Advent 1b

Preached: November 27, 2011

Focus Your Watching, Just As Noah Did
Genesis 6:1-3, 5-14a, 17-22

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit encourages us to watch for Jesus is Genesis 6.

As mankind began to increase on the earth, daughters were born to them. The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married whomever they chose. And the Lord said, “My Spirit will not plead in people forever since they are flesh. They will have 120 years.”

The Lord saw how great people’s wickedness on the earth had become and that every purpose of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made mankind on earth, and he grieved to the depths of his heart. The Lord said, “I will wipe off from the face of the earth mankind whom I have created, both humans and animals that walk or crawl or fly. For I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

This is the account of Noah’s family. Noah was righteous and devout in his generation. He walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. But the earth had become corrupt in God’s sight and filled with violence. When God looked at the earth, how corrupt! For all flesh had ruined their earthly path.

God said to Noah, “I see the end of all flesh coming, since the earth is full of violence because of them. Look! I am going to ruin {destroy} them along with the earth. Make for yourself an ark …”

“Yes, I even I am bringing a flood of waters on the earth to destroy all flesh that lives and breathes under the sky. Everything on the earth will perish. But I will carry out my solemn promise to you. You will come into the ark -- you and your sons, your wife and your sons’ wives all together. You will bring to the ark two of everything, of all that lives and has flesh. They’re to be male and female. Two of everything -- each kind of bird, each kind of land animal, each kind of crawling creature -- will come to you for you to keep them alive. Also, take along all kinds of food that can be eaten. Gather it up for them to eat and for yourself.”

Noah did it all just as God had commanded him. (Genesis 6:1-3, 5-14a, 17-22).

This is the word of our Lord.

For several decades cameras have had autofocus features. Whether you zoom in or out, the lens adjusts to give a crisp, sharp image. No fiddling with rangefinders, just point and shoot.

The devil would love us to believe that we can live our life on autofocus. But such a life will never have the right focus. That kind of life might focus on a near-term problem or a short-term pleasure. That kind of life could also have a long-term focus, diligently working toward worthy goals -- the kind of life recommended by the success and happiness books. But it’s still not the right focus. You see, it’s not just the unfocused lives that have the wrong focus. Often very focused people do not have the right focus, just as photograph can be focused on the wrong object.

As we watch for Jesus to come, we need to keep him in focus. There’s no autofocus built in for you and me, no matter how much religious training you’ve had. Each day is a new scene. Each day you and I need to keep adjusting our hearts and minds to stay focused on Jesus. That’s what it means to watch. Focus your watching, dear friends. Focus your watching, just as Noah did. That’s the theme today. Take it to heart as the Holy Spirit works in us through the words of Scripture. Take it to heart, for we live in very similar times to Noah, times with the wrong focus. Our times are similar (part one). But just as Noah’s faith focused on the Lord and his promise, that’s how we stay in focus too. For our faith is the same as Noah’s (part two). Focus your watching, just as Noah did.

A. Our times are similar

All people on earth have come from Adam and Eve. From those two the numbers increased more and more. But from the time of their children on, two distinct groups of people developed. Remember that Cain killed his brother Abel, and even after the Lord called him to repent, he refused. That group of unbelievers grew larger and larger.

For you see, many of the believers, called the sons of God in the text, lost their focus. They looked at the beauty of the daughters of unbelievers and married them. Maybe this was the outward beauty of appearance, maybe even the inner beauty of personality that attracted them. But it wasn’t the beauty of faith. Children were not taught the Lord’s promises in those homes. Whom you marry is vitally important. It carries repercussions for generations to come. Focus on the beautiful of a shared faith in Christ.

What were these families focused on instead? Earthly progress and success. Genesis 4 tells how the unbelieving line made agricultural advancements with livestock, artistic innovations in music, and technological progress in bronze and iron. That doesn’t sound too different from our world today, does it? Our times are similar.

Others from this line became mighty leaders, knowing how to inspire, guide, control, and drive others. “They were the heroes of old, men of renown” (Genesis 6:4 NIV1984). How many of the world’s titans of business, brilliant athletes and stars, innovators and scientist, political and social champions, military leaders and revolutionaries might not fall into that category today? They are very focused on achieving their goal, but is it the right focus? How many families today dream of a successful life for their children before they think of training them in the one true faith? School, athletics, work take the focus as the higher priority rather than hearing and learning God's Word regularly at home and at church. On what is your family focused? How similar our times!

Preachers of righteousness, like Enoch the seventh from Adam, Noah’s great-grandfather, proclaimed the Lord’s message. Even those who did not grow up with the word of the Lord in the home could have heard it. The Holy Spirit was powerfully working through the preaching of God’s word. But the hearer’s heart fought against the Spirit. They would rather live their lives on autofocus or focused on what they could accomplish here on earth. And no doubt, the example they saw in their own homes as they grew up reinforced their resistance against the Spirit.

Soon all would forget the Lord’s promise. Soon all would go their own ways. Before it was too late the Lord would make a new start with Noah and his family. He wanted to bless the people. But such blessing could only come through the promised Savior, the promise they were rejecting. Yet even at this point the Lord’s patience gave them a hundred and twenty years, a hundred and twenty years to hear his message from Noah’s preaching, a hundred and twenty years to turn from their evil ways and focus on the Lord and his promise.

