************ Sermon on Genesis 18:19a,25 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 9, 2000
"Why Abraham Could Pray"
Topic: PrayerAs we shall find out, Abraham – like this woman – prays boldly to God believing that God hears and answers.
Subtopic: For Food
Title: Groceries for a Prayer
A tired-looking woman entered a grocery store and asked the owner for enough food to make a Christmas dinner for her children. When he inquired how much she could afford, she answered, "My husband was killed in an accident. Truthfully, I have nothing to offer but a little prayer." Although the man was unmoved at first, he thought of a sarcastic response to the woman's simple request. "Write your prayer on a piece of paper and you can have its weight in groceries." To his surprise, she plucked a folded note out of her pocket and handed it to him saying, "I already did that during the night while I was watching over my sick baby." Without even reading it, he put it on one side of his old-fashioned scales. "We shall see how much food this is worth," he muttered. To his dismay nothing happened when he put a loaf of bread on the other side. But he was even more upset when he added other items and it still would not balance. Finally he blurted out, "Well, that's all it will hold. Here's a bag. You'll have to put these things in yourself. I'm busy!" With a tearful "Thank you," the lady went happily on her way. The grocer later discovered that the scales were out of order. As the years passed he often wondered if that was just a coincidence. Why did the woman have the prayer already written before he asked for it? Why did she come at exactly the time the mechanism broke? Whenever he looks at the slip of paper which bears that mother's petition, he is amazed, for it reads, "Please, dear Lord, give us this day our daily bread!"
In Genesis 18 we read of how the LORD and two angels come to Abraham's tent one day during the shimmering noon-day heat. After eating and drinking they get up to leave. Scripture tells us that Abraham walks along with them towards Sodom. God then tells Abraham His plans for Sodom. Abraham responds with the prayer we have in front of us this morning.
Why can Abraham pray such a powerful prayer? How dare he talk to God in such a fashion? And, why does the LORD respond the way He does?
I Abraham is God's Friend
A As Abraham walks with God we overhear God talking to Himself. God is pictured as walking and thinking in the same way as a man walks and thinks. We know, of course, that God's thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways His ways (Is 55:8). The God Who in the same instant upholds numberless stars and galaxies by His controlling power, Who counts the hairs on our heads and watches over every sparrow that falls, does not "think" in the limited sense that we ourselves do. Yet, it is as if His whole attention for a moment is absorbed with Abraham. God asks, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?" (vs 17).
The LORD takes Abraham into His confidence and tells Him what He is about to do to Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord says,
(Gen 18:20-21) "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."Abraham understands at once what this means. God plans to punish the wickedness of these cities. Their evil is a challenge against God Himself and such evil can not go unchecked and unanswered.
Do you realize what is happening here? The LORD of far-flung galaxies, the Creator of life and all that exists, the All-Powerful, the All-Knowing, the Incomprehensible and Immutable, the Judge of angels and demons and men, is taking the time and trouble to explain Himself to a mere man. I find this to be simply amazing.
B Why is God doing this? Why is He bothering to explain Himself to a man? He is God, after all, and Abraham is nothing but a mere speck of a man! And why does He explain Himself to Abraham of all people? Does God pick Abraham because, as Scripture says,
(Gen 18:19) ... he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just ...Is this why God picks Abraham – because of what Abraham does or will do? We have to be careful about saying "yes" here. If we say "yes" then we are admitting God picks Abraham because Abraham is a superior human, one who is better than the rest. If we answer "yes" then we must face a life-long struggle to upgrade our lives enough so God can share things with us as well. I am sure you see that a "yes" answer is nothing but a work's righteousness, nothing but man's attempt to save himself.
Why, then, does God reveal His intentions? And why to Abraham? The Lord gives us His reason: "For I have chosen him" (vs 19). The word "chosen" in Hebrew can be translated "know" or "make my friend." We see here that God has taken the relationship of Creator to creature, of Judge to sinner, and has added a new dimension to it – the dimension of friend or partner.
Do you realize, my brothers and sisters, that the Lord wants this kind of relationship not only with Abraham but also with each and everyone of us? You are a creature God made in His image. You are a sinner He has redeemed. He has made you born-again and adopted you as one of His children. Yet, He has something even higher in mind for you and me – to be His covenant partner and friend. I think here of what Jesus says to His disciples:
(Jn 15:15) I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. God knows us, He calls us, He chooses us, to be His partners and friends.
Let me ask you, are you a friend of God? You are if, by grace, have Abraham's faith. Your are if you, by grace, have asked Jesus into your heart as Savior and Lord.
C Abraham is chosen by God as God's friend. Now we see why God bothers to explain Himself to Abraham. And, now we see why Abraham can pray to God the way he does.
Think about friends and friendship a moment. One of the joys of friendship is that friends talk and share with each other. Because Abraham is His friend God shares with him His plans, His intentions, for Sodom.
What God does with Abraham He also does with you and me. God has shared with us, His covenant partners, the mysteries of His eternal plan of salvation. Listen to the testimony of Scripture:
(Eph 1:9) And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ ...
