Text: Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing-to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
26 The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”
“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”
29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”
He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”
30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”
He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”
31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”
He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”
32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”
He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”
This morning, we are going to focus our attention on prayer. In one sense, it is a very easy thing to do. We teach our little children prayers to say before meals and at bedtime. In another sense, it is something that we can continually learn to do. In our Gospel Lesson this morning, Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray. To be sure, these men had grown up praying. However, as they observed Jesus’ prayer life, they realized that there was still more for them to learn. In our text, we have the example of Abraham praying to the Lord. As we study this, we will see an aspect of prayer that is pleasing to God, and that is persistence. PERSISTENT PRAYER IS PLEASING PRAYER. 1. The Lord Makes Himself Available. 2. The Lord Listens Patiently. 3. The Lord Answers Graciously.
Just prior to our text, we have the account of the Lord coming to Abraham and telling him that he and Sarah would have a son. After this, the Lord and the two angels that accompanied him got up to leave. As they were walking along the road, Abraham accompanied them. As they traveled, the Lord made another announcement, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” (Verses 20&21) He speaks about the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah. These were two pagan cities, well-known for their sinfulness. We still use the term “Sodom and Gomorrah” if we are talking about a place with a sinful lifestyle. As we read in the next chapter, the charge is well-founded. It wasn’t just the homosexuality that the Lord was speaking about. It was the unbelief which was evident in their blatant disregard for God’s moral law. We note another thing about God’s pronouncement. He said, “I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” It wasn’t that God had to go on some fact-finding trip to find out if the rumors were true or not. Rather, God is using terms that Abraham could understand. By means of this, he was telling Abraham that the events that would soon happen were well-justified. This wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction. These people had shown themselves worthy of what would soon happen to them.
It really is an amazing thing that God stopped on the road and told Abraham what was going to happen. It wasn’t that God owed him this bit of news. Rather, God was giving Abraham an opportunity to engage with him in prayer. There is little doubt that Abraham had prayed for these people before. There are many times that we read in the book of Genesis that, in the midst of the pagans, Abraham called on the name of the Lord. This was more that merely praying to God. It was publicly proclaiming God to those around him. Abraham prayed for the inhabitants of the city. In addition, Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his family lived in Sodom. I’m sure that Abraham prayed for Lot and his family as they lived in this sin-filled city. Now, as God sends the angels on their way, he invites Abraham to pray to him as they are standing in the road.
We thank God that he has made himself so accessible in prayer to us, as well. This was not always the case. At one time, a wall of sin separated us from God. It says in Isaiah 59:2, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Not only could we not pray to God because of our sins; we had no desire to do so. If this state had continued, we would have been eternally separated from God in the fires of hell. However, Jesus came to remove that dividing wall of sin. He did everything to save us, including living a perfect life in our place, suffering and dying on the cross to pay for our sins, and rising from the dead on Easter morning. Now that dividing wall of sin has been removed. We have full access to God in prayer. In addition, we think of the fact that we do not just know him as “God.” We know him as “Father.” He is our Father, as we say in the Lord’s Prayer. Dr. Luther reminds us of the significance of this, as he writes in his explanation to the Address of the Lord’s Prayer, “With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that he is our true Father and that we are his true children, so that we may pray to him as boldly and confidently as dear children ask their dear father.” We thank the Lord that he has made himself accessible to us in prayer.
In his prayers, Abraham mentions the “righteous,” that is to say “believers.” He prays that the Lord would, in his justice, spare the city on account of the believers that are residing in the city. Abraham does on, first of all, for the sake of 50 believers. Then, he asked that it be spared if there were 45. Then, he whittles the number down to 40, then 30, then 20, and finally 10. He offered six prayers in the matter of a few minutes on behalf of the people of Sodom. Allow me to ask you a question. How would you feel if someone asked you for something six times in a matter of minutes? Would you become annoyed? Would you tell the person to stop asking? Would you tell them to go away because they were bothering you? I think that many of us would feel that way. However, God didn’t. He stood there, right beside Abraham, and allowed Abraham to pray to him again and again. He listened patiently to every one of Abraham’s request.
What a wonderful thing to hear! God is never annoyed with us when we come to him in prayer. He doesn’t tell us to be quiet and to stop asking for things. Rather, he invites us to come to him again and again in prayer. When Jesus said in Luke 11:9, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” he didn’t mean to just do it one time and figure that we did our part. Now, it’s up to God. No, he wants us to continue to come to him in prayer and he promises to patiently listen to every one of our requests. So, don’t be afraid to come to God in prayer for something that is going on in your life or the life of someone else, because you have already prayed about it. Continue to come to him in prayer. In addition, there may be times when we feel that what we are experiencing or requesting isn’t so important that we should ask God about it. We will just come to God with the big things in life. God isn’t just interested in the big things in your life. He loves you and is concerned about every part of your life. As we come to God in persistent prayer, we are thankful that he patiently listens to every one of our prayers.
We, also, note that God graciously answered every one of Abrahams’ prayers. When Abraham pleaded that the Lord not destroy the city for the sake of 50 believers, the Lord said that he would not. He answered that way, also, if there had been 45, 40, 30, 20, or 10 believers according to Abraham’s prayer. We see the love of God for Abraham as he answered his prayers. He told Abraham exactly what he was going to do. So, did God answer Abraham’s prayer when he asked that the place be spared if there were 10 righteous people in that city? God said, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” (Verse 32) God held true to his word. Unfortunately, there were not even 10 believers in the city. So, God, in his justice, called down fire and brimstone and obliterated the city. However, God did even more than he had answered Abraham. In his love, he spared Lot and his family from the destruction. God did even more than he was asked to do. He listened to and graciously answered each of Abraham’s prayers.
What a comforting thing for us to remember! God always hears and answers every one of our prayers. There is no matter that is so insignificant that he brushes it off. There is no prayer that we come to God with persistently where he will tell us to stop praying about it. God hears and answers every one of our prayers. There will be those times when he answers “Yes” to our prayers. What we have asked for is beneficial to us and God grants our request. There will be times when God will tell us “No.” What we have asked for would be harmful to our faith and so, in his love, he denies our request. The third type of answer fits well with our discussion this morning. God may answer “Yes, but I want you to wait a while.” This is our encouragement to continue to come to him in prayer. We continue to pray about something, until it becomes clear whether or not God will do what we have requested. Whatever the answer might be, we know that we have a God who loves us and will always do what is the best for us. In addition, we have the example of God doing even more than Abraham asked by sparing Lot and his family. Don’t think small when it comes to your prayers. Don’t be afraid to come to God and ask for the big things. We can have the confidence that the apostle Paul expressed in Ephesians 3:20&21, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
Persistence is a trait that is admired by many. The crowd cheers when the athlete, after many attempts, is able to succeed. Parents praise their child who, through their persistence, is able to walk. We admire the police force, who, after an exhaustive investigation, finally catches the criminal. May we learn persistence in our prayer life. We thank God that he is so accessible to us in prayer on account of the work of Jesus. We thank God for the confidence in knowing that he patiently listens to and graciously answers all of our prayers. Dear friends, remember the promise that Jesus has made to you, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9&10) Amen.
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