For the Sake of One

“Abraham and the Three Angels” by James Tissot

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Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to Me. And if not, I will know.”

So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will You then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will You destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again, he spoke to Him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the Lord went His way, when He had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place (Genesis 18:20–33).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The Lord speaks. His words are a sort of soliloquy, spoken softly yet intended for Abraham’s ears. “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Genesis 1:17). There are a few reasons why God might want to inform Abraham in advance about His plans to send fiery judgment on Sodom. First, Abraham stands in a special relationship with God. Abraham is “God’s friend” (Isaiah 41:8), and here God shares a confidence with His friend. Isn’t that an amazing thought? God does not want to proceed with His plans before getting Abraham’s reaction.

But there is also a second reason. God has chosen Abraham not only to continue the messianic bloodline but to pass on to his descendants the truth God has revealed to him about God’s judgment. There are two truths about God’s judgment that God specifically wants Abraham’s descendants to know. First, whenever God invades human history to pronounce judgment on a person or a group of people, He thereby shows that He hates unbelief and must punish it. Second, God’s judgment, however, is always carried out in a way that serves the deliverance of His elect. In mercy, God delayed the onset of the flood (Genesis 6:3). Here, God withholds His judgment on Sodom to give Abraham a chance to plead for the righteous. In our day, the sins of our country cry to God for judgment, yet to gather all His elect, God graciously delays His judgment. Abraham is going to see these truths of God’s justice and grace illustrated in Sodom and Gomorrah. God wants to make sure Abraham’s descendants learn them, too.

God’s words, “I will go down to see” are not to be understood as though God actually has to make a special trip to Sodom for an on-site inspection of the city’s corruption before giving the order to destroy it. God uses a figure of speech here in which He ascribes human actions to Himself, in order to emphasize this important truth: God does nothing without possessing all the facts in the case. He does not act arbitrarily. If He chooses to send punishment on a city or a nation, that judgment is well-deserved.

While the two angels leave for Sodom to carry out their assignment, Abraham pleads with God to spare the city for the sake of the believers there. There are some characteristics of Abraham’s prayer that are worth noting. (1) It is based on mercy, not merit—Abraham knows that the same sinful heart that beats in each inhabitant of Sodom and Gomorrah beats within his own breast and that it is only the grace of God that keeps him safe from God’s righteous anger. (2) It is an unselfish prayer—Abraham wants others to experience the same mercy he has. (3) It is bold—There’s a holy shamelessness to Abraham’s prayer. Six times he dares to plead the cause of God’s grace against God’s righteousness.

Abraham knows that the one true God is a God of justice. God is talking about two of the most infamously wicked cities of all time. Sodom and Gomorrah become synonymous with evil and debauchery. But Abraham asks, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? … Far be it for You to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked” (Genesis 18:23, 25).

Abraham knows that God would never do such a thing. He is a just God. At the same time, Abraham knows that in His justice God will punish sin. Abraham does not try to defend Sodom and Gomorrah. He does not try to rationalize away their sin. He does not try to make excuses for them. In fact, he does not comment at all on their sin. He is speaking to the living God, who is just and who knows the heart of man. God hates sin. He punishes sin.

Abraham appeals to God for those who may live in Sodom and Gomorrah who are righteous. “Righteous,” in this sense, does not mean “without sin.” It means “proved right” or “in good order.” The term is used to describe a person who is in a right relationship with God, trusting God’s promised salvation and living by the covenant promise. The psalms describe how the wicked plot against the righteous, but the Lord watches over the righteous and delivers them. God is righteous because He faithfully and justly keeps His Word.

When you speak with God, you should know just what Abraham knows. God hates sin. So, do not rationalize away your sin by saying, “I’m not as sinful as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah” or by saying, “I’m not as sinful as other people I know.” Don’t make excuses for your sin, either. Don’t try to make some lame defense. God is holy. God hates sin. He hates the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. He hates your sins, too. He hates your pride and thanklessness. He hates your greed and selfishness. He hates your anger and lies. He hates your sins just as He hated the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham knows full well God will punish the wicked. God does then, and He will in our day, too.

Abraham knows God is just. But Abraham also knows another side to the Almighty. God is also gracious. How well Abraham knows that. God has just affirmed the promise He’d made to Abraham. He will have a son in a year. That son will continue the line through which the Savior of the world will come.

God has listened to Abraham before. So, now in faith, Abraham speaks with God boldly and confidently. He pleads to God because He knows the heart of God. Yes, God is just, but even as Abraham recalls God’s justice, he thinks about God’s mercy. God has forgiven him before, too. Therefore, Abraham is bold to ask. He’s not haggling with God. He is praying in faith to a gracious God to have mercy on his nephew, Lot, and his family.

