The Certainty of Death for a Society
“You shall stand up before the grey head and honour the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” 
This coming Sunday will mark the thirty-ninth year of legalised murder of the unborn in the womb for citizens of the United States. Arising from the fatuous discovery of a “right to privacy” within the Constitution of the United States of America, four Supreme Court justices, with three concurring justices, justified slaughter of the innocent for reasons of convenience.  The infamous decision known as “Roe verses Wade” has resulted in the death of approximately 55 million unborn infants in that nation.  That decision by the United States Supreme Court in 1973 has served as the foundation for an ongoing holocaust perpetuated in Canadian abortuaries. There were almost three million infants aborted in utero in Canada during the period between 1969 and 2005,  most following the decision of the US Supreme Court.
The third Sunday of January is traditionally observed as the Right to Life Sunday. The date was chosen by evangelical Christians to emphasise the fundamental right of all people to life since it is the Sunday closest to the date when the infamous decision was announced in the United States. Accordingly, this day is set aside each year to encourage us to remember that God—not man—gives life, and to learn what God has to say concerning the life He gives.
At the time the moral tsunami known as Roe v. Wade was unleashed on an unsuspecting public and an unprepared church, a seminary situated on the West Coast of the United States invited me to provide a scientific assessment of the basis for the ruling. That assessment was published as part of a position paper drafted by Dr. James L. Higgs. I went beyond the requested assessment, addressing what I saw as an even more fundamental terror that would no doubt result from the judgement. I opined then, and events seem to be lending credence to my concerns, that if we failed to respect life when it is most vulnerable, then as a society we would justify taking life at any stage. If abortion became the law of the land, murder of the mentally incompetent, murder of the physically handicapped, and murder of the elderly would shortly be legalised.
Whenever a society fails to respect life at any stage, all life is jeopardised. God surely understood this truth and emphasised the need to have a moral standard that was not subject to the whim of the moment or changed by the cause of the day. Is morality fixed? Or is morality determined on a sliding scale? Are right and wrong determined by an unchanging standard? Or are right and wrong determined by the voice of the majority? We who are Christians are compelled to confess that morality is fixed.
In our text today, we discover that God has established an unchanging moral standard. Few of us read the Levitical Law for enjoyment. Many of us consider the Book of Leviticus to be a literary wasteland. Many Christians resolve each year that to read through the Bible. They enjoy Genesis, perhaps even making it all the way through Exodus (or at least reading through the Ten Commandments), and then skipping to Deuteronomy, or they possibly even skip to Joshua so that they can get a little action.
To anyone reading the NINETEENTH CHAPTER OF LEVITICUS, it appears as if God has included a collection of unrelated laws simply thrown together because they do not fit anywhere else. It seems almost as if Moses was looking for a place to park these laws. We almost get the impression that he breathed a sigh of relief when he had at last found a place for inclusion of these miscellaneous laws. There is a theme for the chapter, however, and in the midst of the collection of sixteen various regulations is one that speaks pointedly to the theme of respect for life—the theme for this particular Sunday.
HONOURING THE ELDERLY HONOURS GOD — I must return to the issue of whether morality is fixed or mobile. We should ask ourselves whether a list of musty ceremonial laws can really be vital to our well-being as Christians. Surely, there is nothing of value for us in this outdated recitation of covenantal law, living, as we do, in the Twenty-First Century? Whenever you read a chapter of the Bible, you should take note of the phrases that are repeated. You should carefully note key words that occur. Ask yourself what God’s purpose might have been in including that passage in His Word.
One thing I observe as I read this chapter is the repetition of one phrase at the conclusion of each new command. Sixteen times Moses represents God as concluding a particular law by saying either, “I am the LORD your God,” or by simply saying, “I am the LORD.” The theme of the chapter is found in VERSE TWO and repeated by Peter in 1 PETER 1:15, 16. “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” The emphasis, therefore, is upon the need for God’s people to distinguish themselves from the pagans of the world. God’s people distinguish themselves from the pagans by reflecting His holy character in the way they live. We do not live as the world lives because we remember that we serve God and because we know that we represent Him before the world. Our manner of life matters!
As God presents these numerous commands, He restates the Ten Commandments. The FIRST and SECOND COMMANDMENTS reminded people to worship God only; VERSE FOUR repeats those same commands. The THIRD COMMANDMENT enjoins respect for the holy Name of God; VERSE TWELVE teaches the identical truth. The FOURTH COMMANDMENT demands a day for worship and refreshment of the soul, and the THIRD VERSE expects the same observance. The FIFTH COMMANDMENT teaches respect for one’s parents, and the THIRD VERSE demands the same respect.
