Finding our place in the Glory of God
One of the legends of the ancient worlds is that of the Sphinx. The sphinx was some sort of ferocious beast with the body of a lion and the head of a man. And he would stand guard over a pass toward the city of Thebes, and pose the same riddle to each one who passed by. If they could not answer the riddle, they would be devoured.
The riddle, you may recall, was this: what goes about on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening? And the answer was man, who crawls on all fours as a baby, two legs as a youth and adult, and three legs in the last years of his life when he walks with a cane.
You know, mankind has always been a bit of a riddle. Winston Churchill described Russia as an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, surrounded by mystery. But in truth, he could have been talking about mankind itself. Pope described him as “the glory, hope, and jest of the world”. Pascal said he is a reed, the weakest thing in nature, but a thinking reed. Marx described him as an economic animal, Freud as a sexual animal. Scripture teaches that mankind’s heart is desperately wicked, and you don’t have to believe the scriptures to see that. It was Nietzsche who said, “The world is beautiful, but has a disease called man”. Everywhere, whenever people have thought deeply about mankind, they have always seen the tension: such greatness in potential, such failure in reality.
Last week we began looking at Psalm 8, and asking the question, “what does it mean to be human?” If we really are created by another, their must be a purpose, but if we really do have free will, then we can act in line with that purpose, or in rebellion to it. And if their really is an enemy of God, it is probable that one of his strategies will be to deceive us about that rebellion.
So the first part of the sermon is a very quick review of what we saw last week in Psalm 8: We have been given a great role as humans. We are not here by chance, nor are we here to decide for ourselves our role and purpose; we are created by the purpose of another, and He has not left us without a role.
And what a role it is: To rule over creation. We are crowned with glory and honor. We are made a little less than the heavenly beings, or for a little while. You remember that that phrase in Hebrew could go either way. And everything has been placed under our feet: all domestic animals, but also all wild animal. All the animals that fill the land, and all the birds that fill the air, and all the fish and mammals that fill the depth of the sea: everything is under our rule.
We pictured that like this: (show and explain illustration).
And then we asked a question: what happened? Why do we not view ourselves as God’s regents? Why do we not see everything under our feet, and glory in our role as God’s governors over his wonderful universe? And we alluded to Romans 8, where it explains our sin has stained our nature, and our universe, and our role. Are we still in the image of God? Yes, but it is a broken and defaced image, one that cannot represent him to the universe. Mankind is confused. We know we are made for more than amassing pleasure and possessions, but we don’t know what that role is or how to fulfill it.
But that is not the last word. Here is where we find, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. The rest of the story is this: we can fulfill that role only in Christ. He is the key. He is the key to everything.
I want to bring this out in four principles, drawn from the way the New Testament uses this Psalm, Psalm 8.
The first principle is this: Jesus is the one who fulfills true humanity.
Now this is shown in a remarkable combination of two passages in the New Testament that both quote Psalm 8. the first is in Matthew 21. It says in verses 14-17 that when the religious rulers heard children offering praise to Jesus, they tripped out, and said, rebuke them. And surely if Jesus were only a man, or even a high angel like the Jehovah’s witnesses claim, he would have done so. But no. He not only accepts their praise, but commends it as a fulfillment of Psalm 8, where the Yahweh receives praise from children and infants. He has no problem taking words addressed to Yahweh, and applying them to Himself. Remarkable.
The other text that I want to compare this to is in Hebrews 2. The author of that book has been taking great pains to show that Jesus is not simply an angel, of whatever rank. He again takes words addressed to the Father, and applies them to the Son in chapter 1. But in chapter 2, the full beauty and wonder of this is brought to a deeper level. You see, in Psalm 8, the great contrast was between God and man, that though God is so much greater, he amazingly still cares for man and gives him an exalted role. But here, God and man are brought together in one person, for now we see not only the God part of Psalm 8 applied to Jesus, but also the words about man (read verses 5-9). Do you see the flow of the argument. Psalm 8 promised a role for man of complete kingship over the universe, but we don’t see it yet. But we do see Jesus, made for a little while lower than the angels he formed, so that he could take on human nature, and become like us. And he is now crowned with this glory and honor. Jesus, though fully God, humbled himself and took on humanity. He did this to represent us in His death, so that he could our substitute. He did it also to live a perfect human life and become the antidote to the disease of Adam that we have all been infected with.
Now, if this is true, we see another aspect to our role as humans. This means that if Jesus is our model and representative, then our goal is to become like Him. Look at verses 10-18. Do you see the flow of thought: He became like us, so that we would be united with him not as subjects, who simple do what we are told, but as brothers, who share his nature. Romans 8:29 describes the entire goal of our salvation in this way: that we might be conformed to the likeness of His son, that He might be the firstborn of many brothers. Write this down in your heart: God did not send his son into the world to save you from the punishment of sin, period. He sent his son to become like us, so that he could be our sin substitute, in order that we could be restored to our full humanity, which is defined as nothing less than being like Christ. This has always been God’s goal for you, and, though you may not see it, it is a far, far more glorious and blessed thing than any other goal or desire you may have.
Now, that would surely be enough, wouldn’t it. I am saved from hell not by my works, but by the blood of Jesus. I am brought into a restored relationship with God by creator by Jesus. I have the promise of eternity in a blissful state of communion with God through Jesus. I have the power and presence of the Holy Spirit as a gift of God through Jesus. And I have the promise that, in increasing ways now, and in perfected ways after death, I will actually become like God by becoming like Jesus, the perfect God-man. That would be enough. But He giveth more grace. He blinds us with His glorious kindness. He pours out more than we can hold, and we say with David in another psalm, “my cup runneth over”.
