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Verdrijving van Hagar en Ismaël

Pieter Lastman ca. 1583 – 1633
The expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael
oil on panel(48 × 71 cm) — 1612
Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Last held on the 5th of September 2004 at Hattem

Hagar and Ishmael

I once walked near a primary school, where the children had just flown out. A little girl steps right in front of me. She pulls her cutest face and says: Hi, Mr Mayor!

Growing children are lovely. Each phase has its charm. Babies arouse warm feelings because they are still so delicate and dependent. Toddlers are so funny when you see how they discover the world around them and hear them babbling their first words. It’s nice to see how eager to learn primary school children often are, how they do their best, the tip of the tongue out of the mouth while writing. The tumultuous years of puberty also have their charm. You see them struggling through trial and error in their search for their own identity and their life path. And it’s great to talk to the more mature youth on an equal level. Because they’re not yet got stuck, they can open your eyes to what you’ve become somewhat blind to over the years.

Growing children, it’s a blessing to be with them, as grandma and grandpa like my wife and I in recent years. But above all, to experience them up close, and to be part of this process of growing up as a father and mother, by leading that process, guiding it, witnessing it. In any case, I am very grateful to our dear Lord for my children and grandchildren. Did you too? Gods rules on the creation and maintenance of human life are formidable.

Moreover, it’s not self-evident at all, but it’s a miracle if everything goes according to those rules. Therefore it’s also written about Isaac: And the child grew up. God had given him to Abraham and Sarah when it was no longer possible. A supernatural miracle. If that’s the life start of Isaac, then nothing can happen to him, can it? And yet it’s mentioned in the bible as an equally wonderful sequel: and the child grew up.

We may think it’s simple. But it wasn’t like that at that time. The infant mortality rate was appallingly high. Thank God, it’s low now. Yet. Children can be victims of a traffic accident. They can die from SIDS. They can get cancer because of their young age, a very aggressive one. Or any other illness. Unfortunately, I read in the church bulletin of a previous congregation that a 17-month-old boy had died. He had my well-known parents and grandparents. One grandfather is an elder in the church, and the other a pastor who has worked there. Fortunately, it’s true of most children what it says of Isaac: the child grew up. But it remains a divine blessing. Blessed, you young people, if you may grow up to adulthood like that. Blessed, you parents, if you can raise children like this. Blessed, you grandparents, if you can have grandchildren. Thank God for it.

“And the child grew up and was weaned.” What does that mean? He no longer received milk from the mother’s breast but had to learn to get used to other food and drink. It happened then around the third year of life. It was the very first step towards independence and adulthood. And it wasn’t easy, because Olvarit (brand of baby food in the Netherlands) wasn’t there yet. Yes, that’s how life works too. In phases, the bond with mother and later also with father becomes increasingly looser and that they finally stand on their own two feet. This process is a learning experience for the children themselves, but just as much for the parents. The children must dare to go out into the world, and the parents must let go of their children. Weaning starts with the mother’s breast but continues in other areas as you grow up. It is an exciting but also challenging process. It’s anyway a necessary process. May God give wisdom to young and old so that this process may go well. There may well be frictions, but do they have a positive or negative effect on that process? That’s very important. Think about it, young and old.

“And the child grew up and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day Isaac was weaned.” They slaughtered an animal for the meat of that meal. The wine flows freely on that meal. In short, there is a celebration. The scholars have a beautiful French expression for this. They are the “rites de passage”. So rites, actions, customs, which make it clear that a particular stage in life has been passed. We, too, have these rites. Our birthday. Our graduation party. We close something and make a new start. It’s always a reason to look back with gratitude. “Up to this point, the Lord has helped us.” Hallelujah. Without Him, it would not have come to this. But it’s also a reason to look ahead with confidence: He does not abandon the work of his hands. I will face the future with Him. Let us so gratefully remember our milestones and celebrate our feasts. It’s an excellent way to honour the God of our lives.

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

Last held on the 8th of August at Hattem

The birth of Isaac

People don’t laugh that often in church services. Why not? Why do the faces always have to straighten up here, so tight and severe? Why are things always so serious on Sundays? Surely there should be some humour and cheerfulness involved. That makes a church service, which is not in fashion anyway, a bit more attractive. And we also find humour in the Bible. I know a booklet in Dutch with that title.

But you also may not find it so appropriate to laugh here in the church. After all, here it’s about serious matters: our sins, the deepest questions of life, our eternal destiny.

All in due time. There will be a time for laughter, but not when we talk about those things. And a pastor, who also wants to be a kind of comedian, can annoy us. Yes, don’t people laugh too much in the world? One skips over the seriousness of life. It’s almost every night, laughing, yelling, roaring for the TV, with comedies, cabaret programs, and humorous movies. Cheap entertainment distracts us from what’s, in reality, going on in life. Then the church must adopt a different attitude. And there's something in there too.

By the way, it’s important how and why you’re smiling. Some light humour should be possible, also in the church. But the laugh of gloating is something different, and gallows humour also is. And the burst of laughter at brainless fun as well, as well as the giggles at nothing. And so does the constantly obligatory smile on the face. Sometimes we laugh about something that should make us cry. There sometimes is even bitterness and great disappointment behind a smile. Strangely, we say to someone who lets us laugh heavily: you’re killing me.

In any case, when it comes to the birth of Isaak, we must talk about laughter. For his name is associated with the Hebrew word for “laugh.” Even long before he was born.

And usually, people immediately think of Sara, but Abraham was the first to laugh. When God confirmed His covenant with him, it says in Genesis 17, the Lord also promised: ” I will bless Sarah, and I will also give you a son from her. And what was Abraham’s response? He threw himself on the ground, laughed and said: “Will a child be born to a centenarian and Sarah, a ninety-year-old, give birth?” Doesn’t that go against all the rules of nature? Impossible! Abraham laughs at it, but actually, he would have preferred to whimper. He long time had looked forward to the promise that was the only meaning of his existence. But now, he no longer can believe in it. His laughter is that of disappointed disbelief.

