Sermon A New Beginning
Scripture Genesis 9:8-17
They say that April showers bring May flower. In other words, something dark and dreary can give rise to something colorful and alive. Call it a rainbow. Brilliant colors splashed across a grey canvas. It’s a thing of beauty, but fragile too. But for that brief moment we are able to witness one of the most inspiring miracles that God has set in nature—and a symbol of new beginnings.
A rainbow, by definition, is “a bow or arc of prismatic colors appearing in the heavens opposite the sun and caused by the refraction and reflection of the sun’s rays in drops of rain” (Websters). Rainbows are caused by the sunlight filtering through the water in the air, each drop becoming a prism to release the colors hidden in the white light of the sun. Of course, I still enjoy the slightly less scientific queries of one of the great philosophers of our age—Kermit the Frog—who sings: “Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side?”
This morning, I’d like for us to think beyond the scientific and silly, and consider the spiritual meaning of these arcs “of prismatic colors.” And to do that we have to go the source. In Genesis 9, we discover the spiritual significance of the rainbow.
Then God told Noah and his sons, “I solemnly promise you and your children and the animals you brought with you—all these birds and cattle and wild animals—that I will never again send another flood to destroy the earth. And I seal this promise with this sign: I have placed my rainbow in the clouds as a sign of my promise until the end of time, to you and to all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will be seen in the clouds, and I will remember my promise to you and to every being, that never again will the floods come and destroy all life. For I will see the rainbow in the cloud and remember my eternal promise to every living being on the earth.” (Genesis 9:8-16 TLB)
Now, we’re coming in at the end of a story. But it’s a story that I think we’re all familiar with. God created this perfect world, where everything was very good. But then sin crept into man’s heart and corrupted everything. I mean everything. Adam and Eve defied God’s authority and hid from the God who made them. One of their sons, Cain, murdered his own brother in a fit of rage and jealousy. And the corruption spread, worsening with each generation. It got so bad, the Bible says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled” (Genesis 6:5-6 NIV).
Have you ever meditated on that phrase: “the Lord regretted that he had made human beings”? That’s a powerful statement. God is a being of pure love and grace, but the people he made had become so vile and viciousness that he wished he never created us. But even then, God wouldn’t give up on us. He wanted to give humanity a fresh start, a second change. So he told Noah to build a boat.
When the flood waters receded and Noah and his family stepped out of the arch onto dry land for the first time in a very long time, the first thing God did was create a new covenant and cast his rainbow across the sky. Ever since, the rainbow has become a symbol of how and why God gives us each a new beginning.
First, it’s a symbol of God’s patience.
- GOD’S PATIENCE
God said, “When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth” (genesis 9:16 NLT).
“Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood” (Genesis 9:11 NIV). God repeats this promise three times, as if for emphasis: Never again. Some people read the story of the flood and wonder, how could God do such a thing? But when I look at all the sin and evil in the world—rape, murder, child abuse, slavery, human sex trafficking—I wonder, why hasn’t he done it again!?
The answer is patience. In Peter’s day, people were growing impatient, awaiting the return of Christ. Listen to what he says: “Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, ‘What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.’ They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood… The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:3-9 NLT).
God is being patient with you. All those times you’ve spurned his affection, rejected his invitation, or accepted him with your lips but walked out that door and denied him by your lifestyle; surely God has ample reason to unleash his anger. But he doesn’t. Why? Because “God is being patient with you” (2 Peter 3:9 NCV). Why is he patient? Because he wants all of us to repent, to change our hearts and lives, and experience a fresh start. God’s patience is the red-carpet upon which new beginnings approach.
When we see those colors arched across the sky, it ought to remind us that God is being patient with us. But the rainbow is also a symbol for God’s promises.
- GOD’S PROMISES
One Sunday afternoon, Mark Twain and his friend William Howells stepped out of church just as a heavy downpour began. Not wanting to get rained on, they waited under the cover of the church’s porch. Howells remarked, “I wonder if it will stop?” And Mark Twain retorted, “Well, it always has before!” And he was right. Why? Because, long ago God made a promise.
