The Gospel of Sodom?
When I heard that this week’s sermon would be about Sodom and Gomorrah, I got an immediate mental picture in my head. You know the one - from Genesis 19:28 - in which Abraham looks out over the valley where “the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace”. There’s a reason that I (and maybe you as well) associate this imagery with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. This story of God’s wrath outpoured is used as a benchmark or prototype of judgment against evil throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis through Revelation. (Biblical trivia side note: in Zephaniah 2:8-11 the nations of Moab and Ammon, descendants of Lot, who escaped the original judgment, “shall become like Sodom and Gomorrah” as a judgment for their treatment of Abraham’s descendants.) Just as the sacrificial system became an image of God’s redemption, this story became for God’s people a picture of God’s judgment of sin: “What does the wrath of God look like? Like Sodom - fire and sulfur raining from the sky and smoke rising from the land.”
Why did Israel need this picture? And why do we need it today? During their early days as a nation, God’s people were surrounded by pagan nations. These people recognized the anger of their gods by things like a poor harvest, flooding, disease, or defeat in battle. Perhaps that’s the type of judgment Lot was expecting, when he didn’t seem in any hurry to flee the doomed city. But our God is not like those gods; he may delay for a time but when it comes his judgment is sudden and just and utterly final. The image of destruction embodied in Sodom and Gomorrah teaches us that sin really is that deserving of punishment, and that God really is that just. We need this reminder desperately - because this is the starting point of the Gospel.
And beneath and within all that doom and gloom and judgment, the rest of the good news of the Gospel shines through as well. No matter what Abraham may have pleaded, this is not a story of God sparing the “good people” while punishing the “bad people”. There were no good people in Sodom. Lot’s very “good deed” of defending his guests only demonstrated his own sin when he offered his daughters to the mob as a substitute. But God saw fit to save Lot and his daughters for the sake of Abraham and in response to his imperfect intercession. As Arlen reiterated, we should see ourselves as Lot in this story, not Abraham. Like Lot, even the good things we do are tainted with sin. Like Lot, we don’t take God’s promised judgment seriously, and God saves us despite our own efforts and not because of them. Like Lot, we are spared because of another’s intercession - except that in Jesus, we have a perfect intercessor who bore God’s wrath in our place. This is the other message of Sodom and Gomorrah: God’s mercy really is that extreme!
~ Joanna Hinks