The Beginning of… Sin (Again)
Sermon #25 in a Series on Genesis
Preached by Pastor Glenn Durham on January 3, 2010, at The Church of the Covenant, PCA, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Main Idea: 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: Father of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, and Noah: our hearts are deceitful: they lie to us about ourselves and about you. We need truth both to save and to sanctify our lives. Please enable us to hear Jesus, and to rest fully in his completed work, through the grace of the ever-present and indwelling Spirit, Amen.
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.
Then a pause and deep breath before the next verse. Cue the spotlight; a man enters the stage, and Genesis 6.8: “But Noah….” But Noah! Hope rises – here is one to do everything right! God is giving a second chance!
But questions remain. How will Noah rise to success in a fallen world? How will he stay godly, surrounded by a pagan culture? Will this chance really be fair given the circumstances? But God has a plan: he places Noah in an ark and washes the world clean of evil. Behold, the flood makes all things new! Now Noah and his children can love God without bad influences, decadent Hollywood sitcoms, and the world forcing the first family into its mold.
Moses has us on the edge of our seats ready to leap up and cheer Noah’s success as he disembarks. We know what the next line will be: Noah and his perfect family lived happily ever after. But Genesis 9.20-21 crushes our faith in a second chance: “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent.”
James Boice: “The first thing the fall of Noah teaches us is that anyone can sin…. If Noah sinned, we are surely not exempt from it. This judgment needs to be strengthened, however, for the point of the story is not merely than anyone can fall but that everyone does.”
Sin so entwines itself around our nature that a mere second chance always results in a second failure. As hurtful as it is to pride, the truth must be known, believed and proclaimed: “We cannot succeed apart from God’s sustaining grace.”
The Apostle Paul applied this exact truth to his ministry in 1Corinthians 15.10:
- “By the grace of God I am what I am [justification – but those who know the rest of the verse may think, “Wait pastor, he goes on to say that he did his ministry by good works” – let’s finish],
- “By the grace of God I am what I am and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them [sounds like justification by grace and sanctification by a second chance, doesn’t it? God saved Paul from an outward form of religion by grace, then with that second chance, he worked harder than any. But again, let’s finish],
- “By the grace of God I am what I am and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
I spoke with my friend on Wednesday who pastors our PCA church in Covington, KY. He pointed out that we have a saying, “A person is just looking for a handout.” But the truth is that no one really wants a handout, because that means admitting we are poor beggars. We want a quid pro quo arrangement, we give something for what we take. But God needs nothing, and those who would know his power must always depend on his grace.
There are two specific dangers in this text which show that we never outgrow God’s sustaining grace. The first is…
1.1. The Danger of Drunkenness
Wine is a good gift from God. But like all of God’s creation, it can be abused. God gives good gifts that we might enjoy life and all the more praise him, not that we might recklessly consume and all more ignore him.
You probably know that this principle applies to all the pleasures of life, not simply alcohol. Drunkenness is only one idol which would enslave our passions so that we ignore God. We can be enslaved by the excess of wealth or comfort, thrills or pleasures, skinniness or popularity. Excesses of self-absorption tempt us in every area imaginable.
So if blameless Noah could not remain pure while living in a world washed clean of bad influences, what hope have we?
Titus 2.11-12: “For the grace of God has appeared,… training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled [some versions translate that word, soberly, since soberness applies to all worldly excess, not just alcohol], upright, and godly lives in the present age.”
Sin inflames passions until they are out of control; only the grace of God gives victory. Additionally, our continued need for God’s help is shown by…
1.2. The Danger of Complacency
During Noah’s 600 years he was known as a “preacher of righteousness.” He walked with God and kept his testimony in hard times, though mocked and ridiculed while building his “giant boat.” But in spite of his spiritual successes (and he had a “boatload” of them!), the sin nature remained, and it brought Noah down when least expected. We are not talking about an 18-year old kid at his first frat party; Noah is 600-years old! This is like Billy Graham passing out drunk after a revival! How could this happen? Because in a time of relative ease and safety he grew complacent; he neglected to daily cry for God’s help.
