9.8.19 What is Greater? Man on the Moon or God on the Earth?
Just recently America celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11’s historic landing on the moon. Over 600 million people were estimated to have watched this historic event on July 20, 1969. When Neil Armstrong put made his first step on the moon he said, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” Humanity was able to put a man on the moon! It was perhaps the greatest accomplishment of mankind, doing that one thing.
I’ve been thinking about this accomplishment over the past months. It made me think about what God said about humanity back in the book of Genesis, that “nothing would be impossible” for us. He certainly did create us to be powerful and do some amazing things. Even after the Fall and the Tower of Babel, think about how we have invented airplanes, trains, cars, cell phones and the internet and so many things that our grandparents and grandparents would have thought impossible.
America thought she was far superior to Russia, but when Russia was able to fly a satellite over planet earth in 1957, it put America on notice. According to record, they put a dog in the Sputnik which only lived for 5 hours and then died, just to see how long it would live. If they could fly a satellite with a dead dog over us, they could also fly nuclear missiles over us. We better step up our game! President Kennedy issued a challenge to America to be able to put a man on the moon within a decade. He said, “We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”
Apollo 11 didn’t just happen in a few months. It took years of discoveries and practice and experiments to be able to pull off such a feat. When I look at the trajectory of how they had to fly there and land there, it is just incredible. Somehow they had to play off of the gravity of the earth and the moon to sling shot back and forth. It wasn’t a straight line back and forth. They also had to figure out how to use rocket propulsion and different gas tanks that performed differently in the earth’s atmosphere and then in outer space. The mathematics of it all blows my mind.
Then I think about the mere size of the spacecraft. For eight days they had to ride in an area no bigger than a commercial air flight and live in a space no bigger than a normal sized closet. No thanks! It was dangerous too. Their vehicle - named the Eagle - was shockingly delicate - so light that if it had landed on earth it would have broken due to the difference in gravitational pull - but it was built to land on the moon! On the way down to land on the moon they encountered an error code - 1202 - that they had never seen before in all of their testing. Because of this malfunction in the computer Armstrong had to manually land the vehicle on the moon with all 600 million people watching on earth. It was a dangerous mission, no doubt about it. Five men - three Americans and two Russians - had died in previous simulations and flights.
The sheer size of the program and effort it took to do such a thing - over 375,000 people worked behind the scenes from engineers to mechanics to computer experts to janitors - for over 10 years. So again, imagine the pressure on them to try and pull this thing off while the whole world was watching! Bill Whittle, the narrator for the Apollo 11 podcast, said he remembered thousands of people gathered at Central Park in New York City, but when it came time for Neil Armstrong to actually get out of the Eagle, all of the thousands of people in Central Park were completely silent. When he finally took his first step, the entire park erupted with cheering like nothing he had ever heard. Everyone in America and around the world were cheering for them to do it. So when Neil Armstrong said, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” - he really felt like a representative of humanity on the moon. They even left a message from over 70 countries on the moon. The main message was written on metal which read, “here men from the planet earth first set foot upon the moon - we came in peace for all mankind.”
Landing on the moon wasn’t the end of the mission. They also had to return home. When they left, Buzz Aldrin accidentally bumped into the circuit breaker, and they would not have been able to engage the ascent engine when they returned. Thankfully they were able to use a felt tipped pen to wedge in between the missing link and they got back to Columbia without a hitch. It’s just amazing to think about all that could have gone wrong.
The astronauts had a sense of awe when they reached outer space and looked back at the beauty of the earth. In an earlier mission in 1968 when the astronauts were just circling the moon, on Christmas Eve, three astronauts chose to read from Genesis chapter 1 as the thousands of people listened on earth. They were amazed at the beauty of the earth from so far up. When Buzz Aldrin first landed on the moon, he had brought the host from his own congregation and took the Lord’s Supper by himself while reciting Psalm 8, our Old Testament reading for today. These men were unashamedly Christian, for which NASA was sued by well known atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair after reading from Genesis on Apollo 8. As a result, Aldrin’s words and actions were kept secret until after they returned home. Through their exploration of the world they felt a CLOSER connection to God. That’s the way nature is supposed to work when you aren’t living in denial.
America finally had re-established herself in pride with this great feat of having the first men to land on the moon. Interestingly enough, it was thought that by 2001 we would have established cities on the moon and people living there. It was assumed that we would progress so much. Obviously, things haven’t panned out quite so well. In Apollo 12 they also landed on the moon, but the camera was ruined when it was accidentally pointed at the sun, so nobody even knows about Apollo 12. Apollo 13 was a near disaster. Several others landed on the moon after that, but after we had gotten there once the politicians lost their flavor for it and they wanted to move on to other things. Yet when all was said and done this was one battle in the Cold War that was won without a shot being fired. After the competition, America and Russia actually now work together on space missions instead of apart.
It is amazing for me to think about this feat of man, and to contrast it with the feat of what God did in becoming man - instead of flying to the moon - He came down to the earth. We recite in the Nicene Creed, “Who for us and for our salvation, was incarnate of the virgin Mary and became man.” For us and for our salvation. When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, everyone on earth saw him as one of theirs. This wasn’t just his accomplishment - it was also theirs. And that’s how God wants us to see Jesus as well. He didn’t just come for good people or a certain race - He came for everyone. So think of Jesus - He didn’t come to earth for Himself. He already was perfect and holy and all powerful in heaven. He had nothing to gain for HIMSELF in coming here to earth. He did it for US - for our benefit - for our salvation. He became one of US. He did it so that everything HE did, we could take pride in and claim as our own. That is why the word “FOR” is so important in the Bible. “This is my body, given FOR you. This is my blood, shed FOR you.” Isaiah writes, “He was crushed FOR our iniquities, by his wounds you have been healed.” When we see Jesus - as God and man on the cross, the Holy Spirit says, “envision YOURSELF on the cross too - dying for your sins - for that is why Jesus is hanging there - for the world of humanity.”
