Living in a dying world

Text: Gen 9 Preached at Werribee Church of Christ 19/9/04

Introduction

In a world of scams – property scams, get-rich-quick scams, internet scams, software piracy, insurance scams .. – certain sayings have become strikingly familiar to us. Sayings like “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”, or “Things are not quite as they seem”. But there are other situations where that could be said as well. It could even be said when you read the bible, especially if you miss the context. For instance, if you’re reading anything in the OT after Gen 2, you’re reading about a world under the power of sin; and if life looks a bed of roses, you may not have read carefully enough. And things may indeed not be quite as good as they seem.

Gen 9 is a good example. The flood is over, and the Lord makes a covenant with Noah. He says “I will never forget the earth. Every time you see a rainbow, that is your reminder – and my reminder – that I have promised never again to bring a destroying flood. This is my covenant with every living creature on earth for all time.” Now you wouldn’t think it could get much better than that, would you. That sounds like unqualified, unlimited life. But – as the saying goes – “things are not quite as they seem”.

A dying world

Let’s backtrack a chapter or two to remind ourselves of the context, and tune in to the flow of the narrative. As we noted last week, the story of the world might have ended with Gen 7. Gen 7, if you like, could have been the last chapter of the Bible. But it isn’t .. simply because out of a whole race whose wickedness grieved God to the core one man named Noah found favour with God, and lived in fellowship with him. So the human race continued after the flood, because (8:1) the Lord remembered Noah.

Life begins again with a man who pleases God, another Adam placed under God’s commission to rule and care for the earth. A fresh start for the creation and for mankind. The same solemn commission given to the first humans, God now speaks to Noah and his descendants: 1 God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.. The very words first spoken by God to the first human beings at the creation 1:28. Now spoken again here after the flood to Noah in Gen 9:1, and repeated in v7 .. the start and the end of God’s charge to man. That’s the core business of being human on God’s earth. Populate the earth, manage the earth, and enjoy it’s fruits as food .. All of that is in the last few verses of Gen 1 .. and here it is restated, offered afresh after the flood in Gen 9. The same world, the same humanity, the same God, the same commission .. Only it’s not quite the same .. something quite literally “vital” is missing.

Can you remember what happens at the end of chap 3, after the first act of man’s disobedience? 24 [The Lord God] drove out the man [from the garden]; and … he placed the cherubim, [as sentries] to guard the way to the tree of life. .. From that moment, mankind leaves the presence of God, the way to life is barred, and death becomes the destiny of every man and woman .. and so it remains until the very end of God’s dealing with human history, foreshadowed at the very end of the Biblical story in Rev 22 .. where there’s a city .. and in the city a river .. and growing along its banks is the tree of life .. and anyone who worships Christ the Lamb, whose throne is in the centre of the city, may reach out and eat from the tree if life and live forever.

That stands in Scripture as God’s promise in Christ. The world as first created by God was a world without death .. God’s promise for the future when he completes his purposes in human history is also a world without death, the original creation beautifully restored .. That’s the world God holds out to us as our hope through Christ, but we’ve not yet received it .. and importantly for us this morning, it was not the world Noah received either. It might look like it at first .. but “things are not quite as they seem”.

If you have a bible, please turn again to chap 5. That chapter, if you remember from a few weeks ago, is an account of the generations descending from Adam & Eve – and it’s a litany of death, a gruesome history of a once perfect world blighted by sin: Adam lived ‘x’ years and he died, Seth lived ‘x’ years and he died, Enosh lived ‘x’ years and he died, and so goes the morbid litany .. and he died .. and he died .. and he died .. Well glance down to the last few verses: there’s the temporary pause in morbidity with the reference to Enoch who “walked with God” – but don’t get comfortable too soon, because then the litany continues with Enoch’s son Methuselah (5:26f) “and he died” .. then Lamech “and he died” .. so this is still a world of death .. one extraordinarily righteous life doesn’t change that .. man is still a dying race .. but Lamech had a son called Noah .. the hope rises again ..

Except that when we get into chapter 6, we hear God’s chilling verdict on this world of sin and death, and following that the sentence of judgement executed by God himself .. 3 chapters about the judgement of the flood – where apart from the people and animals on the ark, all life is blotted out .. But then the scene looks brighter, doesn’t it. At the end of chap 8 the flood recedes, dry land reappears and life begins again .. and we’re relieved, and if this was on at the cinema we’d sit back in our seats and start breathing again .. alive after all! .. it’s a whole new day .. a glorious new chapter in the history of mankind .. and you could easily conclude that as chap 8 drifts into chap 9, and as God binds himself to the human race in a covenant of life – never again will he blot out all living creatures .. you could easily conclude that we’ve heard the last of the horror of death..

But if you thought that you’d be very mistaken .. Yes there is a covenant .. yes the Lord has sworn that he will never again cut off all life by a destroying flood (that’s there in black and white in 9:11) .. but then you get down to v28: 28 After the flood Noah lived three hundred fifty years. 29 All the days of Noah were nine hundred fifty years; and he died. .. Now wouldn’t that spoil the Sunday roast! .. You had all your hopes pinned on Noah – the good guy, one of God’s finest – the one who’s going to put everything back to right .. and he died like all the rest. He’s in the same position as his ancestors, and the haunting litany of death is still playing on. ..

