The Lord points to man’s sexual depravity and violence in Genesis 6 as the great corrupting factors, the things that marred God’s creation beyond recognition. Yet, he pointed beyond those things to the beginning, to the first step in the thousand mile journey that led to the flood: the corruption of the heart. “Every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”
The sexual sin began in the heart. “She’s gorgeous. I want her. I need her. I will have her.” So the sons of God took up with the daughters of men. Believers married unbelievers without any regard for the possible impact upon their faith, caring more for sexual gratification than for faithfulness to the Word.
The violence began in the heart. “How dare he? I want it! I need it! I will take it!” Lamech, a son of Cain, started it all, boasting that if “Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times,” as he waved his sword and defended his honor, killing men for wounding him. A braggart’s machismo led Lamech to prize daring-do and barroom brawling over peacemaking and reconciliation, and it became the way of the world.
These things are still true. Men lust after the shapeliest not the godliest. Our first response is vengeance, even among children, “He hit me.” It still begins in the heart. This verdict upon man’s thoughts wasn’t washed away by the flood. The moment Noah and his family left the ark, God repeated it in the context of his promise: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.”
Think of the words Luther uses to describe our hearts as he explains the ninth and tenth commandments. Scheme. Obtain by show of right. Force. Entice. Always plotting and planning, that’s what we are. Plans within plans within plans. Until the moment comes, then we just seize and force. We let lust overcome all things, lust for sex, power, money, it, lust for lust’s sake. We can’t even identify why we have to have what we have. But always a justification. “I needed it.” “I have to have it.” “I wanted it.” “They’ve got it.” “How could you deny this to me, Lord?”
It starts in the heart. Sin always does. Scheming words make us schemers, “How can I get this?” Right-sounding words, glorious technicalities, make us legal-eagle loophole finders, “Everything’s legal.” Forceful words appeal to our fears, convince us that we must take by force what’s rightfully ours, “Nothing will stand in my way!” Flattering words enticing our egos, making us enticers, “Come on, you’ll like it better over here.”
Addiction stories start this way. Adultery begins this way. Murders begin this way. Embezzlement and theft begin this way. Small. Tiny. One step. One scheme. One technicality. One shove. One enticement. Then, suddenly, you’ve traveled a thousand miles.
And it doesn’t matter how small things start. It ends with the flood. “My Spirit will not contend with man forever.” There are things up with which God will not put. Paul speaks ever so plainly to the Galatians, “God will not be mocked. A man will reap what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.” The flood.
We think, perhaps, that God is unreasonable. “Come on, Mr. Omniscient. You knew this was going to happen. Don’t go getting all aggrieved now.” We fail to take into account that we caused the aggrievement, the regret, the repentance. We wore out God’s patience and our welcome on earth. Our behaviors, our thoughts displeased the Lord, drove him to regret that he’d ever made man, angered him, offended him, caused him to be dissatisfied, made God say, “I wish I had never done this in the first place.”
Again, we see God at fault; but look at the overwhelming patience he displayed. He didn’t send a flood to wipe out Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit. Or Cain when he murdered his brother. Or Lamech when he invented polygamy. He waited centuries. Patiently watching. He took time to observe, just as he would later do at the Tower of Babel and Sodom, “Let’s go down and see if things are this bad.” Not because God doesn’t know. He is, as we’ve complained before, omniscient. He goes, waits, observes, because he is patient. He wants nothing more than to NOT destroy. He’s the parent looking to give his child a way out of a spanking. He’s the teacher bending over backwards to keep a student eligible.
But all he sees is sin. Sex. Violence. Depravity. Wicked, selfish, me-centered, curved-in-upon-ourselves thoughts. Even among the best of mankind, even in the family of righteous, blameless Noah, righteous blameless Noah who celebrates surviving the flood by getting rip-roaring drunk in his vineyard. All he sees is a people in need of a flood. Destruction. Death.
