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And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember My covenant that is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a Flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:12-15).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Rainbows are part of the stories of many cultures around the world. Often, rainbows are portrayed as bridges between people and supernatural beings. Pet owners think of their furry friends crossing over the rainbow bridge at death. In Norse mythology, a burning rainbow called Bifrost connects Earth to Asgard, the realm of the gods. In the ancient beliefs of Japan and Gabon, rainbows were the bridges that human ancestors took to descend to the planet. Irish legend holds that there is a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that is guarded by a tricky leprechaun.[i]
In our day, the rainbow has taken a new connotation. As we noticed often all last month, the rainbow flag has become the predominant symbol of the LGBT movement. The best-known, six-stripe version of the rainbow pride flag assigns a meaning to each color: red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for harmony, and purple for spirit.[ii]
I can’t help but notice the irony of there being six stripes rather than the traditional seven colors of the rainbow that many of us memorized with the name Roy G. Biv. Seven being the number symbolizing godly completeness in Scripture and six being the number of man and falling short of perfection, often with reference to Satan who only mimics God and what is godly.
Satan never presents himself as he truly is. Instead, he masquerades as an “angel of light,” and his minions are able to transform into “ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor 11:14-15), all with intent to deceive. They may put themselves forward as seeking to promote good, such as tolerance and diversity, but they are nothing more than counterfeits of what is good, and their desire is to lead people away from the One True God who is all good, the epitome of good.[iii]
So, they mess with things like rainbows. Seeing the ways that the rainbow has been misused, many Christians find themselves resenting or pulling away from the rainbow. That’s a shame! That’s a victory for Satan in itself. For in setting aside the rainbow we are setting aside one of God’s great signs and promises.
It’s time to reclaim the rainbow.
But first we need to go back to the Flood.
The Flood was a judgment of God upon a world where the wickedness of man was great and every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5-7). The wickedness of man was so bad that the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart. So, the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them” (Genesis 6:7).
“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God; he was publicly known to worship the Lord. A major part of Noah’s walk with God was the rearing of three God-fearing sons during such godless times.
But God is longsuffering. He delayed the judgment, waited for repentance and faith for 120 years—alas, in vain! During those 120 years, the world had Noah “as a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) who condemned the world because of its unbelief and its unrighteousness (Hebrews 11:7). Noah’s building of the ark served as an object lesson preaching the impending judgment. But even all this left them unmoved. I can imagine the laughter as Noah built a big boat on dry land: “When had the earth ever had a Flood of such proportions to drown all living things?” asked the climate change deniers. “Fake news!” charged the skeptics. “You can’t make me get on that boat!” said the anti-arkers.
But the fountains of the deep had burst forth. The windows of heaven were opened. Rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights, covering all the earth, wiping out every living creature of flesh from the earth, except for the eight humans and their vast menagerie locked safely inside the ark.
For nearly a year, Noah, his crew, and cargo, floated the world. As many of you can relate in a small way, it’s not easy to go back out in the world after a year of lockdown. For Noah’s family, that adjustment was even more difficult. They had nothing to come back to. The world that they had known was gone. Death and decay were piled up all around. Everything had changed. Even the climate!
“Previous to the Flood, the earth was watered by streams or mists which came up through the ground (Genesis 2:6). Now the earth will be watered by rain from the heavens. Consider for a moment the perspective of Noah. He is 601 years old, and it has only rained once in his lifetime—and that was a BIG ONE! When it rains the next time there is no doubt he will suffer from some anxiety!”[iv]
God, in His wisdom and grace, knew this and gave Noah, his whole family, and every living creature a word of assurance as they set out on their new life—by means of a covenant. Think of it! God actually obligated Himself to observe the terms of a solemn contract: Never again a Flood!
In addition to His words, God gave them a visible sign as a seal of His promise. “I have set My bow in the cloud.” Whenever the rainbow appears, God remembers His covenant. And whenever the rainbow appears, all of Noah’s descendants are reminded that God is faithful to His promise.
God’s words are sure. They cannot be broken. Yet God never settles for just words. For centuries He promised salvation and eternal life. But then, once again, He made the abstract concrete. That Word, who was with God from the beginning, “was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory” (John 1:14). Jesus, a spirit, by nature, became a human being and lived among us. His life, death, and resurrection saved us from our sins and gave us the gift of eternal life[v]
Which brings us back to today and reclaiming the rainbow.
