Scripture Reference: Isaiah 5, Isaiah 6
Commitment: The Meaning Of Pro-LifeDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 24, 1993
Selected highlights from this sermon
Our society is crumbling. We have replaced God with ourselves, and we do what’s right in our own eyes. The defense of abortion demonstrates our culture’s desire to behave as it wants, regardless of the opinion of God.
Isaiah faced a similar culture in his time. He pronounced woes on those who called evil good and good evil. But when he met God, Isaiah declared a woe on himself. He was a part of the problem, but in the presence of God, he found cleansing.
Today is Pro-Life Sunday. It’s the Sunday when we affirm our belief that all human beings are unique and valuable and important. It’s also a Sunday in which we remember how the Roe vs. Wade decision that was made a number of years ago has impacted America. No one could have believed that it would end in the deaths of about 30 million pre-born babies.
President Clinton favors the Freedom of Choice Act which, if ratified by Congress, would mean that any restrictions that would have been imposed by some of the states would be taken away, so there could be abortion even to the ninth month for no other reason other than it is a girl and the mother or father might want a boy.
Abortion is kind of a mopping up operation. In the sixties we had free love and free love produces sexually transmitted diseases, and the answer to that, we are told, is the right means of birth control. It also produces pregnancies, and the answer to that is, of course, abortion. Unfortunately, what goes unchallenged is the view that sexual immorality is okay. It’s the way to live. Those massively funded sex education courses and institutions in our schools promote immorality.
In fact, if you remember when Carol Everett was here, she said that as an abortionist (and she ran two clinics) they depended upon them for abortions, because whenever they would come into town and move into a high school, immediately the number of pregnancies would increase because in our schools, children are taught how to be immoral.
But as I was thinking about this message today, I have to tell you that I struggled a little bit. I struggled, first of all, because I am aware that there are many women who are listening to this message who have had an abortion. I am sure many, perhaps here at the church, as well as many listening by radio, and you dear women form a fraternity of sisters—and you know what it is like. And perhaps no one else knows, but you know. And I do not want to add to your grief. In fact, if you listen carefully to this message, near the end I will give you compassion and I will give you hope.
There’s another reason why I struggle, and that is that I don’t need to stand up here and tell you that a fetus is a baby. And the reason that I don’t need to tell you that is that every single adult in America knows that. We know that it is true logically. We know that it is true biologically. It certainly is also true theologically. Everybody knows it. Everybody knows that if Mary had had an abortion she would have killed the baby Jesus. And so I don’t need to spend a whole lot of time on that. I also struggle because I did not want to re-preach a message that I preached here many years ago showing that the 64-page document written by the Justice Blackman of the Supreme Court is filled with absurdities and inconsistencies, and that the Supreme Court actually made up the right out of thin air, and the right of privacy was never intended as the right to kill.
So what I’m going to do today is just a little different. I’m going to look at our society as a whole, recognizing that abortion is only one root of a very rotten tree. And the tree’s roots actually have to do with the change in our nation as to how they view God. Specifically, the change comes about because we no longer believe in the living and the true God as a nation, but we have substituted ourselves as God. Self has taken the place of God, and that is the heart not only of the abortion matter, but all kinds of other social ills that plague this country.
You see, when we decide that we are going to be the standard by which everything is judged, then what we seek is personal convenience—whatever satisfies me. To quote the words of Woody Allen, who has a sexual relationship with Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, “The heart wants what it wants. And whatever I want I’m going to get because the heart wants what it wants.” Personal convenience and also instant gratification! Instant gratification! Not only does the heart want what it wants, but it wants it right now. And that’s why a jogger can be running in Grant Park and attacked by some youths who tried to stab her and slit her throat so that they could get her money, because the heart wants what it wants, and it wants it right now at anybody else’s cost.
Now, what we’re going to do this morning is take a little tour. You like tours, don’t you? We get to go to different places but we’re going to be touring a couple of chapters from the Old Testament. We’re not very used to the Old Testament, are we?
I’m going to ask you to turn to Isaiah, chapter 5, to take this tour with me, and it won’t be long. This is not a two-week tour like going to the Bahamas. It’ll be brief. But if you do not have a Bible with you, perhaps the person sitting next to you does because it is a tour that would be much easier to take if you had an open Bible. The Old Testament book of Isaiah, chapter 5.
