Skip to content

10.24.10 What is Faithful Obedience Today, Gen 6-9 Sermon Summary

by on October 26, 2010

Summary Points

  • God’s revelation in Jesus Christ allows us to faithfully interpret the Bible beyond the literal
  • The great narrative of Scripture is creation, destruction, and recreation—symbolized in the sacraments
  • The sequence of discipleship is election, obedience, deliverance, thanksgiving, and multiplication
  • The Lord’s Supper reminds us of God’s faithfulness to the covenant

Most people know the outlines of the story of Noah and the ark. And most people who weren’t indoctrinated early in the church question its historicity. How are we to make sense of a God who destroys the world he so lovingly and joyfully created just 5 chapters earlier? What are we to do with an account of global flooding? These are questions we must answer if we are to receive and offer credible testimony of God’s grace today.

The answer begins with a Christian principle of biblical interpretation: everything is to be interpreted in light of the revelation of God in Christ. This recognition moves the issue of the literality of biblical stories from the center of table. With regards to Noah’s ark, 1 Peter 3:18ff provides an early example. Peter says the flood is a precursor of baptism; as water saved God’s elect then, so water saves God’s elect now.

For Peter, the issue is perseverance through suffering. Our baptismal union with Christ’s death and resurrection gives us hope that in our own suffering (here understood as a precursor to death, or as our prolonged experience of dying) our lives will be redeemed and vindicated as was Christ’s.

Peter reads Noah’s ark for truth beyond the literal. For those of us who need to do so today, the story itself offers some clues as to how do to so. It’s full of symbolic indicators that the literal interpretation isn’t all that’s meaningful.

For example, in the story, God sends a “wind” to dry the ground following the flood. This echoes the creation story in which God’s “Spirit” (same word) hovers over the primordial, watery chaos and calls forth dry ground. The message: God tames that which is chaotic.

In the story, God arranges for pairs of all animals to enter the ark. The pairs are male and female for the obvious purpose of repopulating the earth once the flood waters recede. The message: God provides for life even following death; life goes on after a flood.

In a more general sense, there is a sequence or a governing plot of creation, destruction, and recreation. This pattern recurs throughout the Scriptures and throughout our lives. It is also, of course, on display in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This is why the regular and often reading of the Scriptures and celebration of the sacraments are so important: we have to remember the context of our lives in the context of this great narrative: things are created, suffer destruction, and are recreated by God.

From the perspective of this grand scheme, Noah is presented as a new Adam, the name of the first human in the creation story. Both Noah and Adam emerge from watery chaos. Both are responsible for populating the earth. Whereas Adam was present at creation, Noah is present at the recreation.

The story of Noah—as seen in the context of creation, destruction, and recreation—presents a more detailed progression that has theological significance. The pattern is: election, obedience, deliverance, thanksgiving, and multiplication.

  • Noah was “shown favor” not because he was righteous, but because God had chosen him. Later in Scripture his righteousness is commended, but we know God’s favor is never earned, it is grace.
  • Noah did as the Lord commanded him. Those commands were evidence of his election. His obedience led to his reputation of righteousness.
  • God’s election is not only to obedience, but to deliverance. Noah and his family (further evidence that God’s election precedes righteousness—nothing is ever said of the qualifying righteousness of Noah’s family) are delivered from the trial facing the world.
  • In 8:20, Noah steps foot on dry ground again and immediately gives thanks to God.
  • And the final scene in this wonderful story is the command of God for Noah and his family to multiply and fill the earth once again.

We all know how this story ultimately ends, and it doesn’t take long. God’s intention to cleanse the world of sin and make a new start with a new Adam didn’t quite work out. Sin remained in the world despite the flood and despite Noah’s “righteousness.” Ultimately God had to send another Adam in the person of Jesus Christ (see Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15). As 1 Peter reminds us, we are called to be obedient children not of Adam, and not of Noah, but of God in Christ. And the example we have in Christ is an obedience in prayer and in service to others.

Two short final thoughts. On the Lord’s Supper: Jesus tells us to “do this in remembrance” of him. God tells Noah that the purpose of the sign of the covenant, in this case a rainbow appearing alongside threatening clouds, is to remind God of the promise never to flood the earth again. In fact, the story tell us earlier that God remembers Noah while he is still on the ark. I suspect the nature of covenants and signs is less to remind God to be faithful, than to remind us that God is faithful.

On multiplying to fill the earth: Assuming Peter’s interpretation of Noah’s ark, that we are delivered by water, it’s easy to see why Jesus gives the church the great commission to make disciples. We in the church believe ourselves to be elect; we are called the obedience of faith; we trust in our deliverance; we give thanks at the Lord’s Table; and God sends us out from our worship to “multiply and fill the earth” through disciple-making.

Thoughts for Further Reflection

  • Acknowledging the sequence of discipleship, where are you in the process of election, obedience, deliverance, thanksgiving, and multiplication? Realizing that discipleship is cyclical, reflect upon this sequence in your past, and how you have grown as Christ’s disciple.
  • Find other New Testament passages that exemplify the interpretation of the Old Testament in light of Christ. What does the NT have to say about Abraham and Isaac, about Jonah and the big fish, about the figures of Moses, Elijah, and David, for example?
  • Can you see how, even within the first 10 chapters of the Bible, one story cannot be fully understood without familiarity with other stories? Can you see how misleading taking a verse out of context could be? How’s your biblical knowledge of Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Amos, Matthew, Romans, Revelation, and other major narrative and theological books?
  • Do you have a deep enough appreciation of the sacraments as rituals of covenant renewal? Are you entering into the reality of God’s faithfulness to you in the above sequence of discipleship? Are you grateful for God’s election of you, of his deliverance? Are you using the sacraments as opportunities to give thanks and rededicate yourself to faithful obedience?
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: