First Sunday in Advent – November 27, 2016

Lessons About Judgment Day From Noah and the Flood

  1. Its unexpected nature doesn’t change its certainty
  2. Let its future coming define your present time
  3. It will be a day of destruction AND deliverance

Sermon based on Genesis 6:9-22; 7:11-23

In our gospel this morning Jesus, when talking about Judgment Day, says, “in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away” (Matthew 24:38,39). Since Jesus uses Noah and the flood as a point of reference when talking about Judgment Day, it means there’s something for us to learn there. It means some insight can be gleaned when we study this historical account that God has recorded for us in his Word. So let us do just that – let us go back and see what lessons about Judgment Day we learn from Noah and the flood.

Its unexpected nature does not change its certainty

There are many things that happen unexpectedly in this life, but when it comes right down to it, probably nothing more so than one’s death. No one knows the day or hour of its coming. But here’s the thing - even though we don’t know when it is going to happen, that doesn’t change its certainty. Everyone dies. Outside of Enoch and Elijah whom the Lord took directly to heaven, 1 out of every 1 person dies.

There is another event that took place a little over 6,000 years ago that happened unexpectedly. For 1600+ years, since Adam and Eve fell into sin, things had been going on like they always had. Children grew and grandchildren were born. The ground was worked and crops were yielded. People died. But then we read: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood.”

It must have been a shock for Noah to hear this. It’s possible that at this time he had never seen rain (Genesis 2:5,6). Who knows if Noah was even near a large body of water? And yet God tells him to build an ark. God didn’t tell him when it had to be done. He didn’t tell him when he would need it. He simply says, build it. When I put an end to all people you will need it. The destruction will come unexpectedly.

But the unexpected nature of it did not change its certainty. God made that clear by repeating himself when he spoke to Noah. “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.” Even though years would go by. Even though life would go on like normal. Even though to the physical eye it didn’t seem as if anything would change. The destruction of the flood came, just like God said it would.

There is a lesson for us to learn here, and it is simply this - the unexpected nature of Judgment Day does not change the certainty that it is coming. In our gospel lesson Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). To our physical eyes, things haven’t seemed to change much over the years, have they? Oh sure, there have been advancements in medicine. There have technology revolutions. But things seem to continue just as they always have. People are born, people die. People eat, and people sleep. Yes, people are doing the things they have always done. It doesn’t seem like things will ever change.

But don’t for that reason be lulled to sleep! Don’t for that reason think it won’t happen! Just because Judgment Day is going to come unexpectedly doesn’t change the certainty of its coming. Just because it looks like things will always be the same doesn’t mean it won’t come in the twinkling of the eye. Let the lesson of the flood be a warning for us. And then, let the certainty of Judgment Day define your present time.

Let its future coming define your present time

Sometimes you hear about how people who have been given only a few months to live will put together a list of goals they want to achieve, dreams they want to fulfill, or life experiences they desire to experience before they die. It’s often called a bucket list. Another way we could describe what they are doing is saying they are letting their future define their present.

That’s what Noah did after God came to him with his announcement that he was going to destroy the world with a flood. Just imagine what must have gone through his mind. God had just come to him with the news of destruction. It would be reasonable to think that Noah would have started off in a flurry of activity. He would have set off to gather the wood. He would have collected what he needed to hold it together. He would have carefully begun the work.

But then the days would have drifted into weeks, and weeks into months, and months into years. The construction was difficult. Perhaps there were setbacks. And had he become the running joke and laughing-stock of the people around him? One wonders if there weren’t days he was tempted to quit.

After all, while he carried on the long and tiring work his neighbors and the rest of the world were enjoying life. They were doing the things that people want to do. They were getting together for parties. They were carrying out home improvement projects. They were taking life easy. After all, there had been no change in the day to day affairs that made it look like this destruction was any closer now than it was when God first told him. Who of us would have been quick to give Noah a pass if he had decided to take some time off; if he had told himself he could take care of this ark later, he had plenty of time; if he had looked around and said, “It doesn’t look like this is going to happen for a while, why not have some fun while I can.”

