I want to tell you a personal story from the closing days of the Second World War. I was seven years old at the time, and my father was stationed with the Air Force at Barksdale Field, Louisiana — with the family. We knew that the war was ending. Many servicemen had been discharged and sent home. We were looking forward to a discharge too and had even begun to pack so we could leave quickly if the papers came through. I remember my father explaining that when we were discharged we would have to leave quickly or run the risk that other orders might come through canceling the discharge.
When our discharge did come, school was in session, so I was told that we would leave as soon as I got home that afternoon. I was so excited! I could hardly wait to get on the school bus, get back to the base, and then get off at our corner. When the bus stopped I ran up the sidewalk and the steps to our front door. It was locked. Surprised and a bit subdued, I went around to the back door and found that it was locked too. At last I found a window that I knew could not be locked and after prying it up with a nail I crawled over the sill into a room adjoining the kitchen. It was empty. So was the entire house. I will never forget making my way slowly from room to room with the sinking sensation that in the rush of packing and the need to “leave quickly lest our orders be canceled” I had somehow been left behind. Actually, my parents had only gone off briefly for a last-minute errand. While I was wandering through the empty house they had returned and were waiting outside in the car for the school bus, which they thought had not yet dropped me off. But it was a sad little boy they saw backing out of the window of the room next to the kitchen after my tour of the empty house was completed.
Alone on the Deep
Reflecting on that experience, I think I must have some appreciation for Noah’s feelings after he had been drifting on the endless world-sea for almost a year, following the onslaught of the Flood. He had been a man of faith, “blameless among the people of his time” (Genesis 6:9). But he was human too, and the sea is a very lonely place. Imagine drifting in a large ship — not merely overnight, but night after night, month after month, for a year — with nothing in sight. During those months, faith or no faith, Noah must have begun to wonder whether God had forgotten him, his family and the animals as they floated like insignificant bits of refuse on the great tide.
There would be spiritual considerations too, and Noah, being spiritual, would have been sure to think of them. Robert S. Candlish, a nineteenth century expositor of Genesis, puts Noah’s possible train of thought like this: “Far down in the unfathomable depths below, lies a dead and buried world. Noah, shut up in his narrow prison, seems to be abandoned to his fate. He cannot help himself. And in this universal visitation of sin — this terrible reckoning with sinners — why should he obtain mercy? What is he, that when all else are taken, he should be left? May he not be righteously suffered to perish after all? Is he not a sinner, like the rest? Does he not feel himself to be ‘the chief of sinners’?” 1 Noah’s very spirituality would have opened him up to such feelings. And when he thought like this, he would have felt himself to be abandoned by his heavenly Father much more keenly than I (or anybody else) ever felt abandoned by an earthly one.
Do you know someone like that today? Are you in that state even as you read these words? Do you feel abandoned? Does God seem to have forgotten you? If that is the case, the eighth chapter of Genesis is for you particularly, for its theme is that God has not forgotten. God remembers. The chapter begins, “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark.”
If we were to look at Genesis 8:1 from God’s point of view, we would have to argue, as many commentators have, that speaking of God as “remembering” Noah is an anthropomorphism, God merely speaking as if he were a man. We would have to assert that, of course, God had never actually forgotten Noah, for God never forgets anything. This is true. However, this interpretation misses the important connection between God’s remembrance of Noah and his showing in tangible ways that he remembered. When we look at the verse from Noah’s point of view, it is quite wonderful. Although Noah felt himself to be abandoned by God and was abandoned so far as any direct intervention of God or a word from God during the Flood year was concerned, those days were overcome. God acted again! God spoke again! And Noah’s depression must have fled away like storm clouds after the sun had again begun to shine.
That is the point at which this story communicates hope — if you think yourself to be abandoned by God. The hope is not in reasoning that God is aware of all things and is therefore aware of you. That is true, but not always helpful. The hope is in knowing that God will act again! And in the meantime, your job is to go on in faithful obedience to what he has already shown you — however long ago that may have been.
God remembered Noah in three ways. First, he began to remove the water and thus the aftermath of his great judgment upon the unbelieving world. The story says, “He [that is, God] sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded.... The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:1,2,4).