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked and He is not willing that any should perish. Grievous as the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah is, God is willing—in fact, eager—to spare the cities if fifty, forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty, or even as few as ten righteous people can be found there. So, Abraham dickers with God over the sparing of Sodom and Gomorrah. He pesters, nags, and harasses God until he gets what he wants—and God seems to like it! Luther sees in this relationship a classic instance of a dear child approaching his dear father. Abraham is God’s child, and he expects his heavenly Father to honor his request.

We might be uncomfortable with this kind of conversation between God and man. However, it is a very common and accepted, even encouraged, manner of conversation in the Scriptures. We see it in the psalms, and with Moses, Elijah, and Jeremiah. Because of the God-established covenantal relationship, Abraham, as well as the rest of the covenantal people, have the right to question God or bargain and argue with Him. The Hebrews understood this to be evidence of faith because one does not argue with a god they do not believe in and who they do not believe has any power or the inclination to change the order of things.

Thus, we see Abraham recalling the Lord’s attention to the Lord’s own attributes, character, and promises. Abraham knows the Lord is merciful, gracious, just, and righteous. So, he points this out as he engages in the argument. Basically, Abraham is calling God to be who He promised to be! Then he leaves it in the Lord’s hands to deal with the situation properly. Abraham believes God is in control of the events of world history and can be persuaded to change His mind concerning Sodom, save Lot and his family, and still keep the earth turning!

God is in control, but God is also in relationship with His children and asks us to pray, to lament, and to ask Him to change His mind as we participate as the Bride with our Bridegroom. As a result, we trust, no matter what the action or answer to our conversations with Him, that the Lord God will do what is good and right for the sake of His Kingdom.

All the while Abraham intercedes for Sodom and Gomorrah, the inhabitants of those cities go about their everyday business, blithely unconcerned about the danger that threatens them, totally unaware that within 24 hours a firestorm of divine judgment will consume them, when not even ten righteous can be found.

Notice that God never loses His patience with Abraham’s prayers. He never stops him. He never rebukes him. Abraham says, “Oh, let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak” (Genesis 18:30). The Lord is never angry with Abraham. He listens, and He answers according to His mercy, His grace, His love. God listens to His child, Abraham, speak and plead with Him. God never tires of it. Never.

God will never tire of hearing you, either. He will listen with patience. For He loves to hear from His children. You cannot ask too much, or too little! You cannot come to Him too much. You cannot try His patience with your pleading. He will listen. He will answer in His time and in His way.

Abraham comes in faith to a gracious God. God promises not to destroy the city for the sake of ten. And even when He cannot find ten righteous, God sends His angels to save Lot and His family.

You have a gracious God who has saved you, too. In His justice, He demands punishment for sin. In His justice, He threatens you and me with death now and eternally. In His justice, even then, He thinks upon mercy. He acts to rescue you just as He did Lot and his family.

Our world today, every bit as wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah (if not more so), has been spared because God found in it not fifty righteous, or forty-five, or forty, thirty, twenty, or even ten righteous, but one righteous man, Jesus Christ. At His Baptism, Jesus said to the Baptist, “thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Jesus certainly did “fulfill all righteousness,” for even the centurion officiating at Jesus’ crucifixion said, “Certainly, this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47). The outcome? As Paul says, “One act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Romans 5:18).

Here, we see the gracious God. He acts to rescue you from a hellish destruction. He saves you for the sake of one righteous person—His own Son, Jesus Christ. God’s grace is so magnificent that He satisfies His own justice by punishing not you for your sins, but His own Son. That is what happens at the cross. God is being a just God. In the cross, we see the justice and grace of God. Sin must be punished, so God punishes His own Son instead of you. His Son willingly takes your place. His Son takes your punishment. His Son takes your place. His Son takes all you deserve. In doing so, you are rescued from the righteous wrath of a just God.

In Jesus Christ, you are the righteous ones. Jesus Christ’s righteousness is your righteousness. Because He was righteous for you, you are righteous. On the day of your Baptism, you were clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Soon on the Last Day, when comes to execute His justice on the earth, He will rescue His righteous ones from that wrath and punishment as sure as He did Lot and His family.

This gracious God has come to your rescue. This gracious God will listen to your prayers on behalf of yourself, your family, your nation, and even the unbelieving world. For the sake of His Son, Jesus, you can speak with the just and holy God just as Abraham did. You can confess your sins, knowing that though you justly deserve His righteous wrath and eternal punishment, He is gracious and merciful to you. For the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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