This morning I brought a copy of the famous painting, ‘Le Bateau’ [‘The Boat’]. In 1961 this prized piece hung on display in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Over the course of 47-days some 116,000 guests visited the exhibit— which, by most standards, is a success. But!— there was just one problem: The piece was hung upside-down. (https://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/theater-arts/moma-hangs-matisse-le-bateau-upside-1961-article-1.2455442)
Each day for forty. seven. days. professional curators studied the stripes and squiggles, discussed depth and detail, proudly and confidently handled any question. No inkling or hint or whiff of error ever crossed their mind! That is, until art enthusiast Mrs. Genevieve Habert opened up her art catalogue to reveal the right way to hang the painting (see for yourself). Even the painter’s son confirmed that Mrs. Habert was correct.
A painting so many called a masterpiece was not seen the way it was meant to be seen. Even though you might never have seen this painting before in your life, you will never be able to look at it the same way again. (If I flip upside down now, you would realize it’s upside down.) When you compare the wrong to the correct, the wrong more noticeable.
Keeping that concept in mind may help when trying to make sense of all the troubles in this world. Have the wrong perspective, and you get the wrong answers to the real problem. (You can even get the wrong outlook on life.) Genesis chapter one acts much like a painter’s catalogue, revealing God’s original creation and constant care so that we can make sense of life in this world. Only then can you Find Rest, Restless Heart in God’s perfect care, in God’s restoring plan, and in God’s complete rest.
The book of Genesis opens like a blank slate. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Then, like adding colors to a canvas, God adds majestic twenty-four-hour stroke after majestic twenty-four-hour stroke. God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God said, ‘Let there be sky and water,’ and there was sky and water. God said, ‘Let there be land, seas, and vegetation,’ and there was land, sea, and vegetation. God said, ‘Let there be sun, moon, and stars,’ and there was sun, moon, and stars. God said, ‘Let there be birds and sea animals and land animals,’ and there were animals (1:3-25).
Unlike paintings of random stripes and shapes, spots and splotches, God’s painting has order. His masterpiece works harmoniously together— land and water for plants, lights for growth, plants for food. And each day ends with the same judgment: God saw it was good. Now, understand, ‘good’ does not suggest God did the best he could or that his efforts are better than most. ‘Good’ means ‘perfect.’
In this perfect paradise God saves his best creation for last. [He] said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” With one final stroke, God paints you (and me) as crown of his creation. All land, all waters, all animals are for your wise use and daily needs.
As if that is not enough, God takes even greater care in setting you (and me) apart from the rest of creation. God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. That ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ is not that we look like God (for God is spirit [John 4:24]) or that we have unique critical thinking skills. The image of God means that our will stands perfectly in line with God’s will. God says, ‘Here is food for you,’ and Adam and Eve say, ‘Yes, God, without question you care!’ God says, ‘Love me with all your heart, mind, and soul,’ and they say, ‘That is no burden at all!’ Everything God commands, they want to do.
At the end of the sixth and final day, God amps up the assessment of his finished masterpiece: It was very good. The most perfect-est of perfect. Step back and take in this splendid portrait and what do you see? God’s perfect care.
What happened? Compare this original painting to what you see today. Pain and sorrow, floods and sickness, unrest and injustice, death and mourning— all these things that afflict and affect— were never in God’s picture! This perfect paradise has been turned upside down! And why? Because we lost the image of God. Instead of hearts bent to God’s wants, hearts often bend to self-wants.
So, we can live as though we were meant for an upside-down world. That this world could morph into paradise if only … I had more money, I would finally feel secure. …if only I have that house, then marriage will be better. …if only I put my adversary in her right place, then I could feel more important and have more respect. …if only those politicians catered to my specific needs in my specific community, then I could feel satisfied.
The conflict we so often feel inside does not come because we need to try harder (to make the world better). The conflict comes when our hearts find greater worth in the creation more than the Creator! That leaves us with the wrong perspective looking for the answers to all the wrong problems!
We would be forever stuck with this distorted perspective if it were not for God, in his perfect care. He straightens his masterpiece.
When Adam and Eve sat stuck in an upside-world, God made a promise to set the world right-side up. For the centuries to follow, God repeated and re-stressed and rekindled his promise of a Savior so that the whole world could see life the way it was meant to be. [W]hen the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons (Galatians 4:4-5). Understand, Jesus does not come to make a heaven on earth. Frankly, removing conflict now does not prepare you for eternity.
