When I read a psalm, it’s hard for me not to picture David as the speaker. Depending on the psalm, I might imagine him as a shepherd (23), or as a king (45), or as the innocent outlaw on the run (3), sometimes a sinner (51), sometimes a victim (22).
But when I read Psalm 8, I picture someone else.
Psalm 8 was written by David. But it sounds like Adam. Like something from the garden, before the fall. It sounds that way because verses 6-8 are from Eden. Hear them:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on earth.”
Psalm 8 is a creation hymn, of sorts. Specifically, it’s a psalm that gives thanks to God for the work he did on the sixth day when Man and his descendents were given dominion over the world.
For that reason, for just a moment, I want us to imagine the words of Psalm 8 being spoken, not by David, but by Adam, on that very first night. The breath of Yahweh still in Adam’s nostrils; the stars and planets in the sky, the scent of the first flowers; the first rumbles of the great cats; the covenant law of the Lord God almighty still humming in his heart, and in that moment, Adam responding:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
What is man that you are mindful of him,
And the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
And crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands,
You have put all things under his feet…
Put into the mouth of Adam these words take a slightly different shape, don’t they? The words suggest to us something more than mere admiration of nature. In Adam’s mouth, with creation’s first dew still rising from the earth, this psalm contains nothing less than the meaning of what it means to be a man or woman or child. Psalm 8 contains the high calling of being human. It is our oath of office and the vow of our humanity spoken back in grateful worship to the creator of our humanity. It is the answer to the great question that still stalks the earth: “what is Man?”
Anthropology is the study of what makes us human. There are whole textbooks devoted to the subject. Whole shelves and careers. Even a store at the mall. We could save everyone a lot of time by sending them to Psalm 8, because our text this morning shows us.
We were made to worship the Creator and work the creation.
As one created in the image of God, as one “but a little lower than the heavenly beings”, we are to wonder at God’s power and kindness; we are to make war in furtherance of his kingdom; we are to rest in God’s watchful care over us; we are to celebrate the worth of our humanness; we are to work his creation; and we are to worship God in spirit and in truth.
But before jumping into the details, I want to orient this psalm within our Psalms series that we’ve titled, “A Heart for God.”
Here’s the problem: if Psalm 8 presents a Biblical anthropology might that not detract from our theology? Might the focus of such a sermon end up being “A Heart for Mankind” rather than “A Heart for God”? Well, yes, it could, but only if it was a bad sermon! Such a sermon would have missed one of the psalms’s key features, which is that the anthropology seen in the psalm is observed almost out of the corner of our eye. The direct gaze of the psalm is straight at God. And our direct words to him are those of thankfulness. The nobility and worth and commands given to mankind are here. But it’s an afterthought. It’s God that is front and center. The psalm is a song of praise and thanksgiving to him. The anthropology trails along behind all of that. The mind that understands Man best, is the heart that loves God most.
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
The human office, properly executed, demonstrates wonderment at the glory and majesty of God that is above even the awesome works of his hands.
Christians, we are to be an astonished people.
In chapter 1 of The Wind in the Willows, Mole wakes up from his winter hibernation and ventures above ground for the first time in his life.
Leaving the main stream, he now passed into what seemed at first sight like a little land-locked lake. Green turf sloped down to either edge, brown snaky tree-roots gleamed below the surface of the quiet water, while ahead of them the silvery shoulder and foamy tumble of a weir, arm-in-arm with a restless dripping mill-wheel, that held up in its turn a gray-gabled mill-house, filled the air with a soothing murmur of sound, dull and smothery, yet with little clear voices speaking up cheerfully out of it at intervals. It was so very beautiful that the Mole could only hold up both forepaws and gasp, ‘O my! O my! O my!’
What causes you to throw up your forepaws and gasp?
To marvel at nature is a human trait. To marvel at the creator of it is a Christian one.
Meditation on the beauty and grandeur of the natural world should always be the prelude to meditating on the beauty and grandeur of God. The edge of the ocean at night is not just a peaceful, solemn, place to reflect, it’s an opportunity to gain a new and deeper understanding of what God is like.
For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world.
We see David doing exactly that in this psalm. In verse one, he looks at the heavens and thinks “wow, God is bigger than that.” Then, in verse two, he looks at the moon and the stars and thinks, “wow, the God who made that, cares for me.” Everything he sees reminds him of God. His greatness, his mercy, all of it. Wring creation dry to get out of it everything of himself that God has put into it.
