Teacher: Chancellor Roger J. Magnuson
Topic: Research ancient systems of justice and judgment in the Old Testament times giving special attention to trials by ordeal with the modern litigation process and then describe whether God’s judgment during Noah ’s times was trial by ordeal, and if so why? Finally looking at Peter’s account of baptism in his epistle, describe whether the judgment of Noah’s day prefigures Christian baptism giving as many reasons as you can, why or why not.
Title: Get Into the Ark!
We now come to the most critical event, perhaps, of history, following the fall: the flood. Scientists have recently found evidences of a great flood (article in New York Times) around the time of Noah, a flood that perhaps helped formed the black sea. It is one thing to understand the history of the flood, but it is another to understand the theology of the flood: there is no truth so vital to our age as the truth God teaches us through the great flood.
- Feeling—Our contemporary feeling. We just don’t feel that things like the flood should happen. We don’t act like it. If you really not only read the account of the flood, but put yourself there at the time of Noah, you can only be overwhelmed and awestruck by how horrific it was. Can you imagine the windows of heaven opening, the deluge of water, the pathetic screams, people climbing trees, babies floating facedown in the water, animals with terror in their eyes fighting to keep themselves afloat: every single person on earth and every animal not in the ark wiped out in that most horrifying of deaths, drowning. Holding one’s breath until you can’t hold it anymore, feeling the water rush into your lungs, an experience of total panic. We have a feeling that this couldn’t have happened, the whole world drowning, for it is too horrible. If Noah were interviewed for a talk show, would Noah say, “That ark gave me meaning and purpose in life. It was my flag to fly?” or “‘That ark brought my family together; we had such wonderful family times.” Or “what a physical fitness program, hauling that lumber and rounding up those animals was so good for me,” or “it really helped my business, it gave me a successful job as a carpenter,” or “It just gave me self-esteem to accomplish that, to find out I was so handy.” Noah would never have said that. Yet, this is the contemporary feeling! If you ask people in the modern church what it means to them to be Christians, 98 % of responses won’t even mention the judgment to come or how Christ is our Savior. They may say, “He gives us self-esteem, peace, improves our family relationships;” these are as ridiculous as Noah’s answers, totally neglecting the central theme: salvation! Can you imagine Noah not saying, “That ark saved me from a catastrophic judgment! I saw my friends dying, and oh, I thank God for saving me!”
- Fallacy—What do we do to the churches who are not preaching about the truth of judgment? They aren’t bad people; their statements of faith are right on, but they don’t make any emphasis on judgment. Can we say this is unimportant? The fact is, there are many people who are a part of the neo-evangelical mainstream and they just don’t think about it. In the 1950’s Harold Ockengay and others made a systematic effort to go positive, not to have a negative message because it turns people off. Nobody wants to hear about hell, in other words, they don’t want to read about half the Bible. They teach good things, but they avoid the issues of judgment. There will be tremendous pressures upon us to accommodate the culture, not by going apostate, but just by casually being positive all the time, flying on one wing, having our Bible as a one-edged, not a two-edged, sword. How suited are modern Christian music and other things suited to judgment? We live in a time where people think the primary benefits of Christianity are material and physical, not spiritual. The church makes no emphasis on judgment: but God knows that to motivate us, we need not only love, but also fear. If we wind back the videotape and put ourselves in Noah’s day, we have a clearer idea of what matters: we see the bloated bodies floating on the water, and suddenly we realize that it didn’t matter if their income went up 20%; what mattered was that they didn’t get into the ark. They didn’t hear the clear message of Noah: to be saved.
- Focus—What is the focus of ministry? Biblically, it is far different from our contemporary feelings. Throughout Old Testament, people were always warning about the coming Day of the Lord, the imminent judgment of God coming on the land and then, in a far greater way, in the Day of the Lord. “God gave Noah the rainbow sign; no more water, the fire next time.” “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision; for the day of the Lord comes soon…” There are indeed many temporal blessings to Christianity, but the most important thing is that we are all going to stand before Jesus Christ as our judge. John and Peter also warned of this coming day. We need to focus on what is really most important. This world is going to disappear in a fervent heat, and how ought we to behave, considering that if we only kept in mind the judgment of God, we would be different in our approach to life and Christian service.
- Parenthesis—What’s really important in God’s History is redemption, and it’s culmination in heaven. The Bible is given as a guidebook to point us to heaven. The Bible tells us that we are living between two parentheses—the first is Noah’s judgment, and the second is the great apocalypse. These are the only two universal judgments on the entire world: the first on Noah’s people, the second at the end. We live in the interim, between two universal judgments.
