When Judgment Falls

sodom and gomorrahGenesis 19

Today’s passage is a particularly difficult one for me, on several levels.  One reason is my personality.  I am kind of tenderhearted and if I err, it is usually on the side of mercy.  Secondly, I don’t want to be known as a “hell fire and brimstone” kind of pastor.  Genesis 19 actually uses the word, “brimstone.”  Yikes!  Thirdly, I’m not one to be controversial in my blogs or sermons.  And today’s text mentions one of the most controversial of subjects of our modern times.  But I’m committed to preaching and teaching ALL of God’s Word and not just the parts that make me comfortable. So, here goes…

Many today haven’t come to the Lord because of some preacher in their past that tried to scare the living thunder out of them in order for them to convert.  Scars like that don’t heal easy.  So let me say this as gently as I can.   “Judgment Day is Coming.”   It may not be tomorrow or next week or next decade. But according to the Scriptures… its coming is sure. In that day every word and deed we have ever done will be laid before the eyes of our Judge.

We have modeled for us in Scripture what the final day of the Lord will be like.  The judgment day for the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah are legendary.  They stand as monuments to the limits of the patience of a loving God.  This Biblical illustration of God’s judgment is used 22 times in the Bible.

Now I’m not a fan of disaster films.  I’ve never seen Titanic, Pearl Harbor or The Perfect Storm. Somehow knowing the disastrous outcome kind of spoils the films for me.  But many love such films.  I think because it helps them answer some questions regarding those disasters: Why did it occur?  What were its devastating effects?  And did anyone manage to escape the destruction?  Let’s apply these questions to the Sodom/Gomorrah event.

Why did this disaster occur?

The book of Genesis has thrown a few hints before we ever arrive at chapter 19.

Genesis 13:10-13 records:  Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere—this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar.  So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other.  Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom.  Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord.

One of the most controversial subjects of our time has been the morality of homosexuality.   It is not my intention to hurt anyone that is wrestling with this issue in their own lives or in the lives of their children or grandchildren, but I must be honest about what I see in Scripture.  In this Scripture and passages in Romans, Leviticus, Jude, as well as others… the Bible teaches that acts of Homosexuality are sinful.

That isn’t my opinion or bias, it is what I believe the Word of God to be saying.   Now, having said that, what about Sodom (from which the term “Sodomy” has come) and Gomorrah?  Was the sin that hastened their destruction, Homosexuality?  I don’t think that it was that sin alone that brought judgment upon them.  In the passage before us alone we see attempted rape.

We also see in the NT that Homosexuality is just one sin among many that find displeasure with God.  It is in a list with such sins as: greed, envy, deceit, and, even, gossip!

I believe it was an accumulation of wickedness that brought about the destruction of Sodom.

What is the extent of the damage?

Brimstone and Fire fell out of heaven.

     “Exudations of bitumen, petroleum and probably natural gas (since the last named generally is an accompaniment of these substances)… catching fire from lightning or human action, would adequately account for recorded phenomena…” F.G. Clapp – ‘Geology and Bitumens of the Dead Sea Area, Palestine and Transjordan.” Biblical Archaeologist Reader)

The huge underground explosion would cause flaming pieces of the city to rain down upon the populace.   The destruction was total.  Many if not most of the people died and the ground was rendered infertile from that time on.

Third Question:  Did anyone make it out?

We know from reading the story that Lot and his family did.  (At least he and his daughters… his wife turned back and was transformed into a pillar of salt.)

So, with those questions answered… what do we learn from the tragic story of these twin cities of the plain?

First of all, God is Patient in Judgment.

Genesis 15:16 told us:  “After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, when the sin of the Amorites has run its course.” and  “…for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”

God doesn’t fly off the handle in rage like we do when we are angry.  He doesn’t zap people when they disbelieve or say hurtful things about Him.   He does, however, have limits.  You see God is merciful (that is what produces His patience), but He is also just.  He will cause those that have chosen to do evil to pay the justice due their error.  Two NT passages display this tug between justice and mercy:

Romans 2:4 – Don’t you realize how kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you?  Or don’t you care?  Can’t you see how kind he has been in giving you time to turn from your sin?

and…  2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think.  No, he is being patient for your sake.  He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.

The second thing to take from this story:  God Warns Us in Light of Coming Judgment to Flee!

Picture Lot running through the streets trying to get just a few to believe him.    Not a moment can be spared if anyone is to escape the doom of the city; but Lot and his family lack the will to escape.  They have to be taken by the hand and forced out of the city.

In the process Lot lost:  His Influence

Genesis 19:9 – But they said, “Stand aside.” Furthermore, they said, “This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.” So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door.

His Morality

Genesis 19:8 – “Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

His Witness – even within his own family.

Genesis 19:14 – Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, “Up, get out of this place, for the Lord will destroy the city.” But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

His Discernment

Genesis 19:20 –  now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved.”

His Spouse

Genesis 19:26 – But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

The longer you stay in Sodom, the longer Sodom stays in you.  Mrs. Lot’s heart couldn’t leave.  It was caught in the destruction of the city.

There will come a day when God’s judgment will fall on a much larger scale (see Revelation).  The Scriptures warn us to seek escape and to warn and aid others to escape.  Is your heart too full of Sodom that your heart won’t go?  Has your witness been so dulled that others would listen anyway?  Remember the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 17.  In a passage regarding end times, Jesus says:  Remember Lot’s wife!  Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. (17:32-33)

Be a strong witness till He calls us home.

Blessings!

What Every Rainbow Says to Us

Genesis 9:1-17double rainbow

Three moms that lived through the pain of watching their sons drift away from God, wrote a book in 2002 called: Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them. One of the moms, named Heather Kopp, wrote about her wayward son, Noah.  Her son had to submit to weekly drug testing to keep off of drugs. He didn’t seem to know who he was or where he was going… particularly in the spiritual realm. Heather wrote: “Once your baby—no matter how old he is—is lost, so are you.”

She then tells a story of an event that gave her some hope in the midst of the lost state she found herself:   “One recent night I asked Noah how it went the night before.  He said it was okay. Except for the part where everybody else got high before the movie and then again after the movie while he waited outside the car.  I told him I was sorry. And I was proud of him.  “But God spoke to me,” he announced.

“Really?” (This was not typical.)

“Yeah,” he said. “While I was standing around outside waiting for those guys to get high, I saw a double rainbow.”

He wasn’t really able to articulate what God seemed to be saying through the double rainbow, but I wasn’t going to push. I reached up to ruffle his hair, and, surprisingly, he let me. Then he trotted off to the shower, a little boy inside a man-size body.  I kept thinking about that double rainbow all day. Maybe it was God’s way of saying to my Noah, “Hey, you. Look at this cool rainbow. There’s beauty in life I don’t want you to miss. And no amount of dope will make it more beautiful.”
And maybe Noah’s telling me about it was God’s way of saying to me, “Remember my promises. No matter how far he wanders away from you, he’s never out of my sight.”  (Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them, p. 5.)

How ironic that God spoke to a twentieth century Noah through a rainbow.  And that it indirectly spoke to his mom as well… granting her a message of hope.

In chapter 9 of Genesis, God makes a promise to the Biblical Noah in regard to His judgment of mankind.  “I will establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” (9:11)  Often when God makes a promise to us (one He wants us to be sure to remember) He creates a physical sign to memorialize it.  The sign of this Noahic covenant is the rainbow… a multicolored reminder of many attributes of God.  The next time you see it raining… and can see that the sun is shining as well… run outside to see the spectacle of God’s bow hung in the sky… and then remember a few things.

1)  Remember God’s Restraint.

The Hebrew term in verse 13 is the same term used when referring to a bow in archery. God is telling Noah, that in regards to judgment with flood, I’m hanging up my bow.  “I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.”  (9:16)  When we see evil continue to run rampant on this earth, it is tempting to think that God might be powerless to stop it.  What it should tell us is: God is extremely powerful in His restraint!  Praise God for the cease-fire!

2)  Remember God’s faithfulness

“When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (9:16)  God’s bow reminds us of God’s faithfulness because He has kept his word to us.  Despite the sinfulness of man, He has not caused the world to be flooded again.  Every rainbow HE looks upon today remind Him to be faithful to His promise (though He hardly needs a reminder).  Every rainbow WE look upon today should remind us that HE is indeed a faithful God.  (We do need the reminder.)

3)  Remember God’s patience.

Our twentieth century Noah (in the above story) didn’t quite know what God was saying through the rainbow, but he knew God was saying something.  Perhaps the rainbow was a symbol to Him of His patience toward him.  For although the sign of the rainbow states that God has withheld further judgment on the earth by flood, there is coming a judgment by fire.  “…the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.  But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.  … But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  (1 Peter 3:6,7 & 10.)  The rainbow reminds us that God isn’t winking at sin, but being patient with sinners.  There will be a day when the justice of God will have to be satisfied.

