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Minor Men With a Major Message: The Man Who Put Profits Before Principles

Genesis 19:15-26; John 3:16-17

I read to you first a passage of darkness, and then a passage of light. First from the Book of Genesis, the nineteenth chapter, beginning at the fifteenth verse. This is the Word of God. “When the morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Arise. Take your wife and your two daughters who are here lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.’ But Lot lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him. And they brought him forth and set him outside the city. And when they had brought them forth, they said, ‘Flee for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Flee to the hills lest you be consumed.’ And Lot said to them, ‘Oh, no, my lords. Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life. But I cannot flee to the hills lest the disaster overtake me, and I die. Behold, yonder city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there. Is it not a little one? And my life will be saved.’

“And he said to him, ‘Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Make haste. Escape there, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.’ Therefore, the name of that city was called Zoar, which means little. The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven, and He overthrew those cities and all the valley and all the inhabitants of the cities and what grew on the ground. But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”

And then the third chapter of the Gospel of John, the Gospel in miniature. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.” Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.

Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

The Bible does not pull its punches when it speaks of the people who populate its pages. I mean, in the Bible, when a person is good, the Bible says without equivocation that that person is good. But in the Bible, when a person is bad, the Bible freely and honestly acknowledges that fact. The Bible does not pull its punches when it speaks of the people who populate its pages. And that principle holds true in the story of Lot, where he was the man who put profits ahead of principles. Join me, will you?

And let’s look together at his story.

The story of Lot covers some five chapters in the Book of Genesis, and the story of Lot is almost inextricably wound up with the story of his uncle, a man whom we know as Abraham. You remember in the Bible how Abraham was called by God to leave Ur, the land where he dwelt, and to travel to some new Promised Land. And there, God called him to build a new nation. And Abraham, being always obedient to the call of God, pulled up stakes and went. It was a most courageous thing to do. I mean, let’s remember in the first place that Abraham in Ur was very wealthy. He was very comfortable. He was surrounded by the good life and good people. He had it made. And yet he was willing to turn his back on it all and walk away in response to the call of God. But not only that. God’s call to Abraham caused Abraham to literally march off the map. That’s right. He was called to go to a place where no one in his acquaintance had ever been before. And yet, he was obedient, and he went. And I suppose that we at least ought to be willing to commend his nephew Lot for agreeing to accompany his uncle on this spiritual safari. And yet, as we shall see, there is virtually nothing else in the life of Lot worthy of any commendation. When they arrived at this new and promised land, Abraham gained by dint of sheer hard work and towering faith built for himself a whole new life. He became downright prosperous, in fact. He surrounded himself with many flocks. There were many people in his employ, and, as a matter of fact, his business enterprises grew to the point where he began to realize that it would be in the best interest of all concerned to divide that enterprise in half. And so he decided that he would do just that, and he would keep half, and he would give half to his nephew, Lot. They decided that they would simply divide the land. One would take half, the other, the other half.

Now, Abraham was the senior, the elder. And it was Abraham who was entitled, therefore, by custom, to make the first choice. And yet Abraham, this remarkable man of faith, so loving and so generous and so kind, Abraham actually gave the option of the first choice to his nephew Lot. And Lot took that choice happily, or should I say greedily. And he made his choice without one thought for his uncle Abraham. As a matter of fact, he stood and he looked out over all of the land, and he saw on the one hand the rocky highlands, and he knew that that would be an area very difficult to farm. He knew that it would be so hard to make a living there, in that part of the land. And then he saw, on the other hand, the rich, lush, fertile plains of the Jordan river. And he saw that that would be the easy way to easy street. And so without any thought for his uncle’s circumstances or stature or age, Lot chose the rich, fertile plain of the Jordan.

Now, the Bible is very careful to note at that point – and I think it’s significant – the Bible notes that when Lot made that choice, he knew that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were right in the middle of that plain. He knew that, and he also knew that Sodom and Gomorrah were already recognized as centers of evil and sin and iniquity. He knew that, and yet even knowing that fact, he still made the choice to live in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He was a man, you see, who put his profits ahead of his principles. And tragically enough, that proved to be a terrible choice. But then it always is, isn’t it? I mean, when we choose to build our lives in pursuit of profits rather than in pursuit of principles, when our lives are marked by greed rather than by generosity, when we see money in life as something to get rather than something to give, when that happens to us, ultimately, sooner or later, in one way or another, we are going to be headed for trouble.

