Sermon Audio: Bold Intercession

On October 10, 2010, I had the opportunity to preach at Gladstone Baptist Church in Gladstone, Ontario. Sunday’s message was preached from Genesis 18:16-33:

Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 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.” Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 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.”

So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 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? 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?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 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.” Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 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.” 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.” 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.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

The original sermon notes follow:

When was the last time you prayed for the lost? When was the last time you wept for those who do not know Christ?

When has the Holy Spirit so moved you in prayer that you’re just a mess, begging and pleading with God that He will act?

For me this doesn’t happen very often, to my shame. Mostly, if I had to be honest, it’s just because I’m lazy. I let the rest of life get in the way and fail to prioritize the importance and necessity of prayer in my life—especially praying for those who don’t know Christ.

But does it have to do with anything else? Is it just that I’m lazy in my spiritual disciplines… or is it also a question of trust?

Do I believe that God is faithful and trustworthy to keep his promises? To answer prayers?

That’s the question that really holds us all back, isn’t it?

We’re not sure if God really will answer our prayers if we ask, so we don’t.

We’re not sure that God will really save the person we care deeply about if we persist in prayer, so we don’t.

Last week we began a two-week study of Genesis 18, focusing specifically on the interactions between Abraham, Sarah and God and how these two interactions have very different results.

In their first interaction found in verses 1-15, Abraham receives three visitors—three men, who are not men at all. In fact, one of them is GOD.

Abraham invites them to rest and enjoy a meal and he prepares a great feast for his honored guests. After the meal has been eaten, the LORD tells Abraham and Sarah, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

Sarah heard and she—do you recall? She laughed. She didn’t believe. Not because she didn’t want to believe, but because she had no category in her theology for God working in any other way than through the natural course of life. She couldn’t comprehend a divine miracle.

But God confronted her over her sin and, indeed showed her mercy. And we learned that because God is faithful, we can trust Him to fulfill His purposes—especially when it seems impossible.

Then, Genesis 18:16 says, “Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way.”

This sets the scene for Abraham and God’s next encounter. And as we study today, I need you to get this one thing:

Because God is trustworthy and faithful to answer our prayers, we must pray boldly and confidently for those who are lost.

1. You must be a friend of God

The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 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.” Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 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.”

The first principle that we learn from this passage is:

If you are to approach God, you must be a friend of God.

Here the Lord asks the question, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him…”

Why does God ask this?

Is it because He’s truly deliberating, hemming and hawing about whether or not to reveal His plans to Abraham, His chosen instrument through whom He will bless the nations—ultimately by it being through his family that Jesus Christ came into the world?

By no means.

Abraham was chosen by God—and because God chose him, He has declared Abraham to be a friend of God says James 2:23.

Why does that matter? The answer to this question lies in John 15:15-16. There we read, we read:

You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you…

Does a servant know what His master is doing? No. He is expected to obey, no questions asked, says Jesus in John 15:15. “But I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

So God reveals His plans—because He has chosen Abraham. He has called him “friend.”

When God asks the question, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,” His reason for telling Him is established upon His sovereign choice.

He has chosen Abraham and called him “friend.”

And for all of us here who trust in Christ, He has chosen us. He has declared us to be His friends.

Have you ever had to lovingly confront someone, or share a hard truth with someone when you’re not really friends?

If you have, then you know it doesn’t go well.

A few years back, I saw an acquaintance of mine put a request online on behalf of someone that, while no doubt was done in an act of service, lacked wisdom. Now, this was someone who I’d been a part of a small group with for over a year, prayed with, studied the Bible with, so I thought it would be okay to talk to him about it.

It did not go well. An hour long phone call including such lines as, “you know, you put up stuff online that I have a problem with, but I don’t bother you about it,” and that friendship was pretty much done.

Now here’s the thing: I thought we were friends and a friend doesn’t let another friend do anything that would cause another to stumble. I thought we were peers, but apparently he felt otherwise—because as soon as he was challenged, he lashed out, rather than being willing to hear correction spoken in love.

So has God, today, revealed His plans to us?

Let me put it another way:

Do we know what God is going to do on the earth, right now?

Yes. The entire Bible is about what God has done, is doing and will do in creation.

He has revealed that although The Father through the Son by the Spirit created all things and declared them good, we sinned and ruined it all. But God pursued humanity, ultimately in the coming of the Son of God as the man Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life, to die a brutal death on our behalf and rising again to give us new life. And He has revealed that He is coming again—He is coming soon—to judge the living and the dead and usher in a new creation.

That’s what He’s doing!

And He has told us that He is doing it—why?

Because if He has chosen us, if we trust in Jesus and we obey Him, He has declared us to be His friends.

And that is the basis on which we can approach the Father.

If you are to approach God, you must be a friend of God.

2. You must know God’s character

The next thing we learn is that if you are to approach God, you must know His character.

So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 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? 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?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

This is astounding isn’t it?

Abraham says, “Will you indeed 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 just?”

Look at what he says in this bold appeal—as he begins to intercede for the people of Sodom & Gomorrah—“Far be that from you that the righteous be swept away along with the wicked,” he says. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

What is he basing this appeal on?

God’s character, and specifically God’s justness.

We learn two very important things about God in verses 21 through 26. God absolutely hates sin—and God is absolutely, perfectly just.

In verse 21, God says, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 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.”

It is because of the great sin of Sodom and Gomorrah that God is turning his direct attention to these cities that will feel the fury of His active wrath against sin. He, personally, is coming to administer justice.

This is something that many of us today have lost sight of—God’s hatred of sin. And in doing so, we have lost sight of His holiness.

We don’t have time to get into a full length discourse on the holiness of God, but if we look at Isaiah 6:1-3, we read the following:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

This is just an amazing picture—Isaiah gets this glimpse into heaven, seeing the Lord sitting upon a throne, and above him stood the seraphim, the angels. And they called to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory!”

They’re singing—what? They’re not singing about God’s love, or God’s mercy. The song they sing—the chief attribute of God, is that God is holy.

God hates sin because He is holy—He so is pure, spotless, perfect that he cannot even look at sin and not take action, according to Habakkuk 1:13.

Nor can God look upon a sinner without needing to take action.

Psalm 5:5 tells us that, “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.”

Psalm 11:5 likewise declares,” The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”

So when God says that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is very great, it means that He has come for only one purpose: To destroy it utterly.

And in doing so, He is perfectly just.

We have to remember that all sin—every thought, word or deed—is an act of rebellion against God. And the Judge of all the earth has declared that the “wages of sin is death.”

So when Abraham appeals to God, he says in verse 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?”

He asks, “If there are fifty righteous people in the city, will you spare it?”

It is to God’s justness—the same justness that requires the death of sinners—to which Abraham appeals.

Because God will not destroy the righteous along with the wicked. In fact, here’s what we see in verse 26:

And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

Not only does God say in this hypothetical scenario, that He will spare the righteous in the city, but He will spare everyone for their sake!

That is amazing, isn’t it? That God would be so generous as to extend mercy to the wicked along with the righteous.

So, let me ask you a question: How well do you know God’s character?

Let me give you an imperfect example:

If I told my wife that I love her blond hair, her sparkling blue eyes, and that, for her birthday, I’m taking her out for her favorite meal, mushroom risotto—would you think I love my wife?

Would you think that I know her?

You probably would because you’ve never met her.

But here’s the thing: My wife is a brunette. And she’s got dark brown eyes. And she hates mushrooms.

When we say we know a person but we don’t know anything about them, we don’t actually know them. How much more is that true of God?

Now I’m not saying that in order to pray, in order to approach God you have to know everything that can be known about God… but you have to know something about Him.

We have to know what He’s said about Himself, which we find all throughout the Bible.

So what do you know of God’s character?

Does it influence how you pray?

If you want to approach God, you must know God’s character.

3. You must approach boldly

Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 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.” Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 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.” 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.” 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.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

In these verses, as in the previous passage, we see Abraham speak to God, do you notice how bold he is?

It’s extraordinary!

And this is the next principle for us: If you are to approach God, you must approach boldly.

His approach does not lack subtlety—in verses 24-25, he asks outright, “Will you sweep away the righteous along with the wicked? If there are fifty righteous, will you not spare them?”

And God says, “If there are fifty, I will spare the whole city.”

Now, if you’re like me, you’d probably stop there. I mean, you don’t want to push your luck, right?

Apparently Abraham did not get that memo. Instead, in verse 28, he asks again, “Suppose five of those are lacking? Will you destroy the city because of those five?”

“No,” says God, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the forty-five there.”

Okay, so that worked. Now’s a good time to quit, right?

Wrong.

“Suppose forty are found there”

And again, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.”

Now is it time to stop pushing?

Abraham asks, “Suppose thirty are found there.”

And then twenty. And finally ten.

“Suppose ten are found there,” he says.

And God responds, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

Abraham didn’t seem to know when to quit.

You remember how in Luke 11, Jesus asks the question, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me some bread, I’ve just had another friend arrive from a long trip and I don’t have anything to eat’; and the friend will answer, ‘Go away; my kids are in bed, we’re trying to sleep and I really don’t want you to wake them up’?”

And Jesus says, “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

That’s what Abraham is doing here.

I’ll give you another practical example from my own life. I’ve got a three year old at home. Abigail is smart as a whip that girl is persistent.

Every night she wants to know what we’re going to do after supper. And most nights I tell her, “I hadn’t planned on doing anything; we’re going to stay home tonight.”

But sometimes I ask her what she’d like to do after supper. Now, usually she doesn’t want to do something awesome; it’s more like, “Daddy, can we go to Tim Horton’s?”

“Maybe we can go to Tim Horton’s? Mm, maaaaaybe… we can go to Tim Horton’s after supper, Daddy?”

