Big Idea: Humanity is valuable, corrupted, but able to be restored.
In autumn 2002, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, a priceless 15th century marble statue of Adam toppled and shattered into hundreds of pieces while no one was in the room. Although vandalism was initially suspected, curators determined that the pedestal supporting Tullio Lombardo’s 15th-century marble Adam was collapsed and led to the tragedy.
“It will take a great deal of time and skill, but the piece can be restored,” the museum’s director said. And it was restored and returned to public view after twelve years of work.
And that is a microcosm of the story of humanity: valuable, toppled and shattered, and ultimately restored.
Today I would like to look at the story of humanity. As we’ve been going through this series “Best News Ever” we’ve been looking at some important questions:
- How are we doing? We talked about evangelism being hard, but worth it.
- Who is Jesus? In our Grace Group, we talked about Jesus being God in the flesh, the resurrected King, the truth-telling Lord, the sin-bearing Savior, and the only way.
- Who are we? We are forgiven and sent.
Today we want to ask, “Who are we reaching?” The question, as we look around us, is how does Jesus see the people around us? This is an important question, and one that should shape our attitudes and actions as his people.
So how does the Bible see humanity? The Bible sees humanity in three ways:
Humanity is Valuable
How much is a person worth, exactly? Estimates range.
You could go by Homer Simpson, who in an episode of the Simpsons sold his soul to the devil for one donut, estimated at about $1.00.
Or, if you feel that’s too low, you could go by the 1930s short story called “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” In the story, a man named Jabez Stone sells his soul to the devil for ten years of prosperity. Business Insider notes that had that story taken place today, that would have made his soul worth approximately $1.8 million dollars.
Or you could go with the estimate from the U.S. Government’s Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA uses what it calls the VSL (or Value of a Statistical Life) — which is kind of hard to explain — but the current VSL is at $9.1 million.
The best way to calculate the worth of a human life, though, is by looking at the value that God places on a human being. It’s not a dollar or $1.8 million or $9.1 million. Every human being is inherently value because they are made in the image and likeness of God.
In Genesis 1 we read these words:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
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 the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31)
There’s something to humble us in this passage. We are creatures. In other words, we are not God! But there’s lots in this passage to encourage us as well. We have great dignity in God’s sight. God has made us to be higher than any other creature.
When God decided to create us, he declared what he was about to do before he did it. He didn’t do that with anything else that he created. What’s more, God said that we were made in his image. This means that, more than anything else he created, we are like God. We are reflections of God and his character. John Frame explains:
Everything in us — intellect, emotions, will, even body — reflects God in some way. Think of standing in front of a mirror. The image reflects everything you present sent to the mirror, and everything in the image represents something thing in you. Of course, the mirror only reflects part of you, the front part and the outside, not the inside. But we image God far more profoundly: we reflect everything in God, and everything in us reflects God in some way.
If this wasn’t enough, God gave us a job. He told us to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. In other words, he gave us the job to run this world on his behalf. Theologians call this culture-making. God made us to be creative, to shape this world into something beautiful, to relate to each other, and to create beauty. Andy Crouch writes:
Human creativity, then, images God’s creativity when it emerges from a lively, loving community of persons and, perhaps more important, when it participates in unlocking the full potential of what has gone before and creating possibilities for what will come later…The best creativity involves discarding that which is less than best, making room for the cultural goods that are the very best we can do with the world that has been given to us.
We can conclude from this passage that “There is a rock solid, objective, irreducible glory and significance and value and worth about you and every human being” (Tim Keller).
So this is how the Bible sees us, and everyone around us. Humanity is valuable. It’s why we exist as a church: because people matter to God. The people around us are of great value and worth to God.
The mistake we want to avoid: not valuing people enough.
How does the Bible see us? As valuable. But there’s more:
Humanity is Corrupted
You may be wondering about the mess we see in the world given the value of humanity. I opened up Google News this week and read about suicide bombers, sexual assaults, assaults, and more. It’s sometimes hard to see the value in humanity because it’s been corrupted.
It’s important to understand what happened. When you get to Genesis 3, you read of the fall, something that has affected humanity and the entire world for thousands of years now.
We read in Genesis 3:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3:1-7)
What happened? We could spend months exploring this passage alone. This tells us some important things about humanity. It’s crucial to understand this if we’re going to understand how God sees humanity — both ourselves and the people around us.
When God created the world, he allowed us access to everything, with one exception, one tree in the middle of the garden. I could never understand why God created this tree. Thomas Boston, a Scottish puritan, helped me understand it. It wasn’t only a test. It was a reminder that although we rule over the whole world, that we still have to submit to God. It was given so that we could know the difference between right and wrong. It was a reminder of God, and that happiness can only be found in submission to him.
But we blew it. And when I say that we blew it, I mean us, because we would have done the same thing if we were there. In a sense we were there, with our forefathers as our representatives. They did something that brought disaster on the human race. They rejected God’s command, and chose on the basis of their appetites and minds told them. The problem? The minute the human mind ignores God, it begins to turn in on itself, please itself. It ends up debasing itself.
The essence of sin is putting ourselves in the place of God, trying to dethrone him and taking his place for ourselves. That’s exactly what Adam and Eve did, and it’s exactly what we try to do today.