That’s what happened to Lot. He made that tragic choice, and it brought him to grief. That’s what always happens. I think that’s why Jesus found it so necessary to say that it is foolish to gain the whole world and then to lose your own soul. Wise counsel, that, but oh, so rarely heeded.

Just one illustration to underscore the point I’m trying to make here. You know, as a student of history, I’ve always been intrigued by the vast difference between North America and South America. The two share the same landmass. The two have rich natural resources. The two have had splendid opportunities for growth and development. And yet, there is a vast difference between the two. In the North, in general, we find freedom and prosperity and stable government. And in the South, in general, we find massive poverty and wealth concentrated in just a very few hands and tyrannical rule and constant conflict. Why the difference between the two? I want to submit to you that the difference is simply because those who first came to North America came in pursuit of principle. They came here seeking to be able to worship God freely. That and that alone was the reason for their coming. And those who first came to South America came in pursuit of profits. They came seeking not God, but gold. And I submit to you that that difference has caused the nations and the societies which have grown up in North and South to be distinguished by those two opposite realities.

You see, when you build life as a nation or as individuals on the pursuit or profits, disregarding the pursuit of principle, well, ultimately it leads to disaster. That’s what happened to Lot. He made that choice knowingly, willingly, deliberately. He made the choice. He chose profits rather than principles. How does the old saying go? Only fools rush in where angels fear to tread? Well, the Bible says that Lot pitched his tents towards Sodom. On the basis of that, I would say to you that there was in Lot a lot more of the fool than the angel. He built his life on the pursuit of profits rather than the pursuit of principles. And it brought him to grief. It always does. It never fails.

But the story continues.

In the early stages of the story, I think it’s worth noting that Lot’s wife is never mentioned. That’s right. She is introduced into the story later on. And when she is introduced, the Bible very specifically says that she, Mrs. Lot, was especially fascinated with Sodom and Gomorrah. And I think that the silence about her in the early part of the story is significant, because you see, at the time, when her husband was making his choices in life, the time when he was setting his priorities in life, that was a time when she could have been there helping him, helping him to make the right choices, helping him to establish the right priorities in life. And yet the Bible gives no evidence that she was there at all. If she was there, she wasn’t saying anything. She was fascinated with Sodom and Gomorrah.

That leads me to want to say something to you very specifically. And I want to say this, yes, especially to those of you who are young, but I want to say it to all, because, you see, sooner or later, in one way or another, it does impact us all. And this is what I want to say. It’s a word about love and romance and marriage especially. And I want to say this to you, and I want you to write it on your heart so that you’ll never, ever forget it. It’s this. No person who loves you will ever ask you to do anything which lowers your worth as a child of God. Do you hear that? No person who truly loves you will ever seek to bring you down. That means that if someone says that they love you and they then ask you do to something that is wrong, something that is not right, something that is contrary to the word and the way and the will of Almighty God, if someone says they love you and they ask you to do something like that, then they don’t love you. They are lying to you. Please don’t ever forget that. No person who truly loves you will ever ask you to do anything that is wrong.

This was an opportunity for Mrs. Lot to speak a good word to her husband, to be a support and encouragement for him, to help him join together as a family, and then as a family to find their way to the pathway of righteousness and light. It was an opportunity for her, and she missed it. And it’s tragic that she did. I never think of Mrs. Lot that I don’t remember a picture that came out of England a number of years back. It was a picture of William Gladstone. He was then the prime minister of England. And it was a picture of Gladstone as he was delivering a speech. And his wife was in the picture. And do you know what his wife was doing? She was standing beside him, and she was holding over his head an umbrella to keep the broiling hot sun from beating down on him while he spoke. I think there is a perfectly beautiful message in that. For you see, a man and a woman who are in love, a man and a woman who are in Christ, ought to be shading one another, ought to be caring for one another, ought to be protecting one another from all of those things that burn and sear and cripple the human spirit. Sad to say Lot and his wife never had the benefit of that kind of God-oriented partnership in their relationship. Sad, so sad to say.

