June 10, 2018
Our focus this morning is on verse 7 and Noah’s faith, but after talking through verse 6 a little further at TOPIX last week, I thought it would be a good idea to begin essentially where we left off, recognizing that verse 6 is a transition verse that speaks just as much about Noah as it does about Enoch.
So, the heart of verse 6 is that it is impossible to please God without faith. Your works cannot do it, your lineage cannot do it, your church membership cannot do it, the faith of your parents or your spouse cannot do it and the faith of your children cannot do it. You must have faith and live in it to please God.
We covered “living in faith” and what that looks like last week — essentially doing what God tells you to do in the Bible even if you would prefer to do otherwise. We’ll come back to that more with Noah, but simply to make the point, if God says to consider the needs of another as more significant than your own (and he does) , then you need to do that…even if you don’t happen to much like the folks God is calling you to sacrifice for.
But, before we move in that direction, I want to highlight the phrase in the middle of verse 6… “for the one who draws near to God must do so in faith that he is (exists).”
One a level, you may say, “isn’t that a no-brainer?” You know, how can you draw near to something or someone you don’t believe exists?
We talked last Sunday night about the Apologetic aspect of these words and how the conversation changed in the 1970’s. Prior to that time, when an atheist and a Christian debated, it was assumed that the Christian’s position was a given and that the atheist had to prove his point. Yet, after the 70’s the burden of proof was transferred to the Christian and the atheist was considered the assumed position.
This morning, though, I want to talk about an even more basic notion than that…It is my belief that many (if not most) atheists/agnostics/liberal Christians hold to the positions that they do is because they do not want someone or something in their lives telling them what is right and what is wrong — to make demands on their lives.
Think about it this way…if God is and if he is the way the Bible describes him, then he can tell you what to do, how to live, and demand that you think this way. You cannot say, “hey God, I’ll work on this and not yet on that sin” but instead are called to put all sin to death lest you be counted a rebel. You can’t keep God at arm’s length and be a Christian.
So, what the author is saying is that if we are to draw near to God, we must do so not only believing that he exists, but also submitting to the ramifications that go along with his existence. Which means we are called to obey even when that obedience may seem irrational by human measures… and that leads us to Noah.
Verse 7 reads:
“By faith, Noah was given a divine message concerning things not yet seen” (insert here…what is that divine message? Genesis 6:13ff “I have determined to make an end of all flesh…” and “make yourself an ark…”
the author continues:
“Reverently (some insert fearfully or urgently here), he prepared an Ark for the salvation of his household, through which he condemned the world and became an heir of righteousness by faith.”
There is a lot packed into these verses, so I’d like to approach them by making a few observations…
1) The account of Noah is historical and focused on judgment; there is nothing “cutesy” about the story…but we make it cutesy, don’t we? We have pictures in all of these children’s books with this dinky little boat with a giraffe’s head sticking out of the top. And when we do that, we mythologize the story.
In Noah’s story, 8 people were spared along with a sampling of animals, and every other man, woman, and child on the planet perished in water and storm.
Have you ever seen footage of people fleeing from a tidal wave? Or perhaps from the destruction caused by a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake? Some of you have and some of you have seen it with your own eyes as you have gone to help people rebuild their lives…it will break your heart; if it doesn’t, there is something wrong with you. Have you ever been on a boat at sea in the midst of a storm? It was no picnic for Noah and his family either (remember, the storm raged for 40 days before it calmed.
That, folks, is the account of Noah’s Ark. It is about death, wrath, and judgment and we decorate our nurseries in that theme — of course, it is a doctored and mythologized — a “disney-fied”— version of it. I wonder how people would respond if we did the same thing with the Holocaust or September 11th? It should make you wonder what we are teaching our kids about this event in history and about the historicity of events in the Bible. But we mythologize some of this material and then we are surprised that the generation after us mythologizes the rest.
2) Noah received his message from God by direct verbal revelation; but God does not speak like that anymore, so how do we know what God is commanding us to do?
