God’s Judgment and the Interceding of Faith | Genesis 19
Brian Hedges | August 4, 2019
Anyone who knows me knows that I enjoy a good movie, and one of the genres of movies that kind of reached its zenith, its heyday, in the 1990s was the disaster movie. Remember the disaster movies, especially in the ’90s? It just seems like every summer there was a new disaster movie coming out.
The disaster could take a number of different forms. It might be a meteor or a comet that was going to come to earth and wipe out a third of the population, so you had Armageddon and Deep Impact. Or maybe it was a ship that was going to sink, so you had The Poseidon Adventure, and then there was a remake of that; that was a ’70s movie, and then there was a remake of that I think in the ’90s. Or maybe it was a volcano that was going to erupt, right? There was the movie Dante’s Peak, and I think there was one called Volcano. All different kinds of disaster movies. There was Twister, right, the tornado movie that takes place in the midwest.
Every one of these movies has a predictable plot, right? You have a foreshadowing of disaster, something bad is going to come, you’re introduced to some key characters, and you’re just waiting for the inevitable to happen, and you’re wondering who’s going to survive. The ship is going to sink, the volcano’s going to erupt, the building’s going to burn, the meteor’s going to hit, somebody’s going to die; who’s it going to be?
Now, that’s every disaster movie that’s ever been made. That’s basically the plot. These are not sophisticated movies, and I’m not giving any kind of an unqualified recommendation of them. I’m not sure it’s the best use of your time. They’re kind of entertaining, but I haven’t even seen all of these that I’ve mentioned, so take the names of the movies with a grain of salt.
However, I do think they illustrate something that we find in Scripture with the story of a city that faced disaster. The disaster they faced was the judgment of God himself. I’m talking, of course, about Sodom and Gomorrah. I’ve never preached a sermon on Sodom and Gomorrah, but this is one of the great advantages of preaching expositionally, chapter by chapter, through a book fo the Bible. It kind of forces you to think about text that you know about but you’ve never really studied. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a sermon on Sodom and Gomorrah, but that’s what it’s about this morning.
Here’s what you find in the book of Genesis. Kind of like a disaster movie, you have a foreshadowing of the disaster as far back as Genesis 13, where these cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, are first named, and right off the bat it tells us that this was before the Lord destroyed the city, and it tells us that these cities were wicked, wicked people. There was great wickedness and sin before the Lord.
Then they’re mentioned again in chapter 14, and then again in chapter 18; then finally, when you get to Genesis 19, you have disaster. In fact, in the ESV that word, disaster, is even used in Genesis 19 to describe what happens. Now, it’s two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. They are infamous, of course, in Scripture because they were cities that suffered the direct judgment of God against their sin.
They also become something of examples for not only wicked pagan cities but also for the people of God throughout the history of Scripture. So you find this especially in the prophets. The prophets, over and again, will remind Israel of Sodom and Gomorrah and will warn them that “you’re headed for the same disaster. In fact, it may be worse for you than for Sodom and Gomorrah.” Not only that, but the Scriptures look at Sodom and Gomorrah as an example, or kind of a pointer towards, an eternal kind of judgment, the judgment of hell itself.
For example, in Luke 17 Jesus tells us that “on the day when the Son of Man is revealed, it will be like the day when Lot went out of Sodom and fire and sulphur rained from heaven and destroyed them all.” In Jude, the little letter of Jude, right near the end of the New Testament, Jude 7 says that Sodom and Gomorrah serve as an example “by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”
So, here’s the deal. We can’t really think about Sodom and Gomorrah merely in a historical setting. It’s right to do that, this is history; but it’s not merely history. It’s also history that points us to the reality of God’s judgment, God’s judgment in the world and God’s eternal judgment, the judgment that you and I will all face if we are not rescued and saved by God’s mercy and grace.
So that’s the theme of the sermon this morning; it’s the judgment of God. It’s going to be some bad news and some really, really good news, so be prepared for both.
Here’s what I want to do. I want us to look at three things, three Rs, actually, this morning (it just worked out that way): the reason for God’s judgment, the rescue from judgment, and then the response to judgment. We’re going to end on application.
