Creation's crown - Genesis 1:27
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" What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world- the paradigm of all animals.” When you think about it, in that quote William Shakespeare did seem to capture the Bible’s view of human beings quite well. Yes, there is the acknowledgement that we are animals- but the paradigm animal. However, there is also that sense of wonder and awe- what a piece of work we are, and that we are not just angel- like, but in some sense god- like. But as the 20th century progressed that view of man slowly began to be replaced with other lesser views. Man could no longer be thought of as ‘god like’ since God was declared not to exist. So you cannot be like something which isn’t there. And so people began to look around for some other point of reference, something else to which we could point and say, ‘There, we are like that.’ And quite naturally they started to look towards in two directions to find an answer- the world of animals and the world of machines. So today some would re-phrase Shakespeare and exclaim of man, not, ‘How like a god!’ but ‘How like a dog’ or even ‘how like an I-pod.’
And so on the man-as-a-animal side, we have Henry Miller, former Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University who once defined man as, ‘just an enormously intelligent and intellectually agile animal.’ On the man-as-machine side, Professor Edmund Leach remarked, ‘There is no sharp break of continuity between what is human and what is mechanical….. Since the human brain is nothing more than an immensely complicated computer, it is no longer necessary to invoke metaphysics (philosophy) to explain how it works.’ So what is man- just a sophisticated monkey or an elaborate machine? Of course there is some truth in both of these views. Whatever human beings are, we are animals. We are not plants or minerals- biologically speaking that is the category to which we belong and there is nothing in the Bible which suggests otherwise. Also there has been much progress in the science of the brain in drawing an analogy between the way the brain works and a computer works, although the brain is infinitely more complex. But where people go wrong is in saying that that is all we are. Man is nothing but an animal, or nothing but a machine. The fact is, it is possible to think of humans as animals and as being machine-like and at the same time be able to say there is something much, much more to us which transcends these categories. And that is where Genesis 1 comes in which affirms quite unashamedly, that we are like God as we see it spelt out in Genesis 1: 26-29
Now here is something I have not noticed before. We read that ‘God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’ In other words man- male and female- is not the image of God, but are themselves the representation of the image. Or to put it another way, human beings are images of an image. The image itself is a heavenly reality and we are made like that image. Now who or what that heavenly image of God is in whose likeness we are made, we shall see in a moment. However, here in Genesis we see that what it means for human beings to be made in the image of God is not so much defined as described. So what does humans being God-like look like in practice?
Well, in verse 26 we have the declaration by God, ‘Let us make man in our image?’ What does that mean? We saw last week that Genesis begins with the statement that there is only one God – ‘In the beginning God’-singular- as opposed to pagan ideas that there were many gods. So we can’t have the situation here of one god talking to another. So what is going on? Well, I think that there is some merit in the idea that this is a faint pointer to the Trinity, the God who as one Being exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit- they are the ‘us’. But it could also be a way of making an important announcement by someone in authority. I don’t know how many of you can remember the embarrassing occasion when the then prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, came out of number Ten Downing Street to make the announcement to the world press, ‘We are a grandmother’! She was using regal language-maybe she had forgotten that we already had a monarch on the throne. But that is the idea. Something different is about to happen, something of stupendous significance that a royal pronouncement is being made in regal terms - ‘Let us make’. Make what? ‘Man in our image’.
