For those of you who have been with us for just a few weeks, you are probably unaware that we are finishing this morning, our series of sermons on Genesis 1-11 that we started in September. We started off well, but then circumstances intervened and we have taken a six week break from the series. This is a bit disappointing to me because I hate to lose what we have had to pass by, but maybe someday we will return to this part of Genesis.
These first eleven chapters of Genesis are a distinct section in Genesis and provide a brief overview of the world before Abraham and how things got to be the way they were in his day.
Out of the 276 verses of this world overview, almost half, 129 verses, talk about Noah and the flood. This was obviously a very important story to be given so much attention.
There are two geological events that may be the basis for this flood story, a story that appears in virtually every culture’s story of the world.
Until five and a half million years ago, the Mediterranean Sea was not a sea at all. The water was damned up at Gibralter. The evidence suggest a fairly sudden collapse, causing a break more than 3,000 feet (914 meters) deep and fifteen miles (24 kilometers) wide filling the Mediterranean basin in less than nine months. As the water rushed in, water-laden air was pushed up which caused torrential rains as it moved east into the Biblical world. Forty days of rain is not difficult to imagine in such a scenario.
A more recent possibility is the Black Sea flood in about 5,000 BC. A sudden rise in the Mediterranean Sea brought a thunderous waterfall through the Bosporous and into the Black Sea. Over the course of a year it flooded out 60,000 square miles (155,400 square kilometers) of land and raised the water level of the Black Sea approximately 500 feet (152 meters).
Was the flood a world-wide flood? Was it a regional flood? Were these geological events the basis for the flood stories? Only God knows for certain. But for our purposes this morning, these questions don’t need to be the focus.
Let’s look at the introduction to the flood account in Genesis.
The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
I want to make three observations about the flood story this morning. The first is this: there are some people who say the God of the Old Testament is not the same as the God of the New Testament but they are wrong. The character of God is consistent from Genesis to Revelation.
When you read through the Old Testament, there is a lot of talk about judgement. There is the flood in Genesis and then the conquest of Canaan in Exodus. Villages are destroyed, man, woman and child. God pronounces his judgement against Israel and against Israel’s neighbors. There is a lot of judgement in the Old Testament.
Then in the New Testament, God seems to take on a new character. God loves the world so much that he sends Jesus the Messiah to redeem it. Jesus told parables of the father who runs to welcome back the prodigal son, the master who forgives great debts. It does seem that there is a difference between the God of the Old and New Testaments..
But let me point out the consistency of the character of God throughout the Bible.
The verse that captivated my attention when I read through the Flood account in Genesis was 6:6
The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.
At first glance, this is a verse that seems to speak of judgement. God regretted making man because of his evil ways and so destroyed mankind in a great flood. But there is more here than that. To grieve is to feel sorrow. We grieve because of the pain someone else is feeling. And in this verse, God grieves and his heart was filled with pain. This is a description of a God who loves and when his judgement is executed, it causes him pain. This is a version of what a parent tells his or her child when they are about to spank them “This will hurt me more than it will hurt you.”
The question rises, “If God loves so much, why then does he execute his judgement?” We’ll come back to that question in a minute.
In Numbers 14, after God has demonstrated his power in miracle after miracle in bringing Israel out of Egypt and providing food and water, Israel grumbles and complains and finally God has had it and threatens to destroy Israel and create a new nation from Moses. God’s judgement.
But then in Isaiah 43 God speaks words of comfort and assurance that have spoken to me many times when I have been in despair and wondered how God could still love me when I am so wavering and unfaithful to him.
But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
This is not an isolated text. Jeremiah, the prophet of judgement, spoke of God’s love and faithfulness. The God of love is found throughout the Old Testament. When Moses asked God to show his face, God appeared to Moses and his words of greeting revealed his character.
