Genesis 6:5 – 9:28
An Everlasting Sign of Hope
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Genesis 6:5 – 9:28
An Everlasting Sign of Hope
Dr. Philip W. McLarty
Our series on the stained glass windows continues today with Noah’s Ark and the story of the great Flood. If you’re keeping count, this is the fourth sermon of the series. We’ll take a break next week to celebrate the Fourth of July, and I’ll be away on July 9. The series will resume on July 16 and continue uninterrupted through August 27.
I hope you’re enjoying the sermons so far and, if you haven’t already picked up a copy, I hope you’ll take advantage of this little booklet, The Pipe Organs and Stained Glass Windows of FPC, Bryan. In it you’ll find a description of each of the windows in the artist’s own words.
Before we get to the sermon itself, I wanted to share an email I got some time ago. It’s called, “Everything I need to know about life, I learned from Noah’s Ark.” It goes like this:
1. Don’t miss the boat.
2. Remember, we’re in this together.
3. Plan ahead – it wasn’t raining when Noah started building, you know.
4. Stay fit – when you’re 600 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.
5. Listen to the Lord, not your critics.
6. Build your future on high ground.
7. Travel in pairs.
8. Take your time – the door wasn’t shut until both the snails and the cheetahs were on board.
9. When stressed, float for a while.
10. Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals!
11. No matter the storm, with God, there’s a rainbow on the horizon.
12. Be sure and keep your eye on the woodpeckers.
O. K., so much for the introduction. Let’s jump right into the sermon and be clear about one thing: The story of the Flood begins with the Fall of Adam.
That’s where we ended the sermon last week: God created the heavens and the earth and called it good. Furthermore, God created us in his image and placed us in a veritable Paradise where there was plenty to eat, lots to do, and everything lived together in perfect harmony.
But we messed up. Instead of obeying God’s commandments and following the leading of God’s Spirit, we took matters into our own hands, re-wrote the rules to suit ourselves, then set about exploiting the earth and each other.
The saga continues to this day. Our world is polluted and corrupt. Every day the air waves bombard us with graphic images of sexuality and violence. Drugs are everywhere. Crime is rampant. And hardly a day goes by that some civic leader is accused of malfeasance of office and the betrayal of public trust. Add to that the latest studies confirming global warming.
How much worse can it get? Scripture says,
“Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth,
and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)
Sounds like something you might read in the morning paper. We live in a fallen world, and if you don’t believe sin abounds, you’re simply not paying attention.
So, let’s be clear: The story of the Flood begins with the fall. And it continues with a chosen remnant. According to Genesis, God said,
” I, even I, do bring the flood of waters on this earth,
to destroy all flesh having the breath of life from under the sky.
Everything that is in the earth will die.” (Genesis 6:17)
Yet, the scriptures also tell us, that ” …Noah found favor in Yahweh’s eyes.” (6:8)
Before the rains started to fall, God chose Noah and his family and a pair of every kind of bird and animal by which to begin again. Noah and his wife and their three sons and their wives and all the various birds and animals in the Ark would serve as a remnant by which God would start over and restore his covenant of grace and love.
If you look carefully, you’ll find that this motif of a faithful remnant repeats itself throughout the Bible. For example, in the days of Elijah, the people of Israel had strayed so far from the Torah that they became easy prey for the Assyrians. And yet, God wouldn’t allow the Assyrians to completely destroy Israel. He told Elijah,
” Yet will I leave seven thousand in Israel,
all the knees which have not bowed to Baal,
and every mouth which has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18)
Sure enough, it took several generations, but, in time, this remnant – this seven thousand faithful men and women – proved to be the source of renewed faith and strength for the people of Israel.
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Then there’s the prophet Isaiah, who foretold the Babylonian Captivity. He said,
“Therefore the Lord… will send among his fat ones leanness…
The light of Israel will be for a fire…
He will consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body.
It will be as when a standard bearer faints.
The remnant of the trees of his forest shall be few,
so that a child could write their number.
It will come to pass in that day that the remnant of Israel,
and those who have escaped from the house of Jacob
will no more again lean on him who struck them,
but shall lean on Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.
A remnant will return, even the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.
It’s clear: No matter how devastating the circumstances, God will always preserve a remnant on which to build for the future. Just think of the Holocaust: Hitler exterminated over six million Jewish men, women and children, but he couldn’t kill them all. God preserved a remnant, and it’s largely through this remnant that the people of Israel are stronger now than ever before.
