Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Faith of Noah--Sermon from Sunday

The Faith of Noah
Hebrews 11:1-7
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
The story of Noah is a story that many of us know. Its familiarity is such that we often might lose sight of what is really going on here. We have romanticized this story to the point that nurseries are decorated in a Noah's Ark theme and kids sing songs about 2 by 2 in the arky, arky. While it may be cute and endearing to see a cartoon giraffe and a cartoon gorilla sharing sleeping space on a big giant boat floating serenely over calm waters, this is hardly the image that Scripture portrays. Far from Dr. Doolittle Goes to Sea, this story found in the pages of Scripture is a terrifying, heartbreaking tale of sin, struggle, punishment and redemption.

The story of Noah is found in Genesis 6-9. We find here that the world had become wicked but Noah was found righteous. God, grieved by sin, destroyed the world but because of His mercy and grace, saved a remnant of people and animals in the ark.

Genesis 6:1-7: 
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
A couple of things to notice. When the author notes that “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive” and “the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them”, he is noting something very specific. We just don't know exactly what he is referencing. You can read hundreds and hundreds of pages of commentary and what you will finally determine is that we do not know for sure what this means. The main arguments are either that this is referencing angelic beings procreating with human females or that it is referencing a godly line of people intermarrying with unbelievers. Long story short, we do not know for certain what the author of Genesis is referencing here. What we do know is that, whatever this incident was, this was reprehensible in the sight of the Lord and representative for how wicked and depraved humanity had become. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This is bad. Every intention of the thoughts of men was only evil continually. Only. Evil. Continually. This is not a situation where people have strayed away a bit. This is not a time where, in between charitable, altruistic works of love, hope and peace someone had a slightly less holy thought or motivation. Every(not some and not even many, every) thought was only evil(not just occasionally or even a majority, only) continually(not periodically, continually). The world had turned its back and walked so far away from God that its wickedness was beyond comprehension.

This situation grieved God greatly. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” God was sickened and saddened by the state of man. He determined to exercise His divine right and responsibility to execute judgment on wickedness. He decided to destroy man and the world that he had corrupted. Lest we think God is acting too harshly, we need to remember who He is and what defines Him. God is a perfect, righteous, holy, sinless, just being. He has every right and even a responsibility to Himself to make sure that wickedness not go unpunished. But praise be to God that His character is more nuanced that simply being a just, righteous judge. He is also, at the same time and to the same degree, a loving, merciful Father. And for this reason, “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” Noah could hardly earn God's favor, it was shown to Him as a merciful, loving gift from a righteous, holy being who desired to show mercy.

Noah was a righteous man. 
These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” Noah had a relationship with the one true God that initiated, produced, and demonstrated the right-standing that Noah had before God. Noah was in no way perfect and in no way merited the favor God showed him, but he was a recipient of the grace of God, grace that God used to save the human race. Noah represented a remnant of people and animals that God would save from His impending judgment

God destroyed the world.
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth....For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die....Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.”...Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth....And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth....In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights...The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days. (6:11-13, 17, 7:1-4,6,10,11-12,17-24)

But God saved Noah.
But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen. (Gen 8:1-5)

God remembered Noah and his family and all that were in the ark and He sat them down on dry ground. God saved this remnant through his judgment

Noah. Who was Noah? What do we need to know about Noah? Noah was a recipient of God's grace. Noah was said in Genesis 6:8 to have “found favor in the eyes of the Lord”. God's grace to us is His unmerited favor and when we find favor with the Lord it is something that He has bestowed, not that we have earned. Noah was no different. While Noah was a swell guy, the favor He found with the Lord was still a gracious gift.

We also see that Noah was righteous(Gen 6:9). This leads to a problem that has to be settled. How could Noah be righteous if none is righteous? Paul says in Romans 3 that:
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Paul is pretty adamant that no one stands righteous before God, but we all have sinned and gone astray. What makes Noah righteous? We have to see that, in comparison to God, Noah is not “righteous”. When compared to a perfect, sinless, holy being, Noah is not righteous. He stands condemned like all of us and falls into the category of people Paul is describing in Romans 3. But Noah was blameless in his generation. He stood out from his generation because of the favor of the Lord that he had found. Noah's faith in the one true God separated him from those of his generation and he was considered righteous in comparison.
Not only was Noah a righteous man, blameless in his generation, but he was a preacher of righteousness. 2 Peter 2:5 says Noah was a “herald of righteousness”. Noah preached, through his actions but also specifically with his words, the righteousness of God. He called those around him to repent and believe and bear fruit in keeping with repentance. He pointed people towards the only One who was truly righteous. Noah had faith and he did not keep it to himself. Noah had faith, he believed, and it was counted to him as righteous. 

Hebrews 11:7 says
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

We learn much about faith from Noah. We learn that faith reveres God's word, produces obedience, perseveres, condemns the world and receives a reward.