(Col 1:26) the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations ... is now disclosed to the saints ...
Think again about friends and friendship a moment. Another of the joys of friendship is that friends ask for and listen to each other's views on plans and projects. In telling Abraham about His plan for Sodom, God invites Abraham's response to these plans. That's why Abraham dares to approach God in prayer.
Similarly, God invites our prayers and petitions on different matters. The Creator wants to hear from us, His creatures. And, He not only listens but also responds to our prayers, even as He responds to Abraham's prayer. We are not sure how this is done, but somehow, in some way, the Creator interlaces His sovereignty with man's prayer. In other words, God not merely works upon us with His grace, but He also allows us to work upon Him with our faith.
Abraham is God's chosen friend. So he dares to approach God in prayer. So he dares to question God's ways. So he dares God to change or rescind His plan. Abraham is God's chosen friend so His prayer is powerful and effective.
If we, like Abraham, are God's chosen friend, then we too can dare to approach God in prayer. If we are God's chosen friend, then our prayers too can be powerful and effective.
II God is Faithful and Just
A We also see a second reason why Abraham dares to approach God in prayer. We see that he prays on the basis of God's faithfulness and justice. When Abraham first hears God's plan for Sodom and Gomorrah, he is horrified and even sickened. He protests God's plan and petitions against it because it seems so unjust.
To us Sodom means nothing – a city lost in remote history. But to Abraham it means living people. It means slaves and masters, tradesmen and craftsmen, parents and children, merchants and animals, houses and gardens. It is in Sodom that Abraham's nephew Lot lives. Abraham knows Sodom. He knows her king. When disaster in war overtook the city it is Abraham who came to the rescue of the people and their goods (Gen 14). And now, now God is proposing to destroy the city and all those people Abraham has personally come to know.
Abraham is concerned for more than just Lot and Lot's family. He is concerned for other people in Sodom too. Abraham recognizes that not everyone in Sodom is equally corrupt. There are some merciful people there, people of reasonably good will. Abraham's heart reaches out to these people too.
B As Abraham thinks of the people he knows in Sodom, he dares to petition God on the basis of His justice:
(Gen 18:23-25) "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? (24) ... (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?"
Abraham is caught in a bind. He is terrified of the Almighty – a God so big and powerful none dare to stand before Him; but at the same time He wants to remind God to be just and fair. In the end he overcomes his terror and asks,
(Gen 18:24) 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?
We know Abraham does not stop there. Slowly, painfully, with humility and fear, Abraham descends by fives and tens. Will God destroy the city if the number of the righteous are five less than fifty? Will God destroy the city if the number of righteous are forty, thirty, twenty, ten?
In each asking Abraham does not dare to ask what he really wants to know. You see, the real issue in Abraham's prayer is not the fate of Sodom or the number of her righteous; no, the real issue is the character of God. Abraham wants to know if God will be just or unjust. Abraham wants to know if God will be fair in all His ways.
It seems to Abraham that the very foundation of his life is in danger of being destroyed. All his life he has known the LORD to be faithful and just. Now it appears that God is not so faithful and just after all. Could it be that God is but a blood-thirsty monster? Abraham can't believe that so he dares to petition God on the basis of His faithfulness and justice.
C Why does Abraham stop at ten? We just don't know. One thing, though, is certain: in listening to Abraham God shows Himself to be faithful and just.
(Gen 18:26-32) If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake ... If I find forty-five there I will not destroy it ... For the sake of forty, I will not do it ... I will not do it if I find thirty there ... For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it ... For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.
Upon hearing this Abraham is satisfied. He does not need to drop his figures any lower. Whether or not Sodom is consumed does not matter. What does matter is that in listening to him God again shows Himself to be faithful and just.
D Like Abraham there are times when we too have our questions and doubts. I think of when a loved one is taken or cancer is discovered or a great loss is suffered or a child goes wayward or troubles and trials threaten to swamp us. At such times we too can dare to approach God on the basis of His faithfulness and justice. At such times we too can dare to ask God, "Lord, how can You permit this? How can You allow this to happen?" And, like Abraham, we can come away knowing God is faithful and just and will never turn any away who call on Him in truth.
Topic: PrayerGod too hears the cries of His people. Whenever we call on Him, and from whatever situation, we can know that He is listening and that He answers. God listens because we are His friends and because He is faithful and just.
An article in the Reader's Digest reminded me of the truth that God is quick to hear and answer when we call upon Him in our need. It was about "enhanced 911," an important addition to the emergency telephone call program. Where this system is in operation, a person who dials 911 doesn't have to tell the operator his location. His name, address, and phone number appears immediately on an operator's screen.
"Enhanced 911" has been a dramatic success. For example, a 6-year-old boy called 911 to report that his house was on fire. Even while the operator was telling the frightened boy what to do, fire equipment was being sent. A terrified girl called to say that a man was trying to break into her home. Within 3 minutes an arrest was being made and the child was safe. And in another city, a girl whispered to a 911 operator that a man was hurting her mother, and then hung up. Police arrived in time to capture a rapist.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page