The SIXTH COMMANDMENT condemns murder; the SIXTEENTH VERSE demands the same respect for life. The SEVENTH COMMANDMENT proscribes adultery, and the TWENTY-NINTH VERSE addresses the same sin. The EIGHTH COMMANDMENT warns against theft, and VERSE ELEVEN warns against the same evil. The NINTH COMMANDMENT debars false accusations, and VERSE SIXTEEN also warns against such falsity. The TENTH COMMANDMENT exposes greed as a sin, and VERSE EIGHTEEN warns against the same wickedness.
The repetition of the demand to remember who gave the command and the close association with the previous delivery of the Decalogue emphasises that we live in a world with fixed laws of morality. We do not avoid murdering others simply because we don’t want to be murdered; rather we do not murder because God says it is wrong to do so. We do not avoid stealing simply because society has decided that stealing would disturb the Queen’s peace; but rather we do not steal because God says it is wrong to do so. We do not sanction or engage in adultery only because it might prove messy to seek a divorce; but rather we do not practise or condone adultery because God says it is wrong to do so.
Morality is not determined by a vote of parliament, by an order in council or by a ruling issued by some court. Neither is a moral standard instituted by a consensus within society; God establishes moral standards. In this chapter, most of the standards presented are moral or ethical. Even those that might be thought at first to be ceremonial prove to be moral and ethical upon closer inspection. God expects His people to be holy; and holiness is nothing less than practical morality. More carefully defined, holiness is separation from wickedness and separation to God. Therefore, holy people make the effort to discover what actions and attitudes honour God.
People that are recognised as holy worship God and exalt His Name [VV. 1-8]. Holy people are concerned that the poor have a full share in covenant life [VV. 9, 10]. Within the assembly of the Lord, we would act to ensure that there are no cliques or classes among the people of God if we will be holy. Holy people deal with their neighbours honestly, truthfully and in love [VV. 11-18]. Holy people are conscious of how their appearance and actions reflect upon the opinion others may have concerning God [VV. 19-25]; and holy people are careful to identify and to separate themselves from pagan practises [VV.26-31]. The remainder of the chapter details that holy people demonstrate kindness and justice to others, especially when those others are vulnerable [VV. 32-37]. Holy people welcome strangers—not to practise and perpetuate wickedness among the people, but to respectfully welcome them to dwell peacefully within society [VV. 33, 34]. Finally, holy people are ethical and fair in their business dealings [VV. 35, 36].
In VERSE 32, I observe that holiness is reflected when we demonstrate respect for the elderly. It is not without significance that when presenting Himself as “the Ancient of Days” God specifically states that “the hair of His head is like pure wool” [see DANIEL 7:9]. It is reasonable to conclude that this description emphasises the dignity and honour that are due the LORD God. Similarly, the Risen Son of God appears to John with hair “white like wool” [REVELATION 1:14].
White hair should be recognised as a distinguishing mark of dignity and honour.
“Grey hair is a crown of glory;
it is attained in a righteous life.”
Don't despise the hoary head; that grey hair is the glory of the aged. God affirms old age as a time of glory and fulfillment. If old age is viewed as other than that in our day, it proves nothing more than a sad commentary on the spiritual senility of contemporary society. Consequently, the society that has lost respect for the elderly totters on the brink of destruction [see ISAIAH 3:5]. Silver or white hair is not the symbol of decrepitude or undesirability, but rather it is the symbol of mercy from God to that generation among whom the grey haired people live. Unlike our own myopic era, the author of Scripture asserts that old age is not a time of despair, of failing strength or withering away of powers; rather, he sees the twilight years as a time of reward.
Andrew Bonar, in commenting on this verse, wrote, “Age, even apart from its qualities, has in it solemnity. The Lord would thus solemnise us in the midst of our pursuits. ‘Lo! The shadow of eternity! For one cometh who is almost in eternity. His head and beard white as snow, indicate his speedy appearance before the Ancient of Days, the hair of whose head is as pure wool.’” 
Every vulnerable individual demand our care, for it is through ministering to vulnerable individuals that God’s grace is most clearly revealed. When the helpless are relieved, God is honoured. In God, “the orphan finds mercy” [HOSEA 14:3]. God “protects foreigners and helps the fatherless and the widow” [PSALM 146:9].  The Lord “heals the broken-hearted” [PSALM 147:3]. Therefore, honouring the elderly honours the Lord our God.
How shall we honour the aged? God instructs us to “stand up” in their presence. Prior generations were not in the least self conscious about such demonstrations of respect. Today, it would be unusual to witness younger people stand at the entrance of an elderly person. I do not often ride public transportation, but when I did so in earlier years, it was common for people to offer their seat to the elderly who got on the public transit. Men were quick to honour women with this precise action in earlier, more civil times, and all alike were taught to honour the aged by rising whenever an older person entered a room. To stand before the aged was a mark of respect that we have lost to our own impoverishment. Behind the act of standing was an attitude of respect for the elderly reinforcing society's mores.
There are multiple ways in which we can—and should—honour our elderly. None of these actions need be legislated among the saints; but these practices nevertheless provide an accurate gauge of the degree to which we honour the Living God. As we age, we become less mobile, less able to move quickly. If we will honour the elderly, we will accommodate the loss of fleetness that is usually associated with youth. To be unhurried in our dealings with the aged is a means of honouring their age. To take time to listen, simply being an available ear to hear their discouragement and frustrations can be an act of respect for the aged. Showering them with smiles, a countenance of joy is a means of respect. Guarding our voice, insuring that its tone is neither sharp nor condemnatory when speaking with the elderly, is an act of honour.
In Paul's first letter to Timothy is found the admonition, “do not rebuke an older man, and treat … older women like mothers” [1 TIMOTHY 5:1a, 2a]. Though the words are directly applied to pastoral relations, the principle that teaches respect for the elderly certainly applies to all Christians. These actions may appear to be but common courtesies taken for granted, but they become acts of courage today when they are applied to the elderly because they fly in the face of wisdom of and cultural norms of our contemporaries.
Most importantly, parents must instruct their children to be respectful, enforcing the instruction when necessary. Children must be trained to honour the elderly, beginning with honouring their own parents. If we fail to instruct our youth, we insure that ours is truly a dying society that rushes nearer, ever nearer, destruction brought on through our own arrogance. It is sobering to read the dark catalogue of sins characterizing the last days, for among the awful sins Paul lists in ROMANS 1:28 31, is included the sin of disobedience to parents—disrespect for the elderly [ROMANS 1:30]!
Disrespect for one’s parents, much as disrespect for the elderly, is treated seriously in God’s estimate. Listen to the Word of God as He warns against disrespect. “Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death… Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death” [EXODUS 21:15, 17]. “Anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him” [LEVITICUS 20:9]. Those who contend that we need not hold youth responsible for respect must realise that though we may be negligent, God does not neglect to hold all mankind to account.
“If one curses his father or his mother,
his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.”
“The eye that mocks a father
and scorns to obey a mother
will be picked out by the ravens of the valley
and eaten by the vultures.”
2 TIMOTHY 3:2 5 teaches that disrespect reflects attitudes of pride, abusiveness, ingratitude, a lack of holiness and a lack of love. Tolerating such sins ensures God’s judgment on that society. Disrespect reflects a dark spectrum of sinful attitudes. It should be obvious that God mandates that His people must honour the elderly; honouring the elderly honours God.
HONOURING THE ELDERLY ACKNOWLEDGES OUR OWN MORTALITY — The Good News of the Faith begins with bad news about the human condition. That bad news is summed up in acknowledgement of death. “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” [ROMANS 5:12]. Modern society is emotionally schizophrenic concerning the issue of death. Whenever there is a tragedy among the youth of our world, we rush “grief counsellors” to shield the children from facing their own mortality. Yet, some of the most popular genres of motion picture entertainment exalt death. Action pictures glorify killing. Horror pictures propagandise that the worst possible event is death. Science fiction attempts to reveal events following death. Modern people are repelled by death and fascinated by the subject at the same time.
As Christians, we do not glorify death, but rather we confess that death is the last enemy [see 1 CORINTHIANS 15:26]. Though death is a defeated enemy, at this time it continues to hold sway over our bodies; we are subject to death in the flesh. Nevertheless, our Faith teaches us that just as God has redeemed our soul and given us a new Spirit, so that Spirit serves as the pledge of a glorified body. There are many wonderful promises found in God’s Word. Among the promises I find especially comforting are several recited in the eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome. Consider these verses. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” [ROMANS 8:11].
