Sermon Message: Seeing People Through God's Eyes
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Sermon Message: When You Hear God's Call
Sermon Message: Access Restored
Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
"Human Life is Sacred"
Genesis 1:26-28; 2:7
(Delivered on "Sanctity of Life Sunday," January 27, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So, God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Gen. 1:26-28).
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Gen. 2:7).
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The true value of a thing, in an ultimate sense, is found only in the value God places on it. And these two passages show us that God places immeasurable value on human life. One of the best ways we could honor "Sanctity of Life Sunday", is by deriving our own sense of the sanctity of human life from what we find in these fundamental passages of Scripture.
Something very unique and wonderful is being said by God about the precious value of human life in these two passages; and as Christians, we recognize that what God says has a decisive impact on the most important ethical debates of our day. How someone believes about such things as the practice and federal funding of abortions, partial birth abortions, the use of RU-486, euthanasia, Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law, and human cloning and stem cell research, will ultimately depend on how he or she responds to what is said by God in these passages. They are watershed passages; and how someone believes about those other things begins with whether they either bow to, or rebel against, God's verdict in them.
And I'm aware of the fact that all most all of us gathered together today already believe - on an intellectual level, at least - what God says in these passages. But please don't tune me out this morning because you already believe what is said in them. You and I may believe what God says about human life; but we're a long ways from feeling as God feels about the things in our culture that devalue human life. We all know how we feel about the over four-thousand human beings whose lives were lost in the vicious attack of 9-11. But wouldn't you agree that we don't yet feel the way God feels about the death of the same number of human beings just this weekend through legal abortions? In fact, we rarely let ourselves think much about it at all.
These passages suggest to me that God thinks very, very much about such things. He feels strongly about the great sins against human life of our day. And as we think through the implications of these passages, let's dare to pray, and ask God to make us feel the way He feels about those things. What's more, let's dare to make ourselves available to Him; an allow Him to show us what He wants us to do to defend the sacredness of the lives of the weak, the little, the defenseless, the elderly and the unborn.
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One of the first touch-points we receive from these passages - something that God has chosen from the very beginning to reveal to us, is that ...
I. HUMAN LIFE IS A UNIQUE CREATION (Gen. 1:26-28).
We learn of the uniqueness of human life in Genesis 1:26-28. In this first chapter of the Bible, God tells us the marvelous story of His creation of all things. We read of the wonderful symmetry of His work of Creation. We read of how, on the first day, He created the property of light; and on the fourth day, of how he created the sun, the moon, and the stars - the luminaries in the heavens that contain and distribute that light. We read of how on the second day, he separated the waters above from the waters below - creating the sky and the sea; and on the fifth day, of how He made the creatures that would inhabit those two realms - the birds to inhabit the skies, and the marine life to inhabit the seas. We read of how on the third day, God caused the dry land to appear, and the vegetation and plant life to spring up from the land; and on the sixth day, of how He created the living creatures - each after its kind - to inhabit that dry land, and to feed on its vegetation and growth. There's a beauty to it all that greatly pleased God; because we repeatedly find that God saw that "it was good" (vv. 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). And then, as the crowning act of this orderly, systematic work of Creation - a seventh in a series of a perfect seven of His great creative acts; as if He saved the best of His works for last - God made humankind.
There's something unique in the way God expressed His desire to make humankind. With all the rest of Creation, God simply spoke things into being. He simply said, "Let there be ..." (vv. 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24) ; and there was! But He voiced His intention to make humanity in a notably distinct way. He said, "Let Us make man ..." (v. 26). A one-directional command of "Let there be" became a highly relational agreement of "Let Us make". The Triune God, in eternal love, agreed together to specially make humanity as the crowning act of Creation; and so God announced His intention to make humanity in a way that was different from anything else that He made.
Another thing that shows the uniqueness of human life is that God said, "Let Us make man in Our image." Humankind is unique in that people are made in the very image of God their Creator - specifically, made in God's "image" and according to His "likeness". There have been many different attempts to explain what it means that humankind is made in the image of God. One school of thought says that people are made in the image of God in that people possess those unique qualities of spiritual personhood that are also shared by God. God is a Spirit who possesses intellect, emotion and will; and people - possessing both a body and a spirit - are also characterized by the qualities of intellect, emotion and will.
Another possibility is that people are made in God's "image" in the sense that they share a dominion with God over all of God's creation. God gave human beings a unique role over all the rest of Creation: "... let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth" (v. 26). And so, humanity is in God's "image" in that humanity is God's appointed, representative manager over the rest of His created realm.
Another possible way to understand people as made in God's "image" is one that appeals to me as an artist. Whenever an artist completes a wonderful, pleasing work of art, the last touch he adds to it is his signature - his "image", if you will. It identifies the work as his own creation - inherently identified with himself. And perhaps, in a similar way, humankind is God's final "signature" to His completed handiwork of Creation - a signature read by the angelic realm as much as by anyone else. As long as Creation exists, it will always be clearly marked as God's handiwork; because His "image" dwells upon it.
