Sermon Notes: Palm Sunday and Superlatives
What could possibly be meant by the phrase, “the real sin of Sodom?” Isn’t it obvious? The sin of homosexual behavior draws its name from Sodom. What could be more obvious? And shouldn’t we be suspicious of any attempt to draw our attention elsewhere? As always, the answer to such questions is, “It depends.”
“Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good” (Eze. 16:49-50).
The prophet Ezekiel is speaking the word of the Lord against the city of Jerusalem. In the course of his prophetic rebuke, he says that Samaria is Jerusalem’s older sister, and that Sodom is Jerusalem’s younger sister (v. 46). Samaria dwells at Jerusalem’s left hand and Sodom at her right. Moreover, the prophet denounces Jerusalem as far exceeding the sins of both these cities. Compared to Jerusalem, both these wicked cities seem righteous in comparison (v. 52).
We are addressing the politics of sodomy, and consequently we are addressing the corporate nature of a certain form of sin. But it should be acknowledged at the outset that the rejection of individualism does not mean that individual sin and rebellion somehow disappear. They do not disappear at all—rather, they are placed in their proper context. But so that we may know what we are placing in context, it is true that the sin that was being attempted at Lot’s house was the sin of homosexual rape (Gen. 19:5). Lest any sophists snatch at this and say that the only problem was the rape part, the Bible says that it is wrong for men to desire men sexually (Rom. 1:27), as well as for women to desire women (Rom. 1:26). The Scriptures say that individuals who live this way will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9). This includes both sodomites and catamites, the two aspects of homosexuality mentioned here. All this is to say that by addressing the root cultural problems, we are seeking to understand individual behavior, and not to excuse it.
When Ezekiel mentions the sin of Sodom in an aside, many conservative Christians might be surprised at where he starts. Sodom was a degraded city, and they had gotten to the point where the rape of visitors was something that a number of people thought should be allowed in the public square. But how did they get there?
This was the sin of Sodom—pride, fullness of bread, abundance of idleness, neglect of the poor, haughtiness, and abominations. At the end of that list we find what caused Sodom to become a household word. But consider what went before, and ask yourself how America got to the place where the folly from our federal courts is taken even halfway seriously.
To this we may add the word of the prophet Isaiah. The point here has to do with the combination of worship with iniquity, and the central point here is not liturgical form. We must guard against any form which seeks to make room for iniquity.
“Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah. Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah . . . When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? . . . And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood” (Is. 1:9-10, 12, 15).
In our corporate capacity as a nation, why are we dealing (very unsuccessfully) with this sin at the very end of Ezekiel’s list? The answer is that we have long since given way to the sins mentioned earlier. Not only have we succumbed to these sins, some of them are our pride and glory.
Corrupt worship: across our nation, worship is not understood rightly, as holy covenant renewal with a holy God. Every Lord’s Day, millions of Americans cry out to God. Why does He not hear?
Pride: our pride can be seen clearly, even in how traditionalists oppose these recent legal developments. We want salvation, and we want it although we refuse to acknowledge the only Savior, Jesus Christ (Matt. 28: 17-20; Ps. 2:12). Traditionalists point to certain verses in Romans 1, verses that ignore the overarching context. Who does not honor God as God? Who does not give Him thanks?
Fullness of bread: do we really need to say anything here? But remember, the problem is not the wealth in itself, the problem is forgetting God in that wealth (Dt. 8:17-18).
Abundance of idleness: a recreational mentality, demanding entertainment in everything, has crept into everything, including worship and study.
Haughtiness: how is this different from pride? Haughtiness is pride manifested, superciliousness. Haughtiness is seen in daughters of Zion, strutting their wares at the mall (Is. 3:16).
Neglect of the poor: this is one of the areas where our wickedness is great, precisely because of the hypocritical posturing of those who defend the welfare state. Judas was concerned for the poor, because he kept the money bag (Jn. 12:4-6; 13:29).
Homosexual abominations: and so, here we are.
Water brings life, and living water more so. We have spoken before on the importance of “assuming the center,” and one of the central ways to do this is to create a place where living water can flow. Water is a gathering force.
“Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward . . . Now when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other . . . And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine” (Ezek. 47:1-12).
