This sermon is part of the sermon series "R-Rated". See series.
What happened at Sodom and Gomorrah? Whether you have been to church one time or 1,000 times you have probably heard something about these two cities. But what have you heard about the two cities? Is what you have heard about the two cities correct? For that matter, is what you have heard about the two cities the full story? What is the whole story of Sodom and Gomorrah? Or to phrase it differently, what really happened at Sodom and Gomorrah? And why should it matter to you today?
Let me introduce you to one of the main characters of this story, Lot. Lot, if you have read earlier in Genesis, is Abraham's nephew. And Abraham and Lot were together in this land of promise. Abraham began prospering and because he prospered those who were with him prospered. It got to the point where the land could no longer sustain both Abraham and Lot. So Abraham and Lot agreed that they should part ways.
What they didn't agree on is this, that when they parted ways that Lot would run away from the Promised Land and toward this land that appeared to be a land of great prosperity, a land of great paradise. But it was also a land that was extremely wicked. Lot made that move, because as is seen earlier in Genesis, he did not trust God to keep him safe and secure. He needed a city, a powerful and prosperous city to make him feel safe and secure. In Genesis 19 we see Lot in Sodom.
(Read Genesis 19:1-29)
The judgment and the salvation
The story begins when two angels arrive at the city gates in Sodom, in the evening. Lot sees them because for some reason it is late at night and he hasn't gone home yet. He's still at the city gates and he is kind to them. He bows before them, he offers them hospitality, and invites them to stay at his house. At this point Lot doesn't know that the two angels are angels. Lot sees them as men, they have chosen to appear to him as regular men. Lot doesn't know he is offering hospitality to angels. He sees two men in a wicked city, late at night who say they are going to sleep in the city square. Well Lot knew how dangerous that would be. Lot knew, knowing his city, how foolish it would be for anyone to spend the night in the city square. No telling what might happen to them. So he says to them "Come with me to my house and eat a meal."
But the angles refuse the invitation, like most of you guys do when I invite you over for dinner. Lot insists so strongly that the angels eventually give in and come home with him where he cooks them a meal. Everything appears to be going great as they finish their meal and prepare for bed. Lot has been a good host, the angels have enjoyed a good meal, and they are about to get a good night sleep.
Suddenly "all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house." This is probably not an exaggeration. I think the author is going out of his way to say that when I say every part of the city is here, I mean every part of the city is here. Cities at this time could be 50-150-or-so people. So it is not a city like Portland, OR, where a million people come knocking on Lot's door. But don't let that make you think like this was no big deal, only 50-150 men were camped outside of Lot's house. Which of you would want 50-150 men/young men standing outside of our house demanding something. Probably not any one of us. And what makes it even worse is that these men, they didn't come to talk about Joseph Smith, they didn't come to talk about Mary Kay, they came for something else entirely.
They 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." That is not very nice is it? We are already beginning to see a contrast between Lot and the rest of the city of Sodom. When Lot saw the two visitors he went out of his way to show them hospitality, even insisting that they come to his house. When the rest of Sodom heard about the visitors they went out of their way to rape them.
Can you imagine what Lot may be going through? Put yourself in Lot's shoes. He has taken these two men into his house, he is their host for the night. And you know how it is when you are hosting someone over at your house, you feel responsible for their well-being. You want to make sure they have food and drink, clean sheets, and freedom in your house. You feel responsible for those who are guests in your home. Of course Lot would feel the same way, but the challenge that is facing him is that he knows he wants to protect these angels, and he knows the right thing to do at this time is to protect these angels, but protecting them puts his family at risk. Lot is thinking to himself, Yeah, I could protect these two men, but I don't know them. I just met them. How do I know they are even good people? If it's them or my family am I going to go with the people I don't even know or with those who I know and love? It is kind of a catch-22. If he protects them he puts his family at risk. If he protects his family he puts the two men at risk. So the big question is: How is Lot going to respond to this?
Lot does something that once again shows us that Lot might very well be the hero of our story. In fact, Lot does a very courageous thing—instead of sending the two angels outside he goes outside himself and shuts the door behind him, facing the mob alone. It is like Lot vs. the world at this point. Picture the scene here. It is like the scene out of every single western movie you have ever seen. Where the hero of the film stands by himself against an entire town of wicked people. It looks like one righteous man taking a stand against an entire city of wicked men.
It seems Lot is our hero, a man of courage, and then he opens his mouth and says something very unheroic in vs. 7, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, 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."
