Every religion around the world has a list of different things a person has to do in order to get to heaven. Some have to pray a certain number of times every day, others have to chant mantras, while others have to perform a lifetime of good works. And yet, none of those things can make us right with God. There is only one way to know for sure that our sins are forgiven and that we will spend eternity in heaven. Are you sure you’ve received the right cure for sin?
It’s Time to Stop and Build an Altar
The first thing Noah and his family did when the flood ended was to build an altar and give thanks to God for delivering them. Altars were piles of rocks that also served as reminders of God’s faithfulness to future generations. When is the last time you stopped and “built an altar” in some way to give God thanks for His goodness to you, or to serve as a memorial to your family of God’s faithfulness? Why not make time to do it this week. You’ll be amazed at the impact it will have on your life and on the lives of those around you!
You think back on your childhood, and I don’t know what kind of family you grew up in, I didn’t grow up in a family where my parents taught us rehearsed prayers, or things like that. They’re fine for kids, but I know there are a lot of rehearsed prayers that some kids learn. If you think back on one of them in particular, it never dawned on me until recent years the actual words of this prayer and how literally terrifying they must be to a little child. Think about this, you put your little toddler to bed just before you turn out the lights, and you pray with them, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take” and then, “Good night, sweetie,” and you turn the lights out. This little child is laying there in the dark, eyes wide open, terrified, wondering what is about to happen. It’s true with a lot of nursery rhymes and bedtime stories. I never thought about it at the time. Think of the stories we read to our kids of ravenous wolves trying to eat Little Red Riding Hood, of trolls living under bridges, of evil queens poisoning people. These are horrible things we give to our children.
That dawned on me this week as we started looking last Sunday at Noah and the flood. The account of Noah and the ark and the flood is a story that has been told to Sunday school children around the world for years, and rightly so, but I’ve got to be honest with you, Noah and the flood is not exactly a kid-friendly story. We’ve softened it up, and we’ve made it into nice little flannel graph characters. Anybody remember flannel graph? That was before the digital age. We’ve softened it up, we’ve sweetened it up, and we’ve made it into a nice little cute story of Noah and his wife, Joan of Arc, and they were on the boat with the giraffes. They always have the giraffe’s head sticking out over the boat. We’ve made it this cute, fun little story, and we tell it to children, and everybody’s happy and eating lollipops in Sunday school. Folks, if we were to tuck our toddlers into bed, and share with them all the real details of the flood, they would be terrified. They would be sleeping in your bed for the next two weeks.
The fact is, the events of the flood as we saw a little bit last week are horrific. They’re terrifying. There are absolutely gut-wrenching details that we find in Genesis chapter 6 through 8, especially 7 and 8. The awful account of man’s sin that became so horrible, that became so vile across the entire world, that it grieved the heart of God so much that He said, “I’m done. I’m done with this. I’m actually sorry that I made man.” I just will never get over that statement. I don’t know where to put that in the scheme of things. It grieved God’s heart, and the wickedness was so great, it was such a stench in the nostrils of God that He said, “I’m going to send a flood, and it’s going to cover the whole earth. I’m going to kill every living thing on the earth, except what is inside the ark.” That’s the real story of Noah and the ark. It’s a very, very gruesome story.
We sang this morning about God being a good father, and I couldn’t help but think of what some people think about that concept when they hear the story of Noah and the flood. They cringe when they hear Christians talking about a good God because they can’t get past this idea that this supposedly good God brought about such a terrible event as this. I told you last week about the guy many years ago, and I won’t mention his name for the sake of the recording, but you know who you are out there. He laughed at me and said, “Oh, oh your God, the one who killed everybody on the planet with a flood, and He’s also the loving God, the One who loves everybody.” There’s so many people who have a hard time understanding, and I understand why. If they’ve never read the Bible, if they don’t know this God, they think that a God of love should never judge, that He’s either loving or He’s a God of judgment, that you can’t be both. Folks, that argument collapses on itself. Every time.
