Christmas in Genesis — Part Two
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Christmas in Genesis — Part Two

Genesis 6:8  (ID: 3399)

During Advent, believers commemorate Christ’s incarnation and anticipate His promised return. After sin entered the world, man multiplied his corruption and rebellion against God. As Alistair Begg explains, God sent a flood as a righteous judgment against sin. Not everyone perished, though. Noah found mercy and favor in God’s eyes and took shelter in the ark. While we all face the judgment of God, Jesus came to endure God’s wrath and save all who take refuge in Him.

Series Containing This Sermon

Christmas in the Beginning

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 28101

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, I invite you to turn with me to Genesis, and first of all to chapter 5. I’m going to read just a few brief portions to help us in our study this morning. Genesis chapter 5, and initially in verse 28:

“When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered [his] son and called his name Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.’”

And then in 6:7:

“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.”

“These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.”

And then in 7:6:

“[Now] Noah was six hundred years old when the flood … waters came upon the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth.”

And then in 9:8:

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’”

Amen. May God bless to us the reading of his Word.

Father, we pray that a sense of your presence among us will bring home the clarity and truth of your Word in a way that makes it obvious to us that the real need of our lives is to have a divine encounter with you by the Holy Spirit, through your Word. For this we pray, and in Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, we’re in the third Sunday, now, of Advent, and happily so. And we have set ourselves the task of considering Christmas in Genesis, in the sense that Christmas is all about Jesus, and the whole Bible points to Jesus, and therefore, something would have gone sadly wrong if we were able to go to the book of Genesis and find that he was missing from there.

It is important, I think, and worth considering the fact that the apostles in their day would never have understood the kind of question that we are addressing to one another—at least I hear people saying to one another, “Are you ready for Christmas?” The apostles would not have understood the question; they would not have understood what was being asked. Because for the first hundred, two hundred, even three hundred years of the developing church, there was no such thing as the celebration of Christmas.

Now, Scottish people kept this going for a lot longer than that, while other sensible people around the fourth century decided that it would be good for us to consider the Advent, which is, of course, an English word coming from the Latin word which simply means “coming.” “Coming.” And when they began to consider the coming of Christ, they did so with a dual focus, so that they were not simply looking back to what we refer to as the incarnation, but they were looking forward to the fact that this same Jesus who had come as a baby in Bethlehem, in, if you like, relative obscurity, was going to come again in power and in glory.

And so, as we progress in the New Testament, we find that by the time we get to the Letters, this is made perfectly plain. For example, just quoting briefly from Hebrews 9, of Jesus: he “will appear a second time, not to bear sin”; the writer to the Hebrews is pointing out that that has been dealt with in the cross of Christ. He will not appear “to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him”[1]—which, of course, raises the question “Are we waiting for him?” Which is not necessarily the same question as “Are you ready for Christmas?” It may be possible to be ready for Christmas and yet at the same time not to be waiting for him. In fact, I’ve discovered, actually, that a number of people who can be quite sentimental regarding the first coming of Jesus regard the idea of the second coming of Jesus as simply just a bit of a joke. And they scoff at the idea that there is ever going to be a day when Christ will return as promised.

Now, last time we were in 3:15, considering what has been regarded by theologians throughout the years, the protoevangelium—in other words, the first hint, or, if you like, the first announcement of the gospel itself: that there was coming one who would crush the serpent, and that serpent would in turn bruise his heel. And from that point on, all the way through the Bible right up until the coming of Jesus, there is this expectation, there is this look on the part of those who are in touch with God: “Well, I wonder, who will it be when he comes, and how will we discover it?”

Sin spoils what God has made good.

