Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong
Sermon Title: More than a Global Pandemic
Scripture Text: Genesis 6:5-8
5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 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.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
Dictionary.com just released their “Word of the Year” for 2020. Go on, take a few seconds to guess it. What word in the English language most greatly defined the year 2020? Well done to those who guessed it. The word is Pandemic.
It seems painfully obvious, now that we mentioned it, doesn’t it?
No other word comes remotely close to defining our year, and indeed, our way of life in 2020 than the Global Pandemic of COVID-19. And although the vaccine is close, the Pandemic is far from over.
Even as we speak, the successive waves of the pandemic has well and truly swept the globe. Cases continue to skyrocket in the US. Over in Europe, the UK is struggling to contain its second wave. So too are Spain, Germany and Belgium. Closer to home, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are fighting a resurgence of the virus. And much to the dismay of Singaporeans hit by wanderlust, Hongkong had to postpone its travel bubble to Singaporeans because of it’s 4th wave of the pandemic.
Now, there is no single cause for these new waves these countries. But at least one prominent reason are people like this:
The so called “pandemic” isn’t real, they say, it’s really just an overrated flu. The deaths from COVID-19 are grossly inflated, people are dying with the virus, not from the virus. The pandemic, they claim, is a hoax created by world governments to induce fear and control their citizens. We will not be simply lay down and give up our rights for no good reason.
And the rest of us look at them and go, “what kind of mushrooms have you been consuming?’ Isn’t it painfully obvious that the pandemic is real? Isn’t the reality of COVID-19 all around you, if only you would be open-minded to the evidence? Your refusal to acknowledge the obvious is not a mark of independence, it’s the height of folly, it can only lead to death, if not of yourself, then of the people around you.
In fact, there was a trend in the US, called COVID parties, popular amongst young adults.
It’s called COVID parties because it is a party hosted by someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. They invite folks who don’t believe that COVID-19 is real, and they’ll party together just to prove that everything is okay, and that the virus is a hoax. Several have died as a result, and a man from Texas, in his 30s told his nurse at his deathbed that he had made a mistake. He thought it was a hoax, but it’s not. Sadly for him, it was too late. He passed away.
Christians have long been accused of spreading a similar hoax. It is more than a global pandemic. It is a disease so widespread that no human being on earth is spared, everyone is infected. And it is so deadly that no one survives it. It has a 100% rate of infection, and a 100% death rate.
We call the disease sin. And yes, it cannot be measured by scientific instruments, it cannot be tested in a lab, it cannot be broken down into chemical elements found on the periodic table. But, Christians have long argued, that the reality of a thing called sin is painful obvious, if you would only be open-minded to the evidence. There is a darkness in the human heart that is undeniable, there is a bent towards pride in our souls that we can neither ignore, nor simply will away. There is a corruption in the world that we cannot refuse to acknowledge. It is known by different names, it is denied at moral cost, it is silenced against the cries of our consciences. But it is there. The bible calls it sin.
Sin is real and it is universal.
Let’s look at the first verse of our text today:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
This is the verdict. Human sin is pervasive in the world, and pervasive in our hearts.
the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
It does not mean that everything we do is pure evil, but that everything we do is tainted with evil. You see, it’s not the case that COVID patients cannot breathe, or move, or that they are in extreme agony continually. The fact that they contracted COVID does not mean that. But it does mean that because they have COVID, every breath they take is reduced in quality, every move they make is laboured by weakness, every moment is touched by discomfort, if not pain. So it is with sin. Human beings are still capable of good, still able to be kind, still do great acts of love. But never perfectly, never consistently, never enduringly.
We fall in love and fall out of it. We are selfless one day, and then selfish the next. We are nice when we get up on one side of the bed, and mean when we get up from the other. We readily admit this. “No one is perfect”, we say. Which means everyone is imperfect, everyone is tainted by failure, a darkness resides in every human heart. This is sin. This is the global pandemic we are facing.