Henry Morris (in The Genesis Record, pp. 74-75) suggests the thought that people are made in the image of God in that it was God's intention that His own Son would one day assume humanity to Himself and to be born into humanity as a man. Humankind was made in the likeness of God to prefigure God's intention to one day come to this earth "in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:7). Thus, God would redeem fallen humanity to Himself and join full deity and full humanity together in eternal fellowship through His Son, the God/Man Christ Jesus.
It may be that all of these things are a part of what it means that humankind was made "in the image of God." But whatever the meaning full meaning of this wonderful phrase might be, it ultimately underscores that human life is a unique work of God's creation that stands above all the rest of God's created order. Not even the mighty angels share the unique privilege of having been made "in the image of God".
When God had made everything before He made humankind, He declared it all to be "good". But after He made humanity, He saw everything that He had made, "and indeed it was very good" (v. 30). Human life is the crowning act of God's Creation. The human family is intrinsically unique in all of God's creative work. Humankind should never be thought of as being on the same level as the others of God's creative works; because God has Himself declared humankind to be "in His image". All efforts to reduce human beings to a mere material level, or to treat a human being as merely an advanced kind of animal, are rebellious attacks against God Himself - in whose image humankind was made.
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So, the Bible shows us that human life is a unique creation of God. Another important touch-point we see in these primary passages of Scripture is that ...
II. HUMAN LIFE IS UNIQUE IN THE WAY IT WAS CREATED (Gen. 2:7).
The way God made human life is unique, and teaches us something of the value God places on it. The first chapter of Genesis showed us how humankind fit into the total picture of God's creative work. But now, the second chapter tells the story again - giving us specific details about God's work of creating human life. In the first chapter, we were told that God made humankind to be two - "male and female He created them" (1:27) - so that they could obey His command to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. And now, in the second chapter, we're told how God made the first man, and then how He made the first woman from that man.
We read this brief description of God's work of creating the first man, "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (2:7). We're told that God spoke the rest of creation into being - "Let it be ..." But here, we see that God did something very special when He made the first man. He seems to have been far more personal and intimate in His work of creating man than He was in any other of His works of Creation. He is said to, first, have "formed" man from the dust of the ground. You may know that the Hebrew word for "man" or "humankind" is "adam"; but did you know that the Hebrew word used for ground is "adamah"? Literally, then, God reached down as it were, and personally formed Adam from adamah. You get a sense of something very unique in God's personal involvement in the creation of humankind.
We also read that God didn't simply speak the first man into life. Rather, God - in some mysterious way - personally breathed His "breath" (the same Hebrew word as that for "spirit") into the first man. God, as it were, breathed the very breath of His own life into man with His own mouth. I believe that something of this deep intimacy in God's creation of humankind is shown in the fact that, in Luke 3:38, at the very end of a long genealogy that begins with Jesus - with one man being described as "the son of" another - Adam is described as the direct offspring of God.
The first woman also shared this uniqueness of creation with the first man. God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone; and yet God didn't simply say, "Let there be a woman ..."; as if to perform an act of creation distinct from that of the making of Adam. Instead, we're told that God first let Adam name all the animals, so that Adam could see for himself that there was not a suitable companion for him in any of the other things that God created. Then, as the Bible tells us;
And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man (2:21-23).
God declared that they were "one flesh" - not "two fleshes", but just one flesh. Everything that was true of the uniqueness of the first man was shared with the first woman. And all of their offspring would share that uniqueness as well.
This all shows us the great value God places on human life. It is His special work of creation; made as it were by His own hands from the dust of the ground; and made alive by the breath of His own mouth. Human life is wonderfully precious to God; and for that reason, it is to be held as immeasurably valuable and sacred. We should not be afraid to say that all human life is holy (which is the meaning of "sacred"); because anything so valued by God cannot be anything but wonderfully holy.
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A few years ago, a young woman was attending our church. She came regularly for some time; but she suddenly stopped coming. We checked into the matter and found that she had become very offended by my preaching; and refused to come back to our church ever again. Now; I can certainly accept that someone might be offended by my preaching; but what troubled me was what it was that she found offensive. She said that she listened to me one Sunday, and came to the conclusion that I was a right-wing, fundamentalist preacher who was against the rights of homosexuals, against scientific advancement, and against women. I was baffled. I hope you appreciate that I try very hard not to come across as such a preacher. When in the world did I preach in the way she was saying I preached?
As we talked more about the matter, however, we found out what had happened. I had preached from the first few chapters of Genesis, and expressed my belief that what it said was historically true and reliable. She was a very intelligent, perceptive person, and was able to discern the implications of that conviction. If Genesis 1 and 2 is true, then it obviously impacts how we believe on - among other things - such issues as homosexual rights, the validity of darwinian evolution, and the morality of abortion. The implications of Genesis 1 and 2 made me to be what this woman, in her mind, said that I was - even though I didn't speak to any of those things directly.
The fact is that I do believe the Bible's story of our creation is literally true. Jesus believed it too; and treated the story of Genesis as if they were literal history (Matthew 19:4-6; Luke 17:26-32). I'm convicted that if I'm going to be a follower of Jesus, I must believe as He did. That impacts how I believe on everything that relates to the value of human life.