So, for example, every person that comes forward is at least a possibility. And in 5:28, we have the birth and the naming of Noah. Later on, of course, we’re going to have the birth and the naming of Jesus. And it was very significant, and significant in relationship to Noah himself. And let me just quote the twenty-eighth verse; I’m sure you turned to it. “When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed”—that’s back in chapter 3[2]—“this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.’” His name, Noah, sounded like another Hebrew word, the word for “rest.” And, of course, the restlessness that was now part of life since the events in the garden, since the entry of sin into the world, is such that men and women would love somehow or another to find rest from their labors and their toils. And so, with the arrival of Noah, the question is at least raised, “Will this be the man who will deliver the cosmos from the curse?” And of course, what we’re going to discover is that he was not that man but that he did have a crucial part in the unfolding story.

Now, from chapter 3 and into chapter 4, we immediately learn how sin impacts life— impacts it on an individual basis, impacts it within the framework of the family, and certainly within society. I was taught as a boy to think of sin in three s’s: that sin, my teachers told me, will spoil things, that sin will spread, and that sin will separate. And I’ve managed to remember that.

And that is exactly what we discover, isn’t it? That sin spoils what God has made good—the perfection and his plan for us fiddled with and rejected by us. And we discover that the things that God has made in order that we might benefit by them actually are spoiled as a result of our sins. And that is not something that is limited in some locality, but that it is like a virulent disease; it is like a contagion that spreads throughout humanity, separating not only man from God, thereby putting man in need of someone who will come to intercede, someone who will be that one to crush the serpent, but not only separating at that level but separating at the horizontal level. And as we’ve said before, the great conflict that is now to ensue lies behind every conflict—every argument in the kitchen between a husband and a wife, every dispute between children and their parents, every cantankerous rebellion within a sports team, and so on. What is the base of all of this? Well, it is the fact that sin has entered into the world, and its impact is undeniable.

In chapter 4 you have a series of firsts. And I’ll just point it out to you; you may be able to find more. Sin has entered into the world, and in verse 8 we have the first murder. And in verse 9 we have the first outright lie: “‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’” He goes on to say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And while people often quote “Am I my brother’s keeper?” when they don’t want to take the garbage out or something like that, they have often forgotten that it begins with a lie: “I do not know.” That was a flat-out lie. He then provides us with the first expression of self-pity in verses 13 and 14. Instead of him confessing his sin, he feels sorry for himself that things are going to turn out so badly. In verse 19, you have the first polygamy, where you will see there that “Lamech took two wives.” He wasn’t supposed to take two wives. He was supposed to have one wife, and he was supposed to be happy with the wife that he had. But he’s decided to go differently. And here we are all these years later, and polygamy that was once regarded as absolutely abhorrent is suggested from magazine to news broadcast across the Western world. Nothing is new under the sun when it comes to man’s rebellion against God. And in verse 24 you have the first act of vengeance. The first act of vengeance. It’s “revenge” there. Lamech says, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me, and I decided I’d just kill him myself.”[3] And on that basis, sin contends to make itself known.

And what is quite fascinating is that you will notice here in chapter 4, there is no sign of the serpent. There is no wiggling serpent that is moving now among them, seducing them and tempting them to do what they do. No, mankind no longer needs a talking serpent, because the prompting to sin now is all inward. Now you discover that within the culture, people are saying, “Well, it’s only natural that… Well, it only makes sense that… Well, you couldn’t explain that apart from that.” All of that language is represented there. You fast-forward to the book of James, and what do you discover? That James says the very same thing: that it is out of our insides that these things come.[4] We’ll come back to that.

Actually, Alec Motyer has a wonderful little phrase in his book Look to the Rock where he says what you discover, then, in the balance of the text is that men and women were “drawn on by the inner reality of a destructive magnetism.”[5] That’s one of those phrases I wish I could come up with: “Drawn on by the inner reality of a destructive magnetism.” You may want to keep that and to use with someone at work or something this week. And I don’t mean that facetiously. Actually, I mean it. If someone said to you at work this week, said, you know, “You know what? I did it again, and I don’t know why I keep doing that. I don’t want to do that. I went off the handle. I got abusive. I was unkind. I don’t know why I did it.” Tell them you know. Tell ’em they are “drawn on by the inner reality of a destructive magnetism.” And they’ll say, “What in the world does that mean?” And you say, “That’s just a fancy phrase to describe our propensity to go our own way. It is a description of sin.”