Again, the Apostle has written, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” [ROMANS 8:18-25].
Consider one last, comforting passage. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” [ROMANS 8:35-39].
Death is inevitable for all mankind, save for those saints who are alive at the Second Coming of our Lord. Therefore, we should be careful to acknowledge our mortality, knowing that each of us must grow older and daily face the advance of time. Knowing that we must face the sentence of diminishing strength and vigour, we should consider our end and treat those who go before us with respect.
This cautionary note was struck by the Preacher in ECCLESIASTES 12:1-7. “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low—they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets—before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”
Those who deliberately defy God are often brought to a bad end. I am not saying that the death of the young proves that they have defied God, for it is clear that God permits some to die simply to spare them from hurt and injury. We cannot see what might be. Isaiah addressed this issue when he wrote these words:
“The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart;
devout men are taken away,
while no one understands.
For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
he enters into peace;
they rest in their beds
who walk in their uprightness.”
[ISAIAH 57:1, 2]
The righteous are not taken in an act of divine caprice, but rather they are purposefully, deliberately removed, that they may be spared the sorrow of the wicked. The Word of God still insists,
“Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.”
We must never forget that we serve a God who is too wise to make a mistake and too good to needlessly hurt us. Let us embrace our progress toward eternity instead of refusing to confess our feeble condition. Let us walk in His strength, though the flesh decays and let us reveal His majesty as we move toward our senior years.
HONOURING THE ELDERLY LAYS THE FOUNDATION FOR WORSHIP — Take note of the emphatic admonition found in our text: “fear your God.” In the FOURTEENTH VERSE, those who would honour God are warned against cursing the deaf or placing a stumbling block in front of the blind. The reason for this prohibition is that we are to fear our God. The vulnerable among us are to be treated with respect—respect revealing fear of God. Failure to protect the vulnerable demonstrates disrespect of God. Failure to protect the vulnerable deprives us of any basis for asking God’s mercy. Failure to be merciful invites judgement [cf. MATTHEW 6:14, 15; 18:35].
Fear of God is woefully misunderstood. To be certain, if we act presumptuously, we should tremble before God. No single English word conveys every aspect of the word “fear” when it is applied to the Living God. The word includes an attitude of submission as we worship Him. Also, fear speaks of reverential awe. And the word embraces obedient respect for Him as God. Submission, awe and obedience are all included in this word when it is applied to our attitude toward the Lord God.
We should be submissive before God as we worship Him. Similarly, as we honour the elderly, rising when they enter the room and treating each person older than ourselves with respect, we are demonstrating an attitude of humility before the superior age. God has shown the elderly mercy by permitting them to live to this age. We lay a foundation for worship of God as we accept that by His hand He cares for the elderly.
We should hold God in holy awe. He is not like us, but rather He can only be described as “Other.” He is holy; we are not holy. He is mighty; we are weak. He is merciful; we are unmerciful. He is generous; we are stinting. It is only as He transforms us that we are transformed into the image of His beloved Son. The elderly deserve respect since they have attained advanced years by the grace and mercies of God. To show such respect is to hold God in awe, tacitly acknowledging that He is merciful and gracious.
We are obligated to be obedient to God as God. It is a serious matter to be disobedient to God. The Psalmist has spoken of this when he wrote,
“The wicked shall return to Sheol,
all the nations that forget God.”
A great Texas divine warned over a century ago “God holds the nation responsible, just as He holds the individual, no matter what the form of government in that nation. The government that violates the laws of God, that nation shall not go down into perdition as a whole, but its duration is limited… [N]o nation can long violate the laws of morality, truth and honesty, and survive. Upon the high walls of the city of ancient times was written: ‘Therefore, saith the Lord, their days are numbered,’ and that city … on account of the iniquities, crumbled.” 
I mention this, because government is but a reflection of the general attitude of society. Underscore in your mind this terrible truth: what society tolerates is amplified through government. If there is scant respect for the vulnerable within our culture, then social mores will shortly be rewritten to reflect the prevailing view. A review of the social structure in this day leads to the inevitable, horrifying conclusion that respect for life is dramatically absent from contemporary society.
According to the Word of God, all mankind is responsible to respect human life. We would logically conclude that those who fail to show respect for the elderly also have scant respect any who are vulnerable. I believe it fair to say that those who insist upon a woman’s “right to her own body” at the expense of their unborn children, are in general agreement with the sentiments of a former governor of Colorado, Richard Lamm, who was widely quoted as saying that the elderly had a duty to die.
