There's a song children learn in church about Noah's ark and the flood. It goes something like this:
The Lord said to Noah, "There's going to be a floody, floody"
Lord said to Noah, "You're going to build an arky, arky"
The animals they came on, they came on by twosies, twosies
Elephants and Kangaroozies, 'roozies
It rained and poured for forty daysies, daysies
The sun came out and dried up the landy, landy
Everything was fine and dandy, dandy
That's what we teach children to sing about the flood. God is sending a flood of judgment on the earth, and everyone dies, and we're teaching children a song about a floody, floody. Everything's fine and dandy, dandy.
There's so much more to the story of the flood than what we first realize. This is a story of God judging the earth; he's killing people. Everyone dies. We've got to wrestle through this: What kind of a God would judge people like this?
Our evil and God's tears
This is a big story, covering about three chapters of Scripture. We'll begin with one of the most intriguing sets of verses in all of Scripture. If this were a movie, it would be a very weird science fiction movie that would probably win a lot of awards. Genesis 6:1-4:
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 day shall be one hundred and twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore them children. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
So man is multiplying on the earth. The population is growing. And we have these characters, the sons of God. There's debate about who these people are, but most interpreters think these are angelic beings of some sort. These angelic beings saw and took the daughters of man. Where have we heard that language "saw and took" before? We heard it in the Garden when Eve saw the fruit. She saw and she took. So these angelic beings, these sons of God, they see and they take human women, and the Nephilim are born from what happens there. The Nephalim are held up as the world's heroes—men of renown. It's a wild story. But what we're meant to see from this is that the spread of wickedness on the earth has reached new heights.
Let's continue with the story:
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 was sorry 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. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
As the population increases, God sees wickedness spreading out over the face of the earth. Verse 5 couldn't be more emphatic: mankind is evil. This describes our hearts apart from the grace of God.
Verse 6 teaches us something huge about the personality of God. The text says that as God looks out and sees all of this, it grieves him to his heart. Our God feels. Our God has voluntarily bound up his heart with his creation, with his people. God experiences pain—heart-shattering pain—when things go wrong in the life of his people. The philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff says this: "The tears of God are the meaning of history." In the Garden we said to God, "We don't want you, God. We're going to live life on our own." And why wasn't that the end of the story right there? Why didn't God just wipe us all out right there? Because God decided to have tears. God decided to stay in the game. God decided to suffer and love us. When we ask the question about the problem of suffering and the problem of evil in the world, we're only thinking about our suffering. What about God's suffering? It costs God tremendous suffering to relate to us and love us while we reject him, betray him, ruin our lives, and make a mess of the world. Parents who have gone through difficult times with their children can understand some of this.
We have two problems in this text: What can be done to fix human wickedness? And what can be done to fix God's pain, his grieving heart, over the wickedness of the world? There's a whole paragraph about the Nephilim—the mighty men who turn their backs on God. But there are just five Hebrew words given there about Noah: "But Noah found favor." The word for favor is the Hebrew word grace. Noah found grace "in the eyes of the Lord." Noah is different. This is all we know about him at this point—that he found unmerited favor and grace in the eyes of God.
God's favor towards Noah
Continue on to verse 9: "These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth."
Why does it say that Noah didn't grieve God's heart but he found favor instead? The text tells us: he walked with God. Isn't that a great way to be known—as someone who walks with God? Noah walked to the beat of a completely different drum. He didn't go the way of his culture. He didn't go the way of his neighbors. Noah feared God, not man. It's not that Noah got straight A's and everyone else got F's; rather, Noah learned of God and his grace, and he loved, followed, and walked with God.
Noah has three sons. So did Adam. Noah is going to be a kind of second Adam who God will use to repopulate the earth. Let's continue on in the story:
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. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood …. 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. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.
This is the state of the earth: violence everywhere. In Genesis 1, when God looked out over his creation, he was very pleased. Now several chapters later in the first book of the Bible, God looks out over his creation and sees violence. This is what has happened to his creation. God takes Noah into his confidence, and he tells Noah his plans—that he will destroy all flesh with a flood of waters. He is destroying the people who have already been destroying themselves.
But God will preserve Noah. Why? In verse 18, God establishes a covenant with Noah. Why? Because of grace. Noah found grace, favor in the eyes of God. This is an unmerited relationship. This is the huge God of the universe saying to little Noah: "I will keep a relationship with you and will protect you and will preserve your life and will be your God." Our God isn't a God of fleeing or one-night stands. He's a God who stays in relationship with us, who keeps his promise, and who loves us. That's what a covenant relationship is. So God tells Noah to do something. God tells Noah to build an ark. Later he will tell Noah to enter the ark, and then he will tell him to exit the ark. But this is the first thing God says to Noah: Build an ark.
The ark is huge. The length of the ark is a football field and a half. The width of the ark is the width of a semi-truck with two trailers. It's huge and it's wide. The height of the ark is as high as a five-story house. The total deck area in the ark is 95,700 square feet—95 times the size of my condo. The cargo capacity of the ark is that of a modern cargo ship. You could fit 125,000 sheep-sized animals in the ark. And there will be eight people on this ark—Noah and his wife, his three sons and their wives—and two of every living thing, male and female, will go with them.
