“By faith Noah, after he was warned about what was not yet seen and motivated by godly fear, built an ark to deliver his family. By faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Bill Cosby used to be funny. Well, that’s not totally fair. I could still listen to his old stand-up routines and laugh until I cry. But the revelations of the real character of the man who used to be called “America’s dad,” made it a whole lot harder to engage with anything he did in the past. Still, I listened to him so much growing up, I have much of his old material memorized. I just about wore out those old records. And, yes, I do mean records. But my favorite routine was always the one about Noah. Maby it was because it was (loosely) based on a Bible story, but Cosby’s “Noah” act always made me laugh the hardest. What made it so funny was the fact that it is how many of us imagine Noah actually responding to God’s command to build a big boat. Let’s talk this morning about Noah, faith, and the path to righteousness.
For just a second, try to put yourself in Noah’s sandals. There are various estimations of what the environment and climate might have been like then, but one of the most intriguing is that this was before rain had ever actually fallen from the sky. The flora and fauna on the earth were still watered from beneath rather than above. If something like this was even remotely true, imagine just what must have been the extent of Noah’s bewilderment at God’s command. It had to have been intense. Here he was, going about his business, when out of nowhere comes God asking him to build a boat because it was going to rain. A lot. “Now, Lord, it’s not that I’m opposed to the idea on principle, but what exactly is ‘rain’? While I’m at it, where are you getting enough of it to flood the earth? And where are all these animals coming from?” But somehow, Noah trusted God’s word – that is, he had faith in Him – and built the boat.
And from what we talked about last week and again in my sermon from this past Sunday, Noah’s building of the boat was an act of faith. By that I do not mean it was a blind leap into the unknown. Every story has a context and sometimes we don’t get all of that context in its telling. Remember the definition of faith I laid out in yesterday’s post of Sunday’s sermon. Faith is living out a belief in something we can’t see based on the word of someone we trust. Noah couldn’t see this terrible future in which the whole world was going to be flooded, but He trusted in God’s word.
Think on this with me for just a second longer. Several of the stories in the Scriptures, especially in the Old Testament, seem to reveal that at any moment, God could metaphorically drop out of the sky, call us to something seemingly random and impossible, and if we do anything other than blindly obey, we are not really people of faith. In Genesis 6, God seems to come to Noah out of nowhere. In Genesis 12, He apparently does the same thing to Abraham. Moses gets caught completely unaware by the burning bush. Over and over again we see apparent examples of God’s surprising people with insane asks.
And yet, one of the traits of God that becomes clear as you survey the Scriptures as a whole is that He doesn’t do anything without first having a context of relationship in place. His call to Israel to become His people came only after He had revealed Himself to them by rescuing them from 400 years’ worth of slavery in Egypt. Before Jesus invited people to truly enter into God’s kingdom, He first came and revealed Himself to us, seeking a relationship with us. The God revealed in the pages of the Scriptures is a relational God. Just because we don’t see that here, doesn’t mean He mysteriously abandoned the principle.
Noah had been around for a long time before God came to him asking him to build a boat to avoid the destruction that was coming to the earth because of its rampant sinfulness. And in that lengthy period of time, he had come to have a relationship with Him. His being identified as a righteous man means he was right with people and with God. He couldn’t have been right with God if he didn’t know Him at all. Noah had spent perhaps centuries living by faith – that is, keeping God’s commands even when those set him on a different path from his neighbors (who also happened to be his family members), and even when he couldn’t see what the outcome of his obedience would be. And because he had spent all of this time developing his faith muscle, when God came to him with a really big ask, he simply said, “Okay,” and got to work. He had come to know God personally, understood who He was, and so when He called him to do something big, he did it.
And I think that for us, this is where the point of connection lies. Noah did this incredible thing God called him to do, not because he suddenly, out of nowhere, developed this mountain-moving faith, but because he had been patiently, consistently, faithfully growing and developing his trust in God’s character over a period of several years (perhaps several centuries in his case). When we are thinking about the trust we have in anyone, that trust doesn’t ever come out of nowhere. The people you trust the most in this life are people with whom you not only have a relationship, but a relationship you have been growing, strengthening, and developing for years. If my friend, Jason, came to me and asked for me to do this really big thing for him and he’d tell me the reason for it later, I would do it because I trust him. If he asked me to do something, gave me a reason, but the reason didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, I would do it because I trust him, and because I trust that the reason would make more sense later.
It’s the same thing when it comes to our relationship with God. If you want to be a person of great faith, the only way that is going to happen is when you commit to developing your relationship with Him. Find ways and places in your life where you can exercise your trust in Him. When you are in small situations where you have a choice between doing what He said and doing what you want, go with what He said. Put others first. Love when you would rather reject. Voluntarily choose to operate on someone else’s schedule. Adjust your strength to the needs of the situation you are in. Love as Jesus loved.
The more you do these in small ways, the easier you will find it to do them in big ones. The more you develop your understanding of and trust in His character, the more you will be able and willing to operate out of that trust even when it doesn’t make sense in the moment. You’ll be able to have faith even when the world around you doesn’t, thereby drawing a sharp line of distinction between you and them. Your faith in contrast to their faithlessness will have the effect of condemning them to the outcome of their decisions. That’s what the author is getting at in the second half of the verse. This doesn’t mean we’ll be the judge and jury of the world (that’s Jesus’ job), but rather, when we have shown them the path of righteousness by our words and actions and they refuse to take it, the consequences they face from there are on them, not us. Because we don’t know when that point will come, though, we keep showing and telling until God tells us to quit.
The point is here: If you want to be a person of faith, start acting in faith. Growth won’t come all at once. But as you stick with it, it will eventually come. You can and will be a person who lives by faith. You can and will be a person who is right with God.