Genesis: Noah's Ark - Faith and Obedience
Friends, believe it or not, even though the kids have made their way downstairs and the kids choir has sung their songs for today, I’ve actually got one more children’s song that I want to share with you all. It’s a song that I grew up singing in Sunday School myself, it’s called “Rise and Shine and Give God the Glory” and it tells the story of our story today, Noah’s Ark. I’ll share one verse with you, this one’s my favorite verse of them all and if you know the words, by all means, please jump in. Here it goes:
The animals, they came on, they came on by twosies, twosies. The animals, they came on, they came on by twosies, twosies. Elephants and (clap once) kangaroosies, roosies. Children of the Lord.
That’s the song. I wish I could have you sing all the lyrics with me, but I tell you what, I looked and looked and could not find that song in our red hymnals ☺
Altogether, the song hits the highlights of Noah’s story:
The Lord said to Noah, "There's going to be a floody, floody"
Lord said to Noah, "You're going to build an arky, arky"
It rained and poured for forty daysies, daysies
The sun came out and dried up the landy, landy Everything was fine and dandy, dandy
Children of the Lord
Now to its credit, overall, the song does a really good job of capturing the basic storyline in a fun and catchy way. But yet, look closely and you can’t help but notice what it doesn’t include. And that is, “the why” of the story. Why God brought the flood upon the world in the first place. That God was so grieved and devastated and filled with regret as he looked at the wickedness and evil of humanity, that he saw it best to wipe every one out, effectively start over, and bring about a deadly flood. Wow. We’d rather skip over that part wouldn’t we?
Truth is, the real reason for the flood is rather uncomfortable and deeply unsettling. Kids and adults alike would much rather focus on and be distracted by the particulars and logistics of the story, like the size and magnitude and floor plan of the ark itself or maybe the complexities and day to day realities of a floating and enclosed zoo, (like, question for our ranching friends, how do you keep that thing even remotely sanitary? Sounds awful if you ask me).
Anyway, the point is, we’d much rather focus on the details that doesn’t really matter, and yet, here’s what I’m convinced of in preparing for this message. If you divorce this story from its original context, that is, the “why” of the flood, if you neglect the bad news and startling warning of it, then you don’t really get the good news of the story either. Instead, in the end what you have is simply a cute story with lots of animals or some kind of grand nautical adventure and nothing more. But yet, if we acknowledge the bad news, we’ll find good news too, and dare I say, life-changing news at that.
This morning we continue on with our Genesis sermon series, we’re in the homestretch at this point. Today we’ll study the story of Noah’s Ark and next week we’ll wrap up Genesis with the Tower of Babel and the call of Abraham.
But yet, as always, we’ll save next week for next week. For today, Noah. And even though we only read part of chapter 6 for our scripture reading this morning, our sermon today will effectively cover the entire Noah story, the before, during and after the flood scenes, which in total runs from Genesis 6-9.
Now, that’s a lot of ground to cover in 22 minutes or less, but I believe in us, we can do this. We’ll do so by focusing on the two main characters that drive our story from beginning to end, first Noah and then God. First, we’ll reflect on what we can learn from Noah, through his faith and obedience and secondly, we’ll reflect on what we can learn about God, through his judgment and grace.
What we can learn from Noah: Noah’s faith and obedience
While I think this story is ultimately a story about God’s judgment and grace, both in the days of Noah and for us here today, I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge what there is to be admired in Noah and the example he gives us in his faith and obedience.
After we hear the Lord say that “[He] will wipe from the face of the earth the human race [he had] created, we’re told that Noah found favor, or we might say, Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. We’re also told that Noah was righteous, blameless, and walked faithfully with God. So yeah, he sounds pretty great, I know.
At first glance, we may conclude that God chose Noah because he was humanity’s last best home. Or maybe that he was the one perfect and sinless and godly person left on the face of the earth. And that if God wanted to start from scratch, he might as well start with the best.
But yet, that’s not quite right. Noah was not perfect and he was not sinless. In fact, in Genesis 9, after Noah disembarks from the ark, we find a story about how Noah gets stone cold drunk and walks around a vineyard naked in a drunken stupor. It’s true. That’s in your bible. (and somehow that story didn’t get included in the children’s son we sung earlier).
Yet, nevertheless, what I so deeply admire about Noah here in Genesis 6 is his deep faith and obedience. Or maybe better said, what I admire about this Noah isn’t what he did (or frankly didn’t do) to earn God’s favor, but rather how he responds to being favored by God, how he responds to being shown God’s grace.
After all, consider the sheer immensity of the task that God gave to Noah. I think it could be safely argued, that outside of Jesus, no one in the bible was given a task as enormous as was given here to Noah. Think about it. God says to Noah, I want you to build an ark the size of a cruise ship, some 450ft long, 75ft wide, 45ft high. I want you to build it in what would have been the equivalent of some mountainous desert with little rainfall with no major body of water nearby, so, well, imagine, Dillon. I want you to round two of all animals everywhere, (shoot, I can’t even find our cat half the time) and I want you to prepare food for you and all the animals that’ll last you the entire flood, (gosh, it’s tough enough preparing school lunches for two or three kids before 8am)
And here’s what might be even crazier … Noah does it! Unbelievable. He really does it. He obeys God through and through. Repeated throughout the building of the ark is this repeated refrain, “and Noah did just as God commanded him, Noah did just as God commanded him.”
