The God Who Judges Sin

Original Date: 
Sunday, July 20, 2014

Genesis 19 The God Who Judges Sin

A Tough Passage to Read
Our Scripture passage this morning is a difficult one to read in a worship service. It is not a nice story. I even debated whether I should read it this morning, but decided that it is in the Bible, and if you have read it, you probably have questions about it, so I can’t pretend it’s not there.

The text is Genesis 19. It is one of the most disturbing pictures of human behavior you will ever see. It gives a picture of God that we don’t often like to think about. It is very unsettling. And yet, it also contains a message of hope.

So, I’m going to read Genesis 19 this morning, and I invite you to follow along with me. Then I’m going to make four observations about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Rather than one sermon about one thing this morning, I’m going to give you four mini-sermons. Four sermons for the price of one.

Genesis 19:

The two angels [who accompanied the LORD on His visit to Abraham in the last chapter] arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2"My lords," he said, "please turn aside to your servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning."

"No," they answered, "we will spend the night in the square."

3But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. 4Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom-both young and old-surrounded the house. 5They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them."

6Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. 8Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof."

9"Get out of our way," they replied. And they said, "This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We'll treat you worse than them." They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. 10But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door.

11Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door. 12The two men said to Lot, "Do you have anyone else here-sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it." 14So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, "Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!" But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

15With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished."

16When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, "Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!"

18But Lot said to them, "No, my lords, please! 19Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can't flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I'll die. 20Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it-it is very small, isn't it? Then my life will be spared."

21He said to him, "Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it." (That is why the town was called Zoar. )

23By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 24Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah-from the Lord out of the heavens. 25Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities-and also the vegetation in the land. 26But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.

29So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.

30Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. 31One day the older daughter said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. 32Let's get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father."

33That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. 34The next day the older daughter said to the younger, "Last night I lay with my father. Let's get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father." 35So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.

36So both of Lot's daughters became pregnant by their father. 37The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab ; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi ; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.

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A Dreadful Thing
My first observation is this: This is a story about human depravity. It is a dreadful thing to be given over to sinful desires.

One of the most notorious things about this story, of course, is the homosexuality. The messengers sent by God to see if things in Sodom are really that bad find lodging with Lot when “all the men from every part of the city…both young and old” surround Lot’s house and demand that the strangers be handed over so that they can assault them. (4-5)

It is not by accident that one of the labels affixed to homosexuality is “Sodomy”.

A lot of people conclude that it is because of homosexuality that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. As though this were the one sin that God simply cannot stomach, the one that forces Him to pour on the fire and brimstone.

Actually, there’s a lot more than that going on here. It’s not just that they are sexually attracted to people of the same gender—they want to violate them, physically assault them. More than that, other Bible passages which refer to Sodom and Gomorrah list a number of sins evident in the cities. According to the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel the cities were guilty of: social oppression (Isa. 1:10, 17); adultery, lying, helping criminals (Jer. 23:14); arrogance, complacency, and showing no pity to the needy (Ezek. 16:49).

In other words, this is not an example of one specific sin, but an example of total human depravity. All the men, from all over the city, of all ages, are guilty of all manner of sin.

In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul writes:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images…Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie…Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. (Rom. 1:21-23a, 24-25a, 26a)

Paul is writing about the human condition generally, but his words are clearly applicable to Sodom. What has happened, he says, is that these people have completely abandoned God. They’ve foolishly denied His existence and exchanged His truth for lies. As a result, God has abandoned them. He’s removed the restraining influence of His grace and given them over to the sinful desires of their hearts. He’s let them have what they want, and the result is the horrible lawlessness of Sodom.

That’s why I say this is a story about human depravity. That’s why I say it is a dreadful thing to be given over to sinful desires.

The downward spiral evidenced in this chapter is shocking and deplorable. As bad as it is when all the men of the city call for Lot’s guests so they can assault them, it gets even worse when Lot tries to protect his guests by offering to send out his daughters instead. What was Lot thinking? Clearly he’d been negatively influenced by the environment he was living in.

But then there’s the end of the chapter where Lot’s daughters—apparently believing the nuclear destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah has wiped everybody off the face of the earth—decide they need to get their father drunk in order to continue the family line. Where’d they learn to make those kind of choices? Apparently they’re just following the example set by Dad.

There is a saying that goes: “Be careful what you wish for.” And it is certainly true when it comes to the human heart. We are, by nature, sinful beings, and if God were to give us over to our desires—that is, if He would grant all our wishes--this world would be a far, far worse place in which to live.

One of the things we can be grateful to God for is the restraining grace which keeps this world from being as bad as it could be. This story of Sodom is a reminder to us of just how totally depraved humanity is capable of being. That’s my first observation: This is a story about human depravity. It is a dreadful thing to be given over to sinful desires.