Chapter 5 contains ten generations and brings us fast-forward to chapter 6.

By way of summary, really, of a vast body of material, let’s gather our thoughts under three simple headings. First of all, it is clear that the earth was corrupt; secondly, that God’s judgment was and is just; and thirdly, to borrow from the line of one of the songs we like to sing, “his mercy is more.”[6] All right? So you have, if you like, the corruption of humanity, you have their destruction as an expression of God’s judgment, and then you have the provision of an ark as representative of the broadness of his mercy.

A Corrupt Earth

Now, you will notice when you read this for yourself—and for yourselves you must do some of the hard lifting; I can’t do it here this morning—man’s rebellion was expressed, 6:5, was expressed, if you like, in three dimensions.

First of all, outwardly: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.” In other words, the evidences of man’s rebellion were not hidden away. It was obvious in the ebb and flow of life, even as it is obvious in the ebb and flow of life for us today. Wickedness—which is the predicament now as a result of the entry of sin—wickedness cannot ultimately be concealed. It expresses itself.

The devil may entice you to things, but he can’t make you do it. Every sin is an inside job.

And the prophets write of it in this way: “The wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters turn up mire and dirt.”[7] Now, we understand this, don’t we, when even in your backyard, you’ve seen the impact of a torrential rainstorm? And perhaps there was something that you had been planning to take care of and put away, and as a result of what’s happened, that which you thought was now going to be hidden when the snow fell has actually reappeared, and now you’re definitely gonna have to deal with it. And the picture here is of the deluge coming, and it just throws up all that is on the inside, all that has been concealed, all this mire and all this dirt. It’s not hard, is it, to see the way in which sin has so quickly expressed itself in the society of that time, nor today?

So, outwardly, and then secondly, inwardly: that God saw not only that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth”—visibly, if you like, outwardly—but also “the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And again I refer you to James when he says, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire”[8]—although in Tom Sawyer, he tells the old widow there, he tells her, “But the devil made me do it.” “The devil made me do it.” Well, actually, no, the devil didn’t make you do it. The devil may entice you to things, but he can’t make you do it. Every sin is an inside job. Every sin is an inside job.

Wickedness outwardly, inwardly, and, at the same time, continually: “The thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Now, you think about this. How can this possibly be? Does this mean that the only thing that can be expressed is evil? No. But it speaks to the fact that there is no dimension of life that is untouched by sin, and there is no part of my life—body, mind, and spirit—that is not impacted by sin. Because sin skews the way we think. Romans chapter 8, Paul makes that perfectly clear. He says that the mind that is set on the flesh is at enmity with God and cannot please God[9]—doesn’t know God, is at war with God, and can’t please him. So the idea that somehow or another I’ll be able just now to go rationally to these sections of the Bible and I’ll be able to think myself through to the right conclusion—no, actually, no! Because we need the enabling of the Spirit of God to so work within us as to change even the thought processes of our minds.

It is “the fool,” says the psalmist, who has “said in his heart, There is no God.”[10] He knows there is a God, but he says, “There’s no God.” He’s talking to himself. What is he saying? “There’s no God. There’s no accountability. There’s nobody to whom I have to refer. I can make my own decisions. No one’s gonna tell me what to do with my body. I am the captain of my fate. I am the master of my destiny.” Does it sound contemporary? Of course it is contemporary! Because that’s the reality of it.

And it would be one thing if it’d all come to a stop at the end of [verse] 10. But, says the text here, it goes on “continually.” The whole earth “was filled with violence,” verse 11. There’s no need for me to trot out the statistics on violent crime in our society, or frankly in any society. It is so commonplace—so commonplace—that we’ve now come up with mechanisms not to try and fix it but to accommodate it.

