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Sodom: Pattern, Preview, and Sober Warning

January 15, 2023 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: The Book of Genesis

Topic: Biblical Worldview Passage: Genesis 19:1–26, Deuteronomy 8:1–20, Judges 19:1–22, Ezekiel 16:46–50, Luke 17:20–37

SODOM: PATTERN, PREVIEW, AND SOBER WARNING

A Reflection on Sodom in Light of the Whole Bible

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date: January 15, 2023

Series: The Book of Genesis

Note:   Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT

Holy Scripture says,

From Genesis 13:

“Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.” (Genesis 13:13)

From Genesis 18:

“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.”” (Genesis 18:20-21)

From Genesis 19:

“The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant's house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.

“But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.

“Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for the LORD is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

“As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords. Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die. Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!” He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar. The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:1-26)

INTRODUCTION

On November 27 – just seven weeks ago – we walked through the Lord’s judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and His merciful rescue of Lot. The reason for today’s sermon, in which we take a second look at Sodom, is to understand the significance of Sodom in light of the whole Bible. Sodom proves to be an example and point of comparison in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. The sermon title is instructive: “Sodom: Pattern, Preview, and Sober Warning.”

By seeing a lot of these passages set before you in one sitting, you can get a glimpse of the unity of Scripture and of how the Bible fits together as a coherent whole. But there is far more at stake than simply discerning how Sodom is woven into the Bible’s teaching. For Scripture helps us to understand the world that we live in, and it urges us to forsake the values of this Sodom-like world and instead to seek first the kingdom of God. So this is the goal: that you would see the world with Scripture-taught and God-blessed eyes, and that you would be diligent to keep your feet on the good and narrow path that the Lord has cut for you to walk in.

SODOM: A PATTERN OF DIVINE JUDGMENT AND PREVIEW OF FINAL JUDGMENT

The first thing I want you to see is that the Lord’s judgment on Sodom serves as a pattern for future judgments and it also serves as a preview of the final judgment. The logic is simple: if other nations follow Sodom’s example of sinning, then they should expect to arrive at the same place of utter ruin. And to anticipate the teaching of our Lord, if other nations surpass the rebellion of Sodom, then they should expect an even fiercer judgment than the one that Sodom faced.

In Deuteronomy 29:16-28, Israel is warned that if it turns away from the Lord, then its land will be burned out – “an overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger and wrath” (Deuteronomy 29:23). At one point in its history, Israel experienced a partial judgment that was compared with the judgment on Sodom: ““I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD.” (Amos 4:11)

Isaiah 13 pronounces judgment against Babylon: “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah, when God overthrew them.” (Isaiah 13:19; also see Jeremiah 50:39-40)

Jeremiah 49 pronounces judgment against Edom: “Edom shall become a horror. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its disasters. As when Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring cities were overthrown, says the LORD, no man shall dwell there, no man shall sojourn in her.” (Jeremiah 49:17-18)

Zephaniah 2 pronounces judgment against the Moabites and Ammonites: ““Therefore, as I live,” declares the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Moab shall become like Sodom, and the Ammonites like Gomorrah, a land possessed by nettles and salt pits, and a waste forever.” (Zephaniah 2:9)

Jesus gave a warning that towns which reject the message of the kingdom that He brings and that His messengers bring, will fare worse than Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment:

“And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” (Matthew 10:14-15)

“Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent…. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (Matthew 11:20, 23-24)

Let this sink in: the character of some of the unrepentant cities that Jesus visited and graciously ministered to in 1st century Israel were more spiritually corrupt than Sodom.

One of the implications of what Jesus taught in Matthew 10-11 is that the judgment upon Sodom in Genesis 19 wasn’t the last judgment that Sodom will face. The judgment upon Sodom in Genesis 19 is one example of a temporal judgment, that is, an instance when God decides to enact judgment upon a person or group or nation in the here and now of this present world. But every people-group will appear before the Lord on an appointed day of final judgment, and the Lord will judge the world, every people-group, and every individual according to His righteous standard. “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14) God will judge “the secrets of men” (Romans 2:16). “[The] Lord… will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” (1 Corinthians 4:5) The totality of all that you have done and failed to do, and the totality of all the motivations for what you did and didn’t do, will reveal your character, such as it actually was. “And if anyone’s name [is] not found written in the book of life, he [will be] thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15)

So, the destruction of Sodom ultimately serves as a preview of eternal destruction:

“And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day– just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 6-7)

As we gather here on this Lord’s Day morning, we do so on the edge of eternity. Eternal fire need not overtake you on the great day of judgment. The fire that consumed Sodom need not anticipate fire consuming you. But if you would be spared Sodom-like ruin, then you must steer clear of Sodom-like rebellion.