The story continues. Lot did have one person who cared deeply about him.

It was his uncle, great old Abraham. And one of the things I love about this story is the fact that the Bible says Abraham prayed for Lot. That’s right, prayed for him. And in the course of his praying, Abraham discovered that God was going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the evil that was in them. And Abraham knew that Lot and his family were there, and so Abraham began to pray to God for the sake of his nephew Lot. And what we have here, it’s absolutely amazing. It’s one of the most remarkable prayer scenes in all of the Bible. It’s an incredible picture. What we have here is, yes, an old Jewish businessman bargaining with God on behalf of his nephew. That’s what it is. And as you read through it, you can hear it. It’s perfectly beautiful.

Abraham says, “Lord, I know you to be a reasonable and merciful God. Lord, therefore, do you think that if I can find 50 people in Sodom and Gomorrah who are good, will you then spare the cities?” Notice that number, 50. That’s not a very large number, not very many people. Apparently, Abraham didn’t have much of an opinion of Sodom and Gomorrah either. But nevertheless, he says, “Lord, if I can find 50, will you spare the cities?” And God says, “Well, Abraham, for you, yes. If you can find 50, I’ll spare the cities.” Abraham says, “Lord, do you think that you could do it if I could find 40?” And God says, “Well, oh, Abraham, yes. I’ll do it for 40.” “30?” And God says, “Okay.” And Abraham kept at this until, do you know, he finally wheedled God down to the point where God said, “Okay, Abraham, if you can find just 10 people, just 10, that’s all. If you can find just 10, then I’ll spare the cities.” Of course, God knew, and I suspect Abraham knew, there weren’t even going to be 10.

But I recount all of that because that really moves me. I don’t know about you, but that really gets hold of me, because I see this great old man praying for his nephew. Do you ever stop to think about the people who pray for you? I don’t know if you’re aware of the fact or not, but every single Sunday, before each one of our worship services here, there are some laypeople who meet with the ministers just minutes before we walk through the doors to lead worship here. And those lay people there, every single Sunday without fail, at each service, they’re there. And they’re there why? They’re there to pray for us, to put their hands on us and to pray for us. And I can’t tell you what that’s come to mean to us. I can’t tell you how we’ve come to depend on it, to know that every single Sunday, as we prepare to lead God’s people in worship, that they are there praying for God’s spirit to rest upon us. There’s great things happen to your heart and your mind and your soul when there’s someone praying for you. You ever stop to think about the people who are praying for you? Or maybe you think there’s no one who’s praying for you. Well, I want to put your mind at ease. I know one person who prays for you every single day. Every single week. I am that person. And I love you so much, so much that I can’t get through any day until I have first prayed for you, for every single one of you.

Again, sad to say, Lot never took advantage of his uncle Abraham’s prayers. You see, when Abraham lifted Lot up to God and prayed, you know what God did? God answered that prayer, and he sent His angels to Lot to warn him about the danger of lingering there in the city of Sodom, lingering there in the presence of evil. And Lot didn’t pay any attention. God always does that for us. Do you know that? Whenever we’re caught in some time of temptation, some time of difficulty, God always sends His angels to us. He sends them. It may be a moment when the alarm bell of conscience sounds. It may be a moment when something down deep inside of us says, “You have a second chance.” But that moment, that chance, it’s always there. God always makes it possible. Lot had that chance. Missed it. The Bible says – did you hear it? It says, “Lot lingered there.”

There is more to the story. The smell of brimstone was in the air, and the fissures were beginning to crack in the surface of the earth, and the steam was beginning to rise. And at that point, God sent the angels once more. And the angels grabbed Lot and his family by the hand, the Bible says, and dragged them out of the city and said to them, “Flee for your life! Do not turn back for any reason. Flee for your life!” And Lot still couldn’t bring himself to turn away from the presence of evil.