I can remember the dairy in which I was standing as a boy of six or something when I listened in to a conversation that some of the adults in the shop who were also waiting for things. I was getting milk for my mother. And as I stood there waiting in line, I heard this very animated conversation, so I tuned in to listen: “Now, what is it that these people are so concerned about? What is this they’re speaking about?” You know what it was? There had been a murder in Glasgow. Now, that is 1958. The fact of one solitary murder in the Second City of the British Empire in 1958 literally, if you like, stopped people in their way. One murder? And God looked, and “the earth was filled with violence.” And what is the answer of contemporary society? Well, that’s not for me to tell you. We know it. How’s it working? Where’s the conflict?

God’s Just Judgment

So, we said—by way of summary—number one, the earth was corrupt. Number two, God’s judgment was just. The just judgment of God is what comes across here. It is difficult to read, and we have to bow down underneath it. But it comes again and again. Verse 7 of chapter 6: “I will blot out man.” Verse 13: “I have determined to make an end of all flesh.” Verse 17: “I will bring a flood of waters.”

And what we actually discover now is that the rest that was enjoyed in the garden has now been taken over by a restlessness—if you like, a chaos—that is pervasive and is growing daily. It is a restlessness that is producing all the things that we’ve even outlined in chapter 4, and they’re just representative of that which will develop from this point. The restlessness of our contemporary culture is, again, not hard to find. It’s fascinating, isn’t it, as people roam to and fro, trying to make a living, trying to make sense of life, trying to find satisfaction, trying to find hope, trying to deal with suffering, trying to do everything? Because it’s so messed up. It’s so broken. And there’s no one who wants to attack the notion of the brokenness of our world. The real question is, why is it so broken? And, of course, that’s not for me to engage in dialogue on as I stand before you, but it is interesting, isn’t it, in the book of Job, at the beginning of Job, where God addresses the devil, and he says to him, “And where have you been lately?” And he says, “I have been roaming to and forth throughout the earth.”[11] Yeah, exactly.

And so, God says, “I’m gonna to send torrential rains.” This is not a mythology; this is a divine tsunami. God controls the winds and the waves. All through the Old Testament the people were aware of this. He did it in creation in chapter 1, ordering the space and the place of the waters.[12] All right? Fast-forward to Jesus on the sea, and what is it that knocks the followers of Jesus flat down on the deck? This matter: “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the [waves] obey him!”[13] So the God who has fashioned the waters in the beauty of creation brings the waters into place and uses those same very things as an expression of his judgment. It is quite devastating.

But remember that in this, God takes no delight, no pleasure, in the death of the wicked.[14] God takes no pleasure in that, any more than a father takes pleasure in having to discipline his son. A father who finds it pleasurable to discipline his son in that way is not a father; he’s a sadist! There is no pleasure in this. So we ought not to think of God somehow or another looking, as it were, from heaven and saying, “Oh, this is fantastic. Now I get a chance to do this.”

He takes no pleasure in it, but neither is he indifferent to our rebellion. God is not indifferent to your defiance or mine. He’s not indifferent to it when we reject his mercy. He’s not indifferent when we say, “I do not even believe for a moment in the very idea of judgment. What a crazy idea! What a strange notion!” That’s funny. I think you do believe in judgment, actually. You make judgments all the time. You would be unable to get from here to downtown without making a significant number of judgments on the driving of the people around you. Expression of your judgment: “I don’t like that look at all.”

Well, when Peter much later on says, “Here’s what’s gonna happen, of course,” or “Here’s what is happening, because in the last days”—remember we said the dual Advent, between the coming of Jesus and the coming again of Jesus, which is the period of the last days—“in the last days”—so, we’re in them—“scoffers will come scoffing, following their own sinful desires, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? It’s always been like this. People have been doing this stuff all the time.’”[15] And here we are. That’s exactly what you hear said.