The funny thing is that for the vast majority of Old Testament history, God did not speak from the heavens or even directly through prophets. We think he did because the Old Testament covers about 4000 years of history in 39 books and 929 chapters — all around the lives of about 40 prophetic figures. For the vast majority of that 4000 years, there were no miracles and no prophetic voice, but the people of God relied on the written revelation of God. And so, if they did it then, why cannot we do the same?
The more important point is that all revelation finds its fulfillment in Christ and thus, with the coming of Christ and his sending out of the 12 Apostles to speak on his behalf (which is what an Apostle does), the scriptures become the fullness and complete revelation of God. Nothing is to be added and woe to the one who takes away from it.
Thus, God is still guiding his church like he has through most of history…through the written revelation of the Word — accompanied by spiritual discernment…but to be discerning, that means we must first study that word closely to know what it says.
3) We are told that Noah reverently (urgently) prepared an ark.
Let’s make sure we are clear in our understanding…Why did Noah build his ark? It was because God instructed him to — he was not a pepper anticipating destruction or anything like that, he did it because he was being obedient to God. And he did it with urgency.
And that, my friends, is a lesson for us even today. God won’t call us to collect animals and build a big boat, but he does call us to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. He calls us to take care of the poor and travelers in our midst and to do justice even if the law allows us to do otherwise. He calls us to set aside one whole day in seven for rest and worship, to sacrifice for the wellbeing of those around us so that none does not have their needs met. He calls us to hate wickedness and to aggressively put to death sin in our lives, to study the Bible and to pray without ceasing.
And he calls us to be found doing those kinds of things on that day when he returns again. Again, with urgency. And, as Noah used this opportunity to preach the Gospel to the people of his day (see 2 Peter 2:5), we should do the same. Jesus himself used the account of the flood as a foreshadowing of the judgment to come in the end times (Matthew 24:36-38); so what will we be found doing if Jesus comes back now or later today?
4) Noah and 7 people from his household were saved. I know that it is not a popular thing to say in today’s society, but God is not in the business of saving everybody — and he never has been. We do not know what the population of the earth was in Noah’s day just prior to the flood — safe to say millions at least — but of this number, God saved 8…you can even count them on your fingers.
Just Noah and his covenant family, no more were saved. The scripture regularly speaks of a remnant that God saves from mankind (Genesis 45:7; Isaiah 10:21-22; Romans 11:5).
This is a reality that a lot of people struggle with — how can a loving God elect to save some and not others?
Let me rephrase that statement somewhat… For, if you understand the nature of sin and our utter depravity before God, that this is outward rebellion agains God and worthy of judgment in Hell, then the right question to ask is why did God elect to save any at all. For, not even the most noble human you can think of deserves Hell if standing on his or her own merits.
That’s where the grace of God comes into play. He preserves a remnant for himself and permits the rest to stand on their own in righteous judgment.
Why does God choose to work in this way in human history? Paul says that it is so God’s purpose of election might stand (Romans 9:11) and to show wrath toward vessels made for destruction and to make known his riches of glory for vessels prepared for mercy (Romans 9:22-23). Some prepared for mercy and others for wrath — and its God’s design as the one who prepares us, it is not about us. Thus, none of us can boast (Ephesians 2:9).
In Noah’s day, that remnant was 8 persons. Years later, in Elijah’s day, it was 7,000 from all of the millions who lived in Israel (1 Kings 19:18). And Paul says that as it was in Elijah’s day, so it will be for us today (Romans 11:4-5).
So, what will be the remnant of the faithful from our nation if Jesus came today?
5) So, we are told that the world was condemned by Noah in this action — literally the Greek says that Noah “pronounced a sentence against the world.” It is legal language and an absolute verdict. He condemned the world by his words and by his actions. And as a result, Noah became an heir of Righteousness by faith. — not by works or by anything he could take credit for, but by God’s grace through faith. Paul describes this as a righteousness not by the law and not of his own, but it is an alien righteousness that comes through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9).
So, once again, as Enoch and Abel before him, Noah walks by faith no matter the jeering or complaining of neighbors nor the fear of the approval of men, but it simply the pleasure of God that drive Noah’s life and that ought to drive ours.