And that’s especially absolutely the case with Sara. Three strangers come to visit Abraham. He receives them hospitably, has a meal prepared for them quickly. And then one of them says: ”I will come back to you in a year, and then Sarah, your wife, will have a son. And that while Abraham and Sarah are old and Sarah no longer goes in the way of women, as it says, so she no longer had her period. Sara hears it through the tent cloth, and she laughs to herself and thinks, actually a bit rude and bitter: will I still be able to enjoy lovemaking while I’m so old and my husband too? So her laugh is even a bit sarcastic, derisive. She also absolutely doesn’t want to cherish any hope and perhaps be fobbed off for the umpteenth time. Her smile, too, is that of disappointed disbelief.

And how many people do laugh because of unbelief! Is God mighty? Does He help and save? Can He do miracles? Don’t make me laugh! Or: I only can laugh about it; about those fairytales. I must laugh bitterly and cynically about it. Isn’t it all according to the order of the harsh capricious laws of nature? Or even according to the order of injustice and bitchiness among the people?

And maybe we get around to laugh like that too. When we’re getting one blow after another; when we have to wear a cross all the time; when we’re deeply disappointed in people and God. We can be very bitter because we’ve got the feeling God is playing with our deepest desires. We desire health. Every time we hope things are going better and every time there's that backlash, we can do less, have more pain. We desire peace and harmony in the family. We’re doing our best and are praying for it every time. And then another blazing fight breaks out that spoils the atmosphere for days on end. We desire peace on earth. Every time we hope for that, but we see it on the TV: again, those mutilated bodies on the streets.

And - to get closer to Sara - maybe a child’s desire too. Time and time again, you use the modern medical resources - resources that others even find at or beyond the edge of ethical permissibility - and to no avail. Then you can cynically laugh at God’s promises of salvation, peace, health, saving miracles. Al that the gospel promises us? Laughable! Because it just won’t happen.

And yet it does happen! Yet God keeps his promises. For Isaac is born. And Sarah says: ”God made me laugh.” And that’s completely different laughter. That's the laughter of the elation about the unimaginable miracles of God’s love and grace. That,s the laughter because the impossible is possible with God. That's the laughter about the enormous happiness that the Lord gives to everyone with whom He has made his covenant. That’s the laughter because God is there anyway, and He still is good and doing what no human can do.

Others will certainly laugh at the talks that are being told about Sara. Sarah also says: everyone who hears this will laugh at me. Someone in their nineties a child? In what kind of cheap sensational newspaper did that appear? Or what cheap gospel brochure has that been? And yet it’s true!

Isaac. A strange name. Let’s translate it as: people will laugh. People will laugh out of disbelief and will laugh out of belief. Abraham and Sarah did the first at first and the last afterwards. And those who laugh last, laugh the best. How do we laugh? In bitter, cynical, sarcastic disbelief or happy, surprised, exuberant belief?

The Lord wants to take care of the latter. He wanted that with Abraham and Sarah. He wants that with us too.

And how does He do that? “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised.” It is written in the beautiful Hebrew poem of parallelism, as we also find it in the psalms. Two sentences say almost the same; to emphasize it.

The Lord visited Sarah. And when the Lord visits us, He pays special attention to us, does special deeds to us. Sometimes they are punitive and judgmental acts. “If you don’t listen to me, I will visit you with terror”, so He will warn Israël later. But most of the time, they're wonderfully saving acts. For example, it’s a much-used word for God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt. When the Lord visits us, He looks especially loving and helpful to us in our needs and concerns. As with Israel in slavery and with Sarah in her barrenness. The Lord visited Sarah. How wonderful to receive a visit from our Lord. And actually, we’ve all already had that, for He has visited our earth in Jesus Christ. He came to visit us in his Son. The hymn of Zechariah speaks of this when it uses the same word as in our text: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath looked upon his people, visited them, and brought salvation.” And isn’t it the wonderful secret of everyone who may believe? The Lord looked after me, came to visit my life. In Jesus, as it was portrayed to me in the Bible, the sermons, the stories about him at school, etc. And He came above all as a comforter in sorrow, as a saviour in need. Dear folks, if the crying is closer to you than the laughter, there’s a visitor for you! The Lord! Have a nice visit. Visit, which is not laughable, as the unbeliever claims, but brings laughter, the laughter of joy at God’s salvation.

“The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised.” In other words, whatever God says, He does. Sometimes He adds the time, like at Abraham and Sarah. “In a year.” And so Sarah bore Abraham a son at the appointed time. Sometimes He doesn’t say the time. Sometimes He says the way, sometimes not. And then it sometimes happens in a different time and way than we think. But it does happen. You can rely on Him; you can trust Him. God is not a man that He would lie, Balaam had to say to Barak, really unwillingly. We humans can use great words, followed by small deeds or no deeds at all, but the Lord cannot. What He promises, He delivers. Even if we no longer believe in it. “Your word is the truth,” Jesus said in his high priestly prayer. And it’s precisely in Him that God’s promises are yes and amen (2 Cor. 1:20), and they gloriously are fulfilled. In particular, God does as He says in His gospel. Just believe in that. It's true. Sarah has experienced first-hand that you can trust the Lord in His word. And so can we. Although we need to know very well what the Lord has said in His Word and what thoughts are of us.