There’s a guy named Miroslav Volf, who lived through the horrible genocides in Croatia. I don’t often read long passages, but I really want you to hear this because I think it’s going to help put in perspective the fact that God is indeed a God of love, and at the same time, he must be a God of justice and a God of judgment. Just listen to this, and listen how vastly different this perspective is from our typical American viewpoint. He says this, “The only way a person can say that God is love, but never a God of justice, is if they have never experienced true injustice. When you watch your family and friends murdered, when you see your mother and father’s throats slit like I did, the only way you can keep it from driving you insane is by knowing that there is a God who will one day bring justice. Coming to America, I discovered that one of the deepest held American myths is this idea that a God of judgment leads you to be violent. In actuality, it’s the exact opposite. If you believe in a God who is all love, and no justice, you will seeth and rage with vengeance, and you’ll end up taking matters into your own hands. It is only when you believe that God will one day execute perfect justice, that you can lay the sword down out of your hand and be free from hatred and bitterness and the driving desire to avenge the wrong because you know that vengeance belongs to God.” There’s the true perspective.
How many times have I shared this verse with you about Jesus going through all the sufferings that He went through? He was mocked, He was accused, He was beaten, He was criticized, and lied about. Yet Peter says He did not retaliate. Instead, what did He do? Did He just bite His tongue? Did He just stuff it down? No, that’s not the answer. Miroslav gave us the answer. It’s the same thing Jesus did. Peter says, no, He didn’t retaliate. Instead, “He entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.” There’s the answer.
We live in a culture where people, even many pastors, never talk about, they never even think about sin or its devastating effects and how God, because of His love, must bring justice and judgment upon sin. We find this hard to understand. It really took me years to come to a place of true reckoning with this in my own logic and my own silly thinking, but God values justice and glory too much to let the wicked go unpunished. God’s glory comes far above everything else in the universe, and God loves you too much to let your sin go unpunished. He loves you too much to let you live on forever in wickedness. It’s hard for us to understand that.
Last week, we saw, as I said, the entire world had become so bad that there in Genesis 6:5, we saw it said, “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.” Then it says it grieved Him to the heart. Three of you asked me this week, one of you asked after the service, and then a couple of you got in touch with me this week about the first four verses of chapter 6. I don’t know if any of you read those. We didn’t cover those last week. These are some strange verses in the Bible. We’re teaching through the whole Bible, so, as I said at the beginning, we can’t cover every verse. These four verses are some that can lead us down a lot of side trails. The fact is, we don’t exactly know what these verses mean. Verse 2 talks about the sons of God that saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful, and they took any ones they wanted to as their wives. Verse 4 talks about the Nephilim, that they were on the earth in those days and after those days. It talks about the sons of God who came into the daughters of men and bore children to them. They were mighty men of old, men of renown.
There are a number of interpretations on what this means. Some think that the sons of men here are referring to angels, that angels crossed over into the human realm and interacted with women in that way. Some think that the sons of God here are referring to fallen angels. Others think that it’s people from the line of Seth. The fact is, folks, we don’t know. This has just been lost in time. But whatever was going on here, these verses are included here in Genesis 6 to add a few more dark brushstrokes to the painting. For God to just add some more in and say there was some vile, wicked stuff taking place in this time. Whatever was going on, God just wants us to know that there was intense evil taking place in this time.