- Time of Noah—the first judgment was to secure the stage on which the drama of redemption was worked out. There was an increasingly violent and sensual culture that threatened to destroy man from the earth. God needed to make sure that the physical side was taken care of so that the spiritual side could be worked out. God made secure the stage for His drama by His cleansing judgment at Noah’s time, He “started over.” Noah was a suitable person with which to start over. He then provided protection for mankind, special protections so that the earth would survive long enough for His redemptive plan to be worked out.
- Animals—First of all, animals were now rebelling against man. The fall affects everything; now God gave animals a fear of man so that the animals wouldn’t kill man (though they still savage man at times).
- Nature—God gave man protection from nature; nature is inert, but can harm humans: now He prevented any universal uproar: He ensured that the season and cycles of nature wouldn’t stop until His redemption was completed. The rainbow was the sign that He had set aside His bow, His weapon of warfare; we understand that God will never again universally judge mankind until the end. There won’t be any cataclysm that destroys all of mankind until God has fulfilled and completed His redemptive history for the earth and the seals of Revelation are unsealed.
- Man—Finally, God gave man protection against other men. Prior to the fall, there was no ignorance or sin: everyone walked in the great light of God. But now there was enmity between men. Noah was given the sword when God said, “For blood must blood be shed.” Even though that seems unmerciful and harsh, it is merciful, for it is deterrent of crime. It deters future murders by the murderer 100%. As Thomas Hobbes said, “Without government, men’s lives are nasty, brutish and short.” Even a bad government is better than no government.
- Times of Judgment—The times when Noah lived have two things common with the times today: great violence and great sensuality. The “sons of God” (a self-designation, according to ancient archaeological discoveries) felt they were so god-like they could gather women into their large harems and thus violate all of God’s rules, shamelessly engaging in sensuality. At the same time, violence went up. Historically, violence and sensuality go together in society. Margaret Mead was a sociologist fraud who claimed to have gone to Samoa and to have discovered (as recorded in her book) that the Samoans had no sexual boundaries and were peaceful and happy. However, it was later discovered that as an extremely sensual place,Samoa was also excessively violent. We are living in these same conditions: sensuality and violence permeate our culture and our times.
- Theme—Was God wrong in telling Noah what to preach to that sensual and violent age? Was He wrong, in the light of that first judgment? No! Noah said, “Repent or else! Judgment is coming!” Our message has to have that same ringing feeling to it, for we live at the time of the second parenthesis. People can react, or caricature us; yes, they will do just what they did to Noah, scorn us from their spots of sophistication. As ministers, do we want to be well-perceived? Or do we rather want to be right? There are two universal judgments and as we anticipate the second, we must have the same message of warning as did Noah.
- Scripture—This particular object of judgment helps us understand a great part of redemption. The way in an ancient society to find out the truth was trial by ordeal of fire or water. Trial by ordeal did not go out until about the 1100’s in England with the formation of the Magna Carta; it was still in use after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. People used this trial when they did not know who was telling the truth or who was lying: they had to find a way for God to determine their innocence: water, fire, champion, etc. Various tribes in Africa still have trials by ordeal. In the Bible, the trial of Noah’s time is an example of trial by ordeal. God carries us through the water and the fire and after those judgment we are vindicated, as job said, “When I am tried, I shall come forth as gold.” It explains the ordeal of baptism: we find grace in the eyes of the Lord, and therefore, we are raised up. When the earth did not contain Christ after His death, but He rose up, that was a sign of His vindication. He was innocent, and those who had accused Him were brought down to the grave.
- Salvation—We are reminded that there is coming a universal judgment when only some will be vindicated. Peter says, “the like sign of baptism doth now save us.” Baptism is a picture of God vindicating us through trial by ordeal, raising us up to new free life. There is an urgent need to save the lost before their judgment of ordeal comes.
- Sanctification—just as in the champion ordeal David represents God’s people and fights against Goliath, so in the Christian life come ordeals that prove us to be Satan’s children or God’s children. When we are tried, how do we respond? Do we “let patience have her perfect work” in us? Do we “come forth as gold”? Do we make progress through trials?
- Service—The service we render to God is a service Noah rendered in his day: being a witness of the great risks coming upon them. A doctor must tell his patients of risks; if he does not, he is guilty of malpractice. We too will be guilty of “ministerial malpractice” if we do not tell people about the risks of not being ready for the judgment.
- Suffering—Suffering is an indication of trials and temptations that we must go through in this life, which are meant to lead to triumphant vindication. No chapter so prophesies the message of our day as the chapter on the flood. We must cause people to look back to the flood, to look forward to the judgment to come, and then to make themselves right with God.