Genesis 6:8-10 “But Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD. This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.”
Certainly Noah’s age was very different from ours, and Noah’s problems were very remote from our culture at the beginning of the 21st century. Noah existed before the age of the world wide web. He lived before the discovery of printing. Had the wheel been invented when Noah was born? His life was past and gone thousands of years before the baby Moses lay in an ark in the bulrushes. Noah’s civilization is quite undiscoverable to us today, the flood having washed away almost every trace of it. All that we know about it has been preserved for us in the early chapters of Genesis. Similarly our own Western world would be utterly perplexing to Noah and his fellow citizens.
Yet Noah and I have one thing in common, and that is that we worship the same God; we have experienced the same grace; we hold the same basic convictions; we are motivated by the same fundamental aspirations, but Noah was a giant and we are dwarfs in our love for God and how we work for the Lord. Noah presented his body as a living sacrifice to Jehovah day after day for over a hundred years. What use Noah made of the grace God showed to him. He was righteous through and through; he lived before his neighbours blamelessly – no one could point a finger at any inconsistency in his life; he talked to God, he talked to them of God, and he walked with God. Noah is a model, one to whom we can turn with profit even in our day and in our situation. It is of Noah that the Bible first uses the term righteous. What does it mean to live in a right relationship with God? Noah can tell us. Again, it is in God’s dealing with this man who built the ark that we first read the word grace. What does it mean that God would look down on a sinner and he would find grace in God’s eyes? We find out in the history of Noah.
Here is a story that involves us all and speaks to our most basic predicament. Noah shares one distinction with Adam, and that is that every single human being, and so all of us reading these words, are the descendants of Noah as well as Adam, and we may look to Noah, our grand but distant father, for hope and truth. But Noah also shares a distinction with Jesus Christ. Noah laboured on the ark for years to provide a place of safety for those who would heed his preaching of righteousness. So also did Jesus, the true carpenter of our salvation, the true Second Adam, and the Second Noah, of whom this ancient patriarch was but a type. I want to begin to look at Noah today and ask how he came to know God, and what difference did this knowledge of God which he possessed make to his life. What were the outstanding features of this man? How can I apply them to ourselves?
1. ON WHAT WAS NOAH’S LIFE FOUNDED?
We are told that the significant difference between Noah and everyone else who lived at his time lay in this fact, that “Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord” (v.8). That was the basis of his whole life. That became the root of all his actions; it was the foundation of his religious life. It all began with the favour of God – it is the word we usually translate as ‘grace.’ God was pleased to show his grace to Noah, and that grace means the loving power of God transforming a sinner. That is what made Noah such a giant so that thousands of years later we are still speaking of him in awe. Men and women on the morning of the last day of the world will be speaking of him and it was all because God once set his eyes upon Noah in favour and mercy and compassion.
Noah began his life like everyone else in the antediluvian age – as in our own age also. His wickedness was great, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. He was indistinguishable from the rest. He had no thought of God and so he had no time for the Lord. Agriculture, business, metalwork, poetry, music, fighting, the giants of his age and stories about them – that was the sum of his life. He was indistinguishable from all the other sons of Adam, though he came from the line of Seth. There was no particular deserving in his life that made God look twice at him. He wasn’t particularly smart, or of great stature, or rich, or handsome, or religious. None of those things was the reason he grabbed the attention of God. He didn’t earn favour in the eyes of God by his own goodness. He owed everything to this fact alone, that God had determined to set his favour upon him, and that was for some reason utterly hidden from us. Despite the fact that Noah’s heart was like a stone, and his spirit was dead in sin, and every inclination of his heart was only evil, yet he found grace in the eyes of the Lord. There were many obvious failings to his character and yet, so mysteriously, God looked upon him in pity and revealed his grace to him.
You understand what I am saying, that Noah owed everything he was to become – the mighty hero we know about, the one highly regarded throughout history – to an act of God’s grace, not because of anything he was. God took the initiative and changed the whole direction of his life, so that he would say to his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth, “Boys, you remember this, that I am what I am by the grace of God. It is the living God who made the difference in me.” If the boys were to see multitudes drowning and crying to be let into the ark then they had had this truth drilled into them by their father that God’s distinguishing mercy and initiative had made the difference in his life and so in theirs too. They looked at themselves all safe in the ark while thousands were outside, and they said, “Even so Father for so it seemed good in your sight.” And that is true for every true Christian here. In other words, God determines to save us; we don’t save ourselves. He saves us on purpose, not by hunch or accident, and when God saves then the change becomes evident to all. Only God can change people in that way.
Consider Saul of Tarsus who became the apostle Paul; he explains in his letter to the Galatians how he became a Christian and this is how he describes it, “God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me” (Gals. 1:15&16). “God is responsible for it all,” says Paul. “He worked the extraordinary life-transforming change in me. He called me by his grace.” When you read the accounts of what happened on the road to Damascus then that can be the only conclusion to which you can come; God stepped in uninvited; he intervened in his life. Saul of Tarsus was sincere, and Saul was moral, and Saul was religious and all the world will look at him and cry, “Who can ask for anything more?” but none of that was enough. Saul was breathing out threatenings and slaughter against Christ and his people. He was not breathing out sighs and prayers and tears to God that he would save him. Saul was on a mission of destruction, all set to annihilate the church of Jesus Christ. He wasn’t on a spiritual pilgrimage seeking for God. Saul was not righteous but a wicked religious man both in his actions and his whole life style, but out of the blue he was confronted by the living Jesus Christ calling him by name and taking his whole life apart so that it came crashing to the ground. The Lord did it all. I read Acts 9 and I don’t see Saul contributing anything at all to his conversion except a spirit of murder and self-righteousness and hatred of Jesus. The Lord had set apart Saul of Tarsus from birth, but he had then waited thirty years to take action in his life. At this time he called him by his grace on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” He opened Saul’s blind eyes; he made him see Jesus Christ, just how glorious and suitable the Lord was for Saul’s lost condition. That change of status is what Moses is referring to in our text when he says that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
Think again of how the twelve apostle became disciples of Jesus Christ. Our Saviour broke into their lives and called them to follow him. There were hundreds of fishermen all around the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus came to just two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew, James and John. He called just them alone to leave their fathers and their boats to come and follow him. He ignored the hundreds of others; it was just these four fishermen that found grace in his eyes. Later on he reminded them of this fact when he said, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (Jn. 15:16). If they had casually chosen him then one day when the going got tough they might chose to abandon him. “Today I vote for him; tomorrow I vote against him.” If the decision is mine then, like a politician whom I elected in one election, I might elect someone totally different in the next election. But if the choice is made by the God who does not change, who knows all about me, past, present and future, and chooses me even though he sees how rotten I am then I can always rely on that love that will not let me go, even when I feel most cold and fickle. “He knew all about me and yet he set his love on me and chose me.” You know what happened later on in the life of Noah, how he got drunk and naked and lay in a stupour in his tent and the boys had to spread a blanket over him to hide his shame. God knew he would behave like that but he still focused his grace on Noah and blessed him. We refuse to make the fall of Noah the defining moment in his life. The Bible mentions it in passing. The defining moment was the grace that God showed him before the foundation of the world and the grace he experienced in his life that changed Noah from what he had been.
We who are Christians today stand exactly where Noah stood; we are recipients of the same saving favour from God. Time and again we are driven to this great and even elemental fact, that our whole hope in life and death lies in the grace and compassion of our God and Saviour. We have let our Saviour down in our minds and souls and imaginations and bodies again and again, but the grace he gives us is not in vain. He keeps working away in our lives determined to take us to be with him in a new heavens and new earth. That is Christianity. Let me fill it out;
i] The Bible is absolutely clear in its teaching about election, that it is God who chooses Noah and a company of people more than any man can number to be saved. God sets the whole process of salvation in motion; he pushes the button and he focuses his grace so personally and selectively. Election is a saving act of God. Tony Lambert is the Director of Research for the Overseas Missionary Fellowship and in the current issue of the Banner of Truth magazine he reports on the growing Chinese church today – China is a place he frequently visits and he speaks Mandarin. This very year – 2006 – he heard a sermon preached by Samuel Lamb, the house church leader in the city once known as Canton. Tony timed the sermon; it lasted for one hour and forty minutes and Samuel Lamb held the congregation spellbound for that length of time. Here is a minister who once suffered as a slave-labourer in a coal mine for many years, yet he is now preaching God’s Word three times a week to over two thousand people. But it was these observations of Tony Lambert in particular that drew my attention, “Most Chinese believers have a strong sense of the sovereignty of God and have no difficulty in accepting the supernatural. Many Christians correspond with those who work in gospel radio stations such as Far East Broadcasting Company. It has been noticeable over the years how many refer in passing in their letters to ‘when God elected me,’ or ‘when God chose me.’ (Banner of Truth Magazine, Issue 515-516, August-September 2006, p.26).