We need help to meditate well on God. And David needed help, too. The psalms are full of language and imagery drawn from the Pentateuch, and the psalms are full of imagery drawn from creation. The book of scripture and the book of nature were his constant companions. They should be our constant companions, too.
Here’s Gerard Manley Hopkins:
I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Savior…
Our eyes and heart should be trained to glean glimpses of our savior wherever he might make himself known to us. We should search everywhere for him. The Bride in Song of Solomon says: “I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves.”
Seek him who your soul loves.
I heard a sermon once where John Piper described the pulpit as a mine shaft and that the act of preaching was like the preacher going deep into the mine of scripture and coming out in front of the church with diamonds to show. That's a great image.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a preacher to mine these jewels. And while the most precious jewels are found in scripture, Roman 1 tells us that God has planted glimpses of his attributes everywhere.
We should mine everywhere for God. We should glean everywhere for glimpses of our savior - in nature and literature and music and art and wise friends. Again, not as ends to themselves, not to be sophisticated or well-traveled, but because we should want to learn new words to describe God. We should want fresh pictures in our minds to help us understand him more profoundly. We should want the truths of scripture to take deeper and deeper root in us. It is worth a four day drive to Arizona just to stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon at sunset and shout, even if only to your own heart, that the glory of God is greater even than that.
Meditation of creation that does not lead to worship of the Creator is idolatry.
So take a picture of it. But then pray, too.
Take a guide book with you into the woods; but pack your Bible, too.
What causes you to throw up your forepaws and gasp? With all due respect to Mole, it is in contemplation of God that our hearts cry out most loudly “O my! O my! O my!”.
Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Out of the mouth of babes and infants,
You have established strength because of your foes
To still the enemy and the avenger.
I consider this verse to be one of many passages in scripture that show God’s pleasure in empowering the weak to triumph over the strong. Because Jesus quotes this verse in the context of children singing “Hosanna” to him in the temple, I believe it also belongs among those passages of scripture that connect worship and spiritual warfare. However, I freely admit that the imagery, here, is peculiar and that there are other valid approaches to the text.
That having been said, I believe this verse shows us that the human office, properly executed, is one that is engaged in warfare against the enemies of God.
This is true of the strong, but also of the weak. The muster call of God goes out to all his people, young and old, the physically strong and the physically weak. It is a strange army that God has armed with his Spirit. We know from Judges that 32,000 of Gideon’s men was deemed too large an army to fight against the Mideons. And 10,000 was too large an army, also. And that it wasn’t until the number was reduced to 300 that Gideon’s army was deemed sufficiently small to bring glory to God for the destruction of his enemies.
The providence of God, in order to make itself known to mankind, does not wait till men
arrive at the age of maturity, but even from the very dawn of infancy shines forth so brightly as is sufficient to confute all the ungodly, who, through their profane contempt of God, would wish to extinguish his very name…[Even babies] are invincible champions of God who, when it comes to the conflict, can easily scatter and discomfit the whole host of the wicked despisers of God…The splendor of Divine Providence is so apparent, that even infants, who hang upon their mothers’ breasts, can bring down to the ground the fury of the enemies of God…God has appointed children even in infancy the vindicators of his glory.
Are you young? God has made you a vindicator of his glory! Do you feel as though your best years are behind you? With a cane in one hand and a Bible in your other, God can use you to bring down to the ground the fury of the enemies of God! Are you infirmed or disabled? The providence of God does not assign only the healthy to his ranks, but the lame, also, and even from your sick bed shines forth so brightly as is sufficient to confute all the ungodly.
After the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, children are heard singing and worshiping him in the temple. The pharisees rebuke Jesus for allowing this and he answers by quoting this verse:
Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
You have prepared praise.
Some of the very first ax strokes laid to the root of a dead and hypocritical religion were made by the worship of children who, like the riders of Rohan, “sang as they slew for the joy that was in them.”
Worship is warfare.
Psalm 149 says “Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples.”
When one of my children was baptized, I gave them a pocket-knife with an engraving on the blade. On one side it said “sword in hand” and on the other side it said “praise in throat.” For years, it was a password between us. One of us would say “sword in hand” and the other would reply “praise in throat.” Sword in hand. Praise in throat.
