Mercy, Compassion, Wrath & Justice
The Promises of God - Sermon 06 - Mercy, Compassion, Wrath & Justice
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Feb 12, 2017 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
Introduction - An Invitation to Die, In Order to Come to Life
We are in part six of “The Promises of God” sermon series. We are working through the idea that our lives are similar to the life-cycle of a seed before the harvest. Just like a seed, we all have to shed our protective coat and be planted in nutrient rich soil, in order to come to life.
We are continuing in our examination of Abraham’s and Sarah’s journey through the Promises of God. We concluded our time last week in Genesis 17 & 18 where Abraham and Sarah learn that God intends to give them a child from their union. Both Abraham and Sarah laugh at the prospect. As I noted last week, there are times when our emotional responses help us to discover what’s really going on within us.
From here we learn that God decides to let Abraham in on what he plans to do to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
20Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” (Genesis 18:20-21)
Abraham learns of the impending destruction and his first concern is for his nephew Lot and Lot’s family. The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah was well established before we learn any of the details that necessitate its destruction. I think it’s helpful for us to read what the prophet Ezekiel says about Sodom and Gomorrah because in his testament, he actually tells us why Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed in the first place.
49“ ‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. (Ezekiel 16:49-50)
Wow! Thanks be to God for the reading of his word!
As I’ve noted in this and other series, we serve a God who calls us to imitate him, this means caring about the things that God cares about like helping, serving, rescuing, and loving those who are at the margins, like single moms & dads, widows and orphans, those who are invisible like the prisoners, those who are being trafficked and oppressed like slaves, those who are being taken advantaged of like aliens and immigrants, the voiceless, the powerless, and the weak. This is something that is repeated time and time again in scripture.
Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. Exodus 22:22
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. Deuteronomy 10:18
When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. Deuteronomy 24:19
Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow. Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” Deuteronomy 27:19
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. Psalm 68:5
The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. Psalm 146:9
At the end of the month, Glen Hillaker, a life group leader and board member will share at our first Slice of Life for this year on ways that we as a church can answer our biblical calls and invitation from God to care for those who are at the margins in our lives. He will share about his interest and passion for justice, compassion, and mercy and he would love to get together with others within the church who share this burden and call. Plan to stay after church on February 26 to learn more about how you can join God in his mission.
Ezekiel, tells us in verse 53 that God plans to restore Sodom,
53“ ‘However, I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and of Samaria and her daughters, and your fortunes along with them,
This is the picture of God I’ve been trying to paint throughout this story, God is able to redeem us for good and restore what has been broken in our lives. He did this when he told Abraham that he was going to bless Ishmael, even through Ishmael wasn’t God’s promise heir. God didn’t discard Ishmael, instead God includes Ishmael in the promise.
Lot is in trouble again. We discover that God plans to destroy Sodom where Lot and his family lives. This is the second time that Abraham has had to intervene to save Lot. Instead of just asking God if Lot and his family can be saved, Abraham goes back-and-forth with God about whether the righteous should be destroyed with the wicked. This interaction is among the conversations in scripture about the presence of evil and suffering in the world and God’s mission to fix what the original humans unleashed in the garden when they took what didn’t belong to them.
23Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? (Genesis 18:23-24)
Look at what Abraham is asking for, he’s not just asking for Lot’s survival, he’s asking for the survival of the entire city and all of its inhabitants. I just love this heart that Abraham has here. “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”
This is a significant change in Abraham’s posture up to this point. It doesn’t seem that Abraham is focused on himself any longer. Abraham’s understanding of God is expanding and so is his heart. It seems as if Abraham is discovering something about God, just mercy, compassion, and his wrath and justice.
As we look in on this interaction with God and Abraham, it seems as if God was willing to entertain Abraham’s questions and concerns. It’s as if God wanted to hear about Abraham’s fears, lack of confidence, even his possible objections to what God was planning to do. As we continue to observe this interaction, God continues to stand before Abraham “while Abraham frames his questions probing the character of God.” The text doesn’t record that God was defensive, disappointed, irritated, or even angry with the questions, but God engages Abraham by answering each of his questions almost encouraging Abraham’s next question. It’s almost as if God wanted Abraham to ask his questions, so that Abraham could come to know God and his character better.