Far from them being tucked away in hidden corners in little books in the Bible these truths are up front everywhere. They are amongst the very first truths God taught the New Testament church, for example, about the newly converted Paul. “This man is my chosen instrument” God says about him to a Christian called Ananias (Acts 9:15), and when he heard those words he didn’t turn white at the thought of ‘God choosing men’, rather he went to visit this blinded apostle so that the first words he said to Saul – the first words Saul heard as a new Christian were these, “The God of our fathers has chosen you” (Acts 22:14).
Again, the opening words which Peter tells the Gentile churches to whom he is writing are these, that they “have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood” (I Pet. 1:2). God wants Christians to know about this extraordinary privilege, that before the first brick was laid in the foundations of the universe God had chosen to save them. How wonderful! Before there was a sun or moon I was gripped by the love of God; I lived in the heart of God. I owe my Christian profession to God. God chose me because he loved me, but why he should love me I will never, never know. And so God’s great grace came upon Noah; he didn’t earn it; he didn’t merit it, but God showed his mercy to him. There is none of us in Christ today who are not in debt to that great divine choice, that from eternity we have found favour in the eyes of God. That alone has made us different, not that we were better than others, nor more sincere, nor more earnest, but God in love chose someone like ourselves.
ii] The Bible is absolutely clear that Noah and all upon whom God’s favour rests are also called by God to himself. There is a divine summons which is quite electric in its impact. It awakens and energizes people to obey. It speaks with the voice that wakes the dead. The call comes quite invincibly and effectually, in other words, it always has its desired effect in those who’ve found grace in God’s sight. The call is to acknowledge that we are sinners in great need and that we must come to Jesus Christ for salvation, and that summons is heeded in everyone chosen by God. We are persuaded by God to become followers of Christ; we are enabled by God to obey the call. This call of God doesn’t fall to the ground; it doesn’t return to him as empty as an echo. It brings with it all those he summons. Peter and Andrew leave the fishing business straight away; they say good-bye to their father and they follow Jesus. When the Lord calls Zacchaeus he comes down from the tree and welcomes Jesus into his life. There is no such thing as a Christian who is not a called Christian. The fact that we are trusting and obeying the Lord today is the great proof that the Lord has called us. When and where this call came to Noah we are not told. In many disciples in the Bible we are not informed of the circumstances surrounding the beginning of the change in their lives, what we describe as his conversion. What we are told is the difference grace made to the rest of their lives. As God had called Noah then immediately he began to serve him (v.13); we are told that, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (v.22). Noah’s obedience of faith is so crucial in its evidence that God had really called him that five verses later it is again underlined by the writer, “Noah did all that the Lord commanded him” (Gen. 7:5).
iii] The Bible is absolutely clear that Noah and all upon whom God’s favour rests are given new hearts. In other words, they are regenerated; they receive new life; they are born from above. They owe that status to God alone, just as much as the reason for their natural birth was right outside their control. We owe the whole of our newness and our Christian transformation to this fact that we have been born of the Spirit. So here is Noah, and we know that by nature every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. What is his principal need? What do you need? A new heart, not a patched up, cosmeticised old heart. How else is Noah going to serve God and do his will? He must have a heart to praise God; a heart from sin set free; a heart that’s sprinkled in the blood so freely shed for him. God gives that to him and to all on whom his favour rests because that’s the result of God’s grace resting on any man.
