9th Sunday after Pentecost – 7/25/2021
Once upon a time, summer was all about "making hay while the sun shines." By that, I mean that when society was primarily agriculturally based, summer was a busy time to raise your food supply and make the bulk of your family's livelihood. In our contemporary world, however, summer has been hijacked by recreational activities. Most of our livelihood comes from elsewhere, freeing us up to use the summer for more relaxing pursuits, which, unfortunately, all too often keep us away from God and His Word.
One of my favorite summertime activities is hiking, especially in the mountains.
I will always remember a particular hike to a waterfall on the upper portion of the Stillwater. It is known as Woodbine Falls. Perhaps some of you have visited there. I have been blessed to be there many times. What made this an especially magnificent experience was that after my oldest son, his wife, a grandson, and I hiked up to the upper part of the falls and felt its refreshing spray on our faces, suddenly, a most radiant rainbow appeared in the waterfall. We were so close that we found ourselves within the spectacular array of its beautiful colors.
Few things in this world can rival the beauty of the rainbow, especially when we consider God's creation of it. After all, the rainbow is not simply a beautiful natural phenomenon or merely what is produced when light is refracted through airborne water droplets. The almighty Creator, the great "I AM," the Holy Trinity, appointed the rainbow as an everlasting "sign" to Him and every living creature of His gracious promise never again to destroy the world in a deluge of water. In other words, the rainbow is not simply a beautiful sight for the eyes. It is the beautiful sight of God's heart for our souls and bodies.
Tragically, however, some, like the LGTQ community, have coopted the rainbow to symbolize their perverse agenda, robbing it of its beauty and promise for all of us and bringing great offense to our God.
That has not happened overnight. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Rainbow Coalition used the rainbow as a logo. That was a coalition of individuals and groups advocating equal rights. Now, don't get me wrong; I'm all for giving all people, no matter what their nationality, color, or gender, equal protection under the law, as well as fair and impartial treatment, respect, and the same constitutional rights as everyone else. However, this Rainbow Coalition, especially after it merged with Jesse Jackson's PUSH organization (People United to Save Humanity), also began to push for societal acceptance of what God calls sin, wickedness, and perversion. This Rainbow Coalition began advocating for the approval of homosexual behavior and the right of homosexuals to obtain the license to be married.
Now the rainbow is used not only to symbolize the acceptance of diversity, but also, as we all saw after the Supreme Court's ruling, to make it illegal to deny marriage to same-sex couples. The rainbow is displayed everywhere to condone and celebrate what is right and good, which God calls sin and evil. Even Barrack Obama, while he was president, demonstrated his agreement with the homosexual lobby by bathing the White House in the multicolored light of the rainbow to celebrate the court's decision.
That ought to be an offense to every Bible-believing person. This beautiful and gracious sign of our Creator has been hijacked to celebrate sinfulness and perversity. In reality, the use of the rainbow in this way flaunts outright rebellion against God, who established the rainbow as a sign of His promise to save sinners from annihilation under His righteous wrath, not to excuse or condone their defiance of His moral law.
It's time the Christian church took back the rainbow for the sake of the truth, the honor of God, and the spiritual welfare of sinners everywhere. Yes, it's time we boldly teach and preach the truth about sin, God's judgment, and God's merciful grace in Jesus Christ.
We can begin by renewing in our minds and hearts what the rainbow is and isn't. First, the rainbow is much more than a beautiful sight to behold. God "set His bow in the cloud" as a "sign of His covenant" with all flesh.
After the great flood, by which all living flesh was drowned except eight human beings, Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives, and the pairs of animals God had Noah take with him in the ark, God spoke to Noah, saying, "I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."
This covenant was not a contract in our conventional understanding. God did not ask for Noah's or anyone else's input. Neither does this covenant ask or demand anything of Noah and his family. It's all one-sided. This covenant is promised by God, established by God, and binds only God. That is why three times the LORD calls this covenant "My covenant," not Noah's or humankind's. It belonged to and was instituted by the Triune God.
But what about the covenant's beneficiaries? That's a different story. It is not God who benefits from this covenant, but humanity and all other living creatures. In this covenant, the Almighty Creator ties His hands, so to speak, for the welfare of all living beings. Because of His covenantal promise, you and I, as well as every member of our human race, including our dog or horse, do not have to lie awake in a storm, wondering and worrying if it will ever stop and we will be wiped out in a global flood. God has committed to not doing so.
Now, it is true that God vented His vengeance against the wickedness of humankind in this way once. But His covenant promise is that He will never do so again. And as Holy Scripture assures us, even if "we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself" (2 Tim. 2:13).
That is unlike God's covenant with Abraham and Israel under Moses. In this covenant with Noah, there are no conditions or provisions for man to respond in any way. There is no affirmation of the covenant by humankind to validate it for them. Truly, this covenant stems purely from a heart of overwhelming mercy and grace! Regardless of how much the world still deserves God's wrath, He has promised to spare the world from another annihilating flood.
