In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When many people think about Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, the word impossible may come to mind several times, in reference to its size or seaworthiness, or gathering that many animals. Many children’s books and greeting cards have shown a “cartoonified” version of Noah’s Ark for years: a wooden houseboat, way too small and certainly not seaworthy, maybe a lifesaver on the side saying “S. S. Noah,” and a handful of familiar animals on the ark, giraffes with their heads and long necks sticking out the windows, elephants with their trunks hanging down the side. Unfortunately, even posters for use on Sunday school classroom walls have depicted this cartoonish ark. It lampoons, mocks, makes fun of a significant event in salvation history, as recorded in Holy Scripture, the Word of God. As objects of such ridicule, the Ark, the Flood, and yes, Scripture seem less real, less believable, even impossible to believe.
If we look at the Lord’s calling of Noah, in Genesis chapter 6, when God commands Noah to build the ark, giving the dimensions,
“Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks” (Gen 6:14–16)
and telling him to bring pairs of every land animal on board the ark, we could imagine Noah responding, “You want me to do what?” Yet Noah obeyed. “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him” (Gen 6:22). Nor did Noah question God’s wisdom, determination, or reason for all of this. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5–6). Is God’s reason for destroying all flesh on the earth impossible to believe? Hardly! We know full well that “the earth is filled with violence through” mankind. Don’t men—and that includes the whole sinful human race, every one of us—deserve destruction and punishment for such violence and ungodliness?
Some people find it impossible to believe that all those animals could fit into the Ark, or that Noah could have built it by himself, or that it would have been seaworthy, or that a flood could cover the whole earth. There is no need right now to go into the Ark’s size or seaworthiness. Several years ago I measured this building, and it’s the same size as the Ark would be, using an 18-inch cubit. That’s not small. Anyone who has been to the Ark Encounter in Covington, Kentucky, or who has studied the matter otherwise, can testify to those facts. And Noah had time to build it. The Lord gave mankind 120 years before facing this watery judgment (Gen 6:3). So Noah had that much time, and he didn’t have to build it all by himself. Certainly his sons would have helped, and he may well have hired others to help build it. Even if they didn’t believe in the purpose of the Ark, and even if they rejected Noah’s preaching to them, they still could have done the work for money. Yes, Noah was a prophet, a messenger called by God to warn people of the coming judgment, and to call them to repentance, that they might believe and seek God’s forgiveness and grace, in this case by wanting to be saved in the Ark.
The Prophet Ezekiel was called by the Lord to testify against Israel and Judah and Jerusalem for their unfaithfulness: “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against Me. They and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day” (Ezek 2:3). Ezekiel “was among the exiles” (Ezek 1:1). So even in exile the people of Israel remained stubborn and rebellious against God. When we hear the particular task that the Lord gave to Ezekiel in chapter 4, to symbolize the siege of Jerusalem and that the prophet lay on his left side 390 days “to bear the punishment of the house of Israel,” and then on his right side 40 days to “bear the punishment of the house of Judah,” again we might wonder if Ezekiel’s initial reaction was, “You want me to do what?” Lying on his left side 390 days, then his right for 40 days, not moving from the spot, sounds impossible. To keep him there, the Lord bound him, placing cords upon him so that he could not turn, “till you have completed the days of your siege” (Ezk 4:8).
What do these things have to do with us, and what do they mean for us? Why study or ponder them? First, they are events God the Holy Spirit had recorded by His holy prophets in Scripture. They are the Word of God, and St. Paul reminds us, “[T]he sacred writings … are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:15–17). All Scripture, these events included, are about our salvation in Christ Jesus. All Scripture, as the Word of God, has His authority, and is truthful and trustworthy. Even in that brief passage, notice too that the Apostle teaches—at the very least hints at—the Truth and Mystery of the Holy Trinity, as we confess in the Creed, the God in whose holy and Triune name we are baptized. The Lord Jesus Christ states this Truth explicitly in our Third Reading, during the forty days He appeared alive to His disciples following His crucifixion, death, and burial—His own baptism by fire and blood—and His resurrection, before His ascension: “Wait for the Promise of the Father, which … you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4–5). Jesus, God the Son, has spoken of and will send from God the Father the Promise, God the Holy Spirit, who will baptize them for their task of covering the whole earth with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, the disciples might have wondered, “You want us to do what?” Yet the task is being accomplished, as were Noah’s and Ezekiel’s, not by their power but by the Holy Spirit’s power, by Him who is the Energy of God. And it is not being done by the Twelve alone, but by many others, including you and me, whom the Lord has called to the task through our baptism, and through our various vocations.