You understand one crucial New Testament inference from these facts? Boasting is excluded. That’s it. Boasting about us traveling to heaven is prohibited because God purchased the ticket, and is taking us there. He unlocked the door for us, and welcomed us in. We don’t push out our chests and say, “Didn’t I do a smart thing when with my free will and my own heart I chose Jesus.” No. We say, “Where would I be if God had not chosen me and intervened in my life!” We look at other people who have made shipwrecks of their lives and we say, “Apart from the grace of God there go I.” Now that is the grace that is being offered to you today. This grace that Noah found coming from God to him a sinner is being pressed on you. “Here is a Saviour for you to take, no matter how unworthy, how unprepared, how worldly your motives in reading these words, still in the gospel of Jesus Christ there is a free Saviour in the fulness of his blessing and in all his salvation functions and in the totality of his power to save. Here is this person, Jesus Christ, what a leader and teacher he is, and this Son of God can be yours. The favour of God which Noah found is today freely offered to every one of you.” So if Noah’s life was founded on the divine grace we must ask the next question;
2. HOW WAS NOAH’S LIFE BUILT UP?
In other words, if a man finds grace in the eyes of the Lord how does it impact him? Does it make any difference? Does he go on living just like anyone else but a bit more religious? What sort of lifestyle emerges? What are the fruits of God intervening in his life? Moses tells us a number of things about Noah which are the inevitable results of his being gripped by the grace of God. “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (v.9). Here is a life rooted in the eternal favour of God and when that grace touches Noah’s life it’s all change! When the divine energy reached Noah nothing was ever the same again. All things in the life of Noah became new.
Being held by God’s love didn’t make Noah a great theologian, or a religious controversialist, or a moralist disapproving of everyone all around him. It made Noah righteous and blameless among the people of his time, and from then on he walked with God, and I am saying to you that if you begin to think you are one of the chosen ones then the only right you have to assume you are elected by God is the emergence of these qualities in your life. Only then can you be assured that you are building on the right foundation.
Surely we have the clearest demonstration in our text of the great barriers which God has placed around the belief in free and sovereign grace in salvation. Grace does not lead to someone saying, “Let us sin that God’s grace in election may abound.” Grace always leads to these three things, to righteous living, a blameless relationship with other men and women, and a closer walk with God to heaven. All three; not two out of three. I say to you, “Do you want to show that you are an Augustinian? That you are a Calvinist? That you are a confessional Christian? That you are a man who believes in the sovereignty of God in salvation? That you are a man who believes in all the doctrines of grace? Then I want to see this kind of man, not that you have great books on your shelves, and you contend for our church separating from other churches, and that you know what is the only version of the Bible that should be used, and so on but this, you are a person who is righteous, blameless in your relations with others and you are walking with God. Let us examine them one by one as we bring the sermon to a close.
i] Noah was a righteous man.
Let me flood this verse with all the light of the New Testament. Noah trusted in the Lord and he was justified by God; he was declared righteous. We know that he was a sinner, that his character was troubled by lusts of the flesh and of the mind, but he was a justified man. He was righteous in the Seed of the woman who one day would bruise the serpent’s head and his own heel would be bruised in that encounter. Henceforth, after Noah trusted in God, there was no condemnation because of the condemnation the Seed of the woman had borne in his place for all Noah’s sins.
I would say to you today that surely it is a marvelous privilege that here is a man who was imperfect, who had a problem with drink, and yet in the judgment of God there was no condemnation. In the sight of God this was a righteous man, not righteous through any inherent character, but righteous through the one great Sacrifice that was to be made. Noah was to sacrifice to God wasn’t he? After the flood Noah built an altar, took “some of all the clean animals and clean birds; he sacrificed burnt offerings on it” (Gen. 8:20). Here was a red heifer, and here was a pigeon and Noah killed them. Their blood trickled over his hands and dripped onto the ground. Noah knew as well as any of us that the blood of birds and animals could not make atonement for his sins, yet he knew that this was the sacrifice that Abel had made and God had accepted it, and that the great Seed of the woman was coming one day. He knew that without the shedding of blood there could be no atonement. Noah’s only hope of forgiveness and righteousness from God would be through him. Noah had no idea of the twofold nature of Jesus of Nazareth and the atonement he himself would make on Calvary when God the Father forsook God the Son, but he took the knowledge he had and so shed the blood on an altar he built to Jehovah.