Talking About Homosexuality
At the same time, since this story brings it up, maybe I should pause for a few minutes to talk about homosexuality. Here’s my second observation: This is a story about homosexuality. We must have a balanced, Biblical response to the issue of homosexuality.

Homosexuality continues to be a hot battleground in today’s culture war. So it makes sense that we would think about this issue as a church.

On the one hand, I’ve heard from many of you, and from many other believers, that it doesn’t seem right that homosexuality is the one sin which gets so much attention from Christians. Sometimes it seems like preachers get all worked up about homosexuality and sexual sins while saying very little about other sins—like dishonesty or greed. And it’s true, you will often hear people who claim to represent Jesus Christ who describe homosexuals as vile, damnable creatures with no hope of regeneration. Like I said earlier, some Christians make it sound as though homosexuality is the one sin which really pushes God’s buttons.

In response to this, we must say that, yes, the Bible defines homosexuality as a sin , but it does not single this sin out as any more Hell-worth than any of the other activities the Bible describes as sin. Let me be very clear on this: the Bible says that any sexual behavior outside the one man, one woman covenant of marriage is sinful behavior; and all sinful behavior comes with serious consequences (cf. 1 Cor. 6:18).

And yet, the gospel is also clear that Jesus died on the cross to offer forgiveness for ALL sinners from all kinds of sins. He wants us to help people see that in His grace there is power to leave all sorts of sinful lifestyle patterns behind.

And so, our response to gay men and women must be loving, hospitable and kind. If you know someone who is homosexual, and the matter comes up, you will want to let him or her know that you feel such behavior is sinful, but also that you are willing to befriend, love, and spend time with him or her. To automatically categorize all homosexuals as damnable sinners worthy of hell is to miss the point of the gospel, and miss our calling as ambassadors of Christ’s love.

But, on the other hand, while I’m not always happy about the rhetoric that is used, I am in agreement with those who are taking a stand against homosexuality. You see, one of the reasons homosexuality gets so much attention from Christians while other sins—like dishonesty or greed—may not get as much, is because nobody is coming to the church and saying that those other sins should be reclassified as acceptable behavior. That is, we don’t have organizations of liars coming to the church and saying that we should celebrate and ordain to ministry people who engage in dishonest lifestyles. And yet, that is exactly what is happening with homosexuality: we are being told—both at the cultural and the spiritual levels—that we should stop calling homosexual acts sinful and start celebrating those who engage in them.

You see, what is at stake here goes way beyond one particular sin, to our very understanding of sin itself. The argument is being made that if public opinion is in favor of it, then certain activities should be acceptable. We should be allowed to decide what is right and wrong, without any reference to an objective standard.

If we can randomly redefine what is sinful and what is not, then there’s really no reason to call anything sinful at all, and then there’s no need for a Savior or for the Bible or for the Church or anything. We might as well let everybody do what they want, God might as well hand us all over to our desires, and we can take our chances living in a world like that of Sodom.

And so, while homosexuality is not the only sin of Sodom—nor necessarily worse or better than any other sin—this is still a story about homosexuality. We must have a balanced, Biblical response to the issue of homosexuality. We must continue to take a stand for the Biblical standard of right and wrong while seeking to love and reach out to those caught up in this sin.

No Joke
My third observation is this: This is a story about judgment. Judgment is coming, don’t pass it off as a joke.

Sodom and Gomorrah were filled with sinful people. God had handed them over to the desires of their hearts and the result was lawlessness: inhospitality, lust, violence, rape, homosexuality, and more. The Lord knew it was bad (18:20), but He sent angels to check it out just so that no one could say He was unfair. Now, the gig is up, Sodom and Gomorrah must be destroyed. God judges sin.

We have to know this. We have to recognize this. It may not be the picture of a gentle, patient, grandfatherly God that you want to have; but it is a part of the picture of God painted in the Bible. God judges sin.

The overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah is violent and horrific. Verse 24 says:

Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land.

A catastrophic, volcanic eruption. Natural gases—sulfur and bitumen, naturally found in the lower valley of the Dead Sea—being released and ignited in an inferno of heat and destruction. The King James Version says it was a rain of brimstone and fire. A literal “Hell on earth.” And the result is that everything—all the plants and buildings and people—are reduced to a smoldering pile of ashes.

And notice, it is God who does this. Verse 24 says it twice, just so we won’t miss it: “The LORD rained down burning sulfur…” “…from the LORD out of the heavens.”

God judges sin. The pot of sin in Sodom and Gomorrah had reached the boiling point and God’s patience had run out. This is His righteous wrath on the sinfulness of these people.

And don’t think this is just an outdated story of an Old Testament God who no longer exists. The same God who judged Sodom and Gomorrah is the God who is going to judge all sin. Jude 7 says:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

There is a fire coming that is so much worse than the fire and brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah. An eternal fire!

