Some Christians struggle to believe in the story of Noah and the flood, not because they have trouble reconciling it with science or history, but because they don’t believe God could be so angry and hurt by human sin. Jesus, however, warns that the Second Coming and Final Judgment will come upon people in our day, or some future day, in the same way. Even in the midst of the “bad news” of God’s judgment is good news: God gives us sinners a new beginning through faith in his Son.
Sermon Text: Genesis 6:5-22; 7:24; 8:14-19
The following is my original sermon manuscript.
An award-winning Christian singer-songwriter named Michael Gungor was in the news last week. I saw a few links on Facebook and Twitter. Maybe you saw them too. Gungor leads a band named after him, and he and his band wrote and recorded at least one great song that I’ve heard, called “Beautiful Things.”
But he made headlines last week for saying something that kind of rubbed me the wrong way, and it’s something that relates to today’s scripture.
He was talking about how his view of the Bible had changed in recent years. And he said he could no longer “literally believe” in the story of Noah’s Ark. He said he can’t believe in these things any more than he can believe in fairy tales. “But,” he said, “I have a choice on what to do with these unbeliefs. I could either throw out those stories as lies, or I could try to find some value in them as stories.”
Some value in them as stories? For heaven’s sake, those Disney movies we were watching last month have some value as stories, but those movies are far from being on the same level as holy scripture! Surely he’s not implying that!
Well, there I go… getting defensive, getting angry, feeling this aggressive need to argue my point of view. But then I remember that I’m a pastor. After all, if Michael Gungor said this same thing in my Disciple class, I wouldn’t be angry at all. I’d be sympathetic. I’d welcome his expression of honest doubt as an opportunity to help him grow as a Christian. And I’d show him, for example, that he’s reading this story through a modern, 21st-century lens that fails to do justice to the way Moses and the other ancient Bible writers understood the world.
I would try to show him that his way of interpreting the story—his way of understanding the when, the where, and the how it took place—needs some more work.
I believe the flood narrative records an actual historical event. I believe that there literally was a catastrophic flood in the ancient near east, there was an Ark, and there was a Bible hero named Noah. And believing this isn’t the same as believing a fairy tale. Don’t get me wrong: It’s O.K. if you’ve wrestled with this story and honestly can’t believe it happened—it doesn’t mean you’re not a true Christian or anything. But keep wrestling with it.
And let me say this: If you have a hard time believing in this or any other miraculous event in the Bible, start with the miracle that is at the center of our Christian faith, the bodily resurrection of Jesus… and work backwards from there. What I mean is, we have good historical reasons—we have good historical evidence—for believing in the resurrection, evidence that does not require accepting the fact that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. But if we come to believe that God’s Word is telling us the truth about that particular miracle—and I couldn’t stand up here and preach every week if I didn’t strongly believe that—then that should give us confidence to believe the other miracles in the Bible.
Besides, probably the best reason for believing in Noah and the Flood is that Jesus Christ also believed in it. The resurrection more than proves that Jesus knows what he’s talking about.
But believing that the Flood happened as an historical event won’t do us any good unless we also understand why it happened. What does it mean?
And the first thing it means is that this devastating flood was God’s perfectly just judgment against the people’s sin. And maybe the first thing some of you think is, “Well, isn’t that just the angry ‘Old Testament’ God, and didn’t Jesus show us that God isn’t really like that?” Honestly, there are Christians who don’t believe in the story of Noah’s Ark—not because they can’t accept it on the basis of science or history—but because they can’t believe that God would be so hurt and angry about sin that he would respond to it in this way!
Even in that Michael Gungor interview I mentioned earlier, he implies that there is this sharp distinction between Jesus, and what Jesus teaches, and the rest of the Bible. Gungor said that at his church, quote, “Our quest is to take Jesus—his life, his teaching, his death, his resurrection—more seriously than we take any other thing.”
And that sounds good… By all means, we should read and interpret the Old Testament in light of what Christ has shown us. But what Christ has shown us is that the exact same kind of judgment that fell on people living in Noah’s day will also fall on people living in our day, or some future day, when Christ returns to earth to judge the living and the dead. Jesus said, “For 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 were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
We say it every week in the Apostles’ Creed: “The third day Christ rose from the dead/ He ascended into heaven/ And sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead”!
