War of the Worlds

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Compromise weakens our relationship with God.

Genesis(43) (Part of the Origins(41) series)
by Marc Webb(41) on November 28, 2021 (Sunday Morning(223))

Gospel(20), Intercession(2), Salvation(57), Worry(1)

War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells, first serialized in 1897 by Pearson's Magazine in the UK and by Cosmopolitan magazine in the US. It was written between 1895 and 1897 and is one of the earliest stories to detail a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race. It has been both popular (having never been out of print) and influential, spawning half a dozen feature films, radio dramas, a record album, various comic book adaptations, a number of television series, and sequels or parallel stories by other authors. The novel has even influenced the work of scientists, notably Robert H. Goddard, who, inspired by the book, helped develop both the liquid-fueled rocket and multistage rocket, which resulted in the Apollo 11 Moon landing 71 years later.

We may wonder why this type of story catches the collective imagination of countless peoples. Maybe it has something to do with this idea that our world is always in conflict and invasion seems at times to be imminent. According to Google, from the time of the American Revolution til the time H.G. Wells wrote his book there had been about 54 different conflicts between the United States and various groups including many different Native American tribes, and many different countries including Mexico, Britain, France, etc. But there has been a war of the world’s waging constantly since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. This is the war between God and Satan, good and evil, and Christians and what we call the “world”, which is the embodiment of everything that is against God and his will. As Christians, we are commanded to “be in the world but not of it” and to “not conform to the pattern of this world.” This is no easy task when we are bombarded, even invaded, by the world on a daily basis. But we are to stand firm and not be influenced by the world, in fact, we are called to influence it by being “salt and light” in the world on a daily basis.

This morning we continue the story of Lot and his family. Over the past several chapters we have seen Lot look toward Sodom, pitch his tent toward Sodom and eventually live in Sodom. Even after Abraham rescued Lot from the four kings, he returned to Sodom and continued to live there. Lot chose Sodom as his home because it was well-watered like the garden of the Lord and like Egypt. On the outside it looked nice but on the inside it was evil and perverted. Pastor Stuart showed us last week that Lot had compromised and it had weakened his witness with the people of Sodom. After all his years in Sodom, Lot had not had a positive influence on the people, in fact, the people had influenced Lot and his family and the result was a spiritual downward spiral that cost some of Lot’s family not only their physical lives but probably their souls as well.

Lot’s relationship with God had also deteriorated and we see this as we contrast the way Abraham is living to the way Lot is living. Abraham is sitting at the door to his tent when the visitors come; Lot is sitting at the gate of a wicked city. Abraham lives as a pilgrim in the world just passing through; Lot has settled down in the city of Sodom. We have seen Abraham building altars to the Lord but we never see Lot building an altar at all. Because of Abraham’s influence he became a blessing to the world; because of Lot’s worldliness he had no influence in Sodom or even in his own household. After separating from Abraham, Lot allowed his character and his relationship with God to weaken as he continued to compromise the ways of God with the ways of the world. God visited Abraham but we never see him visiting Lot. It is possible that the Lord could not be in close fellowship with Lot because his worldliness has so deteriorated their relationship.

When I think of Lot, I am reminded of Romans 12:2 which says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Lot has been conformed to the “pattern of this world” and has not been “transformed by the renewing of his mind.” His heart and mind has been so infected by Sodom that he is not in tune with God or with his will. When we compromise the things of God for the things of this world it not only weakens our witness but our relationship with God, as well, which brings us to our big idea this morning which is “compromise weakens our relationship with God.” The world that we live in today also looks nice on the outside but after it pulls you in and conforms you to its will you notice the evil and perversion that is going on. By the time we notice that the world is influencing us we have a hard time reversing the process or sadly we don’t want to. This is why it is important for us as Christians to have a strong relationship with God and Jesus. This is the only way we can fight and win the spiritual battles that the world and Satan wages against us daily. This morning we will look at three ways, from our scripture, that the world affects us when we allow it to conform us to its image. Before we start to unpack those three ways the world affects us, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we ask you to pour out your Holy Spirit on your people this morning. We pray for wisdom and discernment as we open your Word. Help us to find it in our hearts and to share it with those we come in contact with this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The three ways that the world can affect us is wavering, worrying and wondering. The first, wavering, is found in Genesis 19:15-17. This is what God’s Word says, “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.” 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. 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!”

We notice that these events are given a timeframe meaning that there is an order to these events and they will happen. The angels arrived in Sodom at evening time and Lot goes to talk to his son-in-laws sometime later. We notice that Lot has wasted the entire night because it is now almost dawn. The angels have seen what is going on in the city of Sodom and its destruction is imminent. With dawn coming the angels urge Lot to take his wife and two daughters and get out of Sodom or they will be destroyed along with the city when it is punished. We see the element of free will here. The city will be destroyed and Lot and his family is to be saved but he needs to take the initiative to take his family to safety or they will be destroyed as well. But what does Lot do when confronted with the fact that he needs to urgently leave the city or be destroyed along with it? He wavers, he hesitates and the angels actually have to take Lot, his wife and his two daughters by the hand like children and lead them out of the city. He seemingly continues to choose Sodom over God. He may not have liked what was going on in the city but there were things he did like about it and those had a stronger hold on him. The reason Lot was spared is because of the mercy of the Lord not because of his own righteousness.