Faith reveres God's word. Hebrews 11:7 says that Noah, “when warned” responded with “holy fear”. When Noah received a revelation from the Lord, when He received God's word(in this case the warning of the flood and command to build an ark) he responded with “holy fear”, with reverence. When he was confronted by the revelation of God he was afraid. Now, he was not afraid like someone might be of a tyrant or an abusive father, but there was some serious, this is God-type reverence. He understood what it meant that an eternal, sinless, perfect, all-powerful,all-loving being chose to speak. It meant that he better listen, and listen close. It meant that he better not be flippant or careless with the message. It meant that he better not mislead others as to what the message was, either by telling them wrong or not telling them at all. He knew that when God speaks, it is important. He knew that God's message is important, as important as anything can be.

For those who have faith in the true and living God, we must have the same type of reverence for his word. We must see that when God speaks, it is important and we must listen. We must grasp the gravity of the eternal, transcendent being choosing to condescend to us in speech. We must know that God is God, we are not and if He chooses to speak we must hear every syllable. And He has chosen to speak, and He has left us His revelation to us in the form of the Holy Scriptures. Faith reveres God's words.

Faith also produces obedience. Quite simply, Noah built the ark. When God came and spoke and commanded Noah to build an ark, Noah did. Faith does not exist where obedience does not exist. James 2;14-26 makes this explicitly clear.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
James is saying what any of us would see as perfectly simple and perfectly true. If you say you believe that the eternal, omnipotent, transcendent, all-loving, all-knowing God of the universe has spoken, not only will you listen to what is said, but you will obey where directed. James wants his hearers to know that just saying you believe means nothing. Just believing that God exists means nothing. Just knowing Bible trivia and all the church answers mean nothing. James' point is that if we have true faith, we will believe to the point of obedience. We will not only believe that God exists, but that He is worthy of our all. We will know, in our heart of hearts, that He is before all, in our actions, in our thoughts, in our affections. We will know that God is God and His very existence warrants our obedience, love and trust. James is in no way contradicting the apostle Paul when Paul says we are justified by faith alone. Quite simply, Paul says we are justified through our faith alone and James is making the point that the faith that justifies is never alone. Paul is saying that our good works cannot make us right with God and James, in total agreement, is saying that faith that has made us right with God will necessarily produce fruit of obedience. True faith produces obedience.

True faith also perseveres. We see in Genesis 6:3 that Noah built the ark for over a century. This is a massive construction process. He labored, hard labor, for over 100 years. He endured this hard labor. He endured mocking. He endured spiritual assaults. He endured all of these things. Faith endures. Does this mean that he never doubted? Does this mean that there were no mornings where he woke up tired of the blisters and cuts and mockery and isolation from a world of people? No. He was as human as any of us and he struggled just like all of us. There is an undoubted ebb and flow to the Christian life and there are day, weeks, seasons of doubt, hurt, fear and unbelief. But true faith perseveres, true faith endures, not because of the validity or abundance of our faith but because of where our faith is placed. True faith endures not because of faith but because of Christ.

Faith condemns the world. Hebrews 11:7.
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
“By this he condemned the world”. I had to wrestle with this one a bit. I read this and I thought, “Well, who is Noah and what gives him the right to condemn the world.” But it wasn't as if Noah, in the midst of his ark building, took a break and built himself a throne and sat in judgment of those around him. It wasn't as if he went around the town and told people how great he was and how much they stunk. Noah condemned the world through his faith. Noah's righteous living,that proceeded from his faith, condemned the faithless, sin-filled lives of those around him. Noah's faith, a faith that allowed him to believe, construct, persevere and enter the ark, condemned those around him because they refused to believe. They refused to acknowledge God and they refused the salvation that was offered to the because they thought it was foolish and unnecessary.

Faith condemns the world. Noah's faith condemned the world and so will yours. If you live out your faith, you will do the same as Noah did. To many people, you will be the sweet smell of hope. They will look at your righteous life and open faith and see that there is hope there. They will be drawn to the Savior through your life of righteousness and your preaching of righteousness. They will be convicted of sin and led to repentance through the work of God in your life and their heart. But to many others, you will be the very stench of death. They will be condemned by your righteous life. They will feel the conviction of God for their sins through your witness, but instead of repenting and trusting in the one and only Savior, they will harden their hearts towards God. And because they have rejected Him, they will reject those who are truly of Him. True faith condemns a faithless world.

True faith receives a reward. Noah was said to be an “heir of righteousness” due to his faith. Now this doesn't seem like much of a reward, especially if Noah were already a “righteous” man. But Noah was only comparably righteous. He was “blameless”, but only in his generation. Noah's life exhibited he was “righteous” in comparison to those around him. Before God, He was still sinful. The righteousness that comes through faith is the righteousness that belongs to the Lord Jesus,and by His righteousness we can stand before God.