Even during the midst of all this, we saw last week in verse 8, this beautiful statement, verse 8 and 9: “But Noah found favor”—or found grace—”in the eyes of the Lord.” And verse 9 says, “Noah walked with God.” That’s what we focused on last week, Noah walked with God. We asked the question, can we say the same thing of ourselves? Or better, can God say the same thing about us? If God were writing the Bible Version 2 about Greenville in 2019, and you and I were characters in that Bible without knowing it, what legacy would be left of us in that Bible? Would it say that Phil walked with God in this generation? Are you walking with God on Mondays? And Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and Fridays, and Saturdays? Oh, it’s easy to do it in here at 10:30 on Sunday morning. We’re surrounded by like-minded people. What about out there where people disagree with you? Even at home, I know some of you live in homes where you’re the only believer. You get criticized, you get pressured and pushed. It gets old after a while. Whether it’s at home, whether it’s at work, it just gets old. It wears you down after a while. Noah had put up with this for a long time. He was an old man, really old. And he was still walking with God in the midst of all this wickedness. What about you and I? Are we walking with God?
These chapters here, chapters 6 through 8, are much, much more than just a historical account of a flood or the flood that took place. If you slow down, and you look through these chapters, you’ll discover some amazing things, some amazing truths and principles that still apply to our lives today. They’re still so relevant to our lives. Things that will help you today, when you go home, tomorrow morning, when you hit that snooze button for the fifth time. They’ll help you with family issues, with life choices. Let’s take the few minutes that we have left and look at some of those.
For instance, I went back through an old Bible a couple of weeks ago, and I was just paging through this section of scripture from years ago in one of the Bibles I went through. Back at that time, one of the coloring systems I was using was through the Bible I marked every time somebody obeyed God. I marked it in green, because green is the color of “go.” Every time someone disobeyed God, I marked it in red. Now, you can just flip through and go, “Oh, somebody obeyed God right here. Somebody obeyed God there. Oh, somebody disobeyed God.” You go through the story of Noah, and you just see again and again, this guy just obeyed God. He did what God said.
You look at the life of Noah, and two things that stand out to me are his faith and his obedience to God. In Genesis 6:14, God comes to Noah amidst all this wickedness, and He commands him to build this ark, this massive, massive ship. Then, in verses 14 down to verse 21, you can see there, God gives Noah this list of ridiculous sounding, seemingly impossible instructions. They’re borderline laughable. It’s almost like he’s on a hidden camera TV show. I just would love to have seen Noah’s face in that moment, because Noah is a man who walked with God, and He obeyed God. But in this moment, I have to just believe Noah was standing there going, “Oh, come on. Really?” You should look at those verses, 14 to 21. They’re impossible.
Oh, and by the way, this was to be done nowhere near a body of water. Oh, and another by the way, this was done before one drop of rain had ever fallen on the earth. The earth was watered by a canopy of water back then. This boat was 450 feet long. A football field is 300 feet long. Do you understand the size of this thing? If God asked me to build a bass boat, I couldn’t do it. 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, 45 feet high.
This is an impossible task. But what does the very next thing say in verse 22? “Noah did all that God commanded him.” Are you kidding me? Noah did all that God commanded him. There’s a green verse for you. This isn’t just a one time thing of obedience. You see this pattern in Noah’s life. Over in chapter 7, verse 5, flip over and look at it. It says the same thing: “Noah did all that the Lord commanded him to do.” It’s this repeated pattern. What kind of pattern do you see in your life in this area? God prompts your heart for something, maybe in a church service, and you have some emotional response and you walk the aisle or something. “Oh God, I’m going to serve you in Ethiopia forever.” Twenty-four hours later, you’re screaming at your wife, and you’re mad, and you’re angry, and you’re yelling, and you’ve given up on the whole Christianity thing until the next Sunday morning when you have another emotional response, and it’s like this roller coaster ride with God. Your pattern is just all over the place.
I’m not saying Noah was perfect. We said last week, this guy was a sinner. He took sin with him on the ark. But he just had this pattern of saying, “All right, God, I’m your man. Whatever, I’m going to do it.” How did Noah do this? Why did Noah live this way? Well, if you flip all the way over to near the end of your Bible, in Hebrews 11:7, it tells us. It says, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events yet to come, in reverent fear, built an ark for the saving of his household.” There’s a lot in that verse, I’m not even going to pursue it. You chew on that on your own.
