Summary: God’s grace overwhelms the “second chance.”
To give someone a leg up means to help them climb higher by standing on your knee or in your cupped hands, like a human step stool. A billboard in St. Louis advertised a local church by proclaiming: “Jesus gives a leg up!” That is both helpful and hopeful… unless you are a quadriplegic.
Some say that ours is the God of the second chance. Is that really what we want? Don’t misunderstand me; I want another opportunity as much as the next guy. But what happens when I mess up the second time, and the third, and the eleventh? Second chances seem to produce second failures. Is there anything better?
In Genesis 9, God shows why he offers help to those without a leg to stand on. Please either follow along in your Bible, or listen as we consider the beginning of… sin (again).
[Read Genesis 9.18-29. Pray.]
He was three years old when he sinned in a way that made me wince. You hate it for your kids, but this degree of open rebellion required discipline. I sent him to my room and went to get the “spanking spoon.” When I returned, big crocodile tears wetted his cheeks, and through the tears he sobbed: “Daddy, please don’t spank me; I promise I’ll never do it again.” I promise; I will never do it again.
Of course, part of his motivation was to avoid a spanking, and that plan may have just popped into his head. Yet I think something else was going on. Daniel was expressing a hope which is never far from any of our hearts: “Give me another chance; this time I will do it right.”
I am surprised at how regularly that thought rises in me. Every problem leads me to imagine how much better things would be if I did everything right. If I prayed and visited more, if I preached better and shorter sermons, if I always gave the perfectly wise and gentle answer to those who criticize and complain – if I just had another chance, this time I will do it right.
I think we judge others in this way, as well as ourselves. Whenever we are the victim of an injustice, whether perceived or actual, we easily imagine that our life would be great if that person had just done “such and such” differently. We even give them a second chance in our minds, re-living the slight, nurturing anger and bitterness, all the while imagining how good things would be if they just did it right. But your husband never quite succeeds, does he?
We seem to say, “You failed me once, but I will give you one more chance.” That sounds good, but sinners fail again, and again, and again. I really do not need another chance to succeed, but another chance to fail, without losing your love. I need to be treated as if I had never sinned. I need biblical forgiveness, the grace of the gospel, because every imagination of my heart is evil from birth.
Moses wrote Genesis as Israel prepared to enter the promised land and embark on a new part of their journey with God. Yes, this is an historical narrative, true in its every account. But these are also real sermons for God’s people in a specific time and for a definite purpose. Now that they have escaped Egypt and survived the desert, God’s concern is that they would suppose they no longer needed his sustaining grace. “Yes, we needed God’s redemption from Egypt, but now that we are entering the promised land, we have outgrown that!” We just have to be good and enjoy the reward.
My heart thinks that way. I know I need help when I am sick, or driving on ice-slickened roads, or watching my career fall apart. “But lift me over this flood of problems, God, and set me down with another chance, and I will make good. This time I will do it right.” But God knows what we either never knew or willfully forget – we never outgrow our need for grace. In theological language, both justification and sanctification are works of God’s grace. To teach Israel this lesson (and to convince us to live it) God preserves Noah’s story. Notice, first…
1. We Never Outgrow God’s Grace
Let’s remember the story so far. In the beginning, God creates a perfect world. Soon, however, mankind defiles it. An apt picture of the ruin we brought to paradise is the first person born on the planet, holding up the bloody club with which he just beat his own brother to death. Within a few generations, his descendent, the bigamist Lamech, brags to both wives of his many murders.
Only four pages into an 1100 page book, we are engulfed in death: “Adam lived 930 years and he died…. Enosh lived 905 years and he died…. Methuselah lived 969 years and he died.” If we were performing this on stage as a dramatic reading, we would dim the lights a bit more as each death is announced. Now the room is nearly dark as we hear that sin’s malignancy spreads so far and deep that God is sorry he made mankind. CLICK – no light, utter ruin and despair.