Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Thorn, Poland on February 19, 1473 as the son of a wealthy merchant. He studied law and medicine at the universities of Bologna, Padua, and it was while he was there that his interest in astronomy was stimulated. He lived in the home of a mathematics professor who influenced him to question the astronomy beliefs of the day.
At that time, the predominant theory had been in place for over a thousand years, since the days of Ptolomy. In that theory, the earth was the center of the universe and was motionless with all other heavenly bodies revolving around it. And though all of his observations of the skies were made with the naked eye, Copernicus disagreed. Sometime between 1507 and 1515 he began to firs circulate a different theory, this one with the sun at the center and the earth moving around it.
Copernicus did not live to see the reaction to his assertions, but he probably would not have been surprised at them. The reactions were, of course, angry. Though there were many purported reasons for the anger, if we look a little deeper perhaps we would find that at least part of the root of that anger was the idea that the earth – filled with human beings – was actually not the center of the universe.
Keep that in mind as we turn to another moment, this one actually happening several centuries earlier. This moment was not set in scientific laboratories and the study of the stars, but instead on the dusty road between Jerusalem and Emmaus:
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him (Luke 24:13-16).
These two men, despite claiming to have a good working knowledge of everything that had happened in Jerusalem, were really missing the entire point. But not only were they missing the point of those recent events; they were missing the bigger and more majestic point at hand. This second point is actually the point of everything – a point that would call on them to have a radical reorientation of what’s really at the center of everything:
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).
These men stand in our place, for many of us have found ourselves on the road to Emmaus. We have been around the events in Jerusalem, have a working knowledge of them, and even think we have a good understanding of their meaning. And yet we still walk along unaware of the true center of things.
The reorientation that happened for these men, and the one that, at some point, ought to happen to all of us, is just as paradigm shifting as that which happened in the 16th century. It is a spiritual Copernican revolution that happens as God opens our eyes to the truth that we, though we are beloved by God, are actually not the central characters of history. The world does not revolve around us and our stories and our circumstances and our issues, much as we might think it does. It revolves around Jesus.
Jesus is the center of the law. Jesus is the center of the prophets. Jesus is the center of everything:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:15-17).
Now when we are first confronted with this reorientation, it can be a little concerning. Maybe even angering. It might cause us to have all kinds of questions and perhaps even doubts. And yet it is true, and walking that road of truth is the only way we can embrace a whole-hearted, selfless, servant-minded mission for the sake of God’s kingdom. Until we recognize the centrality of Jesus in all things, we will harbor the illusion that we can serve both God and ourselves, only giving a portion of who we are and what we have to Him. But when this revolution takes place, we come to see that the only logical posture we can have before Him around whom everything finds its orbit and being, is that of servant.
This is the pathway of joyful submission; this is the road of happy acknowledgment of the greatness of Jesus. It is by recognizing and accepting the truth that you and I are not the center. He is. And He is gloriously so.