The Kingdom Has Come

August 4, 2019 Speaker: Travis Allen Series: The Gospel of Luke

Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 10:8–10:12

The Kingdom Has Come

August 4, 2019

We’re in Luke chapter 10 this morning—Jesus’ instructions to the seventy-two missionaries, whom he sent before him into Judea, so I’d ask you to turn there in your Bibles. We’re going to be studying that text and seeing in this text that we’re going to cover—these verses in particular—the weight of significance and the gravity of Gospel preaching. You need to understand that as we preach the Gospel, as we call sinners to Christ, we’re telling sinners—and this is our basic message, even if we do not state the matter this starkly or this bluntly—“Repent, or perish.” That’s really the message. “Repent, or perish.” 

We come from the perspective—as Gospel preachers, as Christians—of the fear of the Lord. And we’re speaking to a culture that clearly does not fear the Lord. We speak from the perspective of those who will give an account to the One who is the judge of the living and the dead. The culture we speak to doesn’t consider itself accountable to anybody but the autonomous self. That’s a large task in front of us, and yet we know that we’re not alone. The Holy Spirit goes before us, and he is at work in the hearts and the minds of unbelievers that they might turn and hear and repent and be saved. So we’re not discouraged whatsoever, but we do realize that the message we preach is stark, it’s shocking to an indifferent culture. “Repent, or perish.”

There are eternal consequences for those who hear the Gospel. For those who embrace the Gospel, there’s eternal joy in the presence of the living God. That will be their reward. But for those who reject the Gospel, their sentence is eternal damnation. The judgment is even more severe—weightier, heavier, more painful—for those who have greater exposure to the truth, for those who have been granted greater understanding, like many who sit in our churches today. And for those who turn away—greater judgment, greater condemnation, greater pain in the judgment than for those who have heard and known less. That’s what’s in our text this morning.

And that thought is really never far from my mind as a preacher of the Gospel. I think of all of you coming here to listen every week. I often think about this. I think about those who visit our church and listen to the preaching, and I wonder how are you listening. How are people listening? How are you processing the messages you hear from God’s holy Word? No doubt there are some who, while listening, are filled with joy. They’re thoughtful about their own condition. They’re reflective, they’re expository listeners, they’re thinking as I speak and preach, and they’re judging everything I say by the Word of God to see “is this so? And if it’s so, I must therefore act.” 

And there are others while listening who think of themselves, “Why should I listen to some man? He’s just up there pontificating from behind a pulpit.” There’s a sense in which I understand that sentiment. I used to be one with that sentiment. There’s no reason for anyone, really, to listen to what I personally have to say, or that I, on the other hand, should listen to any of you—to hear what you have to say. We are fellow creatures—you and I—right? Really on the same level—nothing but a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. So why should anyone listen to what I’m saying, or why should anyone listen to you?

Another way to ask the question is this: How can one command the conscience of another, demand a hearing, much less compel obedience, a radical life change, repentance, going this direction, and calling people to stop going in that direction and go that direction, after Christ? Those questions are questions that the residents of every city, every town, every village in Judea and Perea had to ask themselves when these seventy-two heralds entered into their midst.

Think about that as we read Luke 10, starting in verse 8 and reading through verse 12. Jesus instructed them,

 

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“Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”

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Verse 1: The Lord appointed those seventy-two preachers; he sent them on ahead of him two-by-two into every town and place where he himself was about to go, and here in verses 8-12 he’s instructing them—yes—to make a judgment. He’s telling them to make judgment—an assessment—and to take action commensurate with the judgment that they make, what do to with the town that is characterized by receptiveness to the Gospel, and then what to do with the town characterized by rejection of the Gospel.

Now imagine you are a resident of one of these towns, and these two visitors arrive. There’s nothing about these men to admire, at least by appearance—no wealth to commend them, no royal entourage accompanying them—nothing but the clothes on their backs, literally. Visibly unimpressive. And in what seems to be a complete contrast to their common, ordinary—you might say even beggarly—appearance, less than impressive, they come making this audacious claim: “The Kingdom of God has come near you. And in fact, the Messiah—the King of that Kingdom—is following along behind us.” And people take one look and they say, “Oh, really? And you’re the heralds? You’re the forerunners, the envoys? Not impressed.”

Folks, that’s what confronts everyone who hears the Word of God—the Word of God coming from the lips of any mere man. What choice are you going to make when you hear the Word of God? Not some human being, but the Word of God channeled through that human being, who’s merely a conduit, a voice giving expression to the very words of God. What choice are you going to make? For Moses and every prophet who called the people to heed the Word of God spoken by Moses all the way to John the Baptist and Jesus—every apostle, prophet, Gospel preacher who calls people to believe the Gospel, repent of sins, follow Jesus Christ as Lord—this is the question: Will we look past appearances? Will we see beyond the human vessel? Will we discern the voice of the one who is truly speaking, to humble ourselves, to receive the message preached, and heed the Word of the living God? Or will we remain proud, hard-hearted, stiff-necked, and unmoved, and carry on with ourselves?

