After our one-week hiatus from our series on the opening chapters of Genesis, we returned to the story this Sunday with a look at Noah’s calling. The call to obey God is a fitting topic for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Persecution of Christians isn’t something that just happened hundreds of years ago, but it continues around the world today. Sometimes following Jesus isn’t an easy thing to do. It can lead to mockery. It can lead to rejection. And it can even lead to death. I hope you join me in continuing to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.
The audio is still processing. But once it’s converted to digital, it’ll be available here. The manuscript is available after the jump.
I’m also going to post pictures of the banners. But that’ll have to wait until Christy gets back with our camera. 😉
In the Beginning: Noah’s Big Boat
Genesis 6 & 7
November 8, 2009
Like many children around the country, I grew up a fan of Charlie Brown and all the Peanuts gang. It’s chock-full of relatable characters for every generation. Of course, there’s Charlie Brown, the loveable loser who seems to have a permanent case of bad luck. When he goes trick or treating on Halloween, he only gets rocks thrown into his bag. He never receives Valentines or Christmas cards. He has a crush on “the Little Red-haired Girl,” but rarely has the courage to even talk to her. And when he is on the cusp of success, Charlie Brown seems to find a way to screw it up. The best example of this was when Charlie Brown went to the state spelling bee. He and another boy made it to the final round and Charlie Brown lost because he couldn’t spell the word “beagle,” which, ironically, is the breed of his own dog, Snoopy. Snoopy was the epitome of cool. He was confident and successful with quite an imagination. Often, he would climb to the top of his doghouse, put on goggles and a scarf and do battle with the Red Baron as a famous World War I Flying Ace. He was athletic. And he loved root beer and pizza..
And then there’s Lucy in her blue dress and black shoes. She was self-centered, crabby, and bossy towards her friends. She ran a psychiatric booth, similar to a lemonade stand – offering advice to her friends for five cents a visit. Of course, her advice would usually leave Charlie Brown feeling even worse than before he talked with her. Lucy is probably most famous for her ongoing role in holding the football for Charlie Brown to kick. He’d scoot back and run towards the ball. And right when Charlie Brown was about to kick the ball, Lucy would pull it away, causing him to land flat on his back. Every time, she’d promise she wouldn’t pull the ball away. And she did it. Every. Single. Time.
But even in spite of all of the difficulties Charlie Brown would face, he was still full of determination and hope.
One of Charlie Brown’s best friends was Lucy’s younger, security blanket carrying brother, Linus. The philosophical Linus was a gifted child, displaying an unusual amount of intelligence for a boy of his age. In one Charlie Brown television special, Linus runs for class president. Lucy and Charlie Brown serve as his campaign manager. Early polling suggests that Linus has a very large lead and victory is all but assured. On election day, the candidates gather before the assembled students and offer one last impassioned plea to convince the students why they should serve as class president. Linus is the last to speak and he decides it’s time to take a stand for something he believes in. He begins his speech by saying, “As a change of pace, rather than campaign talk, I’ve decided to say a few words about the Great Pumpkin.” And his campaign managers begin to panic because their candidate is going off message. You see, Linus is the only one who believes in the Great Pumpkin. According to Linus, the Great Pumpkin rises from a pumpkin patch each Halloween to deliver toys to all the good little boys and girls. And he doesn’t just visit any pumpkin patch. He’ll only visit the most sincere pumpkin patch. After his impassioned plea to believe in the Great Pumpkin, Linus is laughed off the stage by the student body.
The way people responded to Linus’s childlike faith is similar to the world’s response to people’s decision to follow Christ, isn’t it? Of course, walking by faith in the Living and Active God of the universe is different from believing in an imaginary holiday character that visits Pumpkin Patches. But the response to faith is illustrated in a very real way. Lucy publicly berates him for his belief. Charlie Brown accepts enough of Linus, letting him believe what he wants, but ultimately chalks their disagreements up to “denominational differences.” When he takes a stand for his faith, Linus is openly mocked and laughed at.
Noah faced similar reaction when God called him to do something that on the outside must’ve seemed much more crazy than sitting in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night. The story of Noah begins in Genesis 6. If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to Genesis 6. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Genesis 6 is found on page 5 of those Bibles. We’ve been going on a journey together through the opening chapters of the book of Genesis. As we’ve been on that journey, we’ve discovered how the story of God and His relationship with His creation that began to be told before the beginning of time continues to unfold today. “In Noah’s day, the entire world had become morally bankrupt. Everyone lived for their own pleasure, not God’s. God couldn’t find anyone on earth interested in pleasing Him. So He was grieved. And He regretted making humanity. God became so disgusted with the human race that He considered wiping it out” and starting over. If it wasn’t for one person and his family, Noah.
