Topical Scripture: Genesis 1:26-31
These are challenging times. The stock market has been more volatile than in years. Winter weather alerts were extended to twenty-eight states. A new storm system caused 185 accidents last Monday in Iowa; winter weather has pummeled much of the Northeast.
The New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski’s home was burglarized while he was away at the Super Bowl. Clearly, no one is immune from calamity today.
A friend once sent me this encouraging note:
If you have the inner strength to:
- Start the day without caffeine
- Be cheerful and ignore aches and pains
- Resist complaining about your troubles
- Understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time
- Overlook the times when loved ones take things out on you
- Take criticism and blame without resentment
- Face the world without lies and deceit
- And conquer tension without medication . . .
- Then you are most likely the family dog.
I was in a doctor’s office recently and found this note posted to his receptionist’s desk: “Lord, so far I have been good. I haven’t complained about anything or griped at anyone. I haven’t lied, cheated, or stolen. I haven’t had bad thoughts, or been guilty of greed, pride, or anger. But in a moment, I’m going to get out of bed, Lord, and I’m going to need all the help I can get.” That’s my prayer as well.
You and I are fallen people living in a fallen world. Success is not the avoidance of problems but learning how to redeem them. It is not a race run without stumbling, but a race completed by those who get up when they fall down. A famous CEO said on the news, “Leadership is solving problems—nothing else.” Faith is not the absence of fear—it is the decision to act when we’re afraid. It is learning to find the rainbow at the end of the storm.
Does a flood have you running for cover today? Are you camped out on an ark, trying to survive? Swimming in a rainstorm that won’t end? Why did this happen to you? How could God be loving and allow this, or even cause it? What do you do now?
We’re not the first to ask our questions, of course. But someone was. Let’s ask him for help today.
Our story picks up from last week: “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 8). “Favor” is the Old Testament’s word for “grace,” God’s love for his creation. He wanted to give this “favor” to all of mankind, but they would not accept his mercy. As we will soon see, they rejected every opportunity for salvation.
On the other hand, Noah positioned himself to receive such grace. Note that Noah “found” this favor—he did not earn it. Here’s how he “found” it: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (v. 9). His righteousness did not earn God’s favor, but it put Noah in position to receive what God wanted to give. He was by no means a perfect man—remember his drunkenness in Genesis 9. But he responded to God’s grace, for himself and his family. So can we.
Noah built his Ark for a hundred years in the face of ridicule and rejection: God “did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others” (2 Peter 2:5). Across these hundred years Noah did all he could to warn others. But everyone excepting his own family rejected his message and the grace of God.
And so, a flood obliterated all human life on the planet, except for Noah’s family, and every living organism (presumably excepting fish, which are not mentioned). This is the record Genesis has left us.
Did the Flood really happen?
You remember hearing about Noah’s Ark when you were a child. Colorful pictures of a wooden boat with a tent-like roof, smiling animals parading two-by-two, an elderly, benevolent grandfather watching over the scene with his family. The stuff of nursery walls and church preschool rooms. A nice children’s story.
Is there a fact behind the fable? A real, universal flood? A real ark? I took seven pages of notes on this subject in preparation for today’s message. To summarize them:
There are fossil deposits around the world which seem to indicate a catastrophic event which caused massive, nearly instantaneous death, probably by flooding. Skeletons have been found in fissures located in hills 140 to 300 feet in height, cemented by calcite which must have been deposited under water.
Historians have found 213 different flood traditions in cultures from all over the world. While there are marked differences in the details, all record a universal flood of cataclysmic proportions.
Noah’s Ark has been found to utilize exactly the right proportions for surviving such an event. The 70,000 individual animals and species on board would comprise no more than 50 percent of the available space, leaving room for people, food, and provisions.
And the Flood was clearly divine in origin and end: “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth” (Genesis 6:7); “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded” (Genesis 8:1).
If God created and ended the Flood, could he not superintend all that transpired in connection with it? Could he not transport the animals, keep them alive, and restore their habitats when they disembarked? Could he not return the earth to its antediluvian function so as to further his creative purpose for the Flood’s survivors?
Why the Flood?
A second, more difficult issue is raised by the Flood: how could a God of love do this to his creation? Why would a God who is love (1 John 4:8) send the Flood which would wipe out nearly all of humanity? And why would he include the rest of his creation, animals and life forms which are obviously innocent of sin?
Consider these facts.
One: humanity was given an opportunity to accept his grace.
Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” to the world for the century he spent building the Ark.
Two: death is inevitable for sinners, whether it comes “naturally” or by divine intervention.
God’s word is blunt: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Death comes to all who sin, for “the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
Three: The Flood is not the only time in the Bible when God was forced to send his judgment against sinners.
The children of Israel were instructed to destroy the Canaanite civilizations which inhabited their Promised Land; Sodom and Gomorrah were reduced to ashes as well. If we cannot accept the Flood as divine in origin, we must discount much of the biblical description of God’s wrath and judgment against mankind.
Four: those who refuse to accept such judgment must obviously reject the doctrine of Hell.
And yet the eternal destiny of those who refuse God’s forgiving grace is taught clearly and consistently in Scripture. Critics of the Flood judgment eliminate much of God’s word with their rejection.
Five: the death of “innocent” animals and other life forms killed in the Flood was the necessary result of God’s judgment against humanity.
There was no physical way to kill only humans. All other animals would have died eventually, some in just a few days or hours (cf. the insects).
So, what can we learn from this tragedy?
The Flood warns us against sin and its consequences. For instance, consider Jesus’ warning: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:36-41). From Noah to today, we have known that sin leads to death, and that no one is safe from God’s judgment.
God will never end humanity in this way again: “Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:11). The Flood has made clear the effects of sin. Its purpose has been accomplished. Now we die individually for our sins, rather than collectively.
While the earth will not be destroyed by flood, it will come to its end one day: “Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some of you understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:8-10).
We must be ready today: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:11-14).
Those who awoke on the morning of Noah’s Flood did not know that their last day had dawned. When you woke up this morning, you had no such expectations for this day, either. Neither did those who died on 9/11. Neither will those who are living when the Lord returns and the world as we know it ends.
You may go to him today, or he may come for us all. We are one day closer to the end of history than we’ve ever been before. I don’t know that history will end today. But I don’t know that it won’t. And neither do you.
Noah’s Ark can be yours today. Just as Baby Moses was saved in an ark (the word for “basket” in Exodus 2:3 is the same as Noah’s “ark”), so you can be saved in the “ark” of Jesus’ grace. Note that only one door was available to all who entered Noah’s Ark. In the same way, there is only one way into the ark of our salvation: Jesus Christ our Lord (John 14:6).
Why only one door? Because only one is needed. Every animal and creature could fit through Noah’s door, just as every human on this planet can come to God through Christ. To come to God through Christ, you need only ask Jesus into your life. If you will confess your sin to him and make him your Lord, he will make you God’s child today.
And if he is, he will never leave you or forsake you. The end of Noah’s story is good news for us all: every storm ends with a rainbow. Whether you can see it or not. We’ve read the end of the Bible and know its outcome: we win. The sin which led to the Flood is nailed to Jesus’ tree. The wooden Ark led to a wooden cross. The rainbow of God’s mercy extends to the rainbow of Jesus’ love. There’s hope for us all.
A friend once sent me a true story titled, “Billy Graham’s New Suit.” In January of 2000, leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina invited their favorite son, Billy Graham, to a luncheon given in his honor. He initially hesitated to accept because of his health struggles of recent years, but the civic leaders assured him, “We don’t expect a major address. Just come and let us honor you.” So he did.
After wonderful things were said about him, Dr. Graham stepped to the rostrum. He looked at the crowd and said, “I’m reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who this month has been honored by Time magazine as the Man of the Century.
“Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of each passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached in his other pocket. It wasn’t there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn’t find it. Then he looked in the seat by him. He couldn’t find it. The conductor said, ‘Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.’ Einstein nodded appreciatively.
“The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket. The conductor rushed back and said, ‘Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry. I know who you are. No problem. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.’ Einstein looked at him and said, ‘Young man, I too know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.'”
Dr. Graham continued, “See the suit I’m wearing? It’s a brand new suit. My wife, my children, and my grandchildren are telling me I’ve gotten a bit slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion. Do you know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I’ll be buried. But when you hear I’m dead, I don’t want you to immediately remember the suit I’m wearing. I want you to remember this: I not only know who I am, I also know where I’m going.”
Is there a rainbow at the end of your storm?