And unless someone sounds out the message of the Bible—unless someone is brave enough to say, “No, actually, the judgment of God is just”—then the Christianity of our day will continue to diminish and eventually dwindle to nothing. Because, you see, there is no understanding of the mercy of God outside of the judgment of God; so that God’s judgment and his mercy are, if you like, two wings on the fuselage—that both are present. And it is only in light of God’s righteous judgment that we can understand his mercy. What an amazing thing! When we refuse the notion of his judgment, which is justice expressed for our rebellion, then we find ourselves saying, “Well, I can see why he would want me to be his follower. I’m actually quite a good person. If I was putting a group together, I would definitely include me.” So, an appeal, then, to our sense of self-esteem. This is very, very different, isn’t it? When Paul preached in Athens—I mean, eventually they all left. And he was just at his closing point, you know: “And God has set a day,” he says, “when he will judge the world, and he has given proof of it by the man he has sent, the resurrected Jesus.”[16]

Now, loved ones, what is here in Genesis 6, 7, 8, 9 is in some measure a foretaste of what will happen at the end of the age: that God will execute his just judgment. And his judgment perfectly fits our crimes. We could deviate from course on that. You take, for example, Romans chapter 1: “And they received in their bodies the due penalty for their sin.”[17] In their bodies! And what the Bible is saying is this: “Go ahead and abuse your body, and your body will abuse you.” And what do we discover? The suffering and the sorrow and the sickness of it all, and yet people—ourselves included—find it very, very difficult to settle with this notion. In fact, perhaps the clearest evidence of the fact of our enmity with God, that we do not think correctly, is in our absolute unwillingness to take on board that the judgment of God is just, deserved, and real.

The Mercy of God

So, the earth was corrupt, the judgment of God is just, but then, finally, his mercy is more. His mercy is more.

What you have here, of course, is an expression of the patience of God—the amazing patience of God. It must have taken Noah a fair while to build this ark, because it was a big craft. A big craft! It was approximately the length of one and a half football fields. So, think Browns’ stadium, and then think of half as much of the field again. In fact, on the roof you could get three space shuttles nose to tail on the roof of the ark. It was four stories high, and therefore, there was plenty of room. And it had a captain, and his name was Noah.

How did he get to be the captain? Verse 8 of chapter 6 tells you that “Noah found favor”—or he “found grace”[18]—“in the eyes of the Lord.” He “found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” How did he find favor in the eyes of the Lord? It’s a mystery, isn’t it? The favor, the grace that he found, was undeserved, it was unmerited, and it was actually unexplained.

Well, of course why would we be surprised at that? We sang already, didn’t we,

What grace is mine
That he who dwells in endless light
Called through the night
To save my distant soul?[19]

We all sang that! And what we were saying, if we actually know it and believe it, is that for me to know God is unmerited, and it is ultimately unexplained.

Why am I here this morning with this message? And my friend, whom I’ve used endlessly, from my music class—he was very clever, and I was the opposite of that, sitting beside him. But I thought about him the other day, and I googled him. And he’s gone. Gone! And his obituary simply said, “He was clever. His parents were this. He went to Ilkley Grammar School.” Yes, he did. Why am I here, and he’s not? It is a mystery. It is the mystery of grace.

God is not roaming the world, as it were, looking for a crack-force troop. He’s not putting together all the brightest and all the best and all the most significant. No, never. You could never deduce that from the Bible. No, it is a wonder: and “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”[20] And in verse 9 we find that he was “righteous” and “blameless,” and he “walked with God.” “Oh,” says somebody, “there you are! That’s how you find grace. That’s how you get favor. Verse 9 explains verse 8.” No. Verse 9 is not an explanation of verse 8; verse 9 is a consequence of verse 8. It is in light of God’s favor and his grace. “Praise him for his grace and favor to our fathers in distress.”[21]

And it is with this same captain of the boat that he makes a covenant. Verse 18: “I will establish my covenant with you,” so that he and his family will know the saving grace to protect them, to preserve them in and from the judgment of God. He enjoys all of these benefits in a way that is tied to his own keeping of God’s commands. You’ll notice at the end of chapter 6, “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him”[22]—which reminds us that when God’s grace sets us free, it sets us free to obey his commands.

