Abraham Father of all Believers (10)

Sodom: A matter of perspective?

Scripture Readings

  • Genesis 19

Introduction

Dear brother and sister in the Lord,

Perspective on something is important.  One’s perspective is formed by many experiences and inputs.

Ask me about horse riding, and I remember the I tried it.  I nearly fell off and the next day was torture.  My perspective on horse riding is also shaped by races, outlandish fashion parades and lots of money wasted through betting.

Others have a completely different view on horse riding. Some actually love it!

When we look at Sodom, what do we see?  For us who have known the story  since Sunday school days, we look upon Sodom and Gomorrah as evil cities.  But I bet something is creeping into our society today which make us look at those ancient cities differently.

The Bible provides us with four different perspectives:  the inhabitants of Sodom, Lot, Abraham and God.

The Sodomites

Luke describes the fall of Sodom in the same terms as he described the days of Noah:

“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. (Luke 17:28, NIV)

God said to Abraham,  “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin grievous” (Genesis 18:20, NIV)

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were a law unto themselves. Every time the Scriptures  expresses evil, it referred to Sodom.  2 Peter 2:7 says “the city was depraved in conduct of the lawless.”  What stood out about the lawlessness of Sodom was its “sexual immorality and perversion.” (Jude 7).  It seems as if these two things go hand in hand.  A licentious lifestyle, where man has become its own benchmark for right or wrong, leads to sexual immorality and perversion. To those in Sodom all seemed right.  It became a code to live by:  they decided what the rules for their society would be.  There was no concern for God or his law.

To knock a man’s door down to demand sexual pleasures of a visitor became a right.

Let’s divert a bit here.  For those who in our day arguing that if Christians find homosexuality offensive for them, they should not expect of non-Christians to have the same conviction.  But the point is Sodom and Gomorrah were not Christian cities, they were not included into the elect people of God in the first instance, but what they did was to, as the Bible itself states,

“… Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities… indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)

Paul writes about the same thing.

“Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26–27, NIV)

Australia prides itself for being a secular society.  We have now freed ourselves from our Judeo-Christian heritage, and we have become our own benchmarks for what is right and wrong.  We have the Sydney mardi gras, partly sponsored by taxpayers’ money, protected by the police, broadcasted by national TV stations, and promoted as a money-spinning tourist attraction.  The official website invites visitors to …

a cavalcade of fabulousness that includes dancing boys, marching girls, the famous Dykes on Bikes, floats, music, glitter, leather and more spray tans than Beverly Hills. The aim of the parade, which begins with the raising of the rainbow flag, is to lift the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) communities. Underneath all the fun, frivolity and feathers lies a serious message: it’s a statement of pride, diversity and acceptance.

Members our of own parliament push for the introduction of same-sex marriages under the guise of marriage equality.

Ministers of the church are under pressure to perform same-sex marriages, and venues who refuse to have a reception for these people can lose their licences, or even receive penalties.  Even baker shops in America refusing to bake wedding cakes with same-sex partners on it, are getting warnings and receive penalties.

Some evangelical churches have changed their views on homosexuality and have allowed gay ministers into their pulpits.  And these actions are heralded as steps in the right direction.

Look at Sodom.  What do you see?  Look at the state of the moral decay in Australia.  What do you see?  Sodom saw nothing wrong – but what did not see coming was the condemnation of God.  God is not mocked.  Let’s wake up.  Sodom served as a example.  Listen!  Jude says their punishment serves as “an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Lot

We know the story of Lot.  His fall did not happen at once.  It started when he looked.  He then moved to the plains of Sodom, then close to the city, then into the city, and finally he became part of them.  His wife seemed lost the moment they got there, and his daughters were about to be married to men of the city.

When we find Lot as the gate of the city, it could imply that he became part of their judgement team, because that’s where the judges of the city gathered.  Maybe he thought he could have an influence on the city.  The remark in verse 9, “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them,” (Genesis 19:9) could mean that the city people had enough of him who tried to judge them.  But the fact of the matter is that he was living in their midst.

Peter says of Lot that he was “a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless.” (2 Peter 2:7).

And I think Lot is typical of most Christians today.

