"God Justly Judges and Mercifully Saves" (Genesis 9:15-17, 23-29 | Advent 1C 2015)

Sermon Text: Genesis 19:15-17, 23-29
Date: November 28 & 29, 2015

The First Sunday in Advent, Year C

Genesis 19:15–17, 23-29 (NIV84)

15 With 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.”

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, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As 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!”

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

27 Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 He 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.

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.


God Justly Judges and Mercifully Saves

As we’ve journeyed from the end of one church year to the beginning of another, the theme of our worship services are linked together. During the season of Advent, we have a two-fold foucs, looking ahead to Jesus’ second coming where we will bring us to be with him forever in heaven as well as looking ahead to our celebration of his first coming as a baby, born to a virgin, in a stable in Bethlehem.

During this season, and especially this Sunday, we reprise a number of the themes that we’ve heard over the last couple of weeks. God brings us assurance in his Word that though we face his just judgment and the end of time, for Jesus’ sake and by his mercy he saves us.

Our lesson is taken from the middle of the account of Abraham in Genesis. Abraham and his nephew Lot has been richly blessed. So blessed, in fact, that they couldn’t live in the same place at the same time. They had to divide into two groups, with Lot and his household going one way and Abraham and his household going another way.

When at the crossroad, Lot chose for himself the better land, and Abraham took the lesser land. But Lot’s decision meant that he would be living in a decidedly immoral area. Sodom and Gomorrah, the twin cities of the region, have become synonymous even today with unruly, rebellious, and openly sinful people. From homosexuality, to assault, to being controlled by burning passions, to the utmost of selfishness, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah seemed to take all of God’s moral law that they would’ve known by nature and turned it on its head.

Lot was not immune to this moral decay. When the two angels we hear mentioned in our lesson came to him as guests, a crowd of people were beating down Lot’s door to assault them. To protect his two visitors he offered his two daughters to a lust- and rage-filled crowd. Lot’s desire to fit into this pagan and rebellious society was so great that he would even allow his own daughters to be assaulted or even killed to make it happen.

God could no longer allow this behavior to continue. He had chosen to destroy the cities and the people living in them. After he would literally drag Lot and his family out of their home, God would rain down fire and sulfur on the place, turning what was once a productive, vibrant, and rich land into a wasteland, likely the site of the Dead Sea in our day. God’s judgment and condemnation of sin was swift and it was just. These people had broken the law and they deserved to be punished for it.

Of course, that’s what we deserve too, don’t we? We may not have committed the same list of offenses against God, but our offenses are equally grievous and reprehensible to our Creator. We may not have engaged in homosexuality or assault, but we’ve had lustful thoughts. We might not have tried to kill someone for not letting us do what we want to do, but we’ve been angry with people and perhaps even wanted to hurt them. We might not have dedicated our lives to sin, but there’s a large part of each one of us, our sinful nature, that continually presses to make that happen.

We don’t need to compare our sins with those in Sodom because it’s not as if sinning less than the people of Sodom somehow earns us a reward from God. Any sin, regardless of whether we would call it big or small, justly brings not just of fire from heaven on our heads but the eternal fire of hell after death. That is the punishment for sin that you and I deserve.

But all of that really serves as just an introduction to the real point of our lesson: God’s mercy. Lot chose to live in this wicked area despite knowing how spiritually harmful it would be for him and his family. God told Abraham, Lot’s uncle, what he was going to do with these cities. And Abraham famously pleaded with God to spare it if even a small group of God-fearing people could be found in that city. The minimum from Abraham’s prayer was not met, but God did answer the spirit of Abraham’s prayer. Abraham’s concern was principally for his family; God ushered them out before the destruction came.

We have one who pleads to the Father on our behalf: Jesus. Jesus prays earnestly for us. He doesn’t want us to be swept away in the torrent that follows our sin; he wants us to be freed from our sins and released from the just punishment for them. And Jesus put his money where his mouth is.

God’s concern wasn’t an empty concern. He didn’t just say, “Boy, I really wish I could change this, but, sorry…” No, God sent Jesus to take our place. Jesus endured the rain of fire and sulfur of hell on the cross so that you and I would never have to face it. He suffered in our place that we might be set free. He gave us life by dying for us.

The Holy Spirit uses his Word to create faith in Jesus’ substitutionary work. Through the means of grace, God drags us out of our sin and into a new life of joyful thanksgiving because our sins are gone.

Jesus’ love means we don’t seek to blend into the world we live in like Lot seemed to be trying to do. God’s forgiveness means we don’t long to go back to a life where we are controlled by sin, as Lot’s wife seemed to do as she longingly looked back at her home before it was destroyed. Being made God’s children means no longer being controlled by the sinful nature; it means throwing off everything to do with sin and simply rejoicing in God’s love every day.

We just got done celebrating Thanksgiving; probably many of our refrigerators hold turkey and mashed potatoes still waiting to be consumed. We can be thankful for warm, special meals. We can be thankful for yummy leftovers. But our thanksgiving principally centers on that merciful salvation which God used to rescue us. God had remembered us, as he remembered Lot and Abraham. God has answered and will continue to answer our prayers as he has promised.

While God’s justice does dictate his judgment, we know that his mercy overrides the judgment we deserve. We have been saved, plucked from the fire, by God’s merciful salvation. Thanks be to God for his love, compassion, and rescue. Amen.