************ Sermon on Numbers 35:30-34 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 19, 2003
"Cities of Refuge"
Sanctity of Life Sunday
I The Culture We Live In
A I think we all realize that the culture we live in gives a mixed message about the value of human life. Consider this:
Janet Chen, 31, is in jail. She was charged with two felony counts of child endangerment punishable by up to seven years and eight months in prison if she is convicted. Her two children, ages 4 and 7, were left alone in an apartment for nearly three weeks while she went to North Carolina to see a man she met on the Internet. While she was gone the children had been living on frozen meals and corn dogs and were under orders to keep quiet. They were also instructed that if anybody came to the door to go to the back bedroom and hide. The mother had also told the kids to keep the TV and lights off and to put their trash in the refrigerator. The telephones were disconnected and window blinds had been taped to the walls.Everyone agrees with me that what happened was awful and what could have happened was even worse. Everyone agrees with me that Janet Chen should spend time in jail.
Visalia Times Delta, January 10, 2003
But now I have a question: if it is so bad to endanger children outside of the womb, why does the law of the land allow us to kill children within the womb? Why is it that some of the women who think Janet Chen should be in jail also think it is okay to get an abortion?
B There was another story in the news a couple of weeks ago. It concerns 3 children in New Jersey:
Sherry Murphy, a go-go dancer, became the care giver for two 7-year-old twin boys and a 4-year-old brother when their mother was jailed on assault charges in March of 2002.Again, everyone agrees with me that what happened was awful. Everyone agrees with me that Sherry Murphy should spend time in jail.
By the time the police were called in, one of the boys was found dead in a plastic storage bin and the other two were discovered starving and burned in a locked basement room.
AP, January 8, 2003
But I have the same kind of question again: if it is so bad to mistreat and neglect children outside of the womb, why does the law of the land allow us to do partial-birth abortions? In partial-birth abortions the abortionist pulls the baby's feet, arms, and shoulders from the uterus and then stops within inches and seconds of a complete delivery. With only the baby's head in the uterus, he forces a blunt, curved scissors into the base of the skull. The scissors are spread to enlarge the opening. A suction catheter then sucks out the brains. The baby, now dead, is then fully removed. Why is it that some of the women who think Sherry Murphy should be in jail think it is okay to have a partial-birth abortion?
C A few days after Christmas we heard about a company called Clonaid for the first time.
Clonaid is a cloning firm that is backed by the Raelians. The Raelians believe that aliens landed on Earth 25,000 years ago and started the human race through cloning.Whether Clonaid's claims are a publicity stunt or not, lots of people were horrified by the news. They imagine a clone of Hitler being set loose on the earth. Or, they imagine large armies, such as those bred for war by the evil Saruman in "The Lord of the Rings." Clone wars remove any sense of morality about war since those who are killing or being killed are nothing but the fruits of soulless technology. And, like today's suicide bombers, they are far cheaper than airplanes or tanks or smart bombs.
The Raelians have made some other unbelievable claims too. They claim that they had organized the birth of the first human clone, named Eve, to a 31-year-old American on December 26. A few days later they announced that the world's second cloned baby had been born to a Dutch lesbian.
Clonaid has no scientific track record and has provided no proof that two cloned babies actually exist. Many believe this is nothing other than a long drawn-out publicity stunt.
But, I have to ask the same kind of question again: if it is so bad to play God and clone life, why are scientists allowed to do stem-cell research that creates and then kills human embryos – especially since cloning also involves the creation and then the killing of human embryos?
D What am I saying? We should be angry and upset that our culture is so ambivalent and wishy-washy in its respect for human life. I am trying to get the message across that Christians respect all human life and declare it to be sacred. We value our children – whether they are in or out of the womb. We value the life of our neighbor – regardless of their skin color or nationality or language or culture. We all rejoice with Danny and Erin as they have now presented two precious children for baptism. And, on this Sanctity of Life Sunday we are also deeply saddened by the 40 million abortions that have taken place since 1973. We are saddened by the offer of George Tiller, the infamous Kansas late-term abortionist, to do free abortions on poor women today to mark the 30 year anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision. We are sad that abortionists do not value and cherish life and do not consider it to be sacred; in fact, they do the opposite and are guilty of murder.