So, now let’s turn to Sodom as a pattern of sinning.

SODOM: A PATTERN OF SIN’S GROWTH AMONG PEOPLE

This is the second part of the message, that Sodom gives us a pattern of sin’s growth among people. Sin, of course, is exactly what we don’t want to grow. As Christians we want sin to be rejected, starved, put to death. But when sin is left unchecked, it grows – its external manifestations go from bad to worse. This is true at the individual level, at the familial and societal level, and also at the intergenerational level. Unless God’s grace moderates or holds back the power and trajectory of sin, sin turns people and cultures and future generations into bastions of increasing ugliness and moral chaos. How in the world do you end up in a situation where all the men of Sodom are surrounding one man’s house because they want to rape his guests? How do you get there? Is Sodom just an atypical blip on the radar screen of a sane world? No.

The Lawlessness of Sodom on Display in Israel

Sodom might as well be Israel, and Genesis 19 might as well be Judges 19. “In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite was sojourning in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, who took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah.” (Judges 19:1) In due course, this Levite and his concubine made their way to the town of Gibeah in the land allotted to the tribe of Benjamin. An old man showed kindness to the Levite and his concubine, and he welcomed them into his house. The evening of hospitality began pleasantly enough: “And they washed their feet, and ate and drank.” (Judges 19:21) And “they were making their hearts merry” (Judges 19:22). But then the spirit of the whoredom of Sodom was shown to be in the land of Israel. “[The] men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.”” (Judges 19:22) Sound familiar? How do you end up in a situation where these worthless Benjaminite men are surrounding one man’s house because they want to rape his male guest? The sin of Benjamin had grown as foul as the sin of Sodom – and Benjamin’s level of rebellion almost led to this tribe’s complete ruin (see Judges 19-21).

The similarity between the sinfulness of Sodom in Genesis 19 and the sinfulness of Benjamin in Judges 19 is striking, but it isn’t the only passage that reflects the Scriptural reality that Sodom is a prototypical ‘sin city’. In Isaiah 1, the Lord rebukes Judah, the southern kingdom. Do you know how the Lord refers to the people of Judah? This is how:

“Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!” (Isaiah 1:10)

In other words, Judah’s leaders are the spiritual equal of Sodom’s rulers. And Judah’s people are the spiritual equal of Gomorrah, which was destroyed in the same judgment that destroyed Sodom. God’s covenant people were as pagan as the worst pagans. “[They] proclaim their sin like Sodom” (Isaiah 3:9). Further, Judah’s prophets paved the way for the nation’s descent into Sodom-like corruption:

“But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.” (Jeremiah 23:14)

If you want to be a preacher who is popular with all the sin-coddling people, don’t proclaim the necessity of repenting and turning away from evil. Lie to people by telling them that God promises peace to unrepentant people. This approach to ministry is quite effective at spreading ungodliness throughout the land.

In the prophet Ezekiel, we hear the astonishing assessment that Judah actually out-sinned Sodom: “Not only did you walk in their ways [the ways of Samaria and Sodom] and do according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways.” (Ezekiel 16:47) Friends, fasten your seatbelts: it may well be the case that nations that throw away their godly heritage end up more corrupt than the pagans that never had as good a heritage in the first place.

How Did Sodom and Judah End Up in Such a Mess?

How did Sodom and Benjamin end up in the moral cesspool described in Genesis 19 and Judges 19? How did Judah end up equal to and worse than Sodom? How did Judah end up “[building] the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech” (Jeremiah 32:35). How did they end up sanctioning child sacrifices? How did our country end up like Judah and Sodom? How did our country end up thinking that aborting, drugging, and mutilating children – and robbing them of their experiential innocence – is what a progressive society does? How did our country get to the point where public libraries are promoting filth? How did our country end up in utter moral chaos?