Noah obeys. He did all that God commanded him. This is going to be a repeated refrain throughout this story—that Noah obeys God. Noah lives by faith. It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark. Building an ark didn't make sense to those around him. It must have taken years and years for Noah to go out and cut those trees down and haul the wood back and make the planks and fasten them together, a football field and a half long. It must have cost Noah a fortune. And what about gathering the animals? That's a lot of work. And he had to get food supplies ready. There wasn't a Costco then; he had to prepare it all himself.
In chapter 7:1 the story continues: "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.'" This is the second time God speaks to Noah, this time telling him to go into the ark before the rains come. Noah doesn't have a single line in this whole story—we never hear his voice—but his actions speak louder than words. Noah's life is totally God-directed. He lives by faith. He lives by the ear not by the eye, basing life not on what he saw but on God's voice. He goes into the ark. In the Book of Hebrews, we see that Noah is listed in the first three people of that great "hall of fame for faith"—those who radically followed God, not knowing what the outcome would be.
The story begins to pick up steam:
In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, 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. On the very same day, Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark … And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in.
The flood of God's judgment
God shuts Noah into the ark, and then all hell breaks loose. God undoes his creation. In Genesis 1 we learned of God separating the waters from the dry land. Now that boundary gets extinguished. The heavens' windows are opened up, and rain begins to come down on the earth. Forty days, forty nights it rains—it pounds and pounds and pounds the ark. The earth is flooded, and the waters begin to rise.
But "forty" is a stock biblical word that has hope at its core. Whenever the word "forty" is used in Scripture, you know that there's ultimately hope at the center of it. Forty days is a period of time in testing that leads to a brand new beginning, when God's going to do a new work among his creation. Listen to all of these instances in Scripture in which we hear the word "forty":
The nation of Israel wanders for forty years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land, where God will give them a new start.
Jonah walked into the city of Nineveh, where he preached the greatest sermon ever preached. He said that in forty days Nineveh will be overthrown. And the nation of Nineveh, a nation of pagans, repented and placed their faith in God. Forty days led to a great revival.
Jesus spent forty days being tempted in the wilderness, and then the Spirit descended upon him and he began his public ministry. The world was never the same.
Noah and his family spend forty days and forty nights in the ark as it rains and God purges the earth and makes a new beginning. Let's continue on in the story:
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. … 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.
The flood waters come in and they crush the people living on the earth. Earlier in Genesis we heard that God took man and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and he became a living being. Now, the floodwaters come and extinguish that breath of life. People die. But the very same waters that come and crush the people push up the ark and life is preserved inside of it. God's judgment always contains grace. The flood on the earth lifts the ark and lives are saved.
Genesis 8:1 is the hinge of this whole story: "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." When we use the word remember in English, we think of someone remembering something that they forgot. But that's not the idea in the Hebrew word remember. In Hebrew, this word means that God remembers a previous commitment to a covenant partner. God remembers that he has a covenant relationship with Noah. He will keep that promise.
Some of you are wondering today if God remembers you. You've been going through something, and it's been forty days and forty nights. You don't see an end in sight. But if you know God, you have a covenant relationship with him. He does remember you. You need to know this.
God makes the waters stop. There are other accounts of a great flood that swept over the earth, other ancient accounts that come from Mesopotamia, and in these other accounts, there are many gods, not one God, the grand, sovereign God. These many gods are annoyed at the noise created by all the humans on the earth, and there is over-population. For that reason they decide to send a flood to the earth. How different from our true story of one, true sovereign God who's grieved in his heart over the spread of wickedness on the earth and what it's doing to his people and to his creation! In the other ancient accounts these many gods send a flood to the earth, and then they can't stop it. They can't control it. They panic; nothing can be done, and all chaos ensues. But our God makes the wind blow and the waters stop. He can do that. He can do anything.
Then God said to Noah, "Go out from the ark, you and your wife and your sons and your sons' wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh, birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may swarm on the earth and be fruitful and multiply on the earth." So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with them.
The rains stop. It's been forty days and forty nights. And it takes a very long time for these waters to recede and go down. Finally the ark comes to rest in the mountains somewhere in the intersection of what is now modern day Turkey, Russia, and Iran. And Noah patiently waits for God's voice and timing. Noah doesn't just exit the ark. He waited for God to tell him to build the ark. He waited for God to tell him to enter the ark. Now he waits to hear God's voice telling him to exit the ark. God speaks to Noah a third time. He tells him to exit the ark, and Noah does so.
Noah exits the ark as a second Adam, starting a new beginning on the earth. And what's the first thing that Noah does when he exits the ark? Verse 20 says: "Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, he said in his heart, 'I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth.'"
It rained and poured for forty daysies, daysies. The sun came out and dried up the landy, landy. Everything is fine and dandy, dandy. But is everything fine and dandy, dandy? I mean, this is the ultimate social experiment. Get the good and faithful people—the people that you like and don't want extinguished—and put them on an ark and start over. Create a new land. Well, everything is not fine and dandy, dandy.
