“For Rayner” on Genesis 9:1-17 by Pastor Joe — May 26, 2023
We are about to read Genesis 9:1-16, and you’ll wonder why. Here’s the reason: I preached this message almost ten years ago in this congregation. It was the only time that I know of when the message brought tears to Rayner’s eyes. I’m surprised by that even now. After all, Rayner always prided himself on not being big on emotions. But that day Rayner’s emotions were telling him that what he was hearing was important. This passage has the blueprint of the faith that Rayner held so dear throughout his life. This passage points us towards what Rayner is encountering even now as he stands in awe before the Lamb of God on His throne of glory.
Read Genesis 9:1-16
There are two very strong themes at play in this passage: justice and mercy. Both are central to our faith. The first part of this passage is all about justice. Perhaps this is no surprise. After all, Genesis 9 is the conclusion to the flood story — the account were God covered the Earth in its entirety because humans were damaging one another so badly in how they were treating one another. The story begins with ‘The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually”. The Flood Story is a story of justice, in which God underscores how He will not turn a blind eye towards human behaviour that is idolatrous, abusive, hurtful, degrading, or murderous. The Flood story preaches, uncomfortably loudly, that our God cares deeply that our relationships be honouring to one another and to God — and that humans be held to account when we violate those relationships. Before we get to hear the joyful part in this story about the rainbow being a sign of God’s mercy, God reminds us how seriously He takes justice. Did you notice that before God lets Noah take one step out of that boat, God tells him and his family that if someone sheds another human’s blood, there will will be consequences. God speaks of life for life. Murdering a human is defacing God’s Image — for every human life taken, God will demand justice.
As we hear these words about murder, our tendency may be to think of stories of other people that we read about in the news — people far away deserving God’s punishment. But here’s the thing, it's a dangerous thing to call justice down on someone else, without first examining ourselves. In Matthew 5, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire." So God tells Noah that there will be consequences for murder, and Jesus says those consequences will be extended to those who even call their brother a fool. There is a lot of ground between being a murderer and being a name caller — who of us can say we are above reproach? Not you. Not me. Not Rayner. We are all in that same boat.
Thankfully, in Genesis 9, God goes on to speak of His mercy. God says to Noah, “I now establish my covenant with you.” Forever, God promises to preserve life of the earth. God says, “Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” Never again. God seals that promise with the rainbow. Whenever God looks at that rainbow, he will remember the everlasting covenant He has with all the living creatures on the earth. Whenever God sees the rainbow, He will remember His promise to extend mercy.
Have you ever wondered why God chose a rainbow to be the symbol of his covenant? It's not because of all its pretty colours. It's because it is shaped like a bow — as in a bow and arrow. So, when Noah looks into the sky and sees the rainbow, he’ll be reminded of a bow pointing its arrow away from him. Pointing its arrow away from anyone on Earth. Thankfully, God sees the rainbow and is reminded of that, too.
I don’t often see many rainbows, but thankfully there is one rainbow always present where it matters most. The fourth chapter in Revelation, the last book of the Bible, gives us a glimpse of God’s throne in heaven. Imagine, right now that you have been given an indescribable gift. Imagine you’ve been given the gift of being transported, right now, to our brother Rayner’s, side. He and you are standing together. There, standing side by side, you get to see the throne of God as described in Revelation 4. As you stand there, you’ll notice something curious. You’ll notice that around the throne, ever present before the God of justice, is a rainbow. A rainbow is always before God on His throne. From the throne, there is no place that God can look without seeing His rainbow, his promise to extend mercy to us, His image bearers, who so often fall short of His call to love God and love our neighbours. The rainbow continually reminds God to extend mercy to us, His creatures, who are always so deeply in need of mercy. God cannot look at us from His throne without remembering his promise for mercy, his promise to point that bow away from us.
Yet, what about justice? After all, in Genesis 9, God has said that if blood is shed, he will require payment in blood. And we remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:22 about even calling our brother a fool. Isn’t God still bound to execute justice? Is He just going to turn a blind eye to all the wrong in this world? If you keep standing alongside our dear brother Rayner together looking upon the throne, you will see a deep mystery. If you dare to look through the rainbow and onto the throne, you’ll see what John describes in Revelation chapter 5. You’ll see the One seated upon the throne. You might be surprised to see a Lamb, standing as if it has been slaughtered. As you stare in wonder at this Lamb, you’ll begin to hear what Rayner is hearing right now; a heavenly choir singing: “You were slaughtered, paying in blood, you bought men and women, you bought them back from all over the earth, bought them back for God.”
As we stand there in heaven alongside Rayner, we will see the spot where justice and mercy embrace. On the throne of God. The rainbow reminds God of His promise to be merciful. And the slaughtered lamb speaks of God’s justice. The slaughtered Lamb pays with his blood for all our injustices, big and small. All our murders, all our accusations, all our deceits, all our slanders, and all our sins. As we stand together with Rayner, looking upon the Rainbow surrounding the slaughtered Lamb, we see a way to set aside our own bows that we carry through life. Those bows that we are so prone to point at one another. As we glimpse the great cost of our own forgiveness, we perhaps can find a way to forgive one another.
Through the blood of Jesus, through the bloodied Lamb, God Himself came to earth and paid out His own life so that we might live in His mercy and grace. In Jesus, God destroyed himself, so that we might not be destroyed. And now the Rainbow and the blood of the Lamb go before us always, protecting us, surrounding us, forever extending us mercy. So, let’s join our brother Rayner, standing before the throne. Let’s receive mercy and show mercy to one another. Let’s rejoice in our forgiveness and offer forgiveness to one another — our sins have been paid for. We have been redeemed in the blood of the Lamb.