June 17, 2023

Called to Change

Well, Grace Family, I'm so excited to be here. My name is Michael Elliot, and it's my honor to serve as your Family Ministry Pastor here at Grace. Right here, at the start of our services this weekend, we just want to take a moment to say Happy Father's Day to all of the dads joining us in person and online. We love you and are so excited to celebrate with you this weekend, but we also want to acknowledge that this weekend can be incredibly difficult for some people. Maybe you've lost your father, maybe you never knew your father, or maybe you have an estranged relationship with your father. Maybe some of you have lost a child. No matter what season of life you find yourself in this weekend, we just want to let you know, Grace Family, that you are known, you are seen, and you are loved. So, no matter what season you're in, we are here to walk alongside you. So, to all of our dads, happy Father's Day.

Well, I am super excited, this weekend, to be continuing with our summer sermon series called “Failure Figures.” During this series, we are examining the lives and the stories of some of our Old Testament heroes of the faith. We’re looking at these stories through a new lens, maybe a different perspective than we've used before. We're trying to look at these stories to understand how these stories apply to our lives, how these stories show us our need for Jesus Christ. We’re looking at how these stories act merely as signposts on the Bible's journey of getting us to Christ.

Now, by a show of hands, how many in the room are familiar with the biblical hero Noah? Who’s familiar with Noah, or maybe Noah's Ark and the Great Flood? Yeah. I'm guessing that just about every hand in the room went up. Why is that? It's because Noah is the epitome of a Bible hero. You would be hard pressed to find any sort of a Bible summary or children's beginner storybook Bible that does not include the account of Noah and the Great Flood. Trust me, I looked. I pulled out all seven of my children's storybook Bibles and I scoured them, cover to cover, to try to understand better where our understanding and thoughts around Noah comes from.

In fact, my wife walked into our room one day, knowing I was doing sermon prep, expecting me to be surrounded by scholarly commentaries, maybe a Hebrew Old Testament, but there I sat, surrounded by children's storybook Bibles, and all I could do was shrug my shoulders and say, “Sermon prep.”

But the reality of the situation is this: Those stories provide us important context for how we understand the story of Noah. In fact, the story of Noah in all of these children's storybook Bibles looks something like this: Noah was a good man, but the rest of the world was evil. God decides that He’s going to blot out all living creatures except for those whose hearts are devoted to Him, and that man is Noah. So, He tells Noah to start building an ark; an ark that would save him, his family, and some of all the animals. So, Noah does so. He obeys God. He this large boat, they get on board, and God sends rain and water. For 40 days, the world is flooded. Soon, all living creatures perish except for those on the ark.

But God does not forget about Noah, does He? God does not forget about Noah. He dries the earth out, the ark comes to a rest, and Noah gets off of the ark. He immediately builds an altar to the Lord and praises God for saving him. God then responds. God is pleased with Noah's reaction, so God responds with a promise to never again flood the earth in the same way. God then says He will never again curse the ground because of man. With that, that's pretty much the story of Noah. So, let's bow our heads together, we’ll pray, and I'll get you out of here a couple of minutes early.

I'm just kidding, sort of. But the reality is that is where our children's storybook Bibles often leave us. They leave us with Noah as the conquering hero, don't they? That is where they often leave us. But maybe that's the point of the story of Noah. Maybe the point of the story of Noah is that for so long, so many of us, probably because of our children's storybook Bibles, have thought that the story of Noah was about man's ability to hear Gods — man's ability to hear God, listen to Him, obey what He says, and to save himself as a result of his obedience. But, just maybe, the story is actually trying to show us that none of us on our own can ever be enough.

So, what we're going to do today is dive into some of the details of this story, trying to look at it through that new lens, that new perspective, to try to better understand it. So, the story of Noah begins early on in the book of Genesis. You’ve got to go all the way back to the beginning of your Bible, and we come right out of the account of Cain killing his brother Abel and into the genealogy of the very first man, Adam. Now, in case you're not familiar with genealogy, a genealogy is the account of a person. Said another way, a genealogy tells us where we came from, or it maybe even tells us who we are.

Now, I know what each of you are sitting here thinking. You're thinking this: “Yay, genealogies. I was so hoping that this weekend at Grace, we were going to take a deep dive into studying genealogies.”

In fact, if I was to ask for a show of hands — which I'm not going to do, but if I was to ask for a show of hands, asking how many of us have ever skipped through a genealogy, or maybe breezed our way through it, I am guaranteeing that just about every hand in the room is going to go up. Why? Because they're boring. They're dry, right? They're very repetitive. We often don't understand what they mean or where they're going, but the reality is that genealogy provides us incredibly important context in the story of Noah. In fact, the story of Noah holds within it three different genealogies. There's a genealogy to start the story, a little genealogy tucked in the middle, and the story actually concludes with a genealogy. So, the author of the story of Noah is trying to tell us something. He's saying, “Listen up. Genealogy is going to give you important context for the story.”

