January 22, 2004

Text: Jeremiah 29:10-14

[Note: Pastor Sherrill’s sermon contains a touching first-person story about his son. Please feel free to use it as an illustration as you adapt this sermon or as you write your own.]

Eager anticipation, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a little baby, another precious gift from God -we were a bundle of emotions. This was our fourth child. It had been more than four years since our last baby was born, and for parents who wanted these gifts from God this was a long time. We had even started wondering if three was to be our limit and then, finally, God opened His hand and granted us another gift.

But this time there were complications far greater than any we had experienced with our other children. Starting with the doctor’s announcement, we knew life was going to be different. This is how he informed my wife that we were the parents of a Down syndrome baby boy: “Our most dreaded nightmare has come true.” I don’t know if I will ever forget those words. They are not exactly what parents expect to hear from their doctors at the occasion of the birth of a baby. Not that his announcement adversely affected us, we just knew this little fellow was going to take a lot of care.

Shortly after this we heard on our radio about “Baby Doe,” a Down syndrome baby in Indianapolis. He was unwanted by his parents so they, with the help of the medical world, elected to starve him to death. That was April of 1982. In July of the same year, God blessed our family with our own Down syndrome baby. Both babies were essentially the same: both had an extra number twenty-one chromosome that causes some mental and physical problems. But thanks be to God, He had taught us that all His creatures are special and they all bring abundant blessings to this world.

In our precious baby we have seen how kindly God acts toward His sinful people. In our Life Sunday text, Jeremiah 29:11, we see how God acts kindly toward His sinful people who time and time again rebelled against Him and chased after false gods.

The context of our text is the ancient land of Babylon, roughly present day Iraq, six centuries before Christ was born. God’s chosen people, Israel, were captives in this heathen nation. They had been conquered by Babylon’s wicked king, Nebuchadnezzar, and marched off as captives. Obviously, they were discouraged and had little hope of a bright future. In the midst of these depressing conditions God inspired His chosen prophet, Jeremiah, to write words of hope to the Israelites.

He informed them how long their captivity would last and then promised them a bright future. “For thus says the LORD: ‘After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place’” (Jeremiah 29:10 NKJ). Seventy years may not sound so encouraging, but as we read on God promises to be with them, to hear their cries for help, and to deliver them.The same is true of God today. He acts kindly toward His creation, He continues to provide for our needs, and He continues to call us out of the captivity of spiritual darkness. “I have come into the world as a light, that no one who believes in Me should stay in the darkness” (John 12:46).

God the Holy Spirit continues to call people out of captivity to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ through His Word. The Law of God convicts us of our sins, and the Gospel convinces us that Jesus Christ has forgiven our sins on the cross of Calvary. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” His work for man’s salvation was completed. All the sins of all men, women, and children were paid in full. This includes sins of sexual promiscuity, resultant pregnancies, attempts to eliminate the resultant unborn babies, the successful aborting of unborn life, the parents who killed “Baby Doe,” the doctors and medical world involved in killing “Baby Doe,” killing one’s neighbor, you name it, and Christ has already died to pay for that sin.

This certainly reveals God’s kindness toward His people. This certainly reveals that even though we are poor, miserable sinners we do have hope. Hope of a bright future here in this life as we live under God’s grace (Romans 6:14) and hope of a bright future as we look forward to living with Him in heaven eternally.

But until that day arrives, the church diligently seeks to remain in this one, true faith by being strengthened through God’s Word and Sacraments. Through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism the Holy Spirit washed us and made us His own. Through this blessed Sacrament, He continually washes us clean keeping our faith in Jesus Christ alive and well. And week after week the church gathers together in Divine Service to hear God’s Word in lesson, sermon, liturgy, and hymn that strengthens our faith in Jesus and keeps us in this one, true faith. And then we are privileged and honored to dine with Him at His altar as He invites us to come and feast on His very body and blood that He offered up to His Father for our salvation. In this meal He speaks to us personally assuring us that, yes, even my sins He forgives. Even I am restored into a right relationship with Him, as were the Israelites who had turned to false gods. What comfort these means of grace bring to God’s Church. God is kind to His people!

