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Grace! I’m not sure if there’s a better word to summarize the Christian faith. The Apostle John, reflecting upon the identity of Jesus decades after his resurrection said in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the unique one from the Father, full of grace and truth…” In v. 16 he adds, “Out of his fullness we have all received grace upon grace; for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” In short: Jesus Christ is the embodiment, the fullest expression, of the grace of God. And his presence has left us all swimming in grace!
So we’re going to talk about grace this summer—once in August, once in July, and today. The purpose of today is to establish a foundation that we can build upon over the weeks.
Now some of us when we hear the word ‘grace,’ automatically open our Bibles to the New Testament. Why is this? It’s because there’s no grace in the Old Testament, right? The Old Testament is all about the Law and keeping the rules. Grace only shows up in the New Testament. But if we think or say that, we may be misrepresenting the word of God and we may be misspeaking about the character of God.
So today we are going to look at the first time the word ‘grace’ shows up in the Bible. And that’s in Genesis 6, at the beginning of the story of Noah. What I want to suggest to you today is that the story of God rescuing Noah from the great flood demonstrates God’s holiness and God’s grace.
And that’s pretty much our outline today. We’ll examine the holiness of God and then the grace of God. Our conversation about God’s holiness will inform our discussion of God’s grace. If you’re not already there, please turn to Genesis chapter 6. Let’s begin at v. 5.
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them. (Gen 6:5–7).
I. Look at his holiness! (vv. 5-7)
Look at his holiness! Just to be clear, when I use the word holiness for God in this passage, I’m not using it in a very technical way. What I mean is: God is distinct; unique; morally different; while he is intimately engaged with his Creation, our God is uncreated—superior, if you will. He’s in a class all by himself. Ok. God’s holiness can be demonstrated three ways in these verses and in the story of Noah overall.
A. God’s assessment of the human condition demonstrates his holiness (Genesis 6:5)
God’s assessment of the human condition demonstrates his holiness. Twice, once in our paragraph I just read and once a little later on, the Bible describes God “looking.” V. 5 “Then the LORD saw…” Later on in v. 12 the text says, “So God looked upon the earth…” It’s as if the author wants us to imagine God peering down on the earth from heaven above. But the seeing language is meant to communicate to us his perspective, his evaluation and assessment of things. It should remind us of Genesis 1, shouldn’t it? A total of seven times in Genesis 1 (v. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31), God saw what he had done and called it “good.” So the seeing language is meant to remind us of creation and God’s assessment overall.
Twice this paragraph makes reference to God as the Creator, once from the narrator and another time from the voice of God himself. Vv. 6–7: And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth.” God’s assessment of the situation is as the Creator.
And as the Creator, he knows the human condition from the outside in. There are five terms/expressions used throughout the story of Noah to describe the human condition. First, in 6:5, it is ‘the wickedness of man’ most likely referencing the evil things people do (perversions from the intention of the Creator). But then, still in v. 5 it moves from the external to the internal, “every intent or inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” It is obvious that the text is being emphatic: “every intent or inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” There is something within us drawn to the wrong.
The next descriptive phrase is found in vv. 11-12: corrupt (in other words: ruined). “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” Before God saw that it was good, everything was in order and conducive for life (Gen 1). Now it’s ruined. The fourth term is ‘violence’ in vv. 11 and 13. Human history isn’t that old at this point and in Genesis 4 we see Cain murder his brother Able, and then Cain’s great, great, great grandson murders a young man for giving him a black eye (my paraphrase). Humanity is violent.
Our last description of the human condition is found later in the story, in Gen 8:21, “Then the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Our evil does not wait for adulthood. And this is God’s assessment, and his assessment of his creation demonstrates his holiness. Because implicit is his assessment is that he’s different. The creation is becoming unlike him. It’s heading down a path he does not approve of.
B. God’s emotions concerning the human condition demonstrate his holiness (v. 6–7).
Next, God’s emotions concerning the human condition demonstrate his holiness. Twice, once from the narrator in v. 6 and then once from the mouth of the LORD in v. 7, we learn that the LORD was sorry for having created man. What does this mean? It means that the LORD regretted making man. It is easier to act it out than to describe this emotion. It is as if God, surveying the condition of the human race, says, “I wish I didn’t make them. Why did I make human beings?” Is this sermon helping anyone’s self-esteem?
The next phrase used of God’s emotions is found in v. 6. He was “grieved in his heart.” That sounds so Bible-ly. What does that mean? It means he was offended; he was insulted to the point of anger (NET Bible notes). In other words: God says, “Look at it! I made it good. I can’t believe they have ruined it! I am offended, I am insulted by what they’ve become and what they do!” God’s emotions concerning sin demonstrate his holiness.