There are two aspects of sin that I would like to emphasize:
Sin is exists and Sin is everywhere.
Or put differently, Sin is real, and sin is universal.
First, sin is real.
Which means we cannot simply explain it into non-existence. Attempts have been made though to diminish the reality of human evil.
We say, an innate darkness in the human heart is a religious hoax. There is no such thing as a bad person, only people who have been nurtured badly, the problem does not lie with the person, it’s found in the environment within which the person grew up, into which the person was socialised. He is violent because he played too many video games. She is abusive because she was bullied. Now, of course our environment influences our attitudes and behaviour, of course nurture plays a role. But to the extent that it absolves us of personal, moral guilt? That can’t be right.
If so, you would have to sympathise with Ethan Couch.
Here’s the story: Breanna Mitchell’s car broke down in a residential area, and so she parked it at the side of a two lane road. A youth pastor, Brian Jennings saw her broken down vehicle and stopped to help. So too did Hollie and Shelby Boyles, a mother and daughter who likewise stopped to lend a helping hand.
Along came Ethan Couch, a 16 year old. He had just stolen two cases of beer from a store. He drank them with some friends, and then they all got into his pick-up and which he drove at 110km/h in a two lane, 65km/h road.
He drove into Brenna’s stationary car, which was parked at the side of the road. Killing her, the mother and daughter pair Hollie and Shelby Boyles, who had stopped to help, as well as Brian Jennings, the youth minister. Brian’s two young children were in his car parked nearby, and they witnessed the violent collision which killed their father.
Two of Ethan’s friends were seriously injured as a result of the crash, and one of them was permanently paralysed from the neck down.
For illegal drug consumption, drunk driving, speeding, killing 4 persons and effectively ending the life of one. Ethan never saw a day in prison from his sentencing. Now what was his brilliant legal defense?
Affluenza. Just like the flu, if the chemical equation of the flu was just a series of dollar signs.
A psychologist called by Ethan’s defense team argued that Couch suffered from “affluenza,” or a lack of personal responsibility spurred by his affluent upbringing.
“He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way,” psychologist Gary Miller said at the trial. “He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.”
His legal defense is literally this: don’t punish him, it’s not his fault. It’s his upbringing. Blame his environment, don’t blame him. He’s innocent. That’s the defence. And it worked.
For the record, Ethan never showed any remorse for his actions. I suppose it can’t be helped, he is after all still suffering from Affluenza.
Does this sound like how we want to establish right and wrong, does this case sound like justice to you? When you ignore the reality of evil in the human heart, and you pass it along to some external cause, this is what you get. We are never bad, we are never at fault, there is always something else responsible for our actions.
And I would say, between that verdict and verdict of the Bible, I think it a lot less absurd to fall on the side of God’s word.
It’s not just environmental.
But some still argue, it’s education, or the lack thereof. If only people knew better, if only people were properly instructed, better educated, then the world would be a better place.
I will never forget what a Cambodian schoolteacher once said to me. Many years ago I travelled to Cambodia with Joshua and Jeremiah, where I ate crickets for the first time. We were there to help a primary school build their library, we brought along several boxes of books.
And we went to the school, and there weren’t many children, which surprised me, because there were so few schools around, and there were kids on every street, I thought every school would be full.
So I asked the teacher why there were so few students. And he said a lot of parents didn’t allow their children to go to school. I said, is it because they couldn’t afford it? He said, primary and secondary school education is free of charge. The parents don’t allow it because a lot of them don’t believe that education is good, they think it’s bad to be educated. Now coming from Singapore, in a Chinese household, that blew my mind.
He could tell that I was struggling, so he explained to me that Cambodia is still haunted by the memory of the Khmer Rogue regime, which killed about 2 million Cambodians. There were about 10 million Cambodians at the time. So that’s one in five. Everyone knew someone who died at the hands of the Khmer Rogue. Entire families, entire clans were wiped out during that regime.