Isaiah was a prophet who had a long ministry, and he was speaking to the nation of Judah that basically had decided that they would dethrone God, and put themselves in charge, a society much like ours. They were also into this “the heart wants what it wants, and it wants it right now.” And what Isaiah did in this chapter is give certain woes. That is, w-o-e. It’s a word we’re not too familiar with in our vocabulary, but it is not just simply a word. It is a sign of distress. It is an affirmation that God is going to bring judgment upon the people to whom He is speaking. And he lists a number of different woes.
And I’d like you to take your Bibles and let us go through them together very quickly, and I want you to number them. If you are in the habit of putting any marks in your Bible at all, put one, two, three in the margin because we want to count them.
First of all, chapter 5, verse 8, “Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field until there is no room.” You say, “Well, what in the world is he talking about?” First, of all he’s saying, “Woe to the greedy.” Woe to those who are buying up the poor people’s lands and they are keeping them for themselves, and they are joining at house to house so that there is no room for the poor because these greedy people want it all. “Woe to the greedy.”
Verse 11, a second woe. Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, who stay up late in the evening that the wine may inflame them, and their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, and by tambourine and flute, and by wine, but they do not pay attention to the deeds of the Lord, nor consider his work.” He’s saying, “Woe to the sensual. Woe to those who are into one party after another and they act as if they will never have to give account to God. They actually think that this is going to go on awhile, and all of life is going to be a party. Drinking, drugs, enjoying it! Isaiah said, “Woe to you.”
Now, we have to turn the page if you have a Bible like mine and we go to a third woe in verse 18. It says, “Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, and sin as if with cart ropes,” and then sarcastically say, “Let him make speed. Let God hasten it (and so forth).” What could that mean? Well, that’s a woe to the hard hearted. What he’s saying is, “Woe to those who just drag iniquity and they are so attached to it they aren’t going to give it up.” Oh no, no, no!
Yesterday we were listening to a program. James Dobson was talking about a child molester, a father molesting his daughter. And Dobson pointed out that what happens to people like that is they become so desensitized to what they are doing that actually view their victim as if he isn’t human, because that’s the only way they can handle doing what they are doing. And they harden their heart, and they become liars, and they insist that what they are doing is not wrong, even if it should be found out. Oh, you see those cords go around their hearts and they say, “We aren’t going to change.”
Isaiah said, “Woe to those who are so insensitive. Woe to those who can mercilessly kill and not even have a twinge of conscience.”
Verse 20 is woe number 4. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light, and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” This is woe to those who are morally confused. And isn’t this exactly what is happening in society: those who call evil good and good evil? They think that it is progress when you have young women having abortions, or progress is the imposition of homosexual rights in our schools and in society. Well, that’s progress. Woe to those who call good evil and evil good.
I need to tell you about two weeks ago a postcard was sent here to the church responding to a message I preached on the radio, and the man said some very uncomplimentary things about me, but he ended by saying, “You evangelicals operate out of a cesspool of morality.” Now, the reason he said that is because I was talking about things that were pro-life, and I was arguing for morality. It was a message preached here a couple of weeks ago that was on the radio. And now I wasn’t going to write back, but I had a change of heart and decided to, but please give me credit. I did not say to him what immediately came to mind as to what I would like to have said. I just restrained myself. But woe to those who call good evil and evil good. It’s done every single day on our television sets—the morally confused.
Verse 21: “Woe to the pride, the prideful. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight, the Donahue-ites.
“What do you think about a mother and daughter sharing the same lover?”
“Well, I think this. This is my opinion.”
Now if you’re giving your own opinion as to whether or not the Cubs are going to win this spring, and your opinion is that they won’t win a pennant, that’s legitimate to give on the [Phil] Donahue show, and you may even be right. But people are giving their own opinion about things over which God has spoken, and they’re pretending as if they know better than He, and they are wise in their own eyes.
Now, there happens to be another woe, and that is to those who are unjust. It says in verse 22, “Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine and valiant men in mixing strong drink who justify the wicked for a bribe and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right.” By the way, that sure is a sermon in the last part of verse 23: “Those who take away the rights of the ones who are in the right.” That’s exactly what is happening in society today. So there are those who are operating unjustly, and he says, “Woe to them.”
Now, how many woes do we have so far? We have about six woes. That’s what I have. I read to the end of the chapter, and that’s the end of the woes, and I say, “Well, Isaiah, why didn’t you have seven? Don’t you know that that’s the perfect number? It should be seven woes. There are seven days in a week. There were seven sayings from the cross. There are seven candles in a Menorah. It took me seven years to know how to use a computer. (laughter) Isaiah, why don’t you have seven woes and make it complete?”