Again, God told Noah, “I solemnly promise you… And I seal this promise with this sign: I have placed my rainbow in the clouds as a sign of my promise… I will remember my promise… For I will see the rainbow in the cloud and remember my eternal promise to every living being on the earth” (Genesis 9:8-16 TLB).
Our God is a God of promises, and he always keeps them. We live in a world of broken promises. We make commitments and don’t follow through. Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. Young couples experience broken hearts and broken engagements. We make plans and promises that we never even intended to keep. Yet, the Bible records over seven thousand promises from God to his people; he has kept every single one of them. God will never call us up at the last minute to cancel. He’ll never change his mind or find someone else. God keeps his promises.
In a Peanuts cartoon, Lucy and Linus were sitting in front of the television set when Lucy said to Linus, “Go get me a glass of water.” Looking surprised, Linus responds, “Why should I do anything for you? You never do anything for me.” So Lucy promised, “On your 75th birthday I’ll bake you a cake.” Linus thought for a moment, then got up and headed to the kitchen, saying, “Life is more pleasant when you have something to look forward to.”
Like Linus, we have a promise to look forward to; not just the promise that God won’t send another flood, but the all the promises of the Bible. There’s the promise of eternal life, the promise of heaven, the promise of forgiveness, the promise of redemption, the promise of a new beginning.
The Bible says, “And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises” (2 Peter 1:4-5 NLT).
How do we respond to God’s promises? Like, Linus, we act on them. We live and act as if they are certain, sure, indisputable, and unquestionable—because that’s what they are. The rainbow reminds us of God’s precious promises and that God always keeps his promises. Finally, the rainbow is also a symbol of God’s peace.
- GOD’S PEACE
The Hebrew language, in which this story was originally written, doesn’t actually have a word for rainbow; rather, all through this passage it’s just the word bow.
In most instances, a “bow” is a weapon of war. In the flood, God bent his bow toward the earth and unleashed his wrath—his judgment. But now God is telling Noah that he will hang his bow in the clouds. He’s hanging it up. He’s putting it away. In essence, he’s suspending his judgment. But have you ever noticed how the bow is hanging? If it were a bow, the string would be stretched along the horizon. God has turned the bow toward Himself! The next time we see God pouring out his judgment and wrath for the sin of the whole world is at the cross. When Jesus died on the cross, it was God himself bearing the punishment—taking the arrow—that rightfully belongs to us.
By pouring out his wrath on Jesus, God reconciled us to himself. The Bible says, “This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Act 10:36 NLT). How do we experience that peace?
Here’s a suggestion from Billy Graham, in his book Peace with God, breaks it down into four simple steps.
- Step 1: Realize that God loves you, that he has a plan for your life and wants to be a part of it.
- Step 2: Repent of your old way of life, turn from sin and turn toward God.
- Step 3: Recognize that Jesus is the only way to God; that he died for your sins.
- Step 4: Receive his offer of grace and forgiveness, and commit your life to following him.
When we do that, the Bible says, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Romans 5:1 NLT).
Of course, even after receiving Jesus and being made right with God, we don’t always feel God’s peace. I think that why the Bible says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9 NIV). As one of the most beautiful phenomena that God has placed in nature, the rainbow can set our minds on things that are lovely, pure, excellent and praiseworthy; and in so doing, draw us into the peace of God’s presence.
For those who have peace with God, Kermit the Frog’s question—what’s on the other side?—has a wonderful answer. On the other side of the rainbow is the God of peace, looking down as we are looking up!
The next time it stops raining, the dark storm clouds are rolled back, and God’s “arc of prismatic colors” appears in the heavens opposite the sun, I hope that we all remember the new beginning that God gave to humanity through Noah. I also hope that we are reminded of God’s patience, God’s promises, and God’s peace that we can only experience through Jesus Christ.
This message by Rev. Scott Bayles, Blooming Grove Christian Church: is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project