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Space and Time
Please turn in your Bible to the gospel of John chapter 16 and follow along as I read verse 12 and 13. Jesus says,
12 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
The Depths of Space and Time
Most people when it comes to their religion have not really dealt with the discoveries of modern science over the last four centuries. The most startling discoveries have been in terms of magnitude. We are beginning to realize how large and how old the universe is.
Our ancestors, just a few generations ago, thought in terms of a small cosmos. The earth was flat; the earth was the center of the universe. All the heavenly bodies—the sun, the moon, and the stars were just lights in the sky that rotated around the earth. God was right up there in the sky, the devil was right down there under the earth. Humankind was the center of the universe. Then came Copernicus, then came Galileo. They began the march of modern astronomy which says that the earth is not the center of the universe; the earth is not even the center of the solar system. The sun is the center of the solar system. The earth is only one planet that circles the sun, and not even the biggest planet at that. Moreover, the sun is not the center of the universe either. It is located down toward the edge of the galaxy of the Milky Way.
Modern astronomy has been a very humbling experience for humankind. We thought we were at the center of things. We find that was just human arrogance and pride. We find that, astronomically speaking, we are out in the backwoods.
Then, the distances that astronomers deal in astonish us. Astronomers call the cluster of galaxies we belong to the Local Group. It is a group of about 30 galaxies that is about 5 million light-years across. I have trouble imagining the distance of one light-year. It is the distance light travels in a year. Light travels at approximately 186,000 miles per second or 670 million miles per hour. If you do the math that comes out to approximately 6 trillion miles per year. That is a mind boggling number by itself, and our local group of galaxies is 5 million light years across, and that is just our galactic neighborhood. That is the local scene.
Looking beyond the Local Group, The most distant object we have seen so far, using the Hubble telescope, is estimated to be about 13 billion light-years away (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3490657.stm). It is actually not a single object but a small galaxy of stars. The only reason we can see it is because it is so big, 2000 light-years in diameter.
And realize that when we see that cluster of stars, what we are seeing is light that left that cluster 13 billion years ago. The light we are receiving from that star cluster has been traveling across space for 13 billion years, so we do not see that star cluster as it is today, we see it as it was. In effect, we look back in time 13 billion years. Scientists estimate that our solar system is about 4.5 billion years old, so that light we are receiving from that most distant object was already over 8 billion years old when our solar system was being formed.
That blows my mind. That shows us the depths of time. A few generations ago, our forefathers thought that the whole of creation was about 6000 years old. Not only did they live in a very small universe, it had not been around very long. Our perspective has totally changed today. A recent archeological dig in Syria uncovered a city, which is itself 6000 years old. The city of Hamoukar had about 25,000 people. It had industries, culture. It was not the only one of its kind. In Jericho, there is a tower that has been excavated that dates back 10,000 years.
Not only that, geology shows us that the earth has been around much longer than our ancestors thought—as I said earlier, 4 ½ billion years. I never remember the names geologists give to the various eras of the earth’s long history. But I remember the first era, and the biggest. The Precambrian Eon consisted of about 4 billion years and during that time the earth was a place of volcanoes and earthquakes, and a poisonous atmosphere and not much in the way of life. After that, as the earth developed, some strange lifeforms began to appear. The dinosaurs were around for 100 million years before the first human being set foot on the planet. I have often thought that God must have loved dinosaurs because they ruled this planet for a lot longer than we have so far.
An Awesome God
But that leads us to the question we need to examine today. Given that our perspective on space has changed—there is a lot more of it than we thought—and our perspective on time has changed—there is also a lot more of that than we thought, how does that impact our religion? Some people get very nervous about this. They are afraid that all this new knowledge will somehow disprove our old strong religion. That is why we see all these wars between science and religion going all the way back to Copernicus and Galileo. A lot of people are afraid that scientific discovery will destroy religion. They would like to pretend that nothing has changed in the last four centuries.
But our world has changed, and we cannot go back. We cannot go back to believing in a flat earth that is the center of the universe and is only a few thousand years old. We cannot toss out 400 years of knowledge. So we need to ask: What effect does the discovery of the depths of time and space have on our religion?