When they disobeyed God, they unleashed a contagion that has spread throughout the whole world and to everyone here today. “Sin is a plague that spreads by contagion or even by quasi-genetic reproduction. It’s a polluted river that keeps branching and rebranching into tributaries. It’s a whole family of fertile and contentious parents, children, and grandchildren,” writes Cornelius Plantinga. And the results are all around us. Genesis 3 describes just some of them, and they’re all things that we struggle with today:
- Shame — Because of sin, shame is now a reality. Shame is the sense that there is something wrong with me. Shame didn’t exist before sin; it is now a constant reality for every human being.
- Relational breakdown — As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, they experienced relational breakdown. Sin throws others under the bus. It leads to quarrels, hatred, gender battles, racism, murder and war. It led to superficial relationships, exploitative relationships, and more.
- Spiritual breakdown — Our relationship with God was disrupted. We were made to enjoy a relationship with God. As a result of sin, we all experience estrangement from God at some level. Our relationship with God has never been the same.
- Physical breakdown. As a result of sin, our work is full of thorns and thistles. The world is no longer as it should be. As a result of sin, we age, we get sick, there are natural disasters, and we die.
Erma Bombeck, who used to write humor columns many years ago, at one point said something like this:
You know, my life is dominated by dirt. At this end of the house there’s dirt. There’s dirt in the bathroom, dirt on the plates in the kitchen, dirt in the rug. So I work to get rid of the dirt, and by the time I get to the other end of the house, the first end of the house is dirty again. It never ends. And in the end, after all of these years of struggling against dirt, struggling against dirt, what do I get? Six feet of dirt.
Isn’t that the essence of human life?
The mistake we want to avoid: not taking sin seriously enough. Over a century ago, the British preacher Charles Spurgeon said this:
Few preachers of religion do believe thoroughly the doctrine of the Fall, or else they think that when Adam fell down he broke his little finger, and did not break his neck and ruin his race.
Let’s not make that mistake. Let’s take the problem of sin seriously. Every person has a disposition to sin. It’s not that we don’t do any good; through common grace, humanity has done much good in education, scientific and technological progress, the arts, the development of just laws, and general acts of human kindness. But every part of us has been affected by sin: our intellects, our emotions and desires, our hearts, our goals, our motives, and even our bodies. Sin has corrupted us to the very core of our beings.
There are a lot of people who tell us today that there’s nothing wrong with us. I would love to believe that, but we all instinctively know that there is something wrong with us and the world. We have been corrupted. We are like the priceless statue of Adam that toppled and shattered. Humanity is valuable, but it’s also corrupted as a result of sin. But there’s one more thing to see:
Humanity is Capable of Being Restored
As we close today, I want to end with the great news that God is in the process of restoring humanity. The Metropolitan Museum of Art spent 12 years taking the 28 recognizable pieces and hundreds of fragments back to restore it to its original beauty. The restoration took so long that there were rumors that the statue was beyond repair. Dozens of scientists and engineers put it back together.
It took the museum 12 years to restore Adam. God is on a similar project, except it’s one that spans millennia. He is acting in history to restore humanity. Ephesians 2 says this:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-10)
God has not left us in hundreds of pieces lying on the floor. He’s restoring us from dead people to people who are made alive together in Christ, seated in heavenly places, into his workmanship, into a piece of art. How do we get in on this? By grace through faith — by putting our faith and trust in what Jesus has done for us. It’s the great news that I have for you today, and it’s the news we have for everyone around us.
Rick Warren recalled a time when he was speaking at a prison to an audience of approximately 5,000 inmates:
Nobody was paying attention except a couple of hundred people right up front. I was standing on the ground with no stage, just a microphone, but the microphone could be heard through the entire yard. I pulled out a $50 bill, held it up, and said, “How many of you would like this $50 bill?” Five thousand hands went up. I had everybody’s attention. Then I crumpled it in my hands, tore it a bit, and said, “How many of you would still like this $50 bill?” Five thousand hands went up. Then I spat on the $50 bill, threw it on the ground, stomped it into the dirt, held it up, and said, “How many of you would like it now?” Five thousand hands went up.
Then I said, “Now for many of you, this is what your father did to you. You’ve been mistreated. You are abused. You are misused. You were told that you wouldn’t amount to anything. You’ve done a lot of dumb things to. You sinned. You’ve done some crimes, and you’re paying for them. You’ve been beaten. You’ve been torn. You’ve been dirty, but you have not lost one cent of your value to God.”
That’s the message we have for the world. Humans have not not lost one cent of their value to God. “We serve a God who created our humanity, weeps at the fall of our humanity, became our humanity, and is redeeming our humanity” (Glenn Stanton).
The mistake we want to avoid: not seeing the gospel as great news for everyone around us, including us.
You are valuable to God. The invitation to you is to come to the God who has been working for centuries to put us back together, to restore us to who we were made to be. If you haven’t, come to Jesus tonight. He welcomes you with open arms as someone who is valuable, corrupted by sin, and yet so ready to be restored.
Second: would you look around you and see how valuable people are to God? We are here because people matter to God. Don’t minimize the effects of sin, though. We need to understand what needs to be restored before restoration can take place. Let’s remind ourselves that humanity is valuable, corrupted, but able to be restored through Jesus. This is God’s heart toward everyone we meet.