Exploring topics that we’d rather not.
Today is our last in the “UnComfortable” series. I wasn’t sure where to end it. Do I do yet another topical sermon, focusing on raw and controversial things of today? We’ve hit on so many of them, some with results were surprising…others we not. Last week gave the broad topic of guilt and shame – something very connected to racism and it historical connection with slavery. We came to the conclusion that we all die for our own sins. We are all guilty, not because of the sins of our fathers…but rather because we continue to choose wrong. This leads us to a sense of personal responsibility. And believing and understanding personal responsibility is so essential to understanding the gospel. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
And so to round out our series today, I want to talk about something that will make you either very thankful or very uncomfortable. That is Grace.
Wait a minute! Did you just get done telling us our next series is called “Discipleship as a Journey of Grace?” Yes. On Sept 18th we are starting that particular series on a discipleship paradigm shift – reframing what discipleship really is. So today is like a message to bridge the gap between the series. Where our next series is all about Jesus being the Way, truth and life: guiding us along as we experience grace, this message is about understanding what grace is and why grace is. (I know that’s probably not proper English, but it was intentional.)
I’m going to try not to spoil too much of the first couple messages of the new series, but today we will look at a story from the Old Testament that involves grace, but also justice and holiness and even punishment. Let’s turn in our bibles to Genesis 19.
This is the story of a man who settled in the city of Sodom. He has a home, a wife and two daughters. He’s known as an immigrant to that land – a foreigner – and he also seemed to have obtained a level of leadership in the land. However, this man and the whole city was at risk of being destroyed by the wrath of God. And he didn’t even know it.
This is the story of Abraham’s nephew, Lot.
The two angels 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.”
3 But 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.Gen 19:1-3 NIV
What a great host Lot was! He offers hospitality to these two guests, which we know…but Lot doesn’t…that they are angels. Let’s read on.
4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 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.”
6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing.Gen 19:4-7 NIV
Lot seemed to clearly know what was wicked, right? Verse 8…
8 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.”Gen 19:8 NIV
WHAT? I guess Lot has a sense that there are different levels of wickedness. As if offering up his daughters to the mob was a lesser degree of wickedness. Verses 9-11
9 “Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, 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.
10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then 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.Gen 19:9-11 NIV
Ok things are getting serious. What’s more dangerous than a mob ready to commit acts of rape on total strangers? That same mob, angry and confused: not being able to see. There is no telling what might happen. Verses 12-16
12 The 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, 13 because 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.”
14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry[a] 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.
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.Gen 19:12-16 NIV
And that’s the story! Isn’t that great? Lot and his family escape with their lives!
Ok I can see you’ve probably heard of this story before. Maybe you’ve studied it. Maybe you, if you’re like me – you have formed opinions and judgements on those involved. Let’s keep reading to see where Lot and his family land.
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!”
18 But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! 19 Your 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. 20 Look, 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.”
21 He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22 But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.)Gen 19:17-22 NIV
We’ll look at this again in a few minutes when we review some “good idea/bad idea” things that went on here, but I’ve just got to say “What gall Lot had!” The angels tell him they are going to destroy a huge area and he negotiates to be safe in this “small” town later known as Zoar. Zoar would have been destroyed in the same way as Sodom and Gomorrah. Think of it as collateral damage. It was in the plain and the angels said, “get out of the plain!” I’m sure that won’t backfire on Lot in the future.
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, destroying 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.Gen 19:23-26 NIV
We can really get hung up on Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt. The consequence of her disobedience was for her very physical reality to change. She became a pillar of salt. Her story was done. But Lot and his daughters survived…but so did something else.
Summary of Gen 19:30-38
Starting in verse 30 and going to 38, we learn that Lot’s family relocated to the mountains because he was afraid of the people of Zoar. So here he is, still not living the good life in a town. He and his kids become the first cave people in the bible. The lack of prospect did not sit well with Lot’s daughters.
The older one conspired with the younger: get their dad drunk, sleep with him and get pregnant by him. That’s exactly what happened, twice. Scripture goes so far to identify how drunk Lot was. Both times it reads: “He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.”
The chapter ends by explaining that the daughters each had sons by the father. And one gave birth to the Ammonites and the other the Moabites. These nations were troublesome to Israel throughout the years.
Ok. Are you feeling the heebee geebees? Did much of that story frustrate you, maybe make you mad! How dare that person do that! That’s wrong! They deserve punishment.
Let’s take a moment to briefly go back over the story and point out thing that were horribly wrong. To take the edge off, let’s also look at things that went right, when people did the right thing.
|Good Idea||Bad Idea|
|Lot greeted the guests||Offered up his daughters to satisfy the sexual desires of the mob|
|Welcomed them in and protected the guests||Barters with the angels to go to Zoar instead of completely leaving the plain.|
|Defended the men/angels||Wife – looks back and is assaulted.|
|Tries to convince his future sons-in-law that they need to leave with them||Leaves zoar? – motivated by fear, not faith|
|Allows himself to get “super drunk”|
|Daughters – get dad drunk so they can get pregnant by him. (he’s responsible for their twisted sense of right and wrong.)|
That’s a bunch of bad ideas, with a few good ideas or righteous things sprinkled in there. The reason we are laying it out this way is because sometimes grace is thought of as a transaction.