Jesus comes to restore that corrupted image by living life we did not. Never does he consider money to be the answer to life’s needs. Instead, he thanks God for even the little he has. Jesus’ heart finds real, lasting wealth in having God on his side. Yes, Jesus certainly teaches you (and me) to ask God for daily bread, but keeps underscoring a resilient trust in the Giver. Never does he exalt himself with harsh arguments. Instead, he allows leaders to insult him. Jesus lives to restore the image of God in you (and me). That becomes crystal clear on Calvary. God sees in Jesus our corrupted image, our self-centeredness, our cravings for the passing pleasures of this world— and he hands Jesus the death penalty. He peels off Jesus’ perfect image and sticks it on you.
Your risen and living Lord makes clear that he has set you straight with God. In fact, right before he ascends, Jesus points to that restored image. You heard the words moments ago: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’ How do you (and I) enter this family of God? Jesus tells you. By baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
Your baptism might not seem like much. A splash of water done long ago, some words spoken. Ah, but not any plain words— but God’s power-packed Word. You were buried with Jesus through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4). A new life! Not a life where selfish wants are foisted on top of God’s desires for us. Rather, baptism works in you (and me) the desire to want to obey God. As you hear or read (or recall) God’s Word, your heart is changed to be more Christ-like. And, when you (like me) see a trail of selfish devastation, return to your baptism. See how God has washed off all crooked desires. How he drowns the past forever. How he still calls you his child!
That’s a picture set straight. In God’s restoring plan you can see things the way they truly are. In that way, you gain rest in God’s complete rest.
Let’s look at the end of our reading: By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. God did not get tired, much like you (and I) might after a long, busy workweek. God simply stopped working— and when you stop working, you rest. There is nothing more to be done.
Like life now. Nothing more to be done. Nothing more needed to save you. Nothing more needed to make God love you. Yesterday, today, always, you live in this intimate communion with God. Simple truth, something you hear each week (or revisit in your daily devotions). Yet, lose sight of this important reality— and life goes awry. (Which is really the reason so much unrest erupts.)
‘So Pastor, what’s the answer?’ How can schools manage a fall semester and restaurants safely serve customers and hundreds reassemble in one hall? How can violent protests deescalate and respect touch all people of all races and all careers? How can my life return to normal(-ish)? …my graduation parties? …my getaway? …my shopping, exercising, trip to the barber? How can everything become better? What’s the answer? I don’t know— at least, I don’t know how to handle all the logistics of social, political, and economical issues.
Yet, here is one thing I do know. When those troubles rip into my heart, when I feel sore and hurt from sights seen. When I sit at the end of another day and recount the many ways my criticisms pushed away those close to me, when I see that my prejudice did not care for others as I should. When I feel sadness because my well-intentioned hopes and dreams did not flourish as I had hoped, when I pout because my panicked hysteria did not provide comfort. When I feel all this loss, it shoves this upside-down world in front of my eyes. This pain I feel comes through my own fault. It comes through the fault of other sinful people. It teaches that imperfect people will never make a perfect world.
That realization grabs my attention and sets it squarely on God. I again see the blessings drawn from the Word. The blessings of the Holy Spirit, who leads me each to admit my flaws. The blessing of a forgiving Father, who never brings up my past. The blessing of Jesus, who restores the image of God in me. Yes, on earth, that new man inside me will struggle (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10) but in heaven I will be seen as I truly am. Your Triune God, through his Word, lifts your attentions off of the challenges and conflict in this world so that you see him strengthen you, rescue you, answer you, and save you.
That, dear friends, gives rest. No, not just a break where you do not hear negative news for a while. Rather, real rest. The rest of knowing that you can hear bad and know that God handles it all. You just get to live under that care.
Does that help make sense of all the troubles in this world? Genesis chapter one acts much like a painter’s catalogue, revealing God’s original creation and constant care. What we so often see is turned upside-down. So, God sets the picture straight. Keep focused on your God, who leads your hearts into rest and will make that rest permanent soon. Find Rest, Restless Heart in God’s perfect care, in God’s restoring plan, and in God’s complete rest.