And then it happened. When I was young, and in Sunday school, I would read about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s wife, or some Sunday school teacher would be teaching me about it. And I have such wonderful memories of that. And did you ever do this? But I always used to wonder how on earth all of that could’ve happened. Do you ever wonder about that? Well, you know, the glorious thing is that modern technology has showed us how. That’s right. Logic and science have given us the clues. Because, you see, here’s what happened. Sodom and Gomorrah were built in an area of the country which, in that day and age, experienced much volcanic activity. As a matter of fact, there today, even, you can see on the sides of the hillsides the trail of the lava flows. They’re still there. And not only that, but Sodom and Gomorrah were built on a fault line, an area very susceptible to earthquakes. And what happened is that they had an earthquake and a volcano all at the same time. And the earthquake, as it began to force the earth to shift and to shake and to crack, it cracked open the great deposits of oil and natural gas, which are still to be found in that part of the world. And the volcano erupting at the same time, with its spewing flames, simply ignited all the oil and the gas, and the result was massive explosions and a whole rain of fire. And not only that, but then the earthquake was of such severity that it caused the earth to shift. And Sodom and Gomorrah were built right on the edge of the Dead Sea, on a slope. And so when the earthquake hit, what happened was that the two cities literally shifted and began to slide down the side of the hill into the depths of the Dead Sea, where they were buried by the waters, and where they remain buried to this very day.

And yet even that, even that cataclysmic natural disaster, was not enough to get hold of Lot. He still couldn’t tear himself loose. And his family couldn’t either. And the Bible says that Mrs. Lot, contrary to the advice of God’s angel, Mrs. Lot turned around and looked. And at that moment, it was the poisonous fumes that asphyxiated her. That’s right. That’s what happens in a volcano, you see. There are evidences, cases like that at Pompeii in Italy. You remember the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. And afterwards, scientists have gone in there and studied it. And there were people there found in Pompeii literally sitting at the dinner table. They just simply couldn’t move. They were frozen right there. Death caught them instantaneously. They weren’t killed by the fire. They weren’t killed by the lava. That came much more slowly. No, they were killed instantaneously at the moment by the poisonous, toxic, noxious fumes that spread from the volcano, much like the Bhopal disaster in India where the poisonous gases spread so rapidly, so that people were literally and instantaneously asphyxiated. That’s what happened to Mrs. Lot. The fumes, the gasses, they asphyxiated her so that she was frozen stiff in the moment.

And that part of the world is so low, it’s so far below sea level, that the process of dehydration causes the formation of salt crystals. That’s right. Even today, in that region, if you go out before bed at night and place a spoon on the ground, when you get up in the morning and go to pick up that spoon, you will find that it is completely and solidly encrusted in salt crystals. So that when they found Mrs. Lot the next morning, she was encased in salt crystals, so it looked like she had been carved from a block of it.

Still, can you believe it, that wasn’t enough for Lot. He still lingered there. He wouldn’t leave. And the Bible finally says that the angels of God turned away. And Lot came to a tragic, God-forsaken end.

Why have I told you all this? So that you get a picture of the wrath of God descending in flame and fury? Oh, no. For Heaven’s sakes, no. No. I want you to see. It says right there in the Bible that God was merciful toward Lot. God loved Lot. God wanted to save Lot. That’s what I want you to see, and that’s why I read for you that verse from the third chapter of the Gospel of John. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish. Yes. Should not perish, but have everlasting life. God sent that Son into the world not to condemn the world, no. But that the world, through Him, might be saved. That’s what God wants. God sends His angels to you and to me. No matter how dark, no matter how sinful the circumstance we may be in, God sends His angels to us, and the angels speak. Oh, it may be in a verse of scripture. It may be in the words of a sermon. It may be in the melody of a song. It may be in the voice of a friend. It may be in the memory of something that our parents said to us years ago. It may be in some deep thought that comes rising up out of our hearts at the command of the Holy Spirit. But the angels of God speak to us. And the message is always the same. Yes, always the same. God loves you. God loves me. He wants us for His very own. He pursues us. He reaches out to us. The message of the angels is always the same. You, you, every one of you, you matter to the Almighty. You are important to Him, so important that He gave His only Son. You are loved by Him.

I’m not too proud to beg you. I’m not too proud to plead with you. Please follow the angels. Don’t linger in the presence of evil in your life. Don’t toy with temptation in your experience.

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