Here is the answer: This new knowledge makes our religion better and stronger. Our view of God today is incredibly magnified over the view of our ancestors. God is not the creator of a universe that is 6000 years old but God is the creator of a universe that is 14 billion years old. God did not create one flat earth, he created billions of stars and untold billions of planets, God created black holes and pulsars and galaxies. We have an awesome God. We are just now beginning to realize how awesome.
Jesus the Creator
In the first century, Jesus speaking to his disciples said, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” He was talking to people who believed in a flat earth that had existed for a few thousand years. He revealed to them the truth, all the truth that they could bear. I suspect that we are just now getting to a position where we can appreciate the truths Jesus revealed.
In our time, when we are beginning to understand the depths of time and space, we stand more than ever in need of the truth about Jesus. Jesus was, and is, God. He was, and is, creator. John chapter 1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (1-3).
Jesus created everything that is—from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest star. Jesus was the creative power operating from the beginning, 14 billion years ago, to bring into existence all that is today. The Universe has no existence outside of Christ. Ephesians 1:23 speaks of the fullness of Christ, which fills everything.
Nothing exists in isolation; everything is interdependent. Every event is interdependent with every other event. This is another of the major discoveries of modern science—the amazing interconnectedness of things. As the old saying goes: “The beat of the butterfly’s wing over here causes the storm over there.” Throughout all creation, we find a unity. The source of this unity is Jesus. He is the one that puts all things together. Colossians 1:17, speaking of Jesus, says, “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” The only permanent thing in the world is Christ. Christ is the universal constant. Christ is the universal principle that holds time and space together.
So, back to our question: Have the discoveries of modern science in any way belittled or disproved Jesus? Not at all. This is Christ the King Sabbath, and on this Sabbath day, we proclaim that Christ is still king. If fact, he is a greater king than we thought. He is king of all the billions of lightyears of space and of all the billions of years of time.
Some theologians say that Christ is king simply because he is proclaimed to be such. In other words, we said he is king: therefore, he is king. But many proclamations do not necessarily make it so. There have been many people who said that they were kings. That did not make them kings. Real kings exercise real power. Christ is king because he exercises real power. He created what is. He continues to create. Christ is lord because he animates every aspect of the cosmos. Christ dominates the history of the world, not because someone proclaimed him king, but because he produces the world; he is a living power in the world.
Christ the End of All Things
Not only that, Christ is king because he is the fulfillment of the world. Christ is not only the creator of history; Christ is the culmination of history. The world as we see it now is under construction. It is oriented toward Christ, the end and crown of all things. Christ is the alpha, the beginning of history, he is also the omega, the end of history.
We find scattered throughout the New Testament, hints and declarations of what is called the Second Coming, or the Second Advent, of Christ. Scholars generally call this event the “parousia” which is a Greek word meaning coming, or arrival, or presence.
On the night before he was crucified, during his trial before the Sanhedrin, the high priest asked Jesus if he was the Son of God. Jesus replied, “You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matt. 26:64).
And we have the great promise in John 14:3, where Jesus says, “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
The book of Revelation describes this symbolically in chapter 19:
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.
13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God.
14 And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.
15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, "King of kings and Lord of lords."
Now my complaint about the way some folks depict the Second Coming is that they are still flat earth thinkers. Jesus is just right up there, and he is going to pop out of a cloud with an army and come down here and set up a sort of an earthly kingdom of which he will be the king.
I see the Second Coming, the Parousia, on a much larger scale than that. In Rev 21:1, the seer says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” The Second Coming changes the whole universe, all 14 billion lightyears of it.
The universe is consummated in Christ, who is king of kings and lord of lords. All things have a common future—which is Christ. Reality is the movement of all the elements of the universe toward a goal, the goal is Christ.
So on this Christ the King Sabbath, let us worship King Jesus, the king of all space and all time. I asked the question in the beginning: Does our increasing knowledge of the breath of space and the depths of time disprove our old strong religion of the cross?
Not at all. Just the opposite. The old strong religion is still the old strong religion. In fact, it is stronger than it ever was. Christ is king. He is a greater king than we previously imagined. He is lord of stars that we will never see, lord of times we will never know.
Having said that though, we also say, Christ is king of our lives. The king of the universe comes into our lives to empower us, to strengthen us, to comfort us, to lift us up. Christ, the king of the universe, is my king. He is your king. Worship him, love him, believe in him. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 02/27/06