The story of Noah and the ark is the gospel message in its most stark terms. Everything is stripped away, including any sugar-coating we may give to the unpleasant parts – the parts about judgment and death.
This story is about God’s absolute intolerance of sin and evil. It’s right there in black and white. “For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh …” This meant the destruction of men and women. People were going to meet their end.
Children’s pastors face a dilemma with this story. This is a much-loved story because it involves so much activity, and so many animals. Noah built a big boat, and the animal kingdom came to him, two by two, into the boat. And then the rains came, and the water rose. The story ends with a dove flying off to find dry land, and then comes the rainbow. You can create some great craft projects for kids out of this story!
But those who teach this story to children have to decide how to handle the inconvenient reality that under those floodwaters are a lot of dead bodies. Again, this is a stark picture. We can imagine the deluge, as well as the panic it would have induced as people ran for higher ground. When that failed, we can imagine the horror of knowing that death was coming. Quite simply, this is awful.
But this judgment was fitting, according to Genesis 6. “The earth was filled with violence.” This was a just punishment. “And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”
This was God’s creation, and it had been marred by sin. The Bible calls it “corruption.” A good thing had been ruined.
And so as we read this text, we must remember the high expectations of God. He expects holiness. Sin has consequences.
Yesterday was an election day, and it was an important election. A famous politician once said, “Elections have consequences.” That is, if you or your political party don’t win the election, then you must live with what happens next. The angst over the Supreme Court last year was a good example of that. One party had to stand by helplessly while the other party did basically as it saw fit – because that party had won the election. Elections do have consequences.
Sin also has consequences. To rebel against God, to disregard the conscience he has put inside of us, is to bring consequences upon us. There is a Judgment Day, and it is something to fear – because every one of us has sinned.
I wonder whether we Christians talk about this enough. I wonder whether we keep it in front of us – and in front of our nonbelieving friends – like we should. On Judgment Day, we will have to answer for our actions. There is no getting around it. We might like to draw people to Christ by extolling his love for humanity, and this is good. But we cannot forget that sin has consequences, that there will be a Judgment Day, and that God really, really, really hates sin and evil. And God is in charge.
And so Noah and his ark are a good and very clear reminder to us that God is watching the earth he has created, and he is seeing the sins that are being committed, and he will bring judgment on those who commit those sins.
What is that famous proverb? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). How can we read about the wrath of God in this story and not experience the fear of the Lord? Yes, God is loving. He loves you and me. But God also is holy. And we are wrecking his creation with our sin. If we shrink God down into something warm and cuddly, forgetting he is all powerful and “vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19), then we have made God too small and too tame and too predictable. And we will have made ourselves too smart.
I think it’s best to live in humble fear of the Lord, especially as we consider our sins.
And so, yes, this story about Noah and his ark gives us the gospel in very stark terms. It shows us God’s character, and it shows us ours, and it shows us what happens when God decides he wants to do something about the sin in the world.
And it gives us good news. The good news is this: There is an ark!
The common thinking is it took Noah decades to build the ark. This was a boat built on dry land in an era that had not seen rain. We can picture the word spreading about this giant boat, and the crazy man who was building it. I can picture crowds coming by at all times of the year to see this strange sight.
The disciple Peter called Noah a “herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). A herald, by definition, is a sign or a messenger – someone or something that brings news. Many newspapers have that old word, “Herald,” in their names.
I can’t imagine Noah didn’t share the good news about the ark with those who came to visit him during those long years of construction. “Rain’s coming. You might want to get on the boat with us.”
In another sense, Noah was a herald or a sign of righteousness just as the Virgin Mary was. God had chosen Noah and given him a great and incredible task, and Noah was faithful in his obedience to God. Noah had “found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” The angel came to Mary and said, “Greetings, O favored one …” (Luke 1:28). And Noah seemed to humbly submit to God’s commands, just as Mary later would do. In their obedience, they demonstrated the righteousness of God.
And each – both Noah and Mary – produced for the world an “ark.”
I am quite convinced the events surrounding Noah and his ark prefigure Jesus Christ. Jesus is our “ark.” We need to get on the boat by putting our faith in him. Rain is coming (or actually fire). Sin does have consequences, and God’s righteous judgment will leave us speechless and helpless when it comes in its fullness. We need to get on the boat!
For those of us who have put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we ought to let out a great breath of gratitude. We are on the boat. We have been saved – and are being saved. We did nothing to earn this salvation. It was given to us by God as a gift.
Without Christ, we would be like men and women dropped into the middle of the ocean without a life jacket and told we are on our own. Without him, there would be no way we could save ourselves. Gratitude ought to be our never-ending response.
But we also ought to talk about the “ark.” We need to tell others. I imagine some people laughed at Noah, and some will laugh at us. But those who laugh also ought to learn to swim, and no one can swim that well. If our hearts don’t break about this now, I imagine they will later – and especially so if we haven’t told them about the ark.
The door remains open. There still is time.