“What Is Man?” Psalm 8 January 23, 2011
SI: Please open your Bibles to Psalm 8.
We’re studying a number of great Psalms. Psalm 8 is certainly one of the greatest.
John Calvin said about the book of Psalms:
“There is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising
God . . . The psalms can stimulate us to raise our hearts to God and arouse us to passion
in exalting with praises the glory of His name.”
The Psalms give voice to our praises.
And Psalm 8 is a glorious hymn of praise.
INTRO: The Hubble Telescope was launched into orbit in 1990 and since then it
has sent back incredible images of the deepest regions of space.
I once heard that there is a Cullman connection to the Hubble Telescope.
I found out from Scott Lewis that is true. Some parts for one of the important
servicing missions were made at what was once Speedring.
A few years ago Time had an article about the Hubble Telescope
and some amazing pictures of deep space, billions of galaxies,
and huge clouds of gas where stars are being formed.
In the letters to the editor a few issues later, a reader wrote:
“These photos should finally put an end to the religious idea that humanity amounts to
anything. Not only are we clearly not the center of the universe, we don’t even register.”
Of course, that reader was just expressing the point of view of many scientists
and other well-known figures of our time.
The astronomer Carl Sagan said:
Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a
galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more
galaxies than people.”
And Stephen Hawking said:
“The human race is so insignificant, I find it difficult to believe the whole universe
is a necessary precondition for our existence.”
They are saying: The vastness of space proves that we are nothing.
We’re just a speck in the universe. Human history is just a blip.
It’s not just astronomers who say this—many biologists do to.
They say that human beings are just the product of time, matter and chance.
We are simply a more advanced version of the amoeba. We’re monkeys in a suit.
And all of the things that we think make us special and valuable—
are simply biological traits evolution has produced for the survival of the species.
That’s what Richard Dawkins argued in his book, “The Selfish Gene.”
That all of our higher impulses—love and self-sacrifice, kindness, morality—
are just biological traits that the human species has developed through evolution.
No different than ants building a hill or a worm digging a hole.
And there are many who take these beliefs and push them even farther.
Many environmentalists say that human beings
are not just one species among many, they are an invasive species.
People are like kudzu. They are a blight on the earth.
Robbing the earth of limited resources. Putting pressure on endangered species.
Population growth is seen by many environmentalists as a great evil.
Countries like China that limit childbearing and carry out forced abortions
are doing the only sensible and right things.
The most recent issue of National Geographic was about population growth
and it was full of much of hand-wringing about the problem of people!
Isn’t it ironic that there are still many secular psychologists and counselors
who talk about the importance of self-esteem. They understand rightly that if
people don’t have a sense of worth, then they can’t be happy and healthy.
They know how important it is for children to grow up with a sense of worth.
But all along, the loudest voices of the intelligentsia are saying:
Human beings are a tiny, cosmic accident.
Tim Keller tells the story of a medical intern, a member of his church in New York,
who was visiting patients with other interns.
There was a patient who was very despondent. While they were in his room,
he began to say that he was worthless, that he had no value as a human being,
that he had no reason to live, that life had no meaning.
When they left, attending physician asked the interns what should be done for man.
This Christian intern said: He needs to be told that he does have value.
He isn’t worthless. The attending physician attacked him and said:
You don’t know that. You can’t prove scientifically that we have worth.
Drop that mumbo-jumbo and stick to medicine.
What is man? That’s the question David asked as he looked at the night sky,
as he pondered the grandeur of the heavens.
What is man? Is he a speck in the universe? A complicated animal?
No, David says, far from it. Mankind is the crown of God’s creation.
Psalm 8 is a hymn of praise to God for most wonderful thing he has made—people.
It proclaims that glorious truth that people have great worth
because they are image-bearers of their Creator.
As his image-bearers, he has given us this world to rule over and use.
And then this Psalm points to an even greater source of worth—
our connection by faith with the God Man Jesus Christ.
Let’s look at this lovely Psalm under two headings:
1. What it tells us about mankind
2. Why believing it is so important
MP#1 What Psalm 8 tells us about mankind
The Psalm begins and ends with a chorus:
“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”
This Psalm is a hymn of praise to God for his majesty reflected in creation.
Whenever the Bible speaks of the glory of created things,
it’s always a reflected glory.
You can say that a full moon is beautiful, but that’s only because it’s
reflecting the light and beauty of the sun.
So David looks up at the night sky and he says:
When I consider 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,
the son of man that you care for him?
Can’t you picture this? David out on the hillside 3,000 years ago.
No electric lights, no light pollution. Campfire has burned down to embers.
Stars fill the sky from horizon to horizon. We don’t see stars like that anymore.
One of our great family vacation memories was a night in the SD Badlands
away from all lights. We saw the stars like never before and the Milky Way.
It doesn’t have to be the stars. You look at any display of the vastness
and beauty of creation—the ocean, the mountains, the sunset—
and you are humbled by it and in awe of it at the same time.
You say to yourself: Look what God has made with his fingers!
