. But the kindness of God is this: 1. God provides his Son to reconcile us to himself. We can be cleansed and forgiven so that we can be in relationship to God. Romans 5:10 says, “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”

When we continue in sin we are given over to the power of sin. But the kindness of God is this: 2. God delivers us from the power of sin. As Jesus said in John 8:35, “If the Son sets you free you are free indeed.” And there is no power of sin that is more powerful than the Lord Jesus. He can set us free!

When we continue in sin the spirit of Satan comes into our lives. But the kindness of God is this: 3. God fills us with his own Spirit. Luke 11:13 says, “The heavenly Father (will) give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” This is what God does for his children.

When we continue in sin we suffer brokenness and misery. But the kindness of God is this: 4. God brings us wholeness and peace. Romans 14:17 says, “For the kingdom of God is (about) peace” that is, shalom or wholeness. Not everything is fixed. There are remaining scars from our sin. But God is merciful and helps us with our weaknesses and one day we will be fully made whole in the resurrection.

When we continue in sin our minds are darkened. But the kindness of God is this: 5. God enlightens our minds to know his way. We receive what 1 Timothy 2:4 calls, “the knowledge of the truth.”

When we continue in sin our hearts are hardened. But the kindness of God is this: 6. God strengthens us to do what is right. Philippians 2:13 says, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

When we continue in sin we receive eternal death. But the kindness of God is this: 7. God gives us eternal life. Although the wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23 says, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We will hear these words from Jesus on that final day, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34)

Let me end with these words from Ezekiel 18:30-32, that speak of both the kindness and the severity of God and is an invitation for each of us to deal with any sin in our lives:

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

 

Formed by God. Psalm 139:13-16

Today is our fourth and final installment in our series on Psalm 139. There’s more that we could look at, but we end today with the topic of how we are formed by God from vs. 13-16.

“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 were none of them.”

 Let me begin with some –

Notes on these verses  

– that help us to understand them. 1. Notice the shape of this passage. This has to do with the parallels that form the structure of these verses.

a. formed– For you formed my inward parts;

b. needle work/womb – you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

c. wonderful – I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

c.1 wonderful Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

b.1 needle work/womb – My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

a.1 formed– 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 were none of them.

Notice, it begins and ends with a word for “formed.” And in b and b1 we have both a form of needle work and a reference to the womb (as we will see). And also in the middle we have two statements about “wonder”

2. Two things are formed in these verses, although they are connected (a and a1). The main focus, and our focus, is the formation of the unborn child in the womb. The second is the formation of the days for this child before they existed in v. 16. I will just say a word about this in a minute.

3. There are several words used for an unborn child in these verse, or for different aspects of an unborn child.

  • “inward parts” – v. 13 literally means “kidneys,” or as it is usually translated in English – “heart.” But here this is taken as a part, standing for the whole, that is, the heart standing for all the inward parts.
  • “frame” – v. 15 means bones or bodily frame.
  • “unformed substance” – v. 16. This word is only used here in all the Old Testament. It can also be translated as fetus or embryo. The NIV says, “unformed body.”

So all of these are ways David is speaking of the developing child and it shows what the emphasis of the passage is about.

4. Notice a strange phrase in v. 15. What does it mean when David says, he was made “in the depths of the earth”? Well this is poetic. It stands in parallel with “womb.” And in one ancient version of the Bible it is rendered as “womb” (Aramaic Targums).

“The depths of the earth” is a phrase that often means “Sheol” – the realm of the dead. So perhaps there is a poetic linkage here between the womb and Sheol, both of which are places of darkness? Or, perhaps Sheol is seen as similar to a womb in that this is where people are while they await for the resurrection. And the emergence from Sheol on the day of resurrection is like emerging from the womb at birth. Not sure . . . (note)

5. Let’s remember the point of these verses in context. David has been accused of not being loyal to God. And in vs. 1-18 he’s saying, God knows everything about me. Nothing is hidden from God. In our verses he’s saying, God has seen me from the time that he formed me, to the end of my days, which he formed for me.

  • “my frame was not hidden from you” – v. 15
  • “your eyes saw my unformed substance” – v. 16

The point is that God knows all about David’s commitment to him. At no point has he been able to hide from God. God knows that David has been loyal.

But this passage also presents a point of view about God and about unborn children that we must not miss. First of all, this passage shows us that –

It is God who forms the unborn child

v. 13 makes this clearyou formed my inward parts, you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”

Now this isn’t just true for David. We find similar language in Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you . . ..” So God formed Jeremiah in the womb. And Job says the same thing about himself in 10:11. God forms all of us in the womb.

The imagery that is used here is that of needle-work.

  • v. 13 – “you knitted me together”
  •  v. 16 – I was “intricately wovenor embroidered

This metaphor is also found in Job 10:11, where Job says to God, “You . . . knit me together with bones and sinews,” perhaps in reference to how the muscles and tendons look woven over the skeleton.