Once outside the city the angel tells them to flee for their lives, not to look back, and to not to stop anywhere on the plain. They are to flee to the mountains or be “swept away” and destroyed. We don’t know exactly what is going on in Lot’s head at this moment but again he wavers. Maybe he was thinking about the good life he had in Sodom. He had come to Sodom with a lot of wealth and has probably parlayed that into more wealth. From 2 Peter 2:8 we know that Lot was a righteous man living among evil men and was tormented by the lawless deeds he saw and heard but he lacked the will to leave them. He may not have participated in their lifestyle but he couldn’t have lived day in and day out in that kind of environment without breathing the spirit of Sodom in. Sodom had become a part of Lot. When we are living “in and of” the world we waver when it comes to the things of God and we lack the will to stand up for what is right. We may not participate in what the world is doing but we allow ourselves to breathe its spirit in. Our standards start to erode away the longer we are exposed to the world and we may start to justify a certain lifestyle or sin. We think just a little bit of compromise here or there will be ok and so we waver when confronted by sin, we waver because of our love for the things of this world and we waver in the face of certain destruction. This brings us to our first next step which is to confess my wavering when it comes to the things of God and to purpose to stand up for what is right.

The second way the world can affect us is by worrying and we see this in Genesis 19:18-26. This is what God’s Word says, “But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! 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. 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.” He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.) By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”

After being taken outside the city and urged to flee for their lives, what does Lot do? Does he run as fast as he can with his family for the mountains? No, he bargains with those who were sent to save them. He stops right outside the city and wants to make a deal with them. The reason he doesn’t want to go to the mountains is because he is worried he can’t get there before the disaster over takes him. The angels have come to his house to save him and his family from the disaster but somehow in his mind he thinks there is no way he can make it to the mountains in time to be saved. The angels have come to save him and he is worried about his safety. The world has so entangled Lot’s mind that he is not thinking straight and common sense has been thrown out the window. But I also wonder if he is more worried about his lifestyle than his safety. He asks the angels to allow him to go to another city called Zoar. Zoar is similar to the Hebrew word for “a small thing.” Baldwin says, “The pun reinforces his plea that he is really not asking for much. Lot’s “little” request amounted to no less than a reversal of the instructions he was first given.” He doesn’t seem to be taking the threat of his destruction seriously. He believes by going to the city of Zoar he will be safe but Zoar was one of the five cities in the plain slated to be destroyed along with Sodom. The world has not only conformed his heart but his mind as well and he is making wrong decisions and his thinking is distorted. His heart and mind should have been transformed through his relationship with God but sadly compromise had weakened his relationship instead. (BIG IDEA)

We again see God’s mercy as the angel grants his request. In fact, the entire city is going to be spared because Lot wanted to go there. We see the similarity here that as Abraham interceded for Sodom now Lot pleads to be sent to Zoar, in effect saving that city. The difference is that Abraham is being selfless and Lot is selfish. Abraham pleads for divine justice but Lot is looking after his own well-being and convenience. Lot proves to be fearful, selfish and faithless, all the things the world will do to us when we allow it to. The angels tell Lot he needs to flee quickly because the destruction can’t start until he gets to Zoar. Think about that for a second: the destruction of Sodom and the plain can’t begin until Lot gets to Zoar just like it wouldn’t have started until he was safe in the mountains. We see how messed up Lot’s reasoning and logic was. If we are living “in and of” the world our reason and logic will suffer just as Lot’s did. We will not make the right choices or decisions.

Next, we see the destruction that comes to Sodom. It happens once Lot reaches Zoar and the sun has completely risen. We are told two times that it is the Lord who caused the destruction. First, it is the Lord who rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah and, second, that it came from the Lord out of the heavens. This is important because it wasn’t just a natural disaster that took place but was judgment and punishment from the Lord. There was no doubt as to what happened to these cities and why. We are also told that the destruction was total in that it destroyed all living people and all the vegetation in the land. It was a complete and total annihilation. Keil & Delitsch says, “Not only were the cities destroyed but the soil as well. Even to the present day in the Dead Sea there is a sulphureous vapor which hangs about it, there are great blocks of saltpeter which are around it, there is the utter absence of the slightest trace of animal and vegetable life in its waters.” The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities was so complete that even to this day there is not exact certainty where they were located.

Then we are told what happens to Lot’s wife. The text says she looked back and became a pillar of salt. We are not told why she looked back but she seems to be longing for what she had there. Whatever it was, not even being with her husband and her daughters could keep her from disobeying a direct command from the angel to not look back. She became a pillar of salt and lost her life. According to Walton’s commentary the Hebrew preposition used means Lot’s wife didn’t just look back toward Sodom but had started going back to Sodom being caught in the burning sulphur that the Lord rained down. The angel’s command was not disobeyed by looking back but by willingly going back to Sodom. She must have been so enamored with the city and what it had to offer that she was willing to go back without her family and to a sure destruction.

