The System of the Apocalypse (Genesis 7:1-16)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth

That is how Moses begins the book of Genesis.

And then, as he continues, very quickly we realize that Moses likes to write in patterns of seven: God completes creation in seven days. Enoch the prophet is the seventh son from Adam. Jacob works for seven years to marry Rachel. Again and again this number comes up in the Book of Genesis. And we wonder: why? What does it mean?

And then, in his second book, the Book of Exodus, Moses begins to show us what this pattern means: it takes seven days to consecrate the tabernacle, to make it holy so that God can move in. In the same way it takes seven days to consecrate the priests, to make them holy so they can enter God’s presence in the tabernacle. And the pattern continues: in Moses’ next book, the Book of Leviticus, the word “seven” is repeated 57 times, and 53 of those times Moses is talking about rituals of consecration, the act of declaring something holy, set apart, forgiven: ready to enter in to the presence of God and worship.

And as we read about these rituals, something becomes very obvious very quickly: these rituals of consecration require blood sacrifice. It takes seven days to consecrate the tabernacle, and each part of the tabernacle needs to be sprinkled with blood seven times. It takes seven days to consecrate the priests, and each priest needs to be sprinkled with blood seven times.

So as we read these books of Moses, it very quickly becomes clear that — in order to enter into God’s presence and worship him properly — at least three things are needed: a holy space, holy sacrifices, and a holy people.

And last week we talked a little bit about these things: about how Noah’s ark was a prototype of Moses’ tabernacle, and how Moses’ tabernacle was a prototype of Christ’s Church. We talked about how we enter into Christ’s Church through the covenant of baptism. Baptism is a sprinkling ritual that works basically like a receipt, a chop saying, “This person’s debt has been paid by Jesus’ blood.” That is how God’s people enter in to the ark of Jesus’ Church.

Today, Moses continues the story, and he continues to highlight the parallels between Noah’s ark and the tabernacle by emphasizing the number seven, and by introducing — for the first time — the concept of holy animals:

[1] The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. [2] Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, [3] and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. [4] Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

And as the ancient people of Israel heard this, they would have said, “Oh! I get it! Noah is a righteous dude: he knows that he cannot take his family into God’s holy ark without holy animals to make his family holy! And of course there needs to be seven pairs of each, and of course this process needs to take seven days! This makes total sense!”

What Moses is describing here is the final consecration of the ark before the flood begins. Now — to be clear — Noah does not sacrifice the animals at this point, that comes later, for reasons that will become clear later on, after the flood. But all the elements of proper worship are in place.

Now, there is one more thing about these “clean” animals that the people of Israel would have noticed at once — something that most of us do not notice: when they heard that God gave Noah seven pairs of every clean animal, they would have thought, “Oh, that’s great! God is not just providing sacrifices for Noah, he is also providing food!”

And they would have thought this because, in ancient Israel, “clean” animals are animals you eat as well as sacrifice. In fact, clean animals are the only kind of animal they were allowed to eat. That was part of the covenant God made with Israel: “You can live with me in this tabernacle, as long as you keep yourselves holy by only eating clean animals.”

So here, in this story, they would see God making the same deal with Noah: “You can travel with me in this ark, as long as you keep yourselves holy by only eating clean animals.” And the reasons for this will also become clear later on, after the flood.

[5] And then — again, just like last week — Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

Now [6] Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. [7] And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. [8] Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, [9] male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. [10] And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

[11] In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. [12] And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

And here we have to pause to notice two things.

The first thing is that the rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights, and this is second time today we have heard this: back in verse 4 God also said I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights.

Is this number also important? Yes. In Moses’ writings, the number 40 is symbolic of a time of testing and judgement. But we’re going to discuss that in more detail next week.

Now, the second thing we are going to notice here is this very strange way Moses describes how the flood begins: on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.

To us this just sounds like extremely poetic and vivid language to describe how bad the rain was. But actually, at this point, Moses is talking literally. He is using the best scientific language of his time to tell us what happened.