E What we need today are cities of refuge – places of refuge for children and pregnant women. Not places where killers feel safe, but where life is protected and cherished and hallowed. We need to pray for President Bush and his administration because he is trying to make America into that kind of refuge. He is the most pro-life president we have had since the deadly ruling in Roe vs. Wade was handed down on January 22, 1973:
The good news is that the U.S. abortion rate has now hit a 29 year low and has fallen 19.3 percent between 1973 and 2000. For this we thank God. But, we also know that our prayer and work for the unborn cannot end until all human life is valued and respected and regarded as sacred.
- He has supported the banning of all human cloning.
- An infant born alive – including those who survive an abortion procedure – can no longer be viewed as a "choice." Under federal law they are now legally defined as a person.
- The Bush administration also supports the Child Custody Protection Act, which safeguards the rights of parents to have a say in all medical procedures performed on their children – including abortion.
- Bush favors the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act which allows healthcare professionals and organizations to receive federal funding even if they do not want to engage in abortion procedures.
- The Justice department has filed a brief upholding a ban on partial-birth abortions.
- Bush reaffirmed the Mexico City Policy which says that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions either here or abroad or to actively promote abortion.
- And, Bush has issued a National Sanctity of Life Day proclamation.
II Cities of Refuge
A We look at our Bible passage in Numbers and we see the rules and regulations for the cities of refuge.
A safe place to run to is a universal need for all creatures, including human beings. We can all remember childhood games in which there was a "safe" spot where a person could not be touched by a pursuer or opponent: it might be a tree, a circle on the ground, a can, a wall. "Out there" was danger, but to reach the sanctuary or haven meant security.
In the Old Testament we see people needing refuge for a number of different reasons: a place of safety from danger, relief after stress, defense from an enemy, protection from the heat of the sun, and overall security. So, they would flee to a rock or a fortress, to a house or a home, to the horns of the altar, or to one of the cities of refuge. However, the most important refuge is God Himself.
B In our Bible pasage we read that 6 out of the 48 cities of the Levites were to be set aside as cities of refuge. They were to be a place of refuge when someone's life was taken. However, they were to be a place of refuge only for those who killed another person accidentally. Criminals were not to be protected in these cities.
The cities of refuge were established to prevent endless cycles of revenge. You need to realize that law and custom in Israel demanded two things. First, the law of retribution demanded punishment equal to the crime committed: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, limb for limb, blood for blood, life for life (Gen 9:6; Exod 21:12-14; Lev 24:17-22; Ezek 18:20). Second, it was the duty of the relative of the dead man to kill the murderer.
Now, with some detail, our passage makes a sharp distinction between willful murder and accidental death. Willful murder is premeditated murder involving preparation and advance planning and previous hatred. Willful murder is when one's intention is to kill another person. When death was willful, the guilty man was not allowed entrance into the city of refuge and was killed by the avenger. When death was accidental, the guilty man was given entrance into the city of refuge and was given asylum from the wrath of the avenger.
Think of what the image of the city of refuge meant to the ordinary Israelite. It was an image at once of safety, protection from pursuit, a renewal of life that would otherwise be doomed, and a kind of salvation. It is a picture of the harassed fugitive finding safety and security.
C Now, I want you to notice what our Bible passage teaches us on this Sanctity of Life Sunday.
First, our passage teaches that someone guilty of willful death must be put to death. In case we miss this, this principle is repeated 3 times in our Scripture passage for emphasis (vs 16-18). And, there was no possibility of escape to a city of refuge.
Today, it appears that we are slowly moving in the direction of abolishing the death penalty – especially after the outgoing governor of Illinois last week commuted the sentence of every death-row inmate in his state. Yet, even in Illinois those who are guilty of murder are punished.