The rainbow is God's chosen "sign," as He calls it, of the covenant of grace He makes with every living creature. He refers to the covenant as "my covenant,". When He refers to the rainbow as a sign of His covenant with all flesh, He refers to it as "my rainbow," highlighting once again His ownership. He appointed that whenever rainclouds appeared, His rainbow would also appear as a reminder of His promise. That reminder is first of all to the LORD Himself, to whom the rainbow belongs and to whom the covenant belongs. He says, "When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh on the earth."
That begs the question: Does God need a reminder? Think of it this way: the rainbow is God's self-imposed "string on His finger"... For our sake, he assures us that even if it were possible for him to forget, he would always have this sign of his covenant before his eyes—never to forget!
Secondarily, the rainbow is God's sign for the assurance of humankind. It is the beautiful, immutable sign "by which, through the senses, man is assured that God's promise stands inviolate" (Harold G. Stigers, p. 117). The rainbow assures us that God's covenant promise can never be altered, broken, or violated, just as it always appears with every rain cloud. The Hebrew word for "sign" is pronounced "oth." Think of the rainbow, then, as God's visible "oath," if you will, that He will always keep His promise.
Speaking of Hebrew, the word that we translate as "rainbow" usually means "the bow of war." In the rainbow, God shows that He has put His bow aside (Gerhard Von Rad, p. 130). The brilliantly refracted colors of light displayed for us in the rainbow reveal not the weapon of divine wrath but the merciful heart of God in living color!
Given that the rainbow is a "sign" of God's beautiful grace to "see and withhold His righteous wrath," it is truly a beautiful precursor of God's covenantal signs of forgiveness that He gives His people to experience.
Look at God's Old Covenant sign of circumcision. Purely out of His grace, God chose the descendants of Abraham out of all the peoples of the world to be His people. He made a covenant with them. Circumcision was His appointed sign of graciously "cutting them away" from the world's filth to be holy in His sight.
God has also established His beautiful signs of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ for us to experience. Holy Baptism is a sign whereby we experience the washing of regeneration for the full assurance of God's forgiveness for Jesus' sake. The holy apostle Peter states, "Baptism, which corresponds to this (the water of Noah's flood), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (I Pet. 3:21)
The same water that drowns our old, sinful flesh is the very sign of God's covenantal promise that, through that water, as His Word of promise empowers it, He gives new birth to water and the Spirit (Titus 3:5). He brings the baptized into Himself. He washes away their guilt.
What a lovely sign for this water! Like the rainbow, it shows and enables us to experience the beautiful heart of God.
The Lord has also given us signs in bread and wine for His Holy Supper. These are the very signs of the Lord's sacrifice for us. How beautiful is that? The apostle Paul writes: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (I Cor. 11:26).
As in Baptism, however, the Lord's Supper is more than a "sign of forgiveness" won and established elsewhere. The Lord seals our forgiveness through the presence of Christ's body and blood in and with the bread and wine in those consecrated signs of bread and wine. Jesus said, "Take some food. This is my body. Drink, this is the blood of the New Covenant that I shed for you for the forgiveness of sins."
Like the rainbow, it is a sign for both God and man. God sees the blood sacrificed by His Son and remembers to forgive the sinner. Man "sees" the blood by faith in the sacrament and is assured by receiving it that Jesus' blood atones for his sins, and he is saved from the wrath of God.
How beautiful are these signs of this bread and wine? Through them, we are made to experience the beautiful heart of God!
In light of the beauty of God's heart that the sign of the rainbow, as well as the new covenant signs of water, bread, and wine, reveal to us, it is incumbent upon us not to allow them in any way to be perverted from being signs of mercy to being signs of permissiveness. The fact that the rainbow appears only where there are storm clouds tells us also that the rainbow is a perpetual reminder of what brought about the flood in the first place, namely, the sin and rebellion of humankind. The rainbow does not say God won't punish wickedness. The rainbow is simply a sign of God's merciful promise that He won't destroy all flesh again in a deluge of water.
Similarly, the sign of the bread in the Holy Supper not only conveys to the participant that He is the Bread of Life, but it also points the receiver to the bread of the curse brought about by man's sin. The LORD said to sinful man, "Cursed is the ground because of you... By the sweat of your brow, you will eat bread until you return to the ground" (Gen. 3:17b, 19a). The sign of the wine brings the blood of the sacrificial lamb for the forgiveness of sins, but it is also a constant reminder that sin must always be atoned for under God's righteous judgment. Without the blood of Christ offered in the wine and received in repentance and faith, the sinner is left to atone for his sins under the wrath of God. Sin is not excused.
As a result, the apostle Peter writes soberly: "If (God) did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if, by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes, he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued the righteous (2 Peter 2:5-7, 9;
Those who celebrate perversity proudly display the rainbow to color their vileness, and they say that you and I are on the wrong side of history. They insist that legalizing same-sex marriages signifies that humanity has finally evolved beyond old bigotries. We had better get on board or risk becoming isolated and left behind by the rest of humanity. But based on God's holy word, you and I can counter that they are on the wrong side of history. After all, true history is "His story, God's story!" True history is the truth about God's redemptive work in this world to save sinners in the flesh of Jesus. It is not about God overlooking or excusing sin.
Take back, then, dear Christian, the sign of the rainbow from those who have hijacked it. Teach and use it for what it is: a sign of the mercy of God toward sinners and not a display of His permissiveness. Amen.