God’s Rainbow Sign
If you’re an Australian reader of my blog and have a WordPress account, you’ll probably see a rainbow banner at the top of this page. Let me be clear: that is not my doing, but something WordPress has done to try and promote the cause of same-sex “marriage” in Australia. I repudiate it. I have never supported SSM and never will — it is completely contrary to God’s good purposes and designs for humanity.
In response to what WordPress has done, let me share a message I delivered a few years ago in my last church. This was a meditation on Genesis 9:12-16 and it was given prior to a Lord’s Supper celebration at the Providence Canadian Reformed Church in Hamilton, Ontario. It has been slightly edited for publication here.
Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Isn’t it disturbing how something beautiful can be distorted and twisted for ugly purposes? I recently mentioned how that old classic hymn “Amazing Grace” gets abused at British soccer games. This morning as we briefly look at the sign of God’s covenant after the flood, we have exactly the same sort of situation. A few years ago, I was looking at the church situation around False Creek in downtown Vancouver. We were thinking of maybe trying to do something with church planting in that area and one of the first steps is to look at what’s already there. There was hardly anything. One of the very few churches that we came across was the Rainbow Community Church. On the face of it, that’s a beautiful name for a church. But unfortunately, you can imagine what kind of church it was. The rainbow has been co-opted as a symbol of homosexual activism for a lot of years already. It’s sad that such a beautiful and rich image has come to stand for something so contrary to God’s purposes. In this environment, it would be easy for us to forget that the rainbow has an objective meaning assigned to it by God and it has nothing to do with the sinful and rebellious rejection of God’s natural order.
The story of the flood in the days of Noah is well-known. There was great wickedness on the earth and God decided to do something about it. He would send a flood to destroy nearly every living thing because of the sinfulness of man. Among human beings, the exception would be Noah and his family, eight persons in all. Among animals, there was to be at least a pair of each species. The exceptions would be saved in the ark that Noah built. In due time, the flood waters came upon the earth, Noah and his family and the animals found refuge in the ark and they were saved. Everything else was destroyed. God’s wrath came upon the earth through waters deep enough to cover all the high mountains.
As the flood began to subside, Noah began to explore the new world with the help of a raven and a dove. They became his eyes over the earth. Through them it eventually became clear that the waters were disappearing and soon enough Noah and his family and all the animals were able to disembark. At the end of Genesis 8, we read about the very first thing that Noah did upon leaving the ark: he built an altar to God and offered offerings. These were pleasing to God and led him to promise never again to send a flood upon the earth. He established his covenant with all creation.
What is a covenant? There are different ways to define it, but it’s best to think of it in terms of a sovereign outpouring of God’s grace. Through this gracious outpouring, God establishes a bond, a relationship with himself. There’s a connection between himself and the other party or parties in the covenant. It’s always good to think of the covenant in terms of relationship, it is a relational term. That’s why we often think (or should think) of marriage in the same way – the marriage covenant is inseparable from the marriage relationship. In Genesis 9 then, God establishes his covenant with all creation, a sovereign outpouring of his grace.
That covenant is described in the verses that we read together from Genesis 9. A couple of features of it: it was a covenant not just with Noah, but with every living creature. It was to be an everlasting covenant – it would last into all future generations. That means that it’s still in force to this very day. Moreover, this covenant came with a sign, God’s rainbow sign. There are three aspects to this sign that I want to briefly consider with you this morning.
First of all, the rainbow is something that God alone puts up in the sky. This morning we are celebrating the Lord’s Supper and here too we have signs and seals of God’s covenant. The bread and the wine are the signs and seals of Christ’s body and blood. God brings these things to us through human agents or means. The bread was baked by human beings, the wine was made at a winery. People have brought these signs and seals and placed them on the table here this morning. However, God doesn’t use human agents to paint rainbows in the clouds. He does it without any human cooperation or involvement. That points us to the fact that the covenant described here is one in which God completely takes centre stage. His grace and mercy in coming to Noah are front and center. Whenever we see a rainbow in the clouds, we can be reminded of God’s sovereign grace to us and all creation.
Second, the rainbow is something that God put up in the sky not only for our benefit, but also and more importantly as a reminder for himself. God says that he will see the rainbow and remember the everlasting covenant between himself and all living things. This puts the stress again on the fact that God is everything in this covenant.
Finally, and most importantly, we need to come back to that important word: propitiation. Remember: propitiation refers to the turning away of God’s wrath. Propitiation is also evident here in Genesis 9 and specifically with God’s rainbow sign. The Hebrew word for rainbow is literally “bow” and it’s usually used in the Old Testament to refer to a bow used in battle, as in a bow and arrow. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. A rainbow looks like a bow on its side.
During the flood, God went to war against a world in rebellion. The sin and violence on the earth aroused his wrath and that wrath was poured out through the waters of the flood. In Genesis 9, however, God’s wrath has been turned away. The divine warrior has laid down his bow. The rainbow in the clouds is a vivid sign of that.
That’s where there is a connection between the sign in our text and the signs that we have before us this morning in the Lord’s Supper. The rainbow was the sign that God’s wrath had been turned away after the flood. The bread and the wine are signs that God’s wrath has been turned from us through the body and blood of Christ offered on the cross. Whenever we see a rainbow, we are reminded of God’s covenant in Genesis 9 and the turning away of his wrath. We’re reminded of his promises. Whenever we take part in the Lord’s Supper and eat the bread and drink the wine, we are reminded of God’s covenant of grace with us, established through Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice. Just as God will never again destroy the world with water, so because of the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood he will never pour out his wrath on us.
Brothers and sisters, the rainbow is still a sign for us today, a covenantal sign. Whenever we see one, our thoughts should go to Genesis 9 and God’s promises there. Our thoughts should also and more importantly go to Christ, the one who has turned away God’s wrath from us. Some day, because of what Christ has done, all the saints who have ever lived (including us), will stand before God’s throne and we will together see a rainbow. Yes, Scripture tells us that there is a rainbow in heaven. In Revelation 4:3, we’re told that there is a rainbow around the throne in heaven. Some day we shall stand before that throne. That beautiful rainbow will be a colourful and powerful reminder that God’s wrath has been turned away, we have mercy and the forgiveness of sins, we have peace with him, we are welcome in his presence. Today’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of that coming day. Let’s eat and drink with joy, because we know that this great day is ahead of us.
Loved ones, the rainbow is God’s sign. An unbelieving world can try to take it away from him, but they will never succeed. The brilliant colours after a fierce storm will always be there for God to see and to remind him of his promises. They will be there for us, to remind us to continue seeking refuge in the cross of Jesus Christ – the only place that one will be safe when the big storm of God’s judgment hits this earth one last time, not with water, but with fire. AMEN.