And then David looks at himself, and he is once again humbled and awed.
And he asks a question: What is man that you are mindful of him?
He’s not pulling a Carl Sagan or a Stephen Hawking. He’s not saying:
The vastness of the stars makes me think we are nothing—
an insignificant speck in cosmos. Not at all!
He’s saying: How awesome that the God who made all of this is our Lord.
What is man that out of all the creation, he alone should be chosen to know
God and communicate with him, and that God would take tender interest in him.
Only man knows to ask that question. Only man can realize how astonishing
a thing it is to know God, the maker of heaven and earth.
A hawk has incredible eyesight. It sees the sunset.
But it doesn’t look back at it and say—My God made that with his fingers.
According to the Bible, there are two things that set us apart from all creation.
I’m going to use some theological terms.
We are God’s image-bearers and we are God’s vice-regents.
David speaks of both in this poem. These are two very important truths.
If you are going to understand the Bible’s doctrine of man and
our real worth as human beings, have to understand what it means to be
God’s image-bearer and God’s vice-regent.
Let’s start with God’s image-bearer. David says:
“You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.”
This word “heavenly beings” is the Hebrew word elohim.
It can be translated the angels, heavenly beings. It also means God.
Translators have gone around and around. Some versions one, some another.
But here’s the thing, as we look at the rest of Scripture, either one works.
Man is, at least for a time, lower than the angels in the created order.
That won’t always be the case. In the new creation, we will judge angels.
But for now, in terms of reflected glory, angels are more brilliant.
And mankind is also, according to Scripture, a little lower than God.
We alone are said to be created in the image of God.
Genesis 1 God says: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.”
That is not said about any other creature.
If you dug through all the purses that are in this room right now, and dug,—
you would probably find in most a compact mirror.
You could take that outside and reflect the sun with it. If you were a 12 year old
boy, have fun flashing it in the eyes of people in the parking lot. Here’s my point:
It’s the only thing in the purse that reflects the sun—a great big wad of grocery
store receipts doesn’t, empty pack of chewing gum doesn’t, a smeared tube of
lipstick doesn’t—only a mirror.
And only human beings reflect the image of God.
There’s a beautiful picture of this in verse 2.
From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When an infant cries, it’s different from the cries of an animal.
Because it’s the beginning of speech. It’s the beginning of communication.
It’s the first expressions of a personal mind that will connect with others.
And God himself is a personal, speaking, communicating being.
Within the Godhead, within the Trinity—God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
have spoken and communed from all eternity.
And even little crying infants, and little children babbling baby talk reflect
the image of God and silence critics who say there is no God.
We are image-bearers. And we are also vice-regents. What does that mean?
A regent is person who rules. More particularly, one who rules in king’s place.
The glory of man is that God has made us to rule over his creation.
Look at verses 6-8 again:
“You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.”
Where did David get that? He’s reflecting on Genesis 1 again:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the
fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the
creatures that move along the ground.”
God made Adam and Eve and their children to be kings and queens of his creation.
He put them in the Garden of Eden to tend it and develop it.
This is not a role that the human race grabbed—God made us for it.
He made us to rule. He made us to exercise dominion.
He made us to be over the animal kingdom.
Means that we are to explore and develop and care for and steward
every part of creation and bring it to its highest and best potential.
When we rule over creation, we are doing God’s work.
When we accumulate and build things, we are ruling over creation.
Every field of human endeavor is part of our rule and glory—
art, science, law, medicine, farming, business, athletics.
This even sets us apart from the angels.
The angels reflect God’s glory and image—
but the angels aren’t rulers, they aren’t builders and dominion-bearers—
they are servants, ministering spirits.
Their work is to carry out the orders of God and one day, our orders.
This is who we are—image-bearers and vice-regents of our Creator.
Now let’s consider why believing this is so important.
How it helps us see things rightly.
MP#2 Why believing this is so important
Three things: The biblical doctrine of man changes the way you see yourself,
it changes the way you see animals, and the way you see Jesus Christ.
First, it changes the way you see yourself.
The biblical doctrine of man only solid basis for a sense of worth and self-esteem.
A mirror can’t produce light and beauty.
You can’t generate a lasting sense of self-worth by looking inside.
You can’t create self-esteem by your accomplishments or get it from other people.
It comes from knowing that you are created in the image of God.
Where do you find dignity in your work no matter how lowly your position?
It comes from knowing that you are working under God himself.
He has placed you in your little corner of the Garden to tend it.
Parents, this is how you need to build your children’s self-esteem.
Tell them to do their best, tell them to work hard and rejoice in their success.
Tell them to use their unique talents and follow own interests—
because they are made in God’s image, and are doing the work made to do.
Where do you find a sense of worth that goes beyond your physical appearance,
or the color of your skin, or the judgments of other people—from your Creator.
This past Monday was Martin Luther King Day.
And somewhere I saw some photographs of the Civil Rights Movement.
I had Psalm 8 on my mind and one picture struck me. I’m sure you’ve seen it.
It’s a picture of a black man at a civil rights march.
