Our world is wicked. In fact it is so wicked that it deserves complete annihilation, does it not? It deserves the penalty of hell forever. There is not reason why God should not come down from heaven and burn up the world right this very minute. So why doesn’t God do that? It is because God is a just God, and through Jesus Christ, there are righteous people on this world. Do you realize that if there were no Christians on this earth, God would completely destroy this world and everyone in it? The other reason that God does not immediately destroy this world is that there are people praying for the world. Jesus Himself is an intercessor for the world. He Himself is a high priest, praying to the Father that all the elect will come to salvation before the judgment happens, and that all the righteous people will escape the punishment that will come upon the unbeliever. Well, that is exactly the same situation that we have here in our text this morning.
Abraham is the friend of God. He has just finished eating with God Himself in the form of Jesus Christ before the Incarnation. That is, Christ is in a pre-incarnate form. First we see that the three men are going to go down to Sodom. This was their intention. When it says that they looked down, we can see that they were looking down from some high vantage point, from which they could easily see the lowly Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah were located on the edge of the Dead Sea, which, as we should all know, is below sea level, and is indeed the lowest point of land in the world.
Verse 17 has much to teach us. We see here that God treats Abraham like a friend. Friends don’t hide things from their friends. That is why God is not going to hide from Abraham what He is about to do. It is as if Abraham has a right to know. What condescension on God’s part! It is as if God is taking Abraham back to the Garden of Eden, in full communion with God Himself. Truly, Abraham is being highly favored here.
What does it mean to be the friend of God? Well, to be the friend of God is to stand by him against all God’s enemies, to resent with a holy indignation all insults and injuries offered to him, and to approve of His purposes of wrath as well as of his plans and promises of love. A true friend is someone whom you know so well that you know how that person will respond. God certainly knows how Abraham is going to respond to this revelation. In fact, the question that God asks here is out loud, and is for Abraham’s benefit. God wants Abraham to intercede on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. Why? Because God wants Abraham to know that God is completely fair and just. There will be no destruction of the innocent with the guilty. God is too good at taking care of His children to let that happen. But Abraham doesn’t necessarily know that for certain. God also wants to use Abraham’s prayer in order to accomplish His purposes. God’s purpose is to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, while rescuing Lot.
Are you the friend of God? Understand that there is no way to be the friend of God, except by trusting in Jesus. Without Jesus, you are not God’s friend, but His enemy. There is enmity between you and God. Jesus is the One, Who is the Friend of sinners. There is no one else by whose name you can be saved, in heaven or on earth.
When you become the friend of God, certain things change. God, you see, has revealed His plan to us through His Word. God tells things to His friends. And He has done that. We know what God’s plan is for the world. God will save the elect. God will destroy the world through fire in the final judgment. That judgment, in fact, will be a great deal like the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. God wants us to intercede on behalf of the world. It is a little different now. Now, we don’t say merely that the world should be saved from destruction just because there are Christians in the world. That is only a small part of what we pray for now. Now, we pray for the salvation of the people in the world. Now, there is a way of increasing the number of Christians in the world. That way is through the Gospel preached. God is just, and the justifier of sinners, as Paul says in Romans. One of the ways that God does this is to use the prayers of the saints. You see then, that God is just, and that God uses our prayers. That is what we are to see from the text.
In verse 20, we see further the justice of God. God will not allow Himself to judge anyone based what someone else says. God instead will pay very careful attention to all the circumstances. God will wait until all the facts are in. God is just.
I wonder sometimes whether we are as just as God. If you see someone doing something that you think is wrong, do you stop and wait and see if it is all true? Do you go to that person and ask them about their motives, or do you assume that what you think about that person is true? Do you listen to what someone says about someone else, or do you base your opinion of that person on direct evidence?
Notice here at the end of verse 21 that God leaves the door open for Abraham to intercede. In fact, God invites Abraham to do so, by saying, “And if not, I will know.”
What happens next is somewhat similar to what happens at Near Eastern bazaars. It is a bargaining of sorts. What is the upshot of the rest of the passage? The upshot is that God knows how to deliver the righteous ones from destruction, even while destroying the ungodly. You see, it is a loving, just God that we serve. God is not capricious or arbitrary. God does not make snap decisions. Indeed, God made all His decision in eternity before the creation of the world. Now, this passage does not say that God was ignorant of what was really going on in Sodom and Gomorrah. God knows all things. What God says here is for Abraham’s benefit. Abraham may not know that God knows all things, and is perfectly just. So, God proves to Abraham that He is just. Indeed, we could say that the issue in these verses is the very character of God Himself.
The first question that Abraham asks is the most important: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” That is the key question. The question is, “Is God just?” Surely, it is not just to punish the righteous with the wicked. As Abraham says, “Far be it from 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 the all the earth do right?”
God proves that He is righteous by granting that what Abraham says is just. It was never God’s intention to destroy the righteous along with the wicked, as the next chapter makes very clear to us: God saves Lot and his two daughters from the destruction. But here, God is testing Abraham, to see if Abraham will be a good mediator. Abraham is a good mediator. Notice that Abraham is always polite. Never does he intrude into the secret counsel of God, trying to find out who is saved and who is not. That is not Abraham’s business. He knows who he is in relationship to God. He knows that he is but dust and ashes. That is why Abraham approaches with such humility. He knows that it is only by God’s grace that Abraham can even talk to God. Remember that Abraham is here talking to a person who is standing right in front of him.