I suspect that as Moses, the author of Genesis, wrote these words he was thinking of the creation story of Genesis one and picturing this later work of God as a new creation. At the very beginning of Genesis we are told that “the Spirit [the Hebrew word is ruach] of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). This is the word used in Genesis 8:1 (though it is translated “wind” rather than “Spirit”), and that fact plus the obvious similarity in the scenes inevitably takes our minds back to the beginning. As a result of the Flood, the earth had returned to a form much like that described in Genesis one. It was dark, due to the storm clouds that brought the rain. It was covered with water. There was no life, except (in this case) for the tiny cargo encompassed in the ark. But then the Spirit of God, the divine wind, began to blow across the surface of the waters. The waters were separated from the dry land. The clouds began to dissipate. The sun appeared. Eventually, the grass, plants, and trees began to renew themselves, and the animals and people aboard the ark were sent forth into the new world before them.
I am not sure that this is what Moses had in mind. But if it is, it is a way of saying that when God remembers, he often does it with a new burst of power. During the darkness you may have felt quite dead. But suddenly the life of God is there again, and you suddenly begin to move forward. We have to trust God during the bad times, like Habakkuk, who said,
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stall,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior (Habakkuk 3:17,18).
Yet we are also to look ahead to the days of restoration, like Amos.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman
and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains
and flow from all the hills....
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine;
they will make gardens and eat their fruit” (Amos 9:13,14).
The second way God remembered Noah was by giving him a sign. We see this sign in the story of the sending out and return of the dove. Noah wanted to see if the ground had become dry enough for the animals and people to disembark, so he sent out birds to test the environment. A raven was dispatched, but it just kept flying around. Next Noah sent out a dove. The first time it flew out and returned, but the second time it returned with a freshly plucked olive leaf in its beak. When Noah saw this he knew that the waters had receded, that the earth was renewing itself and that the judgment was past. The sign of a dove carrying an olive branch was so moving that the symbol is used as a token of peace even today.
In a manner very similar to this, God also gives signs to His suffering people. This is an area that is often so personal that few talk about it. But in my repeated opportunities to talk with people who have lost a husband or wife, a son or daughter, a job, their health — people who are going through a great flood and sometimes are tempted to feel abandoned — I have found that again and again they tell me of some small but meaningful thing God has done to assure them that what they are enduring is not mere chance but rather part of the wise and loving plan of God.
Because the family has itself told these things in writing, I can share the account of the death of their son David by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop and his wife Elizabeth. In Sometimes Mountains Move, their account of David’s death in a mountain-climbing accident, they tell of a sequence of events God clearly sent to reassure them. Their son had recently decided to go to the far west for graduate school, away from his home in Philadelphia. So they were gradually getting accustomed to seeing him less. Each of the family members had recently had special and unusual times with David. Dr. Koop had received hundreds of letters from bereaved parents or parents whose children were dying, as the result of an article he had published in Reader’s Digest. Responding to those letters was an important preparation. On the Sunday morning following their son’s death the responsive reading in church was Psalm 18, in which they read, “As for God, his way is perfect” (verse 30) and “He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places” (verse 33) and “Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip” (verse 36). In the aftermath of the death several people became Christians and David’s brother Norman entered the Christian ministry. 2
This is what I mean by signs. God does not always spare us the distress because He has a purpose in such things both for ourselves and others. But He has a way of reassuring us that He has not forgotten, that He remembers our distress, and that He is still working out all things for good to those who love Him.
The third way God remembered Noah was by words. He spoke to him again, saying, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you — the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground — so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it” (verses 16, 17). As I read the account, I sense that God had not spoken to Noah in a direct way for over a year, for the last time we are told God spoke was in chapter seven: “Go into the ark, you and your whole family” (verse 1). Noah was in the ark a year and ten days. So for all that time he apparently received no new word from God. This must have added greatly to his sense of loneliness. “Why doesn’t God speak to me?” he must have asked. But at last God did speak, and Noah knew he had been remembered.
There is one last point. It is the true marvel of the story. We have focused on the truth that God remembers, but there is no real surprise in that. It is God’s nature to remember. He is faithful. To be sure, this is the first time in the Bible where we are told that God remembered something. But this was not the last time. Genesis 19:29 tells us that “God remembered Abraham” and rescued his nephew Lot. “God remembered Rachel,” Isaac’s wife, and she conceived (Genesis 30:22). Psalm 9:12 tells us that God “remembers...the afflicted.” Many times God is said to remember His covenant or His promises. The psalmist writes that He “remembered us in our how estate” (Psalm 136:23).