Topic: WordsWhat am I saying? Human life is so important and so precious that those who willfully take it will someday have to answer for their crime – if not before an earthly court, then before the heavenly court. Abortionists can't hide behind nice-sounding phrases to pretend what they are doing is not murder and shouldn't be punished.
Title: Political Correctness
At Rotary this week I heard someone speak from Food Link. We were told that the politically correct way to speak of hunger is to call it "food insecurity." Well, then, 40% of Tulare County's children suffer from food insecurity.
Isn't this part of a national trend? If I am a lousy athlete, I am physically challenged. If I can't handle a keyboard, I am keyboard challenged. If I am a sinner, I am holiness challenged. For some reason we don't want to call a spade a spade. We want to cover up our sins and blemishes as a society with nice sounding words and phrases.
The pro-abortion movement never talk about abortion as murder or the death of a baby. They find refuge in talking about pro-choice, the health of the mother, the rights of women. And, what is inside the womb, they say, is a fetus rather than a baby, it is a thing rather than a sacred image-bearer of God.
D Second, our passage teaches that shed human blood must be atoned for by shed human blood. This principle is enforced by two things in our passage. First, it is forbidden for a ransom in money to be taken in place of the life of the convicted murderer. The avenger of blood must carry out the sentence. Second, it is forbidden for a ransom in money to be paid so someone can leave the city of refuge before the death of the high priest. You see, murder is atoned for by the death of the murderer; accidental killings are atoned for by the death of the high priest on behalf of the killer.
Human life is too important to be simply paid for by money. Yet, isn't that exactly what our culture is doing? Human life is sacrificed in exchange for something else. Abortionists say the killing of human life is worth the emotional or financial health of the mother or women's rights. Scientists doing stem-cell research say the killing of embryos is worth the potential of finding some miracle treatment. And, those who do cloning – which also involves the death of embryos – justify their actions by pointing to childless couples being blessed with a child. I am sure that Janet Chen thought child neglect was worth the price of her internet romance. And, I am equally sure that Sherry Murphy thought starvation and death was worth the price of her happiness and freedom. The currency may have changed but the result is the same – contrary to God's Word, all these people think payment can be made for human life.
E Third, our passage teaches that bloodshed pollutes the Promised Land:
(Num 35:33) Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.Do you see the double result of bloodshed? In the wrong context, bloodshed pollutes the land. But in the right context, bloodshed is the only means of atonement between God and man; murder is atoned for by the death of the murderer; accidental killing is atoned for by the death of the high priest; and, our sins are atoned for by the blood and death of Christ upon the Christ.
Both murder and accidental killing pollute the land. Now, we are talking about the Promised Land, about Canaan. It is the land sanctified by the presence of God living among His people:
(Num 35:34) Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.'"It is therefore of the utmost importance to keep this land pure – especially from the pollution of shed blood. The Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, would not and could not live in the land if it was defiled; which means that God would no longer live among His people; which further means that they would be lost.
Bloodshed pollutes the land and removes the Lord's presence from the land. Do you remember what the Lord said to Cain after he killed Abel? He said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground" (Gen 4:10).
America is not the Promised Land and God will never dwell here the way He did with Old Testament Israel. Yet, the principle remains the same: the blood of 40 million aborted babies cries out to God; the blood of 40 million aborted babies has polluted our land.
Maybe you have seen the campaign against SUVs – environmentalists think they are gas hogs that add to the bad air pollution we already have. Even the church has gotten into the campaign asking the question, "What Would Jesus Drive?" and telling us that love for our neighbor means we drive something that doesn't pollute.I'm opposed to those who litter our roads by throwing garbage out the car or off the back of the truck. I can understand why wood-burning fire-places are being banned. I agree that we need vehicles that get better mileage and produce less pollution. But far worse than all this garbage and air pollution is the defilement of our land caused by the abortion of 40 million babies.
On this Sanctity of Life Sunday we affirm, again, that life is precious, a gift from God. We rejoice in the children God has blessed us with. And, we view with horror the pollution of our land by the shedding of unborn baby blood.
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