Sunday, April 18, 2010

Heroes of the Faith: Noah – Hebrews11:4-7 and Genesis 6:9-22

Today we are starting a new preaching series entitled, Heroes of the Faith. Each week we will focus on one significant person from our faith history and explore not only why they are now considered a hero of our faith, but what we can learn from them. Today we begin with Noah as we take a look at the incredible, and thought of at the time, outlandish faith he had in God and how his actions can be a model for us today.

Being Obedient
Our actions can set the stage for God to work or for God to be silent. One night there was a young man that was working at a hospital, doing the over night shift all by himself. He got a call that a woman had just been admitted and one of the nurses thought she could might want to talk to a chaplain. He went to the nurses station to get some more info and was told that she had been battling cancer for quite some time and it had come back again and the nurse figured she might like to talk to someone. So he went in, introduced himself, and asked her what he could do for her. Her husband was in there at the time and he immediately spoke up and said they were fine, she had beaten this before, and she was going to beat it again. Thanks for stopping by, but they were fine. Just as he finished talking his phone rang and he got up to leave the room so he could answer it. The young chaplain looked over at the woman laying in the bed and she was smiling. The chaplain said his initial reaction was to follow the husband out and wish them well. After all he said they were fine, she looked like she was fine, what did he need to be there for? But he said something told him to make sure and speak to this woman.

So he went over the bed, knelt down beside her head, and very softly said, “I know how your husband feels about this, how do you feel?” She looked around his head, waited till the door shut completely, and began sobbing. That chaplain could have easily walked out of that room, but he felt that was not what God wanted, and he stayed. He had no concrete reason for that action, just going on faith.

The Make up of a Hero
This series is going to focus on the faith of some of our Biblical heroes. So I think it is important that we all understand what type of people we are talking about. We are not talking about some sort of person that is faster than a speeding bullet, or more powerful than a locomotive, or is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. We are talking about people that have taken steps based solely on faith alone and displayed heroic faith. And Hebrews chapter 11 speaks a great deal about what heroic faith is.

It tells us that faith, heroic faith, has three main components: First you have to be FOCUSED, grounded in God alone. Next you have to be CONFIDENT, certain of what we do not see. Finally, you have to be OBEDIENT, as demonstrated in our actions.

Hebrews 11 makes it very clear that faith itself is of extreme importance; in fact faith is essential. In verse 6, we read that “without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Because faith is so essential, God realized that we would need good role models, examples of faith to follow. And Noah is just such an example. To really understand the heroic faith that Noah had, we need to go back and explore his story in Genesis.

The Man and his Mission
The story of Noah begins in Genesis chapter 6. When God first created the world, there was no sin in it, and God proclaimed that his creation was good, including men and women. Later sin entered the world through the choices that Eve and Adam made. By the time we reach the story of Noah, a little over 1,000 years after Adam and Even according to the Biblical genealogy, humanity has become incredibly evil, their wickedness abounds. Things are so bad in fact that the Bible says “every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” And God became sorry that he had created humanity and it grieved him. God becomes so fed up with the evil and sins of humanity that he saw no other alternative than to destroy everything that he had so lovingly created. Things were a huge mess.

However, there was one man, Noah, who found favor and grace in God’s eyes. The Bible describes Noah as a righteous man, blameless in his generation, and a man who walked with God. It seems that Noah was the only person on the planet at this time who possessed the kind of heroic faith that we’ve been talking about. And it was with Noah that God offered to make a covenant to spare him and his family from this flood. Notice the use of the word offered. God did not simply spare Noah and his family. No, Noah was given a warning and a set of instructions.

You see this was a test of faith for Noah. He had been obedient to God throughout his life, taking small steps of faith towards God everyday. Now God was calling on Noah to take a giant leap of faith – to believe that worldwide destruction was coming through a flood and because of that belief, build an ark of gigantic proportions through which he would save himself, his family and preserve animal life to restock the earth later on.