Somehow we’ve gotten into our minds that music is a hobby and children are cute. That may be true sometimes, but not always. Carve out for yourself a category of music that cuts like a sword and a catagory for children who are holy enough to wield it. Sing - and teach your children to sing - loud enough for the enemy to hear. Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands. Praise the Lord.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
What is man that you are mindful of him,
And the son of man that you care for him?
Consider the kindness of God that he has not simply created us, nor merely gifted us, but has added as an essential element of our anthropology, friendship with him. The same God who walked with Adam in the cool of the day, fellowships with us still through his Word, his Spirit, and his Church; and cares for his people, still, through his Word, his Spirit, and his Church.
Meditate with David on the mercy of God that - having spoken the wonders of creation into existence and set his glory and majesty high above even those wonders - he has turned his attention toward us. And not just his attention toward us, but his image, his affection, his care, his heart, and ultimately, his very Son. All of this, on us, who are but dead dogs.
If you know the life of David well, verse 4 in our psalm might remind you of David’s response to God in 2 Samuel 7, when God establishes his covenant with him. Picking up in verse 7, listen:
‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.
Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?”
David knew that he was nothing. He knew his frame. He knew he was but dust and just a country boy from Bethlehem. But he also knew that God cared for him and had blessed him immeasurably. When you’re taken from following the sheep to being a prince, you don’t doubt that God’s paying attention to you, that God is mindful of you and cares for you.
But what of us? There are no princes here, just a bunch of shepherds from Apex who were born shepherds and remain shepherds. How can we be confident?
I now want to offer a comparison between this passage and one from Matthew 6. David considers God’s creation of the stars and then considers his own insignificance and is amazed that the maker of the first could also be the protector of the second. Yet David is confident that he is watched and cared for.
Jesus, meanwhile, speaks to those who are far less confident that they are watched and cared for. To them Jesus says
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious.
David starts big (the stars) and moves small (to us) to prove God’s ability to care and watch over us; Jesus starts small (birds and lilies) and moves big (to us) to prove his willingness to care.
What do you believe when you say: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?”
Here is your heart’s reply:
I believe that the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth with all that is in them, who also upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ his Son my God and my Father. I trust in him so completely that I have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul. Moreover, whatever evil he sends upon me in this troubled life he will turn to my good, for he is able to do it, being almighty God, and he is determined to do it, being a faithful Father.
Your biography, alone, might fail to give you confidence that God cares for you and is mindful of you, but where your experience falls short, may his words to you not. The one who made the stars is mighty to care for you. The one who clothes the lilies of the field desires to care for you.
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
And crowned him with glory and honor.
Sometimes we read things in the psalms that make us pause. Sometimes it’s David’s bold claims of innocence. We read Psalm 18 and think “Really, David? Totally clean hands? Nothing nagging your conscience just a little bit?” Or we read Psalm 3 and think “Eesh, I didn’t think we were supposed to talk about our enemies that way.” Verse 5 might hit us in a similar way. Christians from the Reformed Tradition, particularly, are probably more comfortable owning their own wretchedness than their worthiness.
But I would like to propose a two-step approach to this kind of psalm. The first step is to own the simple fact that, by the application of the merits of Christ’s active obedience to us and the sanctifying work of the Spirit in us, David’s various claims of innocence, righteous anger, and being crowned with glory are, in a very real sense, true of David and are true of us.
The second step is to see psalms like these prophetically. Our declared - rather than actual - innocence, our complicated anger, our defaced glory, all of these things we read and understand as having their final and perfected expression in Christ Jesus: the actually innocent one, the one who’s anger is perfectly righteous, the one whose glory is never tarnished or compromised.
Has God, in fact, made us a little lower than the angels and crowned us with glory and honor? Well, yes, he has. By grace he has. By the free, extravagant, lavish, gift of his hand he has done so. So go ahead, admire the human race. God made it. Your flesh and blood and mind are the crowning achievements of God’s creative work. To deny it is no less offensive to God than blindfolding yourself at the base of the Matterhorn.
But what about our second step? What about reading this verse prophetically? Well, hold on, we’ll get there in a little bit.
As for us, as for the native honor and nobility of mankind, may the Christian claim it fully and shamelessly in the face of mass secular confusion.
Because, you see, the secular world only pretends to love and elevate man. But its humanism is a lie; its plastic surgery a fraud; and its glossy magazines, air-brushed.
