Monday, July 27, 2015

The Promise of Christ in Water & Light

by Pastor Paul Wolff

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Genesis 9:8-16)

Fish graphic supplied by
It is copyrighted and used with permission.
The early Christians had a clever way to describe Jesus. They made an acronym out of the phrase, “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior,” which in Greek spelled the word for “fish.” This is one of the reasons why the fish became a symbol for the Christian faith. The fish is still a popular symbol for the Christian faith. The second century Church father, Tertullian, used this image in an essay on Baptism where he said, “We are born in water as little fish in the way of our fish Jesus Christ.” Tertullian was responding to a false Gnostic–influenced teacher who was trying to abolish the practice of Baptism in the church. Tertullian explained that the little fish can only survive in the water. If the little fish leave the water of Baptism to follow a false teacher, then they will perish.

This is a wonderful image of the life-giving and sustaining power of Holy Baptism, but it doesn’t seem to work well with our Scripture from Genesis 9. Man is not a fish, and in the great flood every person on earth drowned except Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and each man’s wife – eight people in the whole world survived the flood.

The story of the flood is frightening because in it we see a just God rightly bringing judgment to a world full of sinners. Yet, we are all sinners. We have all sinned against God and deserve His wrath and punishment. What is more, we are born sinners. We are guilty from the moment of our conception – having inherited the sinful condition from our parents. Even if there was something we could do to make up for our actual sins (there isn’t) there is nothing we can do to change our inherited sin.

How do we know that God won’t bring His righteous judgment down on us? Well, that is exactly the question which is answered in Genesis 9.

Noah trusted in God’s promise of a savior.
The first thing we need to remember is that God spared eight people from the flood – along with two of every kind of living creature, and seven of all the ‘clean’ animals. Now, you may ask, “What is eight people among the thousands, perhaps, millions of people on the earth at the time?” In response I will ask a more pertinent question, “Why did God bother to save Noah’s family at all?”

Scripture describes Noah as a righteous man (Genesis 6:9), but the scriptures also show that neither Noah, nor his sons, were sinless. After the flood God said, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is is evil from his youth; nor will I destroy every living thing as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21) This is almost exactly what God said before the flood. (See Genesis 6:5-7) So, if God did not eliminate sinners from the world, then why did He save Noah and his family? It was purely out of His grace for the sake of a promise God had given Adam and Eve that one of their descendants would crush the serpent’s head and bring redemption to all people. Christ had not yet come in the days of Noah, so God saved Noah’s family in order to keep His promise and bring salvation to the world through Christ.

God keeps His promises, so when He says, “Never again will I destroy every living thing as I have done,” we can rest assured that God will keep this promise. Also God designates the rainbow as a sign of this promise. A rainbow is nothing but raindrops and light, and although it is one of the most beautiful things in creation, it is not the colors which make it a symbol of God’s promise, but its shape. It is shaped like a bow – a weapon of war. But instead of shooting arrows, the rain was God’s weapon to destroy all the unbelieving, violent people on earth.

God has set his bow in the clouds,
and has promised never to use it against us again.
Then, after the flood, God said, “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (v. 13) Here God is saying that He is hanging up His weapon – out in the open, for all to see. Though you should notice that when God establishes the rainbow as a symbol of His promise that it isn’t primarily a symbol for you and me. It is a reminder for God Himself! He says, “The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (v. 16) This should be a triple comfort for us. 1) God promises not to destroy us, despite our sin. 2) The sign is not for us to remember, but for Him, and He will never forget, even if we do forget. 3) God is not up in heaven somewhere far away, but that He is right here with us, because rainbows are only visible on the earth.

If you remember that I said earlier that the image of the fish didn’t work so well with this story, but in St. Peter’s first Epistle he makes the connection between the flood and Baptism. He says,
“God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (1 Peter 3:19-21)
You should remember that Noah took two of every kind of land animal and bird, but he did not take any fish on the ark, because the flood was not a great danger to the fish. (Though we can see from the fossil record that some fish were caught in the sediment from the flood, but it wasn’t a great extinction threat compared to the land animals.) But God treated Noah and his family as if they were fish. God spared Noah and his family for the sake of our fish – Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our savior.

Noah and his family trusted in God. They built the ark and they went inside with all the animals trusting that God would not only bring the flood, but would protect them and see them safely through it. Their trust in God to save them made them little fishes belonging to our savior Jesus Christ.

It is very sad that there were likely no believers that drowned in the flood. St. Peter also called Noah a “preacher of righteousness,” but no one besides his immediate family joined him on the ark. The way of the world is that sinners do not acknowledge their sin. We do not see the great peril that we are in, nor acknowledge that the judgment of God is just. The way of the world is seductive. The world thinks that its wicked ways are great fun, and tries to lure the little fish away from the protection of the Baptismal waters. But the little fish cannot survive if lured away from the water.

Jesus was baptized into the guilt of your sin
so you could be baptized out of it.
If you have been baptized you have salvation in Christ. Would you live in God’s Baptismal grace as a child of Christ your savior, or would you rather follow the ways of the world? If the whole world decides to abandon Christ, is it wise to follow only for the pleasure of the moment? In the days of Noah the whole world did abandon God as their savior, and they all perished. But Noah and His family were saved on account of Christ, by believing God’s promise to send a savior (Jesus).

The covenant God made to not destroy the world again with a flood was made on account of Christ. God has every right to punish us for our sins, but He poured out His wrath on Jesus instead. Jesus suffered and died on the cross, taking the punishment for the sins of the whole world so that we need never fear the wrath of God. Through Holy Baptism, not only are our sins washed away, but we are given a new birth as God’s Children. Like Noah, we are saved by God’s grace for Christ’s sake. If “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior” is the fish, then through Baptism we are born as little fishes. We need not fear the coming judgment, nor the wrath of God. We are safe in the waters of Holy Baptism. Even if the whole world turn away from Christ, we will remain with Him, both now and for all eternity – little fish under the protection of our one, true fish Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Our Savior.

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