So we live in front of the face of God? Do we live as if god was right there in front of us, observing everything that we do, say, and think? Do we live our lives “coram Deo?” That phrase means, “before the face of God.”
But notice that long with Abraham’s humility is also a sense of boldness. God is a just God. God has said before that he will not destroy the wicked if there are righteous people who will be destroyed along with the wicked. We saw that with the story of Noah. Indeed, the story of Noah and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah are very much alike. They both involve a complete destruction, while the righteous person is delivered. Abraham knew this story, and thus he knew that god is just. God had promised never to destroy the world in that way again. So, Abraham is not asking God to do anything that is out of accord with who God is. That is what gives Abraham this sense of boldness.
Oftentimes, we ask things that God will not give us, since it is not His character to give it to us. We ask for happiness in this life, when God means for us to be happy in the next world. We ask for things that we would make into an idol. Those things God will not give His children. We sometimes even ask God for the opportunity to sin. What? How do we do that? Well, we ask God not to judge our sin just yet, not to cleanse us of our sin just yet. Augustine said it best when he confessed that he had often told God, “Lord, make me holy, but not just yet.” That is the way to destruction, since we do not know when God will rain down fire and brimstone in His judgment of the world. It is coming, and it is impossible to avoid.
But we can have the boldness to ask God for what God has already promised to give to us. God is thoroughly reliable. After all, God promised in the OT to send a Savior. We have seen that already in Genesis, and that theme runs throughout the entire OT. And God did it. He sent His Son to bear on His own shoulders the fire and brimstone that should have been ours. Indeed, Jesus took on Himself the judgment that came on Sodom and Gomorrah. Because of that fact, we can trust that God will also give us everything else that is conducive to godliness.
There is another way that we can see Christ here. Abraham keeps on reducing the number from fifty all the way down to ten. What Abraham is asking is that God will save the remnant. God saves Lot. That means that God will always save a remnant for Himself. God will save the remnant because Jesus was the faithful remnant who kept the law perfectly, and was the very opposite of what Sodom and Gomorrah had become. And so we can see that Abraham was heard because of Jesus Christ, the faithful remnant. Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Jesus Christ. Indeed, he was talking with Jesus Christ all the way through this incident.
And so, the righteousness through which Abraham would see God is that righteousness of Jesus Christ. There is no other righteousness by which we can be saved than the righteousness of Christ. It is by grace alone that we can be saved. And on that basis, on the basis of the righteousness of Christ, we can come to the throne of grace and intercede for those around us.
Why did Abraham stop at ten? Why not go all the way down to one? Scholars have asked this question many times, and there have been many answers given to it. I believe the correct answer is that Abraham realized that God would not destroy the righteous with the guilty. Abraham, of course, was thinking primarily about Lot in this whole episode. There is Lot, Lot’s wife, Lot’s daughters, and Lot’s two sons-in-law. That makes a total of six people. Abraham figured out by now that God would save the righteous people. God would bring them out of that land of sin and death. And that is exactly what God did. In chapter 19:29, we see this written: “So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.” We could almost add to that: “God remembered Abraham and Abraham’s intercession. This is answered prayer.
Do you ever think that your prayers are forgotten by God? I think that we sometimes think that we pray to God, and then, because we can’t see God, those prayers go into some kind of void. We think that they are lost forever. God may hear them once, okay, maybe we believe that. But do we believe that God treasures up those prayers? There is not one single prayer that we utter that is in accord with God’s Word, there is not one of those prayers that God will forget. God remembers our prayers, and God uses our prayers to accomplish His purposes.
So then, we can ask this question: for what do we pray? Well, as we mentioned earlier, our world is just like Sodom and Gomorrah. And from this passage we learn that had there been even ten righteous people in those cities, the two cities would have been spared. So we ask for righteous people in this world. It is right to ask that God will make people righteous on the basis of what Christ has done. It is right to ask that God should spare the world for the sake of the Gospel. We want as many people to come to Christ as possible. And we know that if Sodom and Gomorrah would have been saved, then there is hope for anyone. It does not matter what their previous sins have been. Christ’s blood is more powerful than sin. It washes away sin. It is more powerful than fire and brimstone.
So will you trust in that powerful blood? The alternative becomes clear as we look at the next passage. Fire and brimstone are the only alternatives to Christ’s blood cleansing us from sin. 2 Peter 2:4ff. Say this: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.” These are the alternatives: to believe in Christ, and thus be God’s friend, and be able to talk to God in prayer, interceding for the world, and seeing Christ in the Scriptures, and seeing God’s justice poured out on unbelief, while remaining immune to the judgment itself, or, by scoffing at God, by not believing in God, by ridiculing God’s people and the day of Christ’s return, participate in the same kind of destruction that Sodom ad Gomorrah underwent. The choice is before us. Choose now, while there is yet time.