How similar our times! Yes, God’s Word sounds out in our world today in many different ways, in Christian conversations, in faithful preaching, in print, on radio, TV, and the Internet. But how often isn’t it drowned out by everything else out there, just as in Noah’s day? How often in our own lives we let other things drown out his message! Our focus blurs. We grow sleepy in our watchfulness. Family becomes more important than faith, just as in Noah’s day. Pursuing happiness becomes more important than pursuing righteousness, just as in Noah’s day. Advancing ourselves, our family, our community, or even human progress in general becomes more important than growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, just as in Noah’s day.

How true still today that “every inclination of the thoughts of {their} heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5 NIV1984)! That was our heart as well, until the Holy Spirit created a new heart in you through Baptism. That’s why we can’t live on autofocus; we’d revert to our old heart. That’s why so many have the wrong focus.

But just as in Noah’s day, the Lord is patient with us. He does not want any to perish but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). His word still sounds out. But where are we on that time line? Might not the end come today, if not for the world, at least for you or me if death takes us? The Lord is patient, but the end will come. In Noah’s day he gave them a hundred and twenty years. How much of that have we already used up? Don’t abuse the Lord’s patience. Focus your watching, not just some day down the line but today and every day. Focus your watching, just as Noah did. For either your focus is right or it’s not. There’s no in between, no good enough. There will be only two groups in the end, just as in Noah’s day -- those in the ark and those outside. How drastic the difference will be!

So focus your faith just as Noah did. For our faith is the same as his.

B. Our faith is the same

The text describes him: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 NIV1984). He was righteous. How could that be? Just four verse earlier we heard this about the human race: “{E}very inclination of the thoughts of {their} heart are only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5 NIV1984). How could Noah or any person be righteous before the holy God? Do you know what it means to be righteous? It doesn’t mean to be pretty good or good enough or to try hard or make up for the wrong you've done. It means to meet the standards of God’s law perfectly, to measure up completely to all that he commands, to never have any wrongs to make up for. It means to be fully right in his sight in all that you say or think or do or feel, so that the holy Judge, who continually sees every corner of your heart and mind, can find nothing wrong with you at all. That’s what it means to be righteous.

How could Noah be righteous? Certainly not based on his own thoughts and actions, but only through faith in the coming Savior. He believed the Lord’s promise to send the woman’s Offspring to crush Satan’s head, reconciling sinners like him to God. But how could the divine Savior reconcile sinners to the holy God except by taking away their sin and giving them his righteousness?

Our faith is the same, isn’t it? We were born with a heart whose every thought was only evil all the time. Our righteousness could never stand before the holy Judge. But Jesus, the Savior, the Offspring of a woman, the Virgin-born -- Jesus came. Faith focuses on his righteousness. He did meet the standards of God’s law perfectly and measured up to all his holy commands. The Judge declared Jesus right in his sight. Easter is that verdict for all the world to hear. Jesus is the Righteous One.

But Easter’s verdict says more than that. Easter declares: Jesus is your righteousness. Jesus’ perfectly right record counts as yours before the holy Judge. Faith focuses on Jesus and his righteousness, which counts for you and me. Your faith, dear Christian, confesses: “Yes, even a sinner like me is righteous before God because Christ’s righteousness counts for me.” That’s how Noah was righteous. That’s how we are righteous. Only through faith in Jesus and his righteousness alone.

Now because of this righteousness from Christ, Noah lived a life that was blameless, or maybe a better translation is that he lived a devout life, and he walked with God. So even when the Lord told him to do something as unusual as building a huge ark for himself and for the animals, we’re told, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22 NIV1984). Faith focused on Jesus takes action.

So also, dear Christians, as we focus our watching on Jesus and his righteousness, that changes the way we live. It changes us even, or maybe we should say especially, during this busy time of the year. Noah’s faith walked with God, so also our faith. Walk with God by listening to his word. For isn’t that what we do when we walk together with someone, we listen? The only ways God has promised to talk to us is through his Word and Sacraments. Walk with God. Take his word to heart. Listen carefully, blocking out the distractions of the season. That’s focused watching.

Likewise, dear Christians, as your faith rejoices in Jesus’ righteousness and walks with God listening to his word, your faith is eager to do what is good, to obey our Lord’s commands, just as Noah did. That’s focused watching. Like servants busy doing their master’s business until he returns, be busy obeying your Lord’s commandments, carrying out the responsibilities he gives you as husband or wife, parent or child, student or worker, citizen and Christian. But don’t do those things simply because its the season to be giving or because it might make you feel good about yourself. Do what’s right and good with your focus on Jesus. That’s focused watching.

Just like in Noah’ days so also in ours, the world imagines the end will never come. They live on autofocus. They go on eating and drinking, marry and giving in marriage. But Jesus will come, at a time least expected. He will judge all. There will be only two groups. Those who are righteous will be saved; all others damned. That was Noah’s faith and ours as well. So stay focused in your watching, stay focused on Jesus and his righteousness, which counts as your. Focus your watching, just as Noah did. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313