God commonly uses, on purpose, unimpressive spokesmen, ordinary people, to proclaim his eternal Gospel. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 4:7 we read, “But we have this treasures in”—what?—“jars of clay.” “Privy pots” is really the expression there—to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. And the proclamation—this divine treasure—comes with attendant consequences. There’s salvation for those who humbly receive that treasure, and there’s judgment for those who arrogantly reject it. Paul said, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

So beloved, as you proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you need to realize that you, too, are carrying around in yourself, as unimpressive as you may think you are—or, if you’re self-deceived, as impressive as you think you are—but as unimpressive as we really are, you carrying around in yourself a priceless treasure of the Gospel, and you, too, are the “aroma of Christ,” which on the one hand, is a horrid stench of death to some, and they reject it—while it’s the refreshing fragrance of life to many others.

So listen—when we go out and preach, we don’t “share” the Gospel, as one might “share” a health tip or a restaurant recommendation. This isn’t optional. We go out as heralds of a King, and we proclaim the King’s message. We go out proclaiming the truth. We tell people the truth, we help them to see the consequences of their sinful condition. We call them to believe in Christ or else perish—that “the wages of sin is death.” 

And if that seems extreme to you—I mean it strikes our ears, doesn’t it, in our nice American culture, as rather harsh and extreme and a tough message—if that seems extreme, consider what Jesus said to the towns that rejected his messengers. Verse 12: “I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.” He’s not at all embarrassed to say so. In fact, he expands the warning in the next verses, proclaiming “woes” on these indifferent, unrepentent cities—cities in which he, himself, preached and ministered and demonstrated the power of that Kingdom.

How people listen to the message of the Gospel—it is eternally significant. It’s not about us; it’s about the message. Since we are ambassadors for Christ, and since God is making his appeal through us, mere men, mere women—in some cases, mere youth—we implore people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God. When sinners then react with pride or indifference, we part ways with a warning, “See to it that you do not refuse him who is speaking.”

So beloved, as you listen this morning, that’s what I want you to think about. As we study these instructions to the seventy-two—namely, we must—we must, the preachers—must hold the Gospel that we preach in high esteem. The fact that Jesus came as this King heralding his kingdom—it means something significant: Eternally important implications follow from the consequences of either receiving or rejecting.

So I want to give you three reasons to hold the Gospel in high esteem, from our text—three reasons to feel the weight of the message that you preach, and to consider the consequences for those who listen and receive, for those who listen and reject. Most immediately, and I just want to show I’m not speaking here to any of you in our midst who are not yet Christian. I am speaking to you: My prayer is that the Lord gives you ears to hear this sermon and eyes of faith to look upon Christ, to be saved, to hear the Gospel—that your heart might be changed and be reconciled to God—I do pray for that.

But this sermon is really for those who are already saved because Jesus, here in these verses, is speaking to his own people. He’s speaking to his missionaries, those who he’s going to send out. They’re already in. They’re Gospel preachers. So this means, by way of application, he’s talking to us, here, folks. So listen—if we, the preachers, do not hold the Gospel in high esteem when we preach it, what are our hearers to think?

Three reasons, then, to hold the Gospel in high esteem. We’re going to cover two today and in our part two we’ll come back next week and cover the third.

So, the first—number one: The kingdom has come and has consequences. The Kingdom has come, bringing salvation. Verses 8 and 9: “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” 

So this is talking about a receptive town, one that’s characterized by welcoming the messengers, receiving the message. It’s a town that’s hospitable, eager to hear. It’s a town in which there are many positive responses to the Gospel, many who profess faith in God and rejoice in the coming of Jesus the Messiah. There are three present-tense verbs that summarize Jesus’ instruction to the seventy-two when they encounter one of these towns—and you might put them down as three sub-points. “A: Eat the food,” “B: Heal their sick,” and “C: Proclaim Christ’s Gospel.” Eat the food, heal the sick, and proclaim the Gospel. 

