Are we alone in the universe? For centuries people have wondered about the place of mankind in the vastness of space. Ancient astronomers calculated the movement of the constellations, wondering if there was some connection between the stars and people on earth. Now, with the development of long-range telescopes, the observable universe has expanded significantly. Some now believe there is a high probability that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. (Supermarket tabloids certainly agree: reportings of UFO sightings and alien abductions are on the rise.) But this curiosity is more than a fringe movement, the scientific community routinely explores the possibility of life beyond our planet.
But not everyone is certain we’ll make contact with other cosmic civilizations. Ever the cynic, the young protagonist of the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” quips that the only compelling evidence that there might actually be intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, is that “no one has ever tried to contact US!” But despite the various points-of-view, the question remains.
In 2003, Australian astronomers tried to calculate how many stars exist in the universe. (Every star could be the center of a system of potentially life-supporting planets.) Using two of the world’s most powerful telescopes, these scientists observed 10,000 visible galaxies. By extrapolating this data to the limits of the known universe, they estimated the existence of an astonishing 70 sextillion stars! (For the mathematically challenged among us, that’s a “7” followed by twenty-two zeroes!) (1) To begin to understand the immensity of this number, try to visualize all the grains of sand along every single beach, and in every single desert on the planet Earth. (2) Then multiply that amount by ten! This certainly suggests the possibility that, by comparison, we solar-system earth-dwellers are pretty insignificant.
But the Scriptures maintain another perspective. Instead of the myriad of stars pointing to humanity’s insignificance in the universe, the Bible says that the vast number of stars actually affirms mankind’s great worth and value. The psalmist considers the question: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have set in place, (I ask), ‘What is man that you are mindful of him?’ “ The passage goes on to explain that God has placed man (not the rest of the cosmos!) at the apex of His creation, and “crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:3-5)
These verses (and others) remind us that God gave man great worth amid all He created. In addition to placing man at the pinnacle of His created order, He did two other important things to underscore our value to Him: He created man in His own image; and He honored man by sending Jesus, God’s own Son, to earth as a man. We are not alone in the universe! God has chosen to live among us as one of us, not exactly like us, but significantly like us as a friend and brother! This ‘living among us’ has three encouraging implications.
God Initiates Toward Us.
God came to earth as Jesus to reconnect with us, initiating the restoration of a relationship that had been broken by sin (John 1:14). He searched for those who were willing to receive His love. (And though He returned to heaven, He continues to search through His Holy Spirit!) The Bible describes this search as like a man who has lost something of great value and who leaves everything to find what was lost (Parable of the Lost Sheep: Luke 15:1-7). The parable affirms that once the man finds what he lost, he experiences great joy (vv. 3-7)!
We are not alone. Though we have been separated from our Creator, He has not forgotten us! On the contrary, He is actively, diligently, looking for and seeking to rescue us, His lost sheep. We are the people He created in His image, for His glory. And once the relationship with any of us is restored, God rejoices and the angels join Him!
This longing for a restored relationship has always been God’s agenda, even when the relational distance seemed impossible to span. When God dwelt among His people in the Old Testament (Exodus 40:34-38) many of His words and actions made Him seem unapproachable (e.g. Exodus 19:1-25, 20:15-21). He often appeared to people in His awesome power, reminding Israel of His holy nature with repeated warnings that sinful men were forbidden to come near to Him. To further underscore this separation, there was an immense veil installed in the Hebrew Temple as a reminder that God could not be approached without an acceptable sacrifice.
But here’s the Good News: Jesus WAS God’s acceptable sacrifice! After His death on the Cross, the veil-barrier was removed! Anticipating this reconciliation, Jesus initiated toward people while He was on earth, embodying the love and grace of God the Father (John 1:16-18). Jesus put people at ease. Even the worst sinners felt that they could come to Him and He would befriend them. God’s nature didn’t change, He was still holy; but the relationship was restored at His initiative. Jesus was the embodiment of God the Father, showing God’s love, grace, and approachability.
God Identifies With Us.
Not only does God initiate toward us, He identifies with us completely. Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ was like us in his humanity (Philippians 2:7; Romans 8:3). It’s incredible, but true: God was fully human in the person of Jesus, The Son! He functioned just like we do: He got hungry and ate, got tired and slept, worked, moved around, thought and had ideas, made decisions, experienced frustration, was limited by time and space, etc. But one way in which He was NOT like us, is that He never sinned. He was tempted, but He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). (This sinlessness allowed Him to be the acceptable sacrifice we mentioned earlier and which we’ll talk more about later.)
Because He was so much like us, we can know and have confidence that He understands us. He is totally empathetic. Jesus experienced the ups and downs of life just as we do. He experienced the joys and challenges of childhood, the teen years, and adulthood. He experienced good times and disappointments. He was wronged, suffering unjust persecution at the hands of people with selfish agendas. He was even betrayed by a friend. Because Jesus is able to empathize with us and our weaknesses, (without sinning), Scripture encourages us to approach His throne of grace in our times of need with hope, courage, boldness, and confidence (Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:15-16). He’s like a best friend.
We all know what friendship is like, because we’ve all had a friend. I’ll never forget my best friend from high school. We did everything together. We played sports (and rooted for the same teams), we went on double-dates, we took the same classes, we liked the same music, we ate the same fast-food; we could even finish each other’s sentences. There were few secrets we didn’t share, and he never betrayed a confidence. Don was more than a friend, he was like my own brother, (but without sibling rivalry).
It’s hard to imagine Jesus being someone like that; but He is! In fact, He’s better than any friend or brother we’ve ever had, or could ever imagine having. Because He was like us during His time on earth, we can call on Jesus as our brother and friend (Hebrews 2:11-12; John 15:13-15), and He will be there for us.
Because He was like us, we can also look to Him as a model for living the Christian life. But He’s not some insufferable bore who’s always correcting us or pointing out our mistakes. He’s like the buddy who’s always ‘got our back,’ the friend who can teach us how to throw a curve-ball, but who’ll also fight for us and keep us out-of-trouble (if we’ll let him) because He loves us. We can look to Jesus as this kind of friend, as we seek to emulate His righteous life because it’s the best life, observing how He dealt with rejection and suffering, seeing how He related to God the Father, etc. And, as we follow His example, we find encouragement and camaraderie.
God Substitutes For Us.
But He’s more than a good companion. He’s a friend who’ll die for us. Here’s the Bad News: because all people have sinned, all of us are awaiting God’s judgment and wrath (Romans 3:23, 2:5). There is nothing anyone of us can do to work our way back into God’s good graces. All of mankind’s religious systems (attempts to placate God) ultimately fail. We spoke earlier of God’s holiness and justice. We can’t approach Him on the basis of our very best merits and deeds, because He is holy, totally unlike us. Apart from God’s initiative and intervention, mankind has no hope, only the frightful prospect of God’s judgment.
But don’t forget the Good News! God intervened by sending His Son as a sacrifice and payment. (John the Baptist referred to Jesus as God’s sacrificial lamb.) Because Jesus willingly became a man and lived a sinless life, He was an acceptable substitute for us (I Peter 3:18). When Jesus died a humiliating death on the cross, God poured out His wrath against our sins on His Son, rather than on us (Isaiah 53:6; I John 2:2).
The magnitude of this sacrifice shows the value God places on mankind (Mark 10:45). (The value of something is seen in the price a wise buyer is willing to pay for it.) God, who appointed us as the apex of His creation and made us in His Image, also died for us. God has done everything He could do to acknowledge the high worth of mankind and to make it possible for man to come back into a relationship with Him. Since this was not deserved in any way, all men ought to be humbled and in awe of what He has done in the Atonement.
Though humbled by the majesty and mercy of God, we are not alone in His vast universe, but comforted by His Presence! He has a cosmic plan and purpose for each of us that spans time and even creation itself. But at the heart of His plan is a relationship with Jesus, our friend and brother. It’s impossible for us to fully comprehend all of this, but we aren’t asked to completely comprehend it; God simply asks us to believe it and trust Him. But it’s a belief that invites action: the decision to follow Jesus!
• Choose a passage from a Gospel and read it, paying particular attention to how Jesus relates to people. Suggested passages: Luke 7:36-50; John 4:7-30; John 11:1- 44; John 20:19-29
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(1)Josh Gough, http://www.helium.com/items/128325-ascertain-answer-question-absolute
2)Josh Gough, ibid.