In the ancient world as described in Scripture, it was a common thing for rulers or kings to erect an image or statute of themselves in the distant realms of their domain. Rather than merely feeding the ruler’s vanity, these images served important purposes. They were erected to remind the people there, most of whom would never see him in the flesh, who it was who provided for them and protected them. The image reflected his likeness and depicted some of the qualities that he not only saw himself embodying, but those who wished to see imitated by his people (i.e. – confidence, strength, looking to the future, etc.).
This image/statue – an obvious, constant, physical combination of reminder and reflection – stood out to all who encountered it as a representation of the ruler/king. He was not to be forgotten and his representation was statement of his “presence” over, and among, his people. He had expectations for them to live up to – and he to them – and these expectations were rock-solid, like the image/statute itself. His rule concerned things important to his people’s well-being and his people were to support him well in the way they represented him with all their actions.
And so, when the story of how the living God made humankind and set them in the midst of his creation, it is revealing to see God use this very same language of imagery. Literally.
“… God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1.27)
God made humans as a representation of himself. Being a reflection of the Creator’s character and abilities, their role in creation was to function as reminders of the Creator and his ongoing work; though we do not see him, he is here. Humans were to represent the Creator and Sustainer God well in their dealings with all that is creation, as well as in their dealings with each other.
We know the story, though, don’t we? Quite personally! We did the unthinkable – we rebelled against our God and in so doing, we defaced his image in us. As we filled creation with violence and selfishness, our ways did little to remind people of the only good and benevolent God. Since our ways did not reflect his ways, our representation of him was warped and twisted; we gave people the wrong impression of what God is like.
But, good and merciful God came into our midst and, rather than wiping us out, he came to rescue us from ourselves. In doing so, he, in effect, delivered us and created a new humanity – a new representation of himself – through the work of his Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
What an awesome God!
And so, this is where we stand today. We who follow Christ today are the new humanity, created in Christ to represent God afresh to all of creation. This work of his in us as humans is more wondrous than his first work, for we know our reflection of him now represents his redemptive work of grace and mercy on a whole new scale.
To be sure, it’s still a battle. Our false expectations all too often remain with us. As does our temptation. And on ears hard-of-hearing, his instruction comes. But, in Christ Jesus – as Christians – we set our face to the task at hand – to belong to our God and to represent our God like never before. We are determined to do so, and enabled to do so, in our spirit and ways:
As … God’s picked representatives of the new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. (Colossians 3.12 J.B. Phillips)
As he spoke us into being in the beginning – and afresh in Christ – we pray that our very words reflect God’s good character and timing:
Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all, the Message that I … am responsible for getting out. (Ephesians 6.19)
For we now know who and what we are in Christ – as one of God’s special messengers to us put it succinctly:
… we are ambassadors who represent Christ. (2 Cor. 5.20a)
And this we shall not forget again – nor shall we let the world fail to see – Christ living in us.
So go, and be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power!