A sermon delivered by David Hughes, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, Nc., on May 30, 2010.
I love the story of Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson taking a camping trip together. As they lay down for the night, Holmes looked at Watson and said, “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson said, “I see millions and millions of stars.” Holmes replied, “And what does that tell you Dr. Watson?”
Watson replied, “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great, and we are small and insignificant. Meterologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.”
Watson paused for a moment, then asked Holmes, “What does this tell you?” Sherlock Holmes replied, “It tells me somebody stole our tent.”
Old Testament scholars believe Psalm 8 was written by David after he spent the night staring into the star-laden skies. Obviously, David came to a very different conclusion than the sarcastic Sherlock Holmes. Inspired by the moon-lit heavens and the Holy Spirit of God, David pens the first psalm of praise in the Psalter, beginning with this memorable first verse:
Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is your name in all the earth!
With the flair of a poet laureate, David goes on to describe how God set his glory above the heavens, how even the praise of children and infants glorifies God and intimidates God’s adversaries, how God created the moon and stars and everything in this vast universe through the work of his fingers.
It’s breathtaking stuff, especially when you take a closer look at what David is saying.
Lord, our Lord. In the Hebrew, David is saying, Yahweh, our Adonai. Yahweh is the Hebrew word meaning, “to be.” In its fullest sense, Yahweh refers to one who always has been, is, and always will be. Adonai means absolute ruler, king, the sovereign of all life. When David address God as Yahweh, our Adonai, he saying God will always be present in our lives, and he, and he alone, is the Lord of our lives and all creation.
Yahweh, our Adonai,
How majestic is your name in all the earth.
“Majestic” is the word I want to focus on for a moment. The Hebrew word for majestic literally means, “to be wide or great.” The concept of spaciousness was special to the Hebrew people, for one very practical reason—they and their land were hemmed in by enemies on all sides. Every moment of their existence felt cramped. To say God was wide, great, and I would add, big, was the supreme compliment. God has no boundaries. Judging by the size of his creation, God’s majesty is mind-blowing.
Just to remind us of how big God is, I want to draw from a presentation made by a pastor named Louis Giglio in Atlanta a couple of years ago. Louis Giglio is the Director of Passion Ministries, and his presentation that I’m referencing on today is called, “How Great is our God.”
To help us understand the magnitude of our Creator, Louis Giglio focuses on the magnitude of creation by directing our attraction to on the relative sizes of four stars in our Milky Way galaxy. The first is our sun. Now the earth is no small thing—its diameter is 8,000 miles wide. But the sun is 1 million times the size of the earth. Furthermore, it is 95 million miles away from the earth.
Remember, the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second, or almost 6 trillion miles per year. Traveling 186,000 miles per second, it takes the light of the sun 8 minutes to reach the surface of the earth.
To help us compare sizes, think of the earth as a golf ball. If the earth is the size of a golf ball, the sun is 15 feet in diameter. You could put 960,000 earths inside the sun! To give you an idea how many earths that is, 960,000 golf balls would fill up a school bus.
Now as astounding as these numbers are, remember—our sun is one of billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy! And the Milky Way galaxy is one of billions of galaxies in the universe. Are you getting a sense of how big our universe is?
The second star we’ll consider is called, “Betelgeuse” (aka “Beetle Juice”). Beetle Juice is 427 light years away from the earth. If you could somehow travel at the speed of 186,000 miles per second, it would still take you 427 years to get to Beetle Juice. This star is not just twice the size of the sun—it’s twice the size of the earth’s orbit around the sun.
If the earth were the size of golf ball, the comparative size of Beetle Juice would be six Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other. You could fit 262 trillion earths inside Beetle Juice. By the way, 262 trillion golf balls would fill the Superdome—3000 times!
The third star we’ll mention is called “Mu Cephei.” Mu Cephei is 3,000 light years away from the earth. If the earth were a golf ball, the comparative size of Mu Cephei would be the width of 2 Golden Gate bridges placed end to end.
How many earths could you fit into Mu Cephei? I’m glad you asked! The answer—2.7 quadrillion. Quadrillion is a number we don’t often use. A million is about as big a number as I can get my head around. Remember, a billion is a thousand million, and a trillion is a thousand billion, and a quadrillion is a thousand trillion.