The astronauts had to put on an uncomfortable outfit that was meant to protect them from the elements and keep them alive. Jesus put on flesh in order to make Him susceptible to our sickness and disease and put Him to death. He didn’t put on flesh just for an eight day mission. He put it on for eternity. He is still true God and true man yet today.
There were some Russians who didn’t want the Americans to succeed: it was all about pride and competition. The devil didn’t want Jesus to succeed either. Neither did Peter when he told Jesus to stop talking about going to the cross. It seemed counter-productive for his Messiah to die. But when you see the mission - what Jesus had to do - to die for the sins of the world, and when you see yourself as one of those sinners - you won’t cheer against Him. You won’t look at Him as competition. You will look at Him as someone you need to do what you couldn’t. It is only those who put themselves in competition with Jesus that don’t want Him on the cross. They want to impress God with their own works. Or maybe they want to die their own sacrificial death. So they drink themselves to death and do all they can to impress the people in their world and even themselves with their works. They look at Jesus as a competitor to their own glory instead of taking glory in Him and celebrating His great achievement.
Think too about the work it took for Jesus to do all of this compared to the mission to the moon. Two men had to jam into a little closet area space for a few days. They had to put on space suits. They had to crawl out of their Eagle space ship, collect a few samples, plant a flag, and then get back on the ship and fly back to the main ship to return home. It took a total of eight days. It was a cramped area. I never could do it. But compare that to what Jesus did. He - God almighty - all powerful - omnipresent - decided to come to earth - not in a spaceship - not using His superhuman powers - but as an infant - while living 9 mos in the womb of the virgin Mary! He decided to learn to walk and talk and eat! He spent 33 years on our planet. And He did so much more than just walk a few steps on our planet in a space suit. He wore nothing but flesh and clothing. He ate our food. He drank our drinks. He touched our lame and our infectious and our dead. He allowed us to spit on him and sweat on him and cry on him. He allowed us to make fun of Him and whip His back. He allowed us to put nails through his hands and his feet. He allowed us to murder Him and put Him in a grave. He didn’t just RISK His life to come to our world. He came to our world in the flesh knowing that He would DIE and even be damned in our place. He did much more than plant a flag on our earth. He planted Himself on our earth. He didn’t come for an eight day visit and then leave with a few rocks. He came to rescue us all from this planet and save us from sin and death. He did it by conquering death itself. He not only had to suffer death, He also had to rise from the dead - a much greater feat than flying back to mission control.
So we sit here on a Sunday morning and listen to stories of what this Jesus did while He was living in humility on this earth. We look to the skies and we look forward to a day that He will come again. We sit in awe of this awesome thing, of how God became man FOR US. There were no television cameras there that day. There was no news casts. There were no radios. There was just the virgin Mary, Joseph, and God in the flesh of a little baby, lying in a manger in the outskirts of Bethlehem. You might think, “Why didn’t God have some more people there to witness this awesome event? Why do it under such humble circumstances? Why not make a show of it? Why not wait until the time of video so we could see it?”
Let’s go back to men on the moon. Did you know there is an ever growing conspiracy - only fifty years after the fact - that believe that the moon landing was actually faked? Some say there are millions of people that believe this is a hoax, and some have even made documentaries on it. One man even confronted Buzz Aldrin over it, shoving a Bible in his face and telling him to swear on the Bible that they landed on the moon, calling him a coward, a liar, and a thief. At 89 years old Aldrin punched him in the face on July 19th of this year. So even with video evidence and so much other evidence, people still don’t believe it, even though it was only 50 years ago!
How could it be then, that thousands of years after the fact, that so many people from all around the world still believe that God actually took on flesh and came to our planet: lived a perfect life: died on the cross for the sins of the world: and rose from the dead? We believe it through simple words, written down for us in the Bible by Jesus’ disciples. We believe it by faith. It is as Paul said to the Romans, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” The Holy Spirit works through this simple message to bring us to faith that God really did this miraculous thing. The God who created this universe decided to be born into our universe - on this tiny planet amidst millions of planets, and become one of us. Why? So that He could save us from sin and death and His own wrath. Even though we’ve never seen Him, we still believe in Him.
There are those who passionately deny our message to be true. They get in our faces and claim that we actually came from a big bang that happened billions of years ago. Even with DNA signature evidence of at least there being a Creator, they would rather believe that aliens implanted life here rather than believe in God. Like the conspiracy theorist got in Buzz Aldrin’s face, they get in our face. But we don’t punch them in the face like Buzz did. We turn the other cheek. We fold our hands and pray for them. We keep on witnessing to the truth, and let the Holy Spirit do His job when and where He wills.
And here’s the miraculous thing - that without video evidence - but just with Word and sacrament - the Holy Spirit keeps on making followers of Jesus. Throughout hundreds of years, people like us keep listening to His Word and baptizing our children and taking the Lord’s Supper - because we believe that God came on a mission here years ago and left a message for us. He came in peace. He came to bring peace between us and a holy God. He came to bring peace in knowing our sins are forgiven. Heaven is ours, through faith in Jesus Christ.
What a contrast! A man is sent to the moon on behalf of humanity with 600 million people, and God comes to earth to save humanity with two people watching. One small step for God, one giant gift to mankind. Which is greater? It is the humanity of God in the person of Jesus Christ, who for us and for our salvation was incarnate of the virgin Mary and became man. This is not an event worth remembering just once every fifty years for nostalgia’s sake. It is an event worth remembering and believing every day for the rest of your life. Amen.