Lot showed himself to be a man of great courage when he went out to face the mob alone. Lot then showed himself to be a man of great foolishness when he offers his virgin, untouched daughters to these wicked men.
Well you might argue that Lot was so familiar with this city and with the men that he knew they were so perverted they would have zero interest in his daughters. Maybe, but is that a risk that you would take with your kids. The courageous man shows himself to be foolish, and yet if he had made that assumption he was certainly right, because the men of the city did reject the offer and they threaten Lot, "We'll treat you worse than them!"
Then they began to move toward Lot and the door of his house, almost like a pack of zombies. They come toward him, closer and closer, and reach toward him. The pressure is on Lot, there is nowhere he can go. There is mob of men in front of him and the house behind him. Then suddenly, the two angels from inside the house reach out, grab Lot, pull him into the house, shut the door, and strike all of the men with blindness. The men of the city were no longer a threat to Lot or anyone else. They stumbled over each other trying to find the door and eventually give up and go home.
Now imagine what Lot may be thinking here. I imagine as soon as Lot hears the door shut behind and hears the men leave, he lets out a large sigh of relief. The threat has been eliminated. Then he realizes and ask himself, Did those two dudes just strike everyone with blindness? And his sign of relief turns into a little bit of fear. If Lot didn't know who the two men were before he knew now. He was in the presence of two angels of God. Two of God's angels are eating in his home. And he doesn't know why as of yet.
Now that their identity was revealed the angels could also explain the reason they were in Sodom: "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." In other words, the angels didn't come here to hang out, eat a good meal, and spend the night. The angels made it clear that they came to destroy the city where Lot lives. They came to destroy Lot's friends, they people he works with, the people that Lot knows and lives with, the people that Lot sits in the city square with. They were here to destroy them and everything in the city. Then the angels made it clear that they were not just in Sodom to judge Sodom and its inhabitants. They were also in Sodom to rescue Lot and his family. They told him to gather all of his family and get out of the city before it was too late. Lot jumps to obedience. Starts gathering his family together. Then he gets to his sons-in-laws and they laugh at him as if he were joking.
Unfortunately for them, Lot did not have the time to try and convince them. Judgment was coming. So the angels grab Lot, his wife, and his two daughters by the hand and say, "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!" They grab Lot and his family by the hand and they tell them to flee for their lives and not look back. The angels even tell them exactly where to go. You would think that Lot and his family would simply be grateful at this point, wouldn't you? "They are going to destroy Sodom, and for reasons beyond our understanding they came to save us! They told us how to get out, they told us when to get out, and they even told us where to go! This is magnificent! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" But that doesn't happen.
Instead of being overwhelmed with gratitude the he and his family are not going to be destroyed, Lot picks a fight. Maybe fight is a strong word, but the truth is Lot doesn't want to go where they are telling him to go. Lot thinks, I am not going to be safe there. Forgetting the fact that is where God told him to go. So Lot begs them to let him go somewhere else. Somewhere of his choosing instead of God's. He doesn't trust God to protect him where God has called him. So he takes matters into his own hands and tells God he wants to go over there instead. Lot is saying to these angels, and to God, "Over there is going to be much better, trust me I know."
Can you imagine the bold foolishness that it takes to do that? Imagine you are going for a hike. You are having a great time with your friends and then you slip off a cliff. Barely hanging on with one hand, below you is certain death. Your friend comes to the edge reaches down their hand, putting themselves at risk to save you, and says to you "Grab my hand I will pull you up." As they reach down to grab you, you see their hand and you notice their hand is a little dirty. So you respond, "Oh, you have dirt on those hands. Could you wash those hands first and then come back and get me?" That is essentially what Lot does, "Thanks for saving me, but it's not the way I like it. So let's work on it." If I were your friend I would just walk away and let you fall. But God is merciful, and God chooses to show Lot mercy. Even though Lot certainly doesn't deserve it, God in his mercy allows Lot to go to the town of Zoar.
So Lot and his wife flee and God reigns down fiery judgment just as he promised. The once paradise-like city has become desolate. Yet, somewhere in the heart of Lot's wife Sodom is still paradise to her. So she disobeyed the angel's direct command to not look back and she is judged, the same way those men and women in Sodom were judged. But Lot and his daughters survive.
