January 22, 1995
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor

FASTING FOR THE SAFETY OF THE LITTLE ONES
(Ezra 8:21-23)

Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, "The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him." So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty.

It's not my main purpose this morning to rehearse all the arguments we have given over the years in preaching and in writing for the pro- life position. There are Biblical reasons, medical and scientific reasons, philosophical reasons, legal reasons, and psychological reasons. But it is remarkable to me that, as every year goes by and this anniversary of Roe V. Wade rolls around, new validations of pro- life arguments turn up, because of the obviousness of the evil of abortion on demand even to the moment just before birth.

Let me give you just one illustration. There is a debate going on about the harvesting of organs from handicapped infants, namely, those who are anencephalic -- they are born with almost no brain and cannot live a normal life, but will usually die in a matter of days or weeks. One person said, "The qualify of life for this child is so low it would be ethically justifiable to sacrifice its life by a few days to save the life of another person."

Now that kind of reasoning is ominous for all handicapped people and all aging people who are increasingly vulnerable to those who would dictate what quality of life makes life sacred and safe from termination. But what is most significant for the pro-life argument is the reasoning of the ACLU in favor of taking donor organs (like the heart) from anencephalic babies before they die a natural death.

For decades pro-life advocates have argued that there is no morally significant difference between a baby in the womb and a baby outside the womb during the weeks just before and after birth. In other words it is arbitrary in the extreme, from the standpoint of the child, to say that it is legal abortion to kill a baby in the womb but it is illegal homicide to kill a baby just after coming out of the womb. This has been a strong argument for respecting the unborn.

Now the ACLU has taken this argument and virtually endorsed it, but used it in exactly the opposite direction, namely, to justify the killing of some babies just after birth. The aim is to show that permitting the termination of pregnancy up to the point of birth is inconsistent with forbidding the termination of an anencephalic child's life in order to use his organs to save another.

Here's the actual wording of their argument:

"There is absolutely no morally significant change in the fetus between the moments immediately preceding and following birth."

In other words the argument that the pro-life movement has used for years is conceded, but then used not to protect the unborn but to remove protection from the newborn. If there's no difference between born and unborn, and we permit the aborting of the unborn, then we should permit some killing of the born in certain cases -- thus the A.C.L.U.

Now just at this point the penetrating earnestness of fasting in the Christian church comes into the picture. At least I would like to push it into the picture for us. This kind of reasoning is a great evil. Taking one of the most obvious reasons for not permitting abortion on demand and making it a justification for infanticide is morally repugnant. It is another evidence that what we are up against in the abortion industry is a great darkness. This kind of perverse reasoning is evidence of what Paul calls God's giving people over to a dark and "depraved mind" (Romans 1:28).

What I am suggesting this morning is that perhaps the Christian church has not used all the spiritual resources available to us in the effort to overcome such darkness. Have we sought the Lord with fasting for the restoring of reason and light, and for the safety of the little ones? I admit that I have not seriously, during all my years of pro-life efforts fasted specifically for the moral and spiritual renovation that this kind of darkness demands.

Don't misunderstand. I believe in the wide range of non-violent efforts of the pro-life cause. And in the present atmosphere I do stress non-violent. This war will not be won by bullets. It will be won by brokenness and humility and sacrifice. It will be won when we identify with the children in our suffering rather than with the abortionist in his killing. And this too may be a call to a new kind of fasting.

I believe that education is good, and I was thrilled with the excellent news supplement, "She's a Child Not a Choice" that was mailed to 900,000 homes in October and November of last year. This is the kind of education effort that needs to happen again and again. The words of Jesus have broad application, "You will know the truth and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32).

I believe, that political action of pro-life people is good. God ordains that governments exist for the protection of its people from violence (Romans 13:3f). For many of us this was the most remarkable and gratifying thing about the elections last fall. Not a single pro-life incumbent Senator, House member, or governor anywhere in the country, whether Republican or Democrat, was defeated by a pro-abortion challenger. In contrast, about 30 incumbent pro-abortion members of Congress were defeated by pro-lifers. A fact which I did not hear or read in the News media -- another illustration of darkness.

Third, I believe in crisis pregnancy care. This is why we chose to put CareNet's insert in the bulletin. The focus of this ministry is prevention through compassion for women in distress (Luke 7:48-50). There are thousands of such centers and groups around the country. The hands of Christ's people are extended, with tangible, workable alternatives to abortion.

And fourth, I believe in sidewalk counseling. Story after story is told of women who are given the truth at the 11th hour just before their appointment, and are persuaded to save their child and their conscience. (Check with Pro-Life Action Ministries (ph. 612/ 771-1500).

But at root the issue we are facing is a spiritual one -- the darkness and depravity of the human heart and mind. What I am suggesting this morning is that we seriously consider the call to fasting for the safety of the little ones. That we seek the Lord through fasting for the gracious, powerful, liberating renovation of the human spirit that would cause a person to wake up and say: "How can I use the similarity between born and unborn to argue for killing the born and not protecting the unborn? I will not do that anymore. And I will turn to the Lord, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of my sins and for new life."

