This weekend the major Hollywood blockbuster Noah premiered in theaters. I haven’t seen it, and to be honest I’m not sure if I will. It looks to be pretty intriguing and have amazing special effects. For all of its faults, I’m sure the movie will show a pretty horrific vision of what a worldwide flood may have looked like. I remember going to the movie theater in Greenwood, Mississippi as a child and watching The Little Mermaid. The opening scene of that Disney classic is an ocean scene with huge billowing waves. I remember thinking that it looked like those waves were going to burst through the screen and sweep me away. All that to say, if I got a little freaked out by the ocean scenes in The Little Mermaid, the movie Noah might not be for me.
But I digress. My point here isn’t to review the new Hollywood epic (very loosely) based on a biblical event. My point here isn’t even to comment on what the filmmakers got right or wrong, or to say whether or not you should see it for yourself. I’ll leave that to other people who have seen the movie and the deluge (excuse the pun) of online reviews that are flooding (and excuse this one too) Facebook and Twitter.
I simply want to remind you that the biblical story in which Noah plays a central role is really all about the gospel. In other words, the primary purpose of the narrative isn’t to tell us about how horrible it was for God to destroy his creation through drowning. Instead, it’s whole purpose is to point us to the beautiful horror of the cross that is the only hope for a creation that has been destroyed by sin – the good news of Jesus Christ. The story of Noah isn’t a nursery tale. It isn’t safe, because the gospel isn’t safe. Golgotha isn’t safe. The cross isn’t safe. There is the stench of death in this story. No, Noah’s story isn’t safe but it is good, because it’s the story of the king who was crucified to save sinners.
The flood narrative is the fifth major event recorded in the Bible. (1) God creates the world. (2) God places Adam and Eve in Eden. (3) Adam and Eve eat the fruit and sin sweeps into the world. (4) Cain murders Abel. (5) God floods the earth. From its perfect beginning the narrative plunges downhill fast. In the span of just a few pages we go from pickin’ peaches in the Garden, to murder, to all humanity becoming so violently evil that God in his righteousness determines to wash it all away…literally wash everyone and everything away. The God who had spoken the universe into existence now makes another decision: He’s going to kill everything.
And yet in the midst of that horrific holiness, God also unleashes the surging rapids of redemption. God’s purpose and plan for his soiled creation is going to be demonstrated by a catastrophic opening of his sin-hating reservoir combined with his absolute commitment that a “seed of the woman” would indeed come who would slay the serpent and restore all creation.
And so the camera of God’s covenant-commitments zooms in on a baby boy. It zooms in on a firstborn son. It zooms in on a little newborn named Noah.
When Noah is being carted off to the maternity ward at the East of Eden Medical Center, only a few generations had passed since the days of old man Adam. The heavens and the earth aren’t that ancient at this point, and yet as we gaze around the landscape outside the long-lost garden it sure seems like a long time has passed since the days when God would walk in intimate fellowship with Adam and Eve in the cool of the new day’s dawn.
The world has changed. The curse has spread. The darkness of sin has descended like smog over the settlements of humanity. What had started with a murderous act of passion in a vegetable garden has grown to be one long killing field. Humanity is destroying itself and is destroying creation along with it. This is not how things are supposed to be. The Bible describes man’s state as thinking on evil continually. The lines of Cain and Seth have begun to merge into one creating a race of super-sinners, and in that growing shadow mankind began to forget about God, about who he was, about what had happened, and about what God had promised.
But not everyone had forgotten.
There was a man named Lamech, a descendant of Seth who still saw the world as it truly was. He remembered what had happened and he was still longing for the fulfillment of God’s word. So when he held his newborn baby in his arms after his wife’s long and painful hours of labor, he hoped and dreamed that maybe the end was in sight.
As he held little Noah in his arms Lamech cried out, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands” (Genesis 5:28-29). Lamech remembered the curse. Lamech remembered that the world he was living in was not the way the world was created to be. Lamech knew that sin had introduced pain, hard labor, and weary work onto humanity. He also knew that God had promised that a son, a male-child, a prince, a “seed” would arise to conquer and decapitate the dragon.
So he hoped that maybe this son was the promised one.
His senses and prophecy were indeed pointed in the right direction. His son would be used by God in a mighty work of salvation. Of all the men and women on earth Noah and his family alone would be the recipient of God’s mercy when God unleashed the flood of judgment on creation. Noah and his family would be sheltered by the mercy of God in a wood-carved sanctuary, and with him God would also save a representation from all creation. God would descend in fury, but he would also descend in salvation. He would pour out a violent-vengeance, but he would also pour out undeserved grace.
And it is in this horrific event that God would use Noah as a messenger of the good news that he was pointing forward to. Noah was not the chosen redeemer. He was not the prophesied “seed of the woman,” he wasn’t even the real point of his own story. Noah’s life and Noah’s faith and Noah’s salvation were played out as a cosmic-sized drama that would point to one of Noah’s distant descendants.
For you see, Lamech’s longings would indeed be met by another baby boy, another child, another distant son of Lamech, and that child would ultimately do what Noah could never have done. He would save not only a remnant of creation but instead would save a multitude from all peoples and would usher in the eternal age of new heavens and a new earth. Lamech’s longings were for a child who would reverse the curse, who would finally bring rest from the painful toil that is a consequence of our rebellion.
And Lamech’s child forces us to look through the years and hear a voice, not the voice of an elderly maritime zookeeper shouting over the rain and wind and waves, but of God himself standing in a boat and commanding the rain and the wind to stop. The same God who commanded the rain and designed the rainbow would calm a storm as he stood among his friends in a fisherman’s ark. Then he would speak again, not to the wind and the rain but to a sea of people. Jesus would look into the eyes of men and women who were burdened down by sin and would answer Lamech’s plea. Jesus would shout out, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Lamech cried out for a child to bring sinners rest, and in the person of Jesus Christ God gave him the very thing he longed for.
Like his distant ancestor Noah, Jesus would face the storm of God’s fury alone, only this time Jesus would accomplish what Noah’s floating petting-zoo never could. He would hoist a wooden crossbeam across his shoulders. He would anchor it to the rocky ground. He would look into the blackening skies, and he would endure the unleashing of God’s judgment on the sin of the world. He would face the raging sea of God’s judgment, a flood not of water but of his own blood. And he would do it in the place of sinners, in the place of the very men and women whose epic rebellion could never have earned such an awesome sacrifice.
And that is the gospel that Noah proclaims. That is the hope of Jesus’ cross, a hope that calls us not to find shelter from a flood of saltwater but to be plunged into the depths of Jesus’ mercy. The hymnist William Cowper was right all along: “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”
Swim deep my friends. Be swept away,