Sunday, February 18, 2018
First Sunday in Lent (Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15, Psalm 25:1-10)
Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We’ll start in Genesis 9 and talk about Noah and the Ark. If you remember the story, it’s the time that God flooded the earth with water so as to wipe out the wickedness of human beings. It says in Genesis 6 “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, so his heart was deeply troubled. So, the Lord said “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created — and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground — for I regret that I have made them.” Did you know that God felt this way? That he thought this way? That evil bothered him so much? But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. It says that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japeth.”
God saw the wickedness of the human heart — corrupt and full of violence. But Noah is different, and God sees this difference in Noah. God is just in His judgement, so He does not subject Noah to the destruction that is ahead, which, in this case, will be a life-destroying flood. God pulled Noah aside and said “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark…” which comes with pretty detailed plans. God stipulates the materials, the dimensions, the form and the finish. Noah’s job is to get himself and his family, as well as two of every living creature, male and female, as well as food to keep them fed during the flood. And Genesis 6 ends with God saying “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”
When I get to this part of the story, I pause and ask a difficult question. If God came to me like He did Noah, explaining that the plan is to wipe out most of humanity and creation, out of regret and because of our own sinfulness, and that I’m to build a big boat so that I and only I can be rescued from this destruction, what would I say? How would it affect me? Sure, Noah said “yes,” and did everything God told him to do, and I’d like to think that I’d do the same — obey and get to work. But my thoughts would wander. There are some difficult questions. Questions like…
How could a good God just say “I’ve had it!” and wipe out His creation? Is God just having a bad day, like when I say to the kids “If you can’t straighten up and get along, we’ll just forget the movie and go back home!,” thus destroying the experience?
If I were Noah, I’d wonder why I was going to be spared from this death. I think I’d be prone to doubt God’s assessment of my righteousness. Noah’s a good guy, obviously, but to be so good that he doesn’t get wiped out with everything and everyone else? And how is it that Noah and His sons and their wives get this gig?
If you were Noah, would you see this as a relief or a huge responsibility? The more I think about it, the more I believe that every relief comes with a corresponding responsibility, but that’s to be talked about at another time. For Noah, I bet it was both relief and responsibility. He’s saved, but now he’s physically responsible to save his family — and all of creation.
If I were Noah, I’d be glad to know that me and my family unit would be saved, but I’d ache for others. What about everybody in my neighborhood? My extended family? My friends? I wonder if this caused Noah to see people differently. I wonder if sometimes he saw someone being wicked and said to himself “wow — I guess humans are kinda wicked,” but I also wonder if he’d see someone and think “those people seem pretty good — why don’t they get to go on the ark?”
What was it like to build the ark? What was the first raindrop like? Was Noah surprised when “Every living thing that moved on the land perished — birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died.” The animals, the birds, the people — all gone, except for Noah and the people on the ark with him. He was in the only safe place, surrounded by the destruction of everything he had ever known.
It rained and rained. The flood kept coming for 40 days. The ark floated above the tallest mountain. It was the sea — and nothing else. No land. The only safe place to be is in the ark. The waters flooded the earth for 150 days and finally receded very very slowly, finally leaving the boat on Mount Ararat.
Remember back in the summer when you’d put your just washed laundry out on the clothesline and the sun would warm it up and the wind would push it around and eventually it dried? A few hours, an afternoon, and it’s all dry? How long might it take for the whole earth to dry? It took months and months. Noah didn’t spend 40 days in the ark; he and his family and the animals spent months in the ark.
It had all worked out up to that point. God told Noah to build an ark and he did. God said “it’s going to rain and flood,” and it did. God said “you’ll live but they won’t,” and that’s what happened. God was faithful to His Word and Noah was faithful to God. Hebrews 11:7 – “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.”
Noah had authentic faith in a plastic world. What do I mean when I say “plastic world?” I mean a faith that doesn’t work, that’s built on the brokenness of humanity rather than on Truth. Lent is a time to come to terms with our faith. Do we really believe God? If so, do we live out our belief? What would others say about our faith and how we live? Are we the kind of people who believe that Christ has risen from the dead and thus live in that victory?
When this whole thing ended and Noah found himself and his family on dry ground, God made a promise in Genesis 9:8-17. He said “I’m never going to do that again, I promise.” We call this a covenant — a promise from God that we can always depend on, no matter what. This promise is unconditional. God will never destroy the earth as we know it with a flood. Remember that when it rains this week.
The Account of Noah and the Ark has something to teach us about authentic faith in our plastic world.
First: There’s a personal God who cares about how we live. There’s a God who doesn’t ignore evil and injustice but rather faces it head-on. Human evil bothers God. Think about this in light of the horrible acts of evil we hear in the news. Harvey Fierstein. Dr. Larry Nassar at Michigan State. The shooting — another school shooting — in Florida. This is evil; this is wickedness. Whether you believe in God or not, chances are that you’d make some kind of case that suffering and evil like that are wrong and cannot be tolerated. The story of Noah and the ark shows us that God is not ignorant, nor is he powerless, and God is not tolerant of evil. He hates human wickedness much more than we ever could. God cares about how we live.
