Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 2 2019 - Genesis 1:26-31 – Imaging God

On the sixth day, after creating all the other land animals, God created humankind, male and female, in his own image. As human beings, we are land animals but we are far more than mere animals.

Did you notice the words used by God in these verses, "Let us make mankind in our image." Who is God talking to and why does he refer to himself in the plural, "Let us…"? These words hint at a reality which is more fully revealed later in Scripture. There is only one God; that is the testimony of all of Scripture. But this one God exists in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is essentially relational – Father, Son and Spirit are bound together in unity and mutual love. That unity is here expressed in a common purpose and in united action, "Let us make mankind in our image."

What then does it mean that we, humankind male and female, are made in the image of God?

Firstly it means that we were created for relationship. It is not the man alone who is created in God's image; male and female together are created in the image of God. You cannot image God alone. You can only reflect the image of God in relationship with other people – in the deep and enduring relationships of mutual knowledge and respect. Indeed, we can only reflect the image of God in relationship with God himself; he does not give his glory to any other but delights to display his glory in and through those who live closely with him. We were made for fellowship with God.

The individualism of contemporary society in which each seeks to do what is pleasing in their own eyes, is a denial of the glorious purpose for which God created us.

Secondly, we image God as we share in his rule over all creation. The God who brings order out of chaos and whose light dispels the darkness calls upon us to partner him in exercising dominion over all that he has made. Exercising dominion like that of God himself excludes destructive exploitation; God loves and cares for all that he has made. Our government of creation must treat the earth and all its creatures as an entrusted gift, as life to be nurtured and enjoyed. Our use of all that is under our dominion is to reflect the creation care of God himself. To do otherwise would be to forsake imaging God in favour of making gods of ourselves.

The German theologian, Gerhard von Rad, expresses this thought as follows: "Just as powerful earthly kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erect an image of themselves in the provinces of their empire ... so man [sic] is placed upon earth in God's image as God's sovereign emblem. He is really only God's representative, summoned to maintain and enforce God's claim to dominion over the earth. The decisive thing about man's similarity to God, therefore, is his function in the nonhuman world." (Genesis, SCM, 1963, p.58). I have emphasised the last sentence as it challenges us to think afresh about how we interact with God's world. How are we doing at caring for God's world?

Having completed his work of creation, God then declares it all to be "very good." What he has made pleases him and he takes delight in it all.

As those made in God's image, we are to conduct the orchestra of creation so that it may, in every part, reflect the glory of the creator – that creation too may image God.

Glorious God, help us this day to image you in our relationship with others and with the world you have given us. May the glory of your presence and goodness shine from our lives today.

Jan 2 2013 - Matthew 2:13-3:6 – Out of Egypt I called my son

Matthew is keen to demonstrate how the arrival of Jesus fulfils all of the promises of God in the Old Testament. Jesus' miraculous conception is the fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14 (Matthew 1:23). His birth in Bethlehem is in fulfilment of Micah 5:2 (Matthew 2:6). Even Herod's slaughter of the young boys in Bethlehem is seen as fulfilment of Jeremiah 31:15 (Matthew 2:18).

But is Matthew doing justice to these Old Testament Scriptures? Matthew tells us that Joseph is warned in a dream of Herod's determination to kill baby Jesus and told to take the child and his mother to the safety of Egypt. This, says Matthew, was to fulfil the prophecy of Hosea 11:1, "Out of Egypt I called my son" (Matthew 2:14). But the context in Hosea is not prophecy concerning the future, but God's lament over Israel's unrequited love; "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images..." (Hosea 11:1-2). Surely Matthew is treating the text of Scripture like the worst of modern preachers; he takes a text out of context and simply twists it to his own ends.

On initial reading this may seem to be the case. But this is to betray a superficial understanding of the relationship between the Testaments. Matthew has a far richer understanding of promise and fulfilment.

Matthew is telling us that Jesus is the fulfilment of all that has gone before, not merely in the sense that he fulfils a few proof texts. In Jesus, the history of God's relationship with humankind receives a new focus. Israel was God's chosen one, God's firstborn son (see particularly Exodus 4:22). Israel was sent down into Egypt to be saved from death (by famine). Israel was called out of Egypt to be God's special people; "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:4-6). They were to be a light to the nations; the means by which the God's promise to Abraham would be fulfilled and all nations would enjoy the blessing of knowing God.

But Israel failed to live up to the calling of God. God laments over his wayward people, "the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images." Matthew's point is that where Israel failed, this child will succeed. He is God's firstborn Son. When he is called out of Egypt he will be faithful to God's call. When he suffers temptation in the desert, he will not rebel against God. He will succeed where Israel has failed. In him, every chapter of the story so far will find its recapitulation and its conclusion – its fulfilment. He is the Saviour of the world; the one in whom every nation on earth shall be blessed. The worship of the Magi and their gifts laid at the feet of the Christ-child anticipates the day when every knee shall bow to him and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus, I thank you that you came into the world to succeed where we have failed. All of the promises of Scripture have their ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’ (‘It is true’) in you. I gladly worship you and own you as my Lord. Help me, like John the Baptiser, to attract others to your kingdom that they may turn from their brokenness, failure and rebellion to embrace the healing and hope that is to be found only in you. Help me to be one through whom your light shines in a dark and gloomy world.

Peter Misselbrook