Let’s pretend that these two columns are like a ledger for a bank account. The Negative things Lot does (example) withdraw “money” from his account. The Positive things add “money” to his account.
At the end of the month (or life) it only matters if you have more money in your account than what you spent.
Hint hint. This is not a good way to look at life and grace.
Another was to look at it is like a Report Card
Have you ever heard of families that if their children get good grades on a report card, they get money for it? I have heard of such a thing, but I did not grow up in that house. What if God gave Lot grace because of the good things he did? Protected strangers? Here is 5 grace dollars. Top notch host? 10 grace dollars!
But similar to the balance sheet, Lot would end up owing more than he earned. So that can’t be it.
Grace is a gift.
It can’t be earned.
It can’t be paid back.
In fact the word χάρις [charis] (where we get the term “charisma”) that word means gift.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.(Eph 2:8-9 NIV)
Gifts are given to someone. The only job of that person is to receive the gift, not try to pay for it or outdo the one who gave it to you, by identifying all the good things you did to deserve the gift.
Plain and simple Charis/Grace is the unmerited, unearned favor of God. And if we follow this to the logical conclusion it might…
Make us UnComfortable
Listen: What Lot did, offering up his daughters, that seems inexcusable to me. But God never Asked my opinions to who should get his grace. And it was in spite of Lot that Lot and his family were rescued.
In the previous chapter, Abraham is bargaining with God. This is like the weirdest reverse auction I’ve ever heard!
And Abraham gets God all the way down to 10! It is the most bizarre thing I’ve heard in the bible. And that’s saying something since there was a talking donkey in the bible!
So the angels that were with God when He visited Abraham and Sarah in chapter 18, they went down to see all that was going on for themselves. And that’s where the story with Lot begins.
The Grace bestowed on Lot, the rescue plan to get him out of Sodom before it became a smoldering pile of…ash, it was because God chose to give more grace than even Abraham asked him for. If you recall, Lot (1) daughters (2 & 3) wife (4) potentially future sons in law (5 & 6). The sons in law were not recorded as righteous, or as the very least obedient to their future father in law. They laughed him off and got left behind. Wifey is famous. It is again such a bizarre imagery. She looks back at the devastation when she is instructed not too. She doesn’t follow the directions and she is turned into a pillar of salt. We later read of the daughter’s genious plans to preserve their family line through incest. And Lot, who kept his family in Sodom, knowing full well the depth of its wickedness. He could have left long ago or he could have worked in his place of position to try and fight the wickedness of Sodom, but he did neither. It literally took an Act of God, and being dragged out of the city by the hand of an angel for him and his family to finally leave.
Lot and his family didn’t seem to deserve grace.
And that’s the point. No one does. Nothing we can do to earn it. Nothing we can do to pay it forward or pay it back. Again, jumping back to the new testament: Romans 5:8
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.(Rom 5:8 NIV)
In reading for this message I came across the follow statements.
Justice is getting what you deserve.
Mercy is not getting what you deserve.
Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.
Of course this story had plenty of justice. God had heard the cry, investigated and determined the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah needed to be dealt with.
The Lord dealt mercifully with Lot. Lot clearly had a sense of right and wrong, but also allowed for “lesser” levels of wickedness to be permitted for the sake of something he believed to be very wicked. In spite of this, the lord showed him mercy. Also, if God were sticking to his agreement with Abraham, he would have swept away the “righteous” with the wicked just on the technicality that there were fewer than 10 righteous people living in Sodom.
Grace is quite clear. There was nothing Lot could do to earn God’s grace. It wasn’t even because Abraham was a great salesman. God gives his grace, his gift of love, salvation, His SON. He gives it to the whole world and the only ones who “Get it” are the ones who receive it.
God’s grace is a very real thing. It isn’t handed out based on who you vote for, based on the color of your skin, what town you live in, or even what church you go to. It is based solely on God’s nature and the fact he already paid the ultimate sacrifice for all.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.John 3:16-17 NIV
An Invitation to PRAY
The altar is a place of prayer. Perhaps not the most physically comfortable positions to be in. But it is appropriate. When approaching a person of higher rank, people would change their posture to show acknowledgement of that difference. Bowing before a king like Solomon and you may make your request. We follow a king greater than Solomon. Greater than any other earthly king. King Jesus. We kneel before him. Some may bow, face down to the ground. We don’t pray to a statue, an image – like the cross. But we talk with our King and Lord. Maybe you’d like to do that today. Right where you are, bowing down in prayer and reverance to the God who gives us Far more kindness than we deserve. It doesn’t have to be long, but I know I’ve let social distancing be an excuse for not inviting people to pray around our church prayer altar. For that, I am truly sorry. We can be together and spread out and still talk one-on-one with our gracious Lord.
As we pray for grace for ourselves, we stand in the gap for our community. This lost city, county, State. Desperately in need of the grace of God. Desperately in need of the salvation given freely to all who would receive it, believe it.