Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, July 16, 2018
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Who Is This God?

Romans 2:1-16, Genesis 6:5-22 and 8:13-22

 One of my goals for preaching in the Old Testament is to lift up some stories that may not be familiar.  But that’s not the case here!  This is one of the best known stories of the Old Testament, even the whole Bible.  We probably all heard it many times as children.  It’s a frequent choice for Vacation Bible School or Sunday School lessons.  

 So the challenge now becomes:  Can we think about Noah and the flood in a way that is not childish?  Can we think of a familiar story in an unfamiliar way?  

 The story is simple enough.  Wickedness is increasing on the earth.  No one is seeking after God, except for one man, Noah, who finds favor with God.  He is righteous and obedient.  God directs him to build an ark, a large boat.  It takes him 120 years to complete the task.  Then he gathers the animals, they board the ark, and they are kept safe through the flood.  After the waters recede, they leave the Ark, and Noah worships God.  God makes a covenant with Noah and his descendants, promising never again to destroy the earth by flood.  

 I’m afraid that, too often, when the story is repeated in “grown up” circles, the temptation is to get fixated on proving the story, showing how a world-wide flood could happen or even looking for an ark on Mt. Ararat.  Let’s try to get beyond that and fixate on what the story reveals about God and his nature and his relationship to creation.  

 First, we see that God is holy.  God is perfect, pure, without any stain of evil.  He is set apart from all that is evil.  And his holiness evokes feelings of reverence and awe and even fear in us.  

 This holiness of God is a distinctive element of biblical theology.  In some other religious systems, the gods are not holy, not different from human beings.  For example, we probably all have some familiarity with Greek mythology.  In Greek mythology, the gods were anything but holy.  They were just as petty, cruel, and lustful as human beings are.  Maybe even more so!  

 But we believe in a holy God, and a holy God is unable to tolerate the very presence of sin.  When God’s holiness meets our sin, the result is God’s wrath, his anger at evil and injustice.  

 But God is also loving.  He desires to have a relationship with us.  In his love, he desires to rescue us out of our sin.  

 Now we’re certainly drawn to this aspect of God’s character.  We love to talk about how loving God is.  We may even “over-do it,” by which I mean we may diminish God’s holiness for the sake of his love.  We can set his love up against his holiness and say, “God’s love trumps his holiness!” 

 The problem with that is that every aspect of God’s character is perfect.  And if God’s love trumps his holiness, then his holiness isn’t perfect.  

 Neither does God’s love mean that he will simply ignore our sin.  The Bible tells us that God disciplines those he loves.  God knows that sin is not good for us, so in his love for us, God will not simply allow sin to exist unchecked in our lives.  

 So how can both of these exist?  How can God be holy and unable to tolerate sin yet also love us and desire to have relationship with us sinners?  

 Let’s introduce a third concept:  God is just.  God’s justice is his desire for an order of creation that allows for peace.  Not just peace in the narrow sense of “the absence of conflict,” but in the biblical Hebrew sense of Shalom, wholeness.  Justice can only exist in a world where there are right and whole relationships:  Right relationships between God and human beings and within the human family.  

 Justice also requires the righting of wrongs.  Wrong actions must be atoned for and corrected.  And justice also requires a world in which people are protected, where “the orphan and the widow” are not taken advantage of.  

 Now we expect wrongs to be righted.  We expect justice to mean that those who do evil are punished.  We’re just not happy to think that we might be the wrong-doers who are punished!  

 But God’s justice is also seen in positive ways.  We hear “divine retribution” and we think of punishment for sin.  But God’s divine retribution is also his reward for faithfulness.  Reward and punishment may happen in this life, but often do not.  But they will certainly happen at the end, what the Bible sometimes calls The Day of the Lord or The Day of Wrath.  

 What can we do?  What can we do in response to God’s wrath against sin? How can we be restored to right relationship with God so that we will not experience his wrath against our sins?  

 God’s wrath is turned away by repentance and faith.  God’s wrath is turned away when we repent of our sin, turn away from sin, and turn to God, trusting God through our faithful obedience.  

 It was Noah’s faith that put him in a right relationship with God.  We might not think of Noah as a man of faith, but he certainly was.  In Hebrews 11, when the author recounts the great heroes of faith, Noah is included.  Noah had to be a man of faith to work for 120 years on an ark, when the world had never been flooded before.  The writer to the Hebrews says that it was “Noah’s faith that condemned the world.”  For 120 years, the ark under construction stood as a symbol of God’s wrath against sin and his offer of salvation.  You have to wonder how many people walked by and saw it and asked Noah what it was all about.  Yet not one of them picked up a hammer and saw and said, “Well, I want to be on THIS boat too!”  

 First Peter 3:20 says that the ark revealed God’s patience.  There’s another attribute of God:  He is patient.  God’s patience is his willingness to hold back the full effect of his wrath against sin.  Were it not for God’s patience, none of us would be here now.  God’s patience is what allows him to endure our sins in the hopes that we will eventually repent.  

 Now there was no “law” in the days of Noah.  The very first “law” of God came after the flood.  But going back to Romans, the first two chapters of Romans make it clear that “not having a law” is no excuse.  God puts knowledge of himself in the hearts and minds of all people.  We all have an understanding of God’s will, even if we have no Bible.  God has built into us a basic understanding of right and wrong.  But the people in Noah’s day, as well as many others, rejected even this “instinctive” knowledge of God.  They deserved to receive the wrath of God for their murderous and adulterous ways.  

 So the story of Noah and the flood is more than simply a “child’s tale.”  It’s a story about a God who will judge because he is holy and a God who will save because he is also loving.  Both salvation and judgment express God’s essential character.  

 The question for us is:  What will we do in response to God’s provision?  

 In John 3:36, Jesus says, “All who believe in God’s Son have eternal life.  But those who don’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life, but the wrath of God remains upon them.”  1st Thessalonians 1:10 says Jesus is the one who rescues us from the terrors of God’s coming wrath.  God has provided a way of salvation.  The way of salvation is repentance from sin and turning to God’s provision, which is Jesus.  As it was for Noah, God’s way of making us right with himself is through faith.  

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