Sub-point A: “Eat their food.” Eat their food. We learned this last week—that he’s talking here—referring back to the previous verses—about Gospel partners. So when you encounter Gospel partners, rejoice in the partnership, accept the hospitality, rejoice in believing fellowship, and make eager use of that Gospel partnership. But more than that, the text says, “Eat whatever is set before you.” Now that’s not a repeat of what he says in verse 7—“remain in the believing home, eating and drinking what they provide.” Here in verse 8 it’s a slightly different emphasis. Jews used to make travel plans based on where they might find a kosher meal when they had to make a long journey. They were fastidious about obeying dietary restrictions in the Mosaic law. But now that Jesus is sending them in to the towns and villages of Judea and, by the way, Perea—part of Perea was the Decapolis, Gentile towns, Gentile cities—Jesus wants the missionaries really to put dietary concerns out of their minds. Faith is a higher priority for them than food. Matters of diet—what’s on the menu—he didn’t want them thinking about that at all. Now for any believer who is going to receive these messengers in one of the towns—most of them are not going to violate Jewish dietary restrictions when the visitors—the messengers—come into town. But perhaps when they enter a predominantly Gentile community—what then?

The point of Jesus’ instruction here is really to relegate matters of sustenance, provision, even kosher diet to the demands of a more urgent mission. Matters of sustenance are to be incidental to their mission mindset. They just need to trust God that he’s going to provide for their needs; he’s going to feed them. They don’t need to worry about kosher law. This is not an abolition of kosher law. In Acts chapter 10 Jesus did abolish kosher law, telling Peter, “Peter, get up, kill, and eat…. What God has made clean, do not call impure.” He did that three times in that vision of the sheet coming down from heaven with all kinds of clean and unclean animals it it: “Peter, get up, kill, and eat…. What God has made clean, do not call impure.” Very clear. But this, here in Luke 10, is not that in Acts chapter 10.

That said, even though Jesus is not here abolishing the kosher diet, what he says here does, in fact, anticipate the end of Jewish kosher diet. After Jesus accomplished salvation through the Cross, after the Holy Spirit comes, believing table fellowship expands beyond the borders of Israel, and it encompasses at the same table Jews and Gentiles in one body. Even though Jesus has not abolished, he has anticipated the end of the meal restriction that keeps Jews and Gentiles separate, which was the point in the Old Testament. But here, this anticipates the coming of the Holy Spirit, with the baptism of all in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female—all one in Christ.

And what we see here—“Eat whatever is put in front of you,” Jesus says—is a brief insight into Jesus’ interest, his plan, his intention, to save all sinners, not just Jewish ones, Gentiles, too. This, you might see, is the broad call of the Gospel, where Jesus is calling them, telling them to cast the good seed of the Gospel as far and wide as possible. This is the huge dragnet meant to drag all those different kinds of fish in. It’s an insight into the magnanimous heart of God who seeks and saves the lost, not of Jews only, but also of the world.

Another sub-point, verse 9, sub-point B, “Heal the sick.” This is the same pattern these disciples watched in Jesus’ ministry all throughout Galilee. Jesus’ ministry was often introduced with miracles of healing. And we’ve talked about this so much. I’ll just briefly mention it. When he came into a town, he led out with compassion for people, didn’t he? He initiated his ministry there by showing care and concern for people in their need. He showed his love for sinners. His heart, really, broke for those who were subdued under the curse, those who were enslaved to sin, those who were overcome by weakness and sickness and maladies—some of them even in bondage to Satan. In some cases we know they were literally possessed by demons, and he set them free.

And Jesus wanted the seventy-two to do the same, to act the same as they entered into a receptive town. He said, “Heal the sick in that town. Show them the mercy and compassion of God. Let them know that your God cares for people, has compassion for them.” The verb here is present tense. It emphasizes the continuousness—that is, “Keep on healing the sick in that town.” That is, “Don’t rush off to another town. Linger for a bit in that receptive town. Allow the mercy and favor of God to saturate that town and heal all their sicknesses.”

Finally, sub-point C: Proclaim Christ’s Gospel. That’s the point—verse 9—“Heal the sick in that receptive, welcoming town, and then say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you’—or ‘for your good’ or ‘upon you.’” It’s no good healing all the physical sicknesses only to neglect the deepest need they had for spiritual healing. Healing sickness and disease, driving out demons, ministering to physical and temporal needs—all that’s just the entry point, isn’t it? But it’s not the point, not the ultimate point. 

Miracles validated the messengers. They ministered in the name of Jesus Christ. They came in the power of the Holy Spirit. They came with approval—the divine validation—from God himself. There were people in their day, just as there are people in our day—many people—who were focused on mere physical, temporal issues. They had material concerns, and they minimized or disregarded the deeper spiritual needs. And when they focused on those temporal, physical, or material issues, they reveal their carnality. They revealed their worldly mindedness. 

And Jesus encountered that all the time, most notably in John 6. Many turned away from him, didn’t follow him anymore. After he fed them, they came seeking more food. He said, “You’re not coming because you hear the truth of God’s Kingdom but because your bellies were filled.” Same thing today. People love—don’t they?—the Gospel of health, wealth, and prosperity. But they’re absolutely uninterested in knowing the living God, uninterested in worshiping God in obedience and truth. Paul wrote—Philippians 3—“Many walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction; their God is their belly. They glory in their shame with minds set on earthly things.”