What is the marvel, then, if it is not that God remembers? It is that Noah remembered. He remembered God. He showed it by coming out of the ark, building an altar and then sacrificing some of all the clean animals and clean birds as sin offerings — thus coming to God once again as a sinner and in the way appointed.
Why is this surprising? It is surprising because it is not our nature to remember God or God’s goodness. We forget — and at no time more readily than immediately after we have been delivered from some distressing situation. The classic story here is the Lord’s healing of the lepers He encountered on the way to Jerusalem as He walked along the border between Samaria and Galilee. There were ten of them, and as Jesus walked along they stood at a distance and cried out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” Jesus did have pity. He healed them. Then he told them to go and show themselves to the priests, which the law required. The priests would certify that they were clean so that they could return to society. A little while later one leper came back and thanked Jesus profusely. He was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:11-19).
Noah was not like this. Instead of merely bursting from the ark and kicking up his heels with happiness to at last be free again, which we could well understand, he built an altar, offered sacrifices and gathered his family around to thank the God who had delivered them from the great Flood.
Let me challenge you thus to remember God. The Bible says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). We have a tendency to forget God in our youth, thinking that obedience to God and worship of God can be put off. That is great folly. The Bible says, “Remember God now.”
The Bible also says, “Remember the Lord in a distant land” (Jeremiah 51:50). Jeremiah writes this, thinking about the deportation of his people to Babylon after the conquest of Jerusalem. His point is that while they were there, cut off from their roots, surrounded by a pagan culture and enticed by others’ sins, the people would tend to forget God. They must not do so! And neither must we. Many Christians are in a distant land. Their school or work has separated them from their roots. They are in a new place. They have new friends. There are temptations to sin, and the devil is always present to remind them that no one, least of all anyone back home, will know. But that is precisely what we must not do. We must remember the Lord in a distant land as well as at home.
Finally, we may think of Jonah, who declared while in the belly of the great fish, “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple” (Jonah 2:7). For all of us life is ebbing away in some sense. For many it is almost gone. Now is the time to remember, to hang on, to worship God to the end. From youth to old age, in sickness and in health, at home or away from home — remember God. And the God Who remembers will be your joy and comfort both now and in the life to come.
1. Robert S. Candish, Studies in Genesis (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1979), pages 135, 136. Original edition 1868.
2. C. Everett Koop and Elizabeth Koop, Sometimes Mountains Move (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1979).
This message is about God the sign-maker. At first I hesitated to introduce it this way because it seemed a bit disrespectful to talk about God as a sign-maker. A preacher can talk about him as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He can talk about him as the Ancient of Days and many other things — these titles seem entirely appropriate. But a sign-maker? Then I began to think about the signs that God makes. If you can make a rainbow, as God can, you are a pretty fabulous sign-maker.
There are two different kinds of signs in the Bible. One is miraculous. The Bible speaks of “signs and wonders,” and there are plenty of these. Moses gave a series of miraculous signs to Pharaoh. The plagues, recorded in Exodus, were signs to Pharaoh and others that God is truly God. In the New Testament we find the same thing during the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Miracles were to show that Jesus was, as Nicodemus readily confessed, “a teacher who has come from God” (John 3:2). The other kind of biblical sign is not miraculous, at least not necessarily so. It is more a symbol of spiritual truth. Of course, these sometimes overlap. When the Lord Jesus Christ did certain miracles, such as the multiplying of the loaves and fish in Galilee, and then spoke of Himself as the bread of life, what He was doing was miraculous but at the same time was a symbol of the truth that He satisfies the needs of the human soul.
I want to focus on the second kind of sign, the sign that is a symbol, because that is what the rainbow of Genesis 9:8-17 is. Then I want to highlight the signs God has made for His people down through the ages of biblical history and that He makes today.
Healing for the Scarred
The rainbow was given to Noah following the Flood, and the essential nature of this sign is that it is a thing of beauty. This is a case of the grace of God ministering to Noah after what must have been a most traumatic experience.
We speak of people being wounded by things that have come into their lives, and I suspect that there was a sense in which Noah and those who were with him were wounded by the Flood. They had not endured personal physical loss. But the civilization they had known was wiped out. The Flood was a holocaust of major and unique proportions. It is difficult to see how they could have come through an experience like that without the wounds of the past upon them. These wounds are the probable reason for the noticeable repetition as God gives the covenant. In the early chapters of Genesis the events more or less fly by. If we have any complaints about the early chapters of Genesis, humanly speaking, it is that God did not take time to tell us more. We have all kinds of questions we would like to ask. By contrast, in the story of the Flood we have great repetition. This one incident is expanded into several chapters, and when God gives the covenant he reiterates it again and again. In chapter six God says, “I’m going to establish a covenant.” In chapter eight we get it in detail. Then, at the beginning of chapter nine God expands upon it even more fully, saying, “I am never again going to destroy the earth by flood.” In Genesis 9:13, God actually enacts the covenant and gives the sign of the rainbow.
Why this repetition? It is not for the sake of God, Who does not need to repeat things more than once, but for the sake of Noah who needed to hear these things. He needed to be reassured. He was wounded in soul. So God said again and again, “I am never again going to destroy the world by flood. You have seen the ugliness of sin and its effects, the horror of My judgment. I want to reassure you that I will not send a flood again, so I am making a beautiful rainbow in the sky as the pledge of My promise.” I think that as Noah looked at the rainbow he said, “Yes, that ministers to me. Because the God Who is giving me this beautiful sign is truly not going to put us through such a judgment again.”
I do not know where you fall in that picture. But I know there are plenty of people who carry the scars of the past within them. A recent best-selling book was Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron. It tells the story of a young Jewish woman who survived one of the German death camps. She was confronted with a choice as she entered the camp. This choice is not talked about in the early pages of the book. It only comes out in the end. But when you get to it you know that it alone explains the agony of the earlier pages. As Sophie entered the death camp she had two children with her. One of the guards, apparently on a whim, told her she could keep one child with her but would have to let the other go off to the furnaces to die. This marred the mother irredeemably, and in the end she commits suicide because she is not able to cope with the wounds of the past. There are people who have wounds like that — people who have suffered loss and tragedy. They are weighed down day by day.
Listen. God is the God of beauty. And God makes signs of beauty in order to say, “I know that life is filled with sin and tragedy. Sin is ugly. But I am the God of beauty. I am the God Who is able to overcome these things, and I call you away from them to myself.” At the very end of the Bible, in Revelation, we have a picture of God sitting upon His throne. And we are told that around the throne there is a rainbow. Look forward to that, and let God’s beautiful sign minister to your soul.
Sign for the Lonely
Farther on in Genesis we come to Abraham. Abraham was a pioneer, and the problem Abraham labored with was loneliness. He had left his family, nation, and culture, going from Ur of the Chaldees back on the far side of the Arabian Desert across the fertile crescent into Palestine. God had directed him in this, and he had gone obediently and trustingly. Yet all that he had known was left behind. The picture we have of Abraham in these early days is of a lonely man, accompanied only by his immediate family, in a land that was not his own.
What does God do for Abraham? God takes Abraham outside his tent on one of those crystal clear desert nights and directs him to look upward. Then, as Abraham looks up into the great bulk of the night sky, God points out the myriads of stars and promises that that is what his posterity will be like. Abraham might feel alone, but he is to know that those who descend from him, not merely his physical children — though that is involved too — but his spiritual children, are going to be as numerous as the stars of heaven.
Are you lonely? Many people in our culture are lonely. Families have broken up. Relatives have died. Some are living by themselves in our great impersonal cities. I speak to many who feel alone. God says, “I want you to see things as I see them. I want you to see the great host of those who are My children, among whom you have your place. You are part of that company.” Again we turn to Revelation and see God’s description of those who are gathered around the throne of God, worshiping. What are we told? We are told that there are thousands upon thousands of God’s people. You may feel lonely now, but one day you will experience the fullness of that fellowship which God has established for His own.
Bridge to the Future
Abraham has a son, Isaac, who had a son named Jacob. We have interesting stories about Jacob, and one of these contains a sign God made him. Jacob was not a very likable character. He was what we would call a momma’s boy, and besides that he was not averse to cheating people to get what he wanted. The tragedy of a life like that is that the person inevitably alienates his friends and family. That is what Jacob did. He treated his brother Esau so badly that eventually Esau said he was going to kill him. (I think Jacob well deserved it. If I were Esau, I might have thought the same thing.) Eventually, therefore, Jacob had to get away from the danger. So we have this story of Jacob fleeing, all by himself, perhaps as a relatively young man, out into the world with no friends, having left behind his father and mother and brother and whatever other immediate family and friends he might have had.
