Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
February 26, 2012, Lent I
Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; I Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
From the Old Testament:
I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
From the First Letter of Peter:
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.
And from the Gospel of St. Mark:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
When I read the Old Testament and Epistle readings this morning referring to Noah, it brought back memories of a Bill Cosby comedy monologue he did in 1965, where he gave a humorous portrayal of the conversation that might have happened between God and Noah. It went something like this:
Noah was in his carpenter shop, sawing wood, when he heard a voice:
(Noah pauses, then continues to saw wood.)
Noah: “Who is this?”
God: “It’s the Lord!”
Noah: “Right. Where are you? What do you want? I’ve been good.”
God: “I want you to build an ark.”
Noah: “Right. What’s an ark?”
God: “Get some wood and I want it to be 300 cubic x 80 cubic x 40 cubic.”
Noah: “Right. What’s a cubic?”
God: “Go out and collect animals 2 by 2, male and female.”
Noah: “Who is this really? What’s going on here?”
God: “I am going to destroy the world!”
Noah: “Am I on candid camera?”
I see some of you still find this humorous.
God established a covenant with Noah, some Theologians refer to it as “The Noahic Covenant.” Though God spoke especially to Noah and his sons, this covenant includes all of Noah’s descendants and “all generations to come.” The covenant doesn’t stop there, however, for it also includes every living creature and “all living creatures of every kind.” Humans, birds, beasts, wild animals and especially ferrets are encompassed in this wonderful covenant.
In this covenant, God promised unconditionally that He would never send another flood to destroy all life on earth. As though to make it emphatic, three times He said “never again.” He didn’t lay down any conditions that men and women had to obey; He simply stated the fact that there would be no more universal floods. From that day on, Noah and his family could enjoy life and not worry every time the rain began to fall.
There were at least four times in the covenant, the Lord mentioned “every living creature.” He was speaking about the animals and birds that Noah had kept safe in the ark during the Flood. Once again, we’re reminded of God’s special concern for animal life.
In the Book of Revelation, when the Apostle John beheld the throne room of heaven, he saw four unusual “living creatures” worshiping before God’s throne, each one having a different face (Rev. 4:6-7). The first had a face like a lion, the second like a calf, the third like a man, and the fourth like an eagle. These four faces parallel the four kinds of creatures with whom God made this covenant: wild beasts, cattle, humans and birds. These creatures are represented perpetually before the throne of God, because the Lord is concerned about His creation. They remind us that all creation worships and praises the God who provides for His creatures and rejoices in their worship.
To help His people remember His covenants, God would give them a visible sign. His covenant with Abraham was sealed with the sign of circumcision (Gen. 17:11; Rom. 4:9-12), and the Mosaic Covenant at Sinai with the sign of the weekly Sabbath (Ex. 31:16-17). God’s covenant with Noah and the animal creation was sealed with the sign of the rainbow, they would remember God’s promise that no future storm would ever become a worldwide flood that would destroy humanity. The rainbow reminds us of God’s gracious covenant and the “many-colored” grace of God.
Rainbows are universal; you see them all over the world. God’s many-colored grace is sufficient for the whole world and needs to be announced to the whole world. After all, God loves the world, and Christ died for the sins of the world (1 John 4:10, 14).
But the rainbow isn’t only for us to see, for the Lord said, “I will look upon it” (Gen. 9:16). Certainly God doesn’t forget His covenants with His people, but this is just another way of assuring us that we don’t need to be afraid. When we look at the rainbow, we know that our Father is also looking at the rainbow; and therefore it becomes a bridge that brings us together.
God’s covenant with creation affects every living creature on earth. Without it, there would be no assured continuity of nature from day to day and from season to season. We would never know when the next storm was coming and whether it would be our last.
God wants us to enjoy the blessings He “gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). When you know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the world of nature around you becomes much more wonderful, because the Creator has become your Father. The God of creation is the god of salvation. Trust Jesus Christ and you can then truly sing, “This is my Father’s world.”
The patriarch Noah was held in very high regard among Jewish people in Peter’s day, and also among Christians. He was linked with Daniel and Job, two great men found in the book of Ezekiel (14:19-20); and there are many references to the Flood in both the Psalms and the Prophets. Jesus referred to Noah in His prophetic sermon on the signs of the end: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man (Matt. 24:37-39).
What relationship did Peter see between his readers and the ministry of Noah? For one thing, Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) during a very difficult time in history. In fact, he walked with God and preached God’s truth for 120 years (Gen. 6:3), and during that time he was certainly laughed at and opposed. The early Christians knew that Jesus had promised that, before His return, the world would become like the “days of Noah;” and they were expecting Him soon (2 Peter 3:1-3). As they saw society decay around them, and the persecution begin, they would think of our Lord’s words. Are we once again in the “days of Noah?”
