January 3, 2016

Judgment by water and by fire

Genesis 6–8

A certain Bishop Leighton defines the danger of sin: “Sin is first pleasing, then it grows easy, then delightful, then frequent, then habitual, then confirmed; then the man is impenitent, then he is obstinate, then he is resolved never to repent. And then he is ruined.”

Today I heard a marvelous sermon in which the pastor pointed out that conviction and confession from sin, and repentance, are evidence of God’s grace. It saves us from total ruin!

He is right. After the sin of Adam and Eve, humanity went from bad to worse until, 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.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord . . . . Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:5–9)

Note that God was grieved by sin, not outraged. It makes Him sad because He knows its destructive power in the lives of the people He created. Note also that Noah was righteous, but that means responding to God in faith. It does not mean that this man was sinless.

For this man and his family, God had a plan of grace, not judgment. He 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.” (Genesis 7:1)

Most do not realize that this was a massive ship, even by today’s standards. It was 450 feet long and large enough to carry this righteous man and his family, two of all animals, and their food through the deluge to come.

After it was finished, God put them into it, then blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. (Genesis 7:23)

The flood story is not intended as fodder for scientific debate about the way the world was at that time, but affirmation that God will judge sin. It is also affirmation of His grace. After the flood was over, Noah built an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings. This pleased the Lord and He said, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:20–22)

“While the earth remains” is an important phrase. In the final judgment, the Bible speaks of a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness prevails. At that time, complete cleansing will not be by water but by fire. 

People likely mocked Noah while he prepared the ark, but he believed God that this would save him from the judgment to come. People today laugh at Christians who believe God and live to please Him rather than ourselves. However, like Noah, we know that our safety does not depend on our efforts, but on what God has done. He gave us an ark as well. The New Testament says that baptism corresponds to the flood, not as a way to be saved from sin but as a picture of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

By grace, Jesus bore the punishment for sin that I deserved. Because He died for me and rose again, He is my ark and will bear me up safely through God’s judgment by fire.

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