Summary: The message Jesus drew from the story of Noah is that his coming will be as unexpected as the flood was for the people of Noah’s day. But most people don't believe his coming will be like the flood.
6. The first preacher and the first sermon
Sermon on 29 Sept 2019 PM, at Rosebery Park Baptist Church, Bournemouth, UK.
According to the Bible, who was the world’s first preacher? And what was his sermon? The answer is Noah! We know Noah was a preacher from this verse in 2 Peter:
‘…if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others…’ (2 Peter 2:5).
But what did Noah preach about? Noah’s only recorded words in the Bible are:
‘Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers. Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem and let Canaan be his slave. May God make space for Japheth, and let him live in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave’ (Genesis 9:25-27).
Not much of a sermon!
However, we have some information about society at the time:
‘The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’ (Genesis 6:5).
We can also note that Peter described Noah as ‘a preacher of righteousness’. Noah’s curse on Canaan doesn’t qualify him as that. So, Noah’s sermons either aren’t recorded, or Noah ‘preached’ without words!
Before the flood Noah listened to God, trusted him (although it must have seemed crazy!) and did what God told him to. God subsequently sent a flood. So, Noah’s message (without words) is that God demands righteousness. He will deliver those who put their trust in him and obey him, but he will sweep away the wicked. It’s the first great sermon of the Bible – and it’s really the core message of the Bible!
However, Jesus draws a different message from it. He doesn’t use the story to talk about judgment or salvation. He uses the story of the flood to emphasise how unprepared people will be when another event like a flood happens – when he comes again. This is what he says:
‘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’ (Matthew 24:36-39).
People in Alabama and Oklahoma don’t know when a tornado might come their way. But they fix themselves up with storm shelters. Some people take their preparation very seriously indeed!
But Jesus says the opposite is true for people’s preparation for when he comes again. Why is that? One reason is that many people today simply will not accept what Jesus is saying in this passage. They can’t conceive that God would ever act in wrath.
John Stevens is the National Director of the FIEC, the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, in the UK. He wrote:
‘Large swaths of UK evangelicalism find it difficult to believe that the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is a Holy God, who is rightfully angry towards those who have rebelled against him. They do not believe that the great human problem is the wrath of God, nor that salvation is primarily about being rescued from the wrath to come.’
For these people, the story of Noah and the flood is unbelievable.
First, there never was a flood. But probably equally significantly, God simply doesn’t act like this. So, when Jesus draws a lesson from an event that they don’t believe happened – or could have happened – they reject it.
To help people to accept Jesus’ teaching here we need to assert that this story of Noah is believable. There are two specific issues.
First, historicity. Could a flood have covered the entire earth? Could all humans and all animals – apart from those on the ark – have been destroyed? And very importantly, does the passage require such an understanding?
Second, morality. God’s action seems so severe as to be unbelievable.
One danger, as we have noted, is that if we dismiss the story of Noah as myth then we will fail to learn the lesson Jesus draws from it.
But there is another, very real, danger lurking in the story of Noah and the flood. If we demand that the flood took place in a way that is totally odds with scientific understanding and logic then many people will not believe it. They may go further and not believe the Bible at all! So, if we demand a particular way of understanding this passage – which the passage itself doesn’t demand – we may actually prevent people from coming to faith.