So let’s show ‘em how it's done. To quote Whitman in another context, “these slovens do not half know their business.” For we celebrate the same body, the same genius, the same incalculable beauty of symmetry and form, yet we trace these lineaments upward to their Maker and see within the body and the blood and the breath the firstfruits of his creation and the eternal worshiping soul within it. And we give thanks to God for it!
It is also true, though, that what God values is simply different from what the world values. At the creation of Narnia in The Magician's Nephew, there is a scene after all the animals have been created where Aslan gives the gift of speech and consciousness to certain creatures. When he does this, the small animals like squirrels and beavers become bigger than they were before; but the large animals, the elephants and bears, become a little smaller. Becoming a Christian is like that; life in the Church is like that. The ones who are small out there, get big in here. The ones who are a big deal out there, become small.
Some of the glory and honor with which God crowns his children is in a currency that not all marketplaces accept. Even as we own and celebrate the unique glory of being human, never forget that our Lord offered some of his greatest promises to the mournful and meek, to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, to the merciful, to the pure in heart, to the peacemakers, and to those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Those things are jewels in the crown of their humanity but to which the world is blind. Nonetheless, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
We are called to worship the creator and work the creation. Only two other times in scripture is the word “dominion” used in this way: once, with Adam in Genesis 1 and again with Noah in Genesis 9. Each time the pattern and language is similar. But here, in Psalm 8, the dominion mandate is not given by God as a covenant command, it is repeated by man back to God in thanks.
That deserves repeating: we are to give thanks for our work. Our work isn’t just a necessity, it’s an honor. It is a kind of crowning to be given responsibility.
What’s more, David shows us that the giving of thanks for our work has a place in corporate worship. One-third of this entire psalm is basically just mankind’s job description. “I’m in charge of that and that and that…oh, yeah and that, too.” Yet here it is, in poetic form, to be used and emulated in our worship.
What has God put you in charge of? Your job, your school work, your children, your yard, tonight’s dinner - each of those responsibilities is a kingdom over which you are king or queen. Pray like Solomon that you would rule that kingdom well. Be faithful even in a little. Give thanks to God in worship for that responsibility. Confess to God in worship your failure in that responsibility. Petition God in worship for blessing and success in that responsibility. We don’t just read books on “How To Be A Worker for God”, we sing it and pray it and confess it, too. Our stewardship is a priestly work in which we bring into the house of the Lord the fruit of what has been placed under our care and control.
The substance of [Israilite] worship was not simply the raw fruit of creation; it was the transformed and handcrafted fruit of human culture. In Israel’s worship, we discover God’s creation developed, molded, transformed, and glorified by human labor. Here in worship the worker is liturgically reminded that creation is good, that human craftsmanship is good, and that when creation and craftsmanship are combined, the products of that labor are worthy of being offered in divine worship.
The sacredness of your work extends beyond the offering plate. The labor of the last six days is some of the raw material from which today’s corporate prayers and praise and prophecies are built. And today’s prayers and praise and prophecies are some of the raw materials out of which the next six days of work and mission will be built.
Maybe at the beginning of the school year we should pray for the teachers and homeschool moms and students. Maybe during tax season we should pray for Mike Garner and the other CPAs here.
I was trying to think of a day when we could pray for the computer programmers and the best I could come up with was 3/14, Pi Day. But ok, fine! We’ll pray for Alan and Jordan and Brian on March 14th every year because they need our prayers. They have been given a certain dominion for which they should be grateful and which they need God’s blessing for.
Don’t leave the dominion God has given you in the lobby. Just because our jobs involve computers instead of goats doesn’t mean we should feel sheepish about bringing the joys and concerns and profit of our jobs into the house of the Lord.
O LORD, our Lord,
How majestic is your name in all the earth!
Hear that familiar refrain: LORD, our Lord; Yahweh, our Elohim; God our King; Creator, our Friend.
Right worship of the true God is an essential element of being human. It’s part of your anthropology. Humans are the worshipping creatures. It is simply a matter of what you worship. Worship of a false God dehumanizes you. You aren’t what you eat, you are what you worship.
Psalm 8 is an x-ray of the human species as God created it to be. Men and women are the wonderers, the workers, the warriors, the worshipers. To illustrate how worship functions within our spiritual anatomy, I want to consider Psalm 115. If Psalm 8 is an x-ray of a life, Psalm 115 is an autopsy of a corpse. Speaking of the pagan nations surrendering Israel, David writes:
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
Eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
Feet, but do not walk;
And they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
So do all who trust in them.
