July 29 2012 Sermon
The OT reading in its context:
18 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him.
19 Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark.
20 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.
21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD 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. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.
22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
(Gen 8:18-22 ESV)
Genesis 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.
2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered.
3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.
4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.
7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” (Gen 9:1-7 ESV)
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, aI establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 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. 11 aI 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.” 12 And God said, a”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: 13 I have set amy bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 aI 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. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember athe everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 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.”
The flood had just come to an end. All mankind had been wiped out and God was starting over with Noah. We even notice the language used in Genesis 9: “God said to Noah, ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens…’” Now compare that to what God told Adam: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
God is repeating the same things to Noah that he said to Adam. God was starting over fresh with Noah as the lord of creation, God’s steward to care for God’s world. And so in our pericope today, God made a covenant with Noah.
Now what is a covenant? Let’s take a moment to explore the meaning of covenant and what it means to be a people in a covenant relationship with God. First of all, a covenant is a legally binding promise. It is not a bilateral contract. It is something a king imposes on his people with his promise to protect and provide for them. Or it is the promise of an inheritance, such as a will and testament. In this case God is making a promise to this restart of mankind. God’s covenant promise binds him to man and obligates to fulfill his promise.
Now this is really a remarkable thing. Usually we think of gods as sitting on thrones and ruling over humans. And when humans don’t do what they want, they punish the humans. Humans are expected to serve and obey their gods. But this God, our God, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the God who created heaven and earth is a different sort of God. He is set apart from other gods. He is unique. He is holy. He alone obligates himself to his creation to be its servant, its caretaker, its friend, and its savior.
What does it mean to be the covenant people of God? When God makes a covenant with man he bonds himself to mankind. And the word frequently used in the Bible to describe that bond is “marriage.” God is the husband and his people are his wife. In fact, human marriage is really just a copy of or an analogy of what is the true meaning of marriage; the bond between God and man. God’s covenant people are different from the rest; they live in the First Commandment: they fear, love and trust in God above all things. The first desire of their heart is God. They live for God, and they die for God. To God’s covenant people being in the presence of God is far better than life itself. To understand, look at the covenant God made with Israel: God said, “If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” And you shall separate yourselves from other nations, from their gods, from their worship. And He told them to “make a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” In other words, God’s dwelling place is with his people. God lives with and in his covenant people. Covenants, even between men, were signed with some sort of a sign, usually animal sacrifices were made and a meal of the sacrificed animals was shared between the parties of the covenant. And God’s covenants are no different. God signed his covenant with Israel in blood. An altar was built. Sacrifices were offered, blood was shed and sprinkled on the altar and on the people, and God shared a meal with Moses and the elders on the mountain. All of these served as signs of the promise God made to his people.
But the looming question in our text is, “Why is God starting over with Noah, what went wrong the first time he created man?” We all know what Adam did. And by the time we get to Genesis 6 God spells out his complaint clearly: “The wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Sounds like us today! It goes on to say that “God regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
Now if being the covenant people of God is like a marriage, then the wickedness and evil intentions and thoughts of the heart, such as self-love, selfishness, desire to do as we please without regard to what God wants is the same as being unfaithful in marriage or seeking a divorce. It pains God to the heart. And that’s something we don’t often consider. God was wounded, he was grieved to his heart. His wife was unfaithful and went whoring after other gods, such as self-interest, pride, pleasure, autonomy, independence. We have divorced ourselves from God. And as God says, “I am a jealous God…”
So, God was grieved to the heart and he repented of having made man, therefore he wiped out mankind with a flood and started over with one man, Noah. And here we arrive at our text this morning. God made a covenant with Noah. It was like the covenant he had made with Adam. A covenant promise that he would never again destroy the earth with a flood. Noah and his sons and all their descendents were the recipients of this promise.
As always the covenant was signed at the altar with sacrifices of animals and birds. As for a meal, God set a table for Noah consisting of every moving thing that lives and the green plants. And for a sign God put one in the clouds—a rainbow. God said, “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 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.” When God sees the sign of the rainbow, he remembers his covenant promise to Noah and all the earth.
But man continues to break God’s heart. God is wounded again. Man continues to rebel against him. Once again, his bride was unfaithful to him. Just stop to imagine the pain that your husband or wife would feel if you were unfaithful. Just to see your spouse in such pain is like burning coals poured over your head. You drown in your own tears of sorrow and regret to have caused pain to the person you love. Yet that’s what you and I do to God each and every day. Every day when we act on our own judgments, doing what is in our own self interest. Trying to achieve our own goals without regard for what God desires. Every time we put ourselves or our family or friends or work or money before God we are grieving God to the heart. We are just as wicked and sinful as a spouse who commits adultery. And we deserve and will receive just as horrible a punishment. Truth is, our hearts are not set on God. He is not our first love. He is not the desire of heart. And all that is sin against the First Commandment, which is the most important of all the commandments. We are unfaithful partners in this marriage.
But God cannot be unfaithful to his bride. Through the prophet Jeremiah God said: “Behold, the days are coming…when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers…my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people…and I will remember their sins no more.”
And so he did! Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus walking on the water showed that he was still the God who ruled over the earth and seas. The God who set the rainbow in the sky and made a covenant with all creation. Jesus is a new covenant. In the book of Hebrews it says, “In speaking of a new covenant he makes the first one obsolete. You have come to Mount Zion and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant and to the sprinkled blood…” Like the covenants of old, this new one was signed at the altar; the altar was in the shape of a cross. The Lamb for the sacrifice was the very Son of God. And the blood that was poured out on the cross is sprinkled on the people in their Baptism.
How about a meal? Is there a meal to share with God in this new covenant? Yes! Holy Communion, where we don’t just sit down to dine with God, rather God is the meal; the very food and drink. When God spread the table before Noah he said, “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” The blood was forbidden, because the blood is the life. But in the new covenant, we are to drink the blood of Christ because the blood is life. In the blood of Christ is life, eternal life. It is the blood of Christ that gives us forgiveness of our sins and everlasting life.
Are there signs for the new covenant? Yes! The Sacraments are signs of the covenant. That’s why a Sacrament always has a physical, material element: it is a visible sign of God’s promise to forget your sins. How interesting, God set the rainbow in the clouds as a sign to remind him of his promise. But the sign of the cross is for him to forget something—he forgets your sins. In Holy Communion he says, “As oft as you drink in my remembrance.” He remembers his covenant. He remembers his promise to forget your sins.
And so those who are baptized are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, washed by the blood of the Lamb for the forgiveness of sins, and they become the bride of Christ, bound to God by marriage. You are a holy nation set apart from all others. You are people of the covenant whose desire is for God, whose heart is set on God above all other things. Whose lives center on God, not on yourselves. Who love God more than life itself. You are set apart from the rest of the world. You do not live like the world. You do not act like the world. You do not talk like the world. You have a different value system; a different direction in life; a different goal. Your heart is set on God, not on the things of this world. Your treasures are in heaven, not stored up on earth. You “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…you are not conformed to his world, but are transformed by the renewal of their minds.” (Romans 12:1-2).
Those who are baptized into Christ, who walk by faith, believe that their sins are forgiven, They are God’s covenant people who trust in his promises and have been covered by the righteousness of Christ. They are citizens of the heavenly kingdom. They are the heirs of heaven.
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe…” (Hebrews 12:22-29). Amen.