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Sunday 23 June 2019

A Few Good People – What Does It Take For God To End A City? (Genesis 18:16-19:38).

Sodom and Gomorrah. If there is a day coming in Australia when there will be passages of the Bible it is illegal to read or preach on, this will be one of those passages. It is one of the most famous passages in the Bible and it gives us famous phrases like Sodomy and Sodomite, but for some reason not Gomorrahy or Gomorrahite. There are many people in this world who would consider this passage hateful, and let’s face it, there are probably many preachers who have preached this passage in hateful ways. It’s not like the church is always spot on about how we talk about sin in general, and some sins in particular.
As Christians we are not to hate anyone, but even though this is true, we will still be accused of hate, because much of our world stands in opposition to God and his word. And as Christians we are commanded to stand on God’s word, no matter what comes. So, if, and more likely, when this passage and others like it become illegal, we still have to teach it, and we still have to be willing to say things our world doesn’t like. And no matter how lovingly we try to say these truths and talk about sins like homosexuality, we will still be accused of hate.

We have examples of this in history. Did you know that the ancient Romans called Christians ‘atheists’? They called Christians atheists because they believed in only one God and denied all the rest. The Romans were highly offended by this, highly offended. It was one of their motivations for persecuting Christians and restricting their freedom in Rome. The Christian message that only Jesus was Lord, was a direct challenge to the Roman worldview, highly offensive to the Roman way of life, and yet the Christians spoke this truth anyway. If we want to call ourselves by the same name, we too should be willing to speak unpopular truths, that offend. And this morning this sermon will cover some of that.

But this passage is about more than just homosexuality, that is a big part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, but there was more to the wickedness of this city than just that. This passage has a lot to teach us about our role in the world as Christians and as the growing family of God. And it has a lot to teach us about God’s judgement, God’s mercy and desire to give humanity time. So, let’s go through this whole passage and see what God has to teach us today.

1.     Abraham’s Role In The World (18:16-21) – We start here with Abrahams role in the world, which actually highlights our role - “16 Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” 20 Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

1.1  God is planning to go down to Sodom and Gomorrah to see whether or not they need a good butt kicking, but before he does, he wants to let Abraham in on his plan? But why?

1.1.1       Because Abraham is going to be God’s representative in a dark world, and he is going to teach his children to also be God’s representatives in a dark world: “19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

1.1.2       Abraham is going to be a minority God follower in a majority God rejecting world. Some of Abraham’s descendants will find themselves in cities just like Sodom and Gomorrah. So God wants to let Abraham in on his plans. Abraham’s response it pretty awesome.

2.     Abraham Questions God (vv.22-33) – Abraham challenges God.  “22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” 27 Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33 And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.”

2.1  I love the boldness of Abraham here, but also his heart. He cares about the righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah, of whom he is probably thinking of his nephew lot, and his family.

2.2  But he is also realistic. Ah, God, would you save Sodom for 50 righteous people…when he knows there’s not 50 good people in that city. So, he bargains down.

2.2.1       Wickedness tends to drive good people away. But not Lot, Lot had chosen the land in the Valley near Sodom. Even though Genesis 13:13 says, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.” This tells us Lot wasn’t the brightest of blokes, or the most righteous.

2.3  But God’s response to Abraham is pretty awesome here, Sodom is an incredibly wicked city, but God would refrain from destroying it for just 10 good people. 10 righteous people who are not opposed to the Lord.

2.3.1       This would have been a comfort for Abraham as he knew he and his descendants, would be among the righteous people living in wicked cities. 

2.4  Billy Graham once famously said that if God did not judge the USA, he’d have to apologise to Sodom and Gomorrah…, actually his wife said it and he quoted her.

2.4.1       But there are righteous people in America. I know some of them personally, there are many, many of them in fact. God restrains his judgement on the nations to give his righteous people an opportunity to have an impact on those nations.

2.4.2       As descendants of Abraham we carry on his legacy of being a blessing to the nations, all nations, all people, God creates his family to change the world. What God is saying is if we here today had been in Sodom and Gomorrah, he wouldn’t have destroyed it, because there would have still been hope for the cities.  You know that this means: we can turn this ship around here in Australia. I really believe that. I refuse to be a defeatist Christian.

3.     Sin City (Gen. 19:1-11) – “19 The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth 2 and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant's house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” 3 But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. 5 And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” 6 Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, 7 and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” 9 But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down. 10 But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. 11 And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.”

3.1  Now there is no doubt that homosexuality is involved in this situation in Sodom, all these men in this city want to “know” these angels of the Lord. In other words have sex with them, in fact in this context, sexually abuse them.

3.1.1       It’s obvious that this is a city where God’s created design for sex to be between a man and his wife has been completely rejected. But there is more to the sin than just that, this city has been completely given over to wickedness of many kinds.

