Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
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.”” (Genesis 9:8–17, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Today, I'm going to tell you a story. By a story I don't mean something that is fiction. This story is absolutely true and happened exactly as the Bible tells it. This is the story of the great flood that destroyed all the Earth except for the seven members of Noah's family that were safely tucked inside the ark. One of the things I want you to understand from this story is that it is not a cute children's tale. Instead, it is a story of God's anger and wrath over sin. For us it's tainted by children's pictures of cute animals going into the ark two by two. When we see it that way we miss the depth of God's anger and his righteous judgment over sin.
It needs to be understood, the world was completely corrupt. The Bible says
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.” (Genesis 6:5, ESV)
It says, that God was "grieved" that he had made man. At this point, I think you and I should shudder. For the people that covered the earth at that time were really no different than what we are. They were people living their lives according to their own thoughts and desires. This is indeed what we so often do. Here I want you to think about Psalm 51:
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:3–5, ESV)
And although we find it hard to believe, God was completely justified, "blameless in his judgment." As we have talked about so many times all sin comes from our inability to live in a perfect relationship with God. The inability to love God with our whole heart our whole soul and our whole mind.
And yet, God is always gracious. In the midst of the promised destruction God saves Noah and his family. The Bible says Noah was a "righteous man and walked with God". That doesn't mean the Noah did not sin. It simply means that his outward character was completely different from those surrounding him. Noah was publicly known to worship Yahweh. God commanded Noah to build an ark. In the ark God would save two of every creature of the Earth. Every animal that had the breath of life in it. Noah faithfully obeyed God. He built the ark. According to God's command the ark was to be 450 feet long 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. If you go the whole length of our property along Sumner Avenue, and go from the street to the first window here in the church, and twice as high as the church from the basement floor to the peek of the roof, that's the size of the ark. Rather than looking like a boat, the ark was probably more like a big box with the slanted roof and an open slot for air and light all around the top. In it God would save Noah and his family and every "kind" of animal that lived on the earth. And when all were inside God sealed the door and sent the flood to the earth. It was a disaster. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights. The water came from everywhere. It covered the whole earth to 15 feet over the highest mountain. The terror of our spring tornado is nothing compared to the terror of those people on whose God judgment fell. And make no mistake it was God's judgment.
[God] blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.” (Genesis 7:23, ESV)
When the judgment was over, and the land was able to sustain life again, Noah and his family and all the animals came out of the ark. Then standing there on Mount Ararat in the aftermath of God's judgment over sin, God made a promise. Never again would all creatures be cut off by a flood over the whole Earth. And as a reminder God set against the darkness of the clouds the bright colors of the rainbow. It was a sign, not to the people, but a reminder to God himself that he would never again destroy the earth in such a way. When you see a rainbow, instead of thinking about Judy Garland, leprechauns and gay pride parades, you should fear and love God for he is gracious and merciful slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. It is the visible sign of his grace and mercy. Listen to Martin Luther:
Our merciful God always placed some outward and visible sign of His grace alongside the Word, so that men, reminded by the outward sign and work or Sacrament, would believe with greater assurance that God is kind and merciful. Thus after the Flood the rainbow appeared in order to serve as a convincing proof that in the future God would not give vent to His wrath against the world by a similar punishment…To us in the New Testament, Baptism and the Eucharist have been given as visible signs of grace, so that we might firmly believe that our sins have been forgiven through Christ’s suffering and that we have been redeemed by His death. (Luther’s Works (American Edition) 1:248. This connection between the rainbow-sign and the sacramental signs of baptism and Eucharist is common in Luther: LW 2:144; 20:67–8; 35:86; 36:174; 37:135; and 54:56.)
The rainbow is God's visible sign that he will not destroy the earth with water again. It stretches from horizon to horizon. It reaches up into the menacing clouds as a reminder to God and us of God's far-reaching mercy.
So to, God gives us the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion as visible signs of the forgiveness of sins that Jesus Christ won on the cross for us. But unlike the rainbow these are not just signs. Through these gifts, these visible gifts, God brings to us what Jesus Christ did for us. When we see our sin, and are well aware of the just punishment for our sin, that is eternal death, we are comforted by the visible signs of the Sacraments. Just like Noah and his family were comforted by the visible sign of the rainbow. The sacraments we have are also God's promises to us. Baptism is the flood that drowns our old sinful nature and cleanses us from sin. The whole earth was cleansed by water from sin. In Baptism God makes promises to us individually. All that Jesus did his life, death, and resurrection are ours. So also, we have the visible elements of bread and wine in Holy Communion that feeds us during our life journey, just as Noah fed the animals on the ark, during their journey. Sacraments are our pointers back to Jesus Christ and all that he is done for us. The rainbow was Noah and his family's pointer forward to God's grace in Jesus Christ. God promised not to punish the world in this way for its sin. Instead God himself would come in human flesh and bear the whole world's sin on the cross.
The Bible does speak of a second worldwide catastrophe at the end of history. Jesus himself says that this is "coming soon". All will be surprised at the coming "just as it was in the days of Noah" (Luke 17:26). And in fact, in the medieval days of the church, there was a common image of Christ the stern judge enthroned upon a rainbow. It was a reminder that he would come again to judge the whole world, the living and the dead. But because of God's gracious promises in Jesus Christ, shown to us in the sacraments, and the image of the rainbow, we have God as our gracious Lord. Because Jesus has indeed taken our sin to the cross and suffered the punishment for all of that. Te need not fear the judgment at the end of time. For Jesus is our judge, but he is also and more importantly our Savior. Again listen to Luther:
“Therefore we who come to Christ want to have him as a gracious Lord. The rainbow on which he sits enthroned does not terrify me; it appears for my salvation. We do not look upon him as a judge. He will call for us. He will not reject us.” (Luther’s Works (American Edition) 23:61)
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.