Now, before that, the country was uneducated, they were poor, but they had food and they had peace. And then Pol Pot came back after higher education in Europe, along with his fellow educated friends, and they had their educated ideas about how the country ought to be run, and it ended up killing 1/5 of the people.
Against this history, he told me, its so difficult to convince farmers, who see their children as extra pair of hands to work the land, to send them instead to sit in a classroom to read books. They can’t see what good it would do. There are people today, who remain unconvinced that education is the solution to the human problem. And they would be right.
Education is a factor, to be sure, but at the end of the day, education is simply access to information. It’s a tool. Whether its employed for better or for worse depends on the hand that wields it. Education, in and of itself, is neither the source nor can it override the evil inherent in the human heart.
Are we supposed to believe that the reason soccer players in England today kneel in silence before every game in support of “Black Live Matters” movement is because the UK don’t know that black lives matters? They don’t know that racism is bad? They somehow didn’t get the memo that you should not hate others based on the colour of their skin?
It’s been 200 years since the abolition of the Altantic slave trade, are we really supposed to believe that ignorance remains the problem? That education is the answer to racism? The internet has given us access to more information today than all the previous generations combined. Are people in this generation less hateful than before?
I’m simplifying the issue, of course. But I believe the point stands, which is that it’s ludicrous to think that environment and education are the causes and remedy to the human problem. The bible reveals to us clearly that have missed the big thing – the reality of sin, and that it lies within.
So sin is real. Sin exists. This is the first thing I want us to know about sin.
Second, Sin is everywhere. Sin is real, and sin is universal.
Sin, more so than current global pandemic, is universal in scope. Human evil is found in every human being and we know this because it transcends every human category. Age, gender, politics, country, race, wealth, you name it, its present there. It’s present everywhere.
I don’t believe anyone with kids can honestly tell me that toddlers are pure in heart. They’re born wilful, demanding, selfish. You don’t need to teach them how to snatch toys, fight with others, or lie to save their skin. They’ll do it. The moment they’re old enough to assert themselves, children, by default, without exception, violate accepted standards of morality by their own volition. But not just children, the pre-school and the nursing home alike will have its share of tensions and arguments and problems. Sin is everywhere, in the young and old alike.
It transcends gender too, there are evil men, just as there are evil women. Tyrant kings, as well as Queens. In every political system, monarchy, republic, democracy, communism, facism, corruption is found, it transcends political beliefs. It transcends national boundaries too, there are police and prisons in every country, because there is crime in all of them. And crime isn’t perpetuated only by the rich, or only by the poor, it’s not committed only by the educated or the uneducated, no, the law is broken by rung in the socio-economic ladder.
Sin is present everywhere. In every type of person, in every corner of the world.
And if that is true, then this is true: Sin is present in you.
And I trust that you’d agree with me, that there is a darkness in you, largely contained by the veneer of civilization, and by your personal discipline and conscience, but that you know you must continually be vigilant about, because if it had it its way, it would threaten the well-being of both you and the people around you. That, my friend, is the universal reality of sin, present in the heart of every man.
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
And the consequence of this greater global pandemic, the consequence of sin, is certain death.
Let’s read on.
And the Lord regretted 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.”
The verdict of God on humanity is that we are wicked. And the sentence is death.
Now, you have to understand, from a biblical perspective, all death is dealt by God. Every single human being, every single living thing, on the face of the earth, will die, ultimately, at the hands of God, whether by a flood or disease or old age.
So when God says that “I will blot man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens”, it’s more than a statement that every living creature on earth will die, because we all eventually will. That goes without saying. We are mortal beings, after all.
God is saying more than that. He’s saying that because sin has so pervaded and infected all of creation, the only way to deal with it is to re-create the heavens and the earth. The way God frames his solution hints at a re-creation, a new creation of the world.