When these messengers come across towns, though, that are eager to receive the Gospel message, they’re not just into the healing—though they are so grateful for the healing. They listen further. When they listen and receive, when they listen and believe, when they embrace—the messengers are to stick around. They’re to herald of the Messianic Kingdom, the arrival of Christ himself, and teach them that “the Kingdom of God has come near to you.” You can’t see it as well in the English, but the Greek expression there is intensified. It emphasizes that “the favor of God, the Kingdom of God, has come near, as it were, coming down from above and falling like manna from heaven upon you.” That’s the sense.

What a blessing for a receptive, welcoming, hospitable town, right? What a a blessing! God’s healing mercy for all the sick in that town—the power of the Kingdom to rid their town of sickness and disease and banish demons from their midst. And then God’s saving truth for all those who need forgiveness—and that’s every single one—isn’t it?—for those who need the gift of divine righteousness, for those who need the justification of God, for those who need to be at peace with God in full and free salvation. That’s the magnanimous offer. It’s a universal call to salvation. It comes in Kingdom power, and it draws attention to the Kingdom message: Christ, the King, has come to save his people and to rule over them in grace and truth.

Now the flip side. Here are Jesus’ instructions for unbelieving, unwelcoming, rejecting towns. Point 2: The kingdom has come. That has implications as well for those who reject. The kingdom has come, promising judgment. The Kingdom has come, promising judgment. That’s in verses 10-12, and really on through 13 to 16—we’ll see that as well. But Jesus tells the seventy-two to deliver a warning message to those Gospel-rejecting towns. He says, “But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say…” Let’s stop there for a second. Notice, here, there’s no staying to eat, there’s no healing of the sick. Just go into the streets of the town, that is, not in a home, don’t go into a private place, don’t go around a corner, but walk out in the open in very public places—Main Street,  you might say. And go there and pronounce judgment, verse 11: “‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless, know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’”

When Jews returned from a journey that took them through Gentile lands, it was customary for them as they crossed into the borders of Israel to wipe off Gentile dust from their feet. They didn’t have some kind of superstitious belief that Gentile is dirtier than Jewish dust. It’s dust, okay? It’s symbolic. They just had a symbolic gesture of disdain for the pagan idolatry and how it polluted the land itself. They had a concern about the moral impurity that characterized Gentile peoples and Gentile nations. I’m not going to take the time to go into it now, but it was horrific. 

So when Jesus tells these seventy-two Jewish preachers to wipe off the dust—and not just of the Perean towns but of Judean towns as well—to wipe that Jewish dust off their Jewish feet, that’s really significant. Jesus is saying, “These Gospel-rejecting, Kingdom-disdaining Jews are worse than the rank pagans. They’re worse than immoral, unclean Gentiles whom you rightly understand as condemned in their sin.” 

How much worse? He elaborates there in verse 12. How? By making a comparison to ancient Sodom. Beginning in verse 12, Jesus begins with a formal address: “I tell you [“based on my authority, my word, I want you to get this. Get your attention on me. Put your eyes on me,” he’s saying. He’s grabbing their attention] it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”

Sobering. Just the mention of Sodom—that got their attention. Sodom is one of the chief examples, isn’t it, biblically, of divine judgment, leaving a stronger impression on the mind than perhaps any other judgment in all of human history except, perhaps, for the Noahic Flood. The Noahic Flood was obviously devastating—permanently changed the climate, the topography, the geography of the earth. 

But next to the Flood, it’s Sodom and Gomorrah, isn’t it? God judged Sodom and Gomorrah. He rained down sulfur and fire from Heaven on those two cities and the cities of the plain. So when Jesus said, “It’s going to be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for any other town” that rejects Christ, rejects the Gospel of the Father’s Kingdom—well, that got their attention. They immediately saw the significance of their message, and they immediately saw the relevance of Jesus’ comparison.

Now for us to experience the same impact, we need to do just a little bit of review. Turn back to the book of Genesis. We’re going to start our review maybe in a different place than you might think. You might think we’re going directly to Genesis 19 and the judgment of Sodom, but we’re actually going to turn back to Genesis 13 because we start seeing references to Sodom much earlier than Genesis 19. And when Jesus mentioned Sodom, you need to realize that these Jews that he’s speaking to are steeped in the Old Testament. For them, the Bible—the Scripture—was Genesis through Malachi, not in that same form—it was in a different form, a different ordering of the books—but they didn’t have a New Testament. They had one Bible, one Scripture, and it was what we call the Old Testament. For them this history would have been very familiar. We, on the other hand, could use the review.

The city of Sodom is first named in Genesis 10, verse 19. It’s listed among the cities of the Canaanites and alongside other cities known as “the cities of the plain.” Those cities—Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, another little town that Lot fled to—they’re on Canaan’s southern border. And archeologists have located, actually, evidence of the ruins of those cities on the southeast corner of the Dead Sea, in a plain there. They can find evidence of charred cities. 

So Abraham and his nephew Lot—Genesis chapter 12—traveled together from Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan. God blessed them both so abundantly with wealth so great they had to separate their flocks and herds, and Abraham, the older man, gave Lot first choice. “Lot looked up at the land before him”—Genesis 13:10—“and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord”—that’s a reference to the Garden of Eden. That’s where Lot moved—verses 11-12.

Sodom was situated in the heart of Canaan, and it was blessed with an abundance of wealth. It was well-provisioned with resources. It was surrounded by natural beauty. Wealth was there for the picking, for the gathering. But in this state of luxury and abundance, rather than honor God as God and give thanks for all they’d received—verse 13, Genesis chapter 13—it says that the men of Sodom were “wicked,” great sinners against the Lord. 

Now we understand Lot—he’s the younger man—he made a selfish land-grab, going for the luxury and the ease. That’s maybe some of his self-centered motivations, preferring that to giving it to the older man as you might expect, but he took that for himself. But his move to Sodom—whatever his motivations were—is an act of divine providence and mercy. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” You need to realize that God had a purpose in sending Lot to go and live in the heart of Sodom. 

God basically planted Lot in the midst of that wicked city to be a preacher of righteousness. In fact, according to 2 Peter 2:7, we know that Lot was greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked men in Sodom, and then in verse 8, “As that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard.” You ever feel like that, living in our own land of Sodom and Gomorrah, that our righteous souls are tormented day after day as we see lawless deeds, see them and hear them talked about?

Lot, as a preacher of righteousness, didn’t keep his thoughts private. He voiced his concerns, he protested the ungodliness of Sodom, he professed and proclaimed the God who called him and his uncle Abraham out of Mesopotamia. We know that from Genesis 19:1 and 19:9 that Lot had become a prominent citizen in the town. He was a city elder who sat at the city gate to judge civic moral affairs. And so Sodom, you could see already, benefited from unparalleled privilege—materially privileged, spiritually, judicially privileged. But again, rather than honor God and give thanks, the Sodomites became increasingly wicked, proud, and self-indulgent. According to Ezekiel 16:49, Sodom was “filled with pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and the needy.” How can they be filled with abundance and have no regard whatsoever for the poor? What does that represent? Absolute self-centeredness, doesn’t it? Their self-centeredness took an outward expression, too, which we’ll get to.

But listen—since the Sodomites didn’t listen to Lot, and since they became increasingly wicked, God sent warfare. He sent warfare to humble them, to provoke humility, to provoke self-reflection and then penitent prayer. Look at Genesis 14:1:

 

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In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar [that little insignificant town that Lot fled to]). And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

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They rebelled. Pride, self-confidence, distance from the people who taxed them—cities of the plain threw off the yoke of the four kings to the east. We as Americans can understand taxation without representation—that isn’t any good. So they said the same thing. “We can have our own revolution.” They rebelled against a federation of four powerful dynasties to the north, the east of Canaan, a land that was later ruled by the Assyrian empire, then the Babylonian empire. It says verse 8 that “Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim.” Five Canaanite kings, lined up in battle formation against the four kings of Mesopotamia. They lost. They lost drastically. Look at verse 10: “Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits [Bitumen is like an asphalt type of substance they could use for glue, for adherence of bricks and paving and all that stuff, so full of these pits], and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country.”

So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their provisions and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abraham’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way. The five Canaanite kings were humiliated in defeat; their cities were plundered and then fired, which was customary. Now verse 14:

 

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When Abraham heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.

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Okay, now we have all the facts, right? Let’s talk about the significance of this. This is what those seventy-two missionaries would have been thinking about as Jesus mentioned Sodom—all of this history. Remember, God sent Abraham to rescue Lot, to rescue this defeated king of Sodom and the people of Sodom. Who’s Abraham? Well, he’s the father of faith, isn’t he? He’s the preacher of righteousness and truth. Abraham went after the kings of the east, defeated them, recovered the plunder, restored the people who were taken as slaves. Even though we’re talking about a temporal, physical rescue, do not miss the clear demonstration here of divine salvation through Abraham. It was the father of faith who saved them. Anybody hear “salvation by faith” through that? 

The spiritual significance becomes even clearer in the next scene. Look at verse 17:

 

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After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abraham by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. And the king of Sodom said to Abraham, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” But Abraham said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abraham rich.’”

