Genesis 19 – Pt 3. What about those who never heard?

We are in a series of blogs about Genesis 19, the Old Testament narrative story which tells of the judgment and destruction of Sodom and of the rescue of Abraham’s nephew Lot, who flees to a place of refuge and thus is saved. In this story are all the elements of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ and the purpose of these blogs will be to show how this story foreshadows the gospel and how closely this story of Sodom parallels our own place and time.

To review, here are the elements that we can observe in the story in Genesis 19:

  • The LORD has determined to judge the city of Sodom because of their sin;
  • Before He destroys the city, the LORD sends messengers to warn of the coming judgment and to urge people to flee from the city to a place of refuge;
  • Many in the doomed city never hear the message at all and so do not run to the place of refuge; thus, they perish in the judgment;
  • Some hear the message, but refuse to believe it and to act upon it and so they do not run to the place of refuge; thus, they perish in the judgment;
  • Some hear the message and act upon the message and flee to the place of refuge; thus they are saved from the judgment.

In this blog we will look at the people of Sodom who never heard the angelic messengers’ message and thus were never actually warned about the coming judgment and destruction.

Sodom was an exceedingly wicked city and the outcry of the city had risen up all the way to heaven. The LORD Himself had come down to judge the city and to meet with His friend Abraham. After Abraham negotiates the required number of righteous people down to ten, the LORD leaves and the angels go down to Sodom to destroy it.

Let’s pause here just for a moment. We have said that this story foreshadows the gospel of our Lord Jesus and has all the elements of the gospel. But what is the gospel? The gospel is the good news to perishing humanity that declares that God is holy and therefore must punish and condemn all sin. The gospel also maintains that man is inherently rebellious against God and is bent toward sin and that, because of his sin, he is under the condemnation of God and is subject to the eternal judgment of God in hell. In fact, all are condemned by their sin and so all rightly deserve hell. But the good news of the gospel proclaims that God is a gracious God and He is merciful, and because of His mercy and grace, He has provided a way that sinful man can be justified before a holy God. In His grace, God has sent His Son Jesus Christ to the earth to die on a cross to bear the penalty for man’s sin, and all who place their trust in Jesus Christ will be forgiven of their sin and saved from eternal hell and will go to heaven when they die. Every sinner who repents of his sin and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will receive eternal life and will become a child of God, bound for heaven.

In this blog, the key point to remember is that, in the gospel, all of us deserve hell because of our sin. Whether we know about our sin or not does not change our position before a holy God one tiny iota. The issue is the existence of our sin, not our knowledge of our sin. A person who has terminal cancer growing inside them is dying of cancer, whether that cancer is ever detected by a doctor or not. Romans 2:12 speaks directly to this point: “For all who have sinned without the Law will perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.” Again, we see that we are condemned by our sin, whether we know about our sin or not, and whether we have heard about the way of salvation or not. You will die inside the burning building, whether you hear a fire alarm or not. It is the existence of the fire that will kill you, not whether anyone told you about how to escape the flames.

What does that have to do with the gospel and with this episode in Sodom? We see in Sodom people who were condemned because of their sin. All who were in Sodom were doomed because of their sins, whether they knew that the city was going to be judged or not. There were messengers who were telling of a way of safety and salvation, but most of the people in Sodom did not hear the angels or know about the coming judgment. But despite the fact that many never received the message of rescue and therefore never had a chance to flee, they still died in the destruction of the city.

The concept to grasp is that, because of God’s holiness and His justice, the default destination for all sinners (which is all people; Romans 3:23) is hell and wrath. Unless there is something that interrupts that journey to hell, then every individual will go to hell, and it is there that they deserve to go. Our sin merits eternal death (Romans 6:23) So all the people of Sodom deserved to perish because of their sin. So if every person in Sodom had perished and gone to hell, perfect justice would have been served. And if God never sent a messenger and never gave hope through the gospel and every person perished without ever having heard, perfect justice would have been served.

But God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and great in lovingkindness (Psalm 145:8) and so He has given us the gospel and has proclaimed it to us through faithful witnesses and by His grace we have believed. (Romans 10:14-15) In the story of Sodom, this is pictured in the angels who came to proclaim salvation to Lot by telling him to flee to the mountain for refuge. God’s grace sent the messengers to deliver those who would believe.

When we ask the question, “What about those who have never heard?” we find that those who have never heard the gospel will certainly perish, as is made clear by Romans 2:12 and by Romans 10:14-15. The many who have never heard will perish without the gospel (paraphrase of Romans 2:12). The many in Sodom who never heard the warning still perished in the destruction of the city with fire and brimstone.

Therefore, what must we do? We must be obedient to our task and make His salvation known among all nations (Psalm 67:2). We must preach to everyone so that they may hear and believe and call upon the Lord (Romans 10:13-15). We must be His witnesses (Acts 1:8; Isaiah 43:10,12) and His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) so that we can beg people to be reconciled to God.

SDG       rmb       2/28/2018

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