There is an encouragement for us in Abraham’s interaction with God. As sinners, folks who miss the mark as we attempt to follow Jesus through the narrow gate, we learn through scripture that we can boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence because we have a high priest who advocates on our behalf.
14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14–16)
Now we are in uncharted water because this is a rare and unique conversation that we observe and I don’t want to make too much of it, but I want to note that Abraham goes back and forth with God asking what’s the cut off? He doesn’t get right to it, instead Abraham starts with a modest 50, “If there are fifty, will you save the city?” “Sure,” God says, “Find fifty, and I won’t destroy the city.” Now what’s not clear to me is whether Abraham already knows the righteous, if he is only counting Lot, or if he is trying to see if God has thought about his action to destroy a city for as Ezekiel says,
49“ ‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. (Ezekiel 16:53)
How would we fare in such a predicament? Now, I know it’s easier for us to see others and to judge them, it’s quite another thing to look internally at ourselves and ask whether we would fare any better than Sodom and Gomorrah.
Several times in Scripture, God's wrath is described as coming long after the original evil action. We have it here. It occurs with Egypt's treatment of the Hebrews. It occurs with the Canaanites when the Jews enter the Promised Land. Even God's judgment on the Northern and Southern tribes of Israel comes decades or more after they began to betray their God. Then Jesus says to let the weeds grow with the wheat. I think that this says something about God's long-suffering and his willingness to let evil have its sway within certain bounds.
This picture of divine judgement and wrath is sobering. Along with all of the pictures of God we have, we have to include in our gallery a picture of God as judge, a righteous judge who will not allow injustice to run unabated. Whether we fully understand why Sodom and Gomorrah deserve to be destroyed is unclear, what’s clear is God plans to do something about the cries that he has received. He’s decided to come and see for himself what the issue is. Having come, God has decided that the city deserves to be destroyed and here is Abraham arguing with God for the sake of the city. Will you reconsider if you find 50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10 righteous?
32Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” 33When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home. (Genesis 18:32–33)
Abraham’s question, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” gets answered. No. God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked. We discover something powerful about the character of God. See, God was willing to save Zoar because of Lot and his daughters. Did Abraham dare ask God if he found three righteous would the city be saved? Zoar was saved because of three righteous people. I think when we read this often misinterpreted passage of scripture, we miss what was happening in this interaction between Abraham and God.
Sodom and Gomorrah gets destroyed, yet Lot and his family are saved. This is the second time that Abraham has helped to rescue his nephew Lot. As the angels prepare to carry out the Lord’s command, the angels give Lot and his family very strict instructions, Run for your lives, don’t look back, don’t stop.
26But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26)
How do make sense of this? At one level we want to just assume it’s a metaphor that it didn’t really happen. That it’s a metaphor for what happens to us when we don’t surrender all to God, we die. But Jesus makes reference in Lot’s wife in the Gospels,
32Remember Lot’s wife! 33Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. (Luke 17:32)
Jesus is reminding us time and time again that what we hope to hold onto will fade away, only the things of God will endure. So, if we are given a choice, and we are, let’s choose the things of God.
Remember what Jesus says, in John 12:24-25
24Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24–25)
This is our invitation from Jesus to die to our sins and to our ego and break our solidarity with the powers that were unleashed when the first humans took what didn’t belong to them in the Garden of Eden. We do this when we surrender to Jesus and follow Jesus through the narrow gate into life.
Genesis 19 closes with this,
29So 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.(Genesis 19:29)
There is something tender among the wrath and justice of God that should be noted, which is whenever you find yourself in despair, whether you are grieving or are in pain, treasure these words from God about his relationship with Abraham and allow them to bring you comfort, “God remembers you.” Don't just ask for God to remember you. But count on God remembering you, not because you are "somebody" but precisely because you are “nobody” and our God is the God of and for nobodies.
Practical Tip: Our practical tip for this week is to stop several times or intervals throughout your day to pay attention to God and practice his presence. I’m struck by the closing of Genesis 19 as an invitation to do this.
We will conclude our journey with Abraham and Sarah next week.