The Second Coming and final judgment will come without warning and will catch many people in our world by surprise—just as this great flood came without warning and caught people in Noah’s day by surprise. It shouldn’t have caught them by surprise because Noah warned them. In our passage today, God does all the talking, but we know from the Apostle Peter’s words in 2 Peter that Noah was a “herald of righteousness,” meaning he delivered the message, he warned the people living in his day about God’s coming judgment, and they didn’t listen to him.
So you can see one important difference between a preacher like Noah and the average Methodist preacher… The average Methodist preacher has stopped warning you about God’s judgment! So consider this a warning: judgment is coming when Christ returns… and it may be soon. Honestly, just last November, no less an authority than Pope Francis—hardly any kind of fundamentalist crackpot—warned us that the increase in the persecution of Christians around the world is one sign that the end may be near, and it’s just the kind if thing we should expect to happen before Christ returns!
And some of you might be thinking, “Brent, we don’t want you to be John the Baptist. We want you to be John the Methodist. We want you to be nice. Talk about pleasant things. Go back to talking about grace.” And I’ll get there, I’ll talk about grace, I promise. But we can’t get to grace without reminding ourselves why we need it in the first place! And we need it because our sin has separated us from a Holy God, a God who hates sin, who hates evil, who hates injustice, who hates violence, who hates the mess that we’ve made of his good Creation. And unless we heed the warning of the gospel, repent, and give our lives to Jesus Christ, he will judge us for these things!
And I know God’s judgment sounds like bad news, but not so fast. There is something inside of each of us that longs for God’s judgment to be carried out. A part of us longs for justice to be fully and finally done.
A few years ago, the movie Zero Dark Thirty came out, and it was up for all kinds of Academy Awards. If you don’t know about it, it was this gritty, realistic, almost documentary-style movie about our ultimately successful search for Osama bin Laden. It was controversial, though, because many people worried that the movie glorified torture—the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that the CIA was using—water-boarding—even suggesting that these techniques played a pivotal role in finding bin Laden.
But even if we felt strongly that water-boarding is wrong, at the very beginning of the the movie, the filmmaker reminded us in a powerful way why we were using these extreme measures in the first place: over the opening credits, they played audio of actual phone conversations between victims trapped in the Twin Towers and their loved ones at home. I had never heard these before. I assume they’re real. By the time that opening sequence was finished, I was like, “Go get bin Laden! I want the lives of those 3,000 who died that day avenged. I want justice for them and their families. This act of evil cannot stand!”
The good news about God’s judgment is that it won’t stand. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.”
So there’s at least a small part of each one of us that wants to see justice done. We don’t mind God sending a devastating flood of judgment to wipe out the Osama bin Ladens of the world, or the ISIS terrorists of the world, or those people from Hamas targeting their rockets at Israeli schoolchildren. We want those floodwaters of judgment to destroy those kinds of people, just so long as God keeps those floodwaters of judgment far away from us! And that’s the problem, isn’t it? In today’s scripture, this terrible flood of judgment kills nearly everyone.
“But that’s unfair,” you might say. But if you say it’s unfair, then I’m afraid you haven’t truly understood the gospel. Because the Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And the “wages of sin is death.” My point is, if we’re depending on our own personal record of righteousness to save us from God’s wrath and judgment, we’re in trouble.
In preparation for today’s sermon, I watched the Russell Crowe movie Noah, which came out last spring. Given how short the story is in the Bible, the filmmakers understandably added stuff to the storyline that’s not found in scripture. For example, at first Noah mistakenly believes that God’s mission for him is to save the the non-human creatures only; he doesn’t think that God wants the human race to continue—even if it’s through Noah’s descendants. So he doesn’t want his three sons to get married and have children.
Noah’s wife doesn’t understand this at all, and she tells him so: “There’s goodness in us. Look at our boys: Shem’s loyalty. Japheth’s kindness. Ham’s integrity. Good men. They’d be good fathers.” And Noah responds, “Shem is blinded by desire. Ham is covetous. And Japheth lives only to please. I am no better. And you? Is there anything you would not do, good or bad, for those three boys?… We are no different”—meaning, no different from the people outside the Ark, who will die in the flood. Noah rightly understood that because of their sins, he, his wife, and his three boys also deserved God’s judgment, and death, and hell.
