Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sermon: Genesis 8:13 - 9:29 A Fresh Start

We’re getting to that time of year again. The old diary is almost full, its only purpose now to remind you just how close to Christmas it really is, and all those things you need to do before then... But soon, or maybe even already, you’ve chosen your new diary. You open its pages, and they’re blank. A year of opportunity ahead. You check when Easter is; you see what day your birthday will be next year; the diary and the year is open. Things will be different next year.

Have you ever wanted to have a fresh start? A chance to begin again, putting the mistakes of the past behind? If the opportunity came to press the rewind button and to start again, would you take it? What would you do differently?

Throughout the autumn, we’ve been following the story in the opening pages of the Bible. We’ve witnessed the creation of the heavens and the earth, how God made men and women; and how those men and women turned away from God. We’ve traced the spread of sin through Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, down through the generations to Noah. God sent a flood on the world, in judgement of sin, but saved Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives in that floating zoo, the ark.

Our reading today shows what happens when the floodwaters have subsided, as Noah and his family come out of the ark and begin life again. The earth is new, a fresh start. It’s like the creation story all over again. God has given them the world, and as he sends them out into it, he speaks to them, promising his blessing in at least three ways: productivity, provision, and protection.

In 9:1 God says: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.’ It’s the same command God had originally given in 1:28, it’s a repeat of the creation command. God gives the blessing of productivity. It’s made sure because of God’s promise that ‘As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’ (8:22).

More than that, God also gives the blessing of provision. And it’s good news for the meat-eaters among us: ‘Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.’

If someone betrays your trust, would you be likely to be more generous towards them, or more likely to withhold from them? Even though we turned away from God, God is even more generous and gracious towards us - Adam and Eve had been given the plants for food; now we can enjoy a lovely fillet steak too (just not with the blood...!)

There’s also the blessing of protection - from wild creatures, because the fear and dread of us will fall on them; from man, because human life is so precious, so valuable that we should not presume to dispense with it by our own choice or will; but also protection from God - as he decommissions his weapon and sets his bow in the clouds.

Just as we talk about a footballer hanging up his boots, so God hangs up his bow; the rainbow; and promises to never again completely flood the earth. The promise is given, the rainbow is the sign of the promise.

So we see in the passage this morning a whole new world, a re-made world, washed and cleansed by the flood; a world where God enables a fresh start. Can you imagine stepping down out of the ark, where once there was just water all around, now there are trees and plants and grass again? It might take a day or two for the seasickness and swaying to stop, to regain your ‘land legs’ again after having your ‘sea legs’ for so long. A new beginning. Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?

And yet, it doesn’t take long for the fresh start to be marred. Just as we might begin a new year with good intentions and resolutions, and fail miserably by the 6th of January, so we see here that Noah follows the same pattern of failure and fall. It’s the same pattern, because it seems to match up with Adam’s fall in Genesis 3. Adam ate of the fruit of the tree God had planted; Noah drank of the fruit of the vine he had planted. Adam realised he was naked and hid in shame; Noah’s sons discovered his nakedness and covered his shame. He’s a chip off the old block. He shows the family likeness as he too falls and fails.

God doesn’t need to curse the earth, because Noah and his sons deliver their own curse as relationships are again torn by sin. Back in 6:5 God sees that the thoughts of peoples’ hearts was only evil continually, so he brings the flood in judgement on sin. But now, in this fresh start, as we see the fruit of sin blossoming again, we notice that God says that he will not curse the ground because: ‘the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.’ (8:21).

Noah steps out into a new world, with a fresh start, but with the same sinful heart. It’s like driving a car where the alignment is wonky - it wants to pull over to one side or the other; it won’t go the way you want it to. Our hearts have this downward tendency, dragging us down, no matter how good or noble our intentions. It’s a bit like the prayer that went round Facebook a while back: ‘Dear Lord, so far today, I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped or lost my temper; I’ve not been greedy, grumpy, nasty, or selfish. But in a few minutes, I’m going to get out of bed, and then I’ll need your help a lot more!’

Our hearts have a natural inclination towards evil, leading us to sin. Now even though God has promised not to flood the earth as before, yet God still stands as judge. Our hearts still condemn us as guilty before the holy, sinless God. And therein lies our problem. Even though God is good and gracious, and blesses us with productivity and provision and protection; we throw it back in his face and turn away. His wrath is against us.

How can we ever live with God? We need a sinless substitute, who will bring us rescue. Noah was lifted from the earth in a wooden box above the waters; our substitute was lifted from the earth on a wooden cross. He was placed in an ‘ark’, the tomb, but on the third day came out of the tomb, having been raised to new life, which he now offers to us. His work of rescue was complete, and now the Lord Jesus is preparing for us our eternal dwelling - new heavens and a new earth where we will be with him forever.

To make sure that we can abide in that new world, we are given new hearts, as we are transformed by the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts in this world, preparing us for that. It will truly be the perfect paradise of God - no more sin, or sickness, sorrow or suffering.

We are assured of all this as we trust in the Lord Jesus, the sinless one who suffered for our sake, who took our sin upon him, giving us free salvation and eternal life. Our prayer today for Matthew is that he, though sinful, will grow up to trust in the Lord for himself, and experience this fresh start in Jesus Christ. Perhaps you too long for that opportunity to start over - come to the Lord Jesus, and trust in him: ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ (Rom 8:1)

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 25th November 2012.

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