The world was corrupt. If they had news channels, they’d be filled with stories of violence. Amid all this evil, Noah stood as the lone righteous one. He lived blamelessly over 500 years before the events of Genesis 6. His father only lived to be 777, so he might have considered himself well beyond middle-aged when God spoke to him about the flood.
And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Genesis 6:13)
How did God speak to Noah? Audible voice? Dream? Vision? Angelic messenger? Indescribable sense from the Spirit within? And how did Noah react? Did he feel vindicated, after five centuries of blameless living in an evil world? Did he grieve over his neighbors, cousins, and acquaintances who would be killed? Did he fear that he and his family might be destroyed? Did he feel hopeful that, at last, God was going to do something about all the corruption? We don’t know.
Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. (Genesis 6:14-16)
The ark would be longer than a football field and about as wide, standing as tall as a three-story building. Was Noah some sort of ancient engineer, or did he have to learn how to do this from scratch? We don’t know. But for the next hundred years or so, his life’s mission statement was simple: Build the Ark.
For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. (Genesis 6:17-18)
God would destroy everything and everyone, but he was not like an angry father, flipping over the dinner table in senseless rage. He was deliberate, securing his relationship with a remnant people. Covenants were common back then. They were solemn bonds established between two or more parties, involving a firm commitment to the relationship and its obligations. They were central to how people went about business, politics, and family. We see God relate to his people through covenants all through the Bible. Here we see it with Noah, later we’ll see it with Abraham, Moses, David, and ultimately Jesus. The language here indicates that God is not establishing a new covenant, but confirming his existing covenant with Adam. The flood was not a divorce, but a vow renewal.
And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” (Genesis 6:19-21)
How would he gather so much lumber? Would he have hired workers? How would they lift and place beams? What sort of technology might have existed for this sort of work? How would they gather and store so much food? How would they handle the dangerous animals? How did his family respond to all this? How did the community view it? Again, we don’t know. But we do know what Noah did in response.
Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22)
God’s Wrath is Real
Two images come to my mind as I meditate on this passage. First, a Noah’s Ark Christmas ornament that hangs on my father and mother-in-law’s Christmas tree. It fits in your palm, with happy animals poking out from the windows. Small as it is, you can open it and see the animals inside. It’s one of our children’s favorite ornaments. The other image is of a painting that hangs in the hall of a church my wife and I belonged to when we were in college. It’s a huge painting, maybe 10 feet wide and 8 feet tall. It depicts the flood. The sky is dark with malicious clouds looming over an endless, black expanse of roiling water, with no land in sight. The ark floats in the distance, a grainy shadow, maybe a mile or two away. A man sinks in the foreground, almost imperceptible at first glance. He’s struggling against his inevitable fate, terror in his eyes, the murky water swallowing him. Which do you think more accurately depicts the reality of the flood?
We’ve polished this history into a charming children’s fable, and forgotten its horror, and the terrifying truth beneath it: God’s wrath is real. God is loving, gracious, sovereign, wise, powerful, and all-knowing. He’s also wrathful. He didn’t just allow nature to take its course, he caused the flood. The same God we pray to as we tuck our kids in at night, and sign about in church, killed men, women, elderly people, and children. And this isn’t the only example of his wrath. Consider two lesser known examples.
- In Exodus 22:21-24, God is giving his law to his newly freed people:
You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
- In Numbers 1:52-53, God had arranged his presence to dwell among his people in a tent called the Tabernacle while they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. Here he instructs his people how they should set up their camp as they prepare to go to bed at night.
The people of Israel shall pitch their tents by their companies, each man in his own camp and each man by his own standard. But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel. And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony.”
God’s presence was so charged with wrath that his people needed a protective layer of priests to insulate his dwelling place! You may be thinking, “I’m glad I don’t live in Old Testament times! The God of the New Testament is a teddy bear.” Not so fast. Let’s look at some New Testament passages.
First, in Matthew 24:36-45, Jesus instructed his disciples about a coming judgment.
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Just like in the days of Noah, people will be going about their daily lives, and suddenly, the Son of Man will come. They’ll be checking Facebook, walking their dogs, and microwaving leftovers; and then God’s wrath will fall.
Second, in 2 Peter 3:1-10, Peter wrote to the early church of these things.
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
God’s wrath remains real in the New Testament. It remains real for us. Christians are not just church folks. We are people sheltering in Jesus Christ from God’s wrath.
As a child, I wondered why the cross had to be so bloody and violent. What I didn’t understand was that Jesus was absorbing God’s wrath in my place. As I think about these things as an adult, I’m struck by how serious it is—more serious than we can fully grasp.
I’ll close by offering three applications, each drawn from the New Testament passages we just read.
First, stay awake.
In Matthew 24:42-44, Jesus says:
Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Let’s beware the constant lullaby the world sings. “Just focus on daily tasks. Just entertain yourself enough to get through. Just set some goals that will move you along in this life. Just keep the earbuds in and the screens on.”
Second, be faithful.
