The Third Sunday in Advent

Jesse Jacobsen

Printed December 19, 2017

God is Faithful

Noah and his family experienced dark times. They lived on the earth before the Flood, when the wickedness and violence of men had increased beyond what God would permit. Noah had followed God’s command for 120 years, building a huge vessel on dry ground that nobody could miss. “Ethel, you won’t believe what that crazy neighbor’s doing now.” For 120 years. Meanwhile, the wickedness of the earth only increased.

Then came loading time, and a different sort of darkness. Enclosed within the ark, Noah and his small family had to manage a sampling of every kind of earthly creature for a year. I don’t care how big the ark was. It surely seemed cramped in there with only seven other people to talk to. No doubt the parrots learned a few words. What an experience! Unloading day came not a minute too soon.

Consider also what was happening outside during that journey. At first, it was the rain. Not drumming. Not pounding. It was a roaring earthquake of water. When it reached the ark, it swirled that huge mass like a cork, bobbing and blowing, through roll, pitch, and yaw over forty days and forty nights. Through the next year, the waters rolled and boiled as the continents shifted below. Oceans dropped out and mountains began thrusting upward toward the heavens. The Earth was remade.

Noah’s family was safe, tucked away by God himself into their boat, just as we’re tucked into the refuge of His Church. Then came unloading day. So God made good on His earlier promise to Noah (Genesis 6:17–18), and his family saw firsthand that God is faithful. So do you, as you continually receive your new life from the waters of holy baptism, where God makes good on His promise, and seals you with another.

Genesis 8:15–22

Then God spoke to Noah, saying, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds and cattle and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, so that they may abound 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 him. Every animal, every creeping thing, every bird, and whatever creeps on the earth, according to their families, went out of the ark. Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.

“While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat,
Winter and summer,
And day and night
Shall not cease.”

Noah waited until God gave him the command to leave the ark. Surely he would have liked to leave the ark earlier than he did, but the memory of the cataclysm was fresh. Every breathing thing out there had died. Every breathing thing. Who wants any part of that?

So Noah waited. He had much practice waiting, just as God had waited while Noah built the ark (1 Pe. 3:20), so Noah waited until God said it was time to go. So must we all wait for God’s time. When we do not, then we sin much the same way that Eve and Adam did when they fell into sin.

Imagine, if you can, the wonder that Noah and his family felt when they left the ark. Was the sky a different color? Did they see for miles and miles from the side of Mount Ararat? Was there a haze below them, over the land? Noah was looking at his new home, the earth made new by the Great Flood. It was still reeling from the aftereffects, but it was home. Through the waiting, God had kept His promise.

The first thing Scripture mentions after the ark was empty is this: “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” Why did he do this? Because Noah is who he is. Remember back in Genesis 6(:9)? “Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.” As always, this scripture must be interpreted by scripture itself. It therefore does not mean that Noah was a perfect man, for he’s also a son of fallen Adam and Eve. But calling him a “just” man should call to mind the words of the prophet Habbakuk, “The just shall live by his faith.” That Noah was a just man means that he believed God’s promises. In other words, trusted in God’s forgiveness, and lived accordingly.

So Noah descended from the high place where the ark rested, and his family continued worshiping the God who promised to deliver us from sin, death, and the devil. He built his altar and sacrificed from the clean animals that had been preserved that last year on the ark.

You may be distracted by this, thinking that Noah was causing some kinds of creatures to become extinct with this sacrifice. But God had told him to bring one pair of most animals, and seven pairs of certain animals. It was from the seven pairs that Noah made his sacrifice.

You may also be distracted by the bloody, almost gruesome nature of this act of worship. Animals died here. You may think that such a faith is uncivilized. But this practice of animal sacrifices goes back to the time when Seth was born, and Genesis 4 says, “Then men began to call on the name of the LORD.” In fact, you could even trace the practice of sacrifices earlier to Abel, whose sacrifice from his flock was pleasing to God. If we push it a little, we could even recall how God clothed Adam and Eve: with the skins and furs of animals. It pleased Him to take the lives of those animals and bestow a blessing on the objects of His mercy.

Don’t take the practice of sacrifices as a barbaric, but rather as a lesson about our own sinful condition. As Paul wrote, “The wages of sin is death,” (Rom. 6:23) so that only through death can God be pleased with people like us. Only death can bring cleansing for sinners. That was the essence of God’s chief promise as far back as Genesis 3, where he said to the serpent, “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” The promised savior would also have to die.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re obviously not perfect, but death? Are you really that bad? The death penalty is reserved for the worst criminals. Maybe you deserve a slap on the wrist. Maybe you deserve to be locked up. For a while. But death?

Yes. You’ve put in the work, the work that God calls sin. Your wages are inevitable. You’ve broken God’s law as it applies to all of the responsibilities He’s given to you. Toward yourself. Toward spouse, children, and parents. Toward friends and enemies. Toward coworkers, fellow students, and neighbors. You have not prayed for them as you should. You have not helped them as you should. You have hurt and neglected them all as you should not.

We may think, “How wonderful it must have been for Noah’s family to live in the world! No other people to annoy them!” But judge from your own experience. They had each other. There was still plenty of opportunity to sin. Noah soon found one, after a year of food and drink on the ark: fresh wine from his own vineyard! What a blessing it was, but how poorly Noah used it. In his drunkenness, he didn’t even realize the scandal he caused among his three sons, until later.

Yes, we have the same nature, and we deserve death too. But it says, “And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma.” He was pleased with the sacrifice of Noah. In fact, he called Noah just and had saved him from death in the Flood. Does this mean we also should be offering burnt sacrifices of clean animals? No, we have a better sacrifice, because God is faithful. After so much waiting, He kept the chief promise from Genesis 3.

“Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb. 9:12) Our High Priest is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Adam and Eve, the promise that Noah trusted too. It was not the little sacrifice of Noah that obtained his salvation, but the much greater sacrifice that it foreshadowed: the death of God’s only-begotten Son. By that death, God calls the world forgiven. There is not a sinner anywhere whose sins are too great for Jesus’ blood. We are all covered by that one sacrifice, and it empowers the promise that God attaches to us in holy baptism. We will be delivered like Noah from this world of death into the better world to come.

God loves to make and keep His promises. He said, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.” Then he described the changing seasons, perhaps new after the Flood. The passage of time will continue through its regular changes, He said, until the very end. He gave that promise upon receiving the offering of Noah.

Then, because God loves to do things this way, He attached a sign to His promise. It’s a sacred sign whose meaning has mostly been forgotten in the world, yet the sign remains because the promise still holds. It’s the rainbow. Yes, you can describe how the light is refracted through water droplets in the atmosphere, but that’s as far as science will take you. You need God’s Word to answer the question from Luther’s Catechism: What does this mean? The rainbow is a reminder of God’s promise, and therefore of God’s grace. It was God’s gift to Noah and his children, including us, so that we will know that He remembers His promise forever.

It’s not surprising that in today’s gospel lesson Jesus also pointed the disciples of John to signs. By these signs they could recognize their Savior: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” You can’t see Jesus performing those signs, but He’s given something better to you. He has joined His forgiveness to water, applied in God’s holy name. He has united His holy word to bread and wine, and sent His ministers to speak words of absolution in your ear. Noah’s faith was strengthened by the rainbow. You have been likewise given a new and better life for a new and better world, founded in God’s promise and sealed to you by the holy signs and tokens of His love.

Your sin is forgiven. Your sacrifice has been made and accepted before the throne of God. Your new life in Christ awaits you every morning, and forever.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria