Encouragement from Genesis 19? Seriously?

imagesWhen you think of encouraging Bible stories and verses, I’ll bet nothing in Genesis 19 comes to mind.  You’ll never see a greeting card with Genesis 19:24 on it:

Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.

And don’t expect to see any beautiful plaques hung up in homes with verse 26 inscribed on it:

But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

Is there anything we can take away from Genesis 19 besides the fact that humans are exceedingly wicked and God is so holy that He will punish sinners?  Well, actually, yes.

In my last post we had to roll up our sleeves and dig deep into the muck and mire of the sordid story of Sodom and Gomorrah told in Genesis 19.  While it sometimes may be tempting to quickly skim past such uncomfortable stories, God put them in the Bible for a reason.  You can check my last post for some of the takeaways we can glean from that account.

imagesIn the midst of the darkness, sin, and apparent hopelessness of Genesis chapter 19, when things seem about as bad as it can be, there is a brilliant beacon of hope piercing the blackness.  That beacon is found in three little words in one verse.

So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. (Genesis 19:29, ESV)

Ok, so what in the world has that got to do with anything?  Well, everything!  The text says that God remembered Abraham and therefore delivered Lot from the destruction of Sodom.  So what about Abraham did God specifically remember?

imagesWell, if you turn back a page and read Genesis 18:22-33, you’ll see that Abraham, aware of Sodom’s impending doom, desperately prayed that God would relent from the destruction He planned to rain down upon the city.  Now, Lot is not specifically mentioned in Genesis 18, but in light of 19:29, we now know that Abraham was specifically interceding for Lot.  It was concern for his beloved nephew who lived in Sodom that prompted Abraham’s prayer.  Judgment was coming, and Abraham interceded on behalf on Lot before God.  God remembered Abraham’s prayers, and Lot was delivered.

The Power of Prayer

imagesWe are reminded here of the importance and priority that prayer should have in the life of a believer. God is sovereign, for sure.  But God actually does hear prayers.  More than that, he actually responds to prayer!  Some of you may find that hard to believe, but it’s true!  There are things that have happened that would not have happened apart from the prayers of God’s people.

That reminder is very helpful to someone like me, who loves to emphasize and remember the overarching sovereignty of God over all things.  I must confess that in the past I’ve experienced temptations to descend into imagesprayerless passivity and use God’s sovereignty as a lame excuse.  But God desires us to “pray without ceasing.”  And prayer is meant to include praise, and communion with God, and thanksgiving, and it is also to include supplication (specific requests) and intercession (praying for others).  Scripture says, “You do not have, because you do not ask.” (James 4:2, ESV)

A sovereign God who is in control of the whole universe has ordained that certain things will happen through the prayers of His people.  Don’t try to figure it out.  I have found it easier to just relax and believe the Bible, even if I can’t get my head around it.

The great French Reformer John imagesCalvin wrote: “What the Lord does gratuitously — induced by no other cause than his own goodness — is ascribed to the prayers of men, for this reason; that we may be stirred up to worship God, and to pray to him.” Do you have wayward or unrepentant friends and family?  Are you concerned about their condition?  Genesis 19:29 is an encouraging reminder that God loves to use our prayers to benefit, bless, and rescue others.  The apostle John reminds us that:

…this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15, ESV)

The key phrase there is “according to his will.”  God won’t always answer our prayers exactly according to our preference, and sometimes He may answer, “no.”  But because God is the perfect Father, we can always trust that however He responds, it will always be in a way that is best for His children.   (Matthew 7:11)

But there’s something even more encouraging about this story…

A pattern of intercession and mediation

imagesThroughout the Old Testament we see the recurring theme of a righteous man interceding for people under threat of the judgment of God.  We see over and over again the concept of a mediator between God and man.  We see Abraham interceding, we see Moses later on interceding, and this Old Testament pattern points us to a Greater Intercessor, a Greater Mediator.

Jesus Christ, the perfect Man of God, is that one true mediator between God and man.  We, who, like the Sodomitimageses, lived under the threat of God’s devastating judgment due to our own wickedness.  And right before the hammer blow of judgment fell, Christ, at just the right time, stepped in as our great Mediator.  And His first act of mediation was letting the hammer of God’s judgment fall on Him so it wouldn’t have to fall on us.

He suffered the death blow that you and I deserved.  The punishment for our sin rained down on Him instead.  And now all who put their trust in Jesus and His work on the cross have His payment applied to their account and they don’t have to pay for their sins in Hell because Jesus experienced Hell on the cross for them.

What’s more, Jesus Christ rose from the dead and continuous to work on our behalf!

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25, ESV)

If God remembered Abraham, how much more will He eagerly respond to the prayers of His beloved Son?  If you have placed your trust in this Great Mediator, you can forever rest in the security that, as surely as He saved you the moment you initially trusted Him, He will also keep you saved for eternity.  His intercession before God on your behalf will never fail.images

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34, ESV)  To God alone be the glory!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

Gleaning pure truth from an “R rated” Bible story

Some of the more challenging parts of the Bible are those that are PG-13 or perhaps even rated R in their content.  They are not the warm, fuzzy, Psalm 23 type Scriptures.  They are not the stories where your first reaction is to cheer.  There are some stories in Scriptures where your first reaction may be nausea.

Yet we need to remember that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”  All Scripture means “all.”  Not just the Scriptures that fit well on greeting cards.

imagesIn our Sunday night Bible study we covered Genesis 18:16 through chapter 19.  A very rated R passage recounting the story of God’s judgement upon Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham’s prayerful intercession to God on behalf of his nephew Lot who lived in Sodom.  This is one of these strange stories with events that seem so far removed from our regular daily, modern lives, that it can be challenging to see how it’s all relevant to us now.

Upon closer examination, we discover how this story actually contains elements that are amazing relevant, eerily familiar, somewhat terrifying, yet not without beacon of hope.

A clear and present danger- God’s judgment

One obvious takeaway from the Sodom and Gomorrah account is the fact that God is a holy and just God who will eventually punish sin.  God says to Abraham in Genesis 18:20 that He will move upon these two cities in judgement “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave”

What specifically was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah?  Because of the vivid account in Genesis 19, most people tend to think automatically that the sin of Sodom was the sin of rampant sexual immorality.  In particular, the sin of homosexuality.  While it is true that Sodom was notorious for this type of rebellion against God, we actually minimize the gravity of this city’s sins if we stop there.

The overwhelming outcry against Sodom

God said that the “outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great…”  That word, “outcry” in the Hebrew is used in the Bible to describe the cries of the oppressed and brutalized.  It’s used of the cry of the oppreimagesssed widow and orphan, (Exodus 22:23) of the oppressed servant, (Deuteronomy 24:15) of the Israelites who were brutalized and oppressed as slaves in Egypt. (Exodus 2:23) Jeremiah uses this word several times in his book to refer to the scream of terror that rises up when a person or a city is attacked.  In Sodom and Gomorrah, injustice ruled, disregard of basic human rights was the norm, and cynical insensitivity to suffering was commonplace.

The prophet Ezekiel sheds further light on the condition of Sodom.

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.  (Ezek 16:49-50)

Sodom and Gomorrah were prideful, fat, wealthy, at ease, neglecting the poor, and they saw themselves as great in their own eyes.  God is amazingly patient, but as we have seen with the flood account earlier in Genesis, God’s gracious patience eventually is exhausted.  God cannot allow sin to go indefinitely unpunished.  If He does not deal with sin, then He is not just.  Therefore, God must act against sin.  God has not changed His nature or character.  The same God who rained down firery judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah still lives.  And He still hears the outcry of the sins of the world.  And He still is a God of justice.  And as terrifying as the thought of the smoldering ruins of Sodom are, that judgment is only a foretaste of a great and final reckoning to come.  images

…by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; (2 Peter 2:6, ESV)

The idea of divine judgment is not popular today.  But it is real.  It has happened.  And it will happen again.  Therefore let us not be like the sons-in-laws of Lot.  When Lot warned them of the destruction to come “he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.” (Genesis 19:14)

The next day they weren’t laughing.  Sin is no joke, and neither is judgment. Let us treat it with sober minded seriousness.  It is unloving and heartless to not warn people of what is to come.  It is also equally heartless not to tell people how to escape from that judgment.  But more about that in my next post.

The stunning compromise of Lot

imagesAbraham’s nephew Lot is a sobering example of what moral compromise can do to any of us.  If you follow Lot’s story through Genesis, he does not come across as morally impressive.  And he comes across as especially pathetic in Genesis 19. At the beginning of the chapter we find Lot “sitting in the gate of Sodom.”  To sit in the city gates in the ancient world meant that Lot rose to a position of prominence and authority in Sodom.  He was well-respected and was deeply embedded in this wicked community.

imagesHis lowest points come later on in the chapter.  Two angelic visitors have come to Sodom to destroy it and to rescue Lot.  Before long Lot’s house is surrounded by a mob of violent, sexually rabid men demanding that Lot turn his guests over to them so they can be violently gang raped.  While ancient near east hospitality demanded that a host go through great lengths to care for and protect his guests, Lot pushes that concept beyond acceptability to the point where he is willing to offer up his virgin daughters (who were engaged to men of Sodom) to a mob of rabid rapists in order to protect his two guests.  (verses 7-8)

The next day Lot lingers, as if there is a reluctance to leave Sodom, however terrible the city is and however awful the coming destruction may be.  The whole family seems marked by an attraction to and comfortable compromise with their life in Sodom.  They were warned by the angels to flee the city and not to look back.  Lot’s wife disobeyed, looked back, and was destroyed in the midst of God’s wrath. (v. 26)

Jesus, in Luke 17 implies that it was more than just a brief, backward glance that lead to Mrs. Lot’s destruction.  Jesus, in warning us about a future day of judgement to come, compares it with what happened in Sodom.  Jesus says,

On that day, let the one imageswho is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife.Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.

Sadly, it seems as if Lot’s wife still felt a pull and a tug to her old, compromising lifestyle in Sodom.  She loved her sinful life more than she loved God.  She sought to preserve that sinful life.  She hung onto it with every ounce of strength she had, and in the end she lost it.

What a sober warning this is for all of us today.  As there was an attraction to the wealth and glitz and pleasures of Sodom, so it is in our present day.  One of the main things that prevents people from becoming Christians is the tug of the world.  We are seduced by money, sinful pleasures, entertainment, the American Dream, and much more.  These things seem much more attractive than Christ, and we are so afraid that if we follow Jesus we will lose the things we enjoy so much.  What we don’t recognize, is that in Christ we gain a far more valuable Treasure than anything we might lose in following Him.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44, ESV)

Most people don’t understand the overwhelming value of what they could have in Jesus imagesChrist and in being a part of His kingdom.  Most people don’t realize that it far exceeds the worth of anything else they presently have.  And so when push comes to shove, we tend to be like Lot’s wife, and are unwilling to let go of other things because we don’t really believe that Jesus is more precious.  Even those of us who are believers can still struggle with those old pulls and desires as we are tempted to steal backwards glances at our old life.  Lord remind us that Jesus Christ is the Supreme Treasure of our lives.  And that if we lose all we have but still have Christ, we have more than enough!

Well, by the time Genesis 19 ends and you think it couldn’t get worse, Lot further demonstrates his spiritually pathetic, compromising lifestyle when he falls into a drunken stupor twice, unwittingly committing sexual sin with his daughters, the latter wanting to preserve the family line as their fiancés were destroyed in the judgment.

What are we to make of Lot’s behavior?  Well, before we self-righteously judge, we need to come face to face with the stunning fact that the New Testament regards Lot as righteous!

Even the righteous can fall….far.

The Bible says,

and if he rescued righteous Lot, 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); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, (2 Peter 2:7-9, ESV)

Lot?  Righteous?  Are you kidding me?  And yet three times Peter regards Lot as righteous. Lot was a believer!  Obviously this means that being declared righteous does not mean being perfect.  And it obviously means that believers are capable of comimagesmitting heinous compromise and gross sin.  An honest examination of my own life post-conversion testifies to this fact.  Scripture too, testifies to this fact.  Read about the heroes of the Bible.  See what kind of struggles the people of God had.  We see believers who struggle with lying, who commit adultery, murder, self-righteous hypocrisy, and we even see a believer who denies the Lord Jesus Himself!  (It was the guy who wrote the above verse!)

Friends, while we can and should call out sin when we see it (Yes, Lot sinned big time in several ways) we should also check for the logs in our own eye.  Let us be gracious and charitable to our brothers and sisters who stumble.  For while it may be them now, it may be us later.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Galatians 6:1-3, ESV)

The Scripture says that pride comes before a fall.  So let’s be careful not to think ourselves so high and mighty that we are incapable of sinking as low as Lot did.  It is only by the grace of God that we are able to live righteously.  Although we who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ are now declared righteous by God, we still struggle to live up to that righteousness!  We are still “growing” into who we really are, and until we are made perfect in heaven, our lives will never perfectly match up to our true identity.  For this reason we must stay alert, be vigilant, and constantly war against sin, lest we find ourselves slipping and falling to depths we never thought we would see.

Lot didn’t start out in the sad condition we see him in chapter 19.  Instead, where he ended up was the result of a series of compromises he’d been making for years in his life.  You can trace his descent into Sodom if you pay close attention to his story told from Genesis 13-19.  It starts out rather “innocently” enough in Genesis 13 when Abraham gives Lot first pick of the landimages.  Lot picks the area near Sodom as it is fertile and abundant and wealthy.  He does this despite the fact that “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.” (Genesis 13:13).  But hey, he’s not really moving into the city with those people, right?  He’s just going to stay on the outskirts and benefit from the fertile land.  What harm is there in that?  Well, it didn’t stop there.  Notice Lot’s descent.

1. He looked longingly at Sodom (Genesis 13:10)
2. He then chose the area of ground near Sodom (Genesis 13:11-12)
3. He pitched his tents near Sodom (Genesis 13:12)
4. He has now moved into Sodom (Genesis 14)
5. He’s sitting in the gate (Genesis 19:1)
6. His daughters are betrothed to men of Sodom (Genesis 19:4)                                                   7. He is willing to give both his daughters to violent rapists of Sodom. (Genesis 19:8)            8. Later, in a drunken stupor Lot would fall to Sodom-like sin. (Genesis 19:30-38)

Lot probably did not foresee himself ending up where he landed in Genesis 19.  But because of his compromising life, he ended up crossing lines he surely never thought he’d cross.  This is how sin works in all of our lives.  A little compromising here, a little fudging there.  Before we know it we are doing things we never thought we’d ever do.  Don’t play with sin.  Flee from it!

imagesWell, so far we’ve looked at some pretty heavy stuff in this story.  I can almost smell the smoke and the sulfur, and I grieve over the weak and shallow spiritual commitment of Lot and his family, and I grieve over the times in my own life where I failed to live in accordance with what I really believed.  And maybe you’re thinking, “Wow..thanks Demer for the ‘pick me up’…..NOT!”   But believe or not, there is also a ray of hope in the dark story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  And we had to wade through the muck and ashes to help us better grasp that hope.  So hang with me, and we’ll turn a corner in my next post where we will revel in the good news found in this ancient story.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer