Sink or Float
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When I first arrived at Seminary, there’s a Friday that is devoted to getting to know the other classes – building up the Seminary family. To do this, the upperclassmen would set up at stations around town, and the Juniors (that’s the incoming class – they weren’t Freshmen, they were Juniors) they would travel between stations and spend some time with the different groups of students. So, for example, one station was a trivia station at the Seminary. Another was hitting a few balls at the driving range. And then there was a station out at the lighthouse, on Lake Michigan, where we would play a game called “sink or float.” In this game, you had to guess whether various objects would sink or float. Everyone makes their guess, and then they would throw the item in the water (with a string attached) to see if it would sink or float. It started off easy with something like a rubber ducky. Float. Then there was a rock. Sink. But then they started to get tricky. A gallon milk jug about a third filled with gravel. And toward the end, they began trying to deceive. A rubber ball – like the kind you find in those big towers at the store. But I could tell by the way they picked it up and were handling it that there was something different. It seemed to be weighted on the inside, like it was filled with sand.
My point is, looks can be deceiving. You can’t just judge by outward appearances. You have to know the details, know what’s going on inside, know the heart. That’s what the Lord saw when he looked at humanity at the time of Noah. “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen 6:5). Were not even that far into history, just chapter 6, yet already God saw the devastating trajectory that humanity was on. “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled” (Gen 6:6). This was not what God created. His creation was perfect in every way. But when sin entered the world, everything changed.
It wasn’t all of a sudden. There was a gradual progression to it, and actually a specific reason is even given for the downward trajectory. Yes, the root of it all is sin, and sin corrupts in many ways. But here, in this reading, we are given a specific way that sin corrupts. “The sons of God saw that the daughters of man were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose” (Gen 6:2). A quick side note: there is an error that is taught that just doesn’t hold true. Some would say that this is talking about angelic beings (the sons of God) marrying and bearing children by human women (daughters of man). Nowhere else does Scripture use these phrases like this. It does, however, talk about believers as children of God. This is simply talking about believing men marrying unbelieving women. When contemplating marriage, the most important of human relationships, the believers pushed their faith and their godly heritage into the background. When looking for a prospective wife, they didn’t ask: “Will this woman help to make my home a place that upholds God’s Word and passes it on?” Rather, they only asked the question most important to them: “Is she good looking?” As this went on, those who held to their faith became fewer and fewer, until finally Noah and his family were the only ones left.
Finally, God announce a change of course. “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal” (they are “sinful flesh” is the idea there), “Their days will be a hundred and twenty years” (Gen 6:3). “I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything will perish” (Gen 6:17). His purpose remained constant. Thank God, that cannot change! He wanted, and still wants, all people to be saved. But he knew that if he did not intervene, his own believing children – The Holy Christian Church on earth – would be swept away by the rampant evil everywhere on earth. So, to preserve his Church and his Promise of salvation with it, he had to destroy everything that threatened to snuff it out – lest all hope and all believers be lost. God says something very similar about the days leading up to the Last Day. “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Mt 24:22). Apparently, it’s going to get so bad before the end that even the remnant of God’s Church on earth will be in danger of being swept away by hearts that do not acknowledge God.
Even in his judgment, however, God remains patient and loving. He gives humanity a specific grace period – their time of grace, their time to repent and trust in God. Their days will be 120 years. As corruption grew, and their time of grace went on, Noah preached the saving Word. He had a vivid illustration, an object lesson right there – the ark he was building. I’m sure people began to wonder. I’m sure they asked questions. “Ahhh… Noah, what are you doing there? Why the big barge?” And besides the large ark as a testament to God’s judgment, Noah also preached the Word (2 Pt 2:5). But the Spirit cannot continue to rebuke and correct people if they reject his gracious work. As God saw it, his human creatures had become nothing but sinful flesh. Totally under the control of sin. Such a sad story. The God who had once looked at his highest creatures and said: “Very good!” (Gen 1:31), now looked at them and said, in dismay and disgust, “That isn’t the human race I created. Their heart is only evil all the time. I must destroy them and start over.”