I challenge you, are you righteous with the righteousness of the Seed of the woman? Have you washed your robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb? Can you finish reading this message tonight and sleep in the joyous assurance that you face no condemnation whatsoever, that you are whiter than snow because you have been plunged into the foundation of Emmanuel’s blood? Noah was righteous with that righteousness which is unto all and upon all those who believe in the Lamb of God provided by the Father.
However, Noah was also righteous in this sense that he lived according to the rules of Christian discipleship. There is a way for the Christian; there is a road for the man who has found favour in the sight of the Lord. He is an authentic Christian and Noah was absolutely genuine. Noah was real; he was the right article; he was pure inwardly. We’ve got to ask ourselves are we that? Tried by the standard of the Christian rule and the biblical lifestyle, are we without guile? We can talk the talk, but we also walk the walk.
You take the Sermon on the Mount and there you meet great principles laid down by the Son of God. Why are they there in Matthew 5, 6 and 7? Are they there to be analyzed and dissected? Are they there to be admired? Are they there simply to stir my conscience? No, says Christ. This is the way we’re to go. This the road we’re to tread. This is the authentic lifestyle of all who claim to be mine. It is the only road that leads to everlasting life. The great thing, Christ says at the end of the Sermon, is not whether you can remember it, but can you go and do it? Are you building your life on this? Tried by that great standard are you a righteous man?
I am saying to you that the first mark of Noah truly having received grace in the eyes of the Lord was that he became a righteous man, he was straight, a person of the utmost integrity. He was righteous in the blood of the Seed of the woman and he was righteous because he was concerned about the rights of others and his obligations to them. So the great theme of Noah’s preaching was righteousness.
ii] Noah was a blameless man.
Noah was not blameless in the sense of absolute ethical perfection, but blameless in this sense that first of all his whole heart was engaged in this business of his relationship with God. He was unreserved and unqualified in his commitment to God. So I am searching my own heart and asking whether I am cunningly building reservations into my life. Have I secretly made a pact that there are points beyond which I will not go in my devotion to God? Noah’s commitment was perfect; God was his Master and Jehovah was Lord over everything. He had renounced all his autonomy, every single right over against God, and he had made the Lord his God and he was utterly dedicated to him.
And I would speak to some of you who are on the threshold of commitment, and especially I would address the waverers, and the undecided, those who limp between two opinions, and I am asking you why? Is this how we are going to spend the rest of our lives, not quite loving the Lord Jesus and not quite loving the world? Undecided about whether we want to be damned or redeemed? Are we going to say, “This matter needs to be brought to a head and I am going to make my commitment to Jesus Christ total. I am going to own him as my Lord.” Noah’s dedication was complete. “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Gen.6:22).
Again, we may say that Noah was blameless in the sense that there was no imbalance in his spiritual life. There was nothing essential missing from his discipleship. He knew the doctrines; he obeyed the commandment and he brought all his emotions under the authority of the word of God. He was contented and trusting, joyful and peaceful. He was well-rounded and well developed and his spiritual life was in the right proportions. It has all the necessary ingredients in the right balance and mixture. This is a marvelously appropriate combination, a life which combines the intellectual and the emotional, a life that is good in people skills as well as in faithfulness to the truth. There are some Christians with massive intellects and yet they don’t seem to be moved by the gospel. There are some Christians who are quite effusive in their exultations and yet they lack doctrine; they have no mental involvement in the faith. Living on one extreme or the other is something we must avoid. There must be the inward life of the soul and the outward church life of relationships and the various church meetings. Noah was perfect in his balance between the various aspects of the Christian life.
Again Noah was blameless among the people of his time. Now that is very significant because Moses in these chapters has been giving to us a portrait of the people of Noah’s time. They were an evil generation, in particular there was violence everywhere. We are told that Noah lived amongst them for 120 years, and he was all alone except for his family. He was the only Jehovahist in the world. He had no network of ark-builders who occasionally had a convention and cheered one another up with stirring sermons. He lacked any human encouragement at all. He received no help from the world only scorn and ridicule and hostility and yet he was blameless before them all.