But with all this being said, faith is only as fruitful as the object of faith is reliable. The point is not HOW MUCH faith Noah had but rather where his faith was directed. If Noah had placed his faith in a dingy, he would have drowned with the rest. No matter if he truly believed the dingy was sufficient and it was the greatest dingy that ever graced the earth and Noah had heaps and bounds and gobs and zip-lock baggyfuls of faith(it is hard to quantify faith, apparently) Noah would be done. If Noah placed his faith in his lung capacity, his swimming ability, his efforts to bob up and down until the waters subsided, in any kind of human ability, he would have drowned. It wouldn't make a difference if Noah had supreme confidence in himself. It wouldn't matter if Noah was stricken with narcissistic delusions of grandeur and thought himself to be Michael Phelps meets that Spitz guy plus another famous swimmer, it wouldn't matter. He would have drowned because his faith, even if genuine, serious, massive, abundant faith, it was misplaced and thus worthless. The reason Noah's faith led to his salvation is because Noah placed his faith in God's provision and God's promise, an ark.

So what Saved Noah? Well, we know that Noah was not saved from the flood by his righteousness,his standing out from those around him. He was not saved by his obedience, that is his building of the ark. He was not even saved by his faith, his entering the ark and trusting that it would keep him and his family alive. Noah was saved from the downpour of rain most assuredly by a big, handmade, wooden boat. He was saved from the flood by the ark.

If righteous Noah had remained outside of the ark, he would have been the most righteous person to drown, but he definitely would have drowned. If obedient Noah built an ark and then stood next to it while the floods came, he would have been the most foolish person to drown, but he definitely would have drowned. If faithful Noah had built and entered the ark and for some reason the ark failed, he would have been the most disappointed person to drown, but he definitely would have drowned. Noah wasn't saved from the flood by his righteousness, his obedience or his faith—he was saved by a boat.

The ark was God's provision to save a remnant of people through his wrathful judgment of a wicked world. The ark bore the flood of rain water that drowned all living things not in the safety of the ark. The ark held Noah and his family until they were released on dry land. Even if Noah's faith waned, the ark stood strong. Even if Noah thought the ark too weak, it showed itself sturdy. Even if the judgment of God seemed too much to bear, the ark withstood it all.

God's promise and provision of the Ark to save a remnant of people from the flood of His judgment foreshadows a greater truth, a greater promise and a greater provision. God will provide salvation from His judgment through His judgment in the cross of Christ. The ark was designed by God, it was entered by faith and it saved through judgment. The Gospel message of the person and redemptive work of Christ culminating in the cross was designed by God. The benefits and safety of the cross are entered into by faith. And Christ saves us from judgment through judgment.. This Christ is Gods provision in fulfillment of His promise. This Christ bears the flood of God's wrath against sinners and This Christ will keep us, safe and sound, dry as a bone until we land, perched on that heavenly mountaintop.

The flood of God's wrath rained down upon the wicked and the wicked died. The righteous life of faith that Noah lived testified to the guilt of those around him and in so he condemned the world to die. But what we have to see is that when the rains came, the only real difference, the only tangible difference between Noah and the rest was the fact that Noah was in the boat.

Noah trusted God. He trusted who God is and the promise and provision God provided. No matter how swell a guy Noah was, if he had remained outside the ark he would have perished. No matter that he spent how ever many years enduring labor and ridicule and hardship, if he was outside the ark, he would have drowned. The story of Noah has to point our hearts and thoughts to Jesus Christ. If this story culminates in our thoughts with faithful Noah, a catastrophic flood or even Gods gracious provision of a saving Ark, we have missed it. The Bible, from cover to cover is about Jesus.

Jesus Christ is the ark that protects sinners like you and I from the deluge of God's wrath. Outside of Christ, we will endure that flood eternally. We will be swallowed up by God's righteous indignation, his eternal disgust with sin and perversion, and we will die—forever.

No matter how good a person we are in comparison with the sinners around us, no matter what we have had to endure in our lives, if we do not take shelter in the ark that is Jesus Christ, trusting that HE has borne the flood of God's wrath for the sin of a wicked world full of wicked people, then our fate lies in our ability to stand up under the downpour of God's judgment.

Our eternity lies in whether or not we can withstand the righteous, holy, condemning presence of a perfectly just Being and we have as much a chance as those who perished in this catastrophic flood. We have no chance at all apart from the protection of God's perfect Son who lived a perfect life so that he might die a sacrificial and substitutionary death, a death that you and I deserve. Yet He did not stay dead but instead he rose again.

To show that God accepted the sacrifice of His Son and that His Son has power over death, Jesus Christ rose from the grave. The Ark of our Salvation landed on dry ground, exalted to His heavenly throne like Noah's ark peaked on a mountaintop. God did not send an ark to condemn people, but rather that those who stand condemned already might be saved. God did not send His Son in order to condemn the world but in order that the world, which due to its sin stands condemned already, might be saved. Our Savior IS our salvation and he reigns now and forever, welcoming any who would escape the flood of God's wrath by taking refuge in His beautiful and perfect Son, the Lord Jesus.