God’s judgment of sin has not changed. God does not change. Your sin and my sin too God looks upon in disgust and disappointment. Our rebellion against God. Our mixed up and selfish priorities when finding a spouse. Our lack of effort and missed moments when raising up the next generation. A day is coming when God will destroy it all. Not with water this time, but with fire. Even so, God displayed his patient love and mercy. In the days of Noah, he gave the human race 120 years to listen to his word, turn from their ways, and live. He does the same for you and me, only we don’t know how much time we have – no one does. So “Be on guard! Be alert!” (Mk 13:33). Be in the Word, stand upon his promises, and pass them down to the next generation. For “you do not know when that time will come” (Mk 13:33).
God’s action could be seen by some as heartless and vindictive. Surely there is another way? Certainly he didn’t have to destroy all life on earth. The reality is, however, his action was not heartless or vindictive. Actually, it’s the very opposite. He took drastic action because he did not want his plan for gathering his family of believers to be frustrated. God not only delivered Noah and his family from the waters of the flood, but actually used them to continue the line of Adam and Seth. It was from that slender thread of just one family that God’s promise of the woman’s Offspring hung. If the unbelieving world – those who have already condemned themselves – were allowed to live alongside Noah and his family, how quickly would that promise of the Savior be snuffed out? And then truly all hope would be lost when Noah and his family eventually died, and God’s promise of salvation with them.
It is important to note that the condition described in verse 5 is still the condition of every person from birth. “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen 6:5). The Bible teaches the total depravity of the human race. It teaches the total depravity of my own heart and your own heart. If God had not intervened to save, you and I also would sink like a rock in the flood of God’s judgment. The only remedy today is the same one Noah found at the time of the flood: the grace of God. That amazing love which reaches out to rescue sinners who deserve to be rejected by God. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen 6:8). It wasn’t his exemplary actions or pure motivations by which he found favor, however. It was that he “walked faithfully with God” (Gen 6:9). He held on to God’s promises. Trusted in them for his salvation and righteousness. Found God’s Word so important and so valuable that he passed on the promises of God to his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth.
“In [the ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also… It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus” (1 Pt 3:20-22). Did you know that’s why baptismal fonts typically have 8 sides? It’s a reminder of the flood, when God saved his people using water. In the same way, in the flood of Baptism, God saves his people through water. God saved you through that water. He saved your children through that water. And he can save many more through that water. In Baptism, your sins are nailed to the cross and you die with Christ. “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rm 6:3-4). Your sinful flesh, the sinful flesh that God was grieved by and destroyed in the flood, was also destroyed in the flood of baptism so that you too may live a new life. And, while it’s true that we still struggle against the sinful flesh even now, once Christ, your promised Savior, comes again on the Last Day you who walk faithfully with God will be preserved, and all that is evil will be destroyed for good. Your sinful nature included.
In the days of Noah, God sent a flood of water to wash away the wickedness of sinful hearts, before the wickedness of sinful hearts washed away the last righteous people (by faith) – and thus the Promise of the Savior altogether – the means of grace. What if that happened today? What if the means of grace were wiped out by the growing evil and unbelief? What if we had no communion next week or ever? What if we had no baptisms? What if we did not even have this Word of God, and the Savior was no longer made known? No means of Grace. No way of knowing our Savior. No means of salvation. Our existence would ultimately be meaningless. That’s what it is to some. That’s what it could become for us if we do not hold to these teachings and guard his promises. If we do not pass them down to our children. It’s a hostile world we live in. And our connection to God – the means of grace – could all be lost in just one generation if we don’t treat them as they are – our ark, that lifts us out of the wickedness of this world and spares us from the judgment of God.
There’s one final application from all of this that I’d like to make. We talked a little bit about marriage earlier. We talked about having the right priorities when finding a spouse. Asking, is she faithful to the true God is much more important than “Is she or he attractive?” Noah also offers us a little parenting advice as well. I know parenting can be difficult. It can be difficult raising children and instilling values that are different from what they perhaps hear at school or among friends. And Noah’s job of parenting – training his children in the way of the Lord – was infinitely tougher than any other parent has ever faced. He and his wife stood absolutely alone in a world which had turned against God. Even so, by his patient instruction and faithful example. Noah responded to God’s commands with glad obedience. His life matched his faith. And Noah, along with his god-fearing wife, “trained up his children in the way they should go…” so that when they were grown they did not turn from it (Prov 22:6). They too stepped upon the ark and were saved by the same water that Noah was saved by. When God came in judgment, his promise, his love caused Noah and his family to float. When Jesus comes again, after the time of grace he has given each one of you and your children, you too will “float” in the judgment by upholding that same promise of the Savior.