In Matthew 24, Jesus goes on to say this:
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:45-51)
A teacher tells her students, “I have to go make some copies. Do this worksheet until I come back.” Some of the students immediately start whispering and giggling, throwing paper and passing notes. But the faithful students stick to the task, knowing that, any minute, the teacher will return, and those goofing off will be punished. Years and years ago, the Teacher stepped out of the classroom. He said, “I’m coming back. Here’s your assignment while I’m gone: make disciples of all nations.” It’s been a long time, and it’s hard to stay focused on our assignment, but don’t you want to be found faithful when he returns. This is what Noah did in response to God’s message to him in Genesis 6. He just got to work, doing everything God told him to do. This is also what Peter instructs the church to do in light of the coming judgment in 2 Peter 3:11-12.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
2 Peter 2:9 says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The only reason Jesus hasn’t returned yet is so that more might reach repentance.
The night before I preached this sermon, as I meditated on these passaged, trying to get to sleep, I asked God to help me take this as seriously as I should. As I prayed and slept and thought and tossed and turned, images of people’s faces came to mind. I could see the faces of people I care about who are not Christians. The prospect of Jesus returning, and God’s wrath falling up on them in burning fury was too much for me. Noah and his family were to build the ark and enter it. Our task is different. We’re to enter “the new Ark,” Jesus Christ, and then shout to everyone else, “Get on the ark! Trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior! Take shelter from God’s iron wrath to come!” Evangelism is our most serious and urgent task.
These are for small groups, but can be used by individuals, families, or in discipleship relationships as well. Leaders are encouraged to pick the three they think will be most helpful to their groups, rather than attempting to discuss them all.
Trusting and Following Jesus
- Part of trusting in Jesus is anticipating his return. Read Matthew 24:36-51 together, and then 2 Peter 3:1-13. Refer back to both passages as you discuss the following prompts and questions.
- Imagine that “that day and hour” was three days ago at 7:26PM. What would Jesus have found you doing?
- With complete candor, do you view Jesus’ impending return as a good or bad thing? Why?
- What most distracts you from “staying awake” for the Lord’s coming? What most hinders you from living out 2 Peter 3:11-12? Here are some possibilities to get you thinking:
- Daily pressure from responsibilities
- The comforts of this world
- Emotional struggles
- Social media
- People (friends, family, etc.)
- Temptations and sins
- What is one step you can take to overcome this distraction, and “stay awake”?
- Give each person a notecard or sticky note and a pen. Write “Any minute” on the slip of paper, and share with the group where you’ll place it so that you’ll see it frequently and remember that “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
- To remind each other to “stay awake” this week, exchange cell phone numbers. Each person is to text the group something like “Stay awake!” or “Any minute!” in the next seven days. To determine when each person will text, have them pick a random number between 1 and 7 (this will be how many days they’ll wait to text) and then a number between 1 and 12 (this will be the time of day). For example, if I pick 2 and 8, I’ll text the group “Stay awake!” in two days at 8PM.
- Part of following Jesus is being faithful. For Noah, this meant doing “all that God commanded him” regarding the Ark (Genesis 6:22). We’re not called to build an ark, but what are we called to do as Christians? What scriptures come to mind?
- 1 Corinthians 7:17 says, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” Take some time to reflect on your calling, then write it down as succinctly as you can. “God has called me to ____________.” Then share what you wrote with the group. For example, mine might say, “God has called me to trust and follow him as Meredith’s husband, Elias and Lillian’s father, and Dulin’s Grove’s pastor.”
Loving God and People
- Loving God with all our minds involves being courageous enough to ask hard questions. Read Genesis 6:13 together. If God is perfect, why was his creation this filled with violence within just ten generations?
- Loving God means worshipping him as he is revealed in scripture, including all his attributes. How does his wrathfulness effect our worship? How might our worship be deformed if we reject this part of his character?
- Tim Keller wrote, “What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you only what God can give” (Counterfeit Gods, page xix). If Jesus were to return right now, what idols would you wish you had stopped worshipping first? Here’s a list from Keller to get you thinking:
- Body image
- Romantic relationships
- Critical acclaim
- Social standing
- Peer approval
- Competence and skill
- Comfortable circumstances
- Political or social causes
- Morality and virtue
- Success in Christian ministry
- Fixing other people
- Health and fitness
- Hard work
- Personal fulfilment
- Write down a list of the seven people you see most frequently in your daily life. How will Jesus’ return find each of them? Take some time to pray for these people. You may find it most appropriate to do this quietly, and not share with the group.
Evangelizing and Making Disciples
- Last week you were challenged to prayerfully name one person you hoped to share the gospel with. What happened? Share with the group, and pray for these individuals again.
- Pretend that God just told you that Jesus is going to return in exactly one week. What would you do to get the word out about the gospel? As an individual? As a group? As a church?
- Is there anything you discussed in question two that you can act on for real this week?
- Who in your life concerns you most when you think about Jesus’ return and judgement? Pray for them, and consider if there is a way you can share the gospel with them this week.