I. The Reason for Judgment
The first thing we have to do is understand the reason for God’s judgment, in general and then in particular on this city, the city of Sodom. I want to give you two reasons. The reasons are sin and justice.
(1) First of all, sin. What was the sin of Sodom? God obviously judged this city, and you have general descriptions in Scripture, several times, of this city, the city of Sodom, or the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and they are described as being great sinners.
Genesis 13:13 says, “The men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.” Genesis 18:20 said their sin was “very great.” So you have these general descriptions, but what specifically was going on?
It’s actually when you get into the Hebrew prophets that you get a more specific description of the whole complex nest of evil that was true of this city, Sodom. I just want to read this before I dig into Genesis 19. This is Ezekiel 16:48-50. Listen to what God says.
“As I live, declares the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done.” Now get this: he’s talking to Jerusalem! He’s talking to Jerusalem, and he is essentially saying, “You’re worse than Sodom was.” He’s saying, “Your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom. She and her daughters had pride [number one], excess of food [number two], prosperous ease [number three], they did not aid the poor and needy [number four], they were haughty [number five], and did an abomination before me [number six]. So I removed them when I saw it.”
That description’s pretty complex. That’s pretty full. That’s describing wickedness and evil in all different kinds of dimensions. There’s pride, there’s materialism, there is injustice, and there is this abomination before the Lord, which I think is a description of a kind of immorality that was taking place in this city.
But when you get into Genesis 19, you begin to see a very specific, concrete example of the kind of wickedness that was just pervasive in the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. You have that in Genesis 19, really verses 1 through about 12. I just want to read verses 1 through 8. You can follow along in your Bible or on the screen.
You remember that Abraham has been visited by these three angels in Genesis 18, and now two of those angels show up in Sodom. They said in Genesis 18, the Lord somehow revealing this to Abraham, that he was going to go down and see what was going on in the city. Two angels show up in Sodom; the other angel probably is in Gomorrah. So two angels arrive on the scene in verse 1.
“The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.” Remember, Lot is Abraham’s nephew. We’ve encountered him in Genesis 12, 13, and 14. He had pitched his tent towards Sodom; not he’s sitting in the gateway of the city. That means he’s probably now some influential person in the city gate. When he saw them [the angels], he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. ‘My lords,’ he said, ‘Please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night, and then go on your way early in the morning.’ ‘No,’ they answered. ‘We will spend the night in the square.’ But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men--” stop for a minute.
I want you to notice this in verse 4, because you’re going to see something that the narrator here is going out of his way to show that every single male in the city of Sodom is about to do something, trying to do something. He goes out of his way to say this.
Verse 4: “Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city, both young and old, surrounded the house.” I mean, this is pervasive. Every single man in the city, they surround the house. “They called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may have sex with them.’” The Hebrew word is “so that we can know them,” and it’s a euphemism for sexual intimacy.
“Lot,” verse 6, “went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, ‘No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man; let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them.’”
Can you believe this? It’s just horrible! Lot is so horrified at what they want to do that he tries to change the game by suggesting something else that is also horrible. “Don’t do anything to these men,” he says, “for they have come under the protection of my roof.”
Now, what I want us to see here is that when we’re interpreting this passage--and I understand, this is a culturally divisive issue today, it’s even divisive, unfortunately, in the church. The way we think about Sodom and Gomorrah in general, the way we think about the issue of homosexuality in particular.
I want to suggest that there are two extremes to avoid here. Here’s one extreme to avoid. We want to avoid reductionism, which essentially says that the only thing that was going on in Sodom and Gomorrah was homosexuality, so God singled out that one sin and destroyed the city only for that. I don’t think you can do that, in light of what I read already in Ezekiel 16, which listed six sins. There was a lot of evil that was going on in the city! There was pride, there was materialism, there was injustice to the poor. All of these things were sins, all of these things were wicked. All of these things were grave evils in the sight of God, and it’s reductionistic to say it’s only about sexual immorality.
But on the other hand--that may be the fundamentalist mistake, to kind of reduce it to just this one issue. On the other hand, on the progressivist side, there are people who I think are suggesting a revisionist reading of Scripture, who are wanting to say this doesn’t have anything to do with homosexuality. I don’t think you can read the text as we just read it, I don’t think you can read it in its context, and say that that’s not present. It is present. It is present, and I think Scripture’s very clear in its condemnation of homosexuality, homosexual sin, just as it is of every other kind of sexual sin.
