Genesis 18:17-33 (10th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
July 28, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament Lesson recorded in Genesis 18:
The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” 20 Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 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.” 22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 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? 25 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?” 26 And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” 27 Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 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.” 29 Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 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.” 31 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.” 32 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.” 33 And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.
The theme highlighted by God’s Word today in our service is prayer. In the Collect of the Day, the Lord’s thoughts for the day were collected into a prayer asking Him to “be attentive to the prayers of Your servants, and by Your Word and Spirit teach us how to pray that our petitions may be pleasing before You.” To define what prayer is can be done simply enough. Prayer is speaking to God in words and thoughts. It is our communication to God, not His communication to us. (God communicates to us through the inspired Word of Holy Scripture.) Prayer is a privilege, a result of God’s grace that only Christians have, because they have been made righteous in Christ. Martin Luther correctly summarizes that “praying is the work of faith alone and something no one but a Christian can do. For Christians do not base their prayer on themselves but on the name of the Son of God, in whose name they have been baptized; and they are certain that praying in this way is pleasing to God because He has told us to pray in the name of Christ and has promised to hear us.”
So you and I as believers in Jesus Christ pray with faith in Him alone as our Savior and that’s why we can fully expect God to hear us. What a joy and a great comfort to know that we as human beings, because Christ Jesus is our Savior, can talk to God! Again, it is a privilege that the Lord gives to us by His grace. It is a privilege that He gave to Abraham in a very special way in our Old Testament text.
The Lord, in human form, stood before Abraham and graciously revealed to him what He was about to do. “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so blatant that I must go down and see if they are as wicked as the outcry suggests. If not, I want to know.” Even the Lord, who is well aware of the human capacity to sin, found it hard to believe that anyone could be as bad as the “outcry” against Sodom and Gomorrah suggested. So God carefully judged the situation and shared His plan with Abraham.
Abraham discerned what this all meant. If the outcry against these cities was indeed as bad as it seemed, total destruction would be in store for these wicked cities, the very judgment of God against their sin. But Abraham had family living in the area of Sodom—his nephew Lot and his wife, along with their two daughters. And so Abraham prayed. He talked to God in intercession on behalf of his family and any other righteous people, those who feared God and strove to live according to His ways, who might be living in the bastion of evil and wickedness. “Far be it from you to sweep away the righteous with the wicked. 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 right?” And so starting with the possibility of 50 righteous persons, Abraham went back and forth with the Lord God on behalf of any righteous who might be in the city.
And God heard Abraham’s prayer. He listened. In His grace, God chose to spare the whole city for the sake of the 50, the 45, the 40, and the 20. But what if there were only 10? For the sake of 10, the whole evil city would be spared. Having his prayer heard, Abraham trusted in the good and right action of God to do as He said He would. The Lord knew best and Abraham trusted Him and went his way. But there were not ten. Sodom and Gomorrah were annihilated when God rained down sulfur and fire out of heaven. In His judgment, God “overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.” (Gen. 19:25) And yet, even though the cities were not spared because there were not even ten righteous, God-fearing people in them, the Lord was still gracious to the righteous, seeing that they would be spared. He sent His holy angels to bring Lot and his family out from the destruction. “Far be it from you to sweep away the righteous with the wicked.”
God was truly gracious to Lot and his family. God was gracious to Abraham, listening to his prayer for mercy on behalf of the righteous living in the cities. And God is truly gracious to us also.
God’s grace is His undeserved favor toward us. It is not something that we deserve—to have God be kind to us. It’s not something we have earned by our behavior—to have God love us and show mercy to us. God’s grace is His attitude alone toward you and me because of who God is and what He did in sending His only Son to save us from the wickedness of our sin.
Without God’s grace, we would all have to suffer a fate worse than Sodom and Gomorrah—eternal destruction in hell. God’s Word tells us that we are no better than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, because “no one living is righteous before [God].” (Psalm 143:2) “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Eccl. 7:20) Even Lot proved that he was not innocent. He offered to the men of Sodom who wanted to have sexual relations with the two angels his own two daughters to satisfy their immoral cravings. In fact, Lot didn’t really want to leave the city, even as wicked as it was. (Gen. 19) Truly, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) You and me are sinners by nature, in what we do that goes against God’s Word and in the good and mercy we fail to do.
Nevertheless, God came down to this cesspool of sin and evil, knowing full well how really bad we are as sinful human beings. However, He came down, not for destruction nor for judgment. God came down to earth to be gracious to us and to save all people from their sins.
God the Son came to us in human flesh, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, to be our Lord. He came to take upon Himself our wickedness, our sins, and bear the weight of God’s full wrath and judgment against them. The fire of God’s anger fell upon Jesus as He hung on the cross, bleeding and dying. Jesus suffered hell in body and soul as God the Father abandoned Him to death and the grave on account of our sins. Just as the prophet Isaiah and spoken the Word of the Lord, Jesus “was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Is. 53:5 ESV)
Healed. That’s one of the Bible’s ways of saying, “You are forgiven.” The disease of sin and its guilt has been wiped clean in us through the precious blood of Jesus Christ. This is a gracious act of God in declaring you and me “not guilty” of sin because Jesus shed His blood to cleanse us from all sin. God, with favor toward you and me on account of Jesus, has had mercy on us and has declared us forgiven since Jesus has bestowed on us His own righteousness, innocence, and blessedness in the waters of Holy Baptism. As we are taught in the Word in Romans 5, “For as by the one man’s disobedience (Adam) the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience (Jesus) the many will be made righteous.” (Rom. 5:19)
In Christ, by grace through faith, we have been made righteous through the forgiveness won for us by Him, the forgiveness received in Baptism, through Absolution, and in the eating and drinking of His body and blood in the Supper. Because we have been made righteous by Jesus’ death and resurrection as a free gift, that means we do not have to fear the wrath and judgment of God. What’s more, the righteousness of Christ assures us that we can be like Abraham. You and I even as we approach the Lord here at His altar, can come to God confidently and expect Him to hear our prayers. Hebrews 4:16 tells us that can draw near to the throne of grace with confidence, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The story is told of Abraham Lincoln as he served as president of the United States. He had one standing rule about access to his office. While others had to knock and be admitted, his son Tad could come in anytime, about any concern. The president would drop everything, stop any conversation, and devote his time and attention to Tad. He was his precious child. So it is with you, dear Christian. You are God’s very own child through faith in Christ. His office, or His heavenly throne, is open twenty-four hours a day for you. You may enter and be heard because you are God’s precious daughter or son, covered in the forgiveness and righteousness of Jesus. So keep on praying and praying in Jesus’ name. Amen.