Now, this is poetic language for sure. God doesn’t literally do needle work in the womb. And, of course, we know that there is a biological process that takes place, with DNA and cell growth and so forth. But our Scripture teaches us that God is involved in this. Not just setting up the laws of nature and letting nature take its course. God is actually, somehow, mysteriously involved in the making of each unborn child. We ought not get caught in the trap of having to choose between a biological explanation or a divine explanation. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.

God forms us. And what an amazing thing that is! This is something that my half of the population can’t experience,  to have God working in you to form a child. What a blessing and special privilege to experience this!

Well, not only does God form us –

Already as an unborn child, we are a wonderful work of God

The last part of v. 14 makes this point, “wonderful are your works.” The first part of v. 14 says, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” In both of these David is speaking as an adult, but he’s referring to when he was made in the womb.

And we also have to understand that this is not just any work of God that we are talking about – a tree or a cat, which can be wonderful in their own way. There is a biblical background here that informs these verses. This is humanity, the highest of all of God’s creation. And what is being formed in the womb is in the image of God. This is what gives the language of fearfully and wonderfully made its full force.

Here’s another point that is subtle, but I want you to notice.

There is a continuity of identity in a person between unborn child and adult

v. 13 – “you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” The same “me” covers both David as unborn child and David as adult, who is now speaking. v. 14 – “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” The same pronoun “I” covers both unborn child and adult.

There is a continuity of identity in David’s language here between himself as an adult and himself as an unborn child. This would not be true if the child only has identity at birth, if he only became David at birth.

And in Jeremiah 1:5 we learn that this continuity is not just from David’s perspective. It is also from God’s. God says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Who we are, our identity, is known to God (here it says) even before he forms us in the womb!

And then finally from this passage we learn that –

God has a plan for the unborn child’s days

This comes out clearly in v. 16 – already in the womb God knows ‘the days formed for us’, when as yet there were none of them.

Now, sin can disrupt this, but the point is that God has a plan for the unborn child. God’s will for their days is already set out. (Also Jeremiah 1:5). Already in the womb, God has a purpose and a plan for us.

Now let me share two reflections as we end –

Fearfully and wonderfully made” is not the same as perfection

  • Yes, God forms each unborn child, but we all have weaknesses and defects
  • Yes, God forms each unborn child, but some have life-altering or life-threatening disabilities
  • Yes, God forms each unborn child, but some pregnancies will end tragically with miscarriage. 16% of known pregnancies end this way.

All of these are fearfully and wonderfully made and all are not perfect.

God forms each of us, but he does so in the context of the sin and brokenness of this world and this age. To see perfect humanity we have to look to the original creation. And to experience it we have to wait for the resurrection. For only in the resurrection will we be both fearfully and wonderfully made and perfect. This is when God “will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things (will) have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4.

A second reflection –

We need to welcome unborn children

22% of pregnancies end in elective abortion – anywhere from 1.2 to 1.5 million a year in the US. I say we here because this is a Christian problem. According to the statistics, of all US abortions (2008) 37% were undertaken by those who identified as Protestant, and 28% were undertaken by those who identified as Catholic. So over half are performed on those who view themselves as Christian.

This leads me to say that we need to teach more clearly why unborn children should be celebrated, not aborted. There are a number of reasons for this. For instance, children are a gift of God (Psalm 127:3); we are to be like Jesus in welcoming and blessing little children (Mark 10), and we are to love and care for the weak and helpless.

But certainly what we find in our verses are core reasons:

  • It’s God who forms an unborn child and so abortion is a destroying of this work of God.
  • God’s works are “wonderful” and the unborn child is fearfully and wonderfully made. An unborn child is certainly not just a piece of tissue that can be disposed of. What’s being made by God is in the very image of God.
  • An unborn child already has an identity known by God and in continuity with who they will become as an adult. Abortion destroys one that is known by God.
  • An unborn child has already been given a plan for their life from God. But abortion takes this away.

We need to learn this, so that when there is an unintended, or crisis pregnancy, we can move beyond the inevitable difficulties (and we ought not minimize these) and welcome the child nevertheless. And we need to learn and practice this if we are to be a witness to the rest of the world regarding the blessing of bringing unborn children to birth.

Also we need to provide support for those who have unintended or crisis pregnancies, both in our own Christian communities and for those in the world.

Almost 50% of those who choose abortion do so because they feel unready for a child or feel that can’t afford to raise a child. When we provide support this can give great encouragement in these difficult situations to welcome the unborn child. One way to do this is to help out with a crisis pregnancy center. And as well you can be open to adoption.

Know for sure that God smiles on all who do these kinds of things. You are embodying the very heart of God.