Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Genesis 6.5-10 - grace in the Old Testament

The more I have got into ministry and the more I have studied theology, the more I have realised two things

-           Firstly, I have realised that what was said of old is generally of much greater worth than what is said today.  As Charles Spurgeon once proclaimed
“Should we not hear learned essays upon advanced theology? No sir; when the devil inspires the church we have ‘modern theology’; but when the Spirit is among us that rubbish is shot out with loathing.”
-           Secondly, I have learned that the very heart of God is found in one word – GRACE.  As much as humans have tried to cover this truth up, the Spirit of God has led people to rediscover it.

"the very heart of God is found in one word – GRACE"

When the early Christian heretics like those we call ‘Gnostics’ tried to hide the heart of the Lord behind claims of hidden knowledge and secret things, the Spirit raised up a man named Irenaeus.

When that most destructive of heretics, Pelagius, tried to distract God’s children from His freely given love, the Holy Spirit came and turned a sinner like Augustine to Christ.

When the Pope smothered the truth of God so well it all but disappeared, the Holy Spirit gave strength to John Wycliffe to be that bright Morning Star of the Reformation – a time when He raised up the likes of Luther and Calvin, Cranmer and Zwingli.

When modern theology tried to undermine the Gospel the Spirit inspired Spurgeon and the likes of Roy Hession.

Today, the Holy Spirit calls on each and every one of us to live lives that speak above all else of the grace of God.  To live lives that speak of a love, freely given but totally undeserved.  A love that cost the Father the life of His only begotten Son, that we who betrayed Him might be adopted as His children.

So thinking of grace and old truths I thought it best to look to the Old Testament and the grace we find there.

Many people seem to think that there are two gods – the god of the Old Testament who is bitter, judgemental, and cruel, and the god of the New Testament who is loving and gentle and kind. One is all hellfire and brimstone, holding a lightning bolt in His hand ready to smite any who put even a toe out of line.  And one who is like a model from a shampoo advert, stroking lambs and singing to birds like a Disney Princess.

The problem is that both of those images are utter nonsense – they are even blasphemous. As God Himself tells us in Leviticus:

“God is not a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind”
God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Grace is, and always has been, at the centre of God’s heart.  So let’s look at the Old Testament and see the grace of God that we might adore Him more and know with greater certainty the truth that we are not saved or made right with God by the 'good' things we do but by His sovereign grace.

The word ‘grace’ first appears in the Bible in Genesis 6.8.  Now most of your Bibles will read something like this “But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.”  But once again the old is better and the more truthful than the new.  John Wycliffe and John Purvey first translated the Bible into English in the 14th century and they translated Genesis 6.8 like this:

“Forsooth, Noah found GRACE before the Lord.”

How much better does that sound! FORSOOTH! I feel a deep sense of loss that ‘forsooth’ has been dropped from the English language, it pains me in my soul to think that such an epic word might be found only in the chains of dictionaries and ancient literature.

But more important than ‘forsooth’ is that far mightier word, which we understand even less, - Noah found GRACE before the Lord.

When William Tyndale translated the Bible once again into English in the sixteenth century – again because Wycliffe and his Bible were deemed dangerous and heretical for giving people free access to God’s truth – he translated it like this “But yet Noah found grace in the sight of the Lord.”  Finally, the King James Version – or Authorised Version – would write “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”

All this ‘grace’ stuff ended with the Revised Standard Version – RSV – and since then it has been translated ‘favour.’  The New English Bible (better called the Novel English Bible given how it changed so many Scriptures!) went so far as to speak of Noah “winning favour before the Lord.”

But the old is right and the new is wrong.  The word ‘grace’ in Greek, the same word James used to translate the Hebrew for ‘grace’ as is found in our verse, is the same word Paul used to speak of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

"Noah found GRACE in the eyes of the Lord."