Second: God recognizes righteousness when He sees it. He doesn’t see all human beings in the exact same way. God judges by what He sees. He detects sin and evil and as well detects righteousness and goodness. Noah was faithful when no one else was, and God saw this and saved him, and used Noah to save everything. We are all descendants of Noah, who is a descendent of Adam & Eve, our first parents. So why don’t we worship Noah? Noah isn’t divine. Noah isn’t perfect. God was pleased with Noah compared to other people, but even goody good good Noah messed up. After the flood, Noah started drinking wine, ended up drunk and naked in his tent, leading his sons to cover up his shame. Noah wasn’t perfect. We hear that and think it’s no worse than the Steve Wilkos show, but the symbolism and the effect of Noah’s brokenness have all kinds of cultural and spiritual implications. Noah was righteous, but Noah wasn’t perfect.
As you read through the Old Testament, you see the scope of human goodness and badness. You see a conundrum: God cares about how we live, God hates wickedness, God loves us, we can’t get it right…? What do we do? What do I do? If a flood was about to overtake the earth, how would I know, morally and ethically, if I would be like Noah or like everyone else? This really is a conundrum.
If God cares about how we live, and God recognizes sin and righteousness and responds to it, the question is this: “how do I make sure I’m right? If God is this living being with great holiness and power combined with the ability to relate to humans and even care enough to save them, how do I get on the right side? How good do I have to be?” If God is who He claims to be, the question I’m asking is “how do I please him?”
This is where Jesus comes into the picture. Mark 1:9 reveals something about righteousness in God’s eyes. Remember, the question is “how do I please God?”
Did you notice what God the Father said about Jesus? And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus pleased the Father. God recognizes righteousness when He sees it.
Remember that Jesus is fully God — fully divine — and fully human. He is the Son of God. He’s a person. And there aren’t many people of which God the Father would say “with you I am well pleased…”
In Noah’s day, the wickedness of human beings grew because they weren’t obedient to God. And try as they might, they could never get it right. Noah got close, but even Noah wasn’t perfect.
With most religious systems, it’s up to the person to behave in such a way that the god accepts them. Depending on the religion, it’s not about a god accepting them, rather, it’s about avoiding their wrath. Christianity is different. Christianity isn’t about behavior to earn acceptance. Christianity is about being accepted because of what Christ has done for us, in us, to us. It’s a relationship that’s based on His righteousness, not mine. We call this grace — in the last 100 years of church history, at least in some branches, it was referred to as “Amazing Grace.” It is a gift, something we don’t deserve and certainly something we can’t earn. It’s not just the baptism — it’s the sinless life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus that means we can be made right with God.
God recognizes the righteousness of Jesus compared to the wickedness of the world. Jesus pleased the Father. And then Jesus says to the world “The time has come, the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” How do I please God? Look to Jesus. Trust Jesus. Believe Jesus. Follow Jesus. Be like Jesus.
Third Lesson of Noah: Only God can save us. The one who knows the difference between righteousness and wickedness is also the one who can save us. He’s the only one who can save us. Save us from what? From our own self-destructive wickedness. We don’t need a flood to overwhelm us — we have enough possibility of darkness around us and in us. The Light of Christ is no flashlight. It’s a bombarding, overwhelming, glorious light that has the power to heal and save and build.
But how does the work of Jesus on the cross affect us? How does it “transfer” to us? Turn with me to 1 Peter 3:18.
Christ suffered. He took our sin and carried it on our behalf to the cross… to the grave… but not back up from the grave again. He destroys sin.
Christ suffered once. No more Noah and the Ark. No more incarnation and re-crucifixion. This is how something that happened 2,000 years ago affects us today.
Christ suffered in my place. I’m not righteous, He is. I’m unrighteous. He took my place on the cross so that I could be brought to God. In the story of the ark, Noah saves the day. It’s a good thing he was righteous. In the story of the cross, Jesus saves the day. It’s a good thing He was truly righteous. At the end of the day it’s apparent: Jesus is the better Noah. Why?
- Noah, though he was seen as righteous, carried the spiritual DNA of original sin. Jesus, fully human, yet does not carry this.
- Noah was obedient but without much risk. Jesus was obedient and risked everything.
- Noah finished the job, then crashed on the floor of his tent. Jesus finished the job and said “it is done, once and for all”
- Noah benefits from his obedience: he gets a sweet deal. Jesus does not benefit from his obedience: the cost is massive.
In the story of the Ark, the main character (Noah) lives while everyone else dies. In the story of the Cross, the main character (Jesus) dies yet makes it possible for all of us to live. If we were to find Noah’s grave, his bones would be in there. If we found Jesus grave, there’d be nothing but a folded up cloth.
Only God can save us. He does this by becoming one of us, dying for us, living again. No more floods. No more destruction. God doesn’t send hurricanes or tsunamis or earthquakes to punish us. Christ suffered once for all.
The question is: do you believe this? Do you put your faith in your own goodness, or in the hopes that God will see us as righteous enough? Plastic faith makes sure to have a good, even lifelike exterior. Authentic faith makes sure to have an open heart, a humility about our brokenness, and the hope of being rescued by Jesus.
Some of us are followers of Jesus, and we find ourselves in a season of Lent. During lent, we come to terms with the righteousness of Jesus and our own brokenness. Repent and believe,” Jesus says. This is a message for a broken world and for a people who may have found themselves back to face with God. When that happens, our faith gets plastic. It becomes rote. It gets compartmentalized. We don’t chase after Jesus. We’re there, but not present to Him. We’re like mannequins. We’re plastic.
Only God can save us. He does this through Christ. He swaps a heart of stone (or, if you will, plastic) for a heart of flesh (or, if you will, an authentic heart).
It’s time for a renewal. This time the flood isn’t water — it’s the flood of the Kingdom of God spreading throughout the world as the Spirit reaches our hearts with the beautiful, good, and true message of the gospel. Ours is to repent and believe the good news!