Most people believe the world in Noah’s day was so horrifically immoral that God had no choice but to destroy it. The Scriptures do point out that the people in Noah’s day were “ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5). However, even after the Flood, the Lord said, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 9:21). Like every man, woman, and child since the Fall of Adam and Eve, we are all children of wrath, born and conceived in sin and iniquity.
So, why save only Noah and his family? The problem God had with the people of Noah’s day was this: They simply refused to hear God’s “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). Doesn’t this sound like many situations today? Yes, it does! That’s why Christ’s words are very important for you and your family. Why? Even if you and your children are living by the standards our current culture considers “acceptable,” be careful! You and your family will never be judged by local standards of morality or ethics. Rather, you will be judged on Judgment Day.
On Judgment Day, God has appointed Christ to judge all people using His standards, the same standards He used to judge all people in Noah’s day. The people in Noah’s Day refused to receive, and participate in, God’s plan of salvation through the flood waters and the ark. Today, God specifically states: He saves people through His miracle of Baptism (1 Peter 3:21). Yet, as in Noah’s day, most people reject God’s way of salvation.
The people in Noah’s day saw how God intended to save people from the coming Flood. They thought it was totally ridiculous. They rejected God’s way. Despite God’s warning, “They were unaware until the Flood came and swept them all away” (Matthew 24:39a). Christ says: “So will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:39b).
There may be things in the Bible that are unclear (2 Peter 3:16). Yet, one thing Christ teaches clearly and repeatedly: God has already arranged for a Day of Judgment, at which time all people who ever lived will be judged (Acts 17:31). Therefore, do not do as the people in Noah’s day as they refused to enter God’s ark of salvation. Rather, with your family and loved ones, enter God’s ark of salvation. Be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 22:16). Through God’s miracle of Baptism, be “united” to Christ and His sin-cleansing blood, and His death-defeating resurrection (Romans 6:6-11). God invites you to His ark of salvation, through the miracle of Baptism. “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).[vi]
There’s no doubt that there are many things happening that are troubling to those of us who value God’s Word and are concerned over the spiritual welfare of our nation. But our concern should not lead to despair. These challenges present tremendous opportunity for the Gospel. But we will lose these opportunities if we do not remember God’s promises and set our hearts on His Word.
One place we can turn our present circumstances into opportunities to witness of Christ is how our culture is currently using the rainbow as a symbol. We should always remember that the rainbow is a sign of God’s mercy—after all, He created it as a way of remembering. Was the world before the Flood better or worse than the world now? Wasn’t it so filled with horrible sins—even disgusting sexual sins—that the Lord regretted ever creating mankind?
The waters of the Flood were filled with God’s wrath… and with His grace. After it had cleansed the earth, God set the rainbow in the sky with His promise to the few whom He had delivered through its waters that He would never again destroy the Earth with a Flood because of sin—no matter how bad that sin became. Every time we see a rainbow in the sky, it reminds us of God’s mercy and grace. Doesn’t it make sense to use the rainbows appearing elsewhere for other purposes to speak God’s Word to those who are perishing in their sins?[vii]
We can voice our outrage and disgust at building, bridges, and landmarks—including publicly-owned properties like the White House—being lit up in rainbow colors. But our rants only further separate and disenfranchise us from those who are celebrating the public sanction of their sins. Wouldn’t it be better to make use of these rainbows to speak of the God who created the rainbow to display His mercy and who now provides a Flood to wash away the sin that destroys?[viii]
Things are bad. They’re likely to get worse. Whenever sin is condoned, sanctioned, and celebrated in a culture, ruin and destruction are certain to follow. But even more certainly, the Church endures and remains—and often prospers—in the midst of the ravages of sin when God’s people remember His promises and hold fast to His Word.[ix]
Rise up, brothers and sisters in Christ. Answer the call to proclaim the One who has washed us in the Flood of Baptism, set His promises over us, and has placed us in this place and time to bear witness of His love, mercy, and grace to sinners—and speak of rainbows.[x]
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[v] Rossow, Francis. Gospel Handles: Finding New Connections in Old Testament Lessons. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014. 22
[vi] “As in the Days of Noah,” Good News Issue 43, 32.