C. God’s judgment of human beings demonstrates his holiness.
The LORD is insulted to the point of anger and he determines to judge the world. So lastly, God’s judgment of humans demonstrates his holiness.
The LORD intends to destroy (in other words: to wipe out) all he has made. Listen to Genesis 6:7, “So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” Listen to 6:13: And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” Listen to 6:17: And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.” And now listen to 7:4: [The LORD is speaking] For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made.” The LORD intends to destroy all he has made.
And the LORD goes through with the destruction. Let’s read Genesis 7 starting at v. 17:
Now the flood was on the earth forty days. The waters increased and lifted up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and greatly increased on the earth, and the ark moved about on the surface of the waters. And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, all that was on the dry land, died. So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive. (Gen 7:17–23)
And here’s the tension in the story. The holy God has assessed the sin of the human race. The holy God is greatly offended by the sin of the human race; we have contaminated and ruined the whole world—even the animals. And the holy God intends and does destroy everything. So why are humans still here? If God intended to wipe us all out, why are humans still here? Why are there still animals? Why do we still call this earth our home? Scripture screams out to us the answer in Genesis 6:8. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD!” “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD!” “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD!” That’s why there’s still a human race. That’s why there are still animals on the earth. That’s why the earth remains to this day. Noah found grace.
II. Look at his grace! (v. 8)
Look at his grace!
A. The expression/idiom “to find favor/grace in someone’s eyes.”
Let’s talk about God’s grace. Like I said before, this is the first time the word ‘grace’ shows up in the Bible. And if you noticed, the word is not alone. It is in a Hebrew expression or idiom—namely, “to find grace/favor in the eyes of someone.” This expression is found nearly forty times in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament.
The expression means “to be an object of another’s favorable disposition or action.” Another way to put it: “to be a recipient of another’s favor, kindness, mercy.” I am taking that definition from the NET (New English Translation) Bible notes. If you didn’t know, the NET Bible is an incredible help for Bible study. They have thousands, I think over 60,000 notes, and those are all available online at Bible.org. I have been greatly helped by the notes for this sermon. So again, the expression means “to be an object of another’s favorable disposition or action.” And another way to put it: “to be a recipient of another’s favor, kindness, mercy.”
Now I think the definition the NET Bible offered for the expression is a good start, but I think that it sort of misses the social dimension that tends to follow this expression. Take for example the story of Joseph. Later on in Genesis, the sons of Jacob sell one of their brother’s named Joseph into slavery. He ends up in Egypt. And the Bible repeatedly tells us that the LORD was with Joseph. Well, in chapter 39 a wealthy guy named Potiphar buys him. Potiphar notices something special about Joseph and the narrator says, “Joseph found favor/grace in Potiphar eyes” (Genesis 39:4). So Joseph is put in charge of Potiphar’s whole household.
Or consider the story of Ruth. Ruth the Moabite, with no man to provide for her or her mother-in-law Naomi, goes out to pick up grain behind the gleaners in a field. As luck would have it, she ends up in Boaz’s field. Well Boaz tells Ruth to stay in his field to glean. He allows her to work with his female employees, offering her protection, not only this, if she gets thirsty she can freely drink from the water that Boaz’s men have drawn. When she sees all the kind or nice things Boaz has done for her, she bows to the ground and says, “Why have I found such favor/grace in your eyes…?” (Ruth 2:10).
What’s my point in telling you those two stories? My point is that there is a social dimension that often accompanies this expression—namely, grace is an undeserved favor at the hands of a superior to an inferior (Holman Illustrated Bible, 687). Potiphar owns Joseph and chooses to entrust him with much. Boaz owns this field that Ruth happens to find herself on and offers her way more than she ever expected. The recipients of grace are people who are in a lesser position, they are vulnerable, weak, and at the mercy of others. And the givers of grace are those people who are in a higher position who are under no obligation to help out the weaker person (but they choose to). This is the picture of grace, a higher-up reaching for a lower-down.
Okay. Let’s put this all together and give you a clear and easy definition of grace. I heard this one from Tim Keller. If you don’t know him you should, I have lots of respect for this guy because of his clarity in articulating the gospel. Well his definition, which sums up the expression and the social dimension of grace, is this: Grace is an undeserved gift from an unobligated Giver. This is just one definition of grace. There are many more, and each one has a way of capturing the beauty of God’s kindness to us.