This is a pretty intense story, isn't it? A city so wicked that the entire male population came out to sexually abuse two angels! A city so wicked that God destroyed every person in it: except Lot and his two daughters. The question most people want to know the answer to is: Why God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? Was it because of the rampant homosexuality? Was it because of the utter lack of hospitality? Was it because of their culture of violence? Or was it something else entirely? We will answer that question, but I think there is a far more important question that needs to be answered first: Why didn't God destroy Lot and his daughters. They were a part of Sodom, they were a part of the city. Why did God save Lot and his daughters from the judgment he poured out onto Sodom? Was it because they were righteous? Well, at first it looked like that might be the case. But as the story went on it became more and more clear that Lot is no righteous man. Nor were his daughters. This becomes even clearer after they leave Sodom.
(Read Genesis 19:30-38)
This is soap-opera stuff. Sometimes we forget that stuff like this is throughout all the pages of the Bible. Lot after being freed from judgement does not respond as we hope he would respond—stricken with honor and gratitude to God. No instead, Lot sins by becoming so drunk that he does not even know what is going on with his body. His daughters, who are equally wicked, then sin by taking advantage of his drunkenness and committing incest as a means to perpetuate the family line. This doesn't sound like the biography of a family who is worthy of being rescued from judgment. This doesn't read like the biography of the super righteous people who were so righteous that God rescued them Sodom and Gomorrah. It sounds like even though they didn't live in Sodom anymore Sodom still lived in them. There was wickedness in their hearts and no matter how many times you change where a person lives you cannot change what lives in them. Sodom was in the hearts of Lot and his daughters. Wickedness, unrighteousness, and evil lived inside this man and his daughters and obviously his wife. They deserved to be swallowed up in judgment just as the city of Sodom was. But they weren't. Again, the question is why? Why in the world did God save them? It's clearly not because they were righteous people. If Lot and his daughters were not saved because of their own righteousness why were they saved at all? To answer that question we need to go backwards. We need to rewind the story to 24 hours before Sodom and Gomorrah was erased by God's hand.
(Read Genesis 18:16-33)
Hours before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah he appeared to Abraham along with two men, likely the two angels who will be going to Sodom to judge it. As God and the two angels prepared to leave God asked them this question, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?" Of course God knows the answer to his own question. We know enough about God that he is not hoping that the angels or even Abraham are going to offer and answer because God is not sure what to do. He's asking the question aloud, for the same reason I ask questions in front of my kids that I know the answer to, because God is trying to teach Abraham something and through Abraham God wants to teach us something. Without waiting for anyone to answer the question, he says this: "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know."
God is not required to tell Abraham anything. God doesn't owe Abraham an explanation. God doesn't owe Abraham a warning. God is not asking for Abraham's permission to do what he's about to do. But God tells Abraham anyway because he wants Abraham to do something. God wants Abraham to respond to what he's just revealed to Abraham. God reveals things because he wants people to respond to his revelation.
Abraham does precisely what God wants him to do—Abraham prays. This isn't the first time we have seen someone in the midst of a prayer in this section of Scripture. Remember when Lot was told to go where he didn't want to go he prayed, "Please don't send me there send me somewhere else because only there will I be safe." Lot's prayer was the fruit of a lack of faith, of disbelief. It was also a selfish prayer. Abraham's prayer is nothing like the self-centered prayer of Lot. Abraham's prayer is not about him, but about the people of Sodom. He prays for those who are not praying for themselves. Abraham's prayer is not prayed out of a lack of faith, but out of faith!
Did you catch what he was saying to God: "You are the Judge of all the earth," "You are the right and good Judge you will act in accordance with your character." "Don't be angry with me Lord but … Don't be angry with me Lord but …" These are expressions of faith in Abraham's prayer. Because he knows who God is, he knows that God will hear him as he asks these things. God answers all six of his requests because he loves to answer the prayers of his people. But Abraham is still left with some tension. Yes, God answered all of Abraham's requests but Abraham's last request stops at 10. God says he won't destroy Sodom if there are 10 righteous people there. Abraham has to be thinking, But what if there are less than 10 righteous people there? Abraham has to be wondering if his nephew Lot is one of those righteous people, and will Lot live or die. Abraham wouldn't have to wait long to find the answer.
(Read Genesis 19:27-29)
Less than 24 hours later God did exactly what he said he would do. God does what is just and destroys Sodom and Gomorrah. Once again, we come to that question: Why? Why did God do that? Well the first thing we see is that he promised he wouldn't do it if there were 10 righteous there. So we learn that there were not 10 righteous in Sodom. We learned as we read that there were really none righteous in Sodom, which is why God destroyed it all. But did God do that because the people in Sodom engaged in homosexual behavior? Was it because of a lack of hospitality? Was it because of their culture of violence? The answer to all three of those questions is absolutely not, and yes absolutely. What I mean by that is that all of those things are worthy of judgment there was something else underneath it that motivated God to judge Sodom. It was because Sodom rejected the Lord. Whatever their behavioral issues were, they were the fruit of their rejection of God, which is the real sin. The actions were the fruit of a dirty, wicked heart. God destroyed them because they rejected.