Any kind of sexual activity that takes place outside the confines of a covenant relationship in marriage, one man, one woman, for life, is condemned in Scripture. I think that’s very, very clear, and we can’t take the revisionist reading and say it doesn’t have anything to do with that.
Let’s avoid both of those extremes, and then let’s get the basic point. There is a doctrine that is being taught in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and here it is. This is the doctrine. This is actually more offensive than anything that Christians ever have to say about sexuality. The doctrine is this: that God judges sin. God judges sin. Sin leads to judgment. It leads to death, it leads to the wrath of God.
Listen, Ezekiel 18:20: “The soul that sins, it shall die.” Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgment.” We could multiply this with dozens of texts that talk about death and wrath, the wrath of God, and judgment, and hell itself. Revelation 21:8 tells us, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars…” you see the scope of sin here that is being condemned. For all of them, “their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” It’s a horrifying description of the reality of eternal judgment and the reason for that judgment, which is sin. God judges sin.
I want to tell you something. I think one of the things that every person has to come to grips with in order to really become a believer in Christ, a follower of Christ, we have to come to grips with this basic truth from Scripture: that sin deserves God’s judgment; indeed, my sin deserves God’s judgment. I don’t deserve salvation, I deserve hell, and I can’t save myself. So I need grace, I need mercy, in order to be saved.
We don’t tend to sing hymns like this very often. Occasionally we’ll get one in that has kind of a contemporary feel to it. But there’s a great old hymn by Isaac Watts. I used to sing this growing up, in the little churches that I was a part of. There’s a line in it, and I think of this line pretty often. I think this is the kind of confession that should be on all of our hearts. Isaac Watts. He said,
“Should sudden vengeance seize my breath,
I must pronounce thee just in death,
And should my soul be sent to hell,
Thy righteous law approves it well.”
Do you know that? Do you know that? Do you know that you don’t deserve salvation? You cannot presume on God’s mercy. You and I have sinned, and because we’ve sinned we deserve judgment, we deserve hell. Everything we get beyond hell is grace and goodness and mercy.
That’s offensive, but if that’s true, then it is the most urgent message in the world and the gospel is the best news in the world, as we’re going to see.
(2) So, the reason for judgment is first of all sin (we see it in the sin of Sodom), and then secondly justice. Here’s where I want to do just a little bit of an apologetic, okay. If you’re struggling with the doctrine of judgment, it sounds--I don’t think this would be true for most of you, but there may be some here, you’re struggling with the idea of judgment and hell, and that’s a part of the message that is hard for you to reckon with and to grasp and to accept.
I think there are reasons in Scripture, beyond just sin itself, that show us how crucial judgment is. You see it in the issue of justice. I’m drawing this out of just one word in verse 13. Let me read verses 12 and 13. “The two men said to Lot, ‘Do you have anyone else here; sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place.’” Now notice this. “‘The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.’”
The key word there is “outcry.” Outcry. That word is actually used twice in Genesis 18, also about Sodom and Gomorrah. The outcry of the city. That can mean one of two things. It can mean either that the sin itself was just crying out to the Lord for judgment, or it could mean that the people who had been oppressed, who had been victimized by the sins and by the wickedness of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, they were crying out for justice and for judgment.
In light of Ezekiel 18, which talks about how they were unjust to the poor and to the needy, I think that makes sense. When you think about what was going to happen to these two men--I mean, you had the entire male population of that town ready to gang-rape the two men who were visitors to the city! If that kind of thing was going on with any kind of regularity, it means that there were countless victims. There were countless people who had suffered from these vile, degrading, immoral, abusive, oppressive acts at the hands of these people; and it was crying out for judgment.
There’s a theologian from Croatia named Miroslav Volf. He’s a theologian (or at least he was a theologian) at Yale University, wrote a really important book called Exclusion & Embrace. There’s an interesting thing about Volf: when he began his career in theology, he held the more fashionable views about theology, about the wrath of God and judgment--he didn’t really believe God was a God of wrath. He believed that God is a God of love, God is a God of mercy; not wrath, not judgment. Those two things aren’t compatible. If God is love, he can’t also send people to hell.