See, during Moses’ time they thought the earth was like a flat plate floating in the midst of a chaotic water-filled universe, the cosmic ocean. During creation, God had raised up a solid sky-dome over the earth, creating a space for air, so we can breathe. For them, our earth was a bit like a snow-globe, except with the crushing weight of the water on the outside, above the sky-dome and underneath the plate of the earth.

So when Moses says that the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened…he means that literally: the plate of the earth cracked. The sky-dome broke open. And the highly pressurized waters from the cosmic ocean of chaos came spraying in from both sides.

We’ve all seen those movies where the submarine or the habitat is there, deep under water, and some disaster happens: cracks form in the glass, jets of water start spraying in, people scream and start drowning, and you’re there in the cinema holding your breath, right? That is the kind of terror Moses is describing.

And in those disaster movies, there is always a sense of inevitability about it. The characters in those movies are always somewhere they shouldn’t be, doing things they shouldn’t do, and they end up triggering the disaster that destroys them, right? Well, that is also the point Moses is making here: mankind has been acting violently, creating chaos on earth for their own selfish purposes — and now they are going to get the chaos they’ve been asking for.

[13] On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. [14] They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its

Wait a minute. This sounds familiar. Have we read this part before or something?

Ummmmm…no, this is fresh material! But it sure sound repetitive, doesn’t it? A summary of this passage would sound like this: the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark with your family and all the animals, because the flood is coming.” So Noah went into the ark with his family and all the animals, because the flood was coming. And then the flood came…so Noah went into the ark with his family and all the —

— three times, Moses? C’mon, what’s the deal, you think we’re stupid or something?

No. Ancient writers did not like to repeat themselves, because writing materials were very expensive. Which means that, when an ancient writer does repeat himself — three times! — that’s his way of saying: “Pay attention! Notice this!”

So…what are we supposed to notice?

We are supposed to notice that Moses is using — three times — the same words and patterns of words that he used in his creation story back in Chapter 1: birds, wild animals, creatures that crawl along the ground, each after their own kind, male and female, man and wife…

And this is meant to make us think back and remember how, back in Chapter 1, God began by shaping the earth into a bubble of order — a snow-globe of order — in the midst of the cosmic ocean. And then, when everything was ready, God filled that bubble with living worshipers: sea creatures, air creatures, land creatures, and finally mankind. And God said, “This is very good!”

And then we’re also supposed to remember Chapter 2, how God planted a garden in the east that was like a little bubble of order in the middle of a global wilderness. And then, when everything was ready, God put the man in the garden, and he brought all the animals to the man so he could rule over them and put them in proper order. And the garden — and everything within it — was holy.

Are we starting to see the connections?

The earth itself was designed to be an ark of order and life in the midst of chaos, and God is the one who filled it with life and made it holy. The garden of Eden was designed to be an ark of order and life in the midst of a wilderness, and God is the one who filled it with life and made it holy. Now, Noah’s ark is designed to be an ark of order and life in the midst of chaos — and God is the one who is filling it with life, and making it holy.

And then, when all was completed, the Lord shut him in.

So how are we to understand this? What is Moses trying to say to the ancient people of Israel here?

Moses is showing his people how, out of the chaos of the old world, God preserved one righteous man; and how, because of that man’s obedience, a safe space was created, an ark of salvation. And he is showing how, as God gathered life into that ark, both the ark and the life within it were made holy, set apart to serve him and worship him alone. And he is showing how, when the time was right, the door to the ark was closed so that no one else could enter in.

And, as we have already noticed, the people of ancient Israel have already had a number of very vivid experiences to guide them in their understanding of this. Probably their most vivid experience came during their last days in Egypt:

Nine plagues had already struck the Egyptians because of their king’s refusal to release God’s people from their slavery, each plague more extreme than the last.

Then Moses came to the people and told them that one last plague was coming: one final judgment that would finally break the powers of Egypt and set God’s people free. But, God’s people would need to be made holy in order to escape that judgement. So Moses gave them specific instructions:

First, each family must choose a one-year-old perfect lamb. Care for it for three days.

