“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.’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is that portion of our Old Testament lesson just read, from Genesis chapter one. Dear friends in Christ: Who is man? The top of the food chain, say some, the pinnacle of evolution, and only getting better. A parasite, say others, sucking up the resources of this planet without contributing anything to its health. Man is the problem, they claim, the root and cause of ecological disaster, who poisons the water with his refuse and drives other species to extinction. The best thing for this planet, say some, would be for humans to decrease dramatically, to quit reproducing, or perhaps even go away. You can hear from those who are hoping for a repeat of the Black Plague: man is a scourge and a curse.
Who is man? Evolution’s greatest accomplishment or evolution’s great disaster? Neither, says God. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Man is unique, created in a way that is different than any other creature, for no other creature is made in the image and likeness of God. No other creature is made to have such intimate fellowship with God. Man is created to relate to God, to communicate with Him, to have a will that is perfectly aligned with that of God. And because of this unique relationship with God, man has a special task over all of creation: “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.” Man, the very image of God, reflects God to His creation as His representative. Man is created in the image and likeness of God to relate to God, to relate to creation, and to relate one to another as male and female. “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Together as male and female, man is made in the image of God. Together as male and female, man is to exercise dominion. In fact, the relationship between male and female is absolutely essential to the command to have dominion over this earth. “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.’” Together as male and female, man is to fill the earth because as God’s representatives, their dominion over all creation is to be extended to the corners of the earth. That is why it is not good for the man to be alone; he needed a helper fit for him to be fruitful and multiply, he needed a helper to fulfill this great task. God’s love for His creation is to be extended over this entire planet through means, by those He has created in His image and likeness. They are to provide for this creation and protect it, using it for their good as a gift from God Himself.
But something happened before man had the opportunity to be fruitful even once, before man had filled any more of this earth than a garden: sin. Man fell, together as male and female, as Eve was deceived and gave the fruit to her husband, and he ate. They who were already in the image and likeness of God tried to be like God and ended up only being like the devil. The image of God was lost; no longer did man reflect God’s righteousness, His holiness. And at that moment, man’s dominion over creation was changed; changed, not abolished. Man, including you and me, sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, are still to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it,” but this will no longer be a task of joy. God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.”
Creation will rebel against our every attempt to make it fruitful. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, viruses and bacteria, famine and drought will all work against us, and try to destroy us. No more harmony, no more peace. The harmonious relationship between male and female is now a source of strife, the love that man was to have for woman, and woman for man, to be fruitful and multiply, is corrupted and perverted in a multitude of ways; the very distinction between male and female will be confused. And even when male and female do come together to fulfill the creation mandate, infertility will too often intervene, children will even die in the womb.
But do not begin to think, dear friends, that it is only the creation over which we are to rule that is corrupted by the effects of our sin. We, too, who have been given dominion over this creation, are also corrupted by sin; we rebel against the mandate given in the garden. Much more often than wombs become barren because of sin, we make ourselves unfruitful by artificial means. As often as children die in the womb because of sin, we put unborn children to death for any reason. We sinfully and in rebellion against our Creator disdain the command to “be fruitful and multiply,” perverting the natural attraction between male and female into a recreational activity for our own pleasure. And when that natural attraction is perverted because of sin, when even the distinction between male and female is confused, we do not call to repentance, we do not bring help, we give affirmation; in the name of tolerance and ‘love’ we endorse perversion. And our rule over creation is little better. We exploit this creation, we use it with no thought for our children, or the rest of the creatures over which we have been given dominion. Our rule is concerned only with our own good, our own bellies; we act more like we have a right to do what we want, than as those who have been given a mandate to reflect God’s love to His creation, as those who have been given this creation as a gift for our good and the good of our neighbor.
The image of God has been lost, and we can’t get it back. Only God could restore it, and He promised that He would, saying to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The creation mandate is still vitally important; for God promised that the command to “be fruitful and multiply” would bring forth a Savior, a Deliverer, the Offspring of a woman who would finally bruise the head of the serpent, destroying sin and death forever. This Offspring of a woman, brought into this world to bring an end to the curse, is none other than God Himself in the flesh, Jesus Christ. He comes to do what we in our sin are unable to: restore the image of God in us by destroying sin, putting our sin and this rebellious creation into submission. This Messiah, Jesus Christ, demonstrates His authority over creation as He does signs and wonders, healing once again in our Gospel lesson, exercising the kind of dominion that has been lost to us. But this is all preliminary to the cross, where the serpent will bruise His heel, putting Him to death, and He will bruise the serpent’s head, triumphing over him so completely that not even the grave could hold Him captive.
In the book of Micah, the work of the coming Messiah is described in this way: “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” You were in the bondage of sin, in rebellion against the very commands that God gave to your first parents, with the image of God lost due to sin, you were separated from your Creator. But Jesus Christ came to have compassion on you; He came to tread your iniquities underfoot as he bruised the serpent’s head on your behalf, dying on the cross for you, bearing your sins. He came to cast all those sins into the depths of the sea, as He plunged your head beneath the baptismal waters. He redeemed you from your sin, paying the price, so that you are restored to fellowship with your God, with the promise that one day the sinful nature will be completely eradicated and the fully restored image of God will reflect His glory forever.
Who is man? A parasite? A curse? An invasive species? No, none of those things. Who is man? Created in the image of God. Made to have dominion, to reflect God’s love and rule over all creation. A sinner, who lost it all. Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Redeemed to have fellowship with God. Redeemed to have fellowship with one another. Redeemed to have dominion over this creation. The solution to the perversions of God’s good creation that we see all around us, from the abuse of the natural world to the confusion of male and female, is a return by Christians to the mandate of creation: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” The wolf has no capacity to steward creation; he simply wants his next meal, and would eat the land barren if he had his choice; the atheist has no mandate from God to care for creation, for he’s already won the game of natural selection. Only Christians, restored to their Creator by Christ, sent forth by the mandate of creation, being fruitful and multiplying by having children and spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth, can truly have dominion over creation, for that is God’s gift and his mandate, carried forth imperfectly in this world, and fully restored in the new heavens and the new earth, where we will dwell in glory, harmony, and dominion, forever and ever. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.