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Let’s stop there. We don’t have time to develop all of this, but I want you to consider just a few significant facts about this king Melchizedek. The name Melchizedek is a compound word. It joins together Hebrew word for “king,” which is “melek,” with the word for “righteousness” in Hebrew, which is “sedek.” So translated literally, Melchizedek means “king of righteousness.” Notice there Melchizedek is the king of Salem, which is related to the word for “peace”—“shalom”—which we unpacked last week. And then Salem is the ancient designation of the city that we know today as Jerusalem.

Not only was Melchizedek a king, but notice verse 18—he’s a priest of the Most High God. Abraham gave this priest-king a tenth of everything. He gave him a tithe before there was such a thing as a tithe. Two significant places in Scripture we see the implications of all this. Psalm 110, then in Hebrews chapters 5-7. This enigmatic priest-king, Melchizedek is exegeted, he is explained as someone who points prophetically and pre-figures Christ himself. Psalm 110:1, David writes, “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” Then verse 4: “The Lord is sworn, will not change his mind,” and then speaking to the Christ, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” It’s the writer of Hebrews who takes that quotation from Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 5:6. He mentions it specifically, alludes to it several more times—Hebrews 5:10, Hebrews 6:20, Hebrews 7:17—but beginning in chapter 7, he says this: 

 

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This Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, he met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him. And to him Abraham appointed a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!

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The writer of Hebrews continues with his argument, but that’s just enough for us to see how incredibly privileged the people of Sodom and king of Sodom were. God blessed Sodom with material prosperity. God sent Lot to Sodom, a preacher of righteousness to live among them, and he elevated him in their midst as a righteous judge. When their hearts hardened in pride and self-indulgence, God sent them judgment in the form of warfare to awaken them from their slumber, and yet God did not allow Sodom to be destroyed beyond remedy. He sent Abraham to rescue them. God allowed the king of Sodom to be in the company of Abraham the father of faith and Melchizedek the priest-king, king of righteousness, king of peace—ancient king of Jerusalem itself.

This king of Sodom—he had a conversation with Abraham, the prototype of saving faith, a conversation with Melchizedek the prototype of salvation. And then this—do not miss this—Melchizedek proclaimed the Gospel in Genesis 14—salvation in God—he proclaimed that to the king of Sodom. Look again, Genesis 14:19-20, Melchizedek proclaims the truth of God, calling him “God Most High,” absolute, transcendent source of all blessing. “God Most High”—infinite, eternal, all-powerful. He’s proclaiming theology. Melchizedek also proclaims this God is possessor of heaven and earth; that is, he is the Creator, Sustainer, Law-Giver, Judge, the God who is in control of all things, and he has power to deliver. Verse 20: “This God Most High is the one who delivers us from our enemies,” so he’s our Savior, Rescuer, Redeemer as well. Folks, that’s the Gospel in seed form.

I’d love to elaborate further, but we need to move on and get back to the sad reality—and you just need to turn ahead a few pages to Genesis chapter 19. Between Genesis 14 and Genesis 18 and 19, about twenty years had passed. The king of Sodom and his people rebuilt the city of Sodom; they restored their fortunes, they returned to normal life—whatever that looked like in the city of Sodom. Twenty years they had to reflect upon all that had happened. Twenty years to think about the warfare and the destruction of their city. Twenty years to realize that destruction came because they didn’t honor God as God or give thanks. Twenty years to think about Lot’s ministry among them. Twenty years to think about Abraham’s intervention of salvation. Twenty years to think about Melchizedek’s words that they should “honor God Most High” and give thanks for his salvation. Twenty years to honor God as God and humble themselves in gratitude.

Instead of doing any of that, however, Sodom returned to its wicked ways, cemented its reputation for luxury and sexual immorality. They returned right back to the guilt that’s described in Ezekiel 16:49, which I quoted earlier, the guilt of “pride, excess of food, prosperous ease, and then at the same time not aiding the poor and the needy.” And they went further, as verse 50 says: “They were haughty and did an abomination before me, so I removed them, when I saw it,” God says.

What was the abomination? Jude tells us—Jude 7—they “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.” Because of transgressing those sexual boundaries God had established, they “served as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” We read in Genesis 18:20—the Lord God sent angels to visit Abraham—and the Lord said there, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave.” A city so wicked that not even ten righteous people could be found in the city—just Lot, his wife, and his daughters were rescued.

 

Look at Genesis 19:1:

 

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The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant's house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, [You get the emphasis? This is all-inclusive. They were all celebrating their immorality, weren’t they?] surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.

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Folks, that’s why God judged them. It’s not merely that they were self-centered; it’s not merely that they didn’t attend to the poor. And it’s not just that they wanted a polite, pleasant introduction to these angels. He judged them because they were homosexual offenders, because they loved their sin, and they wearied themselves in their pursuit of sin. The city and all its inhabitants rejected the grace of God, and they did so repeatedly. They became increasingly sinful, such that the people here were worthless, useless, corrupt, and depraved. And the only thing left to do was to consume the city with fire.

