(God's) Image Is Everything
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“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’” (Genesis 1:27-28).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“We’re all made in the image of God.” You’ve heard that line before. It’s often invoked by those who are demanding equal rights, to demonstrate that we are all equal, that we’re all the same, and that we should all be treated that way. And, in a culture that lauds equality, it has a ring of truth.
But the truth is that in our world we are not all equal. Not all life is considered the same. Today, a lot of children still in the womb aren’t considered all that valuable by many. Neither are those in nursing homes, or on life support, or who are mentally and physically handicapped. Sadly, in the eyes of the law, and in the minds of many, they also are somehow less than human. And honestly, even in our everyday personal lives we make value judgments about people all the time. Is this person worth our time? Our effort? Our energy? Our money? (Pause) Weighing the pros and cons, we determine that some are and some are not.
One example of this in recent history caused no small dispute and contention. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a fund was set up to compensate the victims’ families for the loss of their loved ones. But each did not receive the same amount. A determination was made as to what each life was worth in dollars and cents. Was a father worth more than a single man? Was an executive worth more than a blue-collar worker? What about potential for future earnings? And what about the rescue workers?
The task of determining what each family received fell to one man. After he’d completed his task, he said he’d never do something like it again. How can you place a specific value on human life in terms of dollars and cents? How can you compare the value of one human life to another?
There is one thing that gives meaning and purpose and value to every human life—we were each made in the image of God. Today, as we celebrate God the Holy Trinity, we will do so by focusing on “the image of God,” which was given to humanity at creation, lost in the Fall, and which is now being restored and recreated in us for the sake of Jesus Christ.
A television commercial some time ago asserted, “Image is everything.” That philosophy explains why corporations spend millions of dollars every year trying to create a positive and attractive image for themselves. That’s why sports stars and celebrities are paid the big bucks for their endorsements. Companies want to create a certain image for themselves and their products.
Yet consider how quickly and suddenly this image can be lost with one product that has to be recalled, with one misstep by a corporate executive, with one scandal. Think what happened (at least for a time) to the stock of the companies who were associated with Martha Stuart. Or how quickly the Walmart spokesman issued a statement regarding the recent New Jersey turnpike accident this week. Even Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods saw a drastic reduction in their endorsement opportunities on the heels of their personal scandals.
The image of God given to Adam and Eve was lost quickly also, with one simple act. Ironically, when Adam abdicated His God-given role as head of the family and Eve gave into Satan’s temptation “to be like God,” God’s image was instantly lost. And try as we might, we cannot re-create this image for ourselves. Only God can, through the one He sent to restore His image, His Son, Jesus Christ. For the Christian, His image is everything!
So what does it mean to be made “in the image of God”? As Dr. Nathan Jastram notes in his recent study, Man as Male and Female: Created in the Image of God: “The simplest and most comprehensive definition of the image of God is that it means ‘to be like God.’” God Himself equates the two in our First Lesson: “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). To be made in the image of God is to be like God. But “to be like God” in what way?
Made in the image of God does not mean that mankind looked like God, but that we were created in righteousness, with perfect knowledge of God, and true fear and confidence and trust in God. Adam and Eve truly knew God as He wishes to be known and they were perfectly happy with Him. They were righteous and holy, doing God’s will.
To be made in the image of God also means that mankind is special in God’s eyes. For in the beginning, when God created all things, man received what nothing else in all of creation received. Yes, everything was made “good,” and all creation was “very good,” but of no other creature in heaven or on earth can it be said that they were made in the image of God. Not even the angels. This honor was given only to man. The crown of God’s creation, mankind, was given dominion over all the earth. Adam, with Eve, his helper at his side, was given God’s authority and told to act in His place as steward in His stead and by His command. God blessed the man and woman 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” (Genesis 1:28).
But on the day Adam and Eve sinned, this image of God was lost to them, and subsequently to us, their children. No longer do we fear and love God as we ought. No longer do we have natural knowledge of God as our loving Father. No longer do we have confidence in Him, but we take matters into our own hands. No longer do we seek to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Sin has broken creation. It has broken us. We’re different from what we were created to be, and we consider others differently. Our consciences accuse us. Not wanting to be seen “naked,” or as we are without the image of God, we try to create substitute images for ourselves. Ashamed of what we’ve become, conscious of the fact that we are much less than we were intended to be, we cover ourselves with our own self-righteousness, much like the fig-leaf hastily put together by our first parents. And so, perhaps, you’ve created your own religious mask, so that people will think you’re holier than you really are. Perhaps you wear an image of bravery to hide your fear. Or maybe, like many others, you’ve hidden yourself behind the cry, “We’re all made in the image of God, so that must mean that God has made me this way,” and you’ve used that as an excuse so that others won’t condemn you for who you are! And on and on and on we go.