But that isn’t what Noah did, because he let the future coming of the flood define his present time. Instead we hear that Noah was “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” When Noah is called “blameless” you might get the impression that he was sinless. But that word would be better translated “complete.” When a table has four legs and a top, it’s complete, even though it may still have some nicks and stains. And so it was with Noah.

He too was stained with sin. But Noah remained “complete” and righteous in God’s eyes because he continued to trust in the Lord for forgiveness. And this faith wasn’t hidden away! It was obvious in his daily life. That’s what it means that he “walked with God.” Noah didn’t just say the right things about God; he did the right things. This is seen in the way he responded to God’s command: “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” The future coming of the flood defined his present time.

And there is the lesson for us: the way we live, our present time, is to be defined by our knowledge of the unexpected coming of Judgment Day. But is it? Is our worship and repentant life defined by the coming of Judgment Day? Are the things we choose for fun and recreation and the way we use our money defined by the coming of Judgment Day? Do our goals in life, the longings of our heart, and the voice we listen to most reflect a life defined by Judgment Day? Are the words we speak, the images our eyes view, and the company we keep defined by the coming of Judgment Day?

I don’t need to answer those questions for you, do I? All too often they are all too obvious. We see it in hearts that are set on things here below rather than things above. We see it with a love devoted to stuff more than to God. We see in just how many hours and days and weeks and months go by where consideration to Judgment Day doesn’t even cross our mind.

Paul, in our second lesson this morning, described well what it means to let the future coming of Judgment Day define our present time: “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:11-14).

I wonder how many of us would have wanted to give Noah a pass if he had set aside work on the ark to “live life a little” because we know just how many times we have set aside our Christian walk because we wanted to join the ways of the world. But that’s not the way it works! Every day that Noah built that ark he was preaching to those around him that they needed to repent; that they needed to let the coming judgment of the flood define their present time. But those who scorned Noah’s message were not given such a pass. Neither will those who have not let the coming of Christ on Judgment Day define their present time. However, for those who in faith have clothed themselves with the Lord Jesus, that day will be a day of deliverance.

It will be a day of destruction AND deliverance

Now, we usually think of the flood as an awesome act of destruction – and to be sure, it was that. Moses makes that clear in chapter seven of our lesson as he says, “Every living thing that moved on the earth perished…Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth.”

But as Moses makes what happened to the billions of screaming, blaspheming unbelievers unmistakably clear, he also highlights something else: “For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth…the ark floated on the surface of the water…Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.” The waters that brought destruction were the same waters that lifted the ark with its precious cargo high above all death and destruction.

And again, there is a lesson in this for us: while Judgment Day will bring destruction on all those who rejected Jesus as their Savior, it will be a day of deliverance for all who trust in him. And that’s you! That’s you who through the waters of baptism were clothed with Christ. That’s you, who through the Word have had that faith nourished and kept alive. That’s you, who through faith confess and believe that the only way you can stand before your Judge on Judgment Day is through the merits of Jesus Christ your Savior from sin.

That’s because Jesus has already endured your judgment day. That happened when he hung on Calvary’s cross. While there, God looked at him and pronounced, “guilty” – guilty of your sins, my sins, the sins of the world. While there, God looked on him and said, “worthy of punishment,” – the punishment of death and God-forsaken hell. That’s exactly what Jesus endured while hanging on the cross, but not for his own sins but for the sin of each and every one of you. But when he was done enduring your judgment day, he rose from the dead and announced a new verdict – innocent, because I have paid it all.

So now, just as you slip an oven mitt over your hands to keep them from burning when you reach into a hot stove, so we must “slip on” Jesus through faith. Jesus’ righteousness can protect us from the eternal flames of God’s judgment. Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf, and the faith to trust that he did that for me, for you, makes the Day of Judgment one that will be a day of deliverance.

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Everything that has been written in the past was written to teach us” (Romans 15:4). How true that is as we look at the words of our lesson today. The account of Noah and the flood teach us about the coming of God’s judgment. It will be unexpected, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t certain. While we, God’s children through faith wait for that day, we let it define the way we live in the present. As we do that, living in repentant faith, clothed with the righteousness of Jesus our Savior, we know that day for us will be a day of unexpected grace. Amen.