Most people will die with or without the faith with which we have lived.

And so he built the ark in obedience, and he left it on the basis of God’s word. Verse 15, then, of 8: “Then God said to Noah, ‘Go out from the ark, you and your wife.’” It’s hard to imagine the scene, isn’t it? Day after day, he and whatever small group he had working on this project. And the people would come by, going to pick up their groceries, as it were, and seeing him, and calling out to him, “Hey, Noah! What do you think you’re doing?”

And he would tell them. ’Cause he’s described elsewhere as “a herald,”[23] or “a preacher of righteousness.”[24] So what would he tell ’em? Say, “Well, I’m building an ark.”

“What’s an ark for?”

“Well,” he’d say, “it’s for protection.”

“Protection from what?”

“Protection from the flood.”

“But there’s no flood!”

“There will be.”

“Don’t be crazy. It’s not even raining. You’re nuts!” And then they would go on their way. They come back: “Are you still building that thing?”

“Yes I am.”

Mr. Noah built an ark.
The people thought it such a lark.
And Mr. Noah pleaded so,
But into the ark they would not go.
And down came the rain in torrents,
And the animals went in two by two—
The elephant, the bear, and the kangaroo—
And all were safely stowed inside
Until that dreadful flood arrived.
And down came the rain in torrents.

“It’ll never happen,” they said. “You’re an idiot.”

Well, my name is not Noah. But it’s not uncommon for somebody to essentially say that to me. And you may be thinking it yourself right now. And the fact that you are is an indication of what Paul says in Romans chapter 8: that the natural mind is at enmity with God. And one of the places that it is most clearly obvious is in people saying, “No, I’ll prepare to buy some of it, but I am not buying the idea of a judgment.”

No! Well, what would you rather do? Are you gonna spurn God’s mercy and go with justice? “I want what I want. I want to get what I deserve.” That’s Portia, isn’t it? That great soliloquy in The Merchant of Venice, when she pleads with Shylock. And in just that little, tiny section she says to him, “Though justice be thy plea, consider this—that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation. We do [then] pray for mercy.”[25] “For mercy.” Because, you see, God’s mercy is more.

Well, why did the people perish? Because they wouldn’t believe. They wouldn’t believe the messenger. They wouldn’t heed the warnings. What did they have to do to perish? Nothing! Nothing. And if you are outside of the ark, if you are outside of Christ this morning, let me tell you what you have to do: nothing. Because we are by nature lost, wicked, accountable, without excuse, facing the prospect of judgment, and in this moment being reminded of God’s mercy.

People do what they want to do. I do what I want to do. Most people will die with or without the faith with which we have lived. Let me say that to you again: most people will die with or without the faith with which we have lived. So if you are living in unbelief and you remain in unbelief, you will die in unbelief—so that the decision that you have made for yourself to say “It’s crazy, it doesn’t matter, it isn’t gonna happen” will be the reason that you find yourself there in the end.

And if you say to yourself, “Well, what about Jesus in all of this?” Well, think about it. Not only did Jesus use Noah as an incentive in relationship to this very matter, when he says to them in chapter 24, “Concerning [the] day [that I’m gonna come back or] hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father …. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Interestingly, Jesus clearly believed in a literal Noah, didn’t he? And a literal flood. He didn’t think for a moment it was a mythology. “As in those days before the flood they were eating,” they were “drinking,” they were “marrying,” they were “giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark.”[26] And he shut the door of the ark. And there will be a day when the door shuts, when the door of opportunity closes—and you never know when that day is.