So, what we're going to do is we're going to look at our first genealogy together. Now, this is the very beginning of the genealogy of the very first man, Adam, and it looks like this:

“When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and he named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.”

So, what we see here is pretty common language, and a common pattern for genealogy. In fact, the same language and the same pattern continues for eight generations, from the time of Adam until we get to the time of Noah. It’s when we get to Noah that the standard pattern changes just a little bit because, in addition to all of the standard language and the standard pattern, we're given a couple of little bonus pieces of information — some special tidbits of information, if you will — about Noah.

So, when we get to Noah, this is what we read: “When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and he called his name Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.’ Lamech lived after he fathered Noah 595 years had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, and he died.”

So, again, standard language and a standard pattern that's been used for eight generations. Then, all of a sudden, bonus information about Noah is slipped right in. You see, the name Noah, in Hebrew, sounds incredibly similar to the Hebrew word which means rest. It can even mean something like “to cause to rest.” You see, Lamech gave Noah this name specifically because he believed that Noah was going to be the guy who was going to bring rest to man. He believed that Noah was going to be the guy who was going to reverse this curse, this curse of Adam, eight generations earlier.

We read this about the curse of Adam: “…cursed is the ground because of you [Adam]; in pain you shall eat of it all of the days of your life.”

You see, Adam's curse, the curse that was carried forward to all of humanity from Adam on, was in part that the ground would be cursed. What this means is that man was going to have a difficult time surviving, from this day forward. But what we see is that Lamech has a really good feeling about Noah. He has such a good feeling that he includes this idea of being the curse breaker in the giving of Adam's name. Talk about massive expectations. You see, Noah was born at a time when the world had become incredibly evil and wicked. In those eight generations since sin entered the world with Adam, in those eight generations, until we get to Noah, the world has become a completely messed up place.

We read this in Genesis 6: “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. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

So, things have gotten so bad at this point that God decides that every intention in the hearts of man is evil continually. So, God decides that He is going to blot out all living creatures, including all humanity, except for those who meet His perfect standard, except for those who meet the standards we're about to see, called blameless and righteous. The only one, as we're going to find out, who meets the standard is Noah. In describing Noah to us, we're given our second genealogy in part of the story.

“These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”

So, here we see the direct contrast of Noah against all of the rest of the people on earth. Whereas Noah is called blameless and righteous, everyone else is called evil and wicked. Then, starting in Genesis 6:11, we begin the long narrative sequence of the flood. Because of this sin, because of this corruption that has happened in the earth, God is going to end living creatures and completely start over. But because we serve a God who is true to His character, because we serve a God who is true to His character, He does not simply destroy everyone. He looks and sees, “Is there anyone who meets my standard — my standard, which is blameless and righteous?”

We see that the one who meets that standard is Noah. So, God gives Noah some instruction on how he will earn his salvation and his safety from the flood.

He says, “‘Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.’”

So, God tells Noah to start building a boat. As He goes on to describe in the next several verses, this is no small boat. This is a massive boat called an ark. This boat would require an incredible feat of engineering today, much less at that time. God then tells Noah why he's building the ark. God tells why; the purpose of building the ark. Then, in Genesis 6:22, we see Noah's response to the Lord's request.

“Noah did this; he did all that God had commanded him.”

So, here we see another example of the righteousness of Noah. Even after God tells Noah — which, to be honest, must have seemed to Noah to be somewhat of a ridiculous request. Even after Noah gets this seemingly ridiculous request, he simply does all that God has commanded him. So, we need to stop here for just a moment in our story. We need to stop here for a moment and try to understand how we would respond in this situation. Would we grumble and complain? Would we look for a new solution, maybe something that's a little more efficient, a little bit better of a process? Or would we simply listen to what God is telling us to do? You see, I believe that many of us in our lives, today, feel the tug of the Lord in our hearts. We feel that subtle prick of the Holy Spirit trying to get our attention, trying to tell us to do something for Him, but oftentimes we ignore it. Why do we ignore it?

I believe that we ignore it because listening to the Spirit, listening to the Lord's tug on our heart, will oftentimes mean a change for us, and change is scary. Most of us prefer to live our lives, today, in a very small, safe way. We like the safety in the jobs that we have. We like the security in the friendships and the relationships that we have. Some of y'all even like the security of the seat that you sit in here on the weekend. We like safety and security. Oftentimes, listening to the Lord might mean a change for us, and change can feel scary, change can feel chaotic, and change can feel unsafe.

