No, he isn’t joking

Text: Gen 6:9-8:22 Preached at Werribee of Church of Christ 12/9/04

Introduction

Last Sunday while we were reflecting together on the escalating nightmare of what sin can produce on planet earth, the horror of the school siege at Beslan in Russia, was unfolding before the media cameras and beginning to be splashed on our TV screens.

One evening this past week, I watched a current affairs segment in which a seasoned journalist, accompanied by a cameraman, was talking us through some of the gruesome details of what happened in that school. When he reached the point of indicating the blood marks on the ledge of the window where people’s bodies were dragged to be thrown to the ground below after being lined up against the opposite wall and shot .. it was clear that no amount of training or experience in front-line reporting could prepare anyone for that ..

Stock phrases like “man’s inhumanity to man” barely even cover it, do they. “How”, we all ask, “could it possibly get to this, especially with the lives of children at a school?” And yet if we’ve been soaking up the Scriptures as we’ve read them over this past month, it shouldn’t really be a surprise. How bad can humanity get? .. So bad, so corrupt that the One who made man as the climax of his creative masterpiece could regret the very act of that creation, and be grieved to the depths of his being. Last Sunday morning we read it in our bibles .. that evening we watched it on our television screens.

Our focus today is the flood which God brought on the earth, as the ultimate consequence of the cancerous spread of sin.

Life withdrawn, life restored

What God foreshadows in 6:7, he announces to Noah in 6:13, and brings about just as he said in chap 7. We all know the story of Noah’s ark; we learnt it backwards in Sunday School .. we draw pictures of it .. we make cute models of it .. and we tells lots of jokes about it. Our focus is what was happening on top of the water .. we hardly notice what was happening under the water.

7:19 The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; … 21 And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; 22 everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. .. What’s that about? .. It’s creation in reverse, the dismantling of creation if you like .. In Gen 1, God spoke the creation into being .. 1:9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. .. God brings form to the formless, by separating the mass of waters and causing dry land to appear .. and from there he brings life, and he says its good. .. But now we’re in chap 7 in a world under judgement – and even the highest mountains are being reclaimed by the waters of chaos from which the creation was formed. When God said he was grieved to the heart, and that he was going to put an end to all life .. he was not joking.

Come back again to 2:7 then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. .. Set that beside 7:22 everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. .. God is serious about the offence of sin .. he isn’t joking. God is withdrawing the life he has created .. almost .. except for Noah and his family, and the creatures on the ark. And so at the end of chap 8 the waters recede, land appears again .. and there’s life again. Life withdrawn .. life restored .. and if we are listening, and if we receive this as the word of God – then we will ask why.

The story has been preserved for us in Scripture. How foolish we would be not to heed its warning.

Sin, judgement

21 All flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; 22 everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. .. The whole creation is condemned by man’s choice to sin. Rom 8 says the whole of creation is longing for release from bondage.

That’s how serious sin is .. that’s how seriously sin offends God’s character .. If you’re ever tempted to doubt that, if you’re ever tempted to buy the relativistic morality of our society – which says that there really is no sin, that anything’s fine as long as you’re sincere and good to your mates .. if you’re ever tempted to believe that or to think and live as if it were true .. Or if you hardly ever confess your sins to God and plead for his forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ death .. if you rarely think of yourself as a sinner .. if repentance is part of your history but not of your daily walk now .. Or if it never crosses your mind that your friends and neighbours to whom Christ means nothing are on a path to annihilation ….. then it’s time to read again (and again and …) the stark words of Gen 6:6 (the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.) and these last few verses of Gen 7.

Together, these words should tell you exactly where you would stand with God – were it not for the atoning blood of his Son which cleanses you from all sin. If it were not for Jesus, the only mediator, who took your penalty on the Cross .. if not for that your life would grieve God so much that you would be destroyed. That would be the only possible outcome. Don’t be fooled: This account of the great flood is not a children’s bedtime story about giraffes and elephants .. it has been preserved in Scripture to tell us how grievous our sin is to God, how real his judgement is, and how desperately we depend on his grace, on the blood of Jesus for every single day we continue to draw breath.

Is that morbid? The answer is Yes .. if you do as the writer to the Hebrews warns against, and neglect the great salvation that’s ours in Christ, if you fall from following Jesus or cease praising him for his mercy .. But the answer is a resounding No – it is the very opposite of morbid .. if you allow the confronting starkness of these early chapters of the bible to lead you to humble joy and gratitude for the gift of life that’s yours eternally through the Son of God. .. Read about the destroying flood, reflect on it .. hear the truth and gaze at the horror of what sin is .. and rejoice with all your heart in the beauty of the Gospel.

Grace

Yet as surely as these chapters confront us with the full horror of sin, and the certainty and necessity of judgement in order for God to be God .. they also introduce us to the grace at the heart of his character .. The more rampant sin becomes, the more lavish the kindness that God pours out, the more grace he brings to bear .. Which is really just what Paul said in writing to the Romans: 5:20 … where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. Sin is intolerable to God’s holy character .. but yet even still today he is patient for people to repent – he is gracious beyond all we can imagine.

