My dear friends in Christ,
The Great Galveston hurricane, known regionally as the Great Storm of 1900, was the deadliest natural disaster in the United States and the 4th deadliest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history. The hurricane caused an estimated 8,000 fatalities across the nation. Most of the deaths occurred on Galveston Island, TX. A monstrous storm surge inundated the coastline with 8-12 feet of water. The storm destroyed about 7000 buildings on the island, including 3,636 homes. The hurricane left 10,000 people from a total population of 38,000 homeless1.
In his fascinating book, Isaac’s Storm2, author Erik Larson pointed out that the U.S. Weather Bureau ignored warnings from Cuban meteorologists that the storm was gaining strength and would soon become a powerful hurricane. The warnings were there. The people could have been watching and ready for the storm to arrive. Instead, many lost their lives.
Why would anyone ignore the warnings, knowing what was at stake? God’s warning, a world-wide flood warning, was in effect. What could possibly make God angry enough to make such a threat? “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.” (Genesis 6:11–12 NIV). Three times God describes the people of the earth as “corrupt.” The Hebrew word is שָׁחַת. Have you ever picked apples? We used to pick them every fall. I remember when I wasn’t quite tall enough to reach most of the branches. I wanted an apple, but couldn’t get one. So, I picked one up from the ground. It looked beautiful and delicious, until I turned it over. It was mushy and rotten. Bugs and ants were crawling in it. That’s what שָׁחַת means. The people were corrupt... rotten... ruined.
What happens to rotten fruit? We toss it in the garbage. God told Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 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” (Genesis 6:13,17 NIV). There’s the warning—God would clean everything up!
God followed through on the warning. “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. For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. ... They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered” (Genesis 7:11,17–19 NIV). The waters didn’t just gently rise. The Hebrew word used when the waters “rose” is גָּבַר. “It is commonly associated with warfare. This gives us the picture of a massive layer of water, miles high, on the warpath, on a rampage. This mighty volume of water, twenty-two feet higher than the highest mountain and carrying trees and rocks and debris with it, raved and raged and tore away at the earth for almost half a year. If 7:11 refers to an earthquake occurring on the ocean floor, then tidal waves (10′ to 60′ above tide level) could have been part of the action described by וַיִּגְבְּרוּ.”3 God washed away the corruption... the rottenness... the ruin of his creation.
Watch out for the storm! Hurricane warning flags fly. Conditions are favorable for high winds, storm surge, and pouring rain. Some mayors and governors even issue mandatory evacuations. They want the people of their cities to be safe from the coming devastation. What do many of them say? “We’ll ride the storm out.” We’ve made it through before. We’ll make it through again.
A storm is coming, and once again, God has issued his storm warning. The world in which we live appears to be just as corrupt as it was in the days of Noah. Individuals call for gun control in the aftermath of school and workplace shootings. Advocates beg for a solution to end human trafficking. Child abuse is the leading cause of death among infants, and that doesn’t include all the innocent lives lost to abortion. Drive by shootings barely raise an eyebrow in an age of Internet scandals and impeachment hearings.
The corruption seeps into our homes. Our children(and many adults) are more interested in screen time than time outside the screen door. Social media has captured the attention and hearts of our teens, and has become the measuring stick for popularity and success. This corrupt world bombards the ears and hearts of our college students with promises that glorious freedoms are theirs for the taking. Their feelings, their bodies, and their intellect become altars for daily worship. Those altars don’t disappear as they pass into adulthood. We know that too well. Every ad on the radio, TV, and the Internet competes for our love and devotion. Commercials tell us to find true fulfillment and peace in life with a credit card that the latest singing sensation uses, clothes that will turn us into supermodels, a truck with a jaw-dropping tailgate, and food that will tempt our taste buds.
Jesus points out the transient nature of everything around us. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19 NIV84). He’s warning us that all these things that look so shiny, new, and beautiful on the outside are really corrupt on the inside. They are rotten... ruined. They can’t bring lasting peace and satisfaction! Jesus’ warning gets even more intense: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44 NIV). Watch for the storm! Jesus will return. He will clean up this corrupt... rotten... ruined earth once and for all.