And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
The Old Testament speaks of God’s love and his judgement and the same is true of the New Testament. While I have gone to Isaiah 43 many times to be strengthened and encouraged, I have also gone to Romans 8 for the same reason.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We love reading about Jesus taking the children in his arms and blessing them, having compassion on the sick and healing them, speaking to the woman caught in adultery and forgiving her. But Jesus also spoke of judgement.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
In Revelation 19 the return of Jesus is described and you would beware of allowing your child to go into the arms of this Jesus who will return in judgement.
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
God is consistent through the Old and New Testaments and the themes of judgement and love are intertwined from Genesis through Revelation.
Now to the question of why a God who loves so deeply can execute his judgement against his creation.
God is love. We know that. We sing songs about that. But God is also just. Justice and love are part of God’s character. Justice and love are not options for God, they are, in part, who God is.
God cannot not love and God cannot not be just. So when people live in a relationship of disobedience to God, God’s justice must be exercised and his judgement carried out.
Justice is not something God can choose to exercise or not to exercise. Justice is who God is and for justice not to be exercised would necessitate the nonexistence of God.
The question then becomes transformed. The question is no longer, “How can God who loves so deeply execute his judgement against those he loves.” The question becomes transformed into, “Why does God who is just love as he does?”
This leads to the second observation. From Genesis through Revelation, God is portrayed as one who pursues us, to draw us into a relationship with himself.
God never gives up in his efforts to draw us to him. This has given me great comfort over the years of my Christian life. I can remember times when I was so frustrated by my continual failure as a Christian. I have often said that if I were God, I’d have given up on me a long time ago. But God has been faithful to me.
In retrospect, I can see the people and events God put in my life to cause me to draw to him but I continually kept my distance. I remember, for example, a trip to Florida in 1964 when I went into a church to pray late at night because I was upset. God comforted me and helped me but I went on with my life as if nothing had happened. Over and over again I received what I was given and gave nothing back. Finally in 1971 I made a turn in my life and accepted the gift my Father in heaven was pursuing me to accept. I gave my life to him.
And God has continued to be faithful to me, despite my unfaithfulness to him.
This is my story and it is the story of every Christian. It is also the story of Israel and the church. After the flood, God made a covenant with Noah to never again destroy the earth with a flood. God began anew with Noah and his family.
God revealed himself to Abraham and worked with Abraham to build his faith and began a relationship with a new nation.
God brought Israel to Egypt to protect them during a famine and then rescued, in a dramatic way, his nation caught in captivity.
The history of Israel is one of ups and downs. Israel abandons God and follows false idols and then God provides a prophet who can lead Israel back into a right relationship with himself.
God worked with Abraham to teach him about faith. God worked with Israel to teach them about his holiness. God worked to prepare Israel for the most dramatic demonstration of his pursuing love when he was born as a man and took upon himself our sins so we could have life.
God has pursued men and women throughout the history of the world and throughout each of our lives.
God is the pursuer who loves us.
The third observation this morning relates to God’s pursuit of us. When God exercises his judgement, he provides a way out for us.
Look again at Genesis 6 in the introduction of the flood story.
So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
When the flood was sent as his judgement, he provided a way out for Noah and his family. When Sodom and Gomorrah were to be destroyed, God promised Abraham that if even only ten righteous people could be found in those cities, the cities would be spared. Even when that was not the case, God sent angels to lead Lot and his family to safety.
When Israel was afflicted with a plague of poisonous snakes, God had Moses make a bronze serpent so anyone who was bitten by a snake could look up at the bronze serpent on a pole and be saved.
When God’s judgement was directed toward Nineveh, he sent Jonah to preach a message of repentance. When Nineveh repented, God spared that city his judgement.
God does not execute his judgement without offering a choice to those being judged. God’s justice cannot be separated from his love and his love cannot be separated from his justice.
And now, do you want to know how deeply God’s love was expressed in his judgement? Do you want to see how far God is willing to pursue us to draw us to him?