He has a sign around his neck that says: “I am a man.”
My thought was: Without Scripture, that sign is meaningless.
If you don’t believe the Bible, and all you have is evolutionary theory—
then a man is nothing. He’s just complicated slime. So what if you step on it.
But with the testimony of God’s Word—I am a man—
is a powerful and compelling truth. I am created in the image of my Creator.
And Christians should be the first to declare the value of every person,
starting with yourself.
As biblically-minded Christians, we are always aware of sin and fallen nature.
I’ll speak about that in a moment. But let’s never forget that even fallen and
marred by sin, every person has value in God’s image.
Work that out. In the way you look at yourself and your callings.
In how you teach your children to see themselves and other people.
Second, the biblical doctrine of man changes the way you see animals.
I know that sounds like a strange application—especially a pet-lover like me.
But you can’t escape the significance of man’s relation to animals in Psalm 8.
You put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea.
God cares greatly about animals. They are mentioned over and over in Psalms.
In their own way, they declare the glory of God their Creator.
One of Psalms we aren’t going to study is 104—wanted to but couldn’t work in.
But read it some time—it’s about how God is glorified through animals.
Wild donkeys and storks and lions and cattle and rabbits and sea creatures.
As God’s vice-regents, animals are under our dominion.
That means we are free to use animals for the good of mankind.
We can use them for food and clothing, for medical research, for work.
Animals can be kept and raised and studied and used rightly.
Jesus himself road on a donkey. He went fishing and ate fish.
But even as we use them, we should recognize value to God and treat humanely.
I remember learning this as a boy. I had gotten a BB gun and was killing birds.
Mother said: Son, we may kill animals for food and if they are pests—
but it is wrong to wantonly kill God’s creatures.
My mother loves dramatic turns of phrase. I’m sure she loved using word wanton.
But she made a point I’ve never forgotten.
As image-bearers of God, we have are to rule over the animal kingdom wisely.
Proverbs says: “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal.”
You would have to your head buried in the sand not to know that the biblical
view of mankind’s relationship to animals is being challenged.
Not in places like Cullman. There is still a biblical world view operating here.
But in many more secularized parts of America, this is changing.
The secular world view pulls people down to the level of animal and lifts animals
to the level of people. There is the idea of animal rights.
There is resistance to using animals for food and clothing and medical research.
It goes far beyond a concern not to be cruel. Of course we’re opposed to cruelty.
But at heart is a rejection of the special creation of man as God’s image-bearer.
So people are pulled down and animals are worshipped.
Being a Christian encompasses all of life, even the way we view animals.
And I’m sure you see that this is a larger lesson than just animals.
They are representative of the rest of creation.
We are called to be good stewards of all that God has given us,
and every part of his creation.
Third, the biblical doctrine of man changes the way you see Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the Perfect Man who restores the image of God in you.
He enables you to become the man or woman God created you to be.
Psalm 8 is beautiful, but it leaves you with a sobering question:
What happened? What went wrong?
Why do people, who are image-bearers of God, do such horrible things?
There’s a verse in James that says:
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been
made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this
should not be.”
You ever gotten into an argument on Sunday morning?
Over the clothes your daughter wants to wear or your wife running late?
You tear down with your words, and then go to church and sing praises.
How can you treat fellow image-bearers that way?
Psalm 8 says that everything has been put under our feet.
But don’t you often find that instead of ruling, you allow yourself to be ruled.
You’re ruled by work, by money, by food, by your sexual urges.
Think of the miseries of life that come from being ruled by things.
What went wrong is that Adam sinned and the image of God was tarnished.
Man’s dominion bearing was corrupted. So we are not the people God
intended for us to be. There is a ruined greatness about us.
Hebrews 2 is a remarkable passage because it connects Psalm 8 to Jesus Christ.
Says he is the son of man made a little lower than angels.
He became a man. He entered this fallen world to undo what Adam messed up.
He was the perfectly ruled ruler. He submitted to the Father.
He said: My food is to do the will of my Father in heaven.
And as Christ submitted to God, he exercised dominion, even in a fallen world.
We see Jesus calming the sea, and casting out demons, and healing diseases.
And even ruling over death by dying and rising again.
His great work is to make all things as they should be—starting with you.
When you fight sin and temptation in your life by Christ’s power,
you are becoming the man or woman God intended for you to be.
And when you use your talents and abilities to bless people in your particular
place of rule—home or business or school—the effects of fall pushed back.
And you catch a little glimpse of life as God made it to be.
Everything is not yet subject to Christ. That’s what Hebrews 2 tells us.
And certainly we know that. There is lots still wrong with us and the world.
But we have the death and resurrection of Christ, and his Holy Spirit’s work
in us as an assurance that the Lord is at work, and one day all will be made right.
We live in a day when the biblical view of man is under attack.
The Bible says we were made a little lower than the angels—
but many voices say that human beings are no more than animals.
Let’s hold on to this truth. Teach it to our children. Find our worth in it.
And daily strive, with the help of the Perfect Man Jesus Christ—
to become the men and women God created us to be.