The first thing, then, this being god-like involves is dominion. As soon as God declares ‘let us make man in our image’, what does he go on to say what it is they are to do? ‘Let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ God is the supreme ruler over everything. He gives breath to the living creatures, he guides the course of the planets, he determines the weather systems, he establishes the ecosystems and he keeps every single atom in the universe dancing. But human beings are also to rule- something reiterated in verse 28, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. (that is, tame it, regulate it). Reign over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ The world which is so big which needs regulating and of course you need a pretty large work force to do that-hence be ‘fruitful and multiply’. So although God created everything and pronounced it good, a word which doesn’t mean perfect in that nothing needs doing to it, but ‘useful’ or ‘efficient’, there is still plenty of work to do which God shares out with human beings. He bestows upon men and women the dignity of working with him and for him, but always with God ultimately being in charge. So this is not a rule of equals, but a delegated rule, humans acting as vice-regents. So maybe, there were wild rivers which needed controlling, wild animals which needed herding, plants which needed tending, flowers which needed breeding. Do you see how here in Genesis we have the basis for modern science? Science is not an option, it is a divine command- we are meant to find out how the world works so that, in one sense, we can improve it; ensure it operates as God intended. Christianity and Science are not opposed to each other- Christianity actually gave birth to modern science. So one of the early pioneers of the scientific method, Francis Bacon back in the 16th and 17th centuries argued that God had given us, as it were, two books to read- the Book of Scripture where we discover God’s design for salvation and the Book of Nature which we have to study to see how it works so we can care for God’s world in line with Genesis 1. So whether it is tending the garden, cooking a meal, making a table, we are to be loving rulers under God. But I think that this side of the Fall, subduing the earth has another outworking- namely sharing the Gospel. Everything is meant to be brought under God’s rule, but while you have men and women in open rebellion against that rule, that won’t happen. And so for people to be properly serving each other and properly looking after the earth, then first they must get properly related to God and that comes through becoming a Christian. We can see how Matthew 28:18 in one sense completes Genesis1:28 –‘Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on the earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”’. The great creation mandate- subdue the earth is now linked to the great commission- go and make disciples. We are in the evangelism business because we are in the creation business. Do you see?
The second aspect of what it means to be made in the image of God is distinctiveness. Notice what it says in verse 28 - ‘God blessed them and said to them…’ and then v29 ‘God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth….’ Do you see how different that is from verse 22: when speaking of the animals we read: ‘God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number.’ Do you recognise the distinctiveness there? God speaks to human beings! There is this personal relationship which exists between God and people which does not exist with the rest of the animal kingdom. Here is a unique creature actually capable of having communion with God. We take this for granted but it is really quite remarkable. This tiny, tiny creature called man, made up of the same ‘stuff’ as sea lions and cheetahs, this remarkable biological machine of the earth is actually taken into the confidence of the infinite God of the universe. The one who is limitless in power, whose genius conceived and designed the cosmos, who depends upon no one and nothing- actually delights to have fellowship with us! He glories in sharing the abundance of his being and love with us, gathering us into his heart- so that what he has- a relationship of pure love within the family of the Trinity, we might have to. That is what we were made for, as one church document puts it, ‘The chief end of man is to know God and enjoy him for ever.’ Isn’t that a thought worth cherishing and pondering? We were made by God with the express purpose of not of finding enjoyment in cars, or dresses or careers- although there is enjoyment in these things - but finding our supreme joy in the God who made us. You see, if we miss that then we miss the whole reason why we were put on earth in the first place.
To be made in the image of God means that we, like God himself, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were made for relationships; to be mutually supportive of each other and being enriched by each other. And that is why this image bearing is unpacked for us a little further in that phrase in verse 27, ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.’ Yes, we are social creatures; we express our image by being related to one another, which is why solitary confinement is such a terrible thing. We gain our identity and sense of worth to a large degree by the way other people treat us and how we treat them. To be a kind person means there are other people to whom you can be kind. To be a patient person means you have to be in touch with people with whom you have to be patient. We need each other to be human. But it is perhaps supremely in marriage that the image shows itself most clearly, in that coming together of man and woman, we see the image of God beautifully reflected- there is the oneness- a common humanity, but difference-male and female, as God is one, and yet exists within his divine being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And that is why when we isolate ourselves we are denying if not damaging that image. To be spending endless ours in the bedroom on the computer game or engaging in some virtual reality game is not fellowship. To cut ourselves off from other Christians, trying to go it alone and so neglecting church is not fellowship. Just as God the Son does not cut himself off from the Father or the Spirit but gives himself to them, we are not to cut ourselves off from other people. A society which is made up of isolated individuals is hardly a society and certainly won’t last long. No it is in that community of love and sharing, giving and taking that we are at our most human- and especially as that takes place in marriage.
Thirdly, being made in the image of God bestows upon us a dignity. Reflecting on Genesis 1, King David says this in Psalm 8: ‘What is man that you are mindful of him or the son of man that you should care for him?’ Well, what is he? Nothing but a naked ape, a clever ipod with legs? No. Listen to the answer David gives: ‘You made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honour.’ That is, we are royalty. We are the kings of the jungle, not the lion. As God is regal, the king of kings, so we are regal too, being bestowed with tremendous dignity and worth. That is good news in for a society when so many people today feel they are rubbish and are being treated that way. They are royalty as far as God is concerned.