Something happened in his life that completely changed his mind. Do you know what happened? War came to his country. War came to his country, and he saw the atrocities, he saw the violence, he saw the wickedness, he saw the victims. He saw what took place, and he began to realize--he was so angry as he saw the victims of all of this violence and wickedness, he was so angry that he began to realize that if God is not angry at this, then he’s not a God who’s fit to be worshipped.
He went on to say that people who try to hold the Christian response to violence (non-violence, non-retaliation, peacemaking), people who hold that response can’t do so unless they also believe in the judgment of God. That is the key. The key to us being able to be peaceful people is to believe that God is a God of justice.
In fact, he said, “It takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human non-violence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die.” When you see the wickedness and the violence in the world, you see the victims, you see the oppression, there’s something in us that cries out for justice.
Let me give you one other illustration that was helpful to me years ago. I was reading a book on literature by a guy named Gene Edward Veith. You maybe have read some of his material in World magazine. He wrote a great book on literature called Reading Between the Lines, and in his book he was talking about children’s literature, and fairy tales in particular, and how some people have criticized fairy tales as being inappropriate for children.
I mean, have you thought about Hansel and Gretel? I mean, here’s a witch who’s going to take these children and put them in an oven, bake them, and eat them! Cannibalism! It’s like, “What are you doing? You’re reading this to your kids?”
He quotes a psychologist, a child psychologist, a guy named Bruno Bettelheim. Bettelheim basically said that, no, in these fairy tales, it’s actually really, really important that the villains die a violent death at the end, because it assures the child, who feels insecure in a dangerous world, it assures the child that there is an equilibrium of justice. It assures the child that righteousness will ultimately prevail. If you take away the ending (you know, they put the witch in the oven in the end), then it produces insecurity in the child.
Well, there’s something in our nature, there’s something in us as human beings, that cries out for justice. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a movie that’s kind of a dark movie; sometimes there are these neo-noir movies, and you have these villains, you have bad people, and they do bad things, and you’re waiting for the end of the movie where they finally get their comeuppance...and they walk free. I’ve seen some movies like that, and I’ve kind of walked away feeling like, “That was dark. That’s really dark. That is not how the world should be. It’s not right for people to do bad things and there not to be consequences.” There’s something in us that cries out for justice.
The answer to the problem of injustice in the world is the judgment of God. So the reason for judgment. The problem, of course, is that all of us have done things that deserve judgment. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and our sins deserve God’s wrath. So the question is, is there escape? Is there a rescue?
II. The Rescue from Judgment
That leads us to the second point, the rescue from judgment. I want you to see that there is good news buried in this narrative. There really is. You find this over and again in Scripture, that even in some of the darkest parts of Scripture you have little gospel nuggets that are buried in the story, and you find it here.
(1) There are two key words I want you to see; the first one is mercy, and it shows us why we can be rescued from judgment. Look at verses 15 and 16. “With the coming of the dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.’ When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to him.”
There’s the good news right there. The Lord was merciful to him! So the Lord essentially takes hesitating Lot. Lot’s stupid! I mean, this city — the ship’s about to go down! Man, get in the lifeboat! He’s not doing it! So, hesitating, foolish Lot — the Lord has to take him by the scruff of the neck and take him to the outskirts of the city and say, “Go that way; run; get out!” Why does God do that? He does it because he’s merciful.
I think that is such a picture of sovereign grace. I believe in the sovereign grace of God, and essentially what I mean by that is that I was too thick to even choose to be saved, and it took God reaching down and opening my blind eyes and making alive my dead heart so that I would actually want him. That’s what sovereign grace requires.
You know how Paul says in Ephesians 2 that we were “dead in our trespasses and sins,” and we were “by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, made us alive in Christ—by grace are we saved…” Thank God for that. The mercy of God. That’s what it takes, because you and I, left to ourselves, we’re not smart enough and we’re not good enough and our eyes are not open enough to actually even want to get out of Sodom and to escape the judgment of God. Just like Lot, it takes God getting ahold of us.
