How the gospel turns dead ends into new beginnings
Have you ever stood face-to-face with a situation that screamed of your undoing – a place that destroys dreams and snatches away normal?
These places can manifest both mentally and materially:
a relentless depression,
a bankrupt business,
a hostile home,
a barren womb,
a failed marriage,
a crippling fear,
a wayward child,
a premature loss,
a disabled body,
an unforgiving heart,
an illness that tries to bash hope with brutal finality.
In Genesis 8, Noah finds himself in a place like this.
Every living creature has been wiped off the face of the earth by the flood, where “all the sources of the vast watery depths burst open” for 40 long days and nights. The scene is like something from an apocalyptic sci-fi movie. The only survivors left were huddled inside a manmade ark that must have creaked and ached under the pressure of the rising waters.
Finally, the rains ceased and the waters receded. Noah and his family had survived but for what? The flood was over but the devastation was catastrophic.
Can you imagine what Noah must have seen and felt when he first stepped off the boat? Can you imagine the confusion and despair that must have accompanied such loss? Was this the way he was rewarded for his righteousness – with a worldwide calamity, a sure end to life as Noah knew it?
Yet, in what could have been Noah’s final undoing as he surveyed the land, God leaned in and whispered His most precious gospel secret: destruction is actually ground zero for reconstruction.
God beckoned His servant to come out of the shelter of the ark, a putrid place that had grown strangely familiar, into the blinding light of a new day.
“Come out of the ark … Bring out all the living creatures that are with you … and they will spread over the earth and be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 8:16-17).
At this point, we would understand if Noah was skittish, paralyzed by fear of the future, unwilling to take a step forward, even angry with God. But that’s not how he responded, because Noah revered the Lord more than mankind or comfort or his own dignity or understanding.
“So Noah, along with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives came out … and all the animals came out of the ark by their families. Then Noah built an altar to the Lord …” (Genesis 8:18-20).
Noah could have fallen into the self-pity trap, sat down and heaped ashes on his head in mourning. He could have hoarded all the animals for himself for food and supplies. We would understand that, maybe even encourage it as the reasonable thing to do.
Instead, Noah’s first act after God annihilated the earth was to build an altar so that he could worship God. Maybe this seems inconceivable to you.
Sometimes, in the midst of wreckage, all we can do is worship.
Noah believed that the God who had prepared him for the flood and protected him during the flood would be the same God who would provide for him after the flood.
Do you believe this? Do you trust in God's provision when desolation stares you down?
Either our flesh will fling up our hands in frustration and roar “why?” or our spirit will lift up our hands in surrender and wail belief.
When God smelled the pleasing aroma of Noah’s offering, He responded with a promise:
"As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will not cease … Understand that I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you ..." (Genesis 8:22, 9:9).
God hung a rainbow in the sky as a sign of His promise that seasons would come predictably and the earth would be restored.
Pruning is not punishment
Since the flood some six millennia ago, seasons have continued to turn just as God promised. These seasons are cyclical yet come with a divine sort of rhythm. While we will never again experience a worldwide flood, we will have other kinds of loss.
Before a season of growth, there must be pruning – cutting off the very things that threaten to rob branches of their vitality and purpose. Branches will be cut down, and what looks like an end is really a beginning.
“For, before the harvest, when the blossom is gone and the flower becomes a ripening grape, he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives, and cut down and take away the spreading branches” (Isaiah 18:5).
Before you can reap in joy the long-awaited fruit that has been produced over many seasons, Scripture says that God will take away certain areas of your life.
Some of the places He prunes may seem precious to you, but they are cut down in tender grace so that you will produce more fruit.
Your health, your prosperity, your family, friendships, and passions … nothing is beyond the reach of the pruner’s shears. This can be irritating, discouraging, and even frightening.
“But He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
In our limited understanding, we may mourn parts that are pruned, but we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who also have suffered yet kept the faith. Our fellowship with the saints shows us that the pruning is not futile (Hebrews 12:1).
“By faith Noah, after he was warned about what was not yet seen and motivated by godly fear, built an ark to deliver his family … and he became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7).
Faith is our beginning and our end, our only way to please God, inherit abundant life and harvest His holiness (Hebrews 11:6).
Can you imagine what the disciples who had left everything to follow Jesus must have felt like on the night of His death - when their Christ lay cold and still in a sealed tomb? They had spent the past three years witnessing miracles and breaking cultural barriers. The hope they had placed in Jesus as the long-awaited king and redeemer of Israel had been crucified.
His death was a devastating dead end to the disciples.
While we have the blessed hindsight of knowing this was all part of God’s plan to conquer sin, defeat death and resurrect Christ, they did not. For three long days they hid and waited until news of His resurrection finally came.
This tragic end was the birthplace of the most glorious beginning.
So we too wait and trust that Jesus will indeed make all things new and will replace our dead ends with His new beginnings (II Corinthians 5:17).
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me … to comfort all who mourn … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes … and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).
Pruning is necessary
Within a few months of being planted, a young vine will begin producing fruit. But an experienced winemaker will cut the branches all the way back to the vine, because the new fruit is too weak to be used for its intended purpose. This process will happen for several seasons, leaving only the vine exposed.
“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
To the untrained eye, it might appear like the winemaker is trying to kill the vine. It will look naked, fragile and exposed. But in fact, he is doing the very thing necessary for the vine to thrive and grow into its purpose.
“Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit” (John 15:1-2).
This pruning isn’t a punishment but a pathway to producing more of the Spirit’s fruit in you. The more you are pruned, the stronger you will become in Jesus and the more you will resemble Jesus.
That cancer that is stealing parts of her body and stripping her down bare like a branchless vine, can actually rebuild lives and bear fruit for the kingdom of God.
That baby who left his mother’s body too soon, can actually deliver revelation and renewal.
That flood water that filled their home with filth, can actually purify hearts.
But it can all seem like a cruel and haphazard hack job if we don’t know the One who’s doing it.
Pruning is painful yet eternally productive
Nature shows us that pruning benefits the vine. Dead, damaged and diseased branches are cut off. Co-dominant branches that attempt to compete with each other – fake gods and idols - are removed, so that when (not if) we are shaken by life’s storms, our source of strength will be solely and securely in Jesus.
But the fact remains that the pruning process is ugly. It is stark and sharp and sudden, and even when we look at a crepe myrtle that’s been cut back, we feel uneasy. We want the results of pruning without the process or the pain.
“No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
What if it’s you being pruned, or a beloved, and you just can’t see how this process could possibly bring any peace at all?
Like Noah, we believe and obey the God who has promised since the Garden of Eden, since the Flood, and since the Cross to bring life from death - even when all we see is decimation.
We trust that the pruning is not done carelessly but with the steady and intentional hand of a covenant keeping God. We trust that the true vine of heaven is alive and active and eager to restore us.
Believing this, we take our eyes off the painful process of pruning and fix our eyes on Jesus, who “for the joy that lay before Him endured the cross …” (Hebrews 12:2).
If your mind and body groan like Noah’s storm-tossed ark, stunned by too many dead ends, know that your problems will be swallowed up by life as you abide in Jesus.
God restored the earth after the flood. He resurrected Christ. He redeems sinners. He will create a better Eden. He can rework your marriage, your finances, your friendships, and your diagnosis.
Let God share his treasured gospel secrets with you.
In your undoing, God will remake you, because the gospel always brings new life where there should only be death.
“For I will create a new heaven and a new earth; the past events will not be remembered or come to mind. Then be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating” (Isaiah 65:17-18).