You remember Enoch, who walked with the Lord, right? Enoch was Noah’s great-grandfather. And Noah walked with the Lord the same way his great grandfather did. Imagine this scene as Noah is walking with the Lord one day: God is talking with him and suddenly says, “Noah, I’m disappointed in your neighbors. In fact, I’m saddened by all of humanity. In the entire world, no one but you thinks about me. But I’m pleased with your life. I’m going to destroy the world with a flood. And I’m going to start over with you. I want you to build a giant ship that will save you and the animals. I know you’ve never built a boat before. Why would you? You’re hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean! Oh yeah – and you know how I’ve been irrigating the earth from the ground up? Not anymore. When I cause this flood, water’s not going to come just from the ground, but also from the sky! And all of the animals? Don’t worry about them. I’ll handle that. But I need you to be available for this plan to work.”
Yeah. If I’d heard a message like that, I think I’d be asking for proof of identification or a second opinion or something like that. It just all sounds too far-fetched. But that’s not how Noah responded. Verse 22 of chapter 6 says, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” No complaining. No excuses. He trusted God completely.
Trusting God completely means having faith that He knows what is best in your life. You expect Him to keep His promises, to help in times of trouble, and even to do the impossible when necessary. So when He calls you to do something, you do it – even if you and the rest of the world think it’s crazy.
Imagine what his friends and neighbors said as he built this boat. And this was no small boat. The ark was 300 cubits long. If a cubit is about 18 inches, that means the ark was approximately 450 long. And it would have taken a long time for him and his family to build. When friends met in the market or at wedding feasts, surely the conversation would turn to their wacky neighbor, Noah. “What’s he going to do in the middle of a desert with a giant boat?” “He says there’s going to be a flood…and it’s going to be caused by water coming out of the sky! Pshaw! Who ever heard of water coming from the sky?” “What do you expect from such a strange family? Wasn’t it his great-grandfather who disappeared not too long ago? They say he walked home with God – but I don’t believe them. Who needs God anyway?” Year after year, they surely mocked Noah’s children, calling their dad that crazy man who thinks God speaks to him. But Noah kept trusting God. He did just as God commanded.
God has called us to the same radical obedience. Even if it means our neighbors and friends might mock us – or worse. And history has shown us that choosing to follow God’s call and being obedient to His commands can lead to resistance from neighbors and friends. Sometimes it leads to persecution. Sometimes it leads to death.
The early church knew this fact all too well. The decision to follow Christ could lead to financial ruin, rejection by family members, and even death – sometimes for the entertainment of others. In a sick and twisted attempt at irony, Emperor Nero would take Christians, dip them in a kind of wax light them on fire, using these human, burning torches; those who were called to be the light of the world as to light his evening garden parties. Worshiping together became dangerous. But instead of giving up on meeting and praying and praising together, the faithful began worshiping underground – in the catacombs. Some of the symbols that are hanging around the room today are representative of the carvings that were etched into the walls of these catacombs to remind and encourage the persecuted believers. They were visible reminders of their faith. For the Christians of the first and second centuries, these symbols embodied the meaning of the gospel and the peace of eternal life in the presence of God.
Man with lamb – This symbolizes Jesus Christ and those Christ has saved. Early Christians relied heavily on the imagery of Jesus being the Good Shepherd. And a lamb is carried on his shoulders here.
Praying figure – This person, with his arms wide open is in an act of prayer. It’s called the orante position. And it’s symbolic of someone surrendering all that he has and all that he is to the will of the Father. There are many times when they would pray that they would stand in this position as a physical reminder that they’re surrendering everything to Him – no turning back.
Fish – This symbol is common today because of the acrostic ICHTHUS is the Greek word for fish. The letters stand for the first letters in the phrase Iesus Christos Theou Uios Soter (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour). It also serves as a reminder that we are to be fishers of people, sharing the life-giving message of the good news of Jesus Christ with a world that is dying.
Dove – The dove holding an olive branch was a symbol of peace for the early Church, much as it is today. And, of course, it comes from this very story we’re looking at today and next week.
Chi-Rho – This symbol is made up of the Chi Rho, which is the monogram for Christ. In Greek, the “ch” sound is marked with an “x.” Which is the original meaning behind the abbreviation of X-Mas for Christmas. But I certainly believe that abbreviation has lost its meaning in today’s culture. You might be able to see here that the Chi-Rho is placed between the Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. This symbol reminds us that Christ is the beginning and the end of all things.
