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mw_joomla_logo Genesis 19 : 1 - 29 The destruction of Sodom

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Lot en Sodom

Kaart van Sodom en Gomorra

Do you want to read the text of the Bible first?   

Oops, that was close. It was in the nick of time! We often say that. We can catch the train or plane in the nick of time. We barely pass an exam. We win the football match at the very minute. Yet. We did it!

It’s also close for Lot. In the nick of time, he is saved. And he does not die with the inhabitants of Sodom. It’s all just barely. With the narrowest of margins. And not unscathed. Yet! He escaped.

Will we escape it in the nick of time? That’s the exciting question this old, fairly realistic story asks us.

Let’s make no mistake. No person will easily be saved. Without effort. Without being on edge. We resemble the citizens of Sodom. Just like Lot, who gradually became a resident of Sodom. We even can slide into truly debauched behaviour, like the inhabitants of Sodom. We automatically fall under God’s judgment. We are saved from it, but it’s very close.

And that it’s very close for Lot is evident from the fact that he has become one of the inhabitants of Sodom. He no longer lives in tents like Abraham but has a house there. He is even in the gate. Where people meet and used to administer justice, take political decisions, trade. Lot has become one of them. We may also recognize that in ourselves, even though we want to be a Christian. We easily live our lives as anyone else. We adapt ourselves quickly. On Monday, it’s already noticeable to nothing that we were in church on Sunday. We have our place in the middle of today’s society. We do nothing less and more than everyone else. And that’s precisely it. Jesus says: “People ate and drank, bought and sold, planted and built. Until the day of God’s judgment suddenly came.” We live so fully in this world, alienated from God, that it’s not surprising at all if we also undergo the fate of this world. And that’s ultimately not a good fate, the bible predicts. Already something to think about, right? Are we different, very different, because we have come to know Christ, or are we not different at all?

And the two angels came to Sodom in the evening. Angels in the guise of handsome young men came to inspect on God’s behalf whether Sodom is in such a bad state. So it’s important what they experience. And what do they experience? Ther are to responses to their arrival.

The first, positive, is Lot’s. He gets up, goes to meet them, bows down before them and invites them to spend the night with him. If they seem to be somewhat reluctant, he is persistent. And they go with him and get a meal with him. The appearance of these two strangers awakens something positive in Lot. The duty to be hospitable. Especially at that time, a very sacred duty. And you can still recognize that Lot had once followed the way of Abraham. Didn’t he recently supply hospitality to three strangers?

What are events in life causing us? And encounters with other people? Are they incentives to do right, even though it may be just standard duty? And will we do it? And is it perhaps something that we’ve received from our Christian upbringing, our belonging to the church? Did id last although we in many ways have become conformed to this world? Why not? God’s covenant faithfulness goes far. Until Lot, though he once made the wrong choice by going to live in the plains of Sodom. So also to us, although we often did wrong. And don’t forget, we all do it before God. Yes, what we do to people, good or evil, we also do to God. These strangers turn out to be angels of God. We can read in the Hebrew letter: Don’t forget hospitality because it’s why some have unknowingly harboured angels. And in the great judgment Jesus will say when it comes to feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, dressing the naked, and also harbouring strangers: inasmuch as you did it to one of these least of my brethren, you did it to me. To do good to people is to do good to God. To sin against people is to harm God, as David understood. He confessed his adultery with Bathsheba. And said, among other things: “Against You, You alone have I sinned.” Lot’s salvation in the nick of time begins with a simple act of kindness, which you can also call simple civil decency. It’s not everything to do; there’s more than that. Yet, this is how the saviours of God came to him. Don’t forget that.

And the inhabitants of Sodom? In them, the same event awakens dark forces. They want to commit homosexual fornication with these strangers. They discriminate against strangers. They make them outlaws with whom one can do anything. They sin against the hospitality right. And they want to give free rein to their very lustful desires. No matter how you look at the complex ethical question of homosexuality, here are the homosexual practices that people are after, proof of how bad they really are. Love, God’s most beautiful gift to us humans, becomes corrupted into pure sex. That’s how deep evil can let us sink. And the whole city is participating. They all surround Lot’s house, young and old, all the population, none excepted. Evil spreads so widely among us humans. It infects everyone. In other words, we can all fall that deeply. It may require a general moral decay that allows more and more to go on. It may need some reason. For example, the intoxication at a party. Or the flush of war violence and the joy of victory. We remember the crimes in the former Yugoslavia, in African civil wars. But under certain favourable, unfavourable circumstances, the beast breaks loose within us. Well, it doesn’t look so bad. We eat and drink, buy and sell, plant and build until we’ve lost the thread of the ordinary for a while. Are we so sure which side we then are going to? The good side of Lot or the wrong side of the inhabitants of Sodom? Well, if it goes well, it will be in the nick of time. From our point of view, it might as well have been different.

