Genesis chapter 6 describes a world that existed a long time ago, with several strange features. At least three thousand years separate us from the events described in our first Bible reading this morning – a slightly strange reading that also refers to fallen angels (‘sons of God’) and an unfamiliar race of men known as the Nephilim.
But in other important respects the world of Genesis chapter 6 remains strikingly familiar. We may now live in a world of Netflix rather than Nephilim, and of Facebook rather than fallen angels – but some things haven’t changed.
A wicked world
For a start, we sadly still live in a world where human wickedness is widespread and seemingly ever-present. A world of wrong thoughts and bad intentions.
For example, on our TV screens we see heart-breaking reports of conflict in countries across the Middle East, and learn of civil unrest in places like Catalunya and Hong Kong. In our own society we see spiralling knife crime, anti-Semitism on the rise and an increasing polarisation of political debate.
And, if we are honest enough to look, we all too often see bad thoughts and evil inclinations in our own hearts and minds.
Human mortality also gets a mention in our reading from Genesis – and you don’t need me to tell you that death remains an ever-present feature of human life. Medical advances over the last 3,000 years can’t cure mortality. Death remains the ultimate statistic facing us all.
But its not all doom and gloom, because Genesis chapter 6 also makes reference to great heroes – to men and women of ‘renown’. And heroism hasn’t died out over the last 3,000 years, has it? Thankfully, heroes aren’t just ancient history!
On Remembrance Sunday, in particular, we give thanks for the heroism of all those men and women who laid down their lives in war. We pay tribute today, don’t we, to those men and women who displayed those heroic qualities of courage, bravery and self-sacrifice in times of war. As a country we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the heroes of our armed forces who defended the freedoms we still enjoy today. The men and women named on our village war memorial are true heroes who very much deserve our respect and admiration.
A good God
Heroism isn’t the only welcome similarity between the world of Genesis 6 and ours today. We also continue to live under the eyes of a good God:
• A good God who is grieved by human wickedness and angered at injustice.
• A God whose heart is deeply troubled when he sees his creatures inflict harm on one another.
But this God is no mere passive observer. God is not just watching the world from an armchair in the sky – his compassion for humanity has moved him to action.
As our reading from John’s Gospel reminds us, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” God’s concern for our world motivated him to act. At the first Christmas Jesus Christ came into our world at the express request of his Father. His birth meant a divine rescue mission had begun.
• Firstly, Christ came to show us how human life is meant to be lived. He came to shine like a light in the darkness, says John. To be as bright as a bonfire, to be as attractive as an exploding firework, to be like a torch piercing the gloom. As we look at the life of Jesus, recorded for us in the gospels, we see a true hero to admire and to imitate. A hero whose personality, wisdom and character were without blemish.
• Secondly, Christ came to earth to take the weight of human sin and selfishness upon his shoulders. At the cross Christ took the punishment from God that our evil thoughts, words and deeds deserve. He died there so that we might be forgiven. As John’s Gospel famously says “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save [it]”.
• And thirdly, Christ came to bring the medicine for mortality. He came to bring hope for human beings in the face of death. By dying and rising again on the first Easter weekend, he opened the way to Heaven for all who follow him. Again, as our reading from John’s Gospel puts it, he came so that we need not “perish” but instead have “eternal life.”
As I finish, today’s Gospel reading reminds us that God is not a mere spectator of our fallen world. A world of containing human conflict, wickedness and death. On the contrary, God has intervened in human history in the person of his Son. Jesus Christ gave up his whole life to be the greatest hero our world has ever seen.
And we should not remain passive either – because Christ’s divine rescue mission deserves a response from us. A response spelled out in our second reading today:
- The first act is to “believe” in him, says John. We are to turn to Christ as seek forgiveness from him. We have all played our part in making this world less than perfect. We all need to be reconciled with our good God. To use theological jargon, we all need to personally appropriate the benefits of Christ’s passion. We all need to ask God for forgiveness for Jesus’ sake. There is no other route to get right with God and to guarantee a place in Heaven.
- If belief is the beginning of the Christian life, then walking with Christ is the second step. Our Gospel reading urges us to walk in Christ’s light. It urges us flee from deeds of darkness. It urges us to imitate Christ’s behaviour, copy his character and pay close attention to his teaching.
In 1914 and 1939 men and women responded to a ‘call to arms’ and signed up to defend their King and Country. They left their civilian lives and enlisted in His Majesty’s forces. They took action when it was necessary for the good of others.
Christians believe that God took action when he sent his Son into our troubled world. And he calls us to action now – he invites us to trust and obey his Son – to enlist as Christ’s disciple. Let us make Jesus our Saviour, hero and king.