There is a judgment coming.

God is not a patsy. He’s not just some giant teddy bear God who allows Himself to be taken advantage of again and again. He’s not sitting up there watching us break His law over and over and just chuckling to Himself and saying, “Aw, shucks guys…you didn’t quite get it right, let’s try again.” He’s keeping track, and those sins are going to be paid for. There’s going to be an accounting. One way or another, every sin will be paid for. There is a judgment coming.

And our response needs to be to get ready, not to pass it off as a joke

Not to be lost in this whole story of Sodom and Gomorrah is the response of Lot’s future sons-in-law. When Lot goes to warn them of the angels’ message, they write him off as a kook. They don’t get out of the city, verse 14 says, because they “thought he was joking.”

“Yeah right, old man, the sky is going to fall. Ooooo! We’re scared. The world’s going to end.”

They thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. They thought they could go on with life as usual, but they couldn’t. Their world did end.

In the same way today, anytime you need a laugh in a movie, it always works to take some guy and dress him up as a bum and put a sandwich board on him that says: “The End is Near.” But this isn’t a joke. There is a judgment coming. God judges sin.

You know, Satan has two real effective weapons when it comes to enticing us into sin. One is to convince us that a certain activity isn’t sinful at all. That’s what we see with the movement to legitimize homosexuality. The other is to convince us that there really won’t be a judgment. That God doesn’t really care.

But don’t believe the lie. There is a judgment coming. Sodom and Gomorrah are an example to us. God judges sin. Don’t pass it off as a joke.

Don’t look back
Fourth and finally then: This is a story about salvation. Flee to God’s mercy and don’t look back.

Don’t forget, in the midst of all the depravity and sin and judgment that there is a rescue here. Lot was rescued.

The two angels were supposedly being protected by Lot, but they actually protect him. When the mob got out of hand, they reached out and pulled him through the door (v. 10). They blinded the perverse attackers (v. 11). They urged him to save his family and to run (v. 12, v. 15, v. 17). When Lot hesitates, they actually grasp his hands and the hands of his family and drag them out of the city (v. 16). They grant Zoar to him (v. 21). They brought Lot out of the catastrophe (v. 29). Lot was rescued. This is a story about salvation.

Now, why was Lot rescued?

Obviously, it wasn’t because of anything he had done. He didn’t earn it. Even when escape was offered, his fear almost kept him from accepting it. Why was he rescued? It has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the Lord.

Look at verse 16:

When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, [WHY?] for the LORD was merciful to them.

Lot hadn't done a thing to merit his rescue. He was saved because the Lord was merciful to him.

This is a story about salvation. This is a rescue story. And it should give us great hope.

The same God who judges sin, the same God who pours out judgment and wrath, is also willing to give mercy and grace.

I said earlier that, one way or another, all sins are going to be paid for. Either we will pay for them ourselves—in the manner of Sodom and Gomorrah—or Jesus will pay for them for us—receiving the judgment and wrath we deserve at the cross. As Paul explains in Romans 3, the cross represents God judgment of the sins of all who would believe in His Son. In His great mercy, He’s provided for our sins to be judged at the cross.

And so, just as the angels pled with Lot and his family to flee to the mountains, to flee for their lives, I urge you to flee to God’s mercy. Flee to the cross. Recognize that judgment is coming and that you deserve to be judged for your sin, but find your refuge in the cross. Flee to the Lord Jesus Christ!

Flee to His mercy and don’t look back.

Of all the sad things that happen in this story, there is probably nothing sadder than the fate of Lot’s wife. Warned of judgment and dragged from the city, she’s on her way to safety when she stops, turns around, and gets turned into a pillar of salt (26).

Now, I don’t think this is a case of her taking a quick glance behind or looking back because she heard a loud noise. I think she actually stopped and longed to return to Sodom, because she missed it. Rescued from the very pit of hell, she actually wanted to go back.

How sad! It’s like a rescued drowning man longing to return to the riptide that nearly took his life way. It’s like a woman rescued by fire fighters from her burning house longing to return to the flames. It’s what you and I are like when, rescued by the wonderful mercy of Jesus, we long to return to the sinful patterns of life He died to save us from.

Jesus told his disciples: “Remember Lot's wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it." (Luke 17:32-33) He tells us: “No one
who puts his hand to the plow [of discipleship] and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62)

Jesus is saying: Follow me, flee to my mercy, and don’t look back. Leave your life of sin and don’t look back.

Don't long for Sodom. Long for Christ. Don't run for Sodom. Run to Christ.

This is a story about human depravity. It’s a story about homosexuality. It’s a story about judgment. It’s about as dark as any story in the Bible can get. It’s one of the darkest stories ever told.

But, thank God, it’s also a story about Salvation. The God who judges sin is also a God who saves from sin. So: flee to His mercy and don’t look back.