And that it’s in the nick of time is also evident from the fact that the confrontation is getting worse. Lot then receives a kind of courage we do not have of ourselves. He goes out, shuts his door behind him, and tries to talk to the foolish mob: my brothers, not harm. Do we see ourselves acting so courageously in a life-threatening situation? It’s possible. But in the nick of time. And given by God. With our backs against the wall, but with great spiritual strength, which we don’t have by ourselves.

Lot even offers both his daughters. We have problems with that. We think it’s an offer of despair. You cannot prevent one sin with another, can you? Which father has his daughters raped if necessary? Many comments start to fantasize nicely here. For example, Lot knew beforehand that one didn’t want his daughters. Let’s see it mainly from the culture of that time. Children belonged to the father, of which he had full disposal, even if they were of marriageable age. But a rich possession. Because of the emotional connection with them. And because he can expect a dowry from the in-laws when marrying off. So Lot also gains the courage to make sacrifices, even great ones. Let’s not imagine anything. Being saved by God is always close. That needs courage, superhuman, God-given courage, the courage to resist the force majeure of evil bravely. The courage also to make big sacrifices that hurt, cut deep into your soul. For example, the courage to fight on your own against injustice, violence, deceit, lies and gossip, debauchery. If you accept a faith that they disagree with, the courage to put your children, husband, or wife in the second place. That hurts! Our salvation comes at a cost! Think of God himself, who had to sacrifice his own Son for it! Think about what price the Son gave. But it has to. We will be saved in the nick of time.

The sequel makes it evident. Because how do the inhabitants of Sodom react? Move! It’s already getting more fierce. And it focuses more and more clearly against Lot himself. Isn’t he also a stranger? What smugness for someone who has left his own tribe and ended up with us as a foreigner. Does he want to lecture now?

Yes, count on the world and the evil to hold back our salvation. And both have plenty of arguments for it too. ‘What smugness he has, who often denied the faith, adapted to the world, and even left the church for a while.’ As if he’s better than us! So don’t think that the world and the evil one will leave you alone. We must be rescued from their grasp. Otherwise, we will perish.

And it happens in the nick of time. For Lot’s guests have to come to his aid. They pull Lot in and close the door. Besides, they strike people with a certain blindness to not find the entrance to Lot’s house. After all, in their anger, they would force every door and every window. It takes ordinary human help and extraordinary divine help to be saved from evil and destruction. Firm intervention is required from men and the Lord. Witch less, it’s impossible. Fortunately, it does happen. Let that be our comfort. When some people tell you how they came to believe after a loose life, you also hear about the good resolute actions of dear believing people around them, and about the wonderful intervention of God in their lives, of disasters and dangers, where He wonderfully saved. It’s in the nick of time, but when it comes down to it, the Lord will shut the door safely behind His children by ordinary and extraordinary means, and no one will get through. We can rely on that. And sometimes, you also find that the world is blind not only to the judgmental work of God on itself but also to the saving work of God on His children. They don’t see that wonderful secret at all. And strangely enough, when it comes down to it, leave those children of God untouched.

Now you may think: if Gods saves in the nick of time, it’s enough when it concerns your own bacon. But that’s not the case with the Lord. Then if man’s salvation takes so much effort - it has costed the Lord his own Son - then as many as possible people must benefit from it. How broad is God in his offering of salvation! How great is His faithfulness in His covenant! For Abraham’s sake, with whom he made his covenant, Lot may belong to it, even though he had messed it up. And for Lot’s sake, all his relatives, even his future sons-in-law, may belong to it. As not only Noah ended up in the Ark, but also his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law. As Lydia has been baptized, and her house, the Philippian prison officer, and his house. The Lord has a strong arm and a long one regarding our salvation.

Then the men said to Lot: “Who else have you here?” They point to the space of God’s love and also to the responsibility this entails for Lot. And Lot understands it. At the risk of his own life, he goes to warn his future sons-in-law. I’m thinking of the title of a booklet about the Salvation Army in the dutch language: “Saved to save.” Do you recognize that? Also now? If my salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ is so unique, so exciting and in the nick of time, then the Lord makes me think of myself and others: my partner, children, children in law, anyone with whom I have some relationship. And then we get working on it. We invite them to arise, leave the lost world and seek salvation with Jesus. Who else do you have?

Unfortunately, we also experience that not everyone is open to that. “But in the eyes of his sons-in-law, Lot was like one who made a joke.” “Mr Lot, make fun and play such a trick with someone else. We don’t fall for that.” It often is still the response to the message of God’s judgment and grace: silly, not to be taken seriously. That’s also where we see how we humans are saved in the nick of time. God has to take us from very far away. Living from ourselves comfortably in the middle of this world and assuming that it will always remain so, we are miles away from it. The thought alone of a God who can radically reverse everything, who can save us wonderfully, and who awakens us to leave this old world as fast as a hare and to convert radically, it’s a joke. Not strange. We are stuck in this world, as it’s going on and on now. And is rushing to God’s judgment.