Well, I want you to know that as we look into the text of Scripture this morning that he does have seven, but it is buried in the next chapter. But before I tell you where it is buried, let me paint the picture. It says in chapter 6, verse 1, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” There’s a change in leadership happening in Judah. Uzziah, a king largely righteous, also doing some foolish things, dies, and the throne of Israel, the throne of Judah is empty. So Isaiah is in convulsion of spirit. He’s saying, “Who is going to lead us now that the king is dead?” And he goes into the temple and he sees that on this empty throne he receives a vision on which God is seated.
“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple. And the seraphim (These are burning ones. These are angels.) have six wings which with two they cover their face in reverence, with two they cover their feet in humility, and with two they fly as a symbol of their obedience, and they say, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.’” Isaiah says, “I saw God high, and I saw God holy. I saw Him holy.”
The holiness of God is the only attribute in all the Bible that is raised to the third power. Nowhere do you read in the Bible, “And God is love, love, love.” No, that’s not in the Scripture, but when it comes to holiness, it is “holy, holy, holy” as being God’s most fundamental intrinsic characteristic. The holiness of God! And suddenly, as Isaiah saw God! And by the way, is not that exactly what you and I need to see today? I think that it is generally known that we have today in Washington a crisis in moral leadership. What is it that we need to see? We need to see God. We need to see God!
Isaiah saw God. Secondly, Isaiah saw himself and there is the seventh woe—verse 5. He sees God, and suddenly he says, “Woe is me. Woe is me. I’ve been talking about my country, but now mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts, and how I begin to see what God is really like, and I say, ‘Oh, I’m a part of the problem.’ Woe is them, but also woe is me.” And then he begins to think about his speech. He says, “I am a man of unclean lips. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” He said, “I dwell in a city and in a country of unclean lips because,” he says, “my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
And so he sees himself. And what does he see afterwards? He sees his responsibility. In verse 8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’” And he said, “Here am I. Send me.” And the Lord says, “Go. Go Isaiah. Go.”
When you get home this afternoon, you can read the rest of this chapter, but I’ll tell you, it is not very optimistic. God says, “Go to this people. And I want you to know they’re not going to hear. You’re going to preach to them, but they’re not going to see. And you are going to urge them to repent and their wills are going to be hardened. And from the standpoint of man, you are going to be a failure. There will be a remnant, but for the most part, they will not hear. They have substituted themselves for God, and remember, the heart wants what it wants when it wants it.”
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, would you take a little time to somehow summarize all that you’re are saying today, and to bring it together in a funnel so we can hang on to it?” Thanks for asking me to do that because that’s exactly what I’d like to do.
So let me give you three concluding observations that hopefully will put all of this in some kind of perspective that will help us. Number one: in the presence of God, there is not much difference between us. There’s not much difference between us.
You see, it was one thing for Isaiah to say, “Woe to the greedy, and woe to those who are filled with sensuality. And woe to the murderers and woe to the alcoholics.” Woe, woe, woe! But when you see God, you begin to say, “Oh woe, woe to me.” My heart isn’t righteous either. I wish that I were as holy as the sermons I preach. I’d like to be, but I’m not. You see, when we begin to see God, we begin to understand that our responsibility is to speak to the brokenness of the world of which we are a part because we too are fallen creatures.
We can ask ourselves, “Which building is the tallest? The Moody Church or the Sears Tower?” We say, “Well, the Sears Tower is so much taller than The Moody Church.” And you are right if we compare them among themselves. But let’s suppose that we take a different comparison. Instead of comparing the height of our building with the building down the street, let us compare them with the farthest star and what distance they are from the farthest star. Oh, suddenly the difference between the two buildings is negligible. It doesn’t even count because this building and that building, looked at from that light, are very much the same.
Of course, there some sins that are greater than others. Of course it would be true to say abortion is murder because you are snuffing out a precious human life. But I want you to know today that when we come before God and stand before Him, we are all sinners. We are all sinners, and what we need is to go on now to a second observation.
In the presence of God there is cleansing and there is forgiveness. Isaiah saw his sin and cried out to God. And the Lord had a coal taken from off the altar and brought. And it says in verse 7, “He touched my mouth and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.’” And here’s what I want to speak to those of you who have had abortions. I want to tell you today of God’s forgiveness and His cleansing. Some of you have had that experience and it has been put behind you and you’ve been able to get over it. Some of you are like the woman who said to me some time ago, “Though it’s been years ago since I had an abortion, I still feel the emptiness, the anger, and the guilt.”
