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ABRAHAM THE INTERCESSOR
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Based on Gen. 18:16-33
What comes down from the heavens has a big effect on the values of real estate. Take what happened in Stillwater in 1852 for example. Jacob Fisher, who was a surveyor, had found a small stream called Brown's Creek in back of the town. He dammed it up and made a lake, and he ran the water down the hill to power a saw mill. John McKusick bought the whole operation and had a great business. But then came May of 1852. It had been raining for many days and people were just sick of it. It would not stop, and the soil on the bluffs over looking the town could not absorb anymore. On May 14 the people heard a rumbling and a roar as a great chuck of the hill came crashing down. It covered trees and buildings. It buried barns and shops and everything along the water front.
Fortunately the hill came down where the land was low, boggy, and worthless. John McKusick would have sold it for a $1.25 and acre. Now he felt he was ruined, for his mill was covered along with the 5 acres that the avalanche buried. For several days he lamented the disaster of almost 20 feet of mud that entombed his mill. But when it dried up he found that he owned 5 acres of new land by the rivers edge. It was excellent land for business purposes. The land slide converted his swamp into usable land, and he began selling it for five hundred dollars an acre. Much of the present business area of Stillwater is now located on this land that was created by rain from heaven.
The flip side of this is Sodom and Gomorrah where the heavens rained down burning sulfur, and real estate values fell to zero. The land became so totally worthless that it became the symbol of God's worst judgment for the rest of history. To be like Sodom and Gomorrah was to be hell bound. They were so completely devastated that to this day nobody knows for sure where this real estate is. What the heavens rain down can do wondrous things to the real estate of this world, and to the people who live on that real estate. That is why any influence we can have on the God who controls what falls from the sky can make a big difference in this world.
Abraham was just such a man, for he could move the God who moved the forces of nature. Abraham was the great intercessor of the Bible. This prayer of his for Sodom is the first intercessory prayer of the Bible, and it is one of the most remarkable prayers in all the Bible. An intercessor is one who pleads with God on behalf of others. Much prayer is seeking God's gifts and guidance for your own life, but the intercessor seeks them for the life of others. In the case we are looking at the others are people who deserve judgment. They are so godless they would laugh Abraham to scorn if they knew he was pleading for them. But we still see Abraham pleading on their behalf, and we can learn some important truths about interceding from Abraham. The first is-
I. THE INTERCESSOR IMPRESSES GOD.
It is impressive to see just how impressed God was with the fact that Abraham cared enough about these godless people to plead for them. God is very impressed with people who care about other people enough to pray for them. There are many people in the world who never get a chance to experience the mercy of God and get a second chance. It is because there is no person who intercedes on their behalf. The Bible reveals that if nobody cares about people who are going to be judged, they are judged. But if someone cares enough to intercede for them, God is impressed with that love and compassion, and He will be open to compromise.
This sounds like heresy doesn't it? God compromising! Yet, that is precisely what we see God doing because of Abraham's intercession. Abraham is bargaining with God. He starts with the plea that if there are 50 righteous people in Sodom that God spare the city for those 50. God agrees that this is fair enough. Abraham is immediately aware that he may have been too optimistic. Sodom was a hell hole and how could he expect there to be 50 people unspotted by such corruption? He became a rapid realist and knew he had to convinced God to come down from this original agreement.
Abraham is very clever and he uses the argument of triviality to get God to lower the number required to spare the city. "What is 5 people less than 50? Certainly you would not condemn the city for the lack of a mere 5 people. So what if there are only 45 righteous-will you spare it for that many?" God agrees and Abraham keeps on lowering the number until he gets to 10. He was too optimistic even at that level, but honors this man of intercession, for God is willing to compromise where he sees true concern.
God makes it clear that where there is no concern, and where there is no intercessor, it makes a big difference in His actions. Listen to these words of God in Ezek. 22:30-31. "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fierce anger..." God could not find an intercessor. There was no Abraham who cared enough to plead for mercy for these sinners, and the result is that God's judgment fell on them. Had there been an intercessor there could have been a compromise and a second chance given.
Is God really that impressed with the intercessor? Yes He is, and that is why the ministry of intercession is one of the most important there is, for it moves God to compromise and make deals for the sparing of those who deserve judgment. Some Christians think it is really being a spiritual giant to take a strong stand and never make concessions. If the law has been broken, then let the violator be judged with the maximum penalty. God, on the other hand, is looking for a way to show mercy. If He can find someone who cares enough to intercede for the guilty, He will be open for a deal. Abraham said, "Shall not the God of all the earth do right?" That is precisely the way God is. He will always do the right thing, and the right thing is to find a way to beat evil and overcome it. When God has to judge and let His wrath fall, then evil has won a victory. God is ever looking a way to prevent that. He has no pleasure in judgment and the death of the wicked.
The sending of His Son to die for the sins of the world gives every sinner in history a second chance to escape judgment and be saved. Jesus ever lives to intercede for us that we might again and again escape the judgment we deserve, and instead experience the marvelous mercy of God. It is true that the Old Testament is full of the wrath of God, and at times you wonder if God delights in it because of its frequency. But the fact is, God hates judgement and loves mercy. That is why He is so impressed with the intercessor. The intercessor gives God the basis for mercy. It gives Him a just reason to hold back His wrath and patiently wait to see if judgment can be avoided. God can never care less than any other person, and so if there is an intercessor, God will listen.
The ministry of intercession makes such an impression on God that it is one of the primary forces of history. That is why Paul wrote in I Tim. 2:1-4, "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." God wants intercessors because He is pleased with those who care, and they play a major role in who is spared and saved. In the light of importance of the intercessor it is tragic to think that there are people who have no one who cares enough about them to intercede for them. There are people everyday who suffer the judgment of God because they had no intercessor.
They deserve their judgment just as Sodom did, but they might have been spared if someone had cared. God is willing to make a deal. He is flexible and not locked in like a computer to destroy on command at a certain point. The program can be altered by the presence of an intercessor. God is willing to listen to any angle and try to save rather than judge. Even when the cup of wickedness is running over God is willing to seek some way of escape. This side of God is a side we need to see, for it motivates us to be intercessors. Who knows what may be accomplished if we care enough to pray? In a fallen world compromise is a necessity. Even God does not say it is all or nothing. Give me 10 righteous people and I will let the evil of the rest be spared. Just give me a fraction of hope that the future can be changed and I will tolerate the present evil. That is the compromise God is willing to make, and that is why it pays to plead with God.
I know this is suppose to be a negative thing to do, and it is one of the stages of death and dying when people with terminal diseases try to make a deal with God. It is the fox hole prayer that says, "God get me out of this alive and I'll go to church and tithe and be the best neighbor in town." I know there is a lot of nonsense committed with this concept of making deals with God, but lets not throw the baby out with the bath water. Abraham is not praying for his own hide. He is interceding on behalf of others. There is a lot of difference. It is okay and necessary to pray for yourself, and Christians need to do plenty of this, but in this area of prayer it is easy to get self-centered and operate on the childish level of gimme, gimme, gimme. This is not what we see in Abraham here. He is interceding for others. He is making a deal for the sake of others and not his own skin.
God is willing to compromise when He knows someone else cares enough to seek away to spare the wicked from judgment. Compromise has its evil side, but we ought not to neglect its positive side. Compromise says I will be willing to change my plan for another if there is hope that good can come of it. God was willing to spare a lot of wicked people who would go on being wicked if there was some sign that a hand full of righteous people could survive in that environment and have hope of changing it. God believes that where there is a few righteous there is a way to change things. Give Him 10 righteous people in a mass of the unrighteous and He will hold back judgment to see what the 10 can do to modify the evil. God is an optimist, and if there is a ghost of a chance of good making a difference, He will go for that chance.
That is why God is amazed when there is a lack of intercessors. When they can make all the difference in the world it does not make sense that they do not exist. Isa. 59:15-16 says, "The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intercede."" In a world where often the only hope is intercession God is appalled that there is no one who cares enough to intercede. But He is so impressed when He finds an intercessor, especially for the very wicked, as was the case in Sodom, that He is willing to bend to the limit to find a way for mercy.
In the light of this fact one of the greatest roles in the kingdom of God is the role of the intercessor. To be an Abraham type person is to care enough for a lost world to intercede for it, and possibly give a specific sinner in it to be saved from certain judgment. This is possible because the intercessor impresses God. Intercession leads to a lot of believe it or not stories. One of the greatest generals of World War II was Erwin Rommel. He almost took Africa for Hitler. He was right at the gates of Cairo and victory was in his grasp, but then the whole plan unraveled. In the book Rees Howells, Intercessor by Norman Grubb we are told that Rees had a group of people who were interceding for Africa at that very moment. They were praying that Rommel would be defeated. It seemed like a futile prayer for the battle was already lost. But God is impressed with intercessors, and when God is impressed strange things happen.