C.S. Lewis once described himself as the most reluctant convert in England, because he really felt like God just kind of cornered him into salvation. He said it was like a game of chess, and God was just putting him into checkmate. He said, “To talk about me searching for God is like talking about the mouse searching for the cat.” It was actually the other way around! It was God who found him and kind of just dragged him in. He was reluctant at first, but Lewis said—I think this is important; Lewis didn’t have exactly the same theology I do, but here’s the common ground, I think, between the Calvinists and the Arminians—even Lewis says, “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and his compulsion is our liberation.”
I think that’s what sovereign grace does. It compels us! It compels us, it lays hold, it wakes us up, it makes us alive, it opens our eyes, it grabs us by the scruff of the neck, takes us to the edge of the city, and says, “This is the way; walk in it.” That’s what the Lord did with Lot. Why? Because of mercy. Because the Lord was merciful to him.
(2) There’s another key word, and it’s a word that shows up several times in the passage; it’s the word flee. It shows us the urgency of rescue, the urgency of our need for rescue. Look at just verse 17. The urgency is through the passage (“hurry” in verse 15), but just look at verse 17. “As soon as they had brought them out, one of the men said, ‘Flee for your lives! Don’t look back!’” Underline that. Don’t look back. “Don’t stop anywhere in the plain; flee to the mountains, or you will be swept away.”
In the following verses, Lot (man, he’s just such a character here!) begs, “Don’t send us to the hills. Send me to this little city. I’m not a country boy; I need city life.” I don’t know what’s going on in him, but the Lord says, “Okay. Alright. Go to the city, we’ll spare the city,” and the city ends up being called Zoar, which means small little city, because Lot goes there. But there’s this urgency of fleeing.
Do you remember The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s pilgrim Christian? He’s from a city called the City of Destruction, and he meets a man named Evangelist, who shows him a holy Book, and in the Book it says, “Flee from the wrath to come.”
Do you remember what Christian does? He runs through the city with his fingers in his ears, right, because people are trying to talk him out of it. He’s running through the city saying, “Fly! Fly! Fly!” because he’s running from judgment.
There’s an urgency to escaping the judgment of God. “Today is the day of salvation,” the Scripture says. Today is the day. Now, I just want to say this morning, if you are not a Christian or if you don’t know that you’re a Christian, if you’ve never closed the deal with Jesus Christ, if you’ve never bent the knee, if you’ve never confessed your sins, if you’ve never said, “Lord, I do deserve to go to hell and I’m asking you by your grace to forgive me. I give myself to you.” If you’ve never done that, today is the day. Don’t wait till tomorrow. Today is the day of salvation. There’s an urgency to flee from the wrath to come.
Where do you flee to? The best thing I’ve ever read about that is from this Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck, just four little sentences. This is what he said. “There is no place where you may flee from God angry but to God reconciled. There is no place at all whither you may flee. Will you flee from him? Flee to him.” That’s the answer, right there. You don’t flee from God, you flee to God. You run from the arm of God’s judgment into the embrace of his mercy and of his grace.
Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 1 that “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and the true God and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” There’s the salvation, there’s the rescue. He rescues us from the wrath to come, Jesus! He did it through his death on the cross, where he took judgment in our place.
III. The Response to Judgment
We’ve seen the reason for judgment, the rescue from judgment; number three, response to judgment. How will we respond to this bad news and good news?
I want you to see here in the passage that there are four possible responses, and I think the different people and how they respond to the judgment of Sodom are something of an illustration to us of four different ways that we could possibly respond.
(1) First of all, you have the response of the wicked, in verse 14. I’ll just give you one example. “Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, ‘Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city.’ But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.” It seemed like a joke! They didn’t take it seriously.
That is how the hardened sinner responds. “Ah, I’m an agnostic, I’m not a Christian; I don’t really believe this stuff.” Kind of make a joke of it. You know, I actually do have a sense of humor. It doesn’t always come out in sermons; when it does it’s usually an accident. But there are certain things that I think we should never joke about, and hell is one of them. It’s not a joke. It’s not a joke.
It seemed to them that Lot was jesting, that he was joking. They didn’t hear him, they didn’t respond, and they died in the city. They did. There are a lot of people that that will be true of. That should wake us up.