A Summary of Romans 1:18-32

I have addressed this question before by unpacking Romans 1, which I’m only going to summarize here, because what I want you to see is how the truth of Romans 1 is displayed in the Old Testament. But here is a brief summary of Romans 1. All of humanity’s problems begin with ingratitude toward God and with the refusal to honor God and acknowledge our indebtedness to Him (Romans 1:18-23). This means that our most fundamental problem is irreverence and impiety. We turn away from God, and we become infatuated with created things, including ourselves. Created things are good, of course, but they are not divine. But when we put created things in God’s place, we essentially turn those created things into idols or god-substitutes. From that critical turning away when humanity exchanges the true glory of God for the pseudo-glory of idols, God turns us over to increasing levels of judgment. First, God gives idolatrous humanity over to impurity, which would include heterosexual sexual immorality (Romans 1:24-25). Second, God gives idolatrous humanity over to dishonorable passions, specifically homosexual desires (Romans 1:26-27). Third, God gives idolatrous humanity over to a debased mind that expresses itself in a relentless array of rebellion and strife (Romans 1:28-31). The simple refusal to honor God and “give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21), if not corrected through repentance, inevitability leads to sexual, moral, relational, and cultural chaos (Romans 1:24-31). This is how Sodom, Judah, and America end up where they end up: they were irreverent, and they refused to repent of their irreverence. They refused to learn the fear of the Lord. And for such people, yesterday’s mischief is never enough. False gods like Baal and Molech and their prophets of social engineering are always demanding higher levels of frenzied devotion, and wayward people are eager to oblige.

The logic of Romans 1 can be seen in two passages in the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 8 and Ezekiel 16.

Important Lessons from Deuteronomy 8

In Deuteronomy 8, the children of Israel are on the cusp of entering the promised land. The Lord had led them in the wilderness for the previous forty years in order to teach them the principle of humble dependence. Spiritual health is characterized by humbly depending on the Lord, humbly depending on “every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Humble dependence means humbly receiving all that the Lord provides and humbly obeying all that the Lord commands. With their forty-year wilderness training program complete, they were about to enter the promised land, which Deuteronomy 8 calls

“a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9)

How was Israel supposed to receive this gracious gift from the Lord? By enjoying the gift and thanking the Giver: “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” (Deuteronomy 8:10)

What was the temptation that Israel would face? To forget the Lord in the midst of their prosperity:

“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-19)

The great sin in Deuteronomy 8 is to mishandle the blessings that the Lord puts into your lap. He gives you bountiful resources and the capacity to turn the baseline resources into increasing wealth. He tells you to keep your eyes on Him, walk in His ways, honor Him with your wealth, and enjoy the bounty. The great sin is to forget God, to become infatuated with all the stuff, and to become self-congratulatory and self-sufficient. The great sin is for the heart to become proud and lifted up, and to forget the Lord. Once that fatal step is taken, the door is opened to untold evil: “if you forget the LORD your God” it is inevitable that you will “go after other gods and serve them and worship them” (Deuteronomy 8:19), and as it turns out these other gods will make shocking demands upon you.

According to Romans 1:18-32, mankind mishandled its blessings. They had received the knowledge of God along with a beautiful world that reverberated with God’s glory. But their heart was lifted up, they forgot to honor God, and they became infatuated with all the stuff. They exchanged the glory of God for the glory of men and beasts.

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve mishandled their blessings. Instead of resting in all the bounty that God had provided and walking in fellowship with Him, they exchanged the promise of life for the lie that they could become autonomous little gods.

It is not surprising, then, to find out that Sodom fell into the same trap.

Important Lessons from Ezekiel 16:49-50

Sodom’s problems didn’t begin with the attempted homosexual gang rape of Genesis 19. That’s where they ended up. But where did their problems begin? How did they begin to go off the rails? Listen to what is written in the prophet Ezekiel. After telling Judah that Judah’s sin was worse than Sodom’s sin in Ezekiel 16:46-48, Ezekiel then goes ahead and identifies Sodom’s sin:

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” (Ezekiel 16:49-50)

Sodom’s problems began where all of humanity’s problems begin: with pride, with the disposition to exalt ourselves and forget God. And notice that Sodom’s pride is something that ramped up in the midst of prosperity: the three-pronged expression is that “Sodom… and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease.” They had material abundance. They had multiplied wealth. They had leisure time. It was not wrong for them to enjoy their abundance. As Paul writes to Timothy, “God… richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17) As the Lord instructed Israel in Deuteronomy 8, Sodom should have enjoyed their abundance and honored the Lord who gave it to them. And when you honor the Lord who gives abundance, you don’t get proud and materialistic and selfish. After telling Timothy that “God… richly provides us with everything to enjoy”, Paul immediately said that the recipients of such bountiful provision “are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). But that is exactly what Sodom didn’t do.

