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Mess and mercy - a family tree - Genesis 5

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the morning service on 2nd November 2008.

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You have to wonder why they do it? Who are ‘they’ and what is ‘it’? Well, the ‘they’ are those relatives who have an interest in your family’s past history. The ‘it’ is the attempt to trace out the family tree. Maybe they undertake this painstaking process because they hope they will find someone famous tucked away in the ancestral closet and so perhaps unlock some lost right to a title- just think of it; ‘Lord Tinker’ has a certain ring to it. Well, my brother has recently decided to give this a go. Some interesting facts have emerged, some which we knew already, some of which came as quite a surprise. So on the paternal side, my grandfather was a polygamist- not bothering with legal niceties such as divorce. On my maternal side my great-grandmother was a true Romany, so I have gypsy blood in my veins. Also on the maternal side my other great-grandmother was in the Whitechapel district when Jack the Ripper was at large and she actually recounted a fearful encounter one evening in one of the poorly lit streets of London. But so far- no hereditary peerage.

 

And similarly you might wonder why the writer of Genesis has bothered tracing out the family tree of Adam in Genesis chapter 5. More to the point you may want to ask: what on earth are we ever going to get from this passage which could be of spiritual value? After all, it’s just a long list of names and ages. Well, would you be surprised if I were to tell you that I knew of someone who was actually converted to the Christian faith by reading this list? True. He read this passage and thought that if the Bible could be bothered to recount the names of these people who lived so long ago, then that meant that the God of the Bible was interested in individuals, which in turn meant that he could possibly be interested in someone like him. And that touched him deeply. But what we see here in the family tree of Adam is our family tree. This is the human race that is being presented, your story and mine is embedded in here. And to be frank it is not a lineage of which we can be particularly proud, but at least it is honest. But more importantly what we see breaking through the darkness are shafts of divine light which show that there is still hope for people like you and me.

 

Now what is the significance of the opening two verses: ‘When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them "man."’? Well, it is this- all those who follow, including the most wicked of the wicked still bear God’s image. Although they may act like beasts, they are not beasts-they are responsible human beings; human beings who are fallen, twisted and corrupt to be sure, but human beings nonetheless. I knew someone who had a clergy friend who had actually met Adolph Hitler. And this person asked him: ‘What was Hitler like?’ And the reply he received was most poignant; he said, ‘He was like all men, he looked like Christ.’ Now initially that may sound blasphemous, but in fact it is a profound truth. The person sitting next to you and in front of you, the person you will meet at Tesco’s on Monday morning and at the dentist’s on Tuesday afternoon is a mirror, albeit a tarnished mirror of the one who made them and therefore invests in them immense value. None of that is lost, although it may be denied, by the terrible things we have done and are capable of doing as we shall see. For Christians, unlike anyone else living on this planet, can look at a fellow human being and say, ‘he or she is god-like’- capable of ruling and relating. But, oh, from what heights this wonderful, creature has fallen. And that is the sombre message conveyed by what I have called the drumbeat of death.

 

You see, what God had promised is actually taking place, which is what the list testifies to and which verse 2 echoes, namely, that back in Genesis chapter 1:28  human beings would be blessed by increasing in number .But after the rebellion there was also the curse- which thuds away like the beating of a drum relentlessly captured in that haunting refrain ‘and he died,’ ‘and he died’ ‘and he died.’ Yes, there is life, but in the midst of life there is death and so reiterating that God is as good as his word, his promises are not always pleasant ones- ‘on the day you eat of that fruit you will surely die.’ That is the point our writer wants to get across to us. Intrinsic to the human condition this side of Eden is the disease of death, the severing of all relationships and so highlighting in dark hues what our sin means to God. Death is a disgusting thing, human frailty and degeneration is immensely sad and disturbing, Christians of all people should not romanticise death. And it’s as if God is trying to say to us- ‘Do you see how awful and painful, and sad, and horrendous death is? Well that is how your sin appears to me. How can I even begin to paint you a picture to help you understand how appalling your abandonment of me is? Well, what about- death?’ We may try and delay it. We may even attempt to deny it. But it is the one certainty we have and the one inescapable Word from God which all human beings hear- ‘This is what your sin means to me- death- it is that serious’. This, of course, is why the Gospel is serious. Our doctors and nurses by and large do a wonderful job and I am so thankful that in terms of medicine I live in the 21st century and not the 2nd century. But, my job is even more wonderful, because whereas they can only extend mortal life at best, I have a message which gives eternal life. They can at best repair a broken body; I can offer a new body, a resurrected body as I hold out faith in Christ. And so can you- if you are a Christian.

 

But even here in the middle of this long list of names we have an indication that death need not have the last word, but God. Did you spot it in verse 21? ‘When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. 24Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.’ And so we have the direction of deliverance. This breaks the pattern. He lives only a short time compared to other others, but this was not a sign of God’s displeasure, but of God’s grace. His life is described as one of unbroken fellowship with God; ‘he walked with God’ echoing what Adam enjoyed back in the garden- so it can still be had! And there is no death for him- one minute he is there and the next he is gone- God took him away. Took him where? Well, we are not told exactly, but presumably to be with himself in heaven- Psalm 73: 14 reads, ‘You will guide me with your counsel and afterwards you will take me (same verb) to glory.’ So maybe death isn’t the end after all? Just maybe God has the power to conquer it?