Which is why the means by which God blots out all life on earth in this story is by means of a flood. Because in the beginning, waters covered the earth. That waters will once again cover the earth is an echo of the creation narrative. What God plans to do is a re-genesis, a new beginning, a new creation. A creation in which righteousness dwells, and sinful man with their wicked hearts will not be found there. That’s what it means.
Friends, if God decided to enact this plan again today, to re-new the world by getting rid of its evil elements. Which means not a spot of sin, not a syllable of a bad word, not a flash of a mean thought, not even a tiny mistake, not a speck of imperfection will be present in the new creation. If God decided to do that once more, where will you be?
Will you be blotted out with the rest of sinful humanity, or will you be part of that the new world?
Because the bible tells us that a day of judgement will come again, this time not by a water, but by fire.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Just as the people of Noah’s day was not prepared for the coming of a great and deadly flood, the day of the Lord will likewise come like a thief, when you least expect it. When that great and awesome day comes, will you melt away with the rest of sinful creation, or will you be entering the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells?
On our own, in accordance with our lives, our thoughts and our deeds, friends, we all fall short of the perfection required to enter that new creation. For sin is real and sin has corrupted us all. There is no point saying that you did good things. That’s not the question. The question is whether you have done anything bad at all. And if you have, and God knows we all have, then we are not fit for that new and all-righteous world.
Death is the only fate that awaits us. We will be blot out from the face of the earth along with the rest of sin stained creation. That is the message of Gen 6:5-7. It is not good news.
But hope is found in our next and final verse
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
Hope for humanity in that day was found in a man named Noah.
Who was he exactly?
These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
Now, who was righteous? Noah alone. But who was saved from the great deluge? Noah and his family. Here we catch a glimpse of what it takes to escape the judgement and enter new creation. We may not be righteous, we have may have fallen short. But if there is a man in this world who is a righteous and blameless, and has found favour in the sight of God, and we are somehow united to him as his family, then shall be saved.
Let’s hold that thought.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Why? Because Noah walked with God.
Now, we have seen this phrase before, in Genesis 5.
Genesis 5 is an obituary, make no mistake about it. Every paragraph ends the same way.
5 Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.
8 Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died.
11 Thus all the days of Enosh were 905 years, and he died.
14 Thus all the days of Kenan were 910 years, and he died.
17 Thus all the days of Mahalalel were 895 years, and he died.
20 Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died.
27 Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died.
31 Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, and he died.
The same for everyone. And then he died, and then he died. Everyone sinned, and everyone dies.
But wait, there was an exception.
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
But then one paragraph didn’t follow the template. Enoch didn’t die like the rest of them. His obituary simply stated that, “he was not, for God took him”. Enoch broke the mould, he did not die like the rest of mankind. Why? Because Enoch walked with God.
Just like Noah walked with God.
Friends, do you see, in this phrase, we find a clue as to how we can escape the judgement of sin, and that, my friends, is to “walk with God”.
We are sinful, yes we are, but if we can unite in familial bonds with a righteous and blameless man, if we can somehow “walk with God”, then we can escape the flood and fire and enter the new heavens and the new earth.
Who in the world can live up the billing of a perfectly righteous man who has found favour in God’s sight, and even if such a man exists, how is it possible that all of us can somehow be united to him as one family, and how can he help us to walk with God?
This my friends, is answered in the story of Christmas. When God sent his son, Jesus Christ, into the world. Jesus Christ is perfect man, the righteous one, with whom the Father is well pleased.
And the Bible tells us “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”, through faith in Christ, we can be his family, and be saved in him.
And what is more, those who put their faith in Jesus as Lord and saviour are known as his disciples. People who follow him, people who walk with him. And because Jesus is God, walking with him is walking with God.
By believing in Jesus, we can escape the great global pandemic of sin. We shall escape the judgement of death, and on that Day, when Christ returns, we shall be ushered into the new creation. The new heavens and the new earth, where righteousness dwells, and live with him forever.
That, my friends, is why Jesus Christ came to earth. That is why we celebrate his birth. And this is why Christmas is good news for a world engulfed in a great pandemic.