Now. Let’s come back to the story of Noah. What does it mean that Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD? It means that Noah is the recipient of an underserved gift (namely the rescue of him and his whole family) from an unobligated Giver (namely the LORD). Noah is in the vulnerable, weak and desperate situation. Noah is subject to divine judgment apart from God’s help. God is the superior, the higher-up. Remember our whole discussion of God’s holiness? This is where it all comes into place. God is holy (remember: distinct, unique, morally different, involved with his creation but he is not a creature; he’s in a class all by himself, superior). And his holiness is demonstrated by his assessment of sin, emotions concerning sin and his judgment of sin. God’s holiness, the fact that he is God, means he is always in the superior position. He cannot be manipulated, coerced or forced into anything. So Noah is the recipient of an undeserved gift from an unobligated Giver (the LORD).
B. The demonstration of his grace.
What undeserved gifts did the LORD, the unobligated Giver, give to Noah? We do not have time to look at each one in detail that’s why I have given you the list in your outline. One, God chooses or selects Noah rescuing him and his family from judgment (6:8; 7:1). Two, God warns Noah of the impending danger (6:13). Three, God instructs Noah time and time again (e.g. 6:14ff). Four, God remembers Noah in 8:1. In other words: he acts in accordance with his previous promise to Noah. Five, God blesses Noah and his sons (9:1). It is very similar to the blessing the Lord gives to the first human beings in Genesis 1. Six, God accepts Noah’s sacrifice in 8:20. Seven, God makes a covenant with Noah and his descendants promising to not flood the world again (9:9ff). These are seven things the LORD does for Noah that he doesn’t have to do, but chooses to do. And Noah doesn’t deserve any of it.
C. An Objection: Noah earned God’s help/rescue/grace.
Now I can imagine that there are some of you who would object. Some of you say, “Richard. Not so fast. Noah is deserving.” Look at his character. Look at his good deeds. Noah earned God’s help, rescue, and grace.
What this objector or dissenter means is that the narrative describes Noah’s standout character and actions four times. Look at 6:9, “This is the account or genealogy of Noah, Noah was a just man, perfect [or blameless] in his generations. Noah walked with God [he maintained a proper relationship with God]. 6:22 says, [After the LORD instructs Noah] “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.” Now 7:1, “Then the LORD said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.” And 7:5, “And Noah did according to all that the LORD commanded him.” So you see Richard, Noah deserved everything he got from God. This is not an example of grace. How would you respond to this?
Well, my response is that Noah was sinful. You see, none of the words the Bible uses in order to describe Noah (just, perfect or blameless depending on the translation, walking with God, righteous or the fact that Noah obeyed the instructions of the LORD to the tee) suggest that Noah was without sin, sinless, or possessed a sinless nature. All they suggest is that Noah agreed with God about the sinfulness of sin, he believed God and sought to maintain a proper relationship with God. That’s why he stands out.
So the Bible’s terminology does not suggest that Noah is sinless and Noah’s sinfulness is proven by his own actions and by history. Proven by his own actions in that one of the last images we have of Noah is him passed out drunk, naked in his tent (9:21ff). Proven by history in that the problem of sin existed before the flood and it continues on in Noah’s descendants (of which we are all included) long after the flood. Why do I make a big deal about Noah’s sinfulness? What good thing does a holy God owe to a sinful person? How can a sinful person earn anything good from a holy God? Noah doesn’t earn God’s rescue, or God’s grace. Noah is the recipient of an undeserved gift (the rescue of him and his family) from an unobligated Giver (the holy God, the LORD).
Well, in our time today, we have seen how the story of God rescuing Noah from the flood demonstrates God’s holiness and God’s grace. First we looked at God’s holiness. God’s holiness was demonstrated by God’s assessment of the sinful human condition. God’s holiness was also demonstrated by his emotional response to the human condition. And God’s holiness was demonstrated by his judgment of human beings. So we looked at God’s grace. Grace is the answer to the tension in Noah’s story. Why are we still here? Why did humans survive the flood? It’s because Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. We mostly used Tim Keller’s definition of grace: grace is an undeserved gift from an unobligated Giver. And this is where the discussion of God’s holiness informed our discussion of God’s grace. What on earth does a holy God owe sinful people? And we saw that Noah was sinful. So Noah is the recipient of an undeserved gift (rescue from judgment) from an unobligated giver (the holy God). And that’s grace. Pure and simple, that’s grace. This is the first time grace shows up in the Bible. It’s grace at its most basic, uncomplicated form.