In all the earth, there was only one righteous man.
In this time – long, long ago – there was an abundance of corruption and violence and a shortage of righteousness. So God decides to hit the restart button on the whole deal: a 40-day flood to wipe out every living person. Every person but one: Noah.
Well, Noah and his family. And two of every unclean creature. And fourteen of every clean bird and animal. These will be the beginnings of a new era with a new hope that things will turn out differently in the next go round.
The rains come and the waters rise. The boat floats and the rain keeps coming. The earth becomes a water-world. Outside the ark there is no sound but splashing. Inside the ark there is no silence, but a zoo.
After forty days the rain stops, but there’s been so much rain that the planet is water-logged. God has not forgotten Noah, though. The water level lowers. The peaks of mountains start to show. A dove brings back an olive branch. All these are signs of hope, but most of all is this: a rainbow, placed in the sky by God himself, as a covenant that this will not be repeated. Never again will God flood the earth. Never again will the solution to sin be annihilation.
And so the human race began again with one righteous man.
But this new era is not free from corruption and violence. The Bible holds nothing back about what happens after Noah: war and deception, jealousy and lust, anger and idolatry. God’s plan seems to have failed. One righteous man held up his end of the bargain, but failed to usher in a new way of living.
So what will the solution be? How God address a world filled with violence and corruption, and short on righteousness?
A flood is no longer an option. But what about one righteous man?
One perfectly righteous man… and the inverse of the plan from before. Instead of the whole world destroyed to save one righteous man, this time the one righteous man will die to save the whole world. As that most famous of Bible verses says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” And then, lesser known but just as important: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
One righteous man to save the whole world.
Did it work this time?
It’s possible to look around at the world today and think that this was another failed experiment. To think the world still suffers from an abundance of violence and corruption and a shortage of righteousness. To think that nothing changed from the sacrifice of that one righteous man.
But I say different.
It’s impossible to know what the alternate timeline would look like, to read history books for a world where Jesus didn’t live and die to save the world. With nothing to compare it to this makes the righteousness sometimes hard to see. But I believe that because of that one perfectly righteous man there is not only the existence of righteousness in the world today… there is an abundance of it.
When Paul writes to the Romans he wants to explain to them what’s happened to sin because of Christ. He goes back to Adam, the first human being and also, not coincidentally, the first person to sin. One man brought sin and death into the world, he says. And in a similar way, one man conquered sin.
If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:17-19).
This plan wasn’t to destroy the world to save one righteous man. It was that one righteous man would die… to make many people righteous.
In Jesus Christ, our sins died on the cross.
In Jesus Christ, we have God’s grace and forgiveness.
In Jesus Christ, we have the example of how to live for God and love others.
In Jesus Christ, we are set free from sin so that it’s possible to follow that example.
If it’s up to us alone, we don’t have what it takes to be 100% righteous. We might maintain a few hours, maybe even a day or two… but eventually we make some choice that falls into the “violence and corruption” category. When that happens forgiveness intervenes and sin is stopped in its tracks. It’s like our own personal restart button, and we can let go of that sin and live into righteousness again.
Righteousness built on perfect living will never last, because we’re not capable of being perfect. But righteousness built on one perfectly righteous man has the power to persist, to grow, to spread.
That kind of righteousness doesn’t always make the headlines, but it’s out there. It’s more than out there – it’s abundant.
We saw it in Jean Christy, the 111-year-old woman of Christ whose life we celebrated in a memorial service yesterday. The church was packed out for someone whose contemporaries died 30 years ago. And why? Because of the love she showed to so many people, up until her last dying breath.
I see it in the people of Andrews UMC all the time. They volunteer themselves to host a free meal for the community every week. They prepare meals for grieving families. They spend their free evenings in committee meetings to ensure we’re being faithful to what God wants us to do. They give up their mornings in church or afternoons at home to mentor the children in their faith.
Most of all I see it in the little things that would never make an interesting news story. The one who takes out the trash without being asked or thanked. The one who faithfully calls her elderly friends to check on them. The one who faithfully wakes up early to read the Bible and kneels for prayer every night.
These men and women are not perfectly righteous. But they have faith in the one perfectly righteous man, and that faith sets them free from their sins to serve God the best they can.
Because of Jesus Christ there is not just one righteous man in the world today… there are millions of righteous men and women, made righteous by the sacrifice of the one.
The next time you see a rainbow, remember God’s promise to us:
Never again will God flood the world as a solution to sin.
Instead, God sent Jesus Christ to be that solution.
And because of Jesus Christ there will never be just one righteous man left in the world.