Let me remind you again of the three recurring elements in this unfolding account of the beginnings of history: SIN – JUDGEMENT – GRACE:

1. Adam & Eve disobeyed God – judgement = death – yet in grace God comes searching (“Where are you?”);

2. Cain murdered his brother – judgement = expelled from the land – but God who’s still gracious toward sinners puts a mark of protection on him;

3. Sin spins out of control in God’s world, causing more and more disorder, to the point where it even crosses the boundaries between heaven and earth (6:1ff) – God is so grieved by the corrupt state of the world, that he says “that’s enough, no more” .. the judgement of the flood ..

Yet there’s grace even there as we saw last week in a person .. a man named Noah, who Gen 6:9 tells us was “righteous” in his character (that means his character was in step with the character of God) .. and blameless in his generation – the same generation whose sin-sick corruption had pierced God’s heart with grief .. in the middle of that worst of human degradation, someone was actually “blameless”

Grace in a person – and not quite for the first time. Remember, last time we met someone else toward the end of chap 5 – a chapter full of the judgement of death – a man named Enoch. We’re not told a lot about Enoch, but there is a phrase that’s mentioned to describe both Enoch & Noah: “he walked with God”. That’s grace – that in the midst of a generation so corrupted by sin that God is grieved to the core .. that even there, there could be two people who please God. Noah (6:8) found favour with God. That’s grace. Now, we’re also not told directly what’s meant by Enoch/ Noah “walked with God” .. but I think the clue to that comes from the context of chap 3:

Adam & Eve disobeyed God .. and then they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden (3:8), and they hid. They knew what they’d heard, it was a familiar sound, the sound of the one who had formed them for intimate open fellowship with himself .. but now their relationship with God was fractured .. so they couldn’t look God in the eye .. they couldn’t walk with him .. they could only hide from him, in their shame. Then came God’s final words to Adam & Eve – words of judgement .. before the curtain closes, as in 3:24 man is shut out of the garden, barred from the presence of God, cut off from the way to the tree of life ..

And never again does God speak with Adam & Eve, never again does a person enjoy the presence of God .. almost never – but a man called Enoch walks with God .. and one called Noah walks with God, and speaks with God .. We read today in 6:13 that God told Noah his plans – the briefest insight I believe into the walk Adam enjoyed with God before the tragedy of disobedience … There was sin .. judgement .. death .. but there was grace in the person of Noah who walked in fellowship with God, with no need to hide in shame, enjoying God’s favour and friendship.

.. Which is why the history of the human race doesn’t end with Gen 7. .. Instead there are many more chapters in the story of sinful man’s walk with God .. and our lives today are a part of it still .. Because after God had wiped out all life on the earth, revealing the truth about sin that we’d rather not know, Gen 8:1 tells us that God remembered Noah .. he remembered a man who out of a whole wicked generation walked with him .. and for Noah’s sake, the rains stopped .. the waters subsided .. dry land appeared once again .. and life was restored.

And that’s only the start of what these dark chapters of history tell us about the extent of God’s gracious character. .. At the end of chapter 8 (v21), God speaks to himself a binding word of grace: “Never again .. no more” 8:21 … The LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. 22 As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” .. Despite the worst excesses of evil that rebellious human hearts may ever devise .. never again will God destroy all life.

Conclusion

And we’re left with two inescapable conclusions: 1. The sin that lurks darkly in every human heart is a thing of unspeakable horror to God, and deserves only death; 2. despite that, God is committed to the human race, God is determined to be gracious toward people. .. But that leaves us with a question: How can that be .. How can God condemn human wickedness as he must if his character means anything .. and yet at the same time bind himself to being gracious with people ..?

The solution must involve God coming among people, because people are cut off from God and far from his presence, and corrupt at heart .. it must happen through a person because people are at the centre of the problem and at the heart of God’s purposes .. it must involve the penalty of death .. and it must offer life. That’s the dilemma presented by these foundations of the story of God’s involvement with human history. And it begs a question which is asked but never quite answered throughout the OT story of God’s covenant dealings with the nation of Israel. Israel was given a Law to live by, and a sacrificial system to atone for the ever-present horror of sin .. and yet it all only pointed to a solution yet to come .. until the day it found its fulfilment in Christ, and his death on the Cross, and his resurrection to life.

Make no mistake: If God had not come calling you in your sin saying “Where are you?” .. If he had not determined to treat mankind with mercy .. If he had not provided a way for your sin to be dealt with completely .. then you would die .. That’s how ugly sin is .. that’s how precious Jesus is. He is life .. everywhere else is death .. trust him .. yield everything to him .. cling to him with all of your heart.

And if God’s word has shaken you to the core in these weeks with the knowledge of how serious sin is, and how terrible it is to be in its grip – then will you please cry out to God .. will you please plead his mercy, for the people all around you each day who still face the prospect of judgement with no mediator, no Christ to stand before God on their behalf, nothing between them and destruction .. In that light I ask you, please pray for Festival Victoria with Franklin Graham; please begin now to consider people around you for whom you will pray consistently in these coming months as the festival approaches. Let me repeat again: Our aim in digging deeply into the truth of Scripture Sunday by Sunday must not be to fill our minds with knowledge, but to fill Wyndham with Christ, which means seeing our streets and neighbourhoods filled with people alive and satisfied in him.


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