I’ll never forget reading the biography of a man named Adoniram Judson. He was one of the great missionaries of the modern mission movement; in fact, he was the very first American missionary to be sent to foreign soil. Born in the late 1700s, went to Burma in the early 1800s; but his conversion is particularly interesting.
Adoniram Judson was the son of a Congregationalist minister, but as a teenager he became an unbeliever. He didn’t believe the stuff his dad was preaching. He kept it secret from his parents. He went to college, and when he was in college he came under the influence of a really smart guy named Jacob Eams. Jacob Eames was a deist. A deist basically believes that, “Yes, there’s probably a God out there, but he basically just created the world and left it to run on its own. God’s not involved.” They don’t believe in Jesus, they don’t believe in salvation; they don’t believe the gospel.
So that was basically what Adoniram became. He became a deist, following in the footsteps of his friend, Jacob Eames. Finally, when he was 20 years old, he decided that he would just come clean with his parents, he would tell them, “I’m not a Christian.” He did, he absolutely broke their hearts, and then he headed to New York City. He was going to be a part of the theater in New York City.
On his way there, he stopped overnight to lodge in this village inn. He was spending the night there, and he was next door to somebody who was obviously really, really sick, probably dying. I guess the walls were thin, because all night long he heard this guy just groaning and sighing and sick and in agony, and it just haunted him. He started thinking about death, and he started wondering, “Is this person ready to die?” Then he was chastening himself, “Why are you thinking this way? You don’t believe this stuff! You’re a deist, after all.” But it still bothered him.
Finally things got quiet in the early morning hours, and when he got up and was checking out to leave he asked the innkeeper, “How is the guy who was in the room next to me? Is he doing better?”
He said, “Oh, no. He died during the night.”
He was kind of stunned. He said, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Who was it? What was his name?”
“His name was Jacob Eames.”
He didn’t know, he had no idea that it was his friend who was in that room. He was just shell-shocked. I mean, he was absolutely stunned. He couldn’t talk, he just kind of froze. He couldn’t do anything. He just stayed there, at the inn, for hours, thinking through the reality of death and eternity. It led to his conversion. He became a Christian, and he then became an amazingly effective missionary, suffered all kinds of things for the sake of Jesus, but saw literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people in Burma (modern-day Myanmar) come to faith in Christ.
There are people who will die without Christ. That fact should haunt us. It should propel us into mission, and should make us consider our own hearts. That’s the first possible response, the wicked who are hardened.
(2) Then you have the repentant. Here’s Lot. Lot is an interesting character to me. He’s a pretty pathetic character in Scripture. He’s not really a great example in any way, right? I mean, he’s worldly, he’s pitching his tent toward Sodom, it seems like he’s compromising at every turn. What he’s willing to do with his daughters is just horrifying to me.
I would actually think that Lot was not saved, except for these two things, that it says “the Lord was merciful to him,” and then, in 2 Peter 2 it tells us that “righteous Lot was greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked. For as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard.” So the Scripture actually tells us that he was a righteous man.
He is a picture here of someone who is saved. He actually does leave the city, he does get out, he is saved. His ending is not great, if you read the end of the chapter. I don’t have time to go into it this morning, but it’s not pretty. He’s kind of a buffoon all the way through the story.
I think it shows us a couple of things. It shows us, first of all (and this is encouraging), it shows us that there is grace and mercy for messed up people who do flee. If you flee from the judgment, if you flee from the wrath to come, there’s mercy and there’s grace, so you can be forgiven in spite of any sin. You can flee to God’s grace.
But it also shows us, very sadly, what is possible for a believer. A believer can make choices that absolutely ruin their lives in the here and now. They’re still saved, but they’re saved as only by fire. It stands as a warning; an encouragement that there’s hope, and a warning, the danger of worldliness.
So wherever you are this morning, if you’ve really messed up, don’t be discouraged. Flee to God’s mercy and God’s grace in Christ. If you’re a believer this morning and you haven’t made the kinds of decisions that will ruin your life, then take heed and watch yourselves; be careful, because worldliness and compromise can lead you into a Lot kind of situation.