Noah believed God by faith, and he obeyed what God said to do, and all that time, all those years, building that ark, cutting that wood, hammering those pegs in, I just can’t even imagine the amount of labor that that took. And all the people walking by as this thing grew and took shape. Not a drop of water in sight. I mean, come on. They were human just like us. “Hey Noah, looking good, buddy! What a moron. What a crazy old dude he is. He’s lost his marbles. Building a boat. There’s no water around here anywhere. What a cuke.” Every time he opened his mouth to preach the truth to these people, his message had very little value to them because they saw him as a nut.
I have to tell you, in my younger years, I’m very guilty of driving down the street in my car and seeing an old, gray-bearded gentleman on the sidewalk with a sign “Repent or perish” and thinking, “What a nut.” God forgive me for that. I’m ashamed to admit that to you. I share it with you only to encourage you. Be very careful how you judge people by appearances. I should have known better. We look at others, and if they’re different from us, if they’re doing something that is so far out of our box, we just think they must be wrong. Shame on me. How do I know that that wasn’t a Noah in our time doing what God told him to do? If there had been an ark, I would have been on the outside, he would have been on the inside.
Noah, believed God by faith and sure enough, judgment fell. The floodwaters rose and covered the entire earth, and only the people who were inside the ark survived. That was Noah and his family. By the way, anyone who wanted to get in the ark could have, because over in the New Testament, 2 Peter 2:5 tells us that Noah preached righteousness. He wasn’t just building an ark. He was preaching the truth. “Repent, folks, repent! Judgment is coming.” “Oh, sure it is.” No one believed him. No one! What a “failure of a ministry.”
Jesus’ entire ministry appeared to be an utter failure. At one point He had tens of thousands of people. Luke tells us there were so many, they were trampling on each other. Oh, the church magazines would have written Him up as the fastest growing church in America. What a success! And yet a few years later, there He is hanging on a cross bleeding and dying. All of His disciples had left Him and abandoned Him, except for one. John stood there with Him. What an utter failure. But is it really? He went on to change the world. It wasn’t a failure at all.
I say that to encourage you, Sunday school teachers, outreach leaders, missionaries, whoever you are, whatever you’re doing for God. When you have those hopes in your heart of the results that you want to see, and you don’t see them, and you get in your car for the umpteenth time and drive away and feel so discouraged because you don’t see the results. All you have been called to do is be faithful, and you leave the results to God. I’ll tell you, that’s easier said than done. At some point in the future, I may call you to encourage me and remind me of this, because I struggle with it too.
In the midst of that horrible scene of the flood, I left you last week with this glorious reminder in chapter 8, verse 1, that God never forsakes or forgets those who trust in Him. In the midst of judgment and death and disaster and destruction. Chapter 8, verse 1 says, “But God remembered Noah…” Man, I love that. The Hebrew word there for “remembered” is not how we remember things, like we’re searching everywhere for our car keys, and then we go, “Oh, I remember where I left them.” That’s not what this word means. God didn’t forget Noah and then remember him. This word “remembered” means that Noah was on God’s mind. It’s a word that implies God was planning something for him. Do you get that? It’s a beautiful promise that we’re going to see again and again through the Old Testament. Make a mental note of this phrase “God remembered Noah” because we’re going to see it again and again through the Old Testament. I’m going to try to remember to highlight that as we go through the life of Abraham. We’re going to see this statement pop up over and over again of how God remembers people, even in their darkest times, especially in their darkest times.
Some of you right now—I know because we’ve talked—I know some of you are in some very, very troubling times right now. I know a couple of you, especially, you’re in times of real testing. You wish you had answers for the big questions that are looming, and you don’t. I just want to say to you again, God has not lost sight of you, even for a single second. God remembers you. Not that he ever forgot you, He remembers you because you are on His mind. You can trust Him through whatever you are going through. The tough thing is, the reason we forget that God remembers us is because His timing is so vastly different from ours. We say, “God, You promised.” “Yes.” “And Phil said the other week that God never breaks his promises.” “Yes.” So how do we align those two? Timing. We read in the Bible, God promised people this certain thing, and you turn the page, and you turn the page, and you turn the chapter, and you turn the book, and 400 years later, the promise comes true. You and I just can’t wait that long. I’ll tell you this, folks, God keeps His promises.
