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Genesis 6:5-8 says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”
Over the past few months we’ve been starting at the end of different stories, and more recently we’ve started at the beginning of some stories, but it doesn’t seem to work very well when you start in the middle of a story. You can’t crack open a who-done-it book and start reading in the middle and make any sense of what’s going on. It’s like being late to a movie. It’s annoying because you can’t tell what’s happening: “Who’s that? Where are they? Why is she crying?” (But if you sit down in the middle of a Hallmark movie, then you may be safe.) Have you ever tried entering into a conversation in the middle? It’s dangerous.
It’s the same starting with Jesus’ story at Christmas. If you start with the baby in the manger, you’re not starting at the beginning; you’re actually starting in the middle of the story, and there are going to be things that don’t make any sense. You’ll be asking, why are the angels celebrating? Why the journey of the three kings? Why is Herod in a political panic? You really need to begin before the birth of Jesus, and that’s what I want to do with you over the next few Sundays.
This morning I want you to consider something you may have never considered before about the Christmas story: the story of the baby in the manger starts with a broken heart—God’s. If you don’t reflect on the grief in God’s heart, you won’t understand the joy, the peace and the glory of the baby in the manger. Let’s look at Genesis 6 again: “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” Consider, for a moment, the intensely personal nature of these words: The Lord regretted, the Lord was grieved; the Lord’s heart was troubled. As you study these words, they signify some kind of personal offense, some kind of personal betrayal. The question is, what offense? what betrayal? What could be so personal that God’s heart was breaking?
Look at the words of verse 5: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” Could you imagine more vivid, more all-encompassing words? Genesis 6 is describing something that’s deeply relational, and if you don’t understand the deeply personal aspect of what’s being described here, then you’ll miss the significance of Jesus’ birth. Let me try to explain.
Human beings were created to love God. Our love of God was to be the thing that would influence every thought, every decision, and every action so fundamentally, that if you asked me in any situation why I’m doing this or that, I’d answer: God. I would choose to serve Him with all of my time, talents and resources. I would be constantly Practicing His Presence. That’s what we were created to do: love God and be in communion with Him. Our obedience flows from our love of God, and because we love Him, we find joy in what He calls us to do. We find joy in serving Him. You know that’s true in any relationship. When you love someone, you want to serve them; you desire to please them; their joy is your joy. Think about it—do you get more joy from giving a gift or receiving a gift? That’s how every human being was meant to live—that was the plan!
But then something happened. The human heart was claimed by something else. No longer do people delight to serve God; no longer do they find joy in His joy. They willingly, purposefully, continually do what is evil in His eyes. Think about what Jesus said when asked, “What’s the greatest command?” He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” What’s the greatest command? Love God! If love for God is the ultimate command, then the greatest evil is failure to love God, because when I don’t love God, I won’t stay within his boundaries; I won’t live for Him. When human beings no longer love God as they should, it doesn’t mean that they don’t love, because you always love; you were hardwired to love. So, if you’re not loving God, then you’ll give that love to someone, or something, else.
The question is, what love is so seductive, so powerful, and so deceptive that it has the possibility to replace our love for God? Paul answers the question in 2 Corinthians 5:15: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” The thing that always replaces love for God, the thing that leads to endless evil, is love of self; “living for themselves,” Paul says. Somehow, we all make ourselves the center of our world. Somehow all of us ascend to His throne. And we don’t find joy in serving Him. We want our will, our way. We want authority over our own lives. We want to set our own rules. We’re obsessed with our own comfort and our own pleasure and our own happiness.
And when you live for yourself, you will step over God’s boundaries over and over, because your heart is motivated by self-love. What is it that often makes a marriage so hard? It’s selfishness; it’s self-love. What is it that makes parenting so hard? You gave birth to self-sovereigns. They want to write their own laws. They want to set their own rules. Every act of racism, every act of murder and violence, is rooted in self-love; every moment of greed is rooted in self-love; every kind of gossip is rooted in self-love; every kind of sexual sin is rooted in self-love. All sin stems from the fact that we no longer love God as we should. And we experience the results every day—watch the news. It breaks God’s heart. When you read this passage, you should let your mind see the tears in God’s eyes. Because not only has that love been taken from Him, it’s been redirected to meet our own selfish desires. It’s the ultimate human betrayal.
If you’re following the story from the beginning you should be asking, what in the world is God going to do? How will God respond to this betrayal? We need to understand—every sin is vertical first and foremost. Every sin has its root in forgetting Him, refusing to love Him, rejecting His authority—every sin is vertical. Why do you think after committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering Uriah, David says, “Against You and You only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight”? David is saying, “My ultimate failure wasn’t that I didn’t love Bathsheba and Uriah as I should, God; my failure was I didn’t love You as I should. And when I didn’t love You as I should, I was able to do these horrible things.”
How would you respond in the face of such a betrayal? Look at verses 7 and 8: “So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” It sounds like the story will end in a sad way, but in a righteously just way. God—not in an act of vengeance, but in a holy, just way—says, “Enough! I will wipe the earth clean.” God has every right to do that.
But that’s not the end of the story. Genesis 6:8 tells us: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” You know the story; Noah and his family were chosen by God’s grace to survive the waters of the flood with animals in the ark. And it’s very important to note what happens after the waters of the flood recede and the earth dries. God makes a covenant with Noah, and says, “Noah, I’m going to bless you, and not only bless you, but I’m going to bless your descendants as well.” If you read through the genealogy that follows, you’ll come to a name you recognize— Abraham. God made a covenant with Abraham, and He said to Abraham, “Not only will your descendants be blessed, but through your seed, all the nations of earth will be blessed.” And the seed of Abraham leads to Jesus, the baby in the manger.
Now, I want to return to Genesis 6:5: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” Romans 3:23 also reminds us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ.” So, God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus, to come to earth as a baby, to live in a fallen, broken world, and in the midst of all of that temptation He lived a perfect life. He saved us from our sin and set a perfect example of love and obedience to God. In every thought, word, and action, He perfectly obeyed. He did what we are unable to do. Then He paid the penalty for our sin with His death on the cross, so that we would have hope—so that love of self would finally be defeated, and it would be replaced with a love of God. That’s the hope of redemption.
Now, we need to realize, we’re a work in process; that process is called sanctification. My friends, by His work on the cross, the power of sin has been broken. He won the war, so we could fight life’s battles, and each day, become more like Him. Now, when He looks upon us His heart is no longer broken, because he sees His Son, and because of that reality we can have a joy-filled and Merry Christmas.