(3) We have a third kind of person here in the text, and it’s what I think we can just call the unbeliever, you might even call them the apostate. Look at verses 23-26.
“By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from the Lord out of the heavens.” So here’s the actual destruction of the city. “Thus he overthrew those cities in the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities, and also the vegetation in the land.” Verse 26, “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”
Do you remember verse 17? The angels said, “Flee. Don’t look back.” She’s on the outskirts, ready to escape, and she does look back, and that’s the end.
I just read something this morning. I read this years ago. J.C. Ryle wrote an essay paper called “The Woman To Be Remembered,” and the whole thing is about Lot’s wife. “Remember Lot’s wife.” It’s a whole sermon in itself, so I’m not going to try to repeat it or even quote him directly. But essentially he just said (well, and he’s actually preaching it from Luke 17, because Jesus says, “Remember Lot’s wife.” Jesus says that in Luke 17. He’s preaching through that) and he says to just think about the privileges that she had.
She had the chance to escape, she was married to righteous Lot. Ryle surmises that she was probably with Abraham in the early days, when he came out of the Chaldees, Ur of the Chaldeans, and when he built his first altars. She was probably rescued along with Lot from Chedorlaomer, in Genesis 14, the battle of the kings, when Lot and his whole family have been plundered. You know, every time you see Lot he’s either moving towards disaster or Abraham’s rescuing him from danger! Well, she was rescued too. She probably knew something about God because she was married to Lot. She had all of these opportunities, she had all of these privileges, and in spite of all that—she’s even on the road, she’s on the way out of the city, she has the command to flee, the mercy is there for her —and she doesn’t obey the command. She looks back, and turns into a pillar of salt.
Ryle says that that is like the person who has all kinds of religious privilege, right? You hear the gospel, you grow up in a Christian home, you have Christian parents, you hear the Bible read, you understand God’s law, you understand God’s judgment; you’re given all kinds of privileges, you’re given all kinds of opportunities and chances; and you just won’t make the break with sin. You just won’t turn to Christ.
Then there are some people who seem to go a ways down the road. In the last week there was a pretty prominent evangelical leader, somebody that was a leader about ten years ago in the “young, restless, reformed” movement, who came out on Instagram and said that he and his wife were separating, and then two days later, “I’m not a Christian anymore.”
Now, you know, I don’t know what the reasons were for that, and my hope for this person is that God will bring him to repentance and this is a temporary lapse. But this is one thing that I think we can be absolutely certain of from Scripture, is that there is no salvation for the apostate, the person who once said they believed and then turns their back on Christ and dies in unrepentance and without faith. There’s no salvation. It is possible to shipwreck your faith. It is possible to look like a believer and prove to be an unbeliever. It is possible to be a Demas, who loved this present world and forsook Paul, or a Judas, who was right there, one of the 12 disciples, and yet betrayed Jesus. So let’s watch our hearts. Let’s be sure that we really are Christians.
(4) Then there’s a fourth kind of response (I’m almost done), in verses 27-29. “Early the next morning, Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord” in Genesis 18. Remember him praying in Genesis 18? “He looked down towards Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land in the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land like smoke from a furnace. So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the city where Lot had lived.” Here’s the fourth person. This is a person who’s not just a believer, he’s not just a repentant person; this is the intercessor! He’s the intercessor.
Here’s the believer who’s walking close with the Lord and is interceding for others. Do you remember what his prayer was like in Genesis 18? He goes and stands before the Lord, he’s overlooking these cities, and he says, “Lord, shall not the judge of all the earth do what is right? Lord, are you going to destroy the city? What if there are 50 righteous people there; will you spare the city?”
God says, “Yes, I’ll spare the city for 50.”
“What if there’s 40? Will you spare it for 40?”
“Yes, I’ll spare it for 40.”
“What if there’s 30?”
“Yes, I’ll do it for 30.”
“What if there’s 20? What if there are just ten righteous people? Will you spare the city for ten righteous people?”
He says, “Yes, I’ll spare the city. For the sake of ten righteous people I will do it.”
The Lord destroyed the city. It shows us there were not ten righteous there. But the Lord does save Lot, and he does it because Abraham prayed. The intercessor.