So he gives it. He doesn’t just resolve to wipe out mankind, he does. A flood. A world-wide flood. Not in response to ecological abuse, but in response to murder-death-kill, look-see-taste-touch-out-of-control sex. All things living die. Because God is the great-flood bringer, and only a promise (perhaps a foolish one at that) kept this from being a once-a-millennium cleansing act. After keeping his word and wiping out mankind, God said, “Never again will I destroy all living creatures.” Because we learned our lesson? This is most certainly not true.
Because he had another plan. Notice, God always has a plan. He resolved to flood the earth. In this case, he had a guy, Noah. A believer. Loved by God not because he was so attractive, but attractive to God because he was loved, by God, through Noah’s faith in the promise, through Noah’s faith in Christ. He, like Abraham, believed, and the Lord credited it to him as righteousness. So he lays out the plan to Noah: the ark, the animals, the food, a place for his family. In other words, a way out. For Noah’s family, for the world. Amazing. Even as God plans to destroy everything, he has in mind a new creation. But it’s not starting over again with another “formless and empty.”
This is God’s way. Adam and Eve bring death upon themselves; God has a plan: the seed of the woman to crush the devil. Sodom and Gomorrah bring death on themselves; God sends Lot as a preacher of righteousness among them and the angels to drag to survival all who’ll come. God’s people waste away in Egypt; God sends Moses to deliver them. God’s chosen people bring death, destruction and exile upon themselves by worshiping false gods and linking themselves to pagan nations; God sends prophets to preach to them and leaders like Ezra, Nehemiah and Zerubbabel to bring them home and rebuild the temple.
Or, we have our lesson from Luke 1 today. In a time of general decline, when most have fallen away from the Lord, are disobedient and need their hearts turned, God, the great flood bringer, sends John to flatten things out and wash away the sin of the people with water. A far gentler flood, but just as deadly.
We think of John’s Baptism, of our Baptism, as a gentle thing, a calm thing, perhaps even, because we normally see it administered to little babies, a cute thing. Maybe that’s because so often we use as little water as possible. Nothing bad can happen when it’s a few drops of water. But the Bible says no such things about Baptism. It calls Baptism a washing of rebirth and renewal. Labor and delivery. Recreation. Making things new and different. Paul in Colossians says it’s a circumcision, a painful surgery on a most delicate body part. In 1 Peter, the apostle says that the water of the flood – the waters that destroyed all life on earth, symbolized Baptism. That fits Romans 6. Baptism equals death and burial. It kills. It drowns. It destroys. Just like the flood of Noah’s time.
Because we need exactly that flood. Jesus talks about the end of the world and says, “Just as it was in the days of Noah.” Nothing has changed. We act the same. We think the same. We live the same. We have forgotten the urgency. Sometimes deliberately. The world has gone on and will go on. We have plenty of time. And, after all, it’s most important to satisfy our urges.
So the great flood bringer comes, once more, drowning and destroying. Not the world, but us. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Just as in the days of Noah God didn’t just start over with a brand new earth and recreate people, so too with us. He doesn’t erase us from the record books; he makes new. The water of Baptism don’t erase my sin, it erases the guilt of my sin. Because it covers me with the blood of Christ. Our ark. How God remembered us. His plan.
God always had a plan. He chose not to destroy the earth until judgment day because he had in mind something else to destroy: His very own Son, Jesus Christ. John came ahead of time preparing the way for this, preparing the royal highway by baptizing, for the one who would be crushed, killed, destroyed and drowned by God for our own sins. For us. Jesus, the Christ, the picked and anointed one of God, the one God picked and anointed to destroy in our place. The one God determined to wipe out instead of us. The one upon whose body we ride as the only life raft to salvation. The one whose body isn’t just big enough for Noah and his family, a few animals, and some food, but for all who believe in him, for all who call upon his name. With them God makes his covenant, that, through Baptism we enter the ark and survive into eternal life. Amen.