What went into the ark with Noah? Animals went into the ark with Noah. His family went into the ark. And sin went into the ark. Sin went into the ark with Noah. We learned earlier in Genesis 6:5 that "every intention of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually." In chapter 8:21 we hear this: "For the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth." Sin went into the ark with Noah.
The Bible takes violence and evil and the problem of suffering in the world so much more seriously than any other worldview. We have a name for this grand problem: sin. Sin isn't just an issue of poor behavior. Sin isn't eliminated by getting the "wrong people" off the earth and the "right people" into the ark. It's so much deeper than that. Did the flood solve this dual problem of human wickedness and God's pain over this wickedness that spread on the earth? No. The flood didn't solve that problem.
The Lord was under no illusion that now mankind had turned over a new leaf and that these eight people had learned from the flood and they would go on to do better from here on out. Noah deserved the flood. Noah grew up around this group of people that were just as full of wickedness. That's what Noah grew up from. Noah was one of them. And the very next chapter we're going to see Noah drunk and naked, royally screwing up what's going on in his life. Noah's no better after the flood. But grace found Noah, and he's on the ark.
We all deserve the flood. The amazing thing about this story is not God's judgment, it's not the flood; rather, the amazing thing is God's grace—that he would save Noah, and that he would save us. The flood points us to something greater.
The flood of God's grace
You see, there is one very big change after the flood—an offering and its aroma. The phrase "pleasing aroma" is actually "an aroma that puts at rest." This is the aroma that goes up to God. Actually, the name Noah means rest. God's grieving heart is now put at rest, not by the flood but by an aroma arising from Noah's offering. This is the first burnt offering, the first sacrificial offering, the first bloody offering in all of Scripture. And this is an amazing act of grace on God's part—namely, that he allows himself to be put at rest by this bloody, sacrificial, burnt offering. The theological term for this is propitiation: where God turns away his wrath from those who deserve it. This isn't because man has changed. Mankind is the same after the flood as it was before the flood. But something in God has changed. His justice and his grace meet in a burnt offering. That's the solution to the problem of God's grieving heart and human wickedness—a bloody burnt offering.
Noah's offering foreshadows the ultimate bloody burnt offering. God knew that no animal or human offering could fix the pain and sin of the world. So God sent his Son from heaven to solve the problem. At the center of history is a big block of wood, and that block of wood is not the ark; it's the cross. It is at the cross where the flood of God's wrath pushed Jesus down into death so that we could be pushed up, safe in an ark of grace.
Philip Yancey calls this exchange the "atrocious math of the gospel." One burnt offering—one Savior—equals a new start for billions of people. God blots out the life of his Son so that our sins could be blotted out and our lives would never be blotted out. It's the atrocious math of the gospel. This is grace. Do we deserve God's grace? No. Does this grace amaze you? If you've trusted in his Son, God is at rest with you, and the whole of your life is lived under a cloud of his grace.
Let me tell you about God's grace. His grace is bloody. It cost the life of his Son. And it never runs out. The forecast for you is always grace. There are always clouds of grace awaiting you, flooding your life. It will never, ever run out.
God says to Noah in Genesis 6:8: "Noah found favor [Noah found grace] in the eyes of the Lord." That's your verse always. You have found grace in the eyes of the Lord, if you trust in him. I don't care who you are. I don't care what you've done. I don't care how you've performed this week. I don't care how you're going to perform the rest of this week. The forecast is grace—a flood of grace. Martyn Lloyd Jones, the Welsh preacher, put it so well: "It is God's accountancy … He is always giving us surprises. You never know what he's going to do. His bookkeeping is the most romantic thing I know of in the world." Our ledgers are out of date. They're of no value. We're in the kingdom of God, and it's God's accountancy. It's grace at the beginning and grace at the end, so that when you and I come to lie upon our deathbeds, the one thing that should comfort and help and strengthen us there is the thing that helped us at the beginning—not what we have been, not what we've done, but the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Christian life starts with grace. It must continue with grace. It ends with grace. Wondrous grace: it's yours. This is the forecast for the rest of your life. Don't you dare try to relate to God, try to live your life, or try to relate to other people on the basis of your mathematics, on the basis of what you deserve or you think they deserve. Live your life by the mathematics of the gospel, the atrocious math of the gospel.
The Christian life should feel like tasting rain: you lean your head back, you look up, you stick out your tongue, and you feel the raindrops of grace on your tongue; you swallow it knowing you don't have to conserve. It's never going to run out. It's always going to be there for you. You'll never run out of grace
I want this message to get out to a wicked and broken world. It's the only hope. The best way to do that, besides preaching, is for us, together, to lean our heads back and feel those raindrops of grace—to take it in, to swallow it, to allow God's power to work through us to change a world that desperately needs this message.
For Your Reflection
How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition:
Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? ____________________________________________________
Justin Buzzard is founder and lead pastor of Garden City Church in Silicon Valley, California.