Do you see that? Psalm 115 lays out the inverse of Psalm 8. Psalm 8 presents us with a picture of Man as he was created to be, worshiping the Creator and working the creation. Psalm 115 describes the un-making, the un-creating, of a man. False worship turns you to stone, bit by bit, sense by sense. The worship of God does not subtract from life; it adds to it. The worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in spirit and in truth, is not the denigration of Man, but his culmination.
There’s good news and hard news to that. The good news, like we’ve seen, is that we are crowned with glory and honor. We’re the cream of the crop. The hard news is that the cream of the crop belongs to God. You are not your own. We are the first fruits of creation, James says, and it is the first fruits that are commanded by God in the Mosaic law to be sacrificed and killed. It is the first born who are sacrificed. Those whom he saves he owns. It is the sheep and goats and bulls without blemish that are placed on the altar.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a
living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Worship is both the starting point of true and abiding life and also the pathway to a certain kind of dying. But oh what a death; what a happy death. It is the presentation of ourselves to God as living sacrifices. It is death to sin and the wretched man you once were; it is death to your idols; it is death to your striving after vanity and the empty claims of this world.
You do not become a Christian to get what you always wanted; you become a Christian to want what God has always desired to give you: Himself.
There we have it, our Biblical anthropology, the six organs of our humanity: wonderment, warfare, watchedness, worthiness, work, and worship.
We began by imagining Psalm 8 being spoken by Adam in the first hours of his existence. But of course we know how that ended. He broke every one of his duties.
He grew dissatisfied with marveling at God and his good creation and instead longed for new, forbidden, things to wonder at;
He failed to prepare his wife, Eve, for the attacks and temptations of the enemy, failing the first and most disastrous war in history;
He doubted that God was actually watching him and chose to hide his sin from him;
He despised the honor given to mankind and instead lusted after an honor reserved for God alone;
By his sin, his work over creation was forever distorted and frustrated and cursed.
And lastly, he forsook the worship of the creator for that of the creature.
Every duty broken. And in Adam’s fall, our fall, also.
For we fail to wonder at the majesty of God and his works.
We fail to engage in the kingdom warfare we have been called to.
We are anxious and fail to receive and submit ourselves to God’s watchful care.
We fail to behold the image of God in the face of our fellowman.
We fail to work as we should.
We fail to worship in spirit and in truth.
Our lives are rarely lived as Adam’s was that first night.
Instead, they are lived as Adam’s was on a night not long after. Clothed in fig leaves, hiding in shame from God.
Maybe you remember in middle school science a unit on taxonomy. That’s where you learned how to classify and separate the Animal kingdom from the Plant Kingdom and mammals from amphibians and all that sort of thing.
Well, the opening chapters of Hebrews presents a kind of cosmic taxonomy. To the writer’s audience, there would have been three kinds of rational beings in the world: God, angels, and people. The difficulty lay in understanding where exactly Jesus fit into that system. Was he simply a man? An angel? If God, then how?
The writer of Hebrews updates their taxonomy by pointing his theological telescope straight at the Godhead and showing his readers that Christ was to be found neither among men nor angels but within the very Godhead. The taxonomy of the Hebrews was getting a profound Trinitarian update.
To get there, he identifies ten different psalms whose ultimate subject he argues is not David or God the Father, but is, instead, the Son, Jesus. One of those ten psalms is our psalm, Psalm 8.
Let’s pick up in Hebrews 2:5
For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,
What is man, that you are mindful of him,
Or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
Putting everything in subjection under his feet.
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers.
The immediate subject of Psalm 8 in its original composition is anthropology; it’s us - those sons and daughters of Adam, filled with the breath of God and given dominion over the earth. Yet the ultimate subject of the psalm is theological; it’s Jesus Christ, the one who is crowned with the greatest glory and the greatest honor, the one under whose feet all things are being put in subjection. We have gone from the “what is man?” of verse 4 to Pilot’s words at Jesus’ trial: Ecce homo. Behold the Man. What is man? Behold the God-Man Jesus Christ. The one who has fulfilled all and obeyed all and accomplished all, the founder of our salvation, who is not ashamed to call us brothers and calls us - us, no longer in fig leaves but clothed in his own righteousness - to glory!
