Psalm 139: Sanctity of Life

Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
20 January 2019

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[ sketch notes ]

We must be Pro-life from Womb to Tomb.


Mini-series on the Gospel according to Psalms.

Today is Sanctity of Life Sunday in the USA.

46 years ago this week, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a decision to legalize abortion in our country. 11 years after that infamous decision, President Ronald Reagan declared January 22 National Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

The day was selected because that is the date abortion was legalized in the Roe v Wade decision. Since that day in 1973, it is estimated that more than 50,000,000 babies have perished in the womb. (While the number of abortions seems to be declining over the past couple of years, for a variety of factors, we still have a long way to go.)

Evangelicals, Catholics, and other Pro-Life groups observe Sanctity of Life Sunday for two reasons: one, to protest the senseless and selfish destruction of human life in the womb; and two, to promote to sacred dignity of human life, especially that of un-born children still forming in the womb.

When I was planning out the preaching schedule for this year, I circled the 22nd on the calendar and decided to preach from Psalm 139. This is a classic, go-to text for pro-life, anti-abortion, folks everywhere.

To refresh your memory and show you why, I will read from Psalm 139.

If you are willing and able, I encourage you to stand for the reading of God’s holy word. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear:

Psalm 139:7-17

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 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 was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!


May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word.

Now you see why this is a classic, go-to text for pro-life, anti-abortion, folks everywhere. The psalmist delights in the Lord for his creative work in forming, knitting, making, and weaving him together in his mother’s womb.

Eve was the mother of all the living, and our mothers — who her daughters — are the life-bearers of the human race.

The psalmist personalizes and humanizes his experience as an embryo, a fetus, as a not-yet born baby in the hands of the Spirit of God, as a child being made in the image and likeness of God.

The reason human life is sacred and special is because the Lord God declared it so and he devoted himself to its protection and preservation.

Now, as I said, when I first started thinking about Sanctity of Life Sunday, Psalm 139 came to my mind right away. Like many other scriptures, it teaches us that human life is sacred from the womb.

I was thinking about doing a typical pro-life / anti-abortion sermon with all the usual facts and figures. But, as the week wore on, it struck me again and again that there is much more to the story than that.

All human life is sacred from the womb — to the tomb.

We must be pro-life and anti-abortion for theological, ethical, biological, and cultural reasons.

But, let me be clear: being pro-life and anti-abortion is not enough. Especially if it is just a political stance or theoretical position.

To be truly pro-life, we must promote the sanctity, dignity, and liberty of every human life from womb to tomb. From unborn babies in the womb, to immigrant children at the border, to refugees in our cities, to single moms in our neighborhood, to elderly people in nursing homes.

We must be pro-life in all stages of life, from the youngest to the oldest, from the most able to the least able, from the poorest to the wealthiest, from the undocumented immigrant to the birth-certified citizen, from Republicans to Democrats and even Libertarians. And much more could be added to this list.

But don’t just take my word for it.

The Book of Leviticus (Chapter 19) teaches us that the sanctity of life is based on the Lord, formed by the Law, and motivated by Love.

1. Lord is the Source

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. (19:2)

God is the standard of right and wrong. He determines the value and worth of his creation and creatures.

To be holy is to be distinct, to be different.

We are called to live up to and according to his holy standard. When it comes to life and death issues, we must strive to a be holy, to be different than the world.

2. Law is the Structure

Leviticus 19 establishes the principle of the sanctity of human life. Other parts of God’s Law echo this and also expand the principle to include animals.

The Spirit of God is the Lord and Giver of life, therefore life is sacred and special to God. The Law of God gives us the necessary structure we need to maintain the principle across the board, from womb to tomb.

The sanctity of life principle needs to be planted in little children so that it may grow, take root, and bear fruit as they mature.

Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father: I am the Lord your God. (19:2-3)

The principle is carried with us through out life in the way we handle our resources and steward our gifts and treat those who have less than we do or come from different places in the world.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. (19:9-10)

You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 

The sanctity of life principle shows up in the way we treat broken and disabled people.

You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. (19:13-14)

The principle shows up in our justice system.

You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 

You shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord. (19:15-16)

The principle must be kept in something as basic as food and as important as religion and worldview (philosophy of life).

You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. (19:26) [Because life is in the blood]

Do not turn to fortune-tellers or death-consultants [necromancers]; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.

The sanctity of life principle must be applied in our human relationships.

You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. (19:32)

We must be pro-life in all stages of life, from the youngest to the oldest, from the most able to the least able, from the poorest to the wealthiest, from the undocumented immigrant to the birth-certified citizen.

But we cannot keep the sanctity of life principle from the skin out; we cannot just fake it til we make; we cannot keep the letter of the Law and ignore the spirit of the Law, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

3. Love is the Spirit

You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (19:17-18)

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 

You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Like our forefathers, we must remember that once upon a time we were slaves and strangers, we were helpless and harassed, we were displaced and disabled; we were the ones who needed a helping hand to get on our feet.

The Spirit of the Law is Love — and it reminds us not to get above our raising, or to act like we’re somehow better than others. It reminds us to pay it forward and/or pass it down.

As the Westminister LC Q122 says: The sum of the commandments which contain our duty to man is, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to do to others what we would have them to do to us.

4. Life is the Substance

The sanctity of life is promoted and protected by the Law of God.

The Sixth Commandment of the Law says, “You shall not kill.”

The Shorter Catechism helps us get a handle on it:

Q68: What is required in the Sixth Commandment?
A68: The Sixth Commandment requireth all lawful endeavours to preserve our own life, and the life of others.

Q69: What is forbidden in the Sixth Commandment?
A69: The Sixth Commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbour unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.

Conclusion: The Law of the Lord is fulfilled by the Love of Life.

The point of all this is to remind us that the sanctity of life is for unborn babies, but not just for unborn babies. It’s for folks like us, but not just for folks like us. It’s for folks who are the same kind of different as us.

It’s easy to read Psalm 139 and think that what God did for the psalmist is just a special case, a one-off, never-to-be repeated work.

But the point is that what God did for the psalmist, he does for everyone. He did it for you and for me, for us and for them. Your life is sacred to the Lord.

Well, I told you our mini-series is on the Gospel according to the Psalms.

At this point some of you might be thinking, “Hey, we’ve heard alot about the Law, but what about the Gospel?”

Is there any hope for people who have had an abortion, or hated immigrants, or harassed the helpless?

Is there any hope for someone who has disobeyed God’s Law, or devalued human life, or destroyed it? Is there any help for someone like me?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

There is real hope for you in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Your guilt, your fear, and your shame are no match for the grace, faith, and salvation offered to you — graciously and generously — in the gospel.

You and your friends need to know that the gospel promises that God will destroy all sin and death and put the world to right.

You cannot undo what you have done, but God can and will undo what has been done. He put things to right, he fix what is broken, he will heal wounds and wipe away all tears.

The good news is that Psalm 139 is more than a prayer of David; it is a prayer of Jesus, the true and better David, the Word made flesh,

“who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary” —

Like you, Jesus was shaped inside and out by God’s Spirit;
    knitted together in his mother’s womb.
he was fearfully and wonderfully conceived.
His frame was not hidden from God,
when he was developing in the womb, growing from an tiny embryo, into a fully developed baby boy, in his mother’s womb;
In God’s book were written all the days of his life,
    that were formed for him,
    when as yet there was none of them.
God knew Jesus’ story from beginning to end;
he knew the end from the beginning.

The same is true of you. So turn to Jesus and tell on yourself and trust him to forgive your sins, to wipe away your tears, to give you fresh new life.

Pastoral Prayer

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.