Yes, we are distressed by the depravity and the sins around us; we cringe when the Name of our Lord is blasphemed through the media; we are hurt when people hurl insults against the church of our Lord; we are concerned about the future of Christianity and Bible classes in our schools; we mourn when Christians in other parts of the world are killed and slaughtered like animals – but, we have lost the impact of our testimony and witness to the world – just like Lot – because in may cases we have become too close to the world.  In some way, what the world has on offer, we have come to love, even if it means that we do it in the privacy of our home, watching the same programs as the world, enjoying it and laughing as the same crude jokes of some so-called comedians.

We have become soft as we listen to the arguments of this world about God’s standards for marriage, bad language, detestable business practices, lies, and morality in general.  Yes, when we find ourselves in private with our God, we confess and like Lot we are distressed, but rarely are Christians prepared to stand up publicly for the Name of Christ.  Our witness have become weak and incredible, difficult to take seriously.

Lot called the brutal sinners of Sodom “friends”  (or brothers in other translations).  Let’s face it, there is a line in the sand when we deal with those who openly mock the living God of heaven; there is a time when being friendly, nice and kind becomes fanciful.  The Lord calls us to be salt and light, a city on a mountain.  It is our job to proclaim the message, without fear of condemnation or being and offence.  If they hate us for doing so, then good – our Lord prepared us for it.

Are you perhaps a Lot, distressed by what you see and hear, but silent, weak and unproductive, or even having a witness which has lost its credibility because of the fact the secretly, or not even that secretly, you have come to love the world.  Worldliness is the death nail in the coffin of the church.

Abraham

Abraham walked with God and trusted God.  God revealed to him his plans to destroy the city, but he did not argue with God.  He trusted God, believed God, and just knew that God was just and full of grace.  He was at one with the plan of God.  For him the glory of God is what counted.

When he got the dry stoney hill country and Lot got the green valley of Sodom, he did not argue with God or accused God of being unfair.

But because he knew God’s grace and faithfulness, he looked at Sodom and saw the evil of the city.  He did not try to make it look a bit more attractive.  When God said the evil city became an outcry against heaven, he knew it was true.  At that stage he did not try to excuse Lot and his family, or to condone the fact that they had become part of the promiscuity of the city.  He knew sin in the eyes of God was sin.  He knew God was just in condemning the city.

But he also understood that God is a God of his word.  He knew he could go to God in prayer.

Humbly he prayed,

“Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:24–25)

He was right.  God wouldn’t have done it, but there were no fifty righteous left in the city.  Abraham kept praying, knowing that his nephew and family were about to experience God’s wrath.  Finally, in all humility, he prayed,

“Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten should be found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.” (Genesis 18:32, NKJV)

He did not give up appealing on the grace and justice of God.  If there were ten God would not destroy the city.  Abraham then left it in God’s hands.  God is good, just, righteous and holy.

What did Abraham see when he looked at Sodom?  Two things:  sin deserving punishment.  He did not try to intercede for the city on any ground, other than the fact that it was deserving of God’s justice.

But Abraham also saw God, the just, the forgiving, the faithful, the One who answers prayers.  And he trusted God.  So, he prayed for Lot.  And God answered his prayer.  I find it amazing that God remained faithful to the prayer of Abraham, even when it seemed that Lot resisted God’s grace:  the angels grabbed him and his family by the hand and urged them out of the city.  Then in verse 22:

Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.” (Genesis 19:22)

God’s mercy on Lot because of Abraham’s prayer.  I think God will do the same if we start pleading for the world around us.  Listen to this verse:

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

God

He is righteous, just, holy, punishing the sin of sinners.  When God looked at Sodom He had all the right to be angry and show his judgement.  But verse 18-19 gives us a glimpse in God’s way of looking at this world.  He knew very well that, left to our own devices, nothing would ever save us.  Yes, homosexuals and promiscuous people, but all of us would end up like Sodom – all of us are sinners and fall short of the glory of God.

But the promise to Abraham looked forward to the nations who would be blessed through him.  Along his line God send his son, Jesus Christ; He took the punishment to save us from eternal destruction.  By grace we receive grace, not a burned out city, but the same city Abraham was longing to see, the city not built with the hands of a man – God’s city.

Those who long to see this city believe in Christ.  They repented of their sins, turned against this world, love Christ and do his work on earth till that day.

All those who do not love Christ, not only homosexuals and the promiscuous, who have not turned from their sins in repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, can only look forward to a life after this in eternal destruction.  God is just and righteous – no-one who tramples the blood of his son underfoot will see heaven, but will be thrown in the lake of fire, prepared for the devil and those who worship him.  There is no other way to describe it.