Second, tell all your neighbors that God’s final judgement is coming upon them, and that you are leaving.

Third, do this: four days after choosing your lamb, sacrifice it. Take its blood and paint it on the door of your house. Basically: baptize your house to make it holy.

Fourth: that night, roast the lamb and eat it — but make sure to eat it with unleavened bread. And for the next seven days do not eat anything with leaven in it — do not eat anything with yeast in it. Basically: change your diet to make your bodies holy.

So they did. The lambs were chosen on Day 1. They were sacrificed — and the houses baptized — on Day 4, and the people began eating only flatbread. That night, Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, and on the third morning after that — seven days after the process began! — the Red Sea fell upon pharaoh and his army, leaving Moses safe with his people on the far shore.

Moses, by continuing the story of Noah in this way, is showing his people that their deliverance from Egypt is typical: it has happened before, and it will happen again. A judgement is coming — but God always provides a warning, and a way of escape. There is always a time of preparation, while God gathers in all who belong to him and makes them holy through blood sacrifice — and then calls upon them to continue in holiness.

And then the end always comes suddenly: like the flood, like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, like the Red Sea closing, like the judgement that fell upon the people of Canaan when God led his people into their inheritance. And you do not want to be caught on the outside of the ark when that day comes!

Now, all that is very interesting, of course.

But what is the practical application for Moses’ people? God has already gathered them together and led them out of the chaos of Egypt. God has already baptized them and made them holy by bringing them safely through the Red Sea. The seven days are over. The day of judgement has come and gone. So…what is Moses trying to say: “Relax! Rest! You’re safe!”?

Well…yes. And no.

Moses deliberately slowed down his narrative here so he could emphasize how God gathered his people and his animals into the ark of salvation. Again and again he used the number seven so he could emphasize how God made them holy by baptism through the judgement waters of the flood. He wants his people to draw parallels to their own situation: how they have been gathered together out of the chaos of Egypt, and baptized through the judgement waters of the Red Sea. God rescued his people from judgement in Noah’s time, and made them holy. God has just rescued his people again from judgement in Moses’ time, and made them holy again. And this pattern is a promise that God is going to keep on rescuing his people from judgement, and making them holy.

So, yes, Moses is trying to encourage his people to rest in this promise of continuing salvation.

But Moses is also trying to warn his people that there will be a need for continuing holiness. Because, obviously, if God will need to gather them in from judgement again…that means they are going to be scattered again, they are going to be swallowed up by the surrounding nations again.

Moses wants his people to know that, even though they have been saved from judgement in Egypt, this is only the beginning of the history of God’s people. Noah’s salvation from the Flood judgement was a prototype of Moses’ salvation from the Red Sea judgement — which is a prototype of the Messiah’s salvation from the final judgement.

Over the last few chapter of Genesis, Moses has shown how the children of Seth compromised with the children of Cain, intermarrying with them and losing their distinctiveness until only Noah and his family was left. And Noah became the messiah for his family, his ark became the gathering point where they were made holy and saved from judgment. In the same way, the children of Israel compromised with Egypt and fell into slavery until Moses was the only free man left. And Moses became the messiah for the children of Israel, his tabernacle became the gathering point where they were made holy and saved from judgment.

So now, by highlighting this pattern, Moses is pointing his people into the future with a promise and a warning: as God brings you — the children of Israel — into the land of promise, you are going to experience amazing victories against the children of Canaan! and you are going to be tempted to compromise with them, intermarrying with them, falling into slavery to them, losing your distinctiveness, your holiness. So even though you can rest in the reality of your baptism in the Red Sea, you cannot simply relax and sit back and do nothing. You need to continue to live in holiness! Your distinctiveness as a people is supposed to draw the nations in to the tabernacle, the center of worship and salvation.

Well, everything came true, just as Moses prophesied. The children of Israel entered the land, they experienced amazing victories against the children of Canaan — and then they were tempted. They compromised, they were scattered and enslaved. So God sent them another messiah to gather them back in — and actually this cycle happened again and again and again, each cycle bigger and deeper and worse than the last, until most of the children of Israel were scattered to the winds, intermixed and lost among all the nations of the world. By the end of the Old Testament, only two of the original twelve tribes were left in the land of promise.