And then God gives reasons to laugh. But He alone! The Lord visited Sara. The Lord did to Sara. So it’s the Lord and no one else. It’s not us with our religious or unbelieving mess. People come up with everything to make something out of it, to make it seem real. Much is more to cry than to laugh. Just as Abraham and Sarah have messed up, for they engaged the slave girl Hagar, to whom Ishmael was born with Abraham as a father. And after Abraham had laughed in disbelief about God’s promises of a son to Sarah, he also asked: “Oh, might Ishmael live before you.” Should I still have a future in him! Should he be the bearer of your promises! We will arrange it in an unfortunate way. And we already are satisfied with what is humanly possible. And when the squeeze starts, we also make strange twists and turns, like Abraham, who gave Sarah to Pharaoh of Egypt and King Abimelech for his sister, so that God’s chosen One and the glorious object of his wonderful promises almost had ended up in a harem. More one cannot expect from us. But you can expect everything from the Lord. The Lord does it just as He promised. The God with that glorious name, who indicates his faithfulness. Yahweh. I’ll be there.

You may still expect the impossible from the Lord. For what is impossible with men is possible with God. It was impossible with Abraham. After all, he was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. The Hebrew writer calls him dead. He was as good as dead because the possibilities to pass on life had run out in him. And Sarah’s sterility runs like a common thread through the patriarch history. It’s already mentioned in Genesis 11, in the family tree of Shem, before God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees. “Sarai was now barren.” And yet, a son was born to Abraham, and Sarah conceived and bore him a son. God’s miracle from the utter and radical impossibility of us humans. For who would have dared to promise Abraham, Sarah will nurse children, breastfeed children? That’s how He is and does. He makes the sour smile at what is not possible to the generous laugh at what happens anyway.

This He did it to the one with whom He began His covenant with us. And He did it more often after that. Just think of the miraculous birth and custody of Moses while the midwife should have killed him anyway, the miraculous birth of Samson while his mother was barren, the miraculous birth of John the Baptist while Elisabeth was barren, and she and her husband Zechariah meanwhile had come on high age. He did it especially with to One by whom He confirmed and fulfilled that covenant: the Lord Jesus. Our Saviour came to earth, not by the will, power, potential of people but by the will of God. Joseph was not involved. The Lord visited Mary as He had said, and the Lord did to Mary as He had spoken. The Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her. And so the Son of God was born of her. Nothing from us. Everything from God. A pure miracle. Pure grace. A twig of deadwood. Because that’s all we are. We’re failures. Most of us produce offspring, but real life, as God intended, we don’t produce. Real peace and love everywhere. Equal rights for everyone. Happiness for all. A life without alienation and removal, pain and sorrow. We don’t produce it. In that regard, we’re just as barren as Abraham and Sarah. But God wants to give it in Jesus Christ. God wants to fulfil in Him gloriously all His promises of salvation and peace. A complete miracle.

God continues where we left off for a long time. God opens a future where we no longer dare to look ahead. God gives life, where it has long been death with us. Faith can never expect too much. What God’s love wants to accomplish does not disallow His power. And the Lord Jesus is the great proof of that. It’s not possible that God is well pleased with people who are lost in sin and guilt. It cannot be that God Himself descends to them, reconciles with them, and opens His eternal future of salvation for them. And yet it’s happened. “Today, the Savior is born to you.” The child that could not come and still came. Jesus. God made me laugh. Laugh with joy at God’s love, mercy, faithfulness. Laugh with joy at God’s victory over sin, devil, death. Laugh with joy at God’s salvation for all his children. Jesus. Through whom God gloriously fulfils all his promises. Jesus. The child of the laughter. God’s bringer of joy to this often so sad earth.

Anyone who hears it will laugh at me, says Sara. Maybe the mocking laugh first. What weird talking about Sara. She would have given birth. Later the laughter of wonder and joy. It is true, though. What a miracle from God. Who still did as He had said. And so it’s with Jesus. There may be the mocking laugh of unbelief about Him in this world. But some people hear the gospel and laugh differently. Faithful laughs with surprise and joy at what good the Lord has given us in His Son. Salvation and forgiveness. Hope and future beyond death.

And that faith is part of it. Also, now with us. We feel there is quite a bit of tension between the old and the new testament at this point. In Genesis, Sarah does not seem very religious. But in the book Hebrews, it says: through faith Sarah also received strength to become a mother, and that despite her old age, because she considered Him who had promised it to be trustworthy. But are we often not one of those ambivalent people who in our hearts rock back and forth, swinging between unbelief and belief? And therefore, cannot both be true? And doesn’t the green twig of our faith always grow on the deadwood of our unbelief? Didn’t Mary say at first at the announcement of Jesus’ birth: “How will that be, since I have no association with a man?” But afterwards: “Behold, the maidservant of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word?” In the same way with Sarah, that old faith, by which she followed Abraham in the way the Lord showed them, will have come up again against unbelief. For God fulfils his promises only through faith. The Lord gives his wonders of goodness, comfort, and mercy through faith. He grants forgiveness and eternal life through faith. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world, John writes.

And we find that belief again in Genesis. Sarah confesses: God made me laugh. Abraham gives his son the name that God instructed him before. And he circumcised Isaac when he was eight days old. They go the way of the testimony of faith and the obedience of faith. They go the way of the covenant. And we should also walk that course. It’s the way of obediently doing what the Lord asks us to do, being faithful to it every day, living according to God’s “thou shalt”, walking every day in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, loving the Lord and the neighbour every day.

That’s also the way of witnessing, of telling what the Lord has done to us. God made me smile. He made me happy and fortunate because I know I’m surrounded by God’s care, his blessing, his miracles. God has made me do what I cannot do on my own. That I, of myself spiritually dead and barren, yet bring forth fruits of faith and conversion. God has made that I can look ahead again, have a future again, that my life is focused on his Kingdom. It’s also the way of living in God’s covenant. In God’s new covenant in the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s for us no longer the way of circumcision, as with Abraham, but the way of Baptism. This means: we put the children the Lord has given us in His hands. We educate and lead them in faith in the Lord Jesus. In all our dealings with them, we aim that they’re destined for the Lord, serving Him and living towards His eternal Kingdom.

There is not much laughter in church. And yet, if the laughter of joy and happiness belongs somewhere, then here. Joy in the Lord. Blessings from the Lord. Isaac. People will laugh. And it’s God who makes us laugh.