These numbers are still hard to appreciate. So try these comparisons on for size. If we could turn the clock back a million seconds, we’d return to 12 days ago—May 18. If we could turn the clock back a billion seconds, we’d return to the mid 1970s. If we could turn the clock back a trillion seconds, we’d return to 29,700 B.C. And if we could turn the clock back a quadrillion seconds, we’d go back 30, 800, 000 years ago!
Now let me say again—you could fit 2.7 quadrillion earths inside Mu Cephei.
Our fourth star is called “Canis Majoris.” Canis Majoris is about 4,900 light years from earth. And given its size, it really is one of the big dogs of the Milky Way! If the earth were a golf ball, the comparative size of Canis Majoris would be Mount Everest, which rises 6 miles above the surface of the earth.
You could fit 7 quadrillion earths inside Canis Majoris. That would be enough golf balls to cover the entire state of Texas—22 inches deep!
By now you should be getting the point. We don’t really have a mental category for how big our universe is. We run out of words and numbers to describe it. So, how can we begin to wrap our minds around the God who fashioned this universe?
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (Psalm 19:1). Yes, they do.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, the starry host by the breath of his mouth (Psalm 33:6). Yes, they were.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Yes, it is.
Now, you would think that David would end Psalm 8 here, with us looking up into the heavens with eyes as wide as saucers pondering how majestic and powerful and big God is. But David’s not done with his majestic psalm. There’s a second movement to this symphony of praise, and the theme of this second movement is this—as Majestic as God is, human beings are not far behind.
Frankly, this is the last thing we expect to hear. To put God and human beings in the same sentence seems ludicrous. Stephen Hawking, probably the most famous physicist alive, was once asked if he believed God created the universe. He replied simply, “No.” Then he explained, “We are such insignificant creatures on a minor planet of a very average star in the outer suburbs of a hundred thousand galaxies. So it’s difficult to believe in a God that would care about us or even notice us.”
But a shepherd king named David would strongly disagree. Writing some of the most stirring lines ever to appear on the printed page, David says:
When I consider your heavens,
The work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars,
Which you have set in place,
What are mere mortals that you are
Mindful of them,
Human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than
The heavenly beings
And crowned them with glory and honor.
Actually, anybody who has bothered to read the creation story in Genesis 1 wouldn’t be surprised at David’s contention that human beings are made only a little lower than the heavenly beings. By the way, this line can also be translated to say we are made only a little lower than God, the translation I prefer in view of Genesis 1:26, where God says, “Let us make human beings in our own image, in our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea, etc.”
You and I are made in the image of that big, marvelous, majestic God David was just talking about. And that means we’re pretty special in our own right.
Louis Giglio reminds us that every cell of our human bodies contains a 3 billion character description of who we are that’s called “DNA.” That DNA code is in every cell 6 feet long, and is so dense with genetic characters that if we read a character a second day and night it would take 96 years to read an entire strand of our DNA.
That’s just in one cell. By the time we become adults, our bodies are made up of 75 trillion cells. That means if you lined up all the strands of DNA in our bodies end to end they would stretch to the moon and back 178,00 times. Every 3 seconds 50,000 cells die in our bodies. And every three seconds, those dead cells are replaced by 50,000 new cells.
There is nothing like these bodies in the world. Yes, we are part of the animal kingdom. And of course, we are deeply flawed in our sin. Nevertheless, we are unique among God’s creatures, fearfully and wonderfully made, marked with the majesty of God. And to prove it, God gave us dominion and authority to manage all the works of his hands on this earth.
The recent oil spill in the Gulf reminds us we possess a mighty power that can wreak havoc on this earth, and we will be held accountable by our God for how we steward this planet. But our angst about an oil spill is a sign of our strength. We alone off all God’s creatures can reflect on who we are and what we do. We alone can sense the presence of God’s Spirit, and we alone possess a divine potential that we can scarcely conceive. No wonder Martin Luther once said that at our best human beings can be a “race of Christs!”
Augustine once wrote, “Men go abroad to wonder at the mountains, the huge waves of the sea, the long course of the rivers, the vast compass of the ocean, the circular motion of the stars, but they pass by themselves and don’t even notice.”
In case you didn’t notice friends, we may be tiny in the scheme of things. But in God’s estimation, we are also big. After all, we are made only a little lower than God, crowned with glory and honor.
So—when will we act like it?