So, let’s see: The story of the Flood begins with the Fall. It continues with a chosen remnant.
And it concludes with a promise, a warning and an everlasting sign of hope. The promise is this:
“(God told Noah) ‘Be fruitful and multiply…
As for me, behold, I establish my covenant with you,
and with your offspring after you…
neither will there ever again be a flood to destroy the earth.'”
The end of the Flood marked the beginning of a new covenant. No longer would God vent his anger in such a dramatic way. Never again would he destroy life on earth with a flood. From now on God would exercise his judgment in a different way.
In my early years as a parent, I confess to you that I spanked my children. Understand, I didn’t beat them (as much as the buggers may have deserved it!), nor did I spank them in anger or strike them anywhere else but on the bottom; yet, the truth remains, I spanked them. And, if I had it all to do over again, I would’ve found other, more civil ways, to discipline them.
But I did spank them – have I already said this? Then one day, I had a change of heart. I can’t remember how old they were at the time – something like four, six and eight – all I can remember is that, for some reason, I decided I wasn’t going to spank them anymore.
So, I called a family conference. We all sat in the living room. Their little eyes were as big as saucers. “What’s Daddy up to?” they wondered. And I told them, “I’ve decided not to spank you any more. No matter what you do, I’ll never spank you again. Oh, I’ll find some way to punish you, but I won’t spank you, not ever again. You can take my word for it.” And I didn’t.
Now, I don’t know if that’s how God felt after the Flood, but I do know this: When the flood waters receded and it was all said and done, God said he’d never again destroy the earth with a flood again. And that’s his promise.
The warning is that his judgment still stands. When we sin against God and each other – that is to say, when we lie and cheat and don’t keep our word; when we pollute the environment and use up the natural resources – we suffer the consequences, and this new covenant God made with Noah doesn’t change that one bit. Paul told the Galatians,
“Don’t be deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption.
But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
For God to promise not to destroy us again by a flood is not to say that God will, in any way, excuse us from the effects of our own sinful nature.
I had the occasion recently to think about this from a global perspective. As most of you know, I spent ten days in Rome after Easter. On two occasions, I walked through the ruins of the old
Roman Forum, the seat of the Roman Empire for at least five hundred years. As I traipsed through the rubble, I couldn’t help but think about how this great and mighty Roman Empire collapsed under of its own weight of self-indulgence and greed.
And I wondered: Is this not a lesson for us today? With our ever-increasing appetite for luxury and pleasure and entertainment of every sort, are we not following in much the same path?
I love my country, but I can’t help but think we’re on the decline. We seem to be spending more and more money, time and energy in the pursuit of happiness, only to be that much more frustrated and dissatisfied with what life has to offer. Paul told the Romans,
” For the wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I take that as a warning: Unless we turn from our sinful ways and walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we, like the Romans, will be the victims of our own demise.
Fortunately, there’s a sign of hope. It’s the way the story of the Flood ends. God said,
“I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it will be for a sign of a covenant between me and the earth.”
To this day the rainbow reminds us of God’s grace and love and of God’s everlasting promise to be with us and watch over us. But there’s another sign even more powerful than this – it’s the sign of baptism. Let me explain.
In the Bible, water and the sea stand for all that’s opposed to God – chaos, destruction, sin and death. We see this in the story of creation: God pushed back the waters of the sea in order for life to spring forth. In the Exodus, God rolled back the waters of the Red Sea in order for the people of Israel to be freed from slavery. In baptism, Jesus went down into the waters of death in order to claim for us the promise of new life through faith in him. Paul told the Romans,
“Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death,
that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father,
so we also might walk in newness of life.
For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death,
we will also be part of his resurrection…”
Baptism is an everlasting sign of hope that our sinfulness has been overcome by the power of his death and resurrection.
Many of you were baptized as infants. So was I. Long before we were ever made aware of what was going on, our parents and other loving adults claimed us as children of God and made a place for us in God’s great family of faith. And through the years we’ve grown, more or less, in our awareness of God’s love.
What we need to remember is that our baptism is an everlasting sign of hope, that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven and there’s a place reserved for us in God’s eternal kingdom.
The Good News is the floodwaters will not overcome us. We’re people of the covenant, and, like Noah’s Ark – the Ark of the Covenant – we’re destined to ride high over the stormy seas of life. No one knew this better than Horatio Spafford, who penned the words of the great hymn we sang this morning:
“When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Copyright 2006, Philip W. McLarty. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.