Being “in and of” the world made Lot worried about a lot of things but all his worrying was really for no reason. He was worried about his safety but God was in control and even sent angels to save him. The Bible says a lot about worry: Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Matthew 6:25-27 says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” and 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

For those who do not know Jesus as their Savior or for those whose relationship with God has been compromised, debilitating worry will be part of their daily life. But as Christians in a right relationship with Jesus we don’t need to worry because we know that God is in control of this world and we have the hope of an abundant life on this earth and eternal life in heaven. That brings us to our second next step which is to claim the promise that because of my relationship with Jesus I do not need to worry about the things of this world.

The third way the world can affect us is in wondering and we see this in Genesis 19:27-29. This is what God’s Word says, “Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. So 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.”

We are again given a timeframe. God has rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and the other cities in the plain at sunrise and then sometime later early in the morning Abraham goes back to the place where the Lord had first told him about Sodom’s destruction. He looks down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and sees the dense smoke rising from the plain. “Burning smoke” in the Bible demonstrates divine anger and judgment. Abraham now knows that not even ten righteous people have been found in the five cities. He doesn’t need to wonder about the fate of Sodom anymore. But he must have been wondering what happened to Lot and his family. The narrator has let us, the audience, know but Abraham doesn’t. We can be sure that he is hoping that they made it out alive? Or maybe he was already mourning the loss of Lot and his family and the inhabitants of the plain? This is the only chapter in the story of Abraham that he doesn’t speak. His quiet contemplation says it all. We are never told if Abraham ever found out about Lot and his family but after this chapter Lot disappears from the pages of the Old Testament.

This section ends with the audience being reminded of a couple of things. One, it was God who destroyed the cities of the plain. It wasn’t a natural disaster. Second, we are reminded that because of Abraham’s intercession Lot was spared from destruction. Sodom wasn’t saved but Lot and his two daughters were. And the reason they are saved is because God remembered Abraham. The verb for “remember” is important because it speaks to God’s covenantal faithfulness. The Lord was faithful to his promise to Abraham. We have seen this before when God remembered Noah and saved him and his family from the flood and brought them out of the ark.

Living in this sinful world will cause us to wonder. Just as Abraham must have been wondering if Lot and his family had been saved from destruction, we may wonder about our loved ones, our friends and family, and their salvation. Just like Lot who had the free will to be saved or be caught in the destruction of the city, our friends and family have free will to make a decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and be saved from eternal separation from God or not. But that doesn’t mean we won’t wonder if they have made that decision. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep interceding for them to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We live in a sinful world and this world wants to drag us down and drag us away from God. And because we live in this world we may wonder about the salvation of our friends and family and even wonder about our own salvation. Maybe that’s where you are today. Maybe you are wondering about the salvation of your friends and family. If so this next step is for you: My next step is to keep interceding with God on behalf of the salvation of my friends and family. Don’t give up on them and don’t give up on God for the miraculous to happen.

Maybe you are unsure of your own salvation this morning. If so you don’t have to wonder anymore. You can accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, right now. This final next step can be for you: Admit that I am a sinner, believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead and confess that he is my Lord and Savior. If you made that decision today, mark the back of your communication card and make sure you put your contact information on it, so we can be in touch with you. If you made that decision, you are still going to have to live in this sinful world as we all will, but you will never have to wonder again about where you will go when your physical body passes away. Your eternal home will be in heaven with God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we can read these stories in the Bible and wonder how it applies to us. Certainly the next steps are ways that we can apply this text to our lives. As we live in this world we need to be careful not to be “of it.” We must not waver when it comes to the things of God, we must not worry because God is in control and we do not have to wonder about our eternity because God has made a way for us to be in a right relationship with himself.

But Lot and his wife are also warnings for us today to what the world can and will try to do to us. If Lot couldn’t be in Sodom, he wanted to be as close as he could and his wife couldn’t bear to not be there. As Christians, we live in Sodom every day, we live in this world with all its surface beauty, fake happiness and prosperity. We have been warned to not let the world influence us but to influence it but that is not an easy task. We are given the chance to “escape” so to speak, not physically but spiritually. As Christians, we must continually strengthen our relationship with God and Jesus daily. We must be in his Word, we must be communicating with him through prayer, we must be studying and meditating on scripture and we must be evaluating our lives through its lens and not the lens of this world. We must be striving to live holy lives, set apart by God, and to be salt and light in this world that he has placed us in. We must be striving to be more like his son, Jesus Christ, every day. And we are given the means to make this happen which is the Holy Spirit. This is how we can be “in the world but not of it.” The question for each of us this morning is this: What will we do when given the chance to escape this world? Will we waver? Will we worry? Will we look back and even go back to the world and let it overwhelm and conquer us? Or will we put on the armor of God and daily fight this spiritual war of the worlds that we find ourselves in. This is what Jesus calls his followers to do.

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we ask that you would give us the strength to not waver when it comes to following you in this world. We pray that you would help us to take all of our worry, anxiety and burdens and lay them at your feet. And God we pray that we would not grow weary of interceding for the salvation of our family and friends. Thank you for your Word and its truth and application for our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.