But out of that remnant God raised up one last Messiah. Just like Noah, he had three simple tasks: to warn the world that God’s judgement is on the way; to build an ark of salvation; and then to gather in all God’s people from all the places they have been scattered all over the world.

As we discovered last week, that Messiah’s name is Jesus Christ, and the ark he built is called the Church. But the really amazing thing is that this Messiah is not just gathering the children of Israel into his Church, he is gathering every kind of people — just as God once gathered every kind of animal into Noah’s ark. It is no longer just the children of Israel who can be baptized and made holy; it is all the children of Adam, people from every tribe and nation and language.

So, just as Noah was the messiah for his family, and his ark the gathering point for them, just as Moses became the messiah for the children of Israel, and his tabernacle the gathering point for them — so, now, Jesus has become the Messiah for all people, and his Church is the gathering point where all God’s people are made holy and saved from the coming judgement.

For 2000 years now, Jesus has been gathering his people in from the ends of the earth, baptizing them into his Church and making them holy. We are those people!

Which means that Moses’ application for us is actually the same as it was for the ancient people of Israel: as our Saviour leads us — the children of God — into our inheritance, we are going to continue to experience some amazing victories over the children of the world. And we are going to be tempted to compromise. So even though we can rest in the reality of our baptism into Christ, we cannot simply relax and sit back and do nothing. We need to continue to live in holiness! Our distinctiveness as a people is supposed to draw all nations in to Christ’s Church, the center of worship and salvation.

— but hearing that just makes us feel…pretty uncomfortable and inadequate, doesn’t it?

Because, when we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that we are not as holy as we should be, we know we are not as distinct as we should be. We know that — as witnesses for Jesus, as a holy gathering point for God’s people — we suck pretty badly.

And yet, somehow, God’s plan seems to be working: the Church is gathering in people from every tribe, every nation, every language…How? Because, to all appearances — when we look back over the last 2000 year history of Christianity — we have compromised with the world just as much as ancient Israel ever did! So how is this working?

Well, we have at least one major advantage that ancient Israel did not have: the Holy Spirit.

See, ancient Israel was baptized in blood, which marked them as holy, belonging to God — but that baptism could not transform their hearts. It bound them together officially as a nation, but that binding was only external.

But Christ baptized his Church in the Holy Spirit. This marked us as holy, belonging to God — but it also tranformed our hearts. It has gathered us together as one nation out of many, one body, one Spirit.

And this unity in the Spirit that we enjoy — it is actually really distinctive. For instance, just a few days ago I was chatting with a young Muslim-background man, and he was asking about all the denominations in Christianity and what the differences are between them. And while I’m always glad to answer those sorts of questions, in my heart I’m always thinking, “Oh, I wish we were more united!” But then this young man said, “You know, it is really amazing that you have all these differences and yet you still somehow manage to live in peace with one another!”

And…yeah! You know what? He is right!

Now, I know that, whenever someone does say something like that to us, it’s a bit like when someone tells you how well-behaved your kids are: we want to just roll our eyes and say, “Oh! Well, if you only knew the truth…!” But friends, this is the truth: we really are a peaceful and united people, we really are a different kind of people than the rest of the people in this world — and that really is a testimony to the consecrating work of the Holy Spirit: we often don’t feel like it, but we really are being made holy as our Lord and Saviour gets us ready for judgement day.

So, just like the ancient people of Israel, we are called to remain holy, we are called to remain distinct. And by the grace of God, by the incredible, invisible, irresistable power of the Holy Spirit, it is happening! Jesus told us that he would build his Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it! — and apparently he really meant it!

So: practically speaking then, how are we supposed to do this? If the Holy Spirit is the one who is gathering God’s people, and if the Holy Spirit is the one who is making us holy, then…what is left for us? Do we just…relax? Rest?

Well…yes! As believers baptized into Christ and his Church, yes: we rest in the salvation that our great Father has provided for us through his Messiah.