And though that is admirable enough, even more, notice the beautiful interplay between Noah’s faith and his obedience. This is more than Noah grabbing his construction hat and lunch pail, putting his head down and getting to work. No, this is an obedience that is driven by faith. Noah built the ark because he believed. Noah obeyed because he believed. Faith and obedience are in fact two sides of the same coin.
Think about it. God gave Noah an absolutely outrageous assignment. The only reason Noah built that ark is because he believed that God was telling the truth. That God could be taken at his word.
I imagine most people would have believed that God was bluffing, that He wasn’t being serious, that he wasn’t going to stay true to his word in bringing the flood.
The only reason Noah builds the ark is because he believes that God can be taken at his word and that what God says is true. He has faith and believes that God will in fact bring about a flood. And so he acts in a way that is consistent and born out of his faith.
That’s what biblical obedience is - it’s acting and living in a way that’s consistent with what we believe to be true about God and His Word.
So friends, consider the relationship between faith and obedience in your own life. Because faith and obedience are in many ways two sides of the same coin, you can approach this one from both sides.
When you read scripture, when you come across truths in scripture, ask yourself, If this true, how might this change the way I live? What would it look like to live in response to this truth?
Or when you come across the tough commands and rough edges of scripture that at first glance you don’t want to obey, consider what you first need to believe about God in order to properly obey. For example, Pastor Sam Allberry says this. He says, God knows you better than you do. God loves you more than you do. God's more committed to your ultimate joy than you are. So yeah, you can trust him. Friends, do you believe that? If we really do, obedience will follow.
You can also approach this faith and obedience relationship from the other direction. Say for example, you’re struggling with obedience of some kind.
You’ve heard me use this example before, but consider one reason why people don’t take a regular Sabbath. It may be because they’ve simply got too much on their plate, but it may be because their identity is tied up in their work, where they effectively believe, “I am what I accomplish.” But yet the gospel says our identity is rooted first and foremost not in what we have done but what Christ has done for us and that our identity is secure even while we rest. So yeah, you can take a day of rest.
Or consider this one, why do we lie sometimes, why do we choose not to tell the truth? Well, it might be because we believe that we’ve got to present a false self, that we’ve got to cover up and distort the truth in order to be loved and accepted. You all, the gospel says just the opposite, bring your real self with heartfelt confession, and you’ll be loved and accepted by God.
You all, the Christian life is rooted in faith and obedience. And you and I have the lifelong challenge and privilege of teasing out the relationship between the two and how one impacts the other.
Now, quickly here. One other thing about Noah here that I want you to see before we turn the corner.
When you read biblical narratives like this, at first glance, it seems as if every event is happening immediately after another. Like, for example, it would be totally understandable if in reading this you concluded that God called up Noah on a Monday and said build yourself an ark by next Friday. Except it wasn’t quite that fast of a turn around. Rather, it’s estimated that Noah built the ark over the course of 120 years. Or in other words, if set sail today, that means he’s been building it since Teddy Roosevelt was president.
So again, the challenge before Noah is to build a really, really, really, really big boat over a really, really, really long time. This was a long, slow, labor of love. Pastor Eugene Peterson refers to acts of obedience such as Noah, as “a long obedience in the same direction.” I love that. “A long obedience in the same direction.”
Noah obeyed God through every swing of the hammer, every tree he cut down, every board he carried and carefully placed, every coat of finish he painted on, with every animal he gently coaxed up the runway, all of it, little by little, day after day, month after month, year after year. A long obedience in the same direction.
So how do you build and cultivate a healthy marriage over the course of 50, 60 years? Well, tonight faithfulness and obedience might look like offering to make dinner tonight if your spouse is the one who most often makes it. A small act of obedience and service.
Maybe obedience for you today looks like sacrificing a few moments on your phone for a few more moments with your loved ones, maybe it looks like giving your full devotion and energy to the 20 minutes of reading bedtime stories with your littles, maybe it looks like making the phone call you’ve been putting off, the possibilities are endless. If there’s something that you don’t want to do, but know you should, well, that’s probably it.
One of the principles of investing is a little bit of money + long period of time = a lot of money.
There’s a similar parallel in the Christian life. Small, regular acts of obedience + long period of time = a faithful and fruitful and godly life.
All of that sounds rather beautiful, right? That’s because it is! There’s a lot to be admired in the life and example and faith and obedience of Noah.
And though we may want to end the sermon right there. That’s the part of Noah’s Ark that we like. It’s happy and light and maybe even a little inspiring.
But yet we can’t. We have to fix our eyes the other crucial aspect of this story, the part that gets omitted from the children’s song. We’ve got to address the bad news in order to ultimately get to the good news.
We’ve got to focus on the bad news, the reality and promise of God’s judgment, in order to get to the good news, the hope and promise of God’s grace.