That means sin still reigns on planet earth .. the sentence of judgement in chap 3 is still in place .. the way is still barred to the tree of life .. still a sign across the gate saying “No Entry” .. the world is still under a sentence of death .. And if Noah died – just like his father Lamech, and his father Methuselah, and apart from the exceptional case of Enoch like every one of Noah’s other ancestors back to Adam .. then that means no amount of good living, not even the most righteous of human characters will escape the sentence of death that hangs over everyone living, on account of the sin inherited from Adam. .. All of Noah’s descendants are living in a dying world .. until Christ. The final chapter of the Bible tells us the secret plainly: It’s only the Lamb of God by his blood shed for the sins of the world, who can open the way to the tree of life.

It’s a new start, but it’s still the same world of decay. So the last verse of Gen 9 gives us a vital clue for reading the whole of Gen 9. It says to us: Read with care – This is not a glossy holiday brochure about life in paradise .. It’s an introduction to the art of living in a dying world. And I think its core teaching – for Noah, and all his descendants, ourselves included – is that ultimately there’s..

The only One you can trust and depend on

If you’ve been to Sunday School, you may have been led to believe that the Bible is a book full of hero stories. Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, Peter, Paul .. all heroes of the faith, who glorified God in every way and did great things for him. Now, that’s not entirely false. Heb 11 is a whole chapter that recounts the ways in which a long list of characters in the history of God’s dealings with his people acted by faith. But the writer also says that whilst they were rewarded .. their rewards were imperfect and incomplete, because their real reward was heavenly, whereas their lives were only earthly.

That’s the wisdom you need to walk through the minefield of a sin-affected planet. And it begins here in Gen 9. The first three verses .. simply glorious – a 5-star resort – it’s all there, it’s all beautiful, it’s all yours for your enjoyment, pleasure and blessing .. But keep reading the contract, folks. .. And when you read just a few more lines, you learn that it’s also a world of decay in which human life is not universally valued. The sin of Cain who first killed his brother has not departed from the world of men and women. There need to be laws to deal with the taking of life, because like it or not, lives will be taken. God says: (v6) innocent people have a right not to be killed – because people bear God’s image. You need laws, because the world is populated by rebellious hearts; and if people will not worship God, they will not respect his image in one another.[ ]

So much for the glory of humanity [dreams evaporated] .. But imagine, as we did a moment ago, that you’re watching this on the screen. You’ve witnessed God’s dealings with Noah; you’ve seen the destruction of the flood .. but you’ve also seen God’s mercy in the light of Noah’s righteous character. He found favour with God, walked with God, blameless in his generation. You’d imagine, wouldn’t you, that Noah will save the day yet again. .. Well if you want Noah to be your Australian Idol, you’d better stop reading at verse 19. Just before the part where he’s caught blind drunk, with his pants down in the beer tent.

As Jesus said: “Those with ears to hear, let them hear.” .. If we have listening ears as we open God’s word this morning, what will we hear? .. That if you want to rely on human achievement to mend the society .. if you look to self-help books to order your world and fix your love life .. you may as well pull the trigger now.

And as you read further into the Scriptures, that’s the message again, and again.

• Abraham: the father of the faithful. To save his neck, passed his wife of as his sister and let the king of Egypt marry her.

• Jacob: conspired with his mother to deceive his father, and steal his brother’s birthright.

• Judah: son of Jacob, ancestor of David & Jesus. Distinguished himself by raping his sister.

• David: Israel’s greatest king, described by God himself as “a man after [his] own heart”. Looked out his window, saw a woman named Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop, slept with her, and used his power to get her husband killed

• Solomon: gifted by God with wisdom and wealth like no other ruler anywhere. Married hundreds of foreign women, worshipped their gods, and drafted thousands of God’s own people as slaves for his building projects.

• Peter: leader of the apostles, preacher to thousands. Denied his Lord 3 times.

And just a few samples from the pages of Scripture. Many, many stories of men and women of faith .. but God is the only hero.

Conclusion

This text we’ve read together today speaks into our lives, and tells us some unattractive truths about life on this planet. It addresses us and says, “Be wise .. have discernment .. things are not quite as they seem. Don’t be fooled .. don’t just look at life’s shining surface .. look beneath the surface .. be wise.” And then God speaks to us and says this: “The world is not as good as it looks .. and people are not as dependable as they appear.”

God has warned us today, through the frailty of man. The best man on earth in his time was not good enough to save the world. The Bible is full of people of faith .. with clay feet, fickle wills, and frail hearts. Paul reflected on that in 2 Cor 4. He said God has blessed this desperate world with a treasure of grace, a gospel that saves restores and reconciles. .. But it comes through frail, failing human messengers like us (“jars of clay”). And he says God has chosen to convey the gospel treasure in that way, so that people will recognise that God himself is the only one with the power to save their lives and heal the world. … Don’t expect the world to make sense; don’t expect life to add up; don’t expect your life to work and have true ultimate meaning .. if you venture all your trust in people just like you .. if you finally depend on anyone but God, the creator and designer of the universe to save your life from death, decay and futility.

There’s only truly one hero .. Trust anyone else, worship anyone else, trust any political or economic philosophy, trust any self-help strategy .. and you’ll be disappointed, and life will not make sense. It’s God’s world. But until the Lord comes, it’s a perishing world of dying people. So live in it, manage it, look after it, enjoy it .. but worship the Lord, and place your ultimate trust only in him.


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