Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
A parishioner, last week after Church, made an interesting comment. “Pastor, if I sat at the feet of Jesus, I would have a lot of questions for him.” Isn’t that the truth? What question would you ask God, given a chance? USA Today once had an interesting survey that asked, “If you could get in contact with God directly, ask a question, and get an immediate reply—what would you ask?” The highest percentage (34%) wants to know: “What is my purpose here?” The next group (19%) is anxious to inquire: “Will I have life after death?” Another segment (16%) wants to know: “Why do bad things happen?” A few (7%) would like to know if there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Finally, six per cent would like to know exactly how long they will live.
This morning’s Old Testament reading shows us that Abraham could contact God directly since he was standing right before him! And Abraham has the nerve to question the Creator himself. He first questions God’s justice and then pleads for the Lord’s pardon.
I. Abraham Questions God’s Justice
Our Old Testament text picks up right after last week’s reading. Abraham received three unexpected visitors and provided them with the best feast possible. Throughout the meal, Abraham realized that they were no ordinary guests. They were God himself and two of his angels. Today we read that Abraham, always the excellent host, escorted his guests as they departed from his tents.
The Lord takes a moment to decide whether or not to tell Abraham what he’s about to do. The Lord was going to wipe Sodom and Gomorrah out. These were terrible cities. Their inhabitants cared only for themselves, and their sexual perversion and violence were rampant. There was a great outcry against these cities. In Sodom, the victims cried out, and God heard them. The Creator God himself had taken notice and was going to intervene.
As the two angels move on to go down to Sodom, Abraham steps in front of the Lord. He can’t believe what he is hearing. Is God just going to wipe out two entire cities? Men? Women? CHILDREN? His nephew Lot and his family? Abraham thinks that God is not being fair. Abraham agrees that the wicked who oppress, brutalize, and victimize should get what’s coming to them. But he thinks God would be out of line to destroy the righteous along with the wicked. And so Abraham intercedes on behalf of the city, “What if there are fifty righteous people in that city? Are you really going to just wipe them out too? You could not possibly do such a terrible thing! Won’t the Judge of all the earth do the right thing?” (Ge 18:25). Here, we see that Abraham is questioning the justice of God’s decision.
God calmly responds to Abraham. If there were fifty righteous people in Sodom, God would spare the entire city for their sake. Abraham timidly continues to test out the justice of God. Just how fair and righteous is this Creator God? What about forty-five? Forty? Thirty? Twenty? TEN? Abraham stopped there. Alas, Abraham knows that not even ten rightoues people are left in Sodom. Before he can suggest a lower figure, the Lord abruptly breaks off the negotiations. He departs (v. 33). Sodom is doomed.
The main point that this story wants to get across is that God is always just, fair, and good, despite what we may think. “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” Doing what is right is essential to who and what God is; because of that, all his actions are just. We can rest everything in life on this truth. It will never change. When we say that God is just, we’re saying that God is the very definition of what it means to be just. God can’t do anything unjust. This truth will never change: the Judge of all the earth will do right. God doesn’t need Abraham to tell him to do the right thing. Abraham needs to be reassured that God is just.
Sometimes, like Abraham, we need God to reassure us that he is just and merciful. The Lord heard the outcry against Sodom. God also hears outcries today. He hears the cry of the baby as it suffers abuse. God hears the cry of an older man beaten on the street. He hears the cries of the teenage girl as she is abused. He hears the tears of the abandoned wife. God hears them all, including your cries. But, will not the Judge of all the earth do right? Of course, he will. God takes notice and acts. He intervenes. He judged wicked Sodom, and He has promised that there will be a day of judgment when wrongs will be righted, and this horribly crooked world will be put straight again. Because God hears all and knows all, judgment is coming — as sure as God is righteous and just. Still, nothing is more offensive to the unbelieving heart than the coming judgment. Abraham could not find ten righteous people in that city. No doubt, the inhabitants of Sodom would have shouted God down for being so unfair. Why should you single us out for punishment? The Judge of the earth must do right. And St. Paul says there is no one righteous, not even one. That means that judgment day is coming for all of us.
II. Abraham Pleads for Pardon
Abraham is also pleading on behalf of these cities. Abraham points us to Christ because Abraham pleads for the city. He intercedes for them. Abraham urges God to accept the righteousness of a few as sufficient for the salvation of the sinful many. Abraham stops at ten. The lurid details of the following episode indicate that there simply were no righteous people in Sodom — not one! The Lord would have shown mercy if there had been anyone he could bestow it upon. Such is the heart of God.
But did you notice in our text that despite God hearing the outcry against Sodom, he nonetheless decided to come down and see it for himself first-hand? He is not content to sit in his heavenly office and rely on second-hand reports like a distant politician. God investigates it for himself. God doesn’t just investigate for himself; He became one of us! God became a man.
At Christmas, the Creator God entered this world of pain and suffering—not as a tourist, but as a Saviour. God’s desire to show mercy towards a suffering world was so great that God chose to share in its pain and suffering. God comes among us. He suffers along with us. In our text, Abraham pleads that God should spare Sodom. And God responds, “If I find fifty righteous in the city at Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” To spare the city is to forgive the city. Abraham pleads that the city be forgiven for the sake of the righteous in it. Jesus of Nazareth, God himself became a man, suffered the horrendous death of a Roman crucifixion, the greatest injustice the world has ever seen. By doing so, Jesus carried our injustice and wrongdoing all the way to the tomb. He has borne our sins and suffered and died in our place.
Jesus of Nazareth is the seed of Abraham. Where Abraham failed, Christ succeeded. The righteousness of Christ alone is sufficient for the deliverance of all. Christ Jesus sits “at the right hand of God . . . [and] intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:34). Christ is like Abraham, petitioning his Father on our behalf: “Suppose there was one man found righteous, will you not spare the city of man for his sake?” God the Father has found one truly perfect righteous man on this planet, Jesus of Nazareth, his own eternal Son. For the sake of that one Righteous man, for the sake of his holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death, God will spare, he will forgive. God will spare and forgive you for the sake of the sufferings of his Son who carried your sins upon the cross. The righteousness of Jesus is sufficient for your salvation. God spares you because he did not spare his righteous Son. Abraham prayed for Sodom, and his nephew Lot was saved. Christ, the risen and ascended Lord, intercedes for us, and God hears his prayers and grants us mercy.
We are now righteous by grace, through faith, for the sake of Christ. That means that we are like Abraham in our communities. We need to pray for the sake of our communities that God would be gracious and merciful to them.
The Creator has demonstrated that he is good and merciful by becoming a man and dying on the cross for us. God is just and has a good reason for allowing suffering in this world. And so, for the sake of the sufferings of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, we trust God. We let God be God. We trust that he has a purpose and reason we may not understand. When we see that God went to the cross for us, we can be reassured that God is good. We can know that God is with us, present in our sufferings. We can have hope in the promised resurrection of the dead. God promises that we will get the life we have longed for, in an infinitely more glorious world. God has pledged this to us through the resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
May, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.