The true renovation of heart looks to Jesus for the forgiveness for all sins and for the gift of eternal life and the power to walk in a way pleasing to God. Might not the cry of our hearts for such an awakening of conscience and faith be made more full and earnest and fruitful through fasting? Is that not what we are seeing in these days?

I got this idea from the story of Ezra in Ezra 8:21-23. Let me give you some faith-building background to this text so you hear it with all the force Ezra gives it.

Israel had been taken into exile. They had been there for decades. Now the time had come for their restoration. But how could this happen? They were a tiny, obscure ethnic minority in the massive Persian empire. The answer is that God rules empires. And when it is his time for his people to move, he moves empires. That's the point of the first eight chapters of this book of Ezra.

Look first at Ezra 1:1-2.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, 2 "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah."

God had prophesied by Jeremiah that the people would come back to their own land. God never leaves his prophesies uncertainly to be fulfilled by the mere will of man. He himself acts to fulfill the predictions he makes. So it says, "He stirred up the spirit of Cyrus." So there's the answer. When God is ready to do a great thing in the world, he can do it whether it is through a Persian king or a prophet or a Christian pro-life worker. The key is God's absolute sovereignty over the empires of the world.

Then what happens is this. A first wave of refugees return -- over 42,000 of them. They start building the temple. But their enemies in Judah oppose them and write to the new Emperor, Artaxerxes telling him that a rebellious city is being rebuilt (4:12). So Artaxerxes halts the work on the temple and it looks like God's plans are frustrated.

But he had a different and better plan -- O let us learn that the lean years of trouble in our lives are preparations for God's blessing! In Ezra 5:1 God sends two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah who inspire the people to begin building again. The enemies try the same tactic. They write a letter to Darius, the new emperor. But it backfires and we see why God had allowed the building to cease temporarily.

Darius searches the archives of the empire and finds the original decree from Cyrus authorizing the building the temple. In Ezra 6:7- 8 he writes back the stunning news -- beyond what they could ask or think. He says to the enemies in Judah,

Leave this work on the house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. 8 Moreover, I issue a decree concerning what you are to do for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of this house of God: the full cost is to be paid to these people from the royal treasury out of the taxes of the provinces beyond the River, and that without delay.

What a reversal! What a great God! It looked as though the enemies had triumphed. But God was simply working history in his time so that the enemies would not only permit the temple but also pay for the temple! Ezra 6:22 states the great fact plainly: "the Lord had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel." God rules the hearts of kings and emperors and presidents and senators and congressional representatives -- even those who don't trust him..

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust him for his grace,
Behind a frowning providence
he hides a smiling face.

O the lessons here for us! Do you think the crash-and-burn year of 1994 at Bethlehem is without some great saving purpose? Not if our God is the God of Ezra! Do you think the election of a pro-choice president two years ago is without some great purpose of righteousness bigger and more stunning than any of us can imagine? Is our God the God of Ezra?!

Then Ezra comes into the picture with a flashback to the reign of Artaxerxes. The king sends Ezra with a company of people back to Jerusalem. According to Ezra 7:6 King Artaxerxes gives him everything he wants for the journey. Now why would the very king who stopped the building of the temple do that? Ezra gives the answer in 7:27. He prays, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king's heart." God did it.

He did it to Cyrus (1:1); he did it to Darius (6:22) and he did it to Artaxerxes (7:27). "The kings heart is like streams of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wills" (Prov. 21:1). God is ruling the world. He is ruling history. We cannot understand the infinite wisdom of his ways (Romans 11:34-35). Ours is to trust and joyfully obey and worship.

Which brings us to what Ezra did as he left captivity on his way to Jerusalem. He refused an army escort so that he could testify to Artaxerxes the power and faithfulness of God in protecting his company of people. Instead of the king's help he sought God's help and he sought it with fasting. Ezra 8:21-23,

Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones [that's where I got the idea of fasting for the safety of the little ones], and all our possessions. 22 For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, "The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him." 23 So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty.

In verse 21 fasting is an expression of our humility -- that is our sense of utter dependence on God for what we need. "I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves." And believe me, we are utterly dependent on God if darkened minds are going to be awakened to the light of life in the battle for the sanctity of life. Reasoning has its crucial place. But unless the sovereign God moves on the mind and heart (like he did on Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes), the very best reasoning will be taken captive and twisted upside down, as we saw at the beginning.

And in verse 23 fasting is an expression of seeking God with life-and-death seriousness. "So we fasted and sought our God."

The result at the end of verse 23: "He listened to our entreaty." And they and their little ones came safely home.

I appeal to you to seek the Lord with me concerning the place of fasting in breaking through the darkness that engulfs our state and our nation on this matter of abortion. May it be that the Lord is calling the church not only to fast in general for a great awakening in our land, but also calling us to fast specifically for the safety of the little ones. If you ask him, he will show you how.

Copyright 1995 John Piper
Piper's Notes