Israel was once miraculously delivered from the captivity of Babylon by the Lord. And thereupon they sang a beautiful song, in which the laughter is not lacking: Psalm 126.

“When the Lord made a change in Zion’s fate, we were like men in a dream. Then our mouths were full of laughing, and our tongues gave a glad cry; they said among the nations, The Lord has done great things for them.”

An even more wonderful redemption is that of the Lord Jesus. The child who could not come and yet came. The child who tells of God’s new life on the dead mess we humans have made on this earth. The child in which that new life smiles at us. The child by whom all the families of this earth are blessed. The child through whom the Lord has done us great things. The child through which I sing, in grateful wonder:

My heart wants to jump for joy,
it can’t be sad,
I’m laughing and singing
in pure sunshine.
The sun that shines,
O Jesus, that is Thou.
I thank you a thousand times,
how good you are to me!
(dutch hymn)


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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Last held on the 25th of July 2004 at Hattem

Abraham and Abimelech about Sara

Once bitten, twice shy. And yet, we are not too good to fall back into the same mistake. Not even Abraham. Because in Genesis 12, we find a similar story as here in chapter 20. There Abraham is going to Egypte, where he's pretending Sarah is his sister, avoiding her to end up in Pharaoh’s harem. And here, he takes the same trick with Abimelech, king of Gerar, a philistine prince.

How lifelike! Because we humans are often incorrigible. Unteachable. One keeps making the same mistake, falling back into the same bad habit, falling into the same trap. It happens to us all. Ah, how much God has to do with us. How true it’s that someone wrote in a dutch poem: 'You will have to fight with me many more times before you will possess all of me.' What must be his patience with us great in Jesus Christ, his forgiveness of our sins immense, and his power to repentance strong! All the more so, since we also pass the bad example on to our children. Not only by our education but even by our genes. The wonderful fact is that years later, Isaac and Rebekah will do the same with another Abimelech in Gerar. Genesis 26 is about that. While in our story, Isaac still has to be born.

This is too much in the mind of critical interpreters. It’s the one and same folk legend, they say, which used to be told on cosy evenings around the open fire and to which different names are attached. Even if that’s the case, then the end writer of Genesis consciously turned it into several stories. With a different message. Because what's our story, in which the conversations are much more important than the event itself, primarily about? It’s about the questions of guilt and justice. The writer uses the story to address those profound ethical questions.

And then the first conversation is one between God and Abimelech. "But God came to Abimelech by night in a dream and said to him: Behold, you are a child of death because you've taken the wife." She's married. When it comes to questions about good en evil, the Lord, the God of Israel and Father of Jesus Christ, is the God of all people. His order given with the creation and life's purpose is for everyone always. And He's appealing to everyone. He's discussing this with all people in their heart, their conscience.

He often uses the dream for it. That’s not surprising. In our dreams, we are processing all our actions in our subconscious mind. So also the Lord came to Laban and Balaam, always to keep them from further wrongdoing. Paul writes: everyone knows God’s rules of law and righteousness. There’s a general morality, a sense of right and wrong, the Lord has put in the hearts of all people. We’ve received tremendous gifts from our Creator that elevate us far above the animals. And besides understanding, knowledge, science, it’s also conscience: the awareness of justice and injustice. That conscience can fail, can be too narrow or too broad due to certain circumstances, for example, because of the upbringing we received, can even be sick or hardly functioning. Just think of serious criminals and war criminals. But that does not alter the fact that it's a precious asset in our mind stimulating us to do the right thing and frightening us to do the wrong. And the Lord uses this as a receiving station to pass on his message to us. Appreciate that voice of conscience. Please don’t argue with it too often because it will make her weaker. Think of it as one of God’s good tools to work for the good of us, an instrument that everyone gets, even to the farthest heathen, but that becomes more and more precise the more you follow the Lord Jesus.

An instrument for the benefit? It doesn’t seem like that. For what does God say to Abimelech? “Behold, you are a child of death.” That sounds harsh. In many countries, the death penalty has been abolished, and if it’s still carried out, it’s only for the most serious criminals. Is God so cruel? We have difficulty with that. And yet, in His righteousness, He really cannot do otherwise. Because if we don’t do the right things with the life, He gave us, we are not worth living. To do good is the reason why He has given us life. Or do you wish God had created us with less high ideals? Not with the great intention to love Him and our neighbour, to seek peace, justice, freedom, happiness for everyone and thus become happy ourselves? Isn’t that very deep within us, the desire of all of us? Isn’t that the sense we want to give to our life? Then we shouldn’t be surprised either, that as soon as we ignore those wonderful intentions, we will be told: you have not made yourself worth living. You are a child of death.

But what a miracle of grace it is that God has given us one human being who lived as He intended and on whom He yet carries out the death penalty. His son. The Lord Jesus. In our place, He lived as we had to live and became the child of death to keep us alive and that even forever. Isn’t that rich? Believe in Him!

Why is Abimelech a child of death? Because He took another’s wife. So there are certain commandments God asks of everyone, regardless of their faith or unbelief. Not all cultures have the same idea of what life is, property, or marriage. In one culture, the life of the tribe, the community, is much more important than that of the individual. In another, an individual is a unique person whose life one not easily sacrifices. In one culture, livestock is jointly owned; in another, it’s not. In one culture, a man can marry only one woman; in another, more. But don’t be mistaken. There is no arbitrariness. There are strict rules everywhere. Especially among the most primitive tribes in Africa or South America. Rules derived from the commandments: You shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery. They may be orders of God distorted by superstition, but they exist. And thus, the Lord in His wisdom and love makes human coexistence possible on this earth. Because without such worldwide commandments and obedience to them, it will be chaos. Because of that, it isn’t good when Christians are playing fast and loose with these fundamental commandments. And it also isn’t good in a Western European civilization, which has been under the influence of the Christian faith for centuries, that these commandments are keeping so bad. I’m thinking of the murders, you regularly read about in the newspaper: liquidations in the underworld, but also because of relationship problems, jealousy and hatred. I’m thinking of the countless forms of theft taking place. I’m thinking of erotic escapades and adultery, having one woman after another or at the same time. In short, take the Ten Commandments very seriously, also the second table of it. These are things that the Lord imposes on the entire human family. Christians cannot avoid that at all.