Anchor – Early Christians used this symbol as a reminder of the hop of salvation. If your life is anchored to the Rock of Jesus Christ, you will remain safe, even with all of the waves crashing around you.
We tend to think that persecution of followers of Jesus Christ is something that stopped when Rome fell. That’s not the case, unfortunately. In 2008 alone, an estimated 176,000 Christians were murdered for their faith. And many others have been thrown into prison for proclaiming the Risen Savior.
We didn’t know this at the time, but while we were in Ethiopia, two evangelists had their prison sentences upheld by the court in Addis Ababa. They had been proclaiming Christ and after just a week in the area, several had already chosen to repent of their sin and follow Christ as their Savior. A few weeks later, however, some passersby began to question the two evangelists. Their discussion led to a group attack on the two evangelists. They managed to escape to a nearby home, but the mob followed them and demanded they be released. The homeowner refused. When the police arrived, the attacking group accused the evangelists of insulting their religion and fabricated accusations of offering money and gifts to make converts. The evangelists continue to deny this claim, but the false statements were submitted to the district prosecutor. The court delivered a guilty verdict, even though the evangelists had a legal right to share their faith. The judge sentenced them to six months in prison. Prison officials have treated them harshly, forbidding visits for at least 15 days and stopping all food from being brought to them, which is a common practice among all prisoners whose relatives are able to help them.
This is just one example of the kind of persecution people around the world face simply for proclaiming Christ with their words and their lives. Many have been beaten and tortured because of their obedience to Christ. Many have lost their homes and their families because of their obedience. Many have even lost their lives because of their obedience to Christ.
When we hear stories like that, it’s easy to wonder why things happen the way they do. Why do these horrible things happen to people of faith? Why could the choice to be obedient to God’s call lead to some people being mocked and humiliated – as many Christians are around the world and as Noah’s family was when he built the ark in the middle of a desert?
God doesn’t owe us an explanation for everything He asks us to do. He didn’t give Noah one and He doesn’t always give us one, either. Noah could have told God that he’d start building the ark once He showed him a hint of rain. Of course, if we waited on the rain, it would’ve been too late. Or maybe once he got the logistics of how to handle all of those animals worked out. Or he could have said he needed to count his money and make sure he had enough financing to pay for such an enormous undertaking. He could have made sure he had all of his ducks in a row before jumping in. But he didn’t. Noah did everything just as God commanded.
Understanding can wait. Obedience can’t. Instant obedience will teach us more about God than a lifetime of Bible discussions. That happened with Abraham. He didn’t know where he was going – just that God was going to show him the land…after he left his homeland. And while on that journey, Abraham discovered that God is forever faithful and will never leave him. He wouldn’t have begun to understand that by merely contemplating the faithfulness of God. The understanding began once he placed one foot in front of the other and started walking by faith in obedience to God’s call. We will never understand some of God’s commands until we obey them first. Obedience unlocks understanding.
And so, in chapter 7, we find that in spite of all of the resistance that he surely received from his friends, neighbors, and possibly even his family, we find that Noah continued to follow God’s direction.
The Lord shut them in. God protected them. The only way that happened was through Noah’s obedience. He could have chosen to disregard what God said or he could have chosen to do it his own way. But in the end, God wouldn’t have protected him.
In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren says this: “Often we try to offer God partial obedience. We want to pick and choose the commands we obey. We make a list of the commands we like and obey those while ignoring the ones we think are unreasonable, difficult, expensive, or unpopular. I’ll attend church but I won’t tithe. I’ll read my Bible but I won’t forgive the person who hurt me. Yet partial obedience is disobedience.”
Have you given your whole life to Him? Or is there part of your life that you’re holding onto. What areas of your life do you need to trust God completely? Trusting is an act of worship. Trusting is living your life in the orante position, just like in that banner. It’s giving of yourself completely to the Father, allowing Him to use you however He sees fit. Just as parents are pleased when children trust their love and wisdom, our faithful response in obedience to Him pleases God. But it’s a complete deal, impacting all of your life. But the response begins by picking up the hammer like Noah did and begin doing what God has called you to do. It could be something as simple as going across the street and becoming more acquainted with a neighbor, sharing the love of Christ with that person or something more complex like picking up and moving to the land where God will show you. God has a plan and is calling you to obedience. What is your response?
 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life p. 69.
 Adapted from Rick Warren
 Warren, p. 76