Luke 17:28-32 “In the days of Lot people were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no-one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no-one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife!”
There are few events in the Old Testament more solemn than the day Lot left Sodom, and few words more serious in the New Testament than the words of our Lord, “Remember Lot’s wife!” (I could add that there are few sermons more powerful than J.C. Ryle’s sermon on this text in his book Holiness. I have used it extensively in this sermon, and would urge you all to have your own copy of Holiness and know his fuller richer sermon.)
We are told by the apostle Peter that Lot was a righteous and just man disturbed the wickedness that he saw in the city of Sodom where he lived. Messengers from God told him to leave the place that day because judgment was going to fall on it, and so he and his wife and daughters set out led by these messengers. These four people were told not to look back toward the city for such a look would speak of nostalgia and longing. They must make a break with Sodom and start a new life. They had lived for years without ever visiting Sodom. They had moved outside the town and then into the community itself, and they been affected by it more than they imagined. Now they must put it behind them. Life in that foul place was over for this family, and for its inhabitants it was over for ever. “Don’t look back.” It was later that this same message was preached by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament when they were tempted to look back to the rituals and clothing and feasts of Judaism. Don’t look back at your former life. But Lot’s wife defied the word from God. She did look back and was struck dead at once, turned into a pillar of salt. It is this incident that gentle Jesus, meek and mild Jesus our loving Saviour draws our attention to exhorting us to remember Lot’s wife
It is a solemn warning for many reasons, when we think of the person Jesus mentions. He doesn’t urge us to remember Abraham, or remember Moses, or remember David, or remember Daniel, or Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego. He singles out one who was lost for ever, “Remember Lot’s wife!” he says.
The warning is even more solemn when we consider the context in which Jesus uttered these words. He was speaking of his own second coming to judge the world. He was saying that many would be in a state of unreadiness when he returned and so he sought to wake them up, “Remember Lot’s wife!”
The warning grows even more solemn when we think of the person who gave it. The Lord Christ is full of love and mercy and compassion. He is one who won’t break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax. He could weep over unbelieving Jerusalem, and pray for the men who had crucified him, and yet even he thinks it important to remind us of lost souls. He says, “Remember Lot’s wife!”
But the warning grows even more solemn when we remember the persons to whom it was given. Jesus wasn’t speaking to unbelievers, to his enemies who were plotting his cruel death, but to Peter, to John, to James and many others who loved him. Even to those he thought it essential he speak these words, to them he said, “Remember Lot’s wife!”
Yet the solemnity of these words increases even further when we remember the manner in which the warning was couched. Out Lord didn’t merely say, “Don’t copy Lot’s wife . . . don’t imitate her . . . don’t be like her.” He used a different word. He said, ‘remember’ He spoke as if we were all in danger of forgetting this incident, or brushing it out of our minds, or mythologizing it as if it never happened. He shakes us; he stirs up our lazy memories. He bids us to keep this event before our minds. He cries solemnly, “Remember Lot’s wife.” Why does he do this? What lessons are there for us in this incident?
1. CONSIDER THE PRIVILEGES ENJOYED BY LOT’S WIFE
Few people had the privileges of Mrs. Lot. In Sodom there were no Bibles, no preachers, no churches, no evangelists and no tracts. In all the world there were few families who had any relationship with or knowledge of the living God. Most of mankind lived in darkness, ignorance, superstition and immorality. Not one woman in a thousand had the privileges that she enjoyed. Compared to most people who lived at the same time as her she was a favoured woman. Her husband was a righteous man, though not perfect. She had Abraham, the father of the faithful, for her uncle. She must have known what these men stood for, that they prayed to a God they knew. It was impossible that she could have lived in their company for that long without knowing whose they were and whom they served. Religion for them wasn’t some formality; it was their lives, the mainspring of all their actions, and Lot’s wife observed this and knew why they were different. What a privilege this was for her.
