Sunday, March 9, 2003

First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-9 (1-10, NIV)
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15 

Show me thy ways, O Jehovah; Teach me thy paths. Guide me in thy truth, and teach me; For thou art the God of my salvation; For thee do I wait all the day.

I have a photograph that I took when we lived in California. After a storm, a rainbow formed in the sky. From where I stood, the rainbow could be seen just above our church, arching over the cross on top. The photo has always been one of my favorites because it shows the two great promises of God.

The first promise comes to Noah after the flood. "And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you. Of all that go out of the ark, even every beast of the earth.  And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of the flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth." (Genesis 9:9-11)

Things were pretty bad in the days of Noah. "And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5) Things were so bad that, "And it repented Jehovah that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart." (Genesis 6:6) There was only one man who found favor in the eyes of God - Noah. He was righteous; he had a right relationship with his Creator. Rather than destroying the entire earth, God commanded Noah to build an ark and fill it with every type of animal. At the right time, Noah and his wife, their three sons and their wives were put aboard the ark with enough to survive and repopulate the earth. Then it started to rain. Everything was destroyed except everything that was aboard that ark. When the rain stopped and the floodwaters departed, Noah and his family began life anew with a promise from God. Peter equates the mercy of God to Noah and his family who were saved from the waters of the flood, to the mercy of God we receive through our baptism. By our nature we are just like those in the days of Noah whose hearts are evil all the time, but in baptism we are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. God promised Noah that He would never destroy all flesh by water again, and the rainbow still serves as a reminder of that Covenant.

Things weren't much better for the people who lived two thousand years ago. God's people were oppressed, not only by a foreign power, but also by the sin that bound them. They were burdened with a Law they could not uphold, burdened by priests who thought they were righteous, but they did not know God. They were separated from their Creator by sin and death reigned. There were none righteous, not one.

But God had a plan, a plan that was in existence from the beginning of time. There was no way for human life to redeem themselves, no sacrifice good enough. There was only one way to restore the relationship between God and His creation - Jesus. In today's scripture we see the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Jesus, the beloved Son of God, was sent to fulfill the promises, to restore the relationship between God and His creation. Jesus was baptized and tempted, fully identifying with the people to whom He came to save. He did not fall under the false words of Satan, who tried to set Jesus on a different path. Jesus' mission, His death and resurrection, would overcome sin and death and defeat Satan forever. As Peter wrote, "Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God." (1 Peter 3:18a)

Things aren't much better for us today in this world. Sin abounds, good is called evil and evil is called good. Men seek the things of this world rather than the things of God, satisfying their flesh instead of serving God. It is the way things have been since Adam and Eve turned away from God in the Garden of Eden, and it will remain so until the end of all the ages. We deserve nothing better than those in the days of Noah. But today there is the Righteous One, Jesus Christ, who has brought salvation to the world. We can trust God to be faithful to His promises, such as those found in the rainbow and the Cross. Not only that, but through Jesus, in Jesus and with Jesus, we can be found righteous before God and live in His Kingdom today while we wait for that day when we will live in His eternal Kingdom. In this restored relationship with God, we can cry out the words of the Psalmist, "Show me thy ways, O Jehovah; Teach me thy paths.  Guide me in thy truth, and teach me; For thou art the God of my salvation; For thee do I wait all the day."

In that photo taken in California so many years ago, the two great signs of the promises of God - the rainbow and the cross -- together point to our Lord Jesus Christ and the hope we have in Him. Thanks be to God. 

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