Under the Rainbow
(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg
9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”
Let me start this morning’s message with a little trivia? Who knows how long Noah and his family were in the Ark? (Most will answer 40 days and 40 nights, but that is how long it rained.) The answer is 375 days, or a year and 10 days. He entered the Ark on the 1st day of the 2nd month of his 600th year and exited the Ark on the 10th day of the 2nd month of his 601 year.
Now another little theme that most of us have may have forgotten or not realized. The story of the Ark and Noah and his family being rescued through it is actually a picture of baptism. Peter tells us that in 1 Peter 3:20-21
...when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.
To understand how Noah and his family being rescued from the flood is a symbol of baptism, we have to remember the story. Humanity rebelling against God had made the earth full of wickedness. God looked into the hearts of the people that had started to fill the earth, he looked for anything good, and there was nothing to be found. And God, seeing what had happened to a good and beautiful creation, seeing the wounds that humanity was inflicting upon one another, seeing the family he created destroying one another, God, the perfect one, was filled with perfect gut wrenching pain. So, in perfect justice, God choose to eliminate the violence, the wickedness, the abuse, the hatred that filled the earth. He choose to eliminate the people who did it, they would become victims of his wrath - except for Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives and their children to be.
We baptize - and I don’t know if you have noticed this offensive phrase in our culture, we baptize children of wrath. And the symbol of baptism, especially in its form of immersion, is that we deserve the same judgement as the flood, we deserve to be drowned under the waters of God’s judgment. Noah and his family deserved it to. Noah was a good man, a preacher of righteousness, but he was not perfect. In a culture of perversity, even an average person looked great. He himself got involved in some despicable acts after the flood. But God choose the best, and he made a covenant with Noah. Before he sent the water, God said:
17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you.
Not only did God save Noah and his family, God saved even those things that Noah had, as an image bearer of God, responsibility for - the animals of creation. We remember that part of the story the best from our Sunday School years. And we remember how the skies grew dark, the rain started pouring, the waters gushed from the ground. The floods rose and rose until the Ark started floating, and then continued to rise until even the tops of the mountains were covered with 20 feet of water. And so Noah, his family and the animals were saved in the Ark that was lifted up through the overwhelming waters of God’s wrath. This is a symbol of baptism for we to are saved in the Ark, whom we call Christ as he was lifted up upon the cross through the overwhelming waters of God’s wrath. We, who are in Christ are saved, through his resurrection from the dead, we survive, living, born again to be fruitful and multiply by making disciples of all people in a renewed creation, in the same way that God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth."
Now that phrase “be fruitful and multiply” is a key to understanding what is going on. Those are covenant words. They appear in various forms again and again in God’s covenant agreements with us. They are part of the covenant formula’s that we see in scripture. You see, the story of Noah and the flood, the story of our baptism has everything to do with Covenant! The truth is, if we do not see this, then we do not understanding baptism, nor do we understand especially baptism of infants. After all, how can we say that these children, who at this point in their lives, as far as we can see, have no inkling of faith within them, have any part in Christ, in salvation, in being saved?
The answer is that the act of baptism is a symbol of covenant as much as it is a symbol of our transitioning from death to life by faith in Christ. And this morning, in the rainbow covenant that symbolizes baptism - I invite you to notice just a few themes.
This covenant that God made with Noah and that God makes with us in baptism is all, I repeat all grace.
First notice that God says “I will establish my covenant...” This covenant arrangement is all God’s doing. You can read any part of the Flood story and you will discover that the covenant had very little to do with Noah and had everything to do with God, God’s will, God’s choice, God’s action, God’s remembering. It is God who writes the terms of the covenant (v. 8-11), it is God who blesses with the covenant (vs.1), and gives them the commission to increase and multiply, it is God who raises up the symbol of the covenant, the rainbow, he lifts it up into the clouds so that all can see (v. 12,13), but what is the most important of all is that he sees his rainbow, the mark of his covenant.
Just to bring out this contrast, you will not find in scripture any hint that us seeing the rainbow is that important, as beautiful as it is. Notice here, more important than anything else is that God remembers the sign he put in place, he remembers the commitments he made, his faithfulness is the key issue. Again, let me point back to our baptism. Baptism symbolizes that we though overwhelmed by the floods of God’s wrath have been saved in and by our Ark, our Savior Jesus Christ, and the symbol of that salvation is this sign, this mark, the rite of baptism, commanded upon and placed upon all Christians. So if you have become and Christian - you are called to confess your faith and be baptized, because God looks at that mark. And since the covenant was to Noah and his family, God looks for the mark on us and our children. And when he sees the mark, when he remembers the sign, when he sees the blood that his son shed on the darkest day in human history, he remembers his promise and our Salvation. Like the rainbow, so our baptism is not about the mark we see, its about how God sees us, forgiven in Christ. You see, our salvation is not all about us, our goodness, even our faith as if faith is something we create in and of ourselves, our salvation is all about God, God’s promises, God’s grace, God’s goodness, God’s action, God’s covenants with us. "For it is by grace that we are saved, and this not of ourselves, lest anyone should boast."
And let me add that this grace, pure grace, this sign that God sees, it just does not change. Around the throne of God, according to Revelation 4:3 is an emerald rainbow. Throughout eternity, the way God deals with us and our children has an eternal rainbow quality - something that God does, God sees, God remembers his promises to us. And so today, we baptize our children not because our children are exceptional, or good, we recognize that like us they are children deserving wrath. We baptize them because God’s ways do not change and we see throughout the scripture that his love is to a 1000 generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. God chooses not only to love us, but also to love the ones we love, our families. So when we come to the Lord, we discover in amazing ways that God is also starting to write his truths in the hearts of our parents, our spouses, and our children. So Paul calls children of believers holy and Jesus said that to such as children belongs the kingdom of heaven. Paul tells us that the unbelieving spouse of a believer is "sanctified." Somehow, because God is a covenant God, and his promise is to deal with the ones we love, we see the wonderful salvation effects of the gospel affecting the ones we love. That is the way God has dealt with us throughout history.
I conclude with one not so minor technical point of theology that otherwise might bore us to sleep unless we see what that rainbow really means.
The covenant which God made with Noah, the covenant which God makes with us in Christ in technical terms is called a “Royal Grant Covenant.” In that type of covenant, a royal or Sovereign, simply granted by promise, by his sovereign loving choice to give something, usually undeserved, to his subjects. Like other covenants and promises, even like the ones we make, the covenants included oaths. One significant type of oath made especially in Royal Grant Covenants by the Sovereign was a "self - maledictory Oath." You might be asking - what in the world is that?
Well, when you were a kid, you
probably made a few self-maledictory oaths too. Did you ever make a
promises and then say “cross my heart, hope to
die.” Basically you were saying: "If I do not keep
my promise, then I deserve, I hope to die." Maledictory, if you break
the word up into its parts, means literally "to speak evil" or "to
curse." Self - maledictory means to draw a curse upon oneself (cross my
heart, hope to die.) That is a strong oath. I think as children we
don’t realize what we are saying, but God,
when he sent a rainbow knew what he was up to and this rainbow as the
sign of the covenant is self - maledictory. If you
want to see what the rainbow means, you must picture it this way.
Gracious God, covenant keeper, oath maker and sign giver, who gave us the rainbow. Thank you that it is not our covenant keeping that is the first issue in our salvation, it is your covenant promises to which you have been flawlessly faithful that has secured our salvation. You see the rainbow, you deal with us according to your promises. Thank you that it is what you see that matters, not our blindness to heavenly realities. Thank you for Christ, our rainbow, lifted high on a cross through the overwhelming waters of your wrath. And thank you that in our darkest most tempest tossed times of change, in thunderous clouds sculpted in horror, you place in our skies a rainbow to remind us that you never change. May we never see that bent bow in the skies the same way again.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.