When Abraham first received the promises of God then Lot’s wife was there. When her husband was captured and taken prisoner by some local chiefs and an act of God delivered him, she was there. When messengers of God came to Sodom and warned her husband and herself to flee then she saw and heard their powerful words. They took her by the hand and led her with Lot out of the city. They helped the family to escape – what privileges she had known,
Yet what good effect had all these privileges on the heart of Lot’s wife? None at all. Though she had many opportunities and many means of grace, though she had special warnings from heaven and divine messengers and helpers this woman lived and died graceless, godless, impenitent and unbelieving. The eyes of her understanding were never opened; her conscience was never made sensitive to the will of God; her affections were never set on things above. She had a form of religion, but she wore it for fashion reasons not because of religious affection. She did as others did in Lot’s household. She drifted along. She didn’t oppose her husband, just let herself be towed along behind him, and all the time her heart was wrong in the sight of God. The world was in her heart and her heart was in the world. In this state she lived and in this state she died.
Many people in Jesus’ time were just like her, and many in our own time too, maybe some here today. Merely to possess religious privileges won’t save anyone’s soul. It never had and it never will. You may have spiritual advantages of every description. You may have the richest opportunities for hearing Christ crucified preached. You may have heard the Bible reverently expounded. You may have been raised in a godly household and attended church in the company of many true Christians. All this may be and yet you yourself remain unconverted, and at last you may be lost for ever.
People can nod their heads and agree that they are not what they could be, but they describe special circumstances that explain. They say that their difficulties are many. They do not enjoy good health; they have few Christians in their families to encourage them; the church they go to has its problems both in the pulpit and in the pew. If only they had a Christian spouse, and a more vital, lively local church – if only they had such things, all the privileges that others enjoy – then they would walk with God.
It is sheer delusion! It is a fallacy to think that more privileges would change them. Gehazi was Elisha’s servant; Demas was Paul’s companion; Judas Iscariot was Jesus’ disciple. All those men died in their sins. They went down to the pit in spite of their experience and knowledge and opportunities. Privileges alone are not enough. Men and women need the grace of the Spirit of God. Let’s value our privileges, but don’t let’s rest in them. Let’s long to have the benefits they bring in every part of our lives, but don’t let’s put them in the place of Christ.
Let’s take advantage of all the privileges that God brings to us, but let’s see that they produce some fruit in our hearts. If they don’t do good then they often do harm. They quicken the conscience, they stir up hostility and resentment, they aggravate our condemnation. The same fire that melts the wax hardens the clay. The same sunlight that makes the living tree grow dries up the dead tree and prepares it for its fall. The same wind that freshens and invigorate the healthy snatches the breath out of the asthmatic and sends him gasping for air.
One great quotation of Ryle is, “Nothing so hardens the heart of man as a barren familiarity with sacred things.” Grief has made some people hard. Disappointment has made others hard. Abuse has made others hard, but the most tragic people are those who’ve been hardened under gospel privileges. Once more I tell you that privileges alone will not make people Christians, only the work of the Holy Spirit; regeneration by him; sanctification by him; the inner witness of the Spirit of God. Without that no one knows anything. Mark well what I am saying. You enjoy hearing the word each week and I am glad of that, but tell me what have you got in your hearts? Have you been born of the Holy Spirit? If not you are no better than Lot’s wife.
Children of church members what blessings God has given you, to be prayed for when still in your mother’s womb, to be taught the gospel from your infancy and to sit under the Bible week by week, to go to camps and conferences, but take care that you don’t remain barren and unfruitful under those privileges, your heart remaining sterile. You cannot enter the Kingdom of God on the credit of your parents’ faith. You must pass through the narrow door yourself. You must have your very own repentance, and your very own trust in Jesus Christ. If not you are no better than Lot’s wife.
Light, and knowledge, and faithful preaching, and all the means of grace, and the company of holy people are great advantages. Blessed are you if you have them, but there is one thing without which all those privileges are useless, God the Holy Spirit working in your mind and conscience and affections and will, that is, the mighty saving grace of God in your life. Lot’s wife had many privileges, but Lot’s wife had no grace.