Sodom was sitting proudly on an abundance of provisions, and she was smug and self-satisfied and indifferent to her poorer neighbors: “she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (italics added). Instead of being humble conduits of God’s generosity to other people, they became self-absorbed, self-impressed, self-reliant, self-enclosed people who are stuck on themselves and their own little self-reinforcing bubble of selfish materialistic pride. And once you are stuck in the way of selfish materialistic pride, the door has been opened to a cesspool of shocking immoral conduct. This shocking immoral conduct might take the shape that it took in Nazi Germany, or it might take the shape that it took in Sodom.

You can try to fool yourself into thinking that there is a massive leap from basic ingratitude and selfishness to extreme moral ugliness, but you would be wrong. As C. S. Lewis said, “Pride is the complete anti-god state of mind.” And once you have an anti-god state of mind, and once you have put a pseudo-god in God’s place and a pseudo-law in place of God’s law, you will – given enough time – run the table on disobedience. People who disregard the first of the ten commandments – and the first one is the big one – people who disregard the first commandment have, in principle, opened the door to routine violations of the other nine.

In due course, Sodom’s smug self-satisfaction became unhinged and unrestrained sexual misconduct. Some people might wish to protest that people can forget God and still act with moral decency. Well, at the individual level viewed over a short period of time, yes, someone can be irreverent toward God at the heart level and outwardly still be a decent neighbor. Their outward decency, however, is not pleasing to God and has no value pertaining to salvation. When the heartbeat of true faith and love toward God are lacking, the fleshly effort to act morally and kindly is ultimately a sham. Even so, my primary concern at the moment is not what individuals can pull off in terms of outward behavior over a short period of time. Instead, my concern is with the trajectory of people-groups and nations and cultures over the course of years, decades, and generations. And you can be sure that societies that start walking down the path of irreverence and pride will inevitably end up in moral insanity and abominable immoral conduct. Societies cannot abide in goodness without abiding in God. As for Sodom: “They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.”

Application to America

When we put Genesis 3, Deuteronomy 8, Ezekiel 16, Genesis 19, and Romans 1 together, I don’t wonder about why America is in the mess she is in. As a society over the course of recent generations, we have grossly mishandled our blessings. The Lord poured out upon our country an astonishing measure of blessing: the blessings of liberty and the blessings of material wealth. But we mishandled it. Irreverence crept in. Instead of blessing the Lord for all that He gave to us, and instead of honoring Him by keeping His instructions, we forgot the Lord in the midst of our prosperity. And whenever a society gets proud of itself and preoccupied with the stuff that it has, what happens is that God and His glory, His truth, and His law are forgotten. And then the secular gods beckon the discontent and ungrateful people to chase after an ever-increasing litany of moral distortions and sexual perversions.

Application to You and Your Family

Let this sobering account of how sin grows among a people over time not only give you insight into America’s downward moral trajectory, but also serve as a reality check to you and your family. As Casting Crowns sings in their song “Slow Fade”: “People never crumble in a day”; “Daddies never crumble in a day”; “Families never crumble in a day”. This observation is correct. And when the crumbling happens, if you trace it back far enough, past the sorry excuses and bad habits and life stresses and practical compromises, what you will find is that at some point the eyes of the heart lost sight of God. And from that tragic turning point, things began to go downhill.

SODOM: A SOBER WARNING

Finally, by showing you a specific New Testament passage, I want you to see that the ruin of Sodom functions as a sober warning. This sober warning is not designed to leave you in a state of paralyzing fear, although you might have to pass through such fear on the way to true health.

Luke 17:20-37 looks forward to that day when the Son of Man comes in glory and judges the world. Jesus frequently used the title “Son of Man” in reference to Himself. Let’s start in verses 26-30:

“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was the days of Lot–they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all–so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.” (Luke 17:26-30)

The judgment upon the ancient world in Noah’s day and the judgment upon Sodom in Lot’s day destroyed everyone except for Noah and Lot (and some of their family members). Up until the moment of destruction, the residents of Sodom were giving themselves to ordinary life: the kitchen and dining room (“eating and drinking”), the marketplace and the exchange of goods and services (“buying and selling”), and the fields and gardens and home improvement projects and city infrastructure (“planting and building”). Their life was anchored in this world. Now as we have seen, their problem wasn’t that they lived in the world, and the problem wasn’t that they had stuff. The problem was that they lived in the world with their stuff without humbly acknowledging that they owed everything to the Lord: every breath and every heartbeat and every home-cooked meal and every family gathering and every bountiful harvest and every friendship and every form of fruitful labor and every plan for the future. They owed gratitude to the Lord for all the prosperity that He had graciously given to them. But they withheld their gratitude. They refused to show hospitality to the Lord of glory. Therefore, since they had shut Him out of their ungodly civilization building project, He came as Judge – and the fire “destroyed them all”.