For when the going gets tough, Lot himself has difficulty with it. At the beginning of the new day, which for Sodom will become the Dies Irae, the day of God’s wrath, the angels must urge him to speed up. "Arise, take your wife and both daughters, lest you be destroyed because of the city’s iniquity". But Lot is going to take time. He cannot take action. And it’s so recognizable. It’s also not easy for us to radically break with our old life, to let go of so many things that we are stuck to with our hearts but don’t belong to living with God. To convert ourselves, as we call it, in the language of faith. For the first time or again. We see our wrong things, but making us loose of it is still something else. We are huge dawdlers at that. We prefer to postpone it for a while. Wait a little longer. We can still do it later, tomorrow. But later, it can be too late. Hence the short, powerful commands: “Get up. Flee for your life. Don’t look back. Don’t stop anywhere. Please do it now. Now it’s still possible. Be it barely. We run out of chances. Do take the opportunity given to you by God. Listen to that wake-up call today!” No, it’s not always needed, that evocative preaching. If we hear it too often, we’re going to be deaf to it. But it’s part of God’s message. Escape from your lost existence. Don’t stand still; don’t look back. But hurry for the sake of your life. If it still works, it will be in the nick of time.

And yet then we don’t go just like that. The Lord must use his mighty hand. “And when he delayed, the men took him and his wife and both daughters by the hand.” They brought them out and took them out of the city. It requires divine intervention, also with us. We must be led to it by the Lord Himself. We cannot do it on our own. In retrospect, our salvation is always again a gracious and strong work of the Lord and not our obedience. Sometimes, people can tell what God had in hand in concrete terms, how He took hold of them in a saving and guiding way. For example, in an illness, a death in the immediate vicinity, a near-accident. Or also in a particularly rich blessing: a child, a cure for cancer. In any case, there’s always the strong hand of the Holy Ghost that guides us and puts us out of harm’s way. For without the hand of the Spirit, we also remain where we are at the most poignant revival preaching. Yes, the real secret of our salvation is the Lord Himself. That’s what our text says: "then the men took Lot and his wife and daughters by the hand because the Lord would spare him". It’s pure grace and love on God’s part. It’s God’s work, God’s will, and it comes from his heart. How rich! And we got an even deeper impression of that through the revelation of God’s grace and love in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We no longer pay much attention to the wonderful conversation about where Lot must flee, although one can say enough about that. For example, that the Lord never asks too much of us. Over the nick of time. If Lot is afraid that he will not make it to the mountains, the flight to the small town of Zoar is just enough. Zoar means small and is located at the very edge of the Dead Sea. It’s an example that the Lord sometimes allows our salvation to take place in stages. It doesn’t always happen with one conversion. Because according to the sequel, Lot later still goes into the mountains from Zoar. And in between, we also hear the glorious news that God is bound, so to speak, by his own faithfulness and promises. "Hurry, flee there, for there is nothing I will be able to do until you get there." You can rely on God. When He offers His salvation, and we respond, He will not disappoint us. In His righteous judgment and destruction of evil, He does not accept the loss of any of His children.

But then we must do what He asks of us. We need to let go of everything. We’re not allowed to remain attached to it with our hearts. In that regard, Lot’s wife is the warning example. She looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. What a pity to be on the way to your salvation, walking with those who are being saved, walking the path of being ecclesiastically compassionate, but when it comes to it, still keeping our heart attached to this world, not making it to the finish line. It’s a serious warning that it always is a close call, and we cannot have it both ways, God and this world. "Remember Lot’s wife", Jesus said!

And then Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by brimstone and fire. Burning sulfur. One can find that image throughout the whole Bible, pointing to God’s righteous destruction of all evil, until the last book of the Bible, which talks about the final destruction of all evil in the lake of fire and brimstone. Don’t take holiness and justice lightly. No one who’s been living it up and doesn’t need the Lord will be able to escape. Salvation only comes in the nick of time.

And then we don’t owe it to ourselves. What does this history have to do with Abraham? For in Genesis, it’s in the cycle of stories about Abraham. Abraham not only sees the downfall of Sodom, but he also had prayed for the city. And he had done that because of his nephew Lot. And God remembered Abraham and therefore brought Lot out of the midst of the overthrow. So Abraham’s intercession also was an essential link in the story. And so it’s important, yes indispensable for us that we have a great Intercessor in heaven: the Lord Jesus Christ. He constantly is pleading for us. And he’s mentioning his redemption’s work: that he bore our sins and went through the burning hell in our stead. He, therefore, can say: “Father, I want them to be with me whom you have given me to see my glory.” It’s in the nick of time, but nevertheless fantastic. Salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. Now and forever. Amen.

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