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What Is Man?

(I prepared this meditation to go along with a sermon on Psalm 8.)

At some point in our lives just about all of us ask the question, “Why am I here? What is my place in the grand scheme of things?”

In trying to answer that question we run into one of the contradictions in human nature. On the one hand we have a pretty good opinion of ourselves. In fact, pride is one of our besetting sins. We tend to think that, at least in some ways, we’re better than others – or, we’re certainly not as bad as they are.

On the other hand, we have this sneaking suspicion that we’re insignificant. In comparison to the vast universe out there, not only we ourselves, but the whole of mankind is really small potatoes. In chapter 2, verse 6 the writer of Hebrews says, “…What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (NIV) That’s a quote from Psalm 8 where King David asks that question after he looked up at the night sky and saw the multitude of the stars. Compared to everything out there just what is mankind anyway? Why should God care about us?

A lot of people wonder about that. For example, I was reading a novel the other day. In it one of the characters says, “…to me those stars look pretty randomly scattered. And think about their size and distance! How can anything on this earth matter? We’re microbes on a grain of dust. Life is a stupid and insignificant accident, and when it’s over we’re just dead meat.” (Herman Wouk, War And Remembrance, Pocket Books, 1978, p.377)

However, King David and the writer of Hebrews have a very different answer about our worth when they contemplate the heavens. The heavens not only display the glory of God, they also disclose the glory of mankind. They write, “You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet…” (Hebrews 2:7-8 NIV)

In verse 5, the writer of Hebrew already said that the world to come will not be subjected to the angels but will be under the rule of mankind. But here we run into a paradox. Verse 6 of Hebrews 2 asks the question why God should care about mankind at all? Verse 7 says that in the order of creation man is lower than the angels. How can man be lower than angels, yet have more honor and dominion than they do? In order to understand we need to take another look at how things began. When God created this world, He intended man to rule over it. Genesis 1, verses 27 and 28 say, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”” (NIV)

However, mankind has never fulfilled God’s purpose. One of the consequences of Adam’s and Eve’s sin was a fundamental change in our relationship to the world around us. Genesis 3:17 says, “To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you…”” (NIV)

Fortunately, God also promised that one day the curse will be reversed. John writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…” (Revelation 21:1 NIV) Then he adds, “No longer will there be any curse…” (Revelation 22:3 NIV) According to what we read in Hebrews, this new earth will be under man’s dominion, just as in God’s original intent.

Since we have messed up our heritage through sin, and mankind is lower in the creation than the angels, then how is it that angels are sent to serve us and how is it that we, and not they, will rule over the world to come? The answer is in the passage we’ve already looked at in Genesis 1:27. God created man in His own image; He put something of Himself in us. Though, because of our sin we have totally distorted that image, God still cherishes it and wants to redeem it.

Now if we are created in God’s image, that also explains why He chose us to rule rather than the angels. By definition, God rules. If we are made in His image it follows that we also must rule. Otherwise we cannot fulfill or satisfy the nature that we have.

But this raises another question. The description we’ve been reading does not seem to match reality. Hebrews 2:8 candidly admits that we don’t see everything subject to mankind. “…In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.” (NIV)

The solution to this dilemma is in verse 9. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (NIV)

When we look at Jesus, we see the same pattern of being made lower before being exalted, of defeat before victory. He had an exalted position. Then He was made lower than the angels. He tasted death. Afterward He was crowned with glory and honor. In other words, Jesus is the prototype or forerunner for what will happen to us. Since we have Jesus’ example of how this works, we can be confident that the promises made to us will come to pass also. If we look through physical and material eyes, our current position is very low. Yet, when we look at things from the perspective of God’s will and promises, we have already been crowned.

Jesus was crowned because He suffered death. Without the death there wouldn’t have been the crown. This is one of the reasons we gather each week to remember Christ’s death. The death we commemorate in the bread which represents His body and the juice which represents His blood, point to the glory He received. It’s also a reminder of the honor and glory we anticipate. Paul points out in Romans, chapter 6 that we receive new life by being baptized into Christ’s death. Because we share in His death, we will also share in His glory.

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