Psalm 8 says, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is humankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”
On a clear night with our naked eyes, we can see a few thousands stars. Stare long enough, we’ll see shooting stars, the occasional satellite, and maybe even find a planet out there. Our experience is the same as what the psalmist had. The universe is magnificent, but our experience is just a small dose of what is actually out there.
Our galaxy—the Milky Way—is huge relative to us, containing more than 100 billion stars and stretching 26 trillion miles. If it were possible for us to travel the speed of light, it would take us 25,000 years to travel from earth to the center of our galaxy. Those numbers, to me, are incomprehensible.
About one hundred years ago, astronomers realized that our galaxy—as huge as it is to us—is not alone. In the 1920s Edwin Hubble discovered that Andromeda was more than a collection of cloud and dust. It was a galaxy, so our counting was up to two.
Decades later a telescope named after Hubble was put in orbit, and in 1995 scientists proposed focusing the telescope at one dark spot. That spot, from our perspective was the size of a grain of sand. For ten days the Hubble telescope took long exposures of that spot. Within that one part of the universe, we were able to see almost 3,000 galaxies. That’s crazy, isn’t it? Since then, scientists have kept digging into this spot, revealing more and more.
A couple of decades ago planning started for the James Webb Space Telescope. This equipment would enable scientists to peer even deeper into space and to see light spectrums invisible to us previously. That telescope launched this past Christmas, and just this week it began returning its first images. They’re stunning. The first image that was released this week is of a distant galaxy cluster as it was 4.6 billion years ago. (Yes, there’s also something mind-bending—at least for me—about how looking this far away is actually a form of time travel. We’re seeing the past.)
If you were to hold a sewing needle at arm’s length and peer through the eye of that needle, there would be 10,000 galaxies contained in that speck. Move slightly to the left, you’d find 10,000 more galaxies. Not stars. Galaxies. To the best of our knowledge there are around a trillion galaxies out there, and each contain an average of 100-200 billion stars. Stunning.
Each discovery leads to more discoveries. Each one deepens our understanding and increases our questions. As humans, we have gone from seeing a few thousand stars and believing that earth is the center of the universe, to knowing that our sun—a minor star in its own right—is merely one of trillions. These discoveries always put me in a state of deeper gratitude and appreciation for the wonderful universe God has made.
I agree with N. T. Wright in this thought, “Part of growing up as a Christian is learning to take delight in the way in which God’s truth, whether in physics or theology or whatever, has a poetic beauty about it.” And, I would add, that part of growing up as a Christian means taking delight in discovering even more of the universe.
Before the Webb telescope images came out this week, my mind was already drawn to the ways knowledge can deepen over time. This passage from Colossians is one of those things for me. The first few verses we read are actually a hymn. The more I consider what this hymn says about Jesus, the more I am in awe of the vastness of who Jesus is.
At our beginning, we all have pictures of Jesus that are simple, whether we learned them in Sunday School or we have a basic understanding of his story from church. But, like these fancy telescopes we’ve managed to put into orbit, the further we dig into Jesus, the more amazing and awesome he becomes. Jesus is ultimately mysterious, but I don’t mean that in the “we really can’t understand it way.” No, the way the Bible uses the word “mystery,” means the idea is so mind-blowing that only God could have dreamed it up. That’s the statement this passage is really making here. Jesus is always more than we think he is, and the more we engage with him, the more amazing he becomes to us.
I only have time to be superficial about this in the few minutes I have today, but I urge you to keep wrapping your minds around what this passage says about who Jesus is. Let the mystery and awe take you deeper and deeper.
Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Do you want have the clearest picture of God? Look to Jesus. The word for “image” in Greek is eikon. In their world, the icon of Caesar was everywhere as a display of his power. Jesus is the image of God, a constant reminder of God’s presence in and care for the world in ways that the powerful of the world falsely believe they have.
Jesus is the firstborn of all creation. The word “all” happens eight times in this hymn. All means all. Never think there is a part of anything over which God does not rule or that is outside of God’s redemptive work. All means all. Jesus has preeminence in the creation.
In Jesus all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible. Even the things we don’t see—like these galaxies we didn’t know existed until recently, like atoms and quarks and even dust mites—were created in Jesus.
All things—thrones, dominions, rulers, powers—have been created through him and for him. Everything—even those things that appear to stand opposed to Jesus—have been created through him and for his purposes because…
In him all things hold together. The meaning of it all is held in who Jesus is and of what he has done throughout time but particularly through that essential few decades two thousand years ago. He became flesh. He lived as we do. He loved, taught, and healed. He stood for God’s purposes in the world and, even though all things—even the Roman cross and injustice—were created for him, he submitted himself to them to set the world right. And now…
He is the head of the body, the church. This church, and all churches for that matter, live under Jesus’ loving rule. He is Lord, and we are his people. All that we do should reflect who Jesus is and what he means for the whole world.
He is the first born from the dead. In his resurrection we see what is coming for us. He is a new creation and is making us a new creation that will last forever.
In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Jesus isn’t just a proxy for God. God dwells in Jesus fully. Again, do you want to know God? Look to Jesus. Because…
Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things…through the cross. We can look at all of history like an hourglass shape. Everything pulls together in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Everything from the cross on has changed. Even now, God is reconciling all things to himself. All things. It’s a cosmic project, far greater than even our attempts to understand the origins of the universe.
While each of those sentences from Colossians 1 are worthy of a sermon (and probably of a book), let’s catch our breath and just admit how great Jesus is and how often we underestimate his greatness. When we do seek him, the vastness of his love and awesomeness can overwhelm us.
Indeed, what are humans, O God, that you are mindful of us? How great is your love that you would send this Jesus to die and rise for us and for everything—seen and unseen?
But what may ultimately be wildest about all of this is that who Christ is ultimately matters on a very personal level to each and every person. The universe may be billions of years old and unimaginably massive, but God did all of this for you. In the vastness of the cosmos, you matter. God loves you. God sent Jesus for you, and now each of us has the opportunity to live into that wonderful mystery of Jesus. We each have the chance to live each day in awe and gratitude for life, the universe, and everything. Every atom exists for Christ, who died and rose again for us. So, tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?