Noah was a man of faith who kept doing the will of God even when he seemed to be a failure. This should certainly be an encouragement to Christians. If we measured faithfulness by results or numbers, then Noah would get a very low grade. Yet God ranked him very high!
But there is another connection: Peter saw in the Flood a picture or type of a Christian’s experience of baptism. No matter what mode of baptism you may accept or practice, it is certain that the early church practiced immersion. It is a picture of our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection.
Many people today do not take baptism seriously, but it was a serious matter in the early church. Baptism meant a clean break with the past, and this could include separation from a convert’s family, friends, and job. Candidates for baptism were interrogated carefully, for their submission in baptism was a step of consecration, and not just an “initiation rite to join the church.”
The Flood pictures death, burial, and resurrection. The waters buried the earth in judgment, but they also lifted Noah and his family up to safety. The early church saw in the ark a picture of salvation. Noah and his family were saved by faith because they believed God and entered into the ark of safety. So sinners are saved by faith when they trust Christ and become one with Him.
When Peter wrote that Noah and his family were “saved by water,” he was careful to explain that this illustration does not imply salvation by baptism. Baptism is a “figure” of that which does save us, namely, “the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). Water on the body, or the body placed in water, cannot remove the stains of sin. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can do that (1 John 1:7-2:2). However, baptism does save us from one thing: a bad conscience. Peter states that a good conscience was important to a successful witness, and a part of that “good conscience” is being faithful to our commitment to Christ as expressed in baptism.
It may be worth noting that the chronology of the Flood is closely related to our Lord’s day of resurrection. (Listen closely) Noah’s ark rested on Mt. Ararat on the seventeenth day of the seventh month (Gen. 8:4). The Jewish civil year started with October; the religious year started with the Passover in April (Ex. 12:1-2), but that was not instituted until Moses’ time. The seventh month from October is April. Our Lord was crucified on the fourteenth day, Passover (Ex. 12:6), and resurrected after three days. This takes us to the seventeenth day of the month, the date on which the ark rested on Mt. Ararat. So, the illustration of Noah relates closely to Peter’s emphasis on the resurrection of the Saviour.
Peter gave us several lessons that are relevant for today:
First of all, Christians must expect opposition. As it gets closer to Christ’s return, our good acts will incite the anger and attacks from godless people. Jesus lived a perfect life on earth, and yet He was crucified like a common criminal. If the just One who did no sin was treated cruelly, how can we expect to escape suffering? But the suffering should be for righteousness’ sake, and not because we have disobeyed.
A second lesson is that Christians must serve God by faith and not trust in results. Noah served God and kept only seven people from the Flood; yet God honored him. From those seven people, we take courage! For some people, Jesus appeared to be a failure when He died on the cross, yet His death was a supreme victory! When we look around this country, especially in New England, it may seem like Christianity is failing, but God will accomplish His purposes in this world. The harvest is not the end of a meeting; it is the end of the age.
The third lesson is that we can be encouraged because we are identified with Christ’s victory. This is pictured in baptism, and the doctrine is explained in Romans 6. It is the baptism of the Spirit that identifies a believer with Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13), and this is pictured in water baptism.
When Jesus was baptized, the Spirit came on Him as a dove, and the Father spoke from heaven and identified His beloved Son. The people who were there did not hear the voice or see the dove, but Jesus and John did.
It is through the Spirit’s power that we live for Christ and witness for Him (Acts 1:8). The opposition is energized by Satan, and Christ has already defeated these principalities and powers. He has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). And therefore we can go forth with confidence and victory.
Noah preached repentance. John the Baptist preached repentance. Jesus preached repentance. Repentance alone is not enough to save us, even though God expects believers to turn from their sins. We must also put positive faith in Jesus Christ and believe His promise of salvation. Repentance without faith could become remorse, and remorse can destroy people who carry a burden of guilt.
Another practical lesson is that our baptism is important! It identifies us with Christ and gives witness that we have broken with the old life and will, by His help, live a new life. The act of baptism is a pledge to God that we shall obey Him. To treat baptism lightly is to sin against God.
The important thing is that each Christian avows devotion to Christ and makes it a definite act of commitment. It is in taking up our cross daily that we prove we are true followers of Jesus Christ. Noah may have felt the task ahead was monumental, but his faith, righteousness and witness prepared the way for our baptism in Christ. Jesus Christ is the only Saviour, and the lost world needs to hear His Gospel.
Let us pray:
Most gracious and redeeming Lord. Flood our hearts, minds and souls with your redeeming grace. Give us a faith and endurance to accomplish the tasks you set before us. Baptize us with your Holy Spirit; cleanse us from all unrighteousness, that we may be witnesses to the lost. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.