Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sermon: Genesis 18:16 - 19:38 Saved from Sodom

Some places come with automatic associations - you hear the name, and immediately you think of what they’re famous for. If I mentioned Las Vegas, you’d probably think of the casinos. Sydney, the opera house. London might make you think of Buckingham Palace or the Houses of Parliament. We quickly make connections with places. And if you were to hear the names Sodom and Gomorrah, you’re probably quick to link it to sin.

This morning we come to perhaps the most difficult passage in Genesis, as we deal with Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction. It’s quite a long chunk, so we may not get to deal with everything in as much detail as we would like, but let’s look at the fall of those cities, and the one small family who were rescued.

Our reading begins at the end of the meal in last week’s passage. Abraham and Sarah entertained the LORD and two angels to dinner, and received the promise of a son, Isaac. The men get up from dinner, and head towards Sodom.

The LORD starts speaking - almost as if he’s thinking to himself, but it’s for Abraham’s benefit. The LORD is on his way to see for himself if the outcry about Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin is as bad as it sounds. The judge is on his way. The court is in session. Now, the LORD already knows all about sin, but he says it so that Abraham hears and is spurred to action.

From verse 32, Abraham comes to the LORD and asks, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?... Far be it from you to slay the righteous with the wicked... Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?’

God, you are holy. God, you cannot abide sin. But is it right to punish everyone, the good and the bad? Surely that would be worse! So the LORD concedes that for the sake of fifty righteous people, he’ll not destroy the city. Abraham, having started, then gets into a reverse auction, a bit of haggling - for 45? 40? 30? 20? 10?

Abraham knows that his nephew Lot lives in the city. He’s pleading for Lot’s wellbeing. He’s asking for mercy. He’s praying for grace. The LORD is gracious, he already knew what he was going to do, but he involves Abraham. He tells him what’s going to happen to spur Abraham to action. Abraham’s prayer comes from a desire for people. How earnest are our prayers on behalf of others? When we see people in the sights of God’s justice, do we cry out for them? Do we care if family members are in the path of destruction?

The Judge of the earth will do what is right - he will bring judgement on sin. We want that when others hurt us - but are we ready for judgement ourselves? Is it really justice we want for ourselves? Or do we want mercy?

While Abraham is on the mountain with the LORD, the two angels have arrived in Sodom. Lot meets them at the city gates, at the place of trade and justice, the place where the elders of the town met. He brings them to his home, fearing what would happen if they were to spend the night in the square. His fears are realised when every man of the town arrives at his door. They want the men to come out ‘so that we may know them.’ They don’t just want to talk. They want to act wickedly.

The sinfulness of sin is seen in Sodom. Lot tries to appease the crowd by giving them his two daughters. They desire sin, they’re slaves to it. The reports are true enough. They know they are acting wickedly, but they refuse to listen or stop. They despise Lot for standing apart from them. The sinfulness of their sin is clear.

And it’s so easy to stand and point a finger at them. To read the passage and think - oh yes, they had it coming to them. They weren’t living God’s way. It’s so easy to look at other people and see their sinfulness. But do we realise the extent of our own sin? It may not be the same type of sin, but the sin in our life is just as serious, and is also due for judgement.

The Judge of all the earth will do what is just - he will judge and punish those who are wicked. That included Sodom, but it also includes us and our sin too. We need to be rescued from judgement, just as Lot was here, in our third point.

Lot is told of the destruction. He goes to warn his sons-in-law to bring them out, but they think he’s joking. They refuse to hear the warning and means of rescue. The next morning, Lot, Mrs Lot and the two girls are lingering, as if they don’t want to leave, but look at verse 16. The Lord was merciful to him, taking them by the hand and getting them out. There’s more kindness when Lot reckons he couldn’t make it to the hills, he could only get to Zoar. So the angel agrees. Lot is brought out safely. He escapes the judgement that was about to fall.

We find the explanation in verse 29. ‘God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow’. What does it mean, that God remembered Abraham? Why not God remembered Lot?

It brings us back to Abraham’s prayer to the LORD at the end of chapter 18. ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’ The bargaining didn’t save the cities - not even ten righteous people could be found there. But there was one righteous man.

Lot was a sinner like all his neighbours in Sodom central. He too deserved the wrath of God for his sins. But Lot was a righteous man, as Peter tells us in our second reading. That doesn’t mean he was perfect. We can see that in the passage where he offers his daughters to the mob; and when he gets drunk and submits to his daughters in the cave. He was far from perfect. But he was righteous because he was trusting in God, he was in a right relationship with God. Only he and his family were brought out - and even then, Mrs Lot looked back, already missing the pleasures of Sodom, and she was turned into a pillar of salt.

Sodom and Gomorrah stands as a taste of God’s just judgement. Peter says that they are an example of what is coming to the ungodly. The horror of sulphur and fire is a sign of the eternal punishment of the wicked. It’s what we all truly and justly deserve.

But we don’t have to face the judgement. The good news is that Jesus has stood in our place. He himself took the full force of God’s wrath; he endured our hell, so that we might receive his heaven. Jesus is in the rescue business, and will rescue us if we call on him.

It’s a heavy message today, a solemn message. Will we hear the warning and scoff like Lot’s sons-in-law? Or will we find rescue through the righteousness of Christ, as we take refuge in him?

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 23rd November 2014.

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