What we learn about God: God’s judgment and grace
Let’s get back to the other main character in this story, and that is, of course, God. Here in Noah and the flood, we get both a sobering yet stunning picture of both God’s judgment and his grace.
As I said a couple weeks ago, it’s going to get worse before it gets better and that’s especially true by time we get to Noah. We’ve got to remember the real reason for the flood.
The human experience had gone so terribly wrong, things had gotten that bad that God wipes out all of humanity, and all life itself for that matter off the face of the earth.
That sounds harsh, vindictive or maybe even that God is unloving. But consider it this way. We know the world is full of and has been marred by sin and evil. Well, on one hand, a God who is indifferent to the sin and evil and the suffering caused by it, would not be truly loving. Consider an employer or someone in a prominent leadership position allowing things like harassment or fraud or abuse or slander to be swept under the rug and ignored. We would not conclude that that person is loving or good. We might say just the opposite. That in fact real love and true goodness stands up to and deals with sin and evil and injustice in our midst.
And so the more pressing question before you and me is, how can God get rid of all the sin and evil in our world without getting rid of us? After all, it’s we as people, who contribute to the sin and evil of our world. One of my majors in college was sociology, and while this is an oversimplification, sociology’s answer to the root of evil in our world is that it’s a product of societal forces. Yet, that answer always seemed incomplete because what of course are societies made out of? Well, people. The problem’s not out there, it’s in here.
How can God get rid of all the sin and evil in our world without getting rid of us? How can God destroy all the sin and evil in this world without destroying us? This is in many ways, one of the key points of tension, one of the key questions that runs throughout scripture.
And here’s what’s really striking about this story when you read it from beginning to end. Before the flood, God says, that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
His solution then is to wipe just about everyone off of planet earth through a deadly flood and effectively start the creation story over again. But yet notice what God says after the flood. He says this,
“Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.
That’s kind of odd, is it not? You’d imagine God instead saying, Never again will I curse the ground and bring a flood again because dang it, you all are going to do better from here on out.
No, just the opposite. God is saying, “I’m not going to bring another flood and yes, I know that humans will still be sinful, will still rebel, will still break my heart, because a flood can’t fully the solve the problem, can’t fully heal the human heart.
It’s as if God is saying, “The flood didn’t fully solve the problem. I’m going to have to find a different solution.”
How can God rid the world of sin and evil without getting rid of us?
Believe it or not, here in the first few chapters of Genesis, we get a glimpse, a sign of God’s long term plan. God promises Noah and to all the generations after him, that he’ll never bring a flood in this way again. He makes a covenant promise with him and as a sign of the covenant, a reminder of this promise to both God and Noah, is a rainbow. A rainbow. Why a rainbow?
Well, here’s what’s crazy. In Hebrew, the word rainbow and bow are one and the same. So when you hear rainbow, the idea here isn’t simply the multicolored thing in the sky, but rather a bow like a bow and arrow. After all, a rainbow and bow have the same shape.
And so here’s the idea. God is hanging his bow, his weapon up in the sky. He’s not going to bring judgment like this in the same way. And the theologian Charles Spurgeon actually takes it a step further, saying, if you look at a rainbow, and think of it like a bow, notice how the bow is oriented. If you were to shoot an arrow, the arrow wouldn’t fall upon the earth, on humanity, up rather, up into the sky, up into what he describes as “the heart of heaven.” The point is this:
God will one wipe out evil from the earth by taking the arrows of his own wrath into himself.
You see, the story of Noah points ahead to a greater rescue – Jesus, the only perfectly righteous one, who offers us salvation, who came to take the punishment for our sins. And Just as Noah obeyed God by climbing onto a boat to save a few, Jesus obeyed his Father by climbing onto a cross to save many.
The moral of the story, Noah and the Ark is ultimately not for us “go be like Noah.” To go be the best Noah you can be. Friends, you are not Noah. I am not Noah. Not even my son, whose name is Noah, is Noah.
And Lord willing, by the grace of God, we’re not the part of the rest of humanity either who gets wiped away from the face of the earth.
Rather, my hope for me and my hope for you is to be one of the other characters, one of the small other bit players of the story, Noah’s wife, his sons and their wives.
Did you catch that part? They are on the ark too. Not because they were righteous, but because they were related and associated to the one who was.
Friends, that’s gospel. Because of Jesus, we are made righteous by association. We all know the phrase guilty by association. Well, the gospel is just the opposite, because of Jesus, we are made righteous by association. Saved not because we are righteous but because we have linked and joined ourselves in faith to the who one who was.
Though God will not destroy the world through a flood again, there will in fact be a final judgment to come. Jesus said himself, "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." (Matthew 24:37-39). One day, Jesus will come back and completely and fully rid the world of sin and evil and bring about a new heavens and new earth and judge the living and the dead. And if we’re serious about Jesus, we need to take him seriously. And so for us today the story of Noah, serves as both a warning and a promise.
And so our job in the meantime, is to believe and obey. Acting and living in a way that’s consistent with what we believe to be true about God and His Word.
So friends, let’s put our faith in Jesus, let’s look to him as the source of our hope and salvation and in addition, call and invite others to do the same.