But the point of it is, forget that day for the moment. Today is today. And the mercy of God extends to you. It’s a sign, isn’t it? It’s a wonderful sign. The ark is a picture of refuge. Actually, it’s the picture of the sole place of refuge. There was nowhere else to go. There was only one place to go. And Jesus is the only one to whom we can go. Jesus is the place of refuge.

The ark comes to rest. The door that had been closed now opens to a bright new future. The seasons will follow according to God’s plan—8:22—pointing us, as the Bible does, the spotlight moving, as it were, through the Bible all the time, keeping fastening on Jesus. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find the [babe] wrapped in swaddling cloths.”[27] And the wise men set out, and they followed a star, which would lead them.[28] And the ark is a sign to us of the mercy of God, in the midst of his rightful judgment, which is saying, “Get in! Get in!”

“And by the way,” he says, “I have one further sign. I’m going to put my bow in the sky.” I find it quite fascinating that the rainbow has been commandeered. You would almost think that the devil who is behind all the conflict has at least something to do with the choice of the flag—the very sign of God’s mercy in the midst of judgment, seized hold of in the midst of the conflict and turned into a story entirely different. It actually is not a rainbow first. It is a bow. It doesn’t say “a rainbow.” It is a rainbow. But the bow is a war bow. It is the picture of a bow and an arrow. And the bow spans from place to place. And it is there—as a reminder to God, it says, “When I see that, I will remember my covenant.” It’s a reminder to him. When we see it, it is then a reminder to us that God has established a covenant. But the question is, where’s the arrow? And in which direction does the arrow point? It points at God, points at Jesus. He takes the arrow. He goes under the sword. He endures the hell, in order that we, on account of his mercy, might be able to walk straight into his arms.

Well, I say to you—I plead with you—if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart.[29] Believe! Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved[30]—from sin, from the judgment. And people say, “Ach, I don’t think so.” Until of course God works in your heart, and you find yourself saying, “I do believe.” Hey,

The gospel train is comin’,
I hear it right at hand,
And there’s room for many-a more!
Get on board, little children,
Get on board![31]

Father, thank you that we have your mercy displayed even in the midst of your just judgment. Thank you that at the cross of your dearly beloved Son, your justice, your punishment was extended. You weren’t indifferent to man’s rebellion; it was dealt with finally and savingly in Christ. “Mercy there was great, and grace was free,” and “pardon there was multiplied to me,” and there at the cross we find liberty.[32] Help us today to hear your voice, and in hearing it to obey. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] Hebrews 9:28 (NIV).

[2] See Genesis 3:17–19.

[3] Genesis 4:23 (paraphrased).

[4] See James 1:13–15.

[5] Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996), 127.

[6] Matt Papa and Matt Boswell, “His Mercy Is More” (2016).

[7] Isaiah 57:20 (ESV).

[8] James 1:14 (ESV).

[9] See Romans 8:7.

[10] Psalm 14:1 (KJV). See also Psalm 53:1.

[11] Job 1:7 (paraphrased).

[12] See Genesis 1:6–10.

[13] Matthew 8:27 (KJV). See also Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25.

[14] See Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11.

[15] 2 Peter 3:3–4 (paraphrased).

[16] Acts 17:31 (paraphrased).

[17] Romans 1:27 (paraphrased).

[18] Genesis 6:8 (KJV).

[19] Kristyn Getty, “What Grace Is Mine” (2009).

[20] Genesis 6:8 (KJV).

[21] Henry F. Lyte, “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” (1834).

[22] Genesis 6:22 (ESV).

[23] 2 Peter 2:5 (ESV)

[24] 2 Peter 2:5 (NIV).

[25] William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.

[26] Matthew 24:36–38 (ESV).

[27] Luke 2:12 (ESV).

[28] See Matthew 2:1–11.

[29] See Hebrews 3:15.

[30] See Acts 16:31.

[31] “The Gospel Train.” Lyrics lightly altered.

[32] William R. Newell, “At Calvary” (1895).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.