Look ahead to verse 23: “The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.” That’s the town of his refuge. “Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.” Notice there are two uses of “Lord,” there. There’s Yahweh, who rained fire down on Sodom and Gomorrah—sulfur and fire—from who? The Yahweh in Heaven. There’s a Yahweh on earth, praying and calling down fire from the Yahweh in Heaven. You need to see that; it’s of Trinitarian significance. Verse 25:

 

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 He [that is the “gentle Jesus,” the preincarnate Son of God, the Yahweh on earth] rained fire and sulfur 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 Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

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So severe! The overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah was so severe. Deuteronomy 29:23 says, “The whole land burned out with brimstone and salt, nothing sown and nothing growing, where no plant can sprout.” Jeremiah 49:18 and 50:40 say, “No man shall dwell there, no son of man shall sojourn in her.” That whole sea where it was like the Garden of Eden in that area, the Dead Sea now is so saline, so filled with salt, that nothing grows around it. I’ve never been to the Dead Sea, but I have been to the Salton Sea in California—same effect, same deadness, same stench. It’s a complete destruction, unable to be rebuilt, re-inhabited, repopulated—God turned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes. 2 Peter 2:6: “And he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what will happen to the ungodly.”

The city of Sodom, as we know, is now a proverb. And the Sodomites themselves serve as an enduring symbol of God’s wrath against those not just, not simply that they were homosexuals—and they were—but it’s a symbol of God’s wrath against those who were so abundantly blessed, who were so especially privileged by God, who were visited by preachers of truth and righteousness and faith and salvation. These people were in the company of Abraham and Melchizedek. They personally benefited from Abraham’s rescue, from Melchizedek’s Gospel witness, but they failed to see their great privilege. They spurned the truth; they ignored the messengers who were sent to them and therefore suffered God’s devastating judgment.

Now, with that in mind, turn back to Luke 10:12—we’ll wrap this up. Now that we better understand the relevance of the comparison Jesus made between any town rejecting him and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, let’s look at the significance of this. Jesus said, “Whenever you enter a town and they don’t receive you”—those rejected disciples, the unwelcome evangelists are to make a visible protest in the streets of that town, in public, and let them know that their town has spurned the living God, that they’ve rejected the privilege that was offered to them and was brought to them, the arrival of the Kingdom of God itself, a visitation by God’s chosen King. Therefore, verse 12: “I tell you, it will be more bearable on judgment day for Sodom than for that town.”

Folks, who had the greater privilege—Sodom or one of these towns? In Jesus’ judgment, it’s clearly one of these towns. It was an incredible privilege for them to see the power of the Kingdom, to hear the message of the Kingdom—and then to spurn the privilege that they’d been granted by God with the visitation of these Gospel preachers. They would be better off destroyed in the fiery judgment of Sodom. That’s what he’s saying. They would have been better off growing up and dying as pagan Canaanites, as Sodomites, as homosexual rapists, in blindness, driven along like unreasoning animals by destructive, inordinate lust. They’d be better off consumed in fire and brimstone falling from heaven than to reject these missionaries carrying the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So folks, we need to heed Jesus’ warning, and we need receive Jesus’ instruction for ourselves. First, to heed the warning. We need to consider very carefully—very carefully—the kinds of spiritual privileges that we’ve been granted by God today, and likewise heed the warning from Jesus. We have in our hands a completed canon of Scripture, from Genesis all the way to Revelation. We know the beginning and the end, and we know everything in between. These Bibles of ours have been translated into our own language. We have a church that we attend that honors and proclaims God’s Word clearly, articulating the Gospel accurately so sinners can be saved, and teaching the Scripture very carefully in the fear of the Lord to sanctify the saints. As we read earlier in the service from Hebrews 12, we remember the warning there: “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.” Greater judgment comes to those who have greater light.

But second—this is the more immediate application of our text. Remember that Jesus is giving instruction to these seventy-two missionaries. He’s giving instruction to Kingdom heralds, Gospel preachers, and he’s not warning them, per se, even they would be inclined, like all believers are, to heed the warning, and it provokes in us the fear of the Lord. So what is Jesus doing here for these preachers, for these believers?

Listen—Jesus wants these Gospel preachers—and beloved, he wants us too, as Gospel preachers today—Jesus wants them to get a feel for the weight of the message that they carry. He wants them to sense the significance of their mission. He wants them to have a sense of the gravity of the consequences of their preaching on all those who hear the message. Basically, Jesus wants these preachers to feel what he feels, what he feels all the time.

How do you think that affected the seventy-two? What do you think that did for their sobriety—to understand the grave significance of the weight of the message they were carrying into these cities and towns? And then let me ask you, is it any different for us today? How can we be so flippant? Are the consequences for the people who hear the Gospel we preach any less severe?