You see, this message is pretty timely. Maybe not for you, but I know that it is for me because even in my own life, recently, I have felt the subtle tug of the Holy Spirit in my heart. I've felt that prick of the Holy Spirit telling me to do new and different things for Him, but I don't want to listen. I say that I like change, but the reality is that I don't. I would much rather stay living my life in a small, comfortable way with the people I know, with the jobs that I have, with the tasks that I'm doing. But maybe, just maybe, I'm being called to something more. Maybe, just maybe, you’re being called to something more.

Now, back to our story. In Genesis 7, we see the account of the actual flood that takes place. In Genesis 7:1-4, God is giving Noah some instructions on building this ark. In Genesis 7:5, we see Noah's response.

“And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.”

In Genesis 7:11-24, more instructions on how to get all of these animals and these people, his family, onto the ark. In Genesis 7:16, we again see Noah's response. Noah went into the ark as God had commanded him.

So, Noah does exactly what the Lord is calling him to do. He, his family, and all the animals, get on board the ark. Just as the Lord promises, it begins to rain. For 40 days, there's rain and water everywhere. Soon there's a flood. All living creatures perish except for those on the ark. But God does not forget about Noah. God begins to dry the ground out. Eventually, the ark comes to a rest. Noah gets off of the ark, and as only a blameless, righteous man would do, Noah gets off the ark and immediately builds an altar to the Lord.

“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord […]. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth.’”

So, here we see that Noah builds an altar to the Lord and makes sacrifices. The Lord smells this pleasing aroma, the Lord is satisfied with Noah's response, and then the Lord responds. What does He respond with? With a promise to never again curse the ground because of man. So, at this point, we have to ask the question, “Does this mean that Noah effectively lived up to his name as the bringer of rest? Was Noah the curse breaker? Did Noah effectively reverse the curse of Adam? In the very giving of Noah's name, was that prophecy fulfilled?”

If we were to end the story here, we might think that the answer is yes, Noah is the hero, he's the guy who, for eight generations, the people have been waiting for. The reality is that this is where most of our children's storybook Bibles leave us. But the story of Noah, if left here, is simply incomplete because, you see, it takes just a couple of verses. When Noah is praising God for saving him, it’s just a couple of verses for everything to come crumbling down again.

We read this in Genesis 9: “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both of their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father's nakedness.”

So, these verses bring us pretty much to the end of the narrative of Noah. What a disappointing ending, right? I mean, for five chapters we are told, over and over and over again, how great of a guy Noah was. He was blameless and righteous. He did all that God commanded him, over and over and over again. In spite of that, the story of Noah ends with him drunk and naked in his tent. I mean, what a strange ending, right? I mean, it's no wonder we don't include this part of the story in our children's storybook Bibles. Can you imagine the horrified look on the faces of our preschool teachers when we walk in and say, “Hey, guys. We know you're talking about Noah today, but we have a couple of little, special, fun things we want to add to the story.”

The reality is that this part of the story is important. In fact, I want to pose to you, today, that perhaps this part of the story is the most important part. So, in Genesis 9:20, we see that Noah begins to be a man of the ground. He plants a vineyard. He plants a vineyard on the ground. Remember, this is ground that is no longer cursed in the way that it was before. But then Noah indulges himself with just a little too much wine, and he gets drunk. So, in Genesis 9:21-22, we see how Noah's sons react to the actions of their father. Ham walks in, he sees his father naked, and what does he do? Does he act with any shame or humility? No. He goes out and gawks about it to his two brothers. Shem and Japheth have the exact opposite reaction. They take a garment, lay it on their shoulders, walk backwards, and cover their father. Both their act of walking backwards and covering their father shows their father immense respect for the man that he was. We then see Noah's response.

“When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’”

So, Noah wakes up from his drunkenness, he realizes what his sons have done, and he then proceeds to curse his grandson, Canaan, who's Ham’s son, for the sins of his father. While we are not told anywhere here that Noah sinned, it is certainly implied. It's implied that in the same way that Adam's original actions ushered sin into a perfect world, Noah's actions, likewise, have ushered sin back into a perfect world. Noah, who was a man called blameless and righteous, ultimately ends up falling short of that standard. You see, as a result of Noah's sin, he puts his son into a position where he also sinned.

Now, don't hear what I'm not saying. I am not saying that Noah caused his son to sin, but what I am saying is that Noah created the environment. Noah cultivated the soil in which it was made easy, it was made convenient for his son, Ham, to sin. As we see, sin has consequences. Sometimes it's not just for us, but sometimes it's for the people in our lives, as well. Ham, as punishment for his sin, has his own son, Canaan, cursed. Wow. What a harsh punishment for what can seem to us, at times, to be something of a minor downfall. But wait, it's actually significantly worse than it even seems at this point. Because in Genesis 10, we're given our third genealogy in the account of Noah, and it starts like this:

“The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan.”