Let’s stop for a moment and consider all of this from Noah’s perspective. Here you are just living your normal day to day routine with your wife and your children, when suddenly out of the blue, God gives you a message about how he’s going to destroy the world by a flood, but that you and your family can be saved if you build a huge boat called an ark.

At first, you might be tempted to think that you are crazy or hallucinating. First of all, what was this flood that God was talking about? The Bible up to this point has never mentioned rain and it is indeed likely that Noah had never seen rain. And what about the size of this boat God was telling Noah to build? After all you live in what we now call the Middle East and you don’t exactly live near the water, where big boats might be common. Noah had probably seen a boat, but never one of this size. It was to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. A cubit is an old measurement that was said to go from a man’s elbow to the tip of his middle finger, which is about 18 inches. This would mean that the ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Or another way of putting it would be that was about the length of 1 ½ football fields, laid end to end, and 4 ½ stories tall. That’s a big boat. Then you figure in the fact that God is asking you take at least two of every animal in the world on this boat, plus store up every kind of food that is eaten as well. It must have seemed like a huge, daunting task, beyond anything that could ever be accomplished.

So what does Noah decide to do? Noah could have outright refused to build the ark. Or maybe we’d expect that he would have wavered back and forth trying to make up his mind about building the ark, perhaps bargaining with God a little on the details or the process. But that’s not what Scripture records for us. There seems to be no indecision on the part of Noah. Three separate times Genesis records this simple phrase – “Noah did all that God commanded of him.”

That one statement has huge implications. According to Scripture, it took Noah and his three sons, around 120 years to build the ark. During this long period of time, can you imagine the ridicule he must have received from his neighbors? They had to have thought that he was the craziest man in town - “Look at old Noah still building on that boat! When’s it gonna flood Noah?” But Noah didn’t let their ridicule deter him. During this long period of waiting, Noah preached to those around him and bore constant testimony against the unbelief and wickedness of his generation.

Finally the day comes when the ark is finished. And the animals began to show up, just as God had said. What a sight that must have been and what a relief and confirmation for Noah that the path he had chosen was the right one. And then the day comes for Noah and his family to enter the ark with all the animals and the hand of God shuts the door to the ark, sealing them inside. Then the rains begin to come and the water begins to rise – for 40 days and nights straight, until the highest mountains of the earth are covered. For 150 days they floated around in God’s big zoo before coming to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And then it took almost another 150 days for the waters to receded enough for Noah and his family to leave the ark. That means according to Scripture, Noah and his family resided in the ark with all the animals for almost a year.

So What?
So do all these actions and feelings make Noah a man of heroic faith? Did Noah display a faith, a heroic faith, that was focused on God, confident in things unseen, and obedient to God in his actions? You bet!

First Noah was focused on God. Noah listened to God, ignored ridicule, and did as he was instructed. Noah had the ability, the will, and the opportunity to ignore God, discount this tall tale of flooding, and do whatever he pleased. But he listened and did as instructed despite the ridicule and stayed focused on God.

Next, he was confident in things unseen. Noah was confident in what God told him was going to happen, in regards to a flood. Remember, Noah had never seen rain, much less enough to flood the entire Earth. Noah understood what God said and wholeheartedly believed it.

Finally, Noah was obedient to God in his actions. He built an Ark of incredible proportions, to battle rain that he had never seen, based upon a decree from God that seemed highly unlikely.

We know today that God will never flood the Earth again. But God is still speaking with us asking us to do things that may seem to us outlandish, incredible, or highly unlikely. And God still calls us to be focused, confident, and obedient.

Remember that woman I told you about earlier? Remember I told you that she started sobbing? She had been battling cancer for 15 years. She had been in and out of hospitals, in and out of chemo, in and out of health. She was so grateful that someone had asked her how she felt, rather than assumed, that she began to cry. And that obedience to God's prompting opened the door for her to express her feelings, something she desperately wanted and needed to do.

There are distractions today that can very easily and very effectively remove God from our sight and remove God from our lives. Don't let it happen. Remember Noah and that incredible act of faith. Remember Christ and that incredible act of love in His sacrifice for us. Remember God and know that you are always on His mind.

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