Now the text of Genesis regarding Noah is very important.  Chapter six begins by describing how evil the world had become. “Every scheme his mind thought was nothing but evil all the time.”  Every thought of mankind was nothing but evil at all times – always evil.  It is like Paul would later write concerning all humanity, ourselves included:

as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one.
There is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away;
all alike have become useless.
There is no one who does what is good,
not even one.
Their throat is an open grave;
they deceive with their tongues.
Vipers’ venom is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and wretchedness are in their paths,
and the path of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3.10-18

Isaiah goes so far as to tell us that even our good and righteous deeds or actions are like filthy, used tampons or menstrual rags before God – it is all tainted by sin.  Paul later in Philippians describes his previous good deeds and supposed holiness before he knew Jesus as being like a pile of steaming poo – though the word he used to describe it has more the nuance and offensiveness of words like ‘crap’ or ‘shit.’

At the time of Noah all humanity was depraved and evil. But Noah found grace in God’s eyes.  That is how the section ends, it does not say why, it does not tell us of Noah, only that grace found him.

Then the text continues with the family records of Noah and we are told that Noah was righteous, he was blameless before all the other people around him.  Noah walked with God as Enoch had before him and Abraham would after him.

Many come to the conclusion that because Noah was righteous and blameless he found favour in God’s eyes.  Noah was just such a good bloke and all round do-gooder, unlike everyone else on the entire planet, that he alone was good enough to be God’s favourite and be saved.  Hence, the Novel English Bible spoke of Noah winning God’s favour.

There are two things to say to this. Firstly, it is unbiblical, and secondly it is heresy.

As Saint Paul tells us in Romans 9 in black and white, plain, bold, language:

“Our salvation does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy.”

As Paul rightly makes clear by quoting Exodus, God says:

“I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

And do you know what is remarkable? The word there for ‘mercy’ – “I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy” That word is in fact the same Hebrew word for GRACE!  The original says

“I will show grace to whom I will show grace, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

The text about Noah goes from cause to effect – as it naturally reads – not from effect to cause. Finding grace in the Lord’s eyes caused Noah to be a righteous man, a blameless man, a man who could walk with God.  His righteousness and perfection did not cause Noah to receive grace, it is because of grace that he received his perfection and righteousness.

You see Noah was a sinner just like everybody else.  Only Jesus is truly righteous. Only Jesus is truly blameless. Only Jesus is truly perfect.  Once Noah is off the Ark he becomes a drunk who leaves his kids with some serious daddy issues!

Just like us, Noah was a sinner who deserved nothing less than to die in the flood of God’s righteous anger at sin.  Noah had no standing with God, he had nothing in his life he could use to plea for mercy.  Noah was hopelessly helpless, lost in darkness, and like everyone else he was as good as dead – a dead man walking.

"Noah's righteousness and perfection did not cause him to receive grace, it is because of grace that he received his perfection and righteousness."

But – FORSOOTH! – Noah still received grace and life changing love from God. Noah still received Jesus Christ’s robe of righteousness, Jesus’ perfect and blameless record, Jesus’ personal standing with the Father of Lights that he might walk with Him.  And Jesus took on all of Noah’s sin and darkness, and ultimately Noah’s death sentence.  Noah deserved none of the this – but he got it, and that is the definition of grace.

The Hebrew word for ‘grace’ (first used here in Genesis 6) has in it the image of the stronger stooping down to the weaker, the greater bowing low to give help to the lesser, the one who has in abundance bending down to provide for the one in need.

Just like Jesus did before coming to earth – He bent over and cast off His heavenly crown, he stooped down and entered the world He created, and He bowed down low beneath the weight of the old rugged blood stained cross.

And once you see this same grace we see in the New Testament in the Old you see it everywhere!

God promised Adam and Eve they would be killed if they took and ate from the Tree – but when they did He showed grace and mercy in not killing them immediately but instead cursed Satan and promised us Jesus to make it right. He then took an animal, killed it and made them clothes to represent the imputed righteousness of Jesus – a righteousness that is not our own but put on us from outside.

When Cain killed Abel it was not long before God confronted him, God did not kill Cain in the name of justice but showed grace and mercy, God gave Cain a mark so that no-one else would kill him.