Then for the next 15 verses, we are told in some detail who some of the many descendants of Ham were. Honestly, this is where the story took a real turn for me because I was blown away when I read who some of the descendants of Ham were. Egypt, Babel, Assyria, Nineveh, the Philistines, Sodom, and Gomorrah. This list includes the “who's who” of Israel's enemies throughout the remainder of the Old Testament. You see, there were real consequences to Noah's sin. What was a seemingly small sin ends up having cascading negative effects for the Hebrew people for thousands of years. You see, the sin of Noah demonstrates to us that God does not tolerate anyone who does not completely meet His perfect standard, who does not completely meet this perfect standard of being blameless and righteous.

In fact, it's not until thousands of years later when we would finally meet a man who would completely meet this perfect standard of blameless and righteous, and we would meet a man who the people have actually been waiting for, a man who would reverse the true curse of Adam, which is the curse of sin. That man is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who would finally completely meet the standard of blameless and righteous, and Jesus is the one who reverses the curse of sin for us. But the best news of all about Jesus is this: Not only did He come and meet the standard, but He allows us, who never have a shot on our own of meeting the standard, to meet the standard through Him.

We read this in Romans 3:21: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested [made known] apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”

You see, the only way for us to meet the perfect standard of God is through Jesus Christ. There are so many of us, today, who are living our lives in such a way that we think that there is something, anything, that we can do on our own to help our own cause, when the reality is this: The only way, the only shot that you and I have of meeting this perfect standard, is through Jesus Christ.

So, now that we've taken a deep dive into the story of Noah, I have three questions that I want to leave us with. Three questions that I want us to ponder as we consider how the story of Noah can be applied in our lives. The first question is this: What is God calling me to do in my life? Where in your life has the Lord been prompting you? Has He been asking you to take a bold step in your career? Has He been challenging you about that relationship in your life? Maybe it's a relationship that needs to go to the next level, or maybe it's a relationship that needs to end. Has He been challenging you to take another bold step for Him? No matter how big or how small that tug of the Holy Spirit is on your life, the question for us is this: Will we obey all that the Lord commands? You see, the story of Noah, at the beginning of the story, is a great picture for us of a man whose heart is devoted to the Lord, of a man who, time after time after time, does as the Lord is asking him to do. But then Noah decides to do things his own way. Noah decides that his plan and his purpose is better, and we see what happens. There are massive consequences for Noah.

So, the question for us is this: Will we be the kind of people who choose our own way and our own path, or will we be the kind of people who simply listen to the Lord and do what He is asking us to do? What is the Lord calling you and challenging you to do in your life? The second question I want us to ask is this: What are those good deeds in your life that you were holding onto as heroic? We all likely have something that we have done in our lives, or maybe that we're doing right now in our lives, that we think makes us a pretty good person. For some of us, it's, “Man, look at this amazing thing that I did for the Lord.”

For others of us, it’s, “Hey, look at my ministry. Look at what I'm doing for God.”

For others of us, it’s, “Hey, I'm a pretty good person.

I don't sin like those other people. I haven't let culture impact me. I'm a pretty good dude.”

Now, I'm not naive. I don't think that many of us would actually say these things out loud, but do our actions reflect these sorts of attitudes? You see, Noah had every good deed in the world to hang his hat on. He saved his family. Right? His actions allowed his family to experience salvation. He was the guy. He was the hero. But even Noah couldn't do it on his own. Noah needed someone else. So, the question for you and I, today, is this: What am I holding onto in my life, today, that gives me the feeling of self-righteousness? What are those things that I'm holding onto, today, that I think make me the hero?

The third question I want us to leave here asking ourselves is this: Have you accepted Jesus Christ as being the only path to being blameless and righteous? You see, the story of Noah shows us that none of us, even those of us who are given the best starting hand ever, can live up to that expectation of God. Noah was set up from the beginning, starting with the very name that he was given at birth, to be the hero, but Noah could not be the hero on his own. We all have a deep need for a savior, a deep need for someone to reverse the true curse of Adam in our life, this curse of sin, but so many of us are going through our lives trying to do all of the good and all of the right things, thinking that there is something on our own that we can do, but the only way to obtain righteousness is through Christ.

So, let me ask you again. Have you accepted that Jesus Christ is the only way for you to meet the perfect standard of God and be blameless and righteous? If you've never taken that next step, I want to encourage you to prayerfully consider what taking that step might mean for you in your life. After our final song today, we're going to have members of our prayer team down front. They would love the opportunity to pray with you as you consider what taking that next step in accepting Jesus Christ might mean for you in your life. The only way for you to meet that perfect standard is through Him.

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