I mentioned that between Genesis 14 and Genesis 19 the rescue of Sodom and the destruction of Sodom, there were twenty years that passed. And I’m mindful of 9-11—9-11 that warned our country back in 2001—coming up on twenty years of that, aren’t we? I don’t know about you, but I remember after 9-11, so many people were in church, and they were like—“Whoa! Judgment of God’s coming. I need to get right.” Where are we now? Legalized same-sex marriage, celebrating all kinds of idolatry, filth, everything else. We’re tearing ourselves apart; we’re hurrying—even to changing language so we can’t even make sense of anything we speak. We’re not even communicating clearly anymore. 

We’re fast approaching another significant anniversary, and it’s the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—August 6 and August 9 of 1945. Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of those dreadful days. And before American bombers dropped their horrific payloads, they dropped warning leaflets, calling upon the Japanese people to influence their government to sue for peace and insist on an end to the horrible war.

Time magazine recorded some testimony of those who survived the bombing at Nagasaki. One woman survived because her father actually believed the warnings from the leaflets and took action to protect his family. Sachiko Matsuo provides this sobering testimony. Here’s what she said: “American B-29 bombers dropped leaflets all over the city, warning us that Nagasaki would fall to ashes on August 8. The leaflets were confiscated immediately by the Kenpeitai, the imperial Japanese army. And my father somehow got ahold of one and believed what it said. One of the warnings that he picked up provided by the leaflets began this way: ‘Read this carefully, as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs.’ Another leaflet said, ‘Take immediate heed of what we say in this leaflet. We’re in possession of the most destructive explosive device ever devised by men. A single one of our newly developed atomic bombs is actually the equivalent in explosive power to what 2,000 of our giant B-29s can carry on a single mission. This awful fact is one for you to ponder, and we solemnly assure you that it is grimly accurate. We’ve just begun to use this weapon against your homeland. If you still have any doubt, make an inquiry as to what happened to Hiroshima when just one atomic bomb fell on that city.’”

Sachiko Matsuo’s father believed the warnings when many of his fellow citizens refused to believe, like the Kenpeitai, who took the leaflets and hid them, and therefore refused to act. He had sent his sent his family away to a bunker that—get this—he had previously prepared in a nearby mountain. Sachiko Matsuo said, “We went up there on the 7th and 8th. The trail up to the barrack was rugged and steep. With several children and seniors in tow, it was a demanding trek.” Think about that. Salvation’s hard, isn’t it? “On the morning of the 9th, my mother and aunt opted for staying in the house—that is, returning to the house. ‘Go back up to the barrack,’ my father demanded. ‘The US is a day behind, remember?’ And when they opposed, he got very upset and stormed out. We changed our minds and decided to hide out in the barrack for one more day. That was a defining moment for us. At 11:02 that morning, the atomic bomb was dropped. Our family—those of us at the barrack at least—survived the bomb.”

That father had the sense of urgency, didn’t he? It even provoked his emotions when his family was not heeding his warning. He probably came across to them as rather severe in his urgency. Thankfully, Sachiko Matsuo and a number of her family members heeded the warning of the messenger, didn’t they? And that was a messenger who felt the weight of the message he carried, and he preached it with such an urgency that befit the message.

Beloved, is that how we live and preach? If not, we wouldn’t be wrong to ask this question: “How deeply do I really believe this?” We know what the Lord did to Sodom—it’s clear. We can walk around that area and see—“no cities here!” What will he do to our city if people don’t repent and believe the Gospel. Beloved, we need to “rescue the perishing,” don’t we? Sobering thought, I know, but it’s one worth reflecting upon.

So one more point to cover, as you can see from your outline, when we return next week. We’ll talk about another significant implication of the Kingdom of God coming to earth. For now, let’s pray.

Our Father, we do stop and reflect with sober-mindedness and even a sense of concern, fear—that would be right as we think about the weighty Gospel that we carry. We’re so grateful that you’ve made us a receptive people, that we welcomed the messengers who came to us, that we believed the Gospel. We’ve experienced Kingdom power, salvation, transformed lives and families. We see the effect of your power in our hearts, in our minds, in our lives, in our priorities. O, but Father, we grieve for those who do not know you and those today—so many of them—who seem so indifferent. Lord, we don’t want to see them perish. We want to see your saving hand rescue them as well. So will you please, through our church, through our witness, through the dear people here—will you please save some more, that we might bring them into the fold, that they might be disciples of yours, that we can teach them everything that Jesus Christ has taught us. What a gracious thing that would be. We love you, Father. We thank you for your Word, we thank you for provoking us to sober reflection, and we ask for the grace to live it out in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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