But this does not mean we do nothing at all. There is one thing we are called to do. This is it, this is our practical application for today: stay on the ark. Remain in Christ’s Church. Be a living part of Christ’s people.

And this is why: the Holy Spirit’s work of gathering people in and making people holy only takes place within the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit does not gather a person into isolation — that doesn’t even make sense! Nor does the Holy Spirit make a person holy through isolation — that also is a contradiction. Because holiness is not about reading the bible or praying or following religious rules, holiness is about love in relationship with God and one another. True holiness only grows in Christian community, inside the Church.

I know that this is going to sound very strange to modern ears, but here is the truth: the Holy Spirit does not simply make individual people holy. The Holy Spirit makes the gathered people of God holy. Individuals are made holy — but only as they participate in the gathered people of God.

So, if you are here today and you are baptized but for some reason you are trying to grow your holiness in isolation, if for some reason you have resisted joining a faithful community of Christ, or if you have officially joined a community but you do not want to actually be discipled by that community — then: friend, it is very likely that you are still outside the faith. You are probably not a real Christian. Because a real Christian, filled with the Holy Spirit, will be driven by that Spirit to seek out the community of the Holy Spirit. If you are not driven to seek out Christian community…then you may not have the Holy Spirit living within you. I say may not have the Spirit because it could be that you are resisting the Spirit’s call into community. If that is the case, then allow me to gently but urgently say to you: repent! If the Spirit is within you, calling you into community: answer that call before the door closes and it is too late! Join the living body of Christ. Submit to the discipleship of the Church, the discipleship of your brothers and sisters in the faith.

Now, if you are here today and you are baptized and you are already a living part of Christ’s Church, discipled by others and discipling others in community — then continue in that. I know there is a strong temptation these days toward individualism. I know there are many voices out there that say, “Hey, Jesus told his disciples that as long as two or three are gathered together, that’s all you need for a church.” Friends, that is actually a distortion of Jesus’ words. When two or three are gathered together, that is enough to pass judgment — but it is not enough to form a healthy Christian community that is actually growing in holiness. So, brothers and sisters, flee from the temptation of those voices. People who say such things are trying to divide us. They are actually trying to destroy the gathering point where God’s people can be made holy — because if they can destroy the visible Church, there will be nowhere for God’s people to be gathered to, and God’s people will be scattered and lost among the nations.

Of course, that is not going to happen. Christ’s visible Church will continue until the end. But it is possible for individuals to leave the visible Church and be lost. So that is why I am obligated to warn each of you, my individual brothers and sisters: do not follow anyone who tries to lead you away into isolation. As Paul pointed out once, “The only reason they do this is to impress people with their supposed holiness, and to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” Do not listen to them.

Instead, remember that we have all been baptized into the same Spirit, we eat the same spiritual food, we drink the same spiritual drink. We are made up of many parts, but we are one body. We are made up of many peoples, but we are one people. And it is only among the gathered people of God that the Holy Spirit does his work. So let us stand with the Church. Let us be counted among the people of Christ. And then let us rest in the holiness that the Holy Spirit provides.

So, in conclusion:

God took seven days to consecrate Noah’s ark, to gather in Noah’s family and all the animals and make them holy. On the seventh day, he shut the door, and the flood began.

In the same way, for 2000 years now, Jesus has been consecrating his Church, gathering his people in from the ends of the earth, to make us holy, cleansing us by the washing with water through the word. One day he will draw the doors of the Church shut, and the final judgement will begin.

Our applications are simple and clear:

First, make sure you are inside when the door closes.

Second, while the door remains open, continue in Christ and in his Church. Do not let false teaching or fear or persecution trick you into trying to find your own kind of holiness in isolation. I know that Church community is sometimes an uncomfortable place because…there are jerks among us. Actually, we’re all “the jerks” at various times and in various ways. But because of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s Church really is holier than the sum of her parts. And none of us — as individuals — will ever be as holy as all of us gathered together. So let us not give up gathering together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us continue to encourage one another — and all the more as we see the Last Day approaching.

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