I’m probably the only preacher in the world who gets misty-eyed and sentimental when I read the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, 25 years ago, this story became the background of one of the largest milestones in my ministry.
People ask me why I address controversial cultural issues like abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism, and other hot-button cultural issues. For the first 15 years as a pastor, I rarely addressed those topics—I just preached through books of the Bible. But that all changed one week in May of 1998.
I was preaching through the book of Genesis and had come to today’s passage. I carefully prepared the message and had it finished by Thursday. One of the applications I made in this passage was that God would judge any nation that condones what God has condemned. It is time for Christians and citizens to draw a line in the sand and say, “enough.”
On Thursday, before I was to preach the message, a woman in our church brought me two children’s books from our public library, “Heather Has Two Mommies,” about a little girl adopted by two lesbians, and “Daddy’s Roommate” a story about a little boy whose father leaves the boy’s mother to live with another man named Frank. In this children’s book, the mother explains to her little boy that Daddy and Frank are gay and have a different kind of love. Then the little boy explains to the reader what Daddy and Frank do—they eat together, play together, and sleep together. And there is a picture of Daddy and Frank in bed together.
I had these two books in my possession. Suddenly, I realized I could not preach this sermon Sunday about God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and not do something myself. So I called the librarian and asked her to remove the books, given that they had been purchased with tax money. She refused.
So I took the books with me into the pulpit on Sunday, and after making the application, I said it was time to take a stand. I explained that tax dollars purchased these books. They promoted illegal behavior in Texas and violated the teaching of the three major world religions. Plus, it was responsible for the greatest epidemic in recent history, AIDS.
I looked into the TV camera lens and addressed the city council. I told them I would save them trouble by not asking them to decide whether to remove the books. Instead, I was going to keep these books, and their decision would be whether or not to purchase new copies for the library. Well, that set off a firestorm I would have never expected. The next day, a local newspaper editorial said I needed to be put in jail. NBC, New York Times, Washington Post, and Rush Limbaugh, all carried stories about it. PBS did a documentary about the controversy that divided our town for nearly two years, everyday letters to the editor both for and against me and our church.
Every left-wing organization in the country attacked us—ACLU, People for the American Way, and The American Library Association called me a Nazi. The Americans United for Separation and State threatened our church’s tax-exempt status. But our deacons and church members stood strong. It was quite an experience.
Someone asked me recently if I would have done it again, knowing the controversy it caused. Yes, I would, but in preaching the passage we are going to look at today, I would have added something.
Genesis 18-19 is one of the clearest expressions in the Bible of God’s attitude toward the perversion of homosexuality. But homosexuality is just a manifestation of even a deeper problem—a rebellion against God. And although God is patient, loving, and forgiving, there comes a time when God draws a line in the sand and says, “Enough.”
1. The Angels Visit Abraham (Genesis 18:1-33)
- The Good News (Genesis 18:1-15)
There are enough accounts by credible people today to believe that angels still appear in human form among us, according to God’s will. Hebrews 13:2 encourages us not to be negligent to show hospitality to strangers, for by this, some have entertained angels without knowing it—an apparent reference to Abraham’s encounter here.
At first, he probably did not recognize his visitors, but he showed hospitality to them. Abraham is outside, and he runs into the tent, asks Sarah to prepare some food, and brings it back to his guests.
In verse 9, they ask where Sarah is. This should have been Abraham’s first clue. How did they know the name of his wife? Then the angel says in verse 10, “Mark it on your calendar. This time next year, I will return, and your wife will have a child.”
Now Sarah was listening at the tent door, and she laughed to herself, the text says. It is possible that Abraham did not share God’s revelation in 17:19 that he and Sara would have a child. Or it may be that she still found it impossible to believe. But then, the angelic visitors deliver some not-so-great news to Abraham.
- The Bad News (Genesis 18:16-33)
What were the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah that were so grave and demanded God’s judgment? As you compare other Scripture passages such as Ezekiel 16:49, Jeremiah 23:14, Jude 7, and 2 Peter 2:7, you will see that the sins of Sodom included materialism, lawlessness, and sexual immorality.
What was Abraham’s response to this news? Not delight—God, they deserve it. Let them have it. No, beginning in verse 23, Abraham begins to intercede with the Lord to save the city. He is undoubtedly thinking of his relatives—Lot and his family who are in that city. This is the first instance of intercessory prayer in the Bible—pleading to the Lord on behalf of another person.
Verse 25 answers many questions that you may have about God. While pleading with God on behalf of the city, Abraham says to God, “Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly.” Abraham said, “God, it is not right that you would pour out your wrath on the righteous who might be living in the city of Sodom. I understand your judging unbelievers. That is your right and your duty as a holy God, but not believers.” Not even 10 righteous people were left in the city, as seen as what happens beginning in chapter 19.
2. The Angels Visit Lot (Genesis 19:1-29)
- Their Encounter with the Sodomites (Genesis 19:1-11)
Lot was not only a resident but a judge in Sodom. Lot invites these visitors to stay at his home. They say that they will sleep outside instead. Knowing the harm that might come to strangers, Lot insists that they stay with him and acquiesce. Suddenly this story takes a violent and perverse turn. Here we see precisely what caused God to look upon this city with revulsion. The residents of this city were so consumed with lust that just the mere sight of new faces in town aroused them sexually, and they wanted to have homosexual relations with these two angels who were in human form.
We would be wrong to limit the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah to homosexuality—the Bible mentions many sins of which those residents were guilty. Nevertheless, the Bible teaches that homosexuality is an abomination to God and that those who practice it will receive God’s judgment.
Lot attempts to reason with these Sodomites and, in an unbelievable act, offers his daughters to the men in place of these visitors. The residents of Sodom refuse and say they will not only rape the two visitors but Lot as well and proceeds to do so until the angles in verse 11 strike them with blindness. Then the angels deliver this warning to Lot.
- Their Announcement of Destruction (Genesis 19:12-22)
Lot informs his family that he is kidding, according to verse 14. Verse 15 says that when the next morning dawned 24 hours after the angels first appeared to Abraham, these angels urged them to leave the city.
But verse 16 says Lot hesitated. He did not want to leave. He even began to barter with the angles. He says, “I know you are going to destroy this area, but could I live over here in this small town close to Sodom.”
- Their Destruction of the Cities (Genesis 19:23-29)
Genesis 19:24 is the first mention of fire in the Bible and is used in connection with God’s judgment. There have been a number of attempts to explain how this destruction occurred. Was it a volcanic eruption or an earthquake that released and exposed vast quantities of hydrocarbons and sulfur, combined with lightning to produce an explosion that rained back down on the earth?
More than just being an interesting story, I believe this account teaches us some very important principles that we need to heed, especially in our nation’s history.
3. Three Timeless Truths From This Story
- Sin’s Influence: Bad Company Corrupts Good Morals
- Christians’ Responsibility: Believers Are to Act as Preservatives in a Corrupt World
- God’s Patience: God Eventually Says “Enough”
What is true of us as a nation is true of us individually. God will not allow sin to go unchecked in your life. Just because you are able to sin without consequence up to this point, don’t think he has overlooked your transgressions.
God is patient. He is pleading with you to turn away from your sin. “As I live with the Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” But there is a point when God’s patience will end, and His judgment will come. The only way to escape that sure and certain judgment is through faith in Jesus Christ.
Full Passage: Genesis 18-19