Let us learn from Noah never to doubt the continuing potency and pervasiveness of sin in our hearts. Years of walking with God is no inoculation against its effects. Many a believer grows complacent, either in their older age or in their appreciation of sin’s power, and falls. The Christian life is not outgrowing grace, but increasing dependence on him. This text also reminds us that…
2. We Must Not Mock Sin (Genesis 9.21-22, 24-25)
I think Ham never liked being a “PK,” a “Preacher’s Kid.” He must have hated the ridicule he felt as a result of his dad’s religious zeal. Additionally, as a faithful father, Noah surely disciplined his children from their youth. Now Ham is bitter and angry. Then one day he catches his dad in a dozy of a failure. What satisfaction, what joy – he finds the old man lying naked in the mud! YES! He cannot contain himself. He rushes out, hot and impatient to spread the gossip so welcome to a graceless heart.
Unfortunately, the same remains true today: the church certainly has her share of bitter and angry people, eager to catch the pastor or a parishioner in a failing, and so justify their selfish attitudes and a sinful heart. And though all of us are susceptible to Ham’s sin, those in your teens should be especially careful of mocking other’s failures. Sharp thinking and wit can combine with a great desire to justify yourself, and you are suddenly able to spot every inconsistency in those around you. Many a teenager can list all the shortcomings of their parents, just like some church members can tell everyone where others fail. But God does not honor such “uncovering” of sin. In fact, as the punishment of Ham’s descendants shows, God curses it. Why? Because those who mock others express their conviction that they do not need grace. Their heart believes that if I had been given a second chance instead of dad, I would have succeeded. But as Ham found out, apart from grace, nothing remains but a fearful expectation of judgment.
We have seen two things so far that are true because a mere second chance will result in a second failure: first, that we never outgrow our need for sustaining grace; second, that we must not mock sin; and now, third, notice that…
3. We Must Respond to Sin with Grace (Genesis 9.23, 26-27)
In contrast to Ham’s desire to spread knowledge of Noah’s failure as far as possible, Shem and Japheth cover it. They want to protect dad’s honor, recognizing that even good and godly men fall short of glory. They see Noah as a loving father and fellow victim of sin, and they are filled with compassion!
Is your response compassion, or criticism, when you see other sinners fall? As you consider that question, let me remind you how important is Noah’s failure in God’s record keeping. I looked up every occurrence of “Noah” after Genesis 9.21. The Bible never again mentions Noah’s sin. When Hebrews summarizes his life, it says only that Noah was an heir of the righteousness of Christ through faith.
Is sin serious? Absolutely! So serious are the effects and extent of sin that God sent his only Son to carry it to cross and bury it in the grave. The Holy Spirit lives in us to free us from both the power and the presence of sin. So serious is sin that we must do all possible to cover it, not daring to allow it to spread and multiply by gossip or gloating! Do you think I go too far?
- Proverbs 10.12: Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.
- Proverbs 17.9: Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
- 1Peter 4.8: Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Shem and Japheth applied those principles in a concrete and specific way. They covered drunken and naked Noah (quite literally), and so demonstrated their own acceptance of the gospel of grace.
It is counterintuitive and countercultural to tell you that you cannot please God apart from God’s grace, that a mere second chance only results in a second failure. The Puritans had a saying to explain why gospel preachers must do precisely that. They called it, “Humbling Sinners and Exalting Christ.” They knew the Christian life as a see-saw; to lift Christ requires lowering sinners. For Christ to be exalted, we must be brought down. Both cannot be lifted. Noah second chance was in a perfect world, but he failed.
But the grace of God has appeared. Jesus was born, and unlike Noah, who had every chance for success, Jesus was born with no chance. He was poor, despised, and rejected, an hated fanatic in a fallen world. But he succeeded in fully obeying and pleasing God. The Bible calls him the second Adam, the one who did all things well the first time. Jesus does not give a leg up so that we can please God. Jesus pleases God, so that those of us with no leg to stand on can receive grace upon grace from a God who has been pleased by his Son.
How will you answer your heart when it secretly hopes for another chance? Will you agree with it, or remind yourself that a second chance leads to second failures and only God’s grace is sufficient for your every need? You think about that. Amen.
Next Week: Genesis 10.1-11.9: The Beginning of… Confusion
January 17: Genesis 11.10-12.9: The Beginning of… Israel
January 24: Philippians: Joy in the Midst of Life
January 31: Philippians 1.1-2: Great Greetings!
February 7: Philippians 1.3-5: Sharing in the Most Important Work