We should not imagine that the ex-governor is alone is such selfish thinking. In recent years, Baroness Mary Warnock, a medical ethicist, philosopher and member of the upper House of Lords for Great Britain, suggested that the elderly should have not only the right, but also the obligation to kill themselves.  This learned lady continued by suggesting that premature babies should only be treated at parental expense or otherwise be permitted to die. I suppose socialised medicine could be faulted for this distorted view of life, but I rather suspect that Baroness Warnock is simply reflecting an opinion that has become entrenched in modern liberal societies. Similarly, Baroness Shreela Flather, reflecting association with the Marie Stopes International organisation, an abortion provider service based in the United Kingdom, suggested that parents from impoverished areas should be dissuaded from having large families.
The President of the New Zealand Age Concern National recently explained the link between elder abuse and neglect and the break-down in respect for seniors. “Lack of respect can lead to financial abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, neglect and even sexual abuse. The personal losses associated with abuse can be devastating and include the loss of happiness, independence, life savings, health and family relationships.” 
Worship of God decreases as respect for the vulnerable diminishes. When respect for the elderly is absent, putative social concern becomes stilted and artificial. Likewise, worship of the True and Living God grows increasingly scarce as respect for life wanes. In modern Great Britain, disrespect for the elderly and secularism appear to be in ascendancy. A recent poll indicates a striking decrease in the number of people in Britain who believe in God. In 1968, a Gallup poll found that 77 percent of people said they believe in God, but that number has fallen to just 44 percent by 2005, according to the Telegraph in London.  Tragically, the situation may not be so very different in Canada in this day. 
The message for this day is intended to serve as a wake-up call to us as a congregation. Perhaps we cannot affect society significantly through one sermon; but we can ensure that our individual lives are honour God through showing consideration for the vulnerable. We can each determine that we will be respectful toward those who are our seniors. We can begin the process through honouring those of our own congregation. We can determine that we will take time to listen to our elders, that we will show them the simple courtesy of standing when they enter the room, that we will not grow impatient when they move more slowly than we do.
Doing such things will not make us Christians; but it will reveal the impact Christ has in our life. What we tolerate as a congregation does reflect whether Christ is among us, or else it exposes us as merely performing religious rituals. Whether we worship, or whether we perform mere duties will be demonstrated through the way in which we treat the vulnerable.
Perhaps, however, some who share our service will be incapable of acting Christianly because they are not Christians. If that someone is you, then you must heed this promise from the Word of God. The promise is recorded in ROMANS 10:9-13, and I would invite your careful consideration of what God has to say as He calls you to life. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
This is our sincere call to each one who has yet to know the grace of God in Christ. Believe that Jesus, the Son of God, has given Himself as a sacrifice because of your sin. Believe that Christ the Lord has risen from the dead. Believe that He now receives you, forgiving you of all sin and giving you the life that permits you to know God and to be known by God. Believe and be saved, even now. Amen.
 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2001. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roe_v_Wade, accessed 12 January 2012
 Information taken from http://www.numberofabortions.com/?mid=5708452, accessed 10 January 2012
 AbortionInCanada.ca, http://www.abortionincanada.ca/stats/annual_abortion_rates.html, accessed 12 January 2012
 Andrew Bonar, A Commentary on the Book of Leviticus (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI reprinted 1978) 346
 Holman Christian Standard Bible, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 B. H. Carroll, An Interpretation of the English Bible, Vol. II (Broadman Press, Nashville, TN 1948) 362
 Patrick Goodenough, “Better for Old People to Kill Themselves Than Be A Nuisance, Lawmaker Says,” CNSNEWS.com, http://www.cnsnews.com//ViewCulture.asp?Page=\Culture\archive\200412\CUL20041214a.html, accessed 14 December 2004
 Liz Baxendine, “Respect, rights, responsibilities for older people,” 30 June 2011, http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1106/S00362/respect-rights-responsibilities-for-older-people.htm, accessed 12 January 2012
 Erin Curry, Culture Digest: Apathy Reigns in UK, BP News, January 12, 2005, http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=19885, accessed 12 January 2012
 Timothy Avery, “One in four don’t believe in God, poll finds,” May 31 2008, http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/434725, accessed 12 January 2012; “Many Canadians don’t believe in a god: poll,” May 31, 2008, http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20080531/god_poll_080531/, accessed 12 January 2012