The reason I can say that to you with confidence is because later Jesus comes. Jesus is talking to his disciples and tells his disciples that on the Day of Judgment it will be worse for those Jewish cities that reject the message of Jesus than it will be for Sodom. Now think about this, in these Jewish cities there is almost no homosexuality worth speaking of, behavior wise. These Jewish cities, if nothing else, were hospitable people. These cities were not overtaken by a culture of violence. And yet, Jesus says it will be worse for these cities than it was for Sodom. The issue isn't the behavior, it is what's underneath the behavior; and in both cases, Sodom/Gomorrah and these Jewish cities, they rejected God. And it will be worse for the Jewish cities because they didn't just reject God, they rejected God come in the flesh.
So Sodom deserved just what it got. Everyone who ever finds themselves under God's judgment deserves just what they get. But if the little information we have is any indicator Lot and his daughters deserved the same thing. And yet, they didn't get it. Why? Because Abraham prayed on their behalf. Look at Genesis 19:29, "So 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."
Lot was saved because Abraham prayed. When Lot didn't know how to pray for himself, Abraham knew how to pray for him. That's not to say that Abraham made God do something he didn't want to do. Remember, God told Abraham about his plan because God wanted Abraham to pray. So Lot and his daughters were saved by God's grace, it was God's idea, but they were saved through Abraham's prayers. Sodom was destroyed. Lot deserved to be destroyed with Sodom. But he wasn't. Because Abraham prayed for him, Abraham interceded for him. The only reason that Lot and his daughters could do the foolish things they did at the end of Chapter 19, and live to tell about them, is because God graciously chose to use Abraham's prayers to save them. That's what really happened at Sodom and Gomorrah.
This story matters for us because if you are not a Christian, that is if you haven't turned to God in faith then you are Sodom. You are the one who has provoked God's anger and wrath because you have rejected his only Son. You are the one, knowing it or not, has begged for his judgment upon you. That judgement remains on you and will fall upon you if you do not repent and turn to Jesus Christ in faith, love, and obedience.
If you are a Christian, if your faith is firmly placed in Jesus Christ this story speaks just as much to you. But you are not expected to identify with Sodom, you are expected to identify with Abraham. God is calling you to pray. God is calling you to pray for those who cannot or will not pray for themselves. God is calling you to the city you live, to your friends, to your loved ones, to be what Abraham was to Lot. God wants to work through our prayers. He is a God of grace that works however he wants to work. He chooses to work in people's lives through our prayers. This means that when God wants to save someone, when God wants to change someone, when God wants to work in someone or for someone he calls someone to pray for them. He calls you to pray for them!
So who are you praying for? Are you praying for your city that has turned its back on God? Are you praying for those people who are under God's judgment and need to be saved? Are you praying for those who need God to work in them, on them, or for them? Are you praying for those who don't know how to pray for themselves? A number of your loved ones are headed toward a fiery judgment and they deserve that fiery judgment. Are you praying for them like Abraham prayed for Lot? A number of people inside and outside of the church need to be filled with more faith in Jesus and more love for Jesus. Are you praying for them like Abraham prayed for Lot?
Some of you are and you ought to thank God that he is using you in that way. But don't pat yourself on the back, continue to raise your prayers to God. Because the only reason you are praying for any of them is the same reason Abraham prayed for Lot, which is God moved in you and gave you the grace to do so.
Some of you are not. The first thing we need to do is repent to God because we have not been praying for the people he has called us to pray for. The second thing we need to do is thank God that there is someone praying for us. Not just anyone—but the perfect Son of God. If you are a Christian, Jesus now prays for you just as Abraham prayed for Lot. He lived for you. He died for you. He rose from the dead for you. He ascended into heaven for you. He sat down at God's right hand for you. "Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them" (Heb 7:25).
Knowing that Jesus always intercedes for us empowers us to always intercede for others. Knowing that Jesus always intercedes for us empowers us to always pray even when we don't know what to pray. Knowing that Jesus always intercedes for us also assures us that we are always safe in God's hands, because just as Abraham prayed for Lot Jesus prays for us and God always answers the prayers of his perfect and exalted Son.
Cole Brown is founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, OR. He and his family are now helping plant a second church in Mexico City, Mexico.