[K:NWTS 3/3 (Dec 1988) 21-26]
(Creation) Imagine nothing. Of course you can't. You can't "imagine nothing" because it is a contradiction in terms! And besides, our minds are always occupied with something. But one time in the past–no, before time existed–there was nothing. Only God! And God decided to create and something appeared. But that something was disordered, was empty, and darkness was over this creation. The first act of creation left only a fearful void to be filled.
The Bible says that the Spirit of God moved over this void. The presence of God (his ruach in Hebrew) his Spirit-presence hovered over the waters contemplating his creation. What would come out of those disordered waters? What would be formed? With what end in mind would God call forth this new work?
A voice sounded like thunder; and LIGHT! After that a series of words and a whole creation was formed: sea, mountains, trees and birds, animals and insects. Everything–almost everything. For God had not yet finished. He paused. Cherubim and angels draw near, heavenly beings crowd to see.
"Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). Imagine! A creature after the image of its Creator! After the image of that Spirit-presence, that Spirit of Glory, that Creator-Spirit! A creature was going to exercise the authority of God himself in ruling and governing the earth! The Creator-Spirit was conceding to man virtually the place of God on this earth!
What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?
And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?
Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God,
And dost crown him with glory and majesty!
Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands;
Thou hast put all things under his feet (Ps. 8:4-6).
(Priest) This man that God created didn't just rule over the earth. God gave him a very special quality–the capacity to have intimate communion with this Creator. In fact, God created a special place, a garden, where they could be together in communion. Of course, all the earth belonged to the man, but God sanctified a special place just for them (cf. Gen. 2:7,8,15). In this garden, the man (and later the woman also) could talk with their Creator. They told him that they loved him. There they offered the fruit of their labors in pleasing consecration to God. That garden was like a temple, you know. The majestic trees formed the pillars; the blue sky above formed the roof. The birds intoned choruses and mankind rendered his entire being, all his activities to his Creator. Paradise. It was paradise! And God had communion with his image, the man and his wife.
(Eschatological telos ["purpose," "goal"]) But even this was not all. There were precious times with God. But the man had a very great task to perform. First of all he had to guard the garden because it appears that a malignant force had made its appearance. But also he was to fill the earth with children; he was to be fruitful and multiply, subduing the earth by means of populating it. Why? Because God wasn't content with just two people. He wanted more. He wanted many with whom to share himself. He wanted happiness for thousands, for millions! And when the earth would have been filled with this grand multitude, all united, God would take his creation together with his people and glorify them. A new earth, new bodies; and the Lord would descend to dwell in their midst forever and ever. Creation and mankind had a very definite purpose; God doesn't begin his projects without preparing a glorious consummation. And man's end would have been glorious.
And what happened? The man and the woman, made in God's image, exercising dominion over the earth for God, judging righteously–what did they do? They didn't even pass the very first test of faithfulness to their Creator. God put them in the garden to guard it, to guard the holy temple–and they let Satan walk right in. God gave the man the responsibility for the spiritual direction of the family and we find Eve tempting Adam and Adam listens to her! God told them not to eat of the fruit of that one certain tree and both of them lust after that fruit, take and eat it. And God's creatures–at the beginning clothed with the glorious image of God–found themselves naked and ashamed. They brought upon themselves the just condemnation: "in the day you eat thereof you shall surely die!"
This would have been the end of the story–the end of history, if it weren't for a merciful God. God took those wretched, ungrateful sinners and clothed them with skins–the first sacrifice, pointing toward a future hope. And in fact, after many things took place, that Creator-Spirit descended again, this time over a virgin, and there was born what Paul calls "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (Col. 1:15): JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, THE SECOND ADAM, THE PERFECT IMAGE OF GOD. Jesus received the Spirit of his Father at his baptism and went directly into the desert where he passed the most direct temptations of Satan. Jesus, the image of God, judged rightly between right and wrong. Jesus, image of God, received the downpayment of his glorification on the Mount of Transfiguration when he was clothed with glory. And when he had completed all righteousness, had made the full sacrifice, had conquered death and arose, he ascended. And what was it that received him? A cloud. Not a little white cloud either. Not just any regular old cloud. It was the cloud of the Spirit that moved over the waters at creation. It was the glory-cloud that led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the desert. It was the cloud of fire that descended over the tabernacle and filled the holy of holies with glory. And 50 days later, after Jesus ascended, the cloud of fire came back–on the day of Pentecost! And do you know what it did? It clothed the followers of Jesus with fire too–with a little bit of that glory which mankind had lost so long ago. The image of God was restored! No longer was mankind left naked before God! No longer was mankind left "destitute of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).
Brothers and sisters, a fundamental element of our salvation is that Jesus Christ restores to us that part of the image of God that we had lost because of sin–the image of God which permitted communion with God; that image which permitted us to draw near unto God in worship, rendering adoration and praise, presenting unto him our labors. As Paul says, "Put off the old man . . . and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man which has been created in the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Eph. 4:22-24).
When Jesus enters our heart, he brings the renewing image of God. We are reclothed with what Adam and Eve lost. We are reclothed in righteousness and now we understand and love the truth. We can once again judge rightly between the good and the bad when before we were slaves of sin. Again Paul says, "Because all who have been baptized in Christ are clothed with Christ" (Gal. 3:27). And we are clothed also with "glory" as Paul says in that mysterious passage: "But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). We are being transformed now into glory and our restored image gathers more and more strength each day as the Spirit of the Lord transforms us.
But we also await a greater fulfillment than that which we have already received. As the first creation awaited a consummation we too await a final and full consummation of our salvation, when we will be clothed forevermore with robes of glory. And so Paul says, "For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting'" (1 Cor. 15:53-55)?
Brethren, I believe that for us today, here is the response which the Lord would have us make. If we realize that apart from Jesus Christ we are naked before God, that only by the grace of God has he clothed us in Jesus and made us acceptable once again in his presence–let us humble ourselves before him. We are sinners restored to God's favor by his mercy. Let there be no attitude of superiority among us. No one here is "better" than another. Before God and before his people let us show humility and gratitude. The proof of having the renewed image of Christ is to live as Christ lived, in service to his Father and his neighbor. Let us humble ourselves before God rendering to him honor and glory for his salvation.
Let us also live with this vision of the church. I have a vision of a church clothed with the image of her Lord, clothed with glory, jealous of good works. A church which works faithfully to proclaim the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, a church which with joy reaches out in love and tenderness to a world so twisted and distorted from its original destiny.
Have you been clothed with Jesus Christ? Humble yourself before him in adoration and praise. In gratitude to God share your Savior with those who do not know him yet.
Iglesia Cristiana Reformada
San Jose, Costa Rica
(Translated from the Spanish)