In Ezekiel’s vision, when the hand of the Lord was upon him (Ezek. 40:1-2), among other things, he saw this: Water flowed out of the house of God, over the threshold (Ezek. 47:1). Water ran out of the Temple on the right side also (v. 2). A man with Ezekiel was measuring, and thousand cubits out, the water was ankle deep (v. 3). Another thousand and it came to the knees (v. 4). Yet another thousand and the water was waist deep (v. 4). When he went another thousand, the water was too deep to pass over (v. 5). The man asked Ezekiel if he saw that, and then brought him back to the river bank (v. 6). When he got there, he saw that there were many trees, on both sides of the river (v. 7). The water will flow east, down to the sea, and heal the waters there (v. 8).
Everything will live, wherever that water flows (v. 9). There will be a multitude of fish, and the apostle Peter with the others will become fishers of men (v. 10; Mark 1:17). Even in that glorious day, there will remain some salt marshes (v. 11). Not everyone will be converted, though most will. The trees on both sides of the river will produce abundant fruit, according to month, and watered by the river from the sanctuary, the leaves will be for healing (v. 12).
Now remember from last week that the New Jerusalem is the Christian church. We can also see, by comparing text with text, that Ezekiel’s Temple is also the Christian church, out of which the living water flows. As we seek to understand this passage, we should begin with this as the key. The key for Christians is always to let the New Testament interpret Old Testament passages, particularly when they are difficult for us. In the book of Revelation, we are plainly told the meaning of this vision.
“And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:1-2).
In both cases, we have living water, a flowing river, trees on both sides of the river, monthly fruit, and leaves for healing. So the New Jerusalem is the same thing as Ezekiel’s Temple, and both of them are the Christian church. We have a similar picture in microcosm when it comes to the righteous man (Ps. 1:3; Jer. 17:8).
The church is the place from which this living water flows. Recalling what we established last week, this living water flows out of people. Jesus promises living water to the Samaritan woman at the well, and He was talking about Himself (John 4:11). Whoever drinks of the water that Jesus gives will find that he has become a well of that living water (John 4:14). He drinks and then God makes him a source of living water for others, which is what happens in this instance (John 4:29-30). A few chapters later, Jesus shows how all His people become this source of living water. We come to Him and drink because of our thirst (John 7:37), and then living water flows out of us for others (John 7:38). John also tells us in this place what the water is exactly. The water of life is the Holy Spirit (John 7:39).
Jesus said this on the last day of the Feast of Booths, when the Jews had a ceremony of pouring water out at the altar.
“For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17).
Now all this is glorious, but what does it have to do with our pump hou . . . our new church building? The church is not supposed to function as a rain barrel, or a collection tank. The church is a place from which the water is supposed to flow everywhere else. The way that the earth will come to be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea is because it will flow out of the church (Is. 11:9; Hab. 2:14). Do this, and people will gather to water.
Having said that, we do not reject intelligent craftsmanship that comes with building particular institutions. So long as we remember the central point, there is no problem with building irrigation ditches, or pumps, hoses, water trucks, channels, canals, or helicopters with buckets below them. Indeed, whenever there are large amounts of water (which we pray for), such things become an absolute necessity. The danger, of course, is to forget what these projects are all for, and then you start to complain about the water—it keeps getting your precious equipment all wet.
Another danger, a great one, is expecting any one building to accomplish what we need to accomplish in our community. But that is like building a rain barrel, and then you are done. No, think of it more like tide pools filling up—first here, then here, then over there.
But when the people of God remember who they are, this mistake is not made. The water flows out of human hearts. The Spirit comes from people, and not from this wooden pulpit, or from that table, or from the bread and wine, or from the baptismal font . . . or from the building which contains all these God-given activities.
We assume the center when we are filled with the Spirit, and when He flows out of us. The Spirit is the center. This happens using physical things. Spiritual does not just mean like a spirit. Spiritual also means obedient. When we offer our bodies rightly, it is our spiritual worship (Rom. 12:1-2). The devil is a spirit who is unspiritual in this sense, and you have ten toes, which can be spiritual—if they are shod with the gospel of peace.
This is because the living church is always waterfront property. Many trees grow there, and their leaves have healing properties. The trees grow on both sides of the river, and the river is full of life and brings life. All it has to do is be what it is, and flow. Each one of you is a spigot—and what I want to press upon you is this. Each one of you should walk away from here knowing that you have a critical role in how God is going to cause this water to flow.