But what is Abimelech’s answer? Lord, will you kill a righteous nation? A nation? Wasn’t it about him himself? Certainly, but God not only created us as individuals but also placed us in communities. When we’re doing something wrong, it has consequences in our environment. When a king is failing, his people are the victim. Just think of Saddam Hussein. When a father, mother, child fails, the family is the victim. When a Christian fails, his congregation is the victim. If only for the talk: such a bandit visits the services on Sundays! With every mistake, we incur an extra debt because it has repercussions on others around us. Abimelech understands that. He knows: what I do as a king, even if it’s private, concerns all of my people. And in that, he is wise, sometimes wiser as we are. We soon say: I can do what I want with my life, can’t I? Doesn’t anyone else have anything to do with that? Fortunately, this close bond between the individual and the community also works for the better. Al that one did, Jesus Christ, concerns his whole people. God will not kill a righteous people for that, but give life to a sinful people. How great!

And then Abimelech clears himself. “I did it in my innocence. They said they were brother and sister.” Anything contrary to God’s intention is guilt. Apart from the purposes with which one did it. In the Old Testament, this goes so far that someone who accidentally kills another has to flee to a city of refuge. For example, his axe flies off the handle while chopping and hits another. Only by running he will be protected from revenge. Yet the Lord, the knower of our hearts, considers whether we did something on purpose or not. Abimelech has all the space to talk to the Lord about guilt and innocence, and the Lord listens to Him. And so weren’t the idols then and there. They were blind impersonal powers. They gave prosperity or adversity, fertility or sterility. But you could not go to them for right and wrong questions, personal responsibility and guilt. For that, you can go to the God of Israel and the Father of Jesus Christ. You can talk to Him about what’s going wrong in your life. And about whether it involved ignorance or not, whether you meant it that way or not. People can quickly condemn us or lightheartedly justify what we did, but before the face of the Lord, the truth comes to light about our innocence and purity or the lack of that. He is our supreme Judge, who will one day judge all of our lives. Strictly fair and taking all circumstances into account. Fortunately, He is also the Father of the Lord Jesus, whom He gave to atone the sins and guilt for everyone who has come to believe in Him.

We also hear that the Lord in His goodness often keeps us from evil, while we are not aware of it. Given what the end of our chapter says, Abimelech, for some reason, had not yet slept with Sarah. Probably due to illness. “I”, God says, “ have therefore kept you from sinning against Me. That is why I have not allowed you to touch her." Sometimes there’s a hitch in our plans. Due to some setback. Unfortunately. But, who knows, it may be God’s gracious guidance that prevents us from sinning so. Who knows, what we don’t experience as a blessing from God is nevertheless a blessing, because otherwise, we would have done the wrong thing, and God now closed those roads to evil. We may ignorantly have been saved for a lot of guilt because God sent us in ways we didn’t want or prevented us from going on ways we did want.

Early the next morning, Abimelech calls his servants together and tells them everything. Wise. Because you should never grapple with such guilt questions on your own. You should not only share it with God but also with others who are connected to you. That’s not easy, but it’s beneficial. Liberating. The confession isn’t such a bad thing. Confess your sins to one another, James wrote. Blessed is the congregation, whose members have such a close bond that they can pour out their hearts to each other, also when they have deep guilt questions. It should be possible among the Lord Jesus’s followers, who bore all our debts and atoned for them.

And the men got afraid. Shameful. Pagans often have a greater fear of evil and the disaster it causes than Jews and Christians, who know the God of Israel and the Father of the Lord Jesus. Muslims often take their faith and the precepts of Allah far more seriously than we take our faith and the commandments of the Lord. God’s hidden and idolatrous appeal to Gentiles often has more effect than his direct and open appeal to us Christians. That makes our transgressions all the more serious. We sometimes look down on people of a different religion. Aren’t they a bit primitive? Be careful. Because when it comes to the relationship between doctrine and life, those with bad doctrine could live well and those with good doctrine badly.

That’s why Abimelech sues Abraham. That gets a heavy accent. “What have you done to us? What have I done against you that you brought me and my kingdom to such a great sin? You did things to me that were not allowed.” These are serious reproaches, still from someone who had not been called out of Ur by the true God to be a blessing to the earth. For Abraham, who has been, to wish the ground swallow him up. Likewise, as Christians, we have a high calling; to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world; to make visible God’s glorious purposes for us; to live the true, new life before others in imitation of the Lord Jesus. It’s debt when nothing comes of it, and we only give cause for justified accusations. And we let it get that far occasionally. It’s no advertisement for the Lord and his cause. Fortunately, there is one of Abraham’s lineage who could rightly say: “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” The Lord Jesus Christ! No charge stands against Him. Therefore, we can hide behind Him with our mistakes.

Abimelech also says to Abraham: “What purpose did you mean to do this?” So Abimelech pushes on to Abraham’s heart. What made you do it? What did you mean by it? Whoever against whom we’ve done wrong has the right to ask. And we also have the moral duty to keep asking ourselves. What mentality was behind it? Because good intentions sometimes go wrong. And behind the most pious deeds can hide wrong motives. Is our heart a pure or cloudy source? All our words and actions come from our hearts. Guard your heart because that is the source of life, is a saying, freely translated. Anyone who wants to live a righteous life and does not like to blame himself especially wants to receive a new, clean heart. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit can give it to us through faith in the Lord Jesus.

