20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. — 1 Peter 3:20 (ESV)
Gangrene is a nasty condition. It occurs when your flesh or body tissue, usually in the extremities of your body (toes, fingers, limbs, etc.), dies through infection or loss of blood flow. When this happens, extreme measures become necessary to save a patient’s life, because gangrene can infect the whole body. Oftentimes the only path forward to save the life is to sacrifice a limb—amputate, or cut off the dead flesh.
It’s a good analogy for our sinful human condition, and it should remind us of humanity before God’s judgment of the flood. Sin had taken such root in the world that God determined to cut off the dead, decaying, sinful flesh:
And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Genesis 6:12–13).
And though Noah’s ark is often made into children’s toys or painted on nursery walls, we miss the point of the flood entirely if we forget that while eight people were saved on the ark — the rest of humanity was drowned. The story of Noah’s ark is a story of salvation, but it is a story of salvation from and through judgment. It’s a story of cutting off sinful flesh; it’s a story of amputation. It’s a story that tells us that sin is, indeed, that bad.
"...but God showed them favor and instructed Noah to build an ark that would save them..."
And it’s a story of grace — because Noah and his family were sinners too, but God showed them favor and instructed Noah to build an ark that would save them and preserve life after the flood.
And while this great salvation through the flood shows us a lot of what it means to be saved from our sin, it’s ultimately an incomplete story and it doesn’t go deep enough to deal with our sin. Because even that wooden boat that floated atop the waters of judgment contained stowaway sin. The flood didn’t get rid of the sin in the hearts of Noah’s family. This gangrene isn’t isolated to the limbs; the whole body has been infected and, to be frank, was already dead (Ephesians 2:1).
We need a better judgment that will completely cleanse us from our sin and we need a better ark that will completely rescue us from the judgment our sin deserves. We need the gangrene cut out of our sinful hearts.
We need a better Noah to build the ark we need, but who doesn’t have his own sin to deal with? That better Noah is Christ, and that better ark is the cross. Christ came to bring us to God “being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). In the substitutionary death of Christ — the righteous for the unrighteous — our sinful flesh has been “cut off.” Christ drowned in the waters of our deserved judgment in order that we might breathe and rest at peace floating upon those same raging waters. He conquered our sin, Satan, and death by passing through judgment and being made alive in his resurrection.
Christ was cut off, he was destroyed, and he was judged. Why? Because his glorious mercy for you required extreme measures.
How wildly brilliant is your holiness, oh God, contrasted against the darkness of our sin. We are enthralled with the flawless purity of the LORD Most High, blinded by your captivating radiance. It feels fitting that we should approach you cowering and browbeaten, if at all. And yet, we are invited to draw near to the throne with confidence.
Our world preaches the gospel of self: Be our authentic selves. Confess autonomy. Live our truth. In reality, our “authentic selves” are depraved. We are nothing outside of Christ. Truth belongs to you. Our intrinsic nature is so corrupt that a catastrophic flood was needed to drown out its consequences. A global baptism.
How easily we forget the vileness of our own sin. When we are sinned against, we feel a fraction of the sting of the curse. The bloody cross: a reminder of the death and carnage our sin has ushered in. Oh, that our own wounds would lead our eyes to the wounds that saved us!
Marvelous and merciful, you sent a new and better ark to be our liberator and salvation. A vessel thrown about by the lurching and stormy waves of transgression, only
finding peace on the banks of a new promised land. We were seen, in our brokenness, and rescued by no merit of our own.
Be with us, oh God, in the already-but-not-yet. Already baptized in the Spirit and yet still predisposed to sin.Already washed clean but not yet fully sanctified. Already redeemed and yet looking forward to the day of redemption. Already raised in Christ but awaiting the final trumpet call.