Sunday, July 17, 2016

Noah, the Righteous

We’re back in Genesis this morning. And we’re going to take another look at Noah. We’re going to pick up the story after the flood waters have receded, and Noah and all the others are back on dry ground. Listen to what Moses wrote.
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 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. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”  Genesis 8.20-22
So, what do we have here? Noah is interacting with his God. It’s not complicated. And yet, there are things to notice here, lessons to learn.

Let’s start with this. Noah shows why back in chapter six Moses called him ‘righteous’. What’s the first thing that he does once he leaves the ark? He worships. Now, think about it. What could he have done instead? Well, he could have had a party with his family to celebrate the fact that they had lived through a very difficult time. Or he could have started the process of building a house. I’m fairly sure that the prospect of spending more time on that ark was not appealing. Or, as some of us organized types might do, he could have started a list of things that had to happen now that they were again standing on dry ground. But he doesn’t do these things first. No, instead, he worships God. Noah was a righteous man.

Noah’s worship was not just some vague actions pointed toward God. He had some particular goals for his worship. The details reveal what Noah wanted to accomplish by his worship. Did you notice that Noah offered burnt offerings? Now, to us, one kind of offering is pretty much the same as any other offering. Something is put on an altar and consumed in the flames. But not to Noah, and certainly not to the people of God to whom Moses wrote this account. This offering was a particular kind of offering. It was a burnt offering.

If you look through the Scriptures you’ll find that there were several things going on in a burnt offering. Seeing these will help us to understand what Noah was thinking about as he worshiped. First, a burnt offering is an expression of thanks. Pause a moment, and you will easily see why Noah wanted to thank God. He and his family had been brought through what must have been a harrowing time.

I’m guessing that when ‘the fountains of the great deep burst forth and the windows of the heavens were opened’ (Genesis 7:11) it was not a gentle ride. And there was Noah and his family, in the midst of it all, being tossed this way and that, and wondering if they were going to make it. But when things calmed down the hardships weren’t over. Would they have to live in that boat for the rest of their days? Was there any possibility that they could once again set foot on dry ground? Was life completely changed from that point on? But God brought them through and returned them to the land. So, Noah expressed his thanks to God for that by those burnt offerings.

Another aspect of a burnt offering was petition. By his worship Noah was asking God for something. And if you put yourself in the situation you will know what Noah was asking for. Yes, they were back on land, but where? It all looked so different. Everything was changed. Massive amounts of churning water will do that. So, how will they live in this very different world? Will the old skills be good enough? What was going to happen? There were lots of questions. So, by those burnt offerings Noah appealed to his God for the guidance that he would need as leader of his family.

Then, there is the element of atonement, seeking forgiveness for sin. That’s a very significant aspect of a burnt offering. And why would Noah need this? One part of being righteous is knowing that you are not innocent. The righteous know that they sin. Noah knew that. He also knew that nothing had changed when it came to the nature of humanity. It was still the case that
… the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth …
The flood had not removed the sinful orientation to life that all humanity inherited from Adam. Being born sinful was still part of the human condition. And apart from something happening to prevent it, another destructive flood was just a matter of time. So, Noah worshiped, presenting those burnt offerings as an appeal to God to forgive.

Noah worshiped. He gave thanks. He made petition. He asked for forgiveness.

And how did God respond to Noah’s worship? This is what Moses wrote.
… the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma …
This is God’s response to Noah’s burnt offerings. He deemed it a ‘pleasing aroma’. And that, of course, leads to this question. What was so pleasing about it? To us, a pleasing aroma means that dinner is going to taste good. But, obviously, that’s not what it means to God. So, what does it mean?

What we have here is a bit of wordplay by Moses. In Hebrew, Noah’s name is based on a word for ‘rest’. When Moses reports this ‘pleasing aroma’, the word translated ‘pleasing’ is also based on that Hebrew word for ‘rest’. So, this aroma of the burnt offerings is pleasing to God because it brings Him rest. One translation tries to bring this out by rendering that phrase,
The Lord smelled the soothing aroma …
And that, then, explains what God says next.
I will never again curse the ground because of man …
God’s anger at the sinfulness of humanity was soothed by Noah’s worshiping by burnt offerings. As a result, He makes that promise, ‘never again’. Noah understood God. He witnessed firsthand in the flood God’s attitude when it came to sin. Thus, his response of appealing to God for forgiveness, an act of worship that had far‑reaching consequences. Noah persuaded God to promise that there would be no more floods like that one.