Abraham’s heart, frankly, did not have such tremendous motives. “I thought, perhaps there is no fear of God in this place. They will kill me for my wife.” They probably don’t take the Lord and His commandments into account here. You shall not commit adultery or kill. To distrust people; to expect of them rather the wrong than the good; likewise, to underestimate God’s work in the consciences of others. And to be afraid of them. These are not such beautiful motives. And often, the following applies: It takes a low mind to think low. For if Abraham himself had known the fear of God then, he wouldn’t have lied, hadn’t given false testimony, and had trusted God would help him. Now he's only driven by fear of his own skin. It’s good to consult ourselves as well. What's moving me in my daily activities? Am I afraid of people? Do I always expect the negative from them? Don’t I dare to stick my neck out? Don’t I dare to take God into account? With his care and blessing for those who keep his commandments, even sometimes through adversity? You know, I'm thinking of Him, who without fear of the reactions of men and his life was completely obedient to God’s commandments and who relied on God right through all need and death. In our place. Jesus Christ! How beautiful it would be if faith made us more and more like Him and less and less like Abraham here in his weak moments.

And weak he is! His further excuse also sounds very lame. Sara anyway is my sister, even though she's my half-sister and has become my wife. And I had agreed with her long ago when we left Ur of the Chaldees that she would pretend to be my sister. Excuses, on which he elaborates. We know that: a lot of words to disguise something, get out of something, find an angle on it; proclaiming half-truths, which are complete lies; claiming to have fulfilled very old agreements. It doesn’t sound credible. That‘s something to think about when it comes to the moral questions of good and evil. Our story wants to recharge the battery, so to speak, that in our conscience turns the warning red light on when we’re doing the same as Abraham.

And what is Abimelech’s response? He's essentially not guilty, but he does feel it that way. And does its utmost to repair the damage, yes actually makes sacrifices of atonement. Abraham not only gets Sarah back but also receives sheep and oxen, slaves and female servants. He gets all the hospitality. “Behold, my country is open to you. Settle where you think it’s right.” And he gets a thousand pieces of silver as the saving from Sarah’s honour. How deeply Abimelech knows full well that one must settle every debt and make up for every damage made. What a high price he pays to have a free conscience. What a deep sense of justice he has. We sometimes fall short of that. We sometimes easily get over what went wrong, intentionally or unintentionally, our guilt. Abimelech is closer to the truth, considering how seriously the Lord Himself has dealt with it. He gave his own Son for reparation and satisfaction as a sacrifice of atonement. What a high price! But there was no other way. His justice demanded that. But in this way, the debt has been paid for us. Thus there is for us sinners acquittal and redemption. What a blessing.

Now you could deduce from the fact that God’s children are sometimes disappointing and the world is sometimes not too bad, that it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you take your faith seriously. But that’s too simple. God graciously chose Abraham to enter into a covenant of love and faithfulness with him, blessed him and made him a blessing. And that’s what He holds despite Abraham’s unfaithfulness. God also says to Abimelech: Abraham is a prophet. In other words, despite everything, he will remain throughout his life the interpreter of my saving message to the world, just like the people who will come forth from him. He remains the mediator and intercessor.

Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and maids. What a miracle of grace! Still be used by God for the fulfilment of his beautiful promises, even though you are no longer worth it at all and so often get in the way of that fulfilment with your stupid actions. Is it not the same with us Christians? What a miracle to follow Jesus towards God’s future of salvation and peace, to make the signs of that future visible on earth, to be allowed to be God’s light in this world, while you've long since made yourself unworthy of it by your mistakes. What a great God, in Jesus Christ! ”If we are faithless, He remains faithful--for he cannot deny himself ( 2 Tim. 2:13). Amen.

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

Last held on the 7th of September 2003 at Hattem

A good friend! You discuss everything with him. Also, very personal things. Your joy and sorrow. All you went through and you’re up to. You have no secrets for a close friend. You also can say it to him if you don’t understand him or disagree with him. Great to have such a friend.

Do you have one? But above all: Do you have God as such a friend? And does God have you as such a friend? That’s believing: being friends with the Lord, dealing with each other personally, having a real conversation with each other about everything. That’s how the Lord and Abraham also treated each other.

The three guests, one of whom is God himself, are leaving. Abraham sees them out as a good host. And then the true friendship appears. For at that moment, the Lord thinks: "Would I hide from Abraham what I’m going to do?"

So God deals like a friend with those who believe in Him. Confidentially. He shares his secrets with them. He had chosen them. He knows them and will be known by them, like with Abraham. He sometimes lets them know what everybody else does not know. He shows them backgrounds that others don’t see. He gives them special wisdom and insight. He shows them his ways, which are higher than men’s. “Would I hide from Abraham what I’m going to do?” Yes, the Lord sometimes gives His children wonderful insight into His intervention in history. In the short history of human life. In the great history of this world. Then they see lines running that others cannot see. They see God’s hand in all kinds of events. They have a spiritual explanation for what's a mystery to others. There's no proof, but it’s inspired to them, they are sure.

The downfall of Sodom? Ah, the city was in a volcanic area that then started to move violently. The ground turned to hot liquid lava. All kinds of gases escaped from the earth ignited. Logically nothing remained. But there’s more behind it: the hand of the righteous judging God. And whoever believes will know about it. Wars, disasters, but also miraculous outcomes and coincidences, God’s children see acts of the Lord in them. And sometimes, they already know what’s going to happen because of their secret relationship with God. God has told them what He’s going to do, just like with Abraham. I’m thinking, for example, of the few pastors in the church of the Netherlands who warned about Hitler’s horrors but weren't taken seriously.