 

And you do have a contrast here with Lamech back in chapter 4:23. He is testosterone man- the primordial Exterminator-who in an Arnold Schwarzenegger kind of way blasts anyone who gets in his way and writes songs about the fact and is of the line of Cain, as they say, ‘like father-like son.’ And through the line of Cain he is the seventh generation of Adam. But here Enoch is of the seventh generation of Adam through Seth and so forms a contrast, for here is someone who actually loves God and has fellowship with him. Also we are given is a glimpse of what true manhood is meant to be as far as God is concerned. If Hollywood were looking around for someone in the Bible they could make a film of it would be Lamech and not Enoch. Lamech is the hairy chested, blood and guts action man, the one who shoots first and asks questions later, who grabs the woman by the hair and drags her to his home. And that is also 21 Century man, where political correctness has not made much of an impression. And so many men still see this as the ideal role model-the strong silent type who doesn’t need any help. But Enoch bears some resemblance does he not, to the One who was to come later who at every moment of every day of his life, ‘walked with God’? Who knew that not only that he couldn’t go it alone, but that he shouldn’t- the Lord Jesus Christ. As Lee so brilliantly reminded us at ‘Time Out’ Jesus is presented as the real role model for men, the man’s man par excellence; there was nothing remotely unmanly about him. No, to be a true human is to reflect God’s image and to reflect that truly you have to keep close to him- day by day- and then he takes you to be with him into glory.

 

But there is another contrast which appears in verse 28. This is a different Lamech of Seth’s line and stands in sharp contrast to Lamech of Cain’s line- ‘When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. 29He named him Noah and said, "He will comfort us in the labour and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed."  After Adam in verse 3, he is the only one who is said to name his son- so indicating again something of his god-like status- he has authority to name. Then he has a son called Noah, which is a word play on what he will do, that is be a comforter-that is what the name sounds like- some sort of helper. But help in what? Well, to help ease the burden and the toil that Lamech is experiencing following the curse of chapter 3: 17. The poor man feels he is being crushed under the weight of it all and cries out for some sort of relief. Again, there is no self-sufficient- go-it-alone attitude here. There is the courage of looking reality right in the eye and say, ‘This is terrible, I need help.’ And, that you know is often the first step towards getting it. It was the German Reformer Martin Luther who said, ‘Unless a man realizes he is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.’  Maybe what Lamech is saying here is half-prayer, half-prophecy. ‘Lord may this son be some means of restoring something of that which was lost.’ And, you know, God hears prayers like that. The Lamech type of chapter 4 will not find such a prayer coming readily to his lips, not while he thinks he can manage himself. But the Lamech of chapter 5 has no such difficulty. And perhaps you are here this morning and to be frank you feel burdened. Maybe burdened with your own sin, burdened by your own struggles, or simply burdened by the misery you see in the world and it is driving you to nuts. If so, then take a leaf out of Lamech’s book. Do you remember how Jesus put it? ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted- or Noahd.’ That is the kind of people God is looking for and will help. And so the direction from which any deliverance is to come must be from God.

 

But before things getter better, they get worse- 6:1-8- and what we can call the depths of depravity.

 

First of all, just a few comments on verses 1-3: ‘When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years."  This is a very difficult section to understand at one level and quite easy to understand at another. What is difficult is getting a handle on who these ‘sons of God’ were and why what it was they were doing which was so wrong. There are several interpretations, but let me mention just two. The first is that they are fallen angels who have sex with human women. That is possible, but given what Jesus says about angels not ‘marrying or being given in marriage’ he seems to imply that they do not have sex drives like we have. So that to me puts a question mark against it. Some think that this is a reference to tyrannical leaders or kings who greedily take to themselves whatever women they want in an unbridled power-lust, taking to themselves several wives- the kind of polygamy of Lamech in chapter 4, but there is more of it going on now. So in Psalm 82:1  we read of human rulers being referred to as ‘gods’ who are to judge men, presumably because they are exercising this ‘god-like’ function of judging and then in verse 6 the Lord says, ‘I said you are gods , you are all sons of the Most High.’ So these could be human rulers abusing their power in this way. Well, whatever it is, what we can understand is that it forms a turning point for God’s patience, a line has been overstepped by human society as a whole- so that God now says, ‘enough is enough’. And did you notice the echoes of the original sin in the garden? ‘The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they took- any of them as they chose.’ Just like Eve saw the fruit was good/beautiful (same word) and took it. This seeing, selfish choosing and taking has now become the set way of life. And how bad things have really become is spelt out in verse 5: ‘The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.’ In other words, it can’t get any worse than this. Man’s wickedness has become great- referring to outward acts- things are now plain disgusting and vile- the wickedness is extensive. And where does it all come from? ‘the inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.’ It is intensive too and all pervasive. Thoughts, attitudes, motives, actions the whole of a person’s being is now infected and sodden with sin. It is what theologians call our ‘total depravity’. That is, there is no neutral area of the human condition which does not have this moral virus operating. The hard drive as well as all the software has been infected and the system is not capable of functioning properly at all. That is the Bible’s diagnosis of your problem and mine- and to deny it just underscores the extent of the problem- it blinds. You see, if the problem lay in lack of education, we could cure it by giving people a better education. If it were due to bad housing you cure the problem by building better houses. If it is the economic system as capitalists or communists believe, you change the economic system to the left or to the right. But if the problem is internal and goes deep into the human heart what do you do? The Bible never intends to flatter us, it is meant to scare us, for unless we see- better still feel -that we are in dire need, we will be like a patient with a life threatening illness but who thinks all is well, and will never seek treatment and so goes from bad to worse. And what do you think God’s reaction is when he looks at this world and your heart and mine? Verse 6 tells us using very evocative and dangerous language- ‘The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.’ I say dangerous language because the writer is using human emotions to describe God’s emotions and so some people say, ‘Oh it’s only figurative- God can’t feel what we feel.’ True on both counts- but the language suggests he feels things more intensely than we do, not less. God is grieved by sin. It is the reaction of ‘Oh, what have I done to allow this to go on; to make these creatures capable of so much vileness?’ And it is interesting that God is then described not as we might have described him- being ‘angry’ but being ‘in pain’. The excruciating pain which culminated in the cross began way back here. Human wickedness skewers the heart of God and makes it bleed. Do you realise that?  So the question is: what will God do? What do you do when your computer is infected and cannot be fixed?  Well, you wipe it and start over again. And we are told that things were so bad, so apparently hopeless, that even that thought had crossed God’s mind- v7 ‘So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth--men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air--for I am grieved that I have made them."  Can you believe it, that God is portrayed as feeling regret? His heart is broken as the world and the creatures he so lovingly made is broken. His stomach is sickened as every wicked and vile act that a human being is capable of conceiving is arrogantly done and defiantly paraded before him. The point is- God is not unmoved. He is not a celestial slab of concrete, a divine monolith, or some cosmic gas which by definition is indifferent. God is moved to the very depth of his being by what he sees in our world and in our hearts. That is what the real God is like anyhow. And are you not glad that it is so?  Many years ago, the famous American lawyer Clarence Darrow spoke to the inmates of Cook County jail and said this: ‘There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood. I do not believe there is any sort of distinction between the real moral conditions of the people in and out of the jail. One is as good as the other. The people here can no more help being in here than the people outside can avoid being outside. I do not believe that people are in jail because they deserve to be. They are in jail simply because they cannot avoid it on account of circumstances beyond their control and for which they are in no sense responsible.’ Are you not pleased that God is not like Darrow? Because I want to at least feel I count in that I am responsible for doing wrong things. It matters to me that wrongdoing is taken seriously by God, my wrongdoing and not just other people’s. If I am horrified by some of the things my fellow human beings are capable of doing, am I comforted to think God feels anything less? Of course not. But neither am I comforted by the thought of God simply wiping us all out although it is no less than we deserve. I would beg a little hope in what seems a hopeless situation. And there it comes in the final verse-8, ‘But (what a great word!) but Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD.’ Literally, ‘Noah found underserved love in the Lord’s sight.’  Now don’t cheat and pull up verse 9 at this point, ‘Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.’ We shall be looking at that next time, but here the writer wants us to understand that Noah is mixed up with all that is going on, he belongs to the man’s wickedness of verse 5. This verse is the conclusion of this passage, it draws a line under the whole sorry mess. It’s as if the whole future of mankind is hanging by a very slender thread, it can disappear down the tubes at any moment- but God suddenly steps in- points to Noah and says, ‘No, not that one. I am going to save him and use him to start again.’ That, my friends is called grace. And this is the delight of God- God delighting to choose and save those who have nothing to commend themselves, who are helpless and hopeless and feel it.  God delights to do it simply because that is the kind of God he is and is glorified in so doing. It is the miracle of grace. So whatever hope we might have resides in the goodness of God alone whose heart is pained by sin and yet still big enough to do something about it, to pluck out people and say, ‘You are mine.’

 

Well, he may not be a direct ancestor of mine, although he was a Tinker, but he is a spiritual one relative- John Bunyan. And this is how he describes what happened to him: ‘One day I was meeting with God’s people, full of sadness and terror and suddenly these words broken over my in great power: ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Corinthians 12:9), three times those words came altogether and I thought that every word was a mighty word for me; they were then and still are far bigger than others. At that time my understanding was enlightened in such a way that it was though I had seen the Lord Jesus look down from heaven through the roof and direct these words to me and this broke my heart and filled me with joy and laid me as low as the dust, I mean in this glory and refreshing comfort, yet it continued with me for several weeks and encouraged me to hope.’ God’s grace was sufficient for Noah, for John Bunyan and it is sufficient for you and me. Do you wonder whether God could accept you? Whether God has already abandoned you? Then come back to these words- ‘ But Noah- and it could be Melvin, Jim, Janet- or whatever your name is- found grace in the eyes of the Lord.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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