The first night out he is sleeping in the mountains, his head upon a rock for a pillow. He is certainly feeling alienated. For if Abraham was alone, Jacob was not only alone, he was also isolated. And it is here that God steps in. God makes a sign for Jacob. The sign is a great stairway from earth to heaven, with angels ascending and descending upon that stairway. It is a bridge. That is the essence of the sign. God is saying to Jacob, “Even though you have alienated yourself from your family and friends by your sin, nevertheless, I choose not to be alienated from you. I establish this bridge. I want you to know that communication is there. I come to you. You can come to me. I’ll be with you wherever you go.”
Jacob, the outcast, replies, “Surely the Lord is here. The others may be gone, I may have separated myself from them, but the Lord is in this place and I didn’t know it.” Jacob called the place Bethel, the “house of God,” and he carried the memory of that sign with him during the years of his exile (Genesis 28:10-22).
There are many alienated people in our day. It is because of their own acts. They do not always like to face that, but if they will face it, then by the grace of God the barriers they have set up can be torn down. In the meantime God says, “I want you to know that the starting place is this: although you have alienated yourself from others I choose not to be alienated from you. I am the God Who builds stairways. And the greatest of all these stairways is the stairway upon which the Lord Jesus Christ descended when He came to earth to be your Savior.” God points you to that stairway and says, “If sin has produced alienation in your life, I want you to look to this stairway and come to me.”
Courage for the Defeated
I think of another sign God made, a sign for Moses. At this period in his life Moses had had to flee from Egypt. Some of the experiences that had been lived before by Abraham and Jacob were his as well, but in addition to loneliness and alienation, Moses must have had a sense of defeat. He had understood early in his life that he was to be the deliverer of God’s people from Egypt. He had been educated in the courts of Pharaoh and was taught, as Stephen said, “In all the wisdom of the Egyptians.” But being raised as an Egyptian did not turn his head. He still recognized that he was a member of this outcast group of people who were being treated as slaves, and he identified with them (Hebrews 11:25). He determined to lead them out of Egypt. At last the day came. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, and he turned on the Egyptian and killed him. He thought, “Now the revolution is going to begin. I’ve taken the first step. God has chosen me. They’re going to rally around me. We’re going to have a big revolution.” But this was not God’s way of doing it at all. Instead of a revolution, word spread that Moses had killed an Egyptian and Moses had to flee. He ran away to the far side of the desert where he would be safe. Moses was forty when he killed the Egyptian. He lived forty more years in the desert. Now he was eighty, and he was defeated for good.
Some people feel defeated at thirty or forty or at sixty-five, when they have to retire. This man was eighty. We ask, “What is God doing? All the gifts, training and opportunities he had! He has been wasting it for eighty years. His life is over.” If ever there is a story of defeat it is the story of Moses.
But then God made a sign for Moses. It was a burning bush. As Moses described it, it was a bush that was remarkable for this one fact: it did not burn up! It was burning, but it did not burn up. Why? Because it was a symbol of the presence of the eternal and everlasting God. Thus it was that Moses, who felt defeated, who felt that life was running out and his opportunities were gone, was brought face to face with the nature of the God he served. His life might be running out, but God’s was not running out. He might be defeated, but God was not defeated. And God would do what God would do — in the life of Moses or anybody else! God called to him and said, “Moses, now is the time when I am going to send you to Egypt. And this is the message. You go tell Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go.’ ”
Do you feel defeated? Have you had opportunities and then blown these opportunities? Do you feel that you will never get them back again? God is the eternal God. God can take you right where you are and can bring victory out of defeat. He can do that which is spiritually lasting, not only for this life (for when you die, the things you do will live on only for a few years) but for all eternity. That is the great thing about spiritual things. Everything material will pass away. The Lord Himself said, “Heaven and earth will pass away” (Matthew 24:35). But that which is spiritual abides forever. What is done for Jesus Christ now — the stand that is taken, the word that is given, the moral victory that is won — no matter how insignificant it may appear in the world’s eyes, is something that is going to last and last and last into the farthest reaches of eternity. And even the angels are going to inquire into it and say, “Look at the grace and power of our God Who is able to do that in the life of a sinner.” That is our privilege. God makes this sign to lift us out of our defeat and encourage us to go on.