I am saying this for one reason only, that it is so easy to come and say, “If only you knew the circumstances in which I have to live, and the place at which I work, and the atmosphere in which I pursue my calling, then you would understand how difficult it is to be a Christian. You would excuse my little imperfections. If only I had some other men and women, some children my age to support me, then I would shine for the Lord. So you must make some allowances for my falls and inconsistencies. I say to you that here is Noah and he was blameless among the people of his time, despite all their indifference and hostility and antagonism he lived blamelessly in that environment.
Grace made Noah a man interested in others. He was a straight man in his personal relationships. He gave people their due; he wasn’t obsessed with his own rights. He didn’t automatically think, “What about me? What do I get out of this? Do people know of my rank and show me respect?” There is a tremendous peril that Christians become a community of standards, and laws, and practices, and that we assert our own prerogatives. Now what we have to remember is absolutely fundamental to the Christian ethic and it is this, that I am not obsessed with my own rights, but I am passionate about the rights of others. The husband’s great concern is not with his own rights but with his wife’s. Parents’ concern is not with their rights but with the children’s whom God has given them. Are we all going to be obsessed with our own rights? The rights of the child, and the rights of the Muslim, and the rights of the homosexual, a mother’s rights over the unwanted child she discovers she is carrying in her womb . . . and so on. Aren’t you weary of the language of rights?
I am going to ask you that when Christ went to the cross what happened to his rights? Why didn’t he complain? Why didn’t he go to Amnesty International? Why didn’t he appeal to the European Court of Human Rights? Why didn’t he speak of his rank and honours and entitlements? Why didn’t his disciples march and carry placards and protest about their rights? There is a tremendous need that we should be aware of our duties, our obligations to others and their rights, that we should be obsessional in our awareness of them – their rights being our primary concern, to do our duty even at the risk of injury to ourselves and even the forfeiture of our own rights.
iii] Noah walked with God.
Noah didn’t walk alone. That’s great thing about any life. Think of the blessed man of Psalm one that he didn’t walk in the counsel of the ungodly, and that was everybody at the time of Noah. So he was terribly out of step; there was never a more odd and eccentric and unpopular man in the world than Noah. Men thought he was a crank, and he wouldn’t walk in the counsel of the ungodly. That’s important, to know that there are certain people and if you walk with them they are going to destroy you. There are certain boys and girls in school and if you walk with them it’s going to result in your making a shipwreck of your life. Becoming a Christian means knowing the people with whom you mustn’t walk, but you must also know with whom you should walk. You must walk with your God.
Enoch walked in the Spirit as he moved through this great crisis in this world’s history. He was walking side by side with the Spirit of God. It meant he was listening to his own conscience and obeying what it said to him. It meant that all he’d learned of God and his ways from Adam and Eve and Seth and Enoch he was obeying that. It also meant that he had a profound jealousy that every day the Lord was with him, that whatever he did and wherever he was he hadn’t lost the Lord’s presence.
I wonder how jealous we are about that? As we face this day it is in the confidence that he is near us to deliver us, that he is a very present help in trouble, that his grace is sufficient to help us in every time of need. As he talked with Ham and Shem and Japheth he said to them, “Don’t take a step without the Lord.” That was his great motto. “Listen to your conscience, boys. Listen to the word of God, boys. Be sure as you begin every day and you realize that there are things you’ve lost and you can’t find them then be sure that you haven’t lost God. You must have him; ‘unless your presence go with us, take us not hence.’”
These were the triple marks of Noah really having found grace in the eyes of the Lord, and they are the three marks of your finding grace today. I’m asking you have you done that? Have you responded to the grace of God in this way? Noah did everything just as God commanded him. Have you? You remember it requires a decision. You are standing before the demands of God and you know you are either going to give them cheerful obedience or not. You have to make up your mind – of course it’s by the grace of God. Of course it is within the foreordination of God. Of course, but we are being called to respond to that grace right now.
3rd September 2006 GEOFF THOMAS