But when all is said and done, we’re still broken. We’re still sinners. We may be able to hide who we are from each other, but we can’t hide from our conscience that accuses; we certainly can’t hide who we are from God. Whatever images we create for ourselves are poor images indeed, for they are false images. They’re poor substitutes for being clothed in righteousness, for being made in the image of God.
But the God who created man in His image does not leave us fallen and broken. The God who creates also re-creates, and He is busy restoring His image in a fallen and broken world. And that is Good News! For we can try to create images for ourselves all we want, but only God can create something out of nothing—in the beginning and still yet today. And so, after sin entered the world, after the image of God in us was lost, God acted on our behalf. Even as He confronted the sly serpent and the shameful man and woman, God promised a Savior. The Seed of the Woman would crush the serpent’s head. The lost image of God would be restored through the Incarnate Son of God.
In the course of time, the Father sent His Son into the world. In the Son, who is the true and exact image of the Father, God shows us true man, without sin. In Jesus, the image we lost lives and is fully restored to humanity. Jesus is the one who knows His Father perfectly. Jesus is the one who has complete trust and confidence in His heavenly Father. Jesus is the righteous and holy one.
Yet the Son of God didn’t come into the world to restore the image of God in the world for only a time, but for all time. He didn’t come to show us it could be done or merely to be our example. He came as one of us. So He took upon Himself our sin and shame, our punishment and death, our broken, sin-stained image, and carried it all to the cursed cross. There He gave up His spirit, dying for our sins. Risen from the dead, He returned to His disciples and gave His Spirit to them and the Church. Now through the Holy Spirit, we are re-created, made new, and are being conformed into the image of Christ, who is the image of the Father.
This is the work of the Holy Trinity for us. The Father, who sent His Son, who sends the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit, who joins us to the Son, who takes us to the Father. That work is what this day is all about. We celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday not simply to proclaim who our God is—the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity, although we certainly do that. Today we also proclaim what He has done and is doing for us. We proclaim that the Holy Trinity is applying Himself to the world for the life of the world. For your life and mine. To restore His image in us. To give us what we cannot create. If He didn’t give it, we wouldn’t have it.
With that understanding we can perhaps look at the words we heard in our Gospel for today in a new light—as Gospel rather than Law. “[Jesus] said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).
With these words, the triune God once again gives His authority to men restored to His image through His Word and Sacrament so that they might “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). But those words, the Great Commission, are not so much an order as they are a blessing. They are not so much about what we are to do as they are about what the Holy Trinity is doing among us. They tell us what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are doing through His church, as God is applying Himself to the world.
God is making disciples—baptizing, teaching, feeding, raising, forgiving—through the means that He has given: His Word and Sacraments. The voices and hands and feet may be ours, but the work is our triune God’s. It’s His water, His body and blood, His words. Through these means He is once again restoring, re-creating, and making something out of nothing. Creating order out of chaos. Creating again children in His image, conforming us to the image of His Son
The fall in the Garden of Eden caused devastation to our world. It has affected every one of us. The task of recovering what was lost that day fell to one Man, and He determined that each life was worth His own. And so Jesus gave His life for your life. He suffered the shame and nakedness of the cross and then rose from the dust of death, that all who believe in Him might be raised with Him and live not only forever, but already now, in the image of God. And after He had completed His task, He said it need never be done again. It is finished. You are whole. You are healed. You are forgiven and re-created.
“Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.”
Indeed, that is what this day is all about. The Holy Trinity in mercy giving Himself to us, and we in turn giving glory to Him. And not simply here in church, but daily in our lives, living the image we have been given again. Living as Christ in the world. Giving to the least. Determining that each life is worth our own. Not just because they are made in the image of God, but because we are re-created in the image of God. By God’s grace we are like Him: holy, righteous, and blameless, free from sin, death, and the power of the devil. For once again we have heard these wonderful words of God’s love and grace: “You are forgiven of all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.