What does it mean to be pro-life? To be pro-life means that we not only oppose abortion, which we should do, but it also means that we are involved in helping people pick up the pieces after they’ve had abortions; that we are involved in such things as Crisis Pregnancy Centers which give some young women alternatives, and which give them hope, and that we might be involved as a redeemed community, compassionately dealing with those who have had the kind of pain that many have experienced.
You see, if I could sit down and listen to women who have had abortions, if they were to share with us their experience, within five minutes we would be in tears. We would hear stories about how they did not want an abortion but their boyfriend pressured them into it. We would hear how sometimes the family wanted it because they felt that their reputation would be ruined. We would hear stories of broken promises, of false hopes, of dashed dreams. We would hear about what happened in those abortion clinics, and the lies that were told, and the manipulation that went on. We would hear stories that would make us weep. But in the midst of that, I say to you today that there is cleansing. There is forgiveness, not only for the women who have had abortions, but for the sensual, self-centered, irresponsible men who were responsible for their pregnancies. To them we also say, “You come with your need, and you come with your sin, and with your failure, and you come before the Holy God, and Jesus Christ died for sinners so that we might be able to come before Him and to, in effect, hear the voice of God say, “Your sins are forgiven.”
In the presence of God there isn’t much difference between us. In the presence of God, there is cleansing and forgiveness for us and for our nation, for if those to whom Isaiah had preached had come to God they, too, could have been cleansed even as he was.
But thirdly, in the presence of God there is something for us to do. In the presence of God there is a commission that is given. “To whom shall I go, and who will go for us?” And the Lord said, “You go.” Now I want you to notice that before God said, “Go,” Isaiah had to say, “Woe!” When he said, “Woe is me,” God says, “Now you go.”
Have you ever worked with a Christian who has said, “Go,” but he has never said, “Woe?” He has never seen himself in God’s presence, and that’s why he is so egotistical. That’s why he’s so hard to work with. That’s why he is so opinionated. That’s why he burns out easily and becomes very obnoxious in the work. It’s because he’s saying, “Go,” and with Isaiah he has never had to say, “Woe is me, for I am ruined. I am undone apart from God’s mercy, and apart from God’s grace.” But once we have been in God’s presence and received His cleansing and forgiveness, it is impossible to simply sit by once you have met God. And to you and to me today He says, “Go.” And to some of you He says, “Go help those who are working in the Crisis Pregnancy Center.” I think our bulletin has some information about that. Help them!
To others He may be saying, “Go, and write to your congressman.” To others He may be saying, “Go, and begin that Bible study in the high rise. Talk to Pastor Milco so that ministry can be begun.” I mean, I don’t know what God is saying. He is not saying the same to all of us, but this much I know. Once we have seen the King, the Lord of hosts, and the coal has been taken from off the altar and placed in our heart, there is a fire within us that will not let us sit by for the ride without any involvement, without any sacrifice, without any willingness to be involved with God’s work on Earth.
God’s message to you and to me today is, “Take time to see God.” And when you do, you will say, “Woe,” and after that God will say, “Go.” But it begins by seeing Him. It begins with a coal from off the altar placed in our mouths and in our hearts. It begins with the cleansing and the forgiveness that we need within the church before we can be effective to talk about those outside and the people in the world. Yes, woe to them. Woe to them, but unless we’re forgiven and cleansed, woe to us, too.
Our Father, we look at our nation with its great, great needs. We want to ask Your forgiveness for the fact that You are constantly snubbed day by day. You are insulted because we have put ourselves in Your place. We have called ourselves God, and we have said that our convenience and our desires override anything that you’ve said in your Word. Forgive us as a nation.
Forgive us, Father. Forgive the things that happen that cause the social and moral and spiritual breakdown that we see around us. We blush for shame. But then, Father, forgive us as a church too. We’ve squandered your opportunities. We’ve taken lightly what You’ve given us. We’ve come to The Moody Church, many, who are not involved, do not pray, do not work, are not meaningfully involved. And we have drifted and we have not considered the works of the Lord. God, we need to hear from You as well.
And then there may be those who are here who have never received Christ as Savior. They’ve never been washed. They’ve never heard the voice of God say, “Thy sins are forgiven.” We pray that today that they will be drawn to a Christ who forgives, to a God who is merciful if they come His way through the Savior.
Oh God, do as seems good in Your sight among us for we are needy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.