4)  Remember His Majesty

Remember when you saw your first rainbow?  Remember that feeling of awe?  Then you have a sense of the wonder that Noah must have felt.  It came at the end of a rough 40 days and 40 nights.  The rainbow was have been overwhelming to his senses!  And although it was a sign of the covenant to him, it also represented God’s majesty to him.  That element of the rainbow’s symbolism is found not only here in Genesis, but also in the book of Revelation (4:3) and Ezekiel.  Ezekiel describes his vision of Divine Glory in this manner:  “As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance.  Such was the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” (Ezekiel 1:28)  Stand in awe of His majesty!

Where do the storms of life find you today?  Are you kind of like the mom of our 21st Century Noah?  Trying to maintain your faith as the flood waters continue to rise in your life?  There is hope beyond the disaster that has flooded your world.  Remember God is a God of restraint, faithfulness, patience and majesty.  And every rainy day or so… He likes to remind us.

Noah: Another Review

NoahGenesis 6:16

No.  I didn’t see Noah (2014 Paramount Pictures).  There was no one reason why.  I’m not a special effects junkie.  I tend to be discouraged by Hollywood’s attempts at bringing the Bible to life.  I was busy.  I just decided to sit this one out.

I didn’t, however, escape from a flood of reviews about Noah.  They were everywhere and were a mixed bag even from within the Christian community.

Christian movie blogger Brian Godawa wrote about what troubled him:  “Flat characters that you just don’t care about. A sick twisted hero that you just don’t care about. Look, I know your hero has to have a character flaw, but this is so extreme that you can’t stand Noah, and you just want to leave the theater.”

Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis) wrote:  “Friends, last night I watched the Hollywood (Paramount) movie Noah. It is much, much worse than I thought it would be—much worse. The director of the movie, Darren Aronofsky, has been quoted in the media as saying that Noah is “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” and I agree wholeheartedly with him.”

I was intrigued by a review by Greg Thornbury of The King’s College in New York.  While he had some major theological objections to the film he saw in it some redeeming qualities: “The grim, gritty, and supernatural antediluvian biblical world takes us back into ancient history, of origins. Who are we? What has gone wrong with the world? Where is justice? Is God there? What does he have to say? That ancient world sets us back on our heels and forces us to take stock in this strange new world inside the Bible.”

This leads me back to another reason I didn’t go see Noah.  I confess I might not give the Bible story that good of a review!  If you look beyond the cute Noah’s Ark set in the church in the nursery, and actually read the story in Genesis… you feel the horror of it all.  It is hard not to see the scene through the eyes of anything but a children’s picture book.  Maybe the film might “set one back on their heels” for the first time.  In the Genesis account, God meant business.  Most of the evil and foolish men He had created were wiped out in this Million year flood.  This is as frightening a plot as any thriller Hollywood has ever dreamed up!

Stories about judgment are never an easy read.  Whether it is in Genesis 6 & 7 (at the Bible’s beginning) or in the Book of Revelation (at the Bible’s end)… these are not stories for the squeamish heart!

But as one stands there contemplating the destruction and the surge of the water don’t forget… the ark!  Yes, the judgment of God was severe and He destroyed just about all flesh on the earth.  There was a completely different perspective just on the other side of the ark’s door.  They were singing Hallelujah!

Four  facts of life we all need to see and embrace from Noah’s tale:

1.  There is a coming judgment for sin.  “…for the earth is filled with violence… I am about to destroy them…” (Genesis 6:13)

2.  A way of escape has been made.  “Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood…” (6:14)

3.  We need to enter the escape hatch before it is sealed.   “And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded them…” (7:16a)

4.  God is the one who makes the protective seal.  “…and the Lord closed it behind him.” (7:16b)

We can’t hold the waters back with our own efforts of goodness.  There is no human who can provide their own protection.  Only God can do save us.  And He did that in Christ.

Peter writes in the New Testament how: “…God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood.  And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (3:20b-21 NLT)

The review from within the ark is a much different one than one from outside its protective walls.  One day the final judgment will take its toll on this earth.  But those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb will find themselves rescued from the wrath of the Lamb.  I don’t deserve such mercy… but I am thankful He saved me.  Like a child protected in their home during a thunderstorm I can sometimes take my salvation for granted.  Help me never to be ungrateful.

How about you?  Have you responded to God?  If not, come to Jesus.  He will not turn you back.

Have you been baptized in order to picture this great saving act of God?  If not, then surrender to His will and be baptized to symbolize what He has done for you.

Hurry, He might be about to seal the door.