2. CONSIDER THE SIN COMMITTED BY LOT’S WIFE.
The Bible tells us that she looked back to Sodom from behind Lot. We are not told any more. This is the bare utterance of Scripture in all its solemnity. She had not been guilty of immorality, of unfaithfulness; she was not a thief, or a murderer. All her sin in its defiance of God is reported in those three words, ‘she looked back.’ You are surprised. What an insignificant action, what a little sin to be visited with such a punishment. Then her action needs to be explained because there is far more to it than a mere glance.
i] It showed the real character of Lot’s wife. Little things will often show the state of a man’s mind more clearly than great things. Little symptoms, little moles on your skin, little lumps and little persistent coughs are sometimes the symptoms of a deadly disease. The fruit that Eve ate was a little thing but it proved that she had fallen from innocence into sin. A little radiation, a little poison, a little flame, a little rudder, a little misjudgment in driving, a little crack in the wing of a plane and the most disastrous consequences will come. One straw thrown into the wind will tell you from what direction the wind is blowing. A look at a woman will indicate the state of a man’s heart.
ii] It spoke of defiance in Lot’s wife. God’s messenger had said very clearly, “Don’t look back.” In other words, put to death nostalgia and longing for that evil place; to obey God is better than sacrifice. When God tells us something then it is our duty to understand, adore and obey. Jesus says that if a man is working on his housetop clearing the leaves out of the guttering, and he hears a word, “Go!” then he must go immediately. He doesn’t climb down the ladder and say, “I must gather my photograph albums, and my will, and my cheque-book, and my antique vase, and paintings, and my new suit! Don’t go into the house! Go for your life! Or if you are in the field, spraying, or hedging, or ploughing, then you don’t think, I must finish these fields first and then I will go. Leave the work half done, get down from your tractor and flee for your life!”
iii] It spoke of cool unbelief in Lot’s wife. She seemed to doubt whether God was really going to deal in justice with Sodom and Gomorrah. She seemed to disbelieve that there was any danger or any need for this hasty flight, leaving behind most of the things she treasured. But without faith it is impossible to please him for he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. The moment a man begins to think he knows better than God and that God doesn’t mean it when he threatens, that man’s soul is in danger. There are often times when we do not know why God is dealing with us or with others in a particular way, but then we must hold our peace and keep believing.
iv] It spoke of a love of Sodom in Lot’s wife. Her body was moving away from Sodom. Physically she had left that foul place, but her heart had never left it. She had abandoned her house in Dereliction Street, Sodom, but she’d left her affections there along with her possessions. As the compass needle always turns to the pole so her eye invariably turned to the place where her treasure was. The apostle John, who was often in the presence of the Lord, tells us, “The friendship of the world is enmity against God. If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him.”
That is the crux of this whole incident. That is why the Lord Christ urged his disciples to remember Lot’s wife. He knew of the never-ending battle between them and the world that they all faced. You remember how it was when the young doctor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones was considering giving up all his career in medicine in London, all the prospects that lay before him of fame and fortune. Then finally through an unusual providence he came to a decision. “One night some friends wanted to go to a theatre in Leicester Square and they persuaded me to go with them. I have no idea what the play was about at all, but they were very excited about it. What I remember is this: as we came out of the theatre to the blare and glare of Leicester Square, suddenly, a Salvation Army band came along playing some hymn tunes and I knew that these were my people. I have never forgotten it. There is a theme in Wagner’s opera Tannhauser, the two pulls — the pull of the world and the chorus of the pilgrims — and the contrast between the two. I have very often thought of it. I know exactly what it means. I suppose I had enjoyed the play. When I heard this band and the hymns I said, ‘These are my people, these are the people I belong to, and I’m going to belong to them.’” (Iain Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The First Forty Years, Banner of Truth, p.93). Lot’s wife had never come to that. She had never said, “I stand with my husband and my husband’s God. As for me, I shall serve the Lord.”
Lot’s wife was lost because she loved the world of Sodom. She seemed to be on the road to safety, but the deepest thoughts of her heart were for the world. What of us? Aren’t the thoughts of too many of us on the world? Are not our tastes in music and fashion and entertainment and housekeeping and decoration and eating and finance and the media and even religion determined by the world? Have we not bought into the world’s agenda too much? Men and woman remember Lot’s wife! She wasn’t an adulterer or a murderer or a thief, but she professed to be a child of God and she looked back. We have seen it again and again, people making religious decisions, attending meetings, walking the walk and talking the talk for a while, but then giving up the race and turning their backs on Christ. It is not that they have found the Bible is untrue. It is not that Christ has failed to keep his word to them, but they know that they love more the glittering prizes of this world.