If the Bible's story of the creation of human life is literally true, then certain implications, indeed, logically follow. Please consider with me ...
III. THE IMPLICATIONS OF WHAT THE BIBLE TELLS US ABOUT THE CREATION OF HUMAN LIFE ...
If all that we have read about the origin of humanity, and the tremendous value God places on human life, is true; then one of the implications is that ...
1. All members of humanity equally possess an inherent dignity from God.
We're accustomed to speaking of different "races" of people in the human family. But have you ever considered that, if what Genesis 1 & 2 tells us about the creation of humanity is true, then it's not really accurate to speak of "different races" of people. There aren't different "races"; and the Bible nowhere speaks of multiple "races". (It speaks of a "mixed race" in Zechariah 9:6; but not of a plurality of "races" in the sense of different groups of people related by distinct lines of descent.) Instead, we find that the Bible speaks of one race of human beings, that all come from one, single human source.
Paul spoke to the unbelieving people of Athens, and told them that they were creatures made by the one God who made everything that there is. He said,
And he has made from one blood [or one "man"] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring' (Acts 17:26-28).
In Revelation 7:9, glorified humanity is described not as being divided up into different "races", but as people "of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues". There certainly are differences between the different people groups around the world; but not in terms of origin in Adam. And a common origin in Adam means an equally common inherent dignity and value in the eyes of God.
One of the implications of the Bible's teaching about creation of humanity is that no one group of people should ever be singled out as of less inherent value than another. All people, scattered throughout the world, have been equally made in the image of God. And the life of each member of each group is to be held as equally sacred before God, because each human life equally sprang forth from the same precious life blown into the first man by the mouth of God.
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Another implication is that ...
2. Each individual human life is of immeasurable value to God.
If all of humankind is from one single race; and if all members of that single race come from the act of God creating humankind in His own image; then each individual human being is equally made in the image of God and is of immeasurable valuable.
If you go to the Maryhill Museum on the other side of the Columbia River, you'll find a striking portrait of Czar Nicholas. It portrays the Czar in regal pose, decorated in all his finery. But the most notable thing about the portrait is that someone, around the time of World War II, took a knife and slashed it from top to bottom and from left to right. The painting had been resewn; but the slash marks still remain to deface the portrait. Apparently, someone sought to vent their hatred for the Czar; and since they couldn't attack him, they attacked his "image" instead.
Every time one of the members of God's human race is maliciously singled out for violence and murderous attack, it's the same as seeking to slash the image of God. Some in our day single out particular groups of people for aggressive attack. In a previous era (and even today in some parts of the world), certain groups of people were kidnapped and enslaved because of the color of their skin, or because of their ethnic origin. Today, some people are attacked because of their religious beliefs or because of their lifestyle. We all recoiled in horror when Matthew Shepherd, the young gay man, was beaten to death. It's not a question of whether or not his lifestyle was moral; but it's a question of the immorality of maliciously beating any human being for any reason. The reason that it's always wrong is because the life of each individual man and woman - no matter how moral or immoral, or how agreeable or disagreeable their lifestyle is - is made in the image of God and is immeasurably valuable.
God takes this so seriously, that when Noah and his family emerged from the ark, God commanded a new law: "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man" (Gen. 9:6). The apostle James warns us against even speaking maliciously against a fellow human being. James speaks of our tongues and says, "With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the image of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:9-10).
So then; another of the implications of the Bible's teaching about the creation of human life is that every single individual human being - no matter how esteemed or how despised according to earthly standards - has been made in the image of God and is of immeasurable valuable.
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A third and final implication is that ...
3. Human life is to be treated as sacred to God in whatever condition it is found.
One of the Ten Commandments is very plain on this; and the best translation of it is: "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13). As the story of Noah teaches us, the image of God in each human being is so sacred and holy, that God commands that, as an act of divine justice, men should corporately put to death anyone who willingly murders another fellow image bearer.
And because of all that has been said so far, at no point in the life of a single human being can it ever be said that that life ceases to be sacred; because there is no point at which he or she ceases to be a bearer of the image of God - not at any point in the womb, nor at any point outside the womb; not at any point of suffering, nor at any point of mental or physical disability. The image of God was imparted to humankind but once when God made the first man; and it remains the distinguishing feature of every human being born from that man throughout the ages. None of us has the right to place ourselves above God and decide otherwise; and to do so is to invite the wrath of the God who first breathed that life into humankind.
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On this Sanctity of Life Sunday, would you please join me in reaffirming this truth? Let's ask God to show us how we can, in our culture and in our day, take a bold stand for the sanctity of that which God has so supremely valued. Let's ask Him to show us what He wants us to do to defend the life of the unborn in our culture; or to defend the lives of those who are weak, or elderly, or helpless; or even to argue for the sanctity of the life of those in our state who insist that they have the right to take their own.
God has established for us - once and for all - that all human life is sacred and is of immeasurable value to Him. It is His alone to give; and His alone to take away. May God help us to feel about it as He does.
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