In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The other day, I heard someone talking about how God is always surprising us in what He does. To some extent, that’s true. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. He answers prayers and resolves situations in ways we never could have seen or expected. He is good to us in unexpected ways. But why is that? Why are His ways and thoughts not our ways and thoughts? First, it’s because He’s God and we’re not. And, second, God’s ways are surprising to our sinful nature, especially His mercy and forgiveness. We often want people to prove that they are sorry, or prove that they deserve our forgiveness. We give out forgiveness piece-meal: you sinned against me this much, and I’ll forgive you this much, and we’ll see about next time.
God forgives whole and complete. He forgives unconditionally, all together in Christ. And His mercy is super-abundant, overflowing. His ways are surprising to us, because it’s not the way that we would act toward others. And thank God He doesn’t act like we do.
But as surprising as His ways and actions are toward us because we are sinful creatures, and not the Creator, He is not surprising in the patterns of His mercy and saving activity within His creation. He is consistent. As Hebrews says, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He doesn’t change His mercy or His love. In that pattern, as we read the Scriptures, He is not surprising. Because if He were not—if He acted in arbitrary, inconsistent, or capricious ways—how could we trust Him? How could we trust His Word? How could we be sure that even though He acted in one way or said one thing at one time, that He wouldn’t suddenly act or speak in different ways at other times? Some people think He does, and they think it’s good. But if God is not consistent in His love and saving action, then we can never trust that He will act mercifully toward us.
But, in fact, we do have patterns and promises, and we see an example of that beginning with the flood. When God looks on the earth in Genesis 6, He sees that the wickedness of man is great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually (6:5). God certainly could have—and we might have expected Him to—go back to Genesis 1:1 and wipe everything clean, clear the slate, start over, shake the whole thing like an Etch-a-Sketch and do the creation thing again.
But He doesn’t. When God starts over, He starts over from within His creation, choosing Noah and his family to build an ark and bring the animals into the ark. And then the flood is certainly destructive, killing the rest of life on the earth. But it is also purifying and saving, as the earth is refreshed and restored and renewed, and from Noah’s family, people start over. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the problem. People are not any less sinful than they were before the flood. Things go on as they did.
The people of Israel find themselves enslaved in Egypt, and God again chooses a man through whom to save them, and He again does it by water, as Israel passes through the Sea on dry land, but the water destroys their enemies. God makes a covenant in blood with the people on Sinai, but as all the prophets testify, the people never keep it. They still rebel, they still make idols, they still refuse to listen to and believe the Word of God, just as their parents before them, all the way back to Adam.
But God’s pattern of salvation from within His creation continues. When none of this seems to work, none of this seems to make anybody new or better, we begin to see that all of these things were signs pointing to the ultimate act of God. He isn’t going to save His world through another sinner, but He’s going to save the world in someone who is not subject to sin and death, His own, eternal Son. And He’s not going to do it by starting over, wiping clean the slate, and beginning from nothing. He does it, very literally, within His creation. In the womb of Mary is where the new creation starts, in a new Body, the only new thing that God has ever done from the beginning of the world.
He is born within this creation, as a part of it. He who is not subject to sin and death takes sin and death on Himself, and dies. And then He rises on the third day, beginning a creation that will never again be full of sin and can never be destroyed by death. His own resurrected body is the new beginning that will finally restore and renew all things. And He has made you part of that, sending a destroying, cleansing flood from His cross. St. Peter says that the flood showed us the pattern: baptism, which corresponds to that flood, now saves you. And you, like Noah and his family, are safe inside the ark, floating on that flood. It both restores and renews you, and destroys sin, death, and the devil.
We look at ourselves, we look around ourselves, and things don’t seem to be any better than they were after that first flood. Sin and death, decay all around we see. But here’s where the pattern comes in handy: God is consistent; God is the same; God’s mercy in Christ never fails. However He may surprise us in the ways that His mercy comes through for us, He will never surprise us by failing to keep His promises. He will never surprise us by going back on His Word. He will never surprise us by destroying, forsaking, or leaving His children. He will never surprise us by ceasing to be merciful or forgiving.
And that means that a new creation, along with new bodies, will indeed come to pass. He gives us the beginning of this new creation in the resurrection Body and Blood of His Son, by which He sustains and preserves us for now and forever. He will renew and restore this creation, not with a flood, but with fire. As Paul and Peter promise us, the living and the dead will be gathered to Jesus, and this creation will be purified, before we are restored to the earth. And then we will be with the Lord forever in a creation finally free of sin and death. This is the pattern and this is the promise, and the only surprise will be how much greater it will be than we can ever imagine.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/27/18