But is it just a noncommittal spiritual hobby? I see what you don’t see? No. We don't let our children learn all kinds of things at school for fun, but with the intention that it'll benefit them. And so the Lord also doesn’t give His children that spiritual insight for fun. But to help them further on the way to the final redemption, of theirs and the worlds. Why doesn’t God hide from Abraham what he is going to do? “For Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and with him, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” That's why! What God tells Abraham somehow fits into the fulfilment of God’s promises of righteousness and salvation. One sometimes hears people tell what the Lord revealed to them. The most wonderful things. The herbs they must pick and cook for their healing. The train they have to take to meet their true life partner. Sorry, I don’t know what to do with such stories. I dare not judge, let alone condemn. I want to ask people who tell such wonderful stories: Do you also know how to fit it into God’s great salvation plan for this world, which He started with Abraham and which He made a decisive turn about through Jesus Christ? For God does not give promptings just like that, only if they fit in the route to his Kingdom.

And just as our children don’t learn all kinds of things at school for fun but to use it wisely in their later life, so God’s children must use the secrets that the Lord has entrusted to them, also for the benefit of themselves and others. And this is to walk the right ways of the Lord, and not the crooked ways of Satan. “For I have chosen him,” said God, “that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.” They are lessons and warnings that must be passed on. That now and in the future will keep people from wicked ways and on the way to salvation. God fulfils to Abraham all that He has spoken about him. But by way of justice. The Lord wants to be our friend, really know us. And that means: knowing us lovingly, choosing, saving us. But then we, too, will have to keep the way of the Lord by doing what He says is right. Are we trying that seriously every day? Sodom is an educational example that there's no other way. That the way of injustice and sin has a dead end.

For sins against the righteous God are not silent, mute sins, but crying, lamenting sins. Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 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.” So sins are infuriating, crying to heaven. It happens when the victim of the injustice complains about his need for God. As James wrote: “Indeed the wages that you kept back by fraud from the labourers who harvested your fields are crying, and the cries of those who harvested have entered into the ears of the Lord of Hosts.” (James 5:4) But even when the victim no longer can shout, silenced, yes, killed. Like Abel: “Hear, the voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the face of the earth”. (Gen.4:10)

But also, sins one has covered up are heard by the Lord. Every sin calls upwards and is a cry of an indictment. In the Dutch language, we know the expression: crying injustice. All injustice cries out to God. Which reminds us of the seriousness of any sin.

And so the cry of Sodom’s sins is cause for an investigation by the heavenly detective. “I will go down and see.” God also examines our lives in this way. And nothing remains hidden from Him. “Nothing, O Supreme Majesty, is hidden from your omniscience.” (Dutch Christian hymn) That’s a comfort on the one hand. The Lord does not go with the name and reputation we have among men, which is not always correct. He will investigate it himself. But it’s, on the other hand, a warning that may keep us from doing wrong. The Lord will come to see and judge it Himself. He doesn't stay at a safe distance in heaven but enters our lives and looks at us with his inquiring gaze. Well, who doesn’t look down in shame then?

And so Abraham hears what the Lord is planning for Sodom. But seeing God’s hand in the events does not mean that every riddle has been solved. On the contrary, it sometimes raises new questions. These are questions that concern not only Abraham but also Job and Asaph, but all of us. These are things that we feel cannot be reconciled with God’s justice. Things that show He still hides something from us in His majesty and wisdom. He is the exalted God, whom we cannot always understand. Are You going to kill the righteous with the wicked? Do You give them the same fate? Will you, the Judge of all the earth, do not justice?

Thus, an awful lot is happening that’s also unjust in our understanding. And it’s therefore difficult to reconcile with the existence and justice of God. So much is happening that makes us sigh: that’s not fair. Why? Why must the good suffer from the bad? But is that a reason to break off the conversation with the Lord? On the contrary. It’s an application to interfere with God’s government in the good sense of the word, in the sense of intercession. For everyone, for the righteous and the wicked.

Likewise, Abraham has a heart full of love and compassion for everyone. All the inhabitants of Sodom. He can't bear it that they will go to their destruction, although most have more than deserved it. He asks the Lord to spare them. Abraham has a high-priestly heart.

Do you also have such a heart? One that has pain because of the need and lost state of the world? Do you ever think with fear that every person, known or unknown, friendly or not, white, brown or black, has a soul to lose and goes towards eternity? Is it hard for you to read with dry eyes from a plane crash or see images of a terrible act of terrorism in Israel or Iraq? Do you ever spontaneously cry out: O Lord, what is to be done of your world? It’s easy when the world’s need doesn’t bother you; when you live your own life without caring about others. You are not so vulnerable; you have less pain from worrying about the other person. But whether it is so much better? The more we resemble Jesus, the better it is. And was He not moved with compassion for the crowd? Did he not weep for Lazarus, for Jerusalem, even for an entire city? As Christians, we stand in the ministry of the believers. It’s in the royal ministry, like Abraham, who associates princely with the Lord, so that He does not hide from him what He is going to do. It’s the prophetic ministry, like Abraham, who must command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the Lord. But it also is a priestly ministry, like Abraham, who intercedes for wicked Sodom. What room does intercession have in our prayer life? The intercession for acquaintances and loved ones, but also strangers, yes the whole world, through which the deep cracks of sin and sorrow pass? That is a gauge of our faith. So we can see to what extent our hearts is converted, to what extent we have become like Christ’s image, who prayed for the transgressors: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

In this context, I remember a chorus of a poem, also a prayer, written by a resistance fighter on his death row: “Lord, help the others, I will be right”. How rich it is if you can pray like that.

So Abraham prays for Sodom. In all humility: “I am just dust and ashes.” But also in some boldness: “I have undertaken”. I dare it. Do we also know that combination of humility and courage? I'm afraid that this humility is hard to find in modern man. All kinds of reproaches are made towards God. How can He allow this, not stop that? If He exists, why is there so much suffering in the world, and does He not punish the wicked? Abraham wants to avoid punishment! Modern man calls God to account instead of knowing to be accountable to God. Modern man has also forgotten that he’s insignificant before God. And that we cannot understand and fathom God with our little minds. He does not confess: “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counsellor has taught Him? (Is. 40:13) He does not realize that we’re just dust and ashes. What about our humility? Do we experience our prayers as a daring undertaking because it’s quite something to approach the holy eternal God, dust and ashes as we are?