A difficult truth about ourselves, to be sure.
A mega-church pastor out in Seattle named Mark Driscoll made news over the past couple of weeks. Driscoll has been remarkably successful planting a giant church in perhaps the most secular city in all of the U.S. And if you don’t know him, he has this brash, confrontational, in-your-face style that rubs a lot of people, including me, the wrong way. And don’t get me started on his extreme Calvinist theology! Be that as it may, about 14 years ago he posted some comments on a message board on his church’s website. He posted them under a pseudonym, so people wouldn’t know he was saying them—and he used profanity to say some terribly chauvinist and sexist and ugly things.
And by the way, kids, this is one reason you have to be very careful what you say and do online—because stuff from as far back as 14 years ago or longer will come back to haunt you. Naturally, one of Driscoll’s enemies found those online comments and published them. And it started a feeding frenzy in the media. So many of Driscoll’s critics took to social media last week in order to say, “See what a horrible person he is! See how pathological he is! See how crazy he is! This is what we’ve been saying about him for all these years! See!”
And speaking as someone who doesn’t like Mark Driscoll’s style, his tone, or his theology—someone who would never be a member of his church, well… I thought this most recent criticism was unfair, and I said so. I would hate for someone to have filmed me during my worst moments 14 years ago for all the world to see. I would hate for someone to transcribe my worst, most sinful thoughts from 14 years ago—or five years ago, or one year ago, or, heck, even last month. And then judge me as a person based on my worst thoughts or my worst actions. As I told someone last week, if these comments make Mark Driscoll some kind of monster, well… how do I know I’m not a monster too?
We might be tempted to compare ourselves to the Mark Driscolls of the world and feel righteous by comparison, but I don’t want to do that. Like Mark Driscoll, like Noah, like every other human being who has ever lived ever lived—with exactly one very notable exception—I have more than enough sins of my own to answer for, thank you very much. And I’m only going to be saved by God’s grace.
And make no mistake, the movie Noah got it exactly right: Noah didn’t earn his place on that Ark, either. We know this because of verse 8: “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” This word for “favor”—it’s exactly the same as saying, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” “Noah found mercy… pardon for sins… forgiveness in the eyes of the Lord.” No matter how righteous a person Noah was, he wasn’t righteous enough to pay for the grace that bought his ticket on that Ark. He got a free ride. It was a free, completely undeserved gift.
By the way, this is why, in our Methodist baptism liturgy, we compare the waters of baptism to the waters of the Flood. It seems like a strange comparison—is it just because they both involve water and they’re in the Bible? No, it seems strange until we understand that just as Noah and his family didn’t deserve the grace that rescued them from their sins, so those of us who’ve been baptized don’t deserve the gift of saving grace that rescues us from ours.
Today’s scripture means that by grace God gives sinners like you and me a second chance, a new beginning… a new birth. And God gives us a sign of this grace, in chapter 9: the rainbow. God says in Genesis 9:13, “I will set my bow in the cloud, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” This doesn’t mean that rainbows never happened before Noah’s time; only that when we see them now, God wants us to be reminded of his love, grace, and mercy. When God told Noah, “I am setting my bow in the clouds,” Noah would have understood that a “bow” was a weapon—literally like a bow and arrow—an instrument of death and destruction. Now, think of the shape of the rainbow. If we think of it as a weapon, what direction is it pointing in? Away from the earth, away from Creation, away from us sinful human beings. Years ago, I read a Bible scholar who said that the direction of the bow is a sign that God is disarming himself—laying down his arms.
Oh no he’s not! If the rainbow is a symbol, let’s consider everything it symbolizes. I mean, think about it: the bow is still cocked. And what direction is it pointing in? Symbolically speaking, the bow is pointed toward heaven, toward God himself.
Why? Because God himself, in the person of his Son Jesus, willingly and lovingly took our sins upon himself on the cross—and suffered the punishment and died the death that our sins deserved. So now, like Noah on the Ark, we are rescued. We are saved.
But we have to get on board…
 Matthew 24:37-39 ESV
 2 Peter 2:5
 Romans 3:23; 6:23