How many children of religious parents begin well and end ill? How many young couples were married in church and still attended as newly weds and then the first baby comes, and one of them is staying at home Sunday nights and it starts a time of increasing detachment from the means of grace? How many students went through Christian Union meetings during their years at college, attending conferences and buying Christian books but once they left the structure and shelter of young people’s religion they began to drift and the price of competing in the marketplace of employment took them away? Their love of the world ruined them. They went nominally to church on Sundays but their consciences were no longer ploughed by the word of God and they began to look back more and more, and looking up to Jesus Christ less and less. How many church members once were diligent but then abandoned their first love? Now they have no conversation about spiritual matters. They are not hot or cold; lukewarm they look both to the church and the world, limping between two opinions. How many ministers were once keen students who loved evangelical religion but their time in theological seminary and exposure to modernism has taken them into moderatism? They pay heed to the opinions of men, they fear giving offence, their spiritual influence dwindles. They have been bound by the world, hand and foot. They are walking the steps of Lot’s wife and are looking back.
How sad to preach these things; sadder still to see them. Men flattering themselves that they have become mature and sensible, and that all is well with them, that they have discarded childishness, but they have rejected much more. “Grey hairs are here and there upon them and they know it not.” They began with Luther and Bunyan and Whitefield. They ended with Tillich and Bultmann and Niebuhr. They began with the old perspective on the apostle Paul; they ended with the new perspective. They began with the ten commandments and they ended with situational ethics. They began with substitutionary atonement; they ended with ‘cosmic child abuse.’ They were rewarded by their denominations; they were made chairmen of committees, and soon a studious vagueness replaced the clarity of biblical morality. Their preaching lost its unction and their praying its earnestness.
They began by discarding biblical infallibility, and then the rejected the judgment of God in hell, and then divine election went, and then substitutionary atonement, and then the resurrection of the body, and then the virgin birth, and they ended up with lowest common denominator religion, the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. There are two ways of demolishing a building. You can take it down brick by brick or you can put a stick of dynamite under it and blow it up, but the result will be the same. So it is with the liberal clergyman who invites me to his mingles and wants me to join in weeks of prayer for unity and pulpit exchanges. He says to me, “We are not going to break fellowship over biblical infallibility are we?” Away goes a brick. “We are not going to break fellowship over hell are we?” Away goes another brick, and with the rejection of one truth after another down goes supernatural religion, and up goes rationalism in its place, and the little ones in the flock of Christ waiting to hear some word of mercy and grace from the pulpit don’t hear it.
Beware of half-hearted religion. Love Christ above all others. Live by the words he says. Don’t think you know better than him. Be thorough! Be honest! Be faithful! Be whole hearted! If you have any religion at all let your religion be real. Beware of giving credence to the devil’s whispers that you are getting extreme, and trying to keep up with the world. I am not advocating living in any other century than the 21st. Or speaking in any other language than the language of our day, but if you as a Christian would be happy and useful then make no compromise with the ethos of the age in which God has set us. Don’t see how little of your heart you can give to Christ. Give him all your heart. Let your priority be that first you seek God’s kingdom, to be in it and see it expand and adorn its precepts by a life of holy delight. Remember Mr. Facing Both Ways and beware. For the sake of your happiness and usefulness in the kingdom of God remember Lot’s wife.
3. CONSIDER THE JUDGMENT THAT CAME UPON LOT’S WIFE.
The Bible says that she looked back and became a pillar of salt. A miracle was wrought to execute God’s displeasure at her conduct, just as it was wrought on Moses’ sister and on Gehazi the servant of Elijah when they were struck down with leprosy for their wickedness, or as it came upon king Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon when his reason was taken from him and he lay in the dewy grass of his garden, or as it came upon Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, when his power of speech was taken from him for his unbelief. Lot’s wife had been warned and delivered by the messengers, not herself alone but her husband and children too, but she despised the word of judgment. Who was the Lord to tell her where she should live and what company she should keep? She looked back at all the memories and the fun of Sodom longingly, and the same Almighty Lord who had first given her life took that life away in the twinkling of an eye. From a living organism of flesh and blood she was turned into a pillar of salt
What a fearful end to a life! It will be a solemn thing to die at any time, with our friends and family around us, to die calmly and quietly in one’s bed, to die with the pastor praying and quoting Scripture to us as we slip away, to die with good hope through grace, our faith fixed on the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ – still to die is a serious matter, but to die suddenly, under the judgment of God, in a moment, in the very act of sin, to die in full health and strength – that is fearful indeed.