The flood comes just as God said it would, and by the way, a lot of people don’t realize how long Noah was on the ark. Some people misread the one verse in there, and they think that he was on the ark for 40 days. Noah was on the ark for 370 days, possibly 371, depending on how you count the first and the last day, whether you count them as half days or whole days, because we don’t know what time he got on the ark and what time he got off the ark. We’re not sure about that, but he was on the ark for a year. Can you imagine being stuck inside that box with your family–I mean with all those animals–for a year? I don’t know what the ventilation system was like, but a year stuck inside that thing. I don’t care how much you like animals, you’d want to get out after a year.
When the rains finally did let up, it took forever, then, to wait and to wait and to wait for the floods to go down. But even after all of that, even after all the testing and waiting, Noah didn’t leave the ark even after it tells us that he sort of pushed the cover up off the ark and looked out and saw dry ground. He still didn’t leave the ark. He waited for God’s command. This is interesting.
Genesis 8:15, flip over there now. I’ve given you a summary of chapter 7 and the first part of chapter 8. Chapter 8 verse 15 says this, “Then God said to Noah, ‘Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you.'” It’s interesting, this is easy to miss, but Noah had entered the ark only at God’s command. If you look back to Genesis chapter 7, verse 1, it says, “Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and all your household.'” Noah entered the ark only when God said to, and Noah exited the ark only when God said to. I’m not going to make too much of that, but I find that kind of interesting that Noah is just saying, “God, You tell me my next step. What do You want me to do? Do you want me to sit here another year in this ark? I’ll wait for You. You tell me what to do.”
Now they’re finally off the ark, and what’s the first thing Noah does? Chapter 8, verse 20: “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord.” It doesn’t tell us, but he didn’t get off the ark and just run in circles going, “Whoo!” I don’t know, maybe he did for a while, but the first significant thing he did was he stopped, he gathered everybody together, got some rocks, they piled them up, and Noah said, “Guys, we’re going to stop and we are going to worship God, and we are going to give Him thanks for sparing us and for bringing us through this horrible time. We’re going to thank Him for His salvation to our family. This is going to serve as a memorial for us, that every time we see this pile of rocks, we’re going to remember what God has done for us.” That makes me wonder, are we too quick to get back to our lives, to our busyness, to our routines after God has done something for us, without stopping and remembering to worship Him and give thanks?
Over the last couple of weeks, thinking about this sermon, there are so many moments in my life that I can remember our family building an altar and thanking God. I don’t mean out of rocks, but I mean building an altar, and stopping wherever we were and building a memorial. Here’s one that stands out: Many, many years ago when I was a teenager, my dad and I were traveling back from somewhere in the car. This was before the seatbelt laws. Nobody wore seatbelts. You just didn’t think about it. We were near the end of our trip. We had been driving all day, hours and hours in the car, no seatbelts. My dad turned to me and said, “Son, I think we should put our seatbelts on.” And I said, “Okay,” and we reached and we pulled and “Click!” “Click!” I’m telling you, it couldn’t have been two minutes. Within moments as the highway bent to the right, as we went around the corner, we couldn’t see, but the traffic had come to a complete stop. We stopped just in time behind the car in front of us, but there was a truck behind us, and the guy wasn’t paying attention, and he slammed right into the back of our car. If we had not had our seat belts on, it would have been a very different ending.