Obviously God showed grace and mercy to Noah, but also to the whole world by promising not to destroy it in such a way ever again – grace and mercy seen in action when He scattered humanity at Babel instead of smiting them.

He showed grace and mercy when He called the pagan, idol worshipping Gentile name Abram to be His patriarch – to be Abraham.

You see His grace and mercy in how He spared Lot and his daughters, a depraved and disturbingly sinful group to say the least!

God saves and provides for Hagar and Ishmael even though they have no part in the promised people.

He has grace and mercy on Jacob despite him being a cheat and a sly liar.  He shows grace upon Joseph despite how awfully he was abused and his compromises in Egypt under Pharaoh.

He has grace on Moses despite Moses being a murderer with a stutter and more fears than sands on the seashore.

Samson was a womaniser who treated women badly, but God gave him strength at the last to work out His judgement.

Rahab was a hooker, a whore, yet look at the saving and amazing grace she received at His hands!

David was an adulterous murderer, yet sat on the throne and was loved by God beyond words.

Elijah the great prophet was scared, depressed, and even suicidal, yet he found grace in the eyes of the Lord. 

Isaiah was a man of unclean lips who for years had been a prophet of God in name but not in truth – and he received such mercy as to see the Lord Jesus high and lifted up, enthroned in glory, and yet live.  He was given the grace to become the most remarkable spokesman of God.

Jonah spent so much time and effort running away from God.  Yet God loved him and graciously brought him home despite him still needing an attitude change to say the least!

Naomi was poverty stricken, a widow seriously misled by her dead husband.  And yet such grace came on her that was fully restored and would have a place in the genealogy of Jesus the Christ.

Job lost everything, his wealth, his health, his family. Yet God’s love for him never changed and Job was restored threefold despite his accusing and questioning God.

Looking at the Old Testament, a small sample given above, we see God’s grace at work so powerfully.  We see time and time again that people cannot earn a place in God’s kingdom, that instead God has mercy and shows grace to sinners before using them – not the self-righteous – to proclaim His love.

In my own life I had rejected God, I had committed sexual immorality.  I was a liar and a deceiver who manipulated people for my own entertainment.  I was a hater, I was an addict to self-harm, I drank more than I should, mixing alcohol and strong pain killers.  I was all kinds of sinner.  I had sinner stamped over every atom of my existence.  But somehow, for some reason, I found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

“Forsooth, I found grace before the Lord!”

And He changed my life forever.  He took all my filth and shame and at Calvary, in His blood, He washed it away.  He took out the darkness and breathed in His Holy Spirit. I still sin, oh yes I still sin, but I repent joyfully knowing that when I do I am a righteous man, blameless, walking with God just like Noah.

I don’t know your hearts.  But looking at the Old Testament I can confidently say that whatever it is that you think you have done or whatever you think it is that stops God from loving you and using you, it is not true, it is a lie from the father of lies, Satan himself.  It is not from Jesus.  It is not from the Holy Spirit.  It is not from the Father of Lights.

It doesn’t matter if you have committed adultery, if you suffer from depression, if you are poor or physically sick, if you struggle day in and day out with temptation.  If there is one message for you in the Old Testament it is that God’s grace is far, far, mightier than your sin.  God’s love is far, far, deeper than your shame.  If you come to Christ on your knees and tell Him you are wrong, you can’t go on, you want to change, you truly do, then He will heal you, He will strengthen you, and He will use you.

 "He took all my filth and shame and at Calvary, in His blood, He washed it away."

And it is my prayer that each and every one of you would leave here tonight, confidently proclaiming “Forsooth, I found grace before the Lord.” It is my prayer that every morning when you wake up and you brush your teeth and you look at the ugly mug in the mirror before you, you will take your toothbrush out of your mouth, hold it like sword, like a holy standard, and look yourself in the eye, take a breath, then remind yourself at the beginning of each and every day that God’s grace is greater than yourself.  That you would proudly declare, loud enough so your neighbours hear you:


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