We go bearing a message of hope and mercy to every single death bed. We always speak the promises of God to the person who seems unconscious. We are told that the sense of hearing is the last of the senses to go, and so we say to that person the words we want to hear when we will be lying like that, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart and ye shall find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Come to Jesus Christ. Sinners Jesus will receive. We say to them what I will want to hear in that day, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Entrust yourself now to him, we tell them. The day will reveal what goes on in the hearts and minds of men and women in their last hours.
There are people who are secretly praying and reading the Bible when no one is there. One hopes against hope in such cases, that at the eleventh hour they touched the hem of Christ’s garment. We call to mind the mercy of God and the many prayers that were made for this one and that one. They did not fall to the ground. We think of the dying thief and his simple prayer, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus’ encouraging response of promise. Jesus says to us, “Remember Lot’s wife,” and we say to him, “Remember me when you come again. Don’t forget to save me and take me to heaven.”
Is that your prayer? You must know that there is no hope for the impenitent and the defiant rejecter of Jesus Christ. We remember the clear warnings of Jesus Christ. I ask you to stop and consider what if one day you have no time for repentance and no desire to trust in Jesus at the end. It is excruciatingly painful to acknowledge at the end of your life that for your whole lifetime you have missed the chief purpose of your life, to glorify God and enjoy him for ever. I tell you that it is far easier to tell God today your need of him than it will be in fifty more years. Every year it gets tougher and tougher. There are some set on the right hand of Christ, but did he not say that there will be others set on his left hand. To the former he says “Come!” but to others he will say, “Depart from me!”
Those condemned by Christ, like Lot’s wife, yet speak and they say, “It is a perilous thing to sin against light, that God hates sin, and that there is a hell.” The same chapter in the Bible that declares that God so loved the world also declares that the wrath of God abides on the unbeliever. You cannot live in this world for ever. One day will be your last. How will you die? Will it be the death of the righteous or the death of the defiant? Preaching and services and Bible reading will all be over along with intending and hoping and resolving and doubting – all that will be over, and away you go to meet your Creator. Be wise to think of this. Consider your latter end. Yes there is mercy with God but it is for those with a mustard seed of saving faith in Jesus. Yes, there is love in God, but it is for those who hear Christ’s voice and follow him. Do you have an interest in the Saviour’s love for you?
So turn from your sin and put your trust in Jesus. The Saviour who said “Remember Lot’s wife” also gave his body and shed his blood to redeem sinners, and he said, “Remember me . . . remember my broken body and my shed blood. It is the all sufficient answer for your guilt and blame. I am satisfied with this, and so may you be satisfied with it too.” Paul his apostle says, “Remember Jesus Christ was raised from the dead according to my gospel.” He who died for our sins rose for our justification and now this living one offers himself to be our Saviour. Take him as he is freely offered to you now to be your teacher and protector and great High Priest. Receive him into your life.
i] Are you careless about the return in glory of Jesus Christ? Many are. They are like the men and women of Noah’s day, eating, drinking, planting and building, marrying and given in marriage, behaving as if God was never going to end the world. If you live like that then remember Lot’s wife.
ii] Are you limping between two opinions? Are you lukewarm in your heart? Do you feel there used to be a love for Christ there but not any longer? Are you trying to be friends with God and with the world? If you live like that then remember Lot’s wife.
iii] Are you secretly cherishing some besetting sin? In many areas of your life you are blameless and earnest, but in this one department of your life you behave just like sinners all around who have God out of their lives and please themselves. If you are such a person then remember Lot’s wife.
iv] Are you resting in religious privileges? Many do. Their routines have become ruts and it is now a tradition to attend church on a Sunday, but they have no personal faith in Christ, no grace, no spiritual mindedness and no meetness for heaven. If you are such a one I say this to you, “Remember Lot’s wife!” Tell Christ you never want to forget her, but most of all you never want to forget him. Keep me in your mercy, O Lord.
6th November 2011 GEOFF THOMAS.