For we not only have an incredible goal, to become like Chirst, but an incredible role: to reign with Christ over creation.
There are many passages I could turn to in order to talk about this, but perhaps the one that is most stunning is the last part of Ephesians 1. Now the whole first chapter is this extended summary of the wonder of God’s plan, his mission in redeeming creation through Jesus. Maybe we could look at verses 9-10 to give us a summary of this (read verses). Now we see several things about God’s plan. We see that is eternal, not a plan B. This is what God always had chosen before he even created the universe. We see this plan is according to His good pleasure, that is, he takes holy joy in it, like an artist takes joy in planning and executing his masterpiece. We see that even though it is set in place, its fullness will be in the future, and that everything is moving toward that day, when all will be fulfilled. And it is all centered around Jesus, to bring all things in heaven and earth under him. Verse 22 quotes Psalm 8 about all things under his feet, for as the perfect man, he perfectly fulfills the role God has for man. So I take this to mean that God intends to glorify creation itself by making it like Him, perfect in every way, and He means to do so by filling every part of creation, every nook and cranny, with Jesus Christ, the perfect image of God.
But how does He do that? In what way is creation filled with Jesus, and brought under his Lordship? Incredibly, verse 23 says he does this great plan through something that seems so very small and ordinary: the church. The church, as the body of those redeemed and in the process of perfection as they are united with Jesus, when they are perfected, will serve as they way the fullness of Jesus spills out into every corner of creation. That is you. You and I will fulfill the high words of Psalm 8 one day, with Jesus. We will wear the crown of glory and honor, with Jesus. We will see all things under our feet, with Jesus. Because we will become united to Jesus in a fuller way than we can understand now. Our role is nothing else than kingship. His plan for us is not just salvation from hell, but our perfection, so that we can play a high and holy role. That is the goodness of God’s love.
Lastly, I see here also the result of all this. Look a few verse further down, in Ephesians 2:6-10. Do you see: our salvation is not just for our good. And it is not just for God’s glory. It is for both. It is not just for himself He does this, to gain a reputation. He does it out of love for us we are told in verse 4. But the effect of this is also to show His glory by the depth of his goodness to us. Remember in Psalm 8 we talked about how creation showed his power and wisdom? But his goodness to us shows his mercy and goodness. But we see that in a much deeper way than David could have, for we see the cross, and we hear these words here about what the cross means for us.
In fact that same thought, that creation shows God’s power, or his on-moral attributes, and the cross shows his love, or his moral attributes is seen in one other way here. It says in verse 10 that we are his workmanship. The Greek word in Poeima, it means a work of art or skill, maybe a masterpiece. We get our word poem from it. Interestingly, it is used only one other time as a noun in the Bible. It is is Romans 1:20, where it is translated by the phrase, what has been made. Do you see the contrast? This word is used twice to describe God’s great masterpieces that show who He is in all his glory; One is creation itself, which shouts the power and infinity and wisdom and beauty of the one who made it. The other is you. You, as the object of God’s love. You, who deserved hell, but got heaven. You who are being formed into the very image of God’s son. You who someday will rule over that physical creation. You are God’s second masterpiece. As creation shows his power and might, you show his goodness and love, as He uses that power for your ultimate good, not your deserved destruction.
Now, I want to close with three applications. What does this mean to us?
Well, first, make sure you are united with Jesus. Make sure their has been a time when you looked at your own sins, and understood you needed mercy, not justice, and came to the cross for forgiveness and cleansing, and that you are now his son or daughter, trying to honor him as Father by your obedience.
(illustration: the art auction)
Second, make christlikeness your chief goal. Understand this: it is God’s first and greatest goal for you, and it is so much better and greater than anything else, that he will sacrifice not only his own son, but your temporary pleasure to achieve it. And the only way to be happy and joyful is to embrace that.
Do you realize that any goal we have, conscious or subconscious, that is not based on becoming like Christ and advancing his kingdom will ultimately be a snare to us if we reach that goal? We want to get ahead in our school, or sports, or popularity, or career. We have a picture in our mind of how life should be, our family, our possessions, our reputation. God will not honor that, unless it has been formed in the fire of passion for Him. It will be kindness when he rips that from us, or when he allows it that, but not the fulfillment we thought that goal would bring. It is a thing more glorious than we can measure, and more joyful than we can understand, when our goal and His goal are the same: that more than anything else, we desire to become like Him.
Thirdly, remember the paradoxical promise: the way down is up, and the way up is down.
I Peter 5:5-6
And this brings us back as we conclude to the most difficult part of Psalm 8: that from the mouths of children and infants, God has ordained strength or praise, because of His enemies. What do children have to do with God’s enemies? Well his enemies are those, primarily satan but also those influence by satan, both angelic and human, who exalt themselves in opposition to God. Now why would they do that? Because they have chose to believe that though God is mighty, He is not good. He want to use his power to crush others, to bring them down, to keep them in their place. The temptation to Adam and Eve was, God is holding out on you. He knows if you eat that, you will be like God, and he wants to keep you down. The sin of Adam and Eve was not fruit-picking. It was choosing to believe that God is not good, that His plans for those he created are good for him maybe, but not good for them. And the only way to be like God is to raise up yourselves in rebellion.
Now, how incredibly, profoundly foolish that lie is seen as in light of the cross. Even more, in light of God’s plan as we have seen today. And when we humble ourselves as little children in worship to the goodness of God, we are a rebuke beyond description to God’s enemies. We silence them. They have nothing to say. We are left speechless at his kindness to us, and so are they. And so are they.