When Jesus says that the flood judgment of Genesis 7 and the fire judgment of Genesis 19 “destroyed them all”, He is obviously not including Noah who “entered the ark” and Lot who “went out of Sodom”. Noah and Lot have this testimony, that they were righteous. The Lord knows how to preserve His righteous ones from the moral corruptions of the world and bring them safely into His everlasting kingdom. Further, the Lord knows how to safeguard His righteous ones when He enacts judgment upon the unrighteous. And the question that Jesus presses upon us in Luke 17 is this: when the Son of Man comes, will you be ready to leave this present world and be gathered to your Lord? Will you be ready like Noah and Lot? Or will you be so attached to the worldliness of the world that you can’t imagine leaving it? If you are characterized by such worldliness, then you will be destroyed when the Son of Man returns to judge this present evil world.

The next verse in Luke 17 says:

“On that day [the day when the Son of Man is revealed], let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back.” (Luke 17:31) 

If the High King of heaven is your treasure, then when He comes you won’t be preoccupied with your lesser treasures back in the house. If you know that your true and highest good is found in knowing Him, then you are ready at a moment’s notice to bid farewell to everything else and be ushered into His glorious presence. But if the treasures of your heart are bound up with all the stuff back in the farmhouse, or back in the business office, or back in the bank, then you will attempt to “turn back” in order to get them. No man wants to be separated from that which he holds most dear. And all men are to be pitied who don’t hold the Lord Jesus Christ and His kingdom of grace most dear.

To give us an example of someone who turned back, Jesus refers back to Lot’s wife: “Remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke 17:32)

Like Lot, she left Sodom – but she turned back. Like the person who is unwilling to leave his stuff that is stored away back at the house, so Lot’s wife was unwilling to leave her stuff that was stored away back at her house. She was unwilling to leave behind the life that she had in Sodom. Her life was bound up with the here and now of this present world, and she wanted to preserve the life that she knew in Sodom. Therefore, she looked back to gaze upon her heart’s treasure back in Sodom, and thus she deserved to share in Sodom’s destruction – and she did share in Sodom’s destruction: “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:26)

There are two ways to approach life, and each way has a destiny that corresponds to it:

““Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”” (Luke 17:33-37)

The problem isn’t grinding at the mill, or eating and drinking, or getting married, or buying and selling, or planting and building. Those are external actions that righteous people and unrighteous people are both involved in. The great divide concerns the treasures and motivations of the heart.

There is a kind of heart that prioritizes the pursuit and preservation of your life and comfort and pleasure and wealth and respectability in the here and now of this present world. This pursuit and preservation is characterized by the selfish materialistic pride that I talked about earlier. This kind of person stores up his or her treasure on earth. This way leads to catastrophic loss and judgment: “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it” – and the vultures will be seen circling over the ruins.

But there is another way. There is a kind of heart that holds loosely to the things of this world. You are glad to be a humbly dependent steward of the good things that God puts into your lap. You bless the Lord for the good things that you have, but the good things don’t have you. The Lord has your heart. He created you. He upholds you by His sovereign will. He purchased you with His very own blood: you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. He leads you in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He alone gives you the power to get wealth. He gives and takes away as He sees fit, and you bless Him for it. You know how to handle prosperity, and you know how to handle poverty, because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Whether you have much or little, you utilize what you have in order to demonstrate your love for the Lord and for other people. You gladly lose your life for Jesus’ sake, and for the gospel’s sake, and for the good of other people, that they also might be saved. You endure suffering in order to bring the message of salvation to a world under judgment. Unlike the people in Noah’s day and Lot’s day who were busy at their tasks but clueless about the coming judgment – you are not clueless. You are attuned to the Lord, and this shapes your whole life. You trust in Jesus every step of the way, and the revelation of the glory of Jesus on that future day will not interrupt the course of your life, but will actually bring the course of your life to its intended and glorious completion. Then you shall always be with the Lord, and you long for this day to come. “[Whoever] loses his life will keep it”, and the joy will never end.

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