Are we ready for the storm? Noah was, and his readiness had nothing to do with the work he did. “This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6:9 NIV). “Blameless” sounds a lot like “perfect.” If you read all of Noah’s story, you’ll learn that he was far from perfect. In fact, just like the rest of us, he was sinful. At the same time, Noah possessed a complete faith that showed itself in the way he lived. He was a “man of integrity” (Genesis 6:9 EHV).
Noah trusted God’s promises and lived them, so much so that he was willing to make a fool out of himself—at least in the eyes of his neighbors and co-workers. Noah built an ark. A big ark. A HUGE ark! This boat stood 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Estimates place its weight at 14,000 tons. Marine architects have estimated that an ark of these dimensions could have tilted 45 degrees on its side without capsizing.4 Noah built it without a large body of water nearby. He prepared it for its cargo—his family, and an ark-load of animals. “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22 NIV).
Noah watched for the storm and for the rescue! The LORD shut the door of the ark to protect Noah and all the animals on board. When the waters roared and foamed over the mountaintops, “The ... ark floated on the surface of the water” (Genesis 7:18 NIV). It floated! It floated as the flood waters raged and ravaged the earth. Noah spent over 7 months floating in the ark, spared from judgment, safe from destruction.
Noah was watching. He was ready because he listened to God’s warning. The result? God saved him! Are we ready to heed Jesus’ warning and keep watching for his promised return? He would come as surely as the flood waters came in the days of Noah. Jesus came to lift us above the destruction and rescue us from this rotten... ruined world. The Advent candles and the color blue prepare us for Jesus’ arrival. In just a few weeks we’ll celebrate Jesus’ birth. That celebration runs much deeper than singing Christmas carols and exchanging gifts. Christmas brings us to the heart of God’s solution for the corruption that infects us from within. We celebrate Jesus’ birth. Jesus came to offer life by exchanging his perfect one for our rotten ones. Jesus died, and the blood that flowed from his cross lifts us up, washes us clean, and saves us! Jesus came to accomplish all that!
The Advent candles and colors also remind us to watch for Jesus’ return. Jesus will come back, seated on the clouds of heaven, filling the bright blue sky with his glory. He will come to rescue us from the destruction that will follow. He promised to make us a new home, a new heaven and a new earth. He will close the door on our former existence. With that door closed, sin can no longer corrupt, pain can no longer hurt, and death cannot exist.
Until that happens, we need to watch and be ready for the storm. Did you catch the story in the news this past week about an 82 year old grandma named Willie Murphy? She was getting ready for bed last Thursday night, just after 11 pm, when a man began pounding on her door. He was begging someone to send an ambulance and said, “I’m sick!” Willie called the police but refused to let him in. He became angry and broke down the door. How could an 82 year old woman be ready for that storm? Ah, but she was. Willie Murphy is an award-winning bodybuilder who works out at the YMCA almost every day. She can deadlift 225 lbs. Willie told reporters, “He picked the wrong house to break into. I picked up the table, and I went to work on him. The table broke! And when he’s down, I’m jumping on him.” She poured a bottle of shampoo in his face and then grabbed the broom. She was hitting him with the broom when officers arrived.5 Willie Murphy was ready for the storm and the rescue!
Are we ready for the storm and the rescue? God doesn’t ask us to rush out and become bodybuilders like Willie Murphy. He calls us to be people of faith like Noah. The end is coming. The storm is real. So is the promise of rescue. God won’t ask us to build an ark. He asks us to spend time here, in the ark of his church, building up our spiritual muscles so the enemy can’t break in and steal us away. God’s warning is clear. His promise is sure. “Watch for the storm and the rescue!” Amen.
2. Larson, Erik. (1999) “Isaac’s Storm.” Random House, Inc. New York, NY.
3. Jeske, J. C. (1998). Exegetical Brief: Genesis 7—The Flood Prevailed. Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, 95, 210.
4. Lawrenz, C. J., & Jeske, J. C. (2004). A Commentary on Genesis 1–11 (p. 242). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House.