And what about our boldness? Do we dare to ask a lot because it’s not for ourselves but for others? And because we dare to expect miracles from God? Or do we soon shut up? Are we afraid to ask what is no longer in line with expectations and scientific logic?

Now Abraham speaks concretely in his intercession about the relationship between the righteous people in Sodom and the entire city of Sodom. So it’s about the relationship between individual persons and the community to which they belong. Because as individuals, we live in relationships. We sometimes forget that in these modern times, times of individualism. The individual is number one. We have little regard for the collective relations, for the communities of which we are a part. Yet it’s built into God’s creation that we're not alone in this world, but we're part of a continent, a culture, a people, a region, a city or village, a certain environment, a family, spouses with children. On the one hand, we often unintentionally and unasked are involved in the good en evil of the communities in which we live. When the Germans occupied the Netherlands, this had major consequences for each citizen’s life personally, even though one person suffered heavier from the occupation than the other. On the other hand, our personal actions, consciously or unconsciously, influence the communities to which we belong. That gives an additional responsibility. Not only our fate, but also others are in our hands to a certain extent. If we surrender to evil, we will suck others into the abyss of that evil. An alcoholic drags his entire family to ruin. Bad work ethic works like a spiritual poison on colleagues. Evil is a contagious virus that spreads very easily. Whoever sins does not only harm himself but also others. Sinning has a collective effect on our environment. It’s ruining a whole community, of which good people are also a part. So the righteous must suffer under the wicked. When an entire society is depraved, religion has been banned, lawlessness reigns, there's much lovelessness, then the good suffer severely. The whole social climate is then something in which they find it difficult to breathe. Therefore, now may be a difficult time for God’s children in our modern, materialistic, godless culture. Sinning does not only harm ourselves but also the neighbourhood. It drags others down with it. Be careful!

But, Abraham asks the Lord, can this collective relationship work not only negatively but also positively? If there are righteous men in the city, can they save it from destruction? Yes, says the Lord, then I will not destroy it for their sake. How good and fruitful your life is if it’s a life of faith, love and righteousness, if you may be converted again and again by God’s Word and Spirit and walk in the way of God’s commandments. That’s not only a blessing for yourself but also for others. Then constructive forces go out from you to your environment, and you preserve the communities you are in from disruption. Then you are the salt of the earth, as Jesus said to his disciples, and salt stops decay and gives the taste. How a God-fearing mother, a wise father, can protect the family from degeneration in these turbulent times. How good a few honest jovial colleagues can keep the atmosphere on the factory’s work floor good. How interest in each other, compassion for each other, helping each other can be the cement that keeps a community together; a city, a village, a church. What good influence can come from a sensible boy, a good girl in youth circles! The Lord loves to see that. Much more than to come and inspect the sins in a community. And He is willing to spare such a community for the good He still sees. He will forgive the whole place for their sake because He is loving. Where He sees some perspective because there are still righteous men living among the wicked who work like salt, there He postpones His judgment. That becomes clear in the conversation with Abraham. Reason to pursue the good and ask: “Lord, make me one who will be fruitful and constructive in the communities I belong to. My family, relatives, colleagues, the circle of friends.

But when do the scale skip? When are there too few righteous men to keep a wicked community from destruction? That’s the exciting question in our chapter. And the tension increases. There may be fifty righteous in the city. Perhaps the fifty are missing five. Maybe forty will be found there. Or thirty. Or twenty. Let not the Lord be angry if I speak one more time: perhaps ten are found there. And He said: “I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.” And then the conversation ends quite abruptly. Abraham does not dare to continue with haggling, and the Lord also goes away, closing the conversation. We know how it went on. Not even ten righteous were found, for Sodom was destroyed while only Lot and his daughters were saved.

But we have to forget that for a while. Our story has an open ending. Open to the New Testament, in which it’s about that one just person, the only real just and sinless person, who remained in the whole world: Jesus Christ. Because of Him, the Judge of the entire earth still looks upon the world with love and grace, and spares it, and has reserved for it a future of salvation. Due to Him, the scale has not always turned to the wrong side. He’s the only one who, collectively for many, wanted to be salt, sparing, preserving, saving for the entire human community. Who took on all the burdens of a world lying in sin and guilt. The only one who in his saving righteousness wanted to bear the penalty for sins. “For him who had no knowledge of sin God made to be sin for us; so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”( 2Cor. 5:21) It wasn’t 50, not 40 or 30, 20 or 10, but only one, in the end, given by God, Jesus Christ. But that was enough. He puts so much weight on the scale by his atoning work, vicarious sinlessness, and vicarious suffering and dying of sins that the scale of God’s justice goes in the right direction. There's still salvation for sinners such as you and I if we take refuge in this Jesus. He pleads and prays for us even more than Abraham for Sodom. Oh, how wonderful: “The wrongdoing of your people had forgiveness; all their sin had been covered. You were no longer angry: you were turned from the heat of your wrath.” (Psalm 85:2 and 3) This for the sake of Jesus, the one righteous person who wanted to become a sinner for us

Let us, therefore, entrust ourselves to this Jesus, seeking from Him the sparing and redeeming love of the Father. That granted righteousness, whereby we only can exist before the Judge of the earth. Let us also together form a community around this one Righteous. Please let us not pass Him by now that we know so much glorious about Him. For He, Himself says that if Sodom had learned as much as we do, it would have remained to this day, and He warns that it will be more tolerable to Sodom in the Judgment Day than to us if we don’t repent to Him. (Matth. 11:23 and 24) Will we find some in our hometown? Righteous people? Justified in Jesus Christ? But how much? We don’t know the number, the Lord only. Do you belong to them? Amen.