Hide under the judgement of the cross of Christ and receive life; walk away from it, and God’s judgement rest upon you.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 7th November 2014

 

We just want to pray

Is it just in Australia where people just pray?  Or does it happen in other countries and in other languages too?

Just praying

Just praying

I am referring to the the use of the word just.

It is not uncommon to hear this little word used just repeated ad nausea in a prayers.  “We just come to You …”  “We just want to ask …”  We just want to pray for …” “We just want to thank You for …”

I wonder, why just?  If someone new to the English language hear us use just over and over again, would they not think why just?

The word can mean fair (the punishment is just), merited (the reward is just), exactly, precisely (just five meters), recently (the phone just rang), directly (just next to the stove), simply (just so good), only ( just last year), perhaps (it just might work), almost (my work is just about done).

The average person praying to God using just will not have all these meaning in mind when he or she is just asking or thanking God. But just what do we mean when we use this little word?  Especially when we use it over and over again.  I counted more than 20 times in a prayer of about two minutes.

For the person of reformed background there is nothing just in himself to form any ground for his petitions. He merits nothing and just ask on the basis of God’s grace.

If just is used to describe any limits exactly (or precisely), we would need to think very carefully.  Isn’t it at times that we are just so vague in what we pray for that we fall back on just?  In these cases our just can actually mean only, which unknowingly would pray and put limits on

God’s power to really answer our prayers.  “We just pray for rain” can mean that’s the only thing we ask for. Isn’t it a good thing that God does not always answer our prayers they way we bring our petitions before Him?

I suspect just in most prayers might have the meaning of simply.  That’s good, because it reflects humility.  But maybe we should use the humbly, “We humbly ask…

Next time we pray and just ask, lets keep this in mind:

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21, ESV)

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9–10, ESV)

No restrictions, no perhaps, no only, no just.

As a matter of fact, nowhere in the Bible is just connected to a prayer request.

The beauty and the beast

Dr R.C. Sproul

Dr R.C. Sproul

“In the ninth century, when the Latin Mass began to be enforced, I’m confident the same discussions took place. Some, I would expect, argued that the Latin Mass carried with it a gravity that communicated the glory of God, a certain sense of mystery and timelessness. Others, I’m quite sure, pointed out that the people for whom Jesus died could not understand what was being said. How can we say that this body was broken for you if you don’t know what we’re saying?”

Read more

The life-changing power of God’s Word

Reformation 2014

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 19
  • 1 Peter 1:13-25

Introduction

Us who grew up in modern times will find it hard to imagine life without electricity:  no running water in our homes, no fridges, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, TV’s, computers, air-conditioners … How annoying is it to have only one powerpoint in a room of older homes while we need ten for all the conveniences which depends on electricity.  One thing we can say about  electricity, is that life was literally darker without it.

The Bible describes the world before the coming of Christ also as a dark place; not literally dark, but spiritually dark. John puts it this way:

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. (John 1:5, 9)

Peter in the second chapter, referring the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, of his first letter says God “called you out of darkness into his wonderful night.”

The Word of God

Everything about it is excellent

Life without the Word of God, both the Word as the Son of God, and the Word, the Bible is a life of darkness.  In Psalm 19 we read, “The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” Read those verse again and you will understand everything about the Word of God is excellent:  it is perfect, reviving the soul; it is trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, they are sure, altogether righteous, more precious than gold, sweeter than honey, and in keeping God’s Word there is great reward.

Paul endorses by saying it is

“able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)

because

“…all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2Timothy 3:17)

Without the Word everything else is horrible

There was a time in the history of the church, that it was considered a crime for a member of the church to read to the word of God.  In cases where there were copies of the Bible, uneducated people couldn’t read it because it was in Latin.  There are recorded cases of parishes with a priest who couldn’t read, or did not even have a copy of the Word of God to have someone else read it.  Ordinary churchgoers were then left to believe that strict observance of the seven sacraments of the church of Rome would put them in the right relationship with God.

People like Wycliffe who translated the Scriptures were declared heretics and excommunicated from the church.  He died in 1384, and about 150 years after his death his bones were exhumed and burned to ashes.

So, what was the church of God like without the Word?  In one word:  dark!  Not only for members of the church, but for those who were ordained in the offices.  Moral depravity was rampant, and theological teaching was absent and without life-giving truth.  People believed what they were told without the Scripture to test the teaching.

Financial gain was important for the church to build cathedrals, and to support the priesthood.  Indulgences were introduced, making people believe that their sins were forgiven on account of the amount of financial support they give to the church.  What  further kept people from freedom was the belief that souls could be prayed and bought out of purgatory – all without any Biblical foundation.  The average churchgoer lived in fear for a vengeful God who had nothing but punishment for the sinner.  Not having the promises of the Word of God to read for themselves, they had to rely on the absolution of the priest as their middleman between them and God.

To make things ever worse, because the message of the church was that its government was above and over the civil governments, disobedience to the state also meant disobedience to the church.  It also meant that civil leaders were appointed by the church.  Society was held in fear of a revengeful God who served his punishment through the church who did not hesitate to burn people at the stake.  Thousands upon thousands died, not because they believed in the Bible and Jesus Christ, but because they dared oppose the authority of the church, even if it meant that they ate any thing else but fish on a Friday!

How God uses the Word

We now have to go to the words of 1Peter 1:

… since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God… (1 Peter 1:22–23)

Peter here connects with what he had  already written in verses 10-12. He referred to the work of the prophets as recorded in the Bible, the word of God.  What did these prophets research and write about?  “The Spirit of Christ in them was pointing” to the “sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” which became “the Gospel preached” by people “by the Holy Sprit”.  Peter says in verse 25, “This is the word that was preached to you.”

These sufferings of Christ are the “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect”, which He gave to “redeem” us “from the empty way of life.”  This word is the truth:  “You have obeyed the truth.”

So, what happens in the normal scheme of things is that God uses people whom He calls to preach the Word, which is from God, driven by the Holy Spirit.  This word is the truth.  All in the Psalms and the prophets were pointing to Jesus Christ and his redeeming work.  The simple, but treasured message of the Gospel is about Jesus Christ who came into this world to set the sinner free by grace.  His blood is more precious than gold or silver which cannot save and will count for nothing when we appear at the judgement throne before God.  “Through Him you believe in God.”  Why is this so important?  Because only He gives new life!  “God raised Him from the dead and glorified Him.”  The only way to heaven is by faith in Him who redeemed the lost by his blood, by taking their punishment as his own, to die the death they should have died, to raise victoriously from the grave, so that they who believe in Him will live with Him into all eternity.

The redemption God provided for us is complete.  Being dead in our trespasses we would not have the capacity to change ourselves to believe and make what Jesus has done for us our own.  So, the next miracle happens:

“… you have been born again, … through the living and abiding word of God. The word of the Lord stands forever, and this is the word that was preached to you.”

The Spirit of God who once breathed to Word into existence uses this word about Jesus Christ and his life-giving grace to sinner, uses the Word the bring about life from above.  What this new birth makes us children of God.  John also referred to this in his Gospel:

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13)

Paul puts in these terms:

But God … made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:4–6)

Listen to this wonderful word of grace and hope:

He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, (1 Peter 1:3–4)

No paying of indulgences, no purgatory, no ongoing moneys, no ongoing life-wrenching fair.  Its grace, free grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The truth of this Gospel sets us free!  It is through the Word of God, brought about by the Holy Spirit, speaking about Jesus Christ, that we believe:

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

Now we understand the cry of the reformers: the Word alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, all for the glory of God alone.

A holy life

If salvation is ultimately for the glory of God, it speaks for itself that our lives should forth his glory.  As his “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” we are called to live holy lives, because God is holy.   One of the main ingredients of the diet of the Christian to live to the glory of God, is to

“… like newborn babies, crave spiritual milk so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.

Why?  “We have tasted that the Lord is good.

Conclusion

My friend, allow me to say that your spiritual life, if not rooted in the Word of God, and your walk in the Lord, if not daily fed by the spiritual milk of the Word of God, is most probably almost dead.  I say this because it’s the truth based on the Word itself.  As children of the Reformation we have to go back to where it all started:  a rediscovery of the Scriptures.  Don’t allow your walk in the Lord to be lifeless because your study of God’s Word is wanting.  It is by this Word that you will be able to stand against the onslaught of the enemy.  The Word is after all, in our battle against evil, the only weapon of offence; all the other things are for defence (Ephesians 6).  May God help us.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 November 2014