There’s a Haydn oratorio called “The Creation '' that is a little bit like Handle’s Messiah. It’s basically scripture set to music. There’s an orchestra, a choir, and four soloists. In the Haydn oratorio the text that is set to music is the first chapter of Genesis. That’s why it’s called “The Creation.”
My favorite performance of the piece features the famous bass-baritone, Thomas Quastoff. You can find it on YouTube. Quastoff suffers from a severe birth defect caused by a prescription drug his mother was given when she was pregnant with him in the late 1950’s. Quastoff is four feet tall; has three fingers on each hand, and has arms so stunted that they barely extend out far enough for him to put food into his own mouth. In another time or place, he would have ended up in a circus. Instead, Quastoff is one of the greatest singers in the classical world.
In his performance of The Creation, when the oratorio gets to the Sixth Day, the day of Man’s creation, what you see on stage is striking. There on a stool sits Quastoff, a twisted and deformed man, an adult’s head on a child’s body, while the tall handsome tenor stands beside him and sings these words:
“And God created Man in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul. In native worth and honor clad, with beauty, courage, and strength adorned, to heaven erect and tall he stands: a Man. The lord of earth and nature’s king. The large and arched brow, sublime of wisdom deep, declares the seat and in his eyes with brightness shone the soul, the breath and image of his God…”
And there sits Quastoff on his stool, silent. And the unspoken question: Is Quastoff, too, such a one, created in the image of God?
The athlete? Crowned with glory and honor.
The ballerina? A little lower than the angels.
He himself answers the question and sings in the deepest most noble voice imaginable:
“And God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good.”
And the choir sings its agreement:
“Achieved is the glorious work; the Lord beholds it and is pleased. In lofty strains let us rejoice. Our song let be the praise of God”
There are some here who believe that your outward circumstances are keeping you from fully participating in the high calling that Psalm 8 portrays. Even if not as extreme as Quastoff, you look at yourself or your chronically sick spouse or your disabled child and you think, “Is he too but a little lower than the angels? Has God crowned her with glory? Has he crowned him with honor? Is her faint voice, too, one of those ordained for praise and for the silencing of the wicked?”
The answer, in short, is yes.
God has made her a little lower than the heavenly beings
And crowned her with glory and honor.
For the Christian, there is no qualifier to that reality because that reality has been most completely fulfilled and embodied in the person of Christ Jesus and we are in him.
The glory and worth of Man, the crown of God’s creation, is not in your jaw line or your waste line or even in your ability to feed yourself. It is in what David begins the Psalm with and ends the Psalm with; it is in our capacity - be it ever so dimmed by age or infirmity - to worship. It is in our heart for God, which sings out continually Oh LORD our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
There are others, here, though, in an even more pitiable condition than the first. You look in the mirror or at your bank account and then read Psalm 8 and think you’ve got it. You see the high call of your humanity as being expressed within the normal lines of contemporary life. You have weighed yourself in the scales of late-capitalist bourgeois America and found your body trim, your wallet fat, and your lawn mowed.
If that is you, beware. Your heart may be as twisted and deformed as Quastoff’s body.
Let’s look at Hebrews 2 one last time.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
The call for both kinds of people - for both the frail and the proud - is to look upward and behold the Man, Christ Jesus. To the weak: see your brother. To the strong: see your sacrifice.
To the weak: look upward and see the one who has shared in your flesh and blood and who was made like you in every respect; see the one who is not ashamed to call you his brother; see and love and worship the one who has destroyed the power of death and delivered you from slavery.
To the strong: look upward and see the one who suffered the death you deserved. The cross is a rebuke to you. His death, for you, represents both a firm condemnation of your life and an equally firm redemption of it. Your beauty and your wealth and your intelligence and your power, apart from his mercy, had purchased you nothing but his judgment. Yet he spared you at the cost of his own life. Therefore, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God so that he might raise you up and seat you at his table.
There are cripples at that table and sinners worse than you, but the bread with which you are fed is his own body and the cup from which you drink is the blood of a new covenant. And the endurance of that covenant is not dependent on the righteousness of Adam that failed or the lineage of David that died, but on Christ Jesus, the appointed heir and creator of all things who has put everything in subjection to himself, leaving nothing outside his control, and who watches over you even now.
What are we that he is mindful of us?
We are but objects of his grace,
made for his glory,
to display his great mercy.
O my O my O my!
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