Well, first of all, thank God for speaking to my father in that moment. You want to tell me God doesn’t still speak to people today? Give me a break. But here’s what I remember from that moment. If you’ve ever been in an accident, especially on a busy highway, you get out and it’s like this blur of noise and everything. We got out, we made sure everybody was okay, and then my dad, you know, he’s on his crutches, and we make our way over to the guardrail, and I stand beside him, and I remember him saying, “Son, let’s give God thanks for sparing us.” There we are on the side of this busy highway, cars going back and forth, and there we stopped, and we built an altar to God.
I think in a way, it’s a shame that we don’t build actual altars anymore. Back in the Old Testament times, you could be walking on those dusty roads, and you’d see in the distance, a pile of stones. It would be a visible reminder that God met with someone there, something happened there. Families, are you building altars? If for no other reason so that your kids will know after you’re gone. What are your kids going to have to remind them that God was faithful with you all the way? If your kids rebel after you’re gone, what are they going to have to look to? To remind them that old mom and dad stuck with it all the way? They were faithful through thick and thin, and more than that, God was faithful.
What we see in this account of the flood is a new beginning. It is a fresh start that God gave to mankind. If you compare Genesis 9:1, with Genesis chapter 1, verse 28, the similarities are clear. When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them a direct commission, and Adam and Eve messed up that first opportunity for life and for blessing, so God wiped the slate clean, and He’s now beginning again with Noah. In chapter 9, verse 1, God, almost word for word, repeats what He told Adam in Genesis 1:28. It says, God blessed them, He instructed them to be fruitful and multiply, He gave them dominion over creation, He provided food for them, and so on. You see that Genesis 1 was the real beginning, but Adam and Eve destroyed that.
Now, God is providing another beginning for man, and this theme we’ll see throughout the Bible. In fact, the whole Bible goes from creation in Genesis to a new creation in Revelation because man just can’t stop messing things up. The Bible says that at the end of all this, there will be a new heaven and a new earth. This flood that God sent was, in a sense, a way to give man the opportunity to have a clean start. But it’s interesting to see, and we’ll see this more next week, that even in this new beginning that God made possible, it doesn’t take long for man to completely mess everything up again.
I could have played the role of Noah pretty well. Maybe you could have to. God could have said, “Phil, look what I’m doing for you, buddy. I’m giving you a new start. Clean slate, fresh blessings. Get at it, boy.” And a week later, I’ve already messed up. We see that with Noah. Why do we see that? It’s because no matter how hard man tries, he simply cannot fix himself. He simply cannot rid himself of this disease called sin. It’s through this repeated process that God is demonstrating to mankind just what is required to provide a true solution, a true remedy for this eternal sickness called sin.
All of man’s attempts to “do better,” all of man’s attempts to restart himself, to renew himself, to make a better go of things, to provide a solution for sin. All of those attempts end in failure and frustration and defeat, and they all point us to the need for a completely new kind of salvation, a new answer. That solution, that remedy, we find in the One who will come. From Noah’s standpoint, He is yet to come. The new Noah who will come, and He will be the ark, and all who are in Him will become new creations. Second Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Let me close by asking you this morning, are you in that ark that is called Christ? If you are, I’d encourage you this week sometime to stop and build an altar of thanks. Been a while since you’ve done that? Stop and build an altar however you want to do that and say, “God, thank You. Thank You so much for what You’ve done for me. Here is a small token of my gratitude, my remembrance, my thanks to You for what You have done for me.”
If you are saved, I also want to encourage you this week to think of all the restarts God has graciously given to you over the years. Anybody got some restarts? God is so gracious. God should have squashed me a long time ago, but He doesn’t. He’s patient with those who love Him and seek Him. He remembers that we are dust, thank God. He gives us restart after restart because He knows that the true renewal, the true new creation cannot ever happen with us here. It will only happen physically, permanently when we are with Him.
When’s the last time you built an altar and said, “God, thank You for all the restarts You’ve given me. Wow. Thank you.” And if you don’t know Christ this morning, the door is still open to the ark right now. You have an opportunity today to run into it and be saved. I would love to show you how to do that if you would like to know.