So the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very flagrant, 21 I will go down now and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has come to me. If not, I will know.” 22 The two men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Abraham approached him and said, “Will you really sweep away the righteous along with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep them away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 You would never do such a thing, killing the righteous along with the wicked, treating the righteous the same as the wicked. You would never do such a thing. The Judge of all the earth should do right, shouldn’t he?” 26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people within the city of Sodom, then I will spare the entire place for their sake.” 27 Abraham answered, “See now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it on myself to speak to my Lord. 28 What if there are five fewer than fifty righteous? Will you destroy the entire city if the number is five short?” He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 He spoke to him yet again and said, “What if only forty are found there?” He said, “I will not do it for the sake of the forty.” 30 He said, “Please, do not be angry, my Lord, but I will speak again. What if thirty are found there?” He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “See now, I have taken it upon myself to speak to my Lord. What if there are twenty found there?” He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the twenty.” 32 He said, “Please, do not be angry, my Lord, but I will speak just once more. What if ten are found there?” He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.” (EHV)
Dear Friends in Christ,
In one of those times when it seemed like the cause of the righteous was lost, David cried out in the Psalms, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3) What can they do? For one thing, they can pray. That’s what Abraham did. There are many things in our society that remind us of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. What can we do? We can Pray Like Abraham. James wrote, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (5:16). God listens to us, just as He listened to Abraham. He takes our prayers into account in His plans and His actions. God invites us to pray. Jesus taught His disciples to pray and assured them that His Father listens. Let’s learn from Abraham. He pleaded with the Lord face to face, but God listens to our prayers in the same way He listened to Abraham. Let’s learn from Abraham’s example how to pray. Let’s note first how he prayed out of Concern for the Faith and the Faithful.
Pray with Concern for the Faith and the Faithful
Abraham was concerned about the world around him, not just his own fields and flocks. He was concerned about the city his nephew Lot had moved into. He was concerned about the influence Sodom was having on Lot and his wife and his daughters.
God visited him because He wanted Abraham to be concerned. God had already decided to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God didn’t really need to come down to earth to see what was going on. And He certainly didn’t have to take a detour through Abraham’s camp on the way there. But He wanted Abraham involved. He wanted Abraham to be concerned about the people of those cities and to express his concerns in prayer.
God sees the wickedness that surrounds us and wants us involved too. He wants us to be concerned and pray. Sodom and Gomorrah were filled with unbelievers, but not just typical unbelievers. The people there were defiant, deviant, God haters—the kind of people who tried to rape the angels God sent to rescue Lot. Thank God it’s not that bad yet in our decadent Western societies. There are still believers in our cities in America. But we can see the increasing wickedness and decreasing faith. We see more and more Sodom and Gomorrah stuff, not only happening but being praised and defended. God doesn’t want us to be ostriches and stick our heads in the sand. Like Abraham God wants us to know that destruction will ultimately come. He wants us to be concerned, especially about the believers, and He wants us to plead and pray like Abraham.
Since the very beginning, God has given people the honor and privilege of being involved in His work. God created the garden of Eden, but put Adam in charge of groundskeeping and maintenance. God could have built the Ark for Noah, but He wanted Noah to be an active witness through his 120 years as a shipbuilder. God can certainly run the world without us today, but He’d rather give us the high privilege of being involved. Through prayer, we are involved. When we keep informed of what’s going on around us and bring it to God in prayer—we’re carrying out a God-given duty.
Abraham saw all the wickedness, and he was concerned. Therefore He prayed. But take note of how he prayed and what he prayed for. He didn’t pray that God would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah: ‘Dear Lord, destroy the wicked and end the evil.’ But neither did he ask that the wicked be spared and evil continue. The focus of Abraham’s prayer was on the righteous—those who believed. He was concerned about them. And He was concerned about God’s reputation. It wouldn’t be a good look for God to destroy the righteous along with the wicked. Not that death is bad for a believer. Quite the contrary. Death brings the final reward from God after a life of faith. But to be killed in a special way, reserved for only the most wicked people, would not be right, Abraham argued. Abraham thought it would send the wrong message—that it would blunt the message of judgment God was sending specifically to all the wicked and blasphemous, even today. What happened to Sodom and Gomorrah was meant to send a message to all people of all time—and it does. Even the “proud” wicked today know those city names, and are filled with rage against anyone who mentions them!
As it turns out, God wasn’t planning to destroy the righteous with the wicked. It’s just that there weren’t any righteous people in those horrible cities! And God in His wisdom knew none of them were even mission prospects. When that happens, when there are only wicked unbelievers, hardened in their sin, with no hope left of conversion, left in a city or country, there’s no reason for God to leave it standing. Babylon is gone. Ur of the Chaldees is gone. Nineveh is gone. Jerusalem was flattened. Rome and Constantinople fell.
Someday, the whole world will be destroyed. It will happen when there aren’t any people left on earth that aren’t hardened against God. In Noah’s day, God waited till there were only eight believers left, and then He destroyed the world, when no one listened to Noah’s call to repentance. But God saved the eight, just as He sent angels to rescue the few weak believers left in Sodom.
As we look around us at our cities, our land, and our world, we want to see that there are still believers, and there are still people coming to faith through the Gospel. And like Abraham, we want to pray with concern for the faith and the faithful. We want to pray for the courage to share the Good News. We want to pray for weak believers in danger of falling away. We want to pray for believers who are persecuted minorities in their countries. We want to pray for endurance in our own faith, so that neither we nor our children are overcome by the temptations of the wicked world around us.
We want to pray that “the Gospel have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of God’s holy people.” Paul wrote to New Testament pastor Timothy: First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all those who are in authority, in order that we might live a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1–4).
Pray Fervently and Persistently
The second thing we want to learn by watching Abraham pray is that he was fervent and persistent. Yes, Abraham could see the Lord as he was praying to Him. But God is standing right in front of you too—and behind you and all around you. The Lord listens intently to everything you say to Him. He has promised to respond. God wants you to detain Him, just like Abraham did.
Abraham approached God humbly. He regarded God as a great King and Lord, yet he also regarded Him as a merciful Friend. He was 100% sure that God wouldn’t be able to turn away from him—and he was right. We have the same God. We approach Him humbly as our king, but we also approach Him as our Friend and Father, through Christ. Abraham kept coming back to Him for more. Each time God conceded, Abraham went one step further. And God kept saying yes. Then each “yes” from God made him more confident to pray.
Have you noticed with each passing year how many times God has answered you “yes”? That’s why some people use a prayer journal, so they can write down what they’ve prayed for and pay attention to see the answers. Do you remember the ten lepers? They all asked to be healed. They all got a “yes,” but only one noticed enough to say, “thank you.” You can bet that his prayer life was all the better afterwards, because he knew how eager God is to listen and help.
God wants to say “yes” to you—but He wants you to ask first. Jesus promised, “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. … Ask, and you will receive, so that your joy may be made complete.” In Abraham’s case, it might have seemed like God said “no.” He didn’t spare Sodom and Gomorrah. But God didn’t let one righteous person die there. That’s a “yes.”
What is a “righteous” person? How is that word used in the Bible? Look at Lot and you’ll know it isn’t someone whose life is necessarily very exemplary. Lot was a sinner. He was a weak believer. He even offered his daughters to the rapists so they wouldn’t rape the angels! Ugh. His faith was hanging on by the very weakest of threads! And yet He’s rescued as “righteous.” That’s because, weak as it was, Lot still had an ounce of faith left in the God who forgives and declares sinners righteous through faith. Lot’s case makes it abundantly clear that “righteousness” is completely a gift. The one true God is righteous and demands righteousness. But Jesus was righteous in our place and His Father is merciful toward all who ask for mercy. He freely forgives all those who ask and believe. Keep pleading for mercy, and no matter what you’ve done, God will mercifully forgive and call you “righteous” too. And then He’ll hear your prayers. “When the foundations are crumbling, what can the righteous do?” Pray. One of our most important duties as Christians is to pray. And it is also one of our highest privileges. God listens to what we say, and it does affect the outcome of things! We all want good things to happen, right? You can do something about it. Pray! Would you like to see our country’s march toward wickedness slowed and even turned around? Pray! Would you like to see more churches turn back to the Bible? Pray! Would you like Our Saviour Lutheran to make more of an impact on Lake Havasu City? Would you like to see more of your neighbors come to faith and join us here? Pray! Pray Like Abraham. Pray with concern for the faith and the faithful. And pray fervently and persistently. Amen.