He has always brought hope to distressed people who where captive to sin, including the saints of old: Moses who killed a man with his bare fist, David who committed adultery and murder, Paul who had innocent people imprisoned, Peter who denied that he ever knew Christ, Thomas who adamantly refused to believe that Jesus rose from the grave, and the list goes on.

These acts of kindness definitely reveal how God acts kindly toward His people. His kindness is seen over and over again as He continues to call all to repentance and faith in His Son. As God did not desert His chosen people in the foreign land of Babylon but gave them prophets to preach the Gospel, so He has not deserted His people today wherever they may be. He still sends faithful preachers into the world to proclaim the Gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is always mightily active in the Gospel accomplishing His purposes, bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ. And God’s purposes, though unknown to man before they happen, are always good.

Today we want to remember that this applies to those not yet born. No one in the world can imagine God’s plans are for each unborn child. We had no idea what He had in mind for our little Down syndrome baby physically, but we did know spiritually that our merciful, kind, loving God would adopt him as His own child through baptism and write his name in His book of life. We did know that this little child would live in God’s grace all the days of his life. We did know that Christ would nourish his spirit with His Word and Sacraments. We did know that Christ would give his life the utmost in meaning as this little baptized child would have Christ living through him. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NKJ). We knew even then that someday this precious little baby would be in heaven praising his Lord and Savior with all the other saints.

What we didn’t know, what we could not imagine is what a witness he would be to His Savior, Jesus Christ. Many stories from his life could be enumerated. A highlight was when he stood before the congregation on his confirmation day and publicly confessed his baptismal vows. He has served His Lord as acolyte, usher, committee member, youth group member, and he is faithfully in Sunday school and Bible class weekly. But the one which probably surpasses all was the day we laid to rest our first grandchild. Obviously, this was a sad time for our family. But this gift of God, our Down syndrome son, stood at her grave and comforted her parents by tossing little metal crosses on her grave boldly stating, “We will see you again in heaven.” This brought great comfort to her parents who were amazed at his understanding of our Savior’s resurrection and ascension. We have learned to never underestimate the faith Christ has placed into this precious, little heart. Although some of life’s situations seem rather discouraging, God promises He will always bring good out of them (Romans 8:28). Although we may think a handicapped child will adversely affect our lives, a confident trust in God’s promises can allay, or at least minimize, our fears. Although we may not be planning for a baby, God promises to bless that child and his parents.

Of course, this presupposes repentance and faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Had Israel refused to repent, she would have remained a captive forever. The inspired words of the prophets were effectual in the hearts of the Israelites. God promised His Word would bring them to their senses, and they would return to Him. “‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,’ says the LORD, ‘thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NKJ).

The Israelites could have said, “Just imagine what we as God’s people might be. We have rebelled against Him but He still loves us and is promising us a hope and a future.” God has a plan for us, a plan that is bright and gives us both hope and a future. For those who have been caught in Satan’s web of sin and have fallen away from Christ, God says, “I have plans for you.” As He promised to bring Israel back from captivity so He promises to release all from the captivity of sin who acknowledge the error of their ways and believe that in Jesus Christ those errors have been punished and forgiven.

After hearing God’s Word in Jeremiah, we arrive at the conclusion: God does act kindly toward His people. We see it daily in creation as God gives yet another new day that the Gospel may be preached and wandering sheep are brought into the fold where they belong. We have seen it in our own lives as parents brought us to the baptismal font where we became children of God receiving Christ’s forgiveness. Certainly the observing individual has the same conclusions as they review briefly the numerous blessings God has bestowed upon them.

May the entire world know that God is gracious and kind and He has demonstrated this by publicly punishing His Son for all sins. He does “act kindly toward His people.” Thanks be to God for His unending acts of kindness! Amen.