3.1.2       They are so wicked that they want to harm these visitors, who they obviously do not realize are angels (nor does Lot likely know this either).

3.2  Hospitality was a big deal in this culture, Lot says to them, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

3.2.1       It’s pretty shocking to us that Lot would offer his daughters to protect two strangers. There are two ways to handle this statement:  1) Lot is just being dramatic. He could be saying something similar to: why don’t you take the clothes off my back as well. Like someone may say to a bank today.  2) Or he is serious in his commitment to provide hospitality. To us today we think of hospitality as bringing someone into your home for a coffee, and cake, or maybe for a meal. But in the ancient near east, and even today in the Middle East when you took a visitor into your home they came under your complete protection. It is one of their highest cultural laws.       The movie ‘Lone Survivor’ highlights this very well (explain how the Afghani man takes the US Navy Seal into his home and protects him from the Taliban).

3.3  So, homosexuality is a problem in this city, but they are also seeking to attack the weak, or at least who they think are weak. We are told this in Ezekiel 16:49 “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.” We are also told this in Jude 1:7 “…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” So, what is at the heart of their sin? These cities had inverted everything that is good.

3.3.1       They had inverted God ordained sexual roles. The men of this city, are lusting after these new men in town. Homosexuality is an inversion of sexuality. One our culture celebrates. But so is every other form of sexual sin (expand).  

3.3.2       They had inverted hospitality. Instead of protecting the strangers they wanted to abuse them. Instead of using their wealth to care for the poor, they oppressed them.

3.3.3       In other words they had become the epitome of a selfish, self-love culture. What happens to a culture when you completely reject God, the same thing that happens to the solar system when you boot out the sun: everything goes haywire.

3.4  The whole basis of Christian morality is this: what God says is what we shall do: because he is the sun to our solar system. He is our creator and knows what is best for us. This city was filled with people who said: we are our own gods. Because this is what we are saying, when we determine that our way is better than God’s way.

3.4.1       Whether it is homosexuality, or adultery, or living selfishly with our wealth, or taking advantage of those who are weaker than us, or anything like this, it all goes against God’s design for how humanity is to live. How do you save a city like this? With righteous people.

4.     A few good people – We are told in 2 Peter that Lot was a righteous man, whom God saved, but he wasn’t very effective. “14 So 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. 15 As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” 16 But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. 17 And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away… 23 The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. 27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace. 29 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.”

4.1  His sons in laws did not take him seriously, neither did his wife. In fact if you keep reading you will see that Lot’s daughters weren’t very righteous either. “30 Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters…34 The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 35 So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. 37 The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day…” If this family had lived today they would be a reality TV show family. They could called it: Keeping Up With the Lot of them, or Desperate Cave Daughters, or something.

4.1.1       Lot had failed to be a blessing to Sodom and Gomorrah, even though he was a judge in the city, ruling at it’s gate. He had failed to have an impact.

4.2  But this is where Abraham and his descendants come in: it was through them that God wanted to impact the world for righteousness. Through Abraham teaching his children the way of righteousness, and his children teaching their children, and their children teaching their children.

4.3  In other words, how do you save a city like Sodom or Gomorrah? With a few good families raising their children in righteousness and sharing the way of God.

4.3.1       I know what some people here are thinking right now, let me answer it this way. I was watching this Star Trek style comedy and this planet is about to be destroyed and Cmdr. Kelly Grayson says, “Captain there’s families on that planet.” And the pilot whispers loudly to himself, “There’s probably plenty of single people too.”

4.3.2       I just laughed, because it’s so true, single people often get left out in situations like this. Jesus was single, Paul was single. But what’s fascinating is that they both dedicated their lives to building families around them – brothers and sisters in the faith. Building the Family of God.

4.3.3       There is a place for all of us in building the family of God, and there is a place for all us in having an impact on our city, such that people are saved from destruction – and this is our purpose in this world.

5.     Conclusion: Judgement – There is a judgement day coming. Those are the stakes. To paraphrase Israel Folau – Hell awaits everyone who does not repent. Turn or burn may sound harsh, but that is what it all comes down to in the end. Everything else is just extra. I feel like we have forgotten about just how frightening the judgement of God can be on wickedness.

5.1  There are pastors who won’t talk about.

5.2  There are pastors who publicly won’t call out sin, or particular sins like homosexuality and greed and gluttony, etc. There are other pastors who pretend that these are the only sins.

5.3  There are pastors who like Lot give people the impression the judgement of God is nothing to fear. Our role as Christians is to make sure people are aware. For some judgement day will be worse than it was for Sodom and Gomorrah. For everyone who repents it will be better. Trust in Jesus while there is still time, and take that message to others.

5.3.1       All it takes is just a few good people to get the message out there, and we’ve got more than that.       

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