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Sermon blog: As in the days of Noah

January 27, 2016

4202524004_75224d9f2f_oGenesis 6:5-22

Recently a man was asked a question:

“Will the world end naturally or will man destroy it first?”

The man answered:

“We face a number of threats; nuclear war, global warming and genetically engineered viruses. Although the chance of a disaster on planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, becoming a near certainty in the next thousand or ten thousand years. By that time we should have spread out into space, and to other stars, so it would not mean the end of the human race.”

“So”, I thought, “it’s good to know we’ve got a bit of time!”

The man was Stephen Hawking, “the world’s most celebrated scientist”, speaking in a recent issue of the Radio Times.

He admits that we need to be careful, but the future for mankind looks good.

A few years ago British atheists ran an advertising campaign on London buses:

“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”.

There is a life to be lived and nothing beyond. That is the message. Don’t go worrying about God and religion. Don’t look there for meaning, just live your life. Enjoy it. The end.

And maybe it’s in that context that we look this morning at the story of Noah.

Noah the Sunday school story. Animals in twos. An ark. A rainbow in the sky. But that’s the nice part of it that we often focus on. The story of Noah and the flood is not just a pleasant story about animals. It is also about a disaster on a huge scale. Apart from one family, mankind wiped out. Destroyed by God. We are told it is his punishment.

In many respects the writer of Genesis does not give us a lot of detail about Noah. What it was about Noah that made God choose him. How God told him to build this 3 storey floating box. What his thoughts were as he got his instructions. What he and his family had to say to each other. What he had to say to his neighbours and how they reacted to his antics.

Interestingly though it is Jesus who throws some light on the situation in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. That in itself is an interesting thing. If we are ever tempted to think that parts of the Old Testament cannot be believed; a prophet being swallowed by a fish, a deadly disease being reversed by the making of a bronze snake, a man building a boat in the face of a huge flood, then if we find Jesus has something to say about these events, we can certainly take it that in his eyes these events are definitely real.

And we can trust the one who is “the Truth”.

Jesus describes, in Luke 17, the coming of the kingdom of God. He talks about how the kingdom of God is here and now. In our midst. He tells his listeners how he is going to suffer, but promises his listeners that one day he will return and the kingdom of God, his kingdom, will be fully established.

Sometimes we talk about the return of Jesus as if it will be something barely noticed. But I am struck by the sort of images we read of in accounts like the Luke one, where Jesus will come with lightning. Lightning which lights up the sky form one end to the other. A real spectacle. A visible reality that cannot be denied.

So as we live in a world that tells us there probably is no God, where we cannot believe in a Jesus who rose from the dead, we’re certainly not waiting for Jesus to come back.

And that’s the way Jesus says it will be.

That’s where he draws his lesson from Noah.

“Just as it was in the days of Noah”, he says, “so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man” (his description of himself). “People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all”.

Life goes on.

It did in Noah’s day and it does today. Little thought for God. The word from Jesus is that it is a dangerous thing to ignore God and to not be ready for all that he promises through Jesus.

So as we think about what all of this can mean for you and me today, let’s go back to the days of Noah and relive those events.

Genesis chapter 6 tells us that God is watching the world that he created. He is taking a close look at mankind who is made in his very image.

A few chapters previously the creation story described at each turn how God looked at his handiwork and sees that it is GOOD.

God now takes another look and the picture is very different.

He does NOT see that it is good.

He sees

  • Wickedness
  • Evil thinking
  • Corruption

And his feeling now is not of satisfaction with a job well done. It is not time for another day of rest.

But regret. A troubled heart. The need to take the most drastic action.

“Before I come back” says Jesus, “it’ll be just like the times of Noah.

Life goes on. Eating. Drinking. Marrying.

Just like then.

Wickedness. Evil thoughts. Corruption. Violence.

Does that sound recognisable as the world you live in?

  • Does much of what happens in this world, for all its beauty, for all the potential of its people, make it seem like a dark place?
  • Something has got hold of the minds of people. And out of those wicked minds, come all sort of wicked behaviour.

In politics. Whether it’s receiving a back hander, looking after one’s own family, lining the pockets of the rich while denying the poor, exaggerating expenses, silencing those who dare to disagree.

In sport. Whether its football officials receiving bribes or sportsmen being encouraged to take drugs.

In religion. Storing up riches, covering up abuse, ignoring the needy and suffering.

In families.

In communities.

In civil war.

In world wars.

In terrorism. Most forms of which are done in the name of God or a god.

As all this continues, God has a plan. A plan which is going to come to fruition in the return of his son Jesus. Jesus promises that is something you can be confident in. A certainty.

But no one behaves as if they believe it.

The problem too is that often we Christians don’t behave as if we believe it.

The second coming of Jesus is not something we talk about as much in our churches today. Perhaps years ago we talked about it too much. If that were possible. But I can remember that in very many of our 6.30 services when I was young, we were told time and again that Jesus was coming back and it could well be by 7.30!

Encouraged to ensure that we were right with God.

Encouraged to live each day as if it might be your last.

Because no one knows when these things will happen. When Jesus comes back for his people.

So back to Noah.

The writer of Genesis paints a black picture. It is as black as can be.

We are told that God is so full of regret at what he sees. So full of regret that he ever thought to embark on creating such a world. The people made in his image!

And as he looked at his work of art, he decided to tear it up and throw it in the bin.

“I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth”. And all the animals. Total wipe out.

And whatever we think of the world we live in now, God is so grieved then, that he decides to tear up what he had made.

But.

Noah.

Through his sadness. Through his anger. A ray of light. A hope for the world.

One man.

Noah is NOT like everyone else. Noah finds favour in God’s eyes. Somehow Noah had experienced God’s working in his life. And Noah is one on his own. And Noah deserves a different plan.

Noah is a righteous man. In a world of wicked men and women.

He is blameless. You couldn’t find fault with this man.

And the source of all this? He walked with God.

Whereas Adam and Eve had walked with God in the Garden of Eden, but their descendants had forgotten their God, neglected their creator, somehow Noah remembered. And he lived his life following God, trusting him, talking to him, listening to him, walking with him.

And as Noah walks with God, God speaks.

We are not told how.

But Noah is listening.

Noah is let in on God’s plans. “I am going to destroy mankind”.

And then God presents Noah with the blueprint for what is basically a large box. A big box designed to float. And he gives him a full set of instructions with all the dimensions.

And then he talks about a flood. Which will destroy everything on earth. There are differences as to whether God literally refers to the whole world, or the world as it was then known, but this is certainly going to be a major event.

Noah’s family is going to be safe as part of God’s plan. And so also a selection of wildlife.

We all remember 2 by 2 of course! But actually we find there are some sevens as well.

And Noah did exactly what he was told.

God instructed and Noah did.

That’s obedience. Is that the sort of relationship that you and I have with God? His wish is our command.

As with many other people that God called, from Moses, to Gideon, to Mary, there must have been questions. But none are recorded. Were none voiced? Was Noah so close in that walk of his with God, that he knew the One who spoke to him and he knew to obey?

Then Sunday School takes over.

And we all sing together:

“Mr Noah built and ark, the people thought it such a lark. Mr Noah pleaded so, but into the ark they would not go.”

The Bible though does not record the interaction between Noah and his neighbours, let alone Noah and his family. We don’t hear anything of Noah pleading with the people. The people mocking his foolish endeavour. Not one word.

Whatever the strength of Noah’s certainty though, it must have been a hard one to sell to his wife and sons. Why build a boat in the middle of nowhere? How is this flood going to occur? How are all the animals going to find their way to the ark? What about the day job, to put food on the table? Can you be sure?

Was Noah a respected man in the community? Chances are he was now considered as more than a little eccentric!

Did Noah try to persuade people or did he just get on with building in order to save his family?

The only hint on this might be found in Peter’s second letter. Peter describes Noah as a “preacher of righteousness”, who was protected from the flood. Perhaps he did warn, but it seems that if he did, he was not heeded.

Its hard work walking with God. I certainly find it so!

It’s a struggle to follow Jesus. To live out the life he calls me to. To obey his word. To live his way, rather than everyone else’s.

Noah had to trust what he had heard from God. How could he be certain this would all happen as God said?

How can we keep ourselves from giving up, when following God is tough, when we can’t see what is ahead of us, when we wonder if God’s plans are working out? The writer to Hebrews encourages his readers to persevere. Why, because there are a great crowd of people who have done so before. And what marks them out is their faith.

Their trust in God. It was by faith that Noah built the ark, and obeyed God to the letter. To the cubit.

We need to know that we can trust God.

Without any description of the interaction that we describe in our Sunday school stories, or that are invented in Hollywood films, Noah and his family enter the ark.

And whilst the flood is the means of huge destruction, the ark on those floodwaters becomes the means of rescue for one family.

As Noah and his family enter the ark, it is God who closes the door. Their safety is in his hands. Tossed around on the flood waters for 40 days, probably unable to see anything from the boat, in the darkness, surrounded by animals and all the aromas that would bring, they just trust themselves to the hands of God.

And he delivers them safely to dry ground.

God is committed to his people and he is also committed to the world that he has created. A rainbow is given a reminder that he will never flood the earth again.

But the Bible is very clear that the world we live in is not going to go on for ever. There is going to be an end.

But it doesn’t end with a disaster on planet Earth. It ends with the return of Jesus to fully establish his kingdom, taking his people to be with him for eternity. It ends with a new heaven and a new earth. Where God lives with his people.

Jesus’ return brings judgment. So it can be a thing to fear.

But Jesus’ return brings about the culmination of God’s plans, and ultimately is a thing of great hope for those who have walked with God.

God offered Noah salvation from the flood. And maybe Noah offered that to others. Now we offer salvation to all that God loves. As Noah and his family left the ark for a new life on dry ground, so God offers us new life in Jesus.

For as with Noah, God has provided the means of salvation by sending his son Jesus into this world. We are all wicked in our thoughts and deeds, but Jesus went to the cross to die in our place so that we could know forgiveness and new life with him.

Don’t be like Stephen Hawking or the atheists though who would say you don’t need to think about these things. Jesus has promised he will return. Don’t be like those in the days of Noah just carrying on their lives with no regard for God. No thought of Jesus.

Be like Noah. Listen to God. Obey his call of rescue. Be righteous preachers. Walk with God. Persevere in that walk, when it’s hard to see what is ahead.

Be ready for Jesus. If we are then the day of Jesus’ return is a day to look forward to. When everything we have believed will come to glorious fruition.

 

 

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