You know, it has been said that you are either a missionary or you’re a mission field. I think we can put a twist on that and we could say this: you are either a prayer warrior or you’re on somebody’s prayer list. This is the work of the believer: it is to pray and it is to witness, it’s to share the bad news and the good news, the judgment to come and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I want to ask you this morning, who are you praying for who’s not a Christian? You should have a list; you should be praying for people to come to Christ. Who are you trying to reach who’s not a believer, who’s not a Christian? Keep praying. Abraham kept praying, and it was because of Abraham’s prayer. Verse 29: “When God destroyed the cities, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out.” That’s so encouraging.
You know what, it also reminds me of something else. It reminds me of another man who’s overlooking a city, weeping over them, and praying for them; in the Gospels, when Jesus overlooks Jerusalem. He weeps for the city, he prays for the city, he knows that judgment is going to come.
You know, it’s slightly different than with Abraham. Jesus is not praying, “Will you spare them for the sake of ten righteous?” but instead, Jesus, who actually is the one righteous, actually takes their place, so that the Lord does spare the wicked for the sake of the one righteous, right? Romans 5, “One act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all [who receive this gift].”
You know, in the disaster movies, usually you have a main character who dies, and occasionally (these are the best ones) you have a main character who does something really heroic, so that they give their life for the sake of someone else, someone they love, someone they care about. They do something heroic, they do something Jesus-like. “There is no greater love than this, that a man lays down his life for his friends.” That’s what Jesus does. He lay down his life for us, the righteous in place of the wicked, so that we can be saved.
Listen, folks. Disaster’s coming. The ship is going to sink, right, the building’s going to burn; it’s going to go down. Some people will be saved, but not everybody, those who believe and repent. Here’s the question this morning. Have you believed in Christ? Have you turned from your sins?
I love to read Charles Haddon Spurgeon. One reason I’m preaching this sermon today is because I’ve been reading Spurgeon very regularly for the last year, and I’ve never read anybody who preached on hell as much as Spurgeon. It’s been convicting to me that I’ve neglected that, haven’t said enough about it. It’s absolutely terrifying, some of those sermons! I tell you, it will make you search your heart.
I read one a couple of weeks ago, a sermon where Spurgeon just commented that a deacon had said to him that week, “You know, Mr. Spurgeon, there are 6,000 people here who’ve heard the gospel who will be without an excuse on the day of judgment.”
Well, there aren’t 6,000 people here, but there are about 200. I’m going to say it this morning. There are 200 people right now who will be without an excuse on the day of judgment, because the news is clear, the message is clear, that judgment is coming, and there is a way of escape. There is good news, and it’s that Jesus Christ has taken that judgment in our place, and if you will repent and you will turn to Christ, if you will look to him, if you’ll flee to him, he will save you. Flee to him today. Let’s pray.
Gracious, merciful God, these are serious and solemn things that we’ve talked about this morning. I pray that they would pierce our hearts, that they would rest on us with appropriate weight, that we would not think lightly of these things. I pray that as we embrace the message, that the seriousness of sin and of judgment, that that would grip us, but then corresponding to that there would be a deeper joy, that there would be greater love--he who is forgiven much, loves much--that there would be a greater urgency and passion to share Christ with others.
Lord, I pray right now for any here today who have never believed, who have never repented, have never turned from their sins and placed all of their faith and their trust in Jesus Christ. I pray that today would be the day of salvation. There may be a child in this room who has never confessed faith, who’s never really thought about this. I pray that today would they do. Maybe a teenager who needs to just finally take that step of faith and repentance and commitment to Christ. Maybe an adult. Maybe someone who’s been in the church for many years and has been religious, lots of religious privileges, but has never really had a relationship with Jesus Christ. So Lord, I pray right now would be a time of faith and repentance.
For all of us, Lord, I pray that you would search our hearts. Show us our sin and where we need to repent, give us the will and the heart to do that, and renew our faith and our commitment to Jesus Christ. Give us this morning great joy as we think about the gospel.
Lord, as we come to the table, may this be a time of solemn meeting with you, serious but joyful, as we commit ourselves to you and as we think of what you have done for us in giving your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be our Bread of life, to be our ransom, to be our redemption. So draw near to us, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.