The Apostle Peter calls the Great Flood of Noah a type, a foreshadowing, of Holy Baptism: “Baptism, which is an antitype of this, now saves you” (1 Pe 3:21). Martin Luther explains further:
Now baptism is by far a greater flood than was that of Noah. For that flood drowned men no more than one year, but baptism drowns all sorts of men throughout the world, from the birth of Christ even till the day of judgment. Moreover, while that was a flood of wrath, this is a flood of grace … For without doubt many more people have been baptized than were drowned in the flood. (LW 25, p. 32)
Holy Baptism is the visible Gospel, the Good News of God’s grace toward us in Christ Jesus. As surely as the flood of Noah’s day covered the globe, so is the Gospel covering the globe, as the Word of God is spoken, and as people are baptized into Jesus, baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Noah’s name means rest, and through Noah the Lord gave the earth rest from man’s violence, for a while. Jesus is the greater Noah, for He is our eternal Rest from our sinful selves, from sin, death, and the power of the devil. In Holy Baptism, Jesus drowns the Old Adam in us and brings us into the safety of the Ark of His holy Church.
Ezekiel was laid and bound on the ground, lying on his side, “to bear the punishment” for Israel 390 days, for Judah 40 days, one day for each year of their punishment. Notice the total, 430, is the same as the number of years Israel spent in bondage in Egypt before the Lord delivered and redeemed them. Ezekiel bore the punishment of God’s people for a time, on his side, lying on the ground, in the dust of death, as it were, like a dead man unable to move. Jesus is our greater Ezekiel, bearing the punishment for the whole world for all time. He truly died and was buried, bound in linens and laid in a tomb, a dead man unable to move—and yet He rose again! He was pierced in His side, from which flowed “the blood and the water.” Through Holy Baptism, the water and the Word, you are washed, made clean, by His holy, precious blood. “For here the flood of His own blood / Now makes us holy, right, and good / Before our heavenly Father” (LSB 596, st. 4). In the Psalm, we sang, “The Voice of the Lord is over the waters” (Ps 29:3) and in your baptism His Voice was over those waters [putting His name on you]; and, “The Lord reigns; He is robed in majesty” (Ps 93:1). On the cross He is robed in the majesty of His own blood, and in that majesty He robes us, too.
The Lord called Ezekiel “son of man,” and Jesus called Himself by that title, saying, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10), “all that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished” (Lk 18:31), and “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man” (17:26). Ezekiel, “son of man,” was sent to warn God’s people of judgment; much more shall Jesus “the Son of Man” come to be our Judge. But fear not! For baptized into His crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection, He declares you pure, holy, innocent, by His grace, and He comes again to bring you out of exile in this land of sorrows into His eternal home.
Our focus in these weeks has been on events of “Forty Days” in salvation history. An obvious inspiration for choosing “Forty Days” is Jesus’ time of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, which is commonly used as the reason for the length of the Season of Lent, forty days excluding Sundays. The immediate inspiration for this theme of “Forty Days” goes back to Christmastime, when we heard of the Presentation of Jesus and the Purification of Mary, which took place on the fortieth day from Jesus’ birth. That got me thinking about other “forties” in Scripture and in God’s acts for our salvation, some of which we have heard again in these weeks, woven together with the Chief Parts of the Christian Faith as taught in the Small Catechism, and with the events of Christ’s Passion. Why did God use all these “forties”? It was His will and design to do so. Also by His will and design, the time of gestation for humans, for a baby to grow in the womb from its being conceived until birth, is another forty, forty weeks. These events of salvation history point to Christ Jesus, who was born after forty weeks, just as one of us. His birth was followed by a forty-day period, and His ministry began with forty days of fasting after His baptism. His death and resurrection were followed by forty days of presenting Himself alive to His disciples until His ascension. In Jesus, God entered into our experiences of life and time, of birth, suffering, and death. Baptizing us into Christ, God brings us into His birth, suffering, and death for our salvation, and into His life, walking in newness of life even now, and into His eternity.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.