While we were still sinners, while we were still in rebellion, Christ died for us on the cross to reconcile us to God. God sacrificed himself for us.
There is a judgement to come. God’s justice must be satisfied, but God’s love has provided for us a way to escape the coming judgement.
God is a god of love and justice and is consistent from Genesis through Revelation. He seeks us out, he pursues us so we will draw near to him and whenever his justice is executed, he provides a way out.
What are the implications of these observations for us?
1. Judgement is coming. As surely as you know God loves you, know that his judgement will come.
We don’t like judgement. Think about what happened in the flood. It rains and rains and rains, something we can identify with in this last week. But the rains continue for week after week. Not light rains but torrential rains, downpours. The lowlands are quickly flooded when the rivers spill over their banks. People are drowned but many more escape up the hillsides to the higher ground. But the water continues to rise. People climb trees but these topple into the racing surges of water. Bodies float by. House roofs are filled with people trying to escape the flood but eventually these too are overcome and family after family, men, women and children are swept away into the flood waters. Finally only the strongest swimmers are left until they too, slip below the surging currents and are destroyed.
Judgement is ugly. The descriptions of judgement in the Old Testament are difficult for us to read and we struggle with how God could do these things. But God is a god of love and justice. His judgement is inevitable, inescapable.
In Revelation 6 is a picture of the destruction of the coming judgement that Jesus will bring.
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
These descriptions of Jesus executing his justice are images, but what dreadful images they are. The universe falling apart, destruction at every turn, those against whom judgement is being executed hiding in caves and behind rocks while Jesus comes charging on a white steed with blazing eyes and a sword coming from his mouth to destroy those who have fallen under God’s judgement.
This is not a pretty picture. This is not a comforting picture.
When judgement comes, it will not look exactly like this. These descriptions in Revelation are only images to help us see the reality of what will come. But don’t fool yourself into thinking this terrible judgement will not come.
You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
That is the truth for each one of us.
2. Judgement will come but there is a way out.
God’s love and justice are part of his character and so his judgement also provides a way to escape the judgement.
We will begin in January a series of sermons from the book of Romans. As a promo for that series, look at what Paul says about the escape from judgement God has provided for us.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
God’s love has provided a way to escape the coming judgement. Don’t ignore what God offers you to save you. His judgement is coming. It is the inevitable consequence of his character. Jesus himself will return, as Revelation describes him, on a white horse with a sword coming out of his mouth, executing his judgement.
You can be saved. God has provided a way out, an escape from the judgement. For Noah and his family he provided an ark. For the Israelites in the wilderness he provided a bronze serpent. For you and for me he has provided a crucified and risen Christ. Look to him. Fix your eyes upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
Don’t mess with God. Don’t play games. Don’t think you can deal with this later in life. You don’t know whether you will live past today. So this morning, accept the offer God extends to you. Come to the cross of Jesus and lay down your life. Begin today to live your life for God.
The judgement is coming. It may come today or it may come tomorrow but it will come. God extends his hand to you. God has pursued you all your life and comes to you this morning through the singing and prayers, the Scripture readings and the sermon. God offers you a way out of the coming judgement. Accept his offer. Experience his love.
If you are a Christian, hold onto Jesus. He is your lifeline. Fix your thoughts and eyes on Jesus. Do you have doubts about your faith? Fix your eyes on Jesus. Are you angry or bitter toward God? Fix your eyes on Jesus. Do you have trouble praying or reading your Bible? Fix your eyes on Jesus. Don’t ever let go of the gift that has been given to you that will save you.
If you have never given your life to Jesus, then do so this morning. You may have grown up in a Christian environment and know a lot about Jesus, but if you have never had a heart relationship with Jesus, then come to him this morning. God has been pursuing you all your life. This morning could be the turning point for you. This morning could be the time you step into the protective arms of Jesus and escape the coming judgement.
God is a god of love and justice. Open your heart to him and be embraced by his love.