That’s my girl. So sometimes we go and hang out at Tim Horton’s and she enjoys a Tim-bit. Other times, not so much.

But she gets this principle that when she’s asking for something from her dad who loves her that she can be persistent.

That’s what Abraham is modeling here for us in this passage. He’s seeking, he’s knocking and he’s finding the door opened to him.

Now this is my question for you—are you persisting in your prayers? When you pray for the lost, are you continuing to knock on the door?

Or do you give up?

If you are to approach God, you must approach boldly.

4. You must approach humbly

From this interaction between God and Abraham, we also learn another important principle: Boldness is not arrogance. If you are to approach God, you must approach humbly.

In verse 27, Abraham says, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” Then in verse 30, he says, “Oh, let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak.” And again, in verses 31 and 32, he makes these same comments.

“Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord… Let not the Lord be angry.”

Abraham understands well to whom he is speaking—his Creator. And he knows that there is a difference between being bold and being arrogant.

Over and over again, we see in the Scriptures just how much God hates pride. And that is where arrogance finds its home. Sometime, do a read through of Proverbs and notice how many times “haughty eyes,” “haughtiness” and pride in its various forms show up—it’ll give you a new appreciation for just how much God hates it.

I will give you one example. In Proverbs 6:16-19, we read, “There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him.” And what’s the first thing on the list: “haughty eyes.”

Pride, arrogance, haughtiness… these are an abomination to the Lord. He hates them with a passionate, holy rage.

And in the church, we too often get boldness and arrogance confused, and this, in turn is because we have a wrong understanding of humility. We tend to look at being humble as being almost weak; intentionally downplaying the abilities and gifts that God has given us so people won’t think we’re proud.

But that in itself is pride—being more concerned about appearing humble than actually being humble!

I have been accused of being proud and arrogant more times than I care to admit—and sometimes it’s absolutely warranted. The problem for me is that I am a fairly sharp guy—and I know it.

As you can imagine, this can land me in a lot of trouble.

But true humility comes from a growing understanding of who you are in relation to your Creator. And with that comes embracing who God has created you to be and rightly assessing & esteeming your gifts and abilities.

When we look at what Abraham says prior to every appeal, he knows who he is before his Creator. He knows that he is but dust and ashes. He is finite and God is infinite. And he acknowledges the ridiculousness of his boldness in the face of this.

But he doesn’t let it stop him from being bold. He doesn’t cower away. He doesn’t hide. He says, “God, I know who I am in relation to you. You are my Creator, I am your creation. You are my Master, I am your servant—and I am asking you to please do this thing.”

It takes true humility to intercede on behalf of others, even as it takes boldness. Pray boldly, pray fervently, but also pray humbly.

If you are to approach God, you approach humbly.

5. You must trust our Great Intercessor

So as we have looked at this text, we’ve seen that approaching God in prayer—in interceding for the lost and for God to act—requires us to be friends of God, to know His character, to approach Him with boldness and with humility. But there’s something else.

If you are to approach God, you must trust our Great Intercessor.

Genesis 18:16-33, reading how Abraham intercedes with God on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, should inspire us to pray for the lost—God will delay His wrath as long as there are righteous men and women among those who don’t believe. That’s why He has placed us in the world. To be witnesses to the gospel, to see others come to know Christ and trust Him. To see Jesus build His Church using the foolish things of this world.

But this picture of intercession should remind you of someone else—our Great Intercessor.

Right now, Jesus Christ—God the Son—is interceding for us before the Father. He is praying for us right now. He is praying for His people, bringing our needs to the Father who is sure to answer.

He is, as Scripture tells us, our intercessor.

Isn’t that amazing?

I think it’s incredible!

The other day, as I was studying in preparation for this message, I had one of those rare experiences where I was broken by the Holy Spirit. And the burden I felt was to pray for all of you here.

And I want to share with you my prayer for you. My prayer has been that every week at least one more person would join this church as the Bible is faithfully preached and the gospel is faithfully proclaimed from this pulpit.

Every single week.

Until you have so many people that you run out of seats in this room and then you run out again upstairs.

My prayer is that there would be a great legacy—a lasting legacy for this church that has been here for 162 years. And unless the Lord returns in that time, I want to see Gladstone Baptist carry on for another 162 years.

I want to see men and women come to meet their Savior here. I want to see babies born and grow up here. I want to see young people get married and have more babies.

Are you praying for this?

Will you pray for this?

Because God is trustworthy and faithful to answer our prayers, we must pray boldly and confidently for those who are lost.

At this time, we’re going to transition into communion, remembering the broken body and shed blood of Jesus, who in humility entered into human history, added to Himself human form and human nature, and lived a life of perfect obedience on our behalf and died in our place, for our sins.

In Hebrews 4:14-16 we’re told:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Although Christ in His incarnation was subject to every weakness we face and was tempted as we are, he did not sin. And because He did not sin—because He is interceding for us at the right hand of the Father, we can now “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace.”

Let us stand in that confidence today as we celebrate His death now and every day.