Now this is in stark contrast with the paganism of the nations surrounding Israel when these words were written. You see in Mesopotamia, - Babylon, it was the king who was viewed as being the image of the gods. So one ancient letter was discovered which read: ‘The father of my lord, the King is the very image of Bel (the deity), the king my lord is the very image of Bel.’ You go to Egypt which is where these Jews had escaped from and you find the same idea, Pharaoh is the image Re the creator god. But they never referred to other people in this way. They never spoke of Agnes, or Kylie, or Jason or Bill or Lee like that. It was only kings who were thought to be the image of God. But do you see what Genesis does? It universalises it to include the whole of humankind. What a blasphemy it was when the Nazi’s designated Jews as ‘non-people’. Of course without that you could not have had Auschwitz –for unless you have it in your mind that these are not human beings you could not treat them so inhumanely. And of course the same has to be done today in order to justify mass abortion on demand- for if this is a human being, bearing the image of God and not just a ‘conceptus’ or a blob of jelly- then that raises some very serious issues about how we treat the unborn.
But I said that, we are not the image of God, but made in the image of another who is the image. What do I mean by that? Well, we saw that verse 26 gives us a hint of the Trinity- ‘Let us make man in our image’. So within the being of God there is someone who mirrors, reflects, represents, God. Who might that be? We are told in Colossians 1:15. Speaking of Jesus we read: ‘He is the image of the invisible God.’ The writer to the Hebrews says something similar, ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.’ In other words, from all eternity to all eternity God the Father has had someone whom he loves with whom he shares his deity who images him perfectly and he is God the Son, who 2000 years ago became a man. The Son by virtue of being the Son has always had the role of revealing God the Father, he is the visible face of God if you like. He appeared in the Old Testament on several occasions. Isaiah saw this ‘image of the invisible God’ when he entered the temple: Isaiah 6, ‘I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.’ How do we know this was the eternal Son of God who became Jesus of Nazareth? Because John in his Gospel tells us: ‘Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfil the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed… Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus glory and spoke about him.’ So, to the question, who or what is the image of God, we can say, it is the Second Person of the Trinity-God the Son. He reflects and represents perfectly the character of God the Father, for he himself is God. He is also the image of the image of God as a human being. If you really want to know what true humanity is meant to be like, how we in our best moments are meant to behave, in all our dignity and worth you look to Jesus. There we see him subduing the raging storm with a word of command- fulfilling Genesis 1:28. There we see him providing food for the needy as God does in Genesis 1: 29, there we see what human relationships are meant to be like as he receives the tears of gratitude from the restored prostitute, as he enthusiastically welcomes a cheat like Zacchaeus, and boasters like Peter and forms a new community. And as people come to him today, they are changed, being conformed more and more to this image as we have it in Jesus, enabled by his powerful love to start to become the people God designed them to be, not paupers, but Kings, servant -kings to be sure, but royalty nonetheless.
Could I ask: have you really grasped that truth? Maybe you are here this morning and not a Christian. Perhaps you feel life has not treated you very well, that you do feel like a small cog in a great machine and, to be honest, you feel that if you were to disappear tomorrow not many people would particularly care. If so, then I have some very good news for you. You are a little less than an angel, and yet so like God- you bear the Maker’s image. Wouldn’t it be great if therefore you could get back in contact with the Maker whose image you bear, have the relationship you were originally designed to have? Well, you can if you come to the Lord Jesus-true God and true man. Admit your need, ask for him to forgive you and come into you and change you.
Or perhaps you are a Christian and this morning God has been challenging you to look again how much you are reflecting the divine image in your life. Maybe there is a need to recommit yourself to the fellowship and well being of God’s people-the church. Asking what can I do? How can I help my brothers and sisters here? Or maybe you are just overwhelmed and stand in awe that God has made you like this and is renewing you so that one day as you see the Lord Jesus when he returns with your physical eyes, you will transformed to be exactly like him. Now that is a God worth following. That is a God worth worshipping.
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