grace notes-pastoral letter 1.10.23

Monthly memory verse: Whom have I in heaven but You?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:25-26).Dearly beloved saints of Covenant of Grace, I have been praying for you this week, asking the Lord to keep you physically healthy at a time when sickness is certainly going around, and to keep you spiritually healthy through daily time spent drawing near to Him in His Word and prayer.  Near to Him is, after all, the best place for the believer to be.  His presence is the place where fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore are found (cf. Ps 16:11).  His presence is where all of this life’s troubles are put into proper perspective, as we’re reminded of the bigger picture – of eternity and, above all, of our God.  To think of Him – to meditate on His character and wonderful works – is to find peace and hope, and to be filled with gratitude and praise.  This was precisely the case for me as I began reading through the Bible again and came, once more, upon Genesis 6:8 and its striking declaration of the unmerited kindness of our God toward sinful people.The context sets the scene for the display of the Lord’s amazing grace.  Having shown mercy after mankind’s fall into sin in the garden, the Lord continued to allow life to flourish and multiply on the face of the earth.  But, in spite of this great mercy, the people made in His image and daily dependent upon His generosity for life, breath, and every good thing not only multiplied in the earth, but multiplied their rebellion against Him.  The resulting situation is described in Genesis 6:5, which tells us that, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  So bad was the scene that the next verse goes on to say, “And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Gen 6:6).  Not that the Lord had made a mistake and felt something akin to human regret, after all, His eternal plan is perfect and unchanging, and the Lord is not a man that He should repent (cf. Num 23:19).  Rather, using terminology accommodated to our understanding, this verse is expressing the genuine displeasure of the Lord with the sin of man.  While He has a plan to use it all for good in the end, He is not pleased with the thing itself, with wickedness in the hearts and lives of those whom He has created.  Indeed, His displeasure at what was unfolding in Genesis 6 was so great that, “the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them’” (Gen 6:7).  Which is to say, He pronounced impending judgment upon all the earth, the end of life, swallowed up in a sea of righteous wrath.It is this context that makes the eighth verse so wonderfully striking.  With the whole canvas having been painted black, a small stroke of light is introduced.  All mankind was wicked and doing wickedly.  All deserved to die an awful drowning death at the hands of the just God and Judge of all the earth.  Then we read it and are, or should be, dumbstruck: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Gen 6:8).  Or better, as the King James has it, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”  When all mankind was worthy of judgment, when coming judgment was already pronounced and sure to fall, one man found grace before the Lord.  Grace.  That is, unmerited, indeed de-merited favor.  Not just favor that wasn’t deserved, but the favor that was the opposite of what was deserved – the opposite of what the rest of humanity, Noah and his family excluded, was going to receive.  It is a remarkable declaration of our God’s free mercy toward sinners worthy of judgment, not because they have done anything to earn it, but because He has been pleased to give it, not due to anything in them at all, but because He has chosen to be merciful.  The world and all mankind would be plunged beneath the flood, but, because of God’s grace, Noah and his household would be sealed inside an ark and granted to survive the deluge.  As if to obscure this display of grace, some have argued that Noah found grace because of what verse 9 goes on to say, that Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation.  But this overlooks the fact that there is a clear break in the original text at the end of verse 8, with verse 9 bearing the distinctive mark of a new section.  It is the start of a new thought, following all that preceded it in the prior section.  The text is plain – first Noah is described as having found grace in the eyes of the Lord, then he is described as righteous.  This is how it works with saving faith – the Lord graciously reveals Himself to us in His Word and works repentance and faith in us, and then, as a result of this, He pronounces us righteous and begins to grow us in holiness.  So it was with Noah.  He wasn’t graciously saved because the Lord declared Him righteous, the Lord declared Him righteous because He was graciously saved.  It all started not with Noah moving towards God, but with God condescending to draw near to Noah and be gracious to Him.  Because of this, while the world would soon feel the awesome and unbearable weight of God’s judgment, Noah would survive and set foot on solid ground again.It is a wonderful display of the grace of our God toward His sinful people, and a type of the salvation He freely bestows upon all whom He is pleased to powerfully call and unite to His Son.  And this ought to be for you, believer, a source of great peace, hope, gratitude, and praise.  In this world where sin abounds, obviously worthy of judgment and already declared by Scripture to be headed for it, you have found safety inside an ark greater than Noah’s, the ark that is Jesus Christ.  Sealed in Him, not by pitch but by the Holy Spirit, you need not tremble with terror at the awareness that a judgment, not of water but of fire, is coming on the world.  This isn’t your doing.  You didn’t earn it.  It wasn’t granted to you based on any righteousness found in you.  It isn’t maintained by your being good enough on a given day, or in a given week.  As it was with Noah, so it is with you – it is the gift of God.  “You were dead in the trespasses and sins… But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:1, 4-5a).  Like Noah, truly and entirely, “by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:5b).  Ponder it this week, meditate upon it when your sins seem to rise up against you, rest in it when thoughts of coming judgment unsettle you, and praise Him who shows mercy to whom He shows mercy that you have found grace in the eyes of the Lord!In Christ,Pastor Eric P.S.Join us for