So, what do we have? We’ve looked at Noah and taken apart something that he did and how God responded. What do we do with this?

We have before us someone who was righteous. And we see how this righteous man responded to life. He worshiped his God. This isn’t the only way that he expressed his righteousness. Again back in chapter six Moses tells us that Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. And he did all that God commanded him to do in preparation for the flood. These are ways that a righteous person lives.

Let me remind you again, that this does not mean that Noah was perfect. Remember that his burnt offerings were also for the forgiveness of sin. Noah still sinned, and yet he was considered righteous by God.

What we have before us is someone to imitate, Noah, the righteous. He stands as an example to us all.

Now, I hope that you don’t hear that as me saying that we need to work on this checklist of things to do - obedience, worship and the other things that Noah did. If we try to imitate Noah simply in those ways - well, there is a phrase that the Bible uses for that sort of thing: works of the flesh. And such things are worse than useless. So, when I say we have someone to imitate I’m not talking about that sort of thing.

Instead, we need to understand the dynamics of Noah’s heart, dynamics that resulted in those things that he did. And the phrase that Moses uses to describe that dynamic also comes from chapter six: Noah walked with God. Don’t picture this as two people walking down the street side by side. Noah didn’t see God. But he knew that wherever he was, God was there also. And what that meant was that God was there watching and listening. He was watching and listening when Noah did what was right and when he did what was wrong. And while for many these days, that would be a burden - God always watching over your shoulder?!? - I can’t imagine that that was the case for Noah. For Noah it meant that God was always there to guide his efforts, to reward his efforts, to correct his efforts. It was out of this awareness of his God who was always there that Noah responded to life as he did, doing things like worship.

My point is simple. We need more people like Noah. It is such people whom God will use to spread His kingdom. It is such people whom God will bless.

And that leads us to the obvious question. How do we become more like Noah? Again, I’m not talking about having the habits of Noah but rather having the character of Noah, the character that gave rise to all those good habits. That takes us back to that theme that I have been stressing. Who is God? What is He like? Noah had answers to those questions, answers that he gained from experiencing God, answers that resulted in his living as a righteous man. How do we become like him?

Well, like everything else, it’s a gift from God. But God doesn’t give it to the passive. He grants this sense of Himself, this sense that He is always there, to those who long for it.

David was someone who longed for it.
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.
That’s longing for God.

But it’s not as if Noah and David were among the elite for whom this drawing near to God was reserved. To have this longing - and to have it satisfied - isn’t that the point of Jesus’ coming? Isn’t that the goal of the Gospel? Isn’t that Jesus’ goal for all of us?

There are those of you who do have this longing. Oh, it may not be as strong as you would like, but it’s there. It’s something that you’re working on. Let me encourage you to keep working on it; keep nurturing it. As you do that, your sense of God, your sense of His nearness, will grow. He will give more of it to you.

But I suspect that there are some of you for whom longing for God just isn’t that important. Life is already filled with so many other things that demand your attention. Longing for God and doing something about it is just down on the list. If that’s you, I would urge you to reconsider your priorities. What is life without the sure knowledge and experience of the nearness of God?

Last week I gave you some homework. I told you to answer this question. ‘What difference does Jesus make in your life?’ Here’s my answer to that question. Jesus gives me the Father. He, my God, is always with me, watching and listening. And I find that so comforting. When I am not sure what to do, I turn to Him with my questions. When I am tempted to become anxious about something, He is right there to help. When life just gets too hard, I look to Him and He reminds me of my hope. And when I fall into sin, He is there to gently point it out to me and then to abundantly forgive me. I enjoy His presence and want a greater experience of it. It is something I long for. And I want all of you to also to long for and to enjoy God’s presence. It’s the reason that Jesus has come.

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