Rest for the Weary
In Exodus 31 God gives another sign. It is a word sign given to Israel as a people: the Sabbath. God says, “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come” (Exodus 31:13). What is the essence of the Sabbath? The essence of the rainbow is its beauty, and the essence of the stars is their number. The essence of the stairway is its bridging a gap; the essence of the burning bush is God’s presence. The essence of the Sabbath is that it is a time of rest for weary people. Moses had led the people out of Egypt, and they had wandered in the desert for many years. At last they had come to their land, and God gave them the Sabbath as a symbol of the rest which they are to find in Him.
The application at this point is not to those who are scared or lonely or isolated or defeated, but to those who are weary. Are you weary in the Lord’s work? I am sure you are, because the apostle Paul said to people in his day, “Let us not become weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9). He would not have said that if we did not become weary. This is one of my favorite Bible verses because it goes on to say, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Are you weary? If so, God holds this out before you, the symbol of His rest. There is a rest that “remains...for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). If you have to look ahead to a future of unvarying continuation of the things you are doing, with all the trials, the toils, and problems that is most defeating. How can you keep it up, day after day, year after year, knowing that as you grow older your strength is weakening and time is running out? How can you do it? You can if you know that there is a rest from your labors.
I started some long distance running recently, and I found that it is a great help if the course is marked off in miles or half-miles. After three, four, or five miles I’m tired and ready to stop. But then I come by a little marker, and the marker says “three and a half miles” or “four and a half miles.” And I say, “Well, it’s only another half mile [or mile]; I can hang on that long,” and I do. It is the same spiritually. Work is tiring. There is weariness in work, especially Christian work. It is worse than any other work. I do not know of any work that is harder than Christian work. It requires more perseverance over a longer period of time. Like the title of a recent book, it is A Long Obedience in the Same Direction [Eugene Peterson, Inter-Varsity Press, 1980]. But knowing that there is a rest at the end (and even some along the way) we keep on.
Salvation for Those Left Out
One day out in the fields surrounding the town of Bethlehem there was a group of shepherds. They were taking care of their sheep. Suddenly an angel appeared in the sky, and an announcement was given that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. The angel said to the shepherds: “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).
The essence of this sign is the glorious condescension of our God. What had God done? He had come down, not merely as far as the peaks of Olympus, but beyond; not merely as far as the palaces of the Roman Caesars, but beyond; not merely as far as the courts of Herod or the great hall of the Sanhedrin, but beyond. He had come down, down, down to a manger, being born of a poor family who did not even have a place to lay their heads. He had come to the inn of Bethlehem.
If you feel left out — and there are many people who do — learn that God is there to take you in.
I think the Lord is grieved that so few receive His signs. On one occasion people came to Jesus and said, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?” That must have made a real impression, because the gospel writers repeat it many times in their gospels (Matthew 12:38; 16:1; Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16; John 2:18; 6:30). Whenever the people asked that, I think the Lord must have thought over all the signs He had given. These were ample to lead people to faith. But what He said to these unbelievers most often was this: “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39,40, etc.). That is the sign above all other signs. Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures...was buried...and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3,4) that you and I might have forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.
I hope that all these signs might be meaningful to you. But even if the others are not, at least allow this one to touch your heart: Jesus Christ crucified in your place, risen, and coming again. Allow Him to draw you to Himself for salvation.
© Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals Inc, 1716 Spruce St. Philadelphia, PA 19103 USA
The Alliance calls the twenty-first century church to a modern reformation through broadcasting, events, and publishing. This article and additional resources can be found at ReformedResources.org or by calling 800-956-2644.This article may be duplicated in its entirety and without edit, including this full disclaimer for personal, small group, non-commercial use. No more than 200 copies may be made. No electronic use beyond email is permitted. Any use other then those listed herein are forbidden without prior written permission. All rights reserved.
If we take the commands of God seriously, then we each have a very important job to do in this fallen world. Beyond caring for our families or establishing our careers, we have been given stewardship of the most important message the world has ever heard. Dr. James Boice takes us back to the moment when the first 12 missionaries were made.All Sermons by Dr. James Boice