James Webb, Abraham, and the Great Cloud of Witness

In Genesis 15 God invites Abraham to go out and count the stars if he is able:

[1] After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” [2] But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” [3] And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” [4] And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” [5] And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” [6] And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6)

God promises that Abraham’s descendants will be as numerous as the uncountable stars. This is quite a promise for two reasons. First, Abraham and his wife Sarah have no children. Second, they are old and well past the age of having children.

Yet what does it say? Abraham believed God and God credited it to him as righteousness. Abraham believed God despite the evidence that was right in front of his eyes.

As the Apostle Paul point out in Romans, chapter four, because of his faith in God’s promises, Abraham is the father of all believers. Christians believe in God’s promises as Abraham did. We believe that through Jesus Christ, one of Abraham’s descendants, we are blessed with the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation.

As with Abraham, the evidence in front of our eyes tells a different story. If we look honestly at ourselves, we see that we are sinners that do not deserve God’s love and mercy. Yet when it comes to our standing before God we do not look at the evidence, which is overwhelmingly unfavorable. Instead, we look only to God’s holy Word which says that we sinners are counted as righteous through faith in Christ.

Speaking of looking at the stars, the James Webb Space telescope became operational in July, 2022. It is the latest technological marvel that scientists have created to study our world. We can now look farther out into the universe than ever before.

James Webb was the head of NASA from 1961-1968, a very critical time for the agency as they raced to put a man on the moon. This is now NASA’s second space telescope. The Hubble Space Telescope, named for astronomer Edwin Hubble, was launched in 1990 and should remain operational until at least 2030.

Here are some images from the James Webb Space Telescope that NASA has shared so far.

This slice of the vast universe is approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground. It is known as galaxy cluster SMACS 0723.
This image is a grouping of five galaxies known as “Stephen’s Quintet.” It is best known for its appearance in the holiday classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the scene where God is talking about sending an angel down to earth to help George Bailey.
This landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars is the edge of a star-forming region called NGC 3324. Also known as the “Cosmic Cliffs” the tallest peaks in this image are seven light-years high.
Of course, scientists must look for water in the universe with their new instrument. If they find water, it means that there could be life out there somewhere and earth would lose its special place in the universe. This image shows the atmosphere of a distant planet that has the distinct signature of water, demonstrating Webb’s unprecedented ability to analyze atmospheres hundreds of light-years away.

God told Abraham to go out at night and number the stars if he could. It is clear from Webb’s images that even with the most powerful telescope we will never be able to count all of the stars. Yet it is still fascinating to me and many others to study the skies.

Sadly, most of the scientists who designed and built Webb believe that there was no designer or builder of the universe. They believe that the infinite complexity of the universe came about completely by chance over billions of years.

Yet the New Testament book of Hebrews says otherwise:

[3] By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

It is important to be aware of the latest scientific discoveries, but it is even more important to know all about the faith heroes from the Old Testament that are listed in Hebrews, chapter 11. The names include Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, David, Gideon, Samson Jephthah and the prophets.

This is how Hebrews describes their faith:

[13] These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. [14] For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. [15] If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. [16] But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

These heroes of faith were not perfect, but God sustained their faith and enabled them to do amazing things. As it says in the reading from Genesis 15 above, Abraham had faith but he still had questions. So heroes of faith are not just mindless robots they are real people with questions and failings. Most importantly, they desired, “a better country, that is, a heavenly one, therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

And this new and better country, the heavenly one, will never wear out or need to be updated. In this world the next new thing replaces the old whether we are talking about telescopes, computers or any other technology. In Christ, we look forward to an eternal home in heaven that never grows old.

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