The British had just set up an 8 inch water line for fresh water. On that day they were testing it for 3 hours with salt water. Fresh water was too precious to use for testing. It was during that three hour period that the Germans attacked. They shot the line full of holes and began to gulp down the salt water because they did not realize what it was. In the hot desert sun of 120 in the shade they were immediately immobilized. With black tongues hanging out they gasped for air and life. They threw down their weapons and surrendered, and the Bible lands were saved.
The stronger was defeated by the weaker because of the power of the intercessor. Had the Germans attacked a couple of hours earlier or later they would have taken the land, but thanks to God's providence in history they were defeated by their timing.
Intercession does not manipulate God, but it does impress Him, and He responds to it. It is not a matter of certainty, however. Abraham saw Sodom go up in smoke in spite of the effectiveness of his intercession, and many who see miracles and wonders happen through intercession also see many unanswered prayers. There is no formula by which we can control God, but intercession is a means by which we can impress God and possibly get a hearing that can lead to His acting in our favor. Erwin Prange in A Time For Intercession tells of interceding for a pilot who had a broken ear drum and he was healed, but of 4 others he interceded for who were not healed. He prayed for one man who wanted to quit smoking and he became nauseous at the smell of tobacco right away and never smoked again. But many others had no such experience. The point is that intercession does not give you the power to control God and guarantee results. It is just the key means by which we get God's attention, and a possible answer that may never be if we do not intercede. The second thins we see is,
II. THE INTERCESSOR IMPACTS MAN
This does not seem to be supported by the facts, for Sodom and Gomorrah were utterly destroyed and wiped from the face of the earth. It would appear that all the interceding of Abraham was much ado about nothing. It was a much answered prayer that in the end was an unanswered prayer. He got God down to ten, but he just as well had left it at 50, for it was a hopeless cause he was pleading. This is the most successful prayer never answered, and you might ask, what is the point of it all when it didn't change anything?
But that is just the point, it did, and the prayer was actually fully answered to the extent that God could do so consistent with the facts. Abraham pleaded that the righteous not be destroyed with the wicked, and that prayer was fully answered. It was not a lot but Lot and his two daughters were saved, and it was a direct result of Abraham's intercession. In Gen. 19:29 we read, "So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, He remembered Abraham, and He brought Lot out of the catastrophe that over threw the cities where Lot had lived." God remembered Abraham. That is, He listened to his intercession and the result was that Lot and his girls were spared. Lot became the father of the Moabites, of whom Ruth was one, and she became the great grandmother of David, and she is in the genealogy that led to Jesus the Messiah. The whole future of God's plan of salvation was impacted by this prayer of intercession. It even touched those who were judged and destroyed, for it had an impact on history all the way to Jesus.
Jesus will be the ultimate judge of all men, and He says in Matt. 11:23-24, "And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." The compassion of Abraham for those wicked people lives on in the heart and mind of the Messiah, and in the end they will still be dealt with in mercy.
The point is that intercessors cannot ultimately fail. First of all they please God by being intercessors, and there is no higher success than that. It pleases God that you care, and even if God cannot spare those you intercede for because they will not cooperate and respond to His grace, it is still a successful ministry. God loved Abraham in a special way because he cared about people. He gave him the greatest promise in the Bible when He promised that through His seed He would bless all the people of the world. The whole plan of salvation is a fulfillment of this promise to Abraham. Every sinner on earth can be saved through Jesus who is the seed of Abraham. Abraham is in the center of the whole plan because he cared about lost people and was an intercessor.
To be an Abraham means that you become a person who cares about others and it will lead you to intercede on their behalf. It is to stand in the gap and link these people to the merciful heart of God. Caring might not change them, for it did not change the people of Sodom, and it did not change the people of Jerusalem that Jesus wept over. Intercession is not fool-proof, but it is always successful just because it pleases God and makes you more like Christ. The rich young ruler walked away and Jesus failed to win him, but Jesus wept because He never failed to care. That is the success of the intercessor. They never fail to care. They impress God and impact man in ways that may never be known in this life.
Abraham did his best and when the cities he pleaded for were wiped out he did not say, "That is the last time I waste my breath pleading with God." He just moved on to the next stage of life and made the best of it. He did not say that prayer does not work. He recognized the limitations of what can be done by prayer. God has limits too. He could not say, "Okay Abraham, just ask me to spare Sodom if there is one righteous man," for he knew Lot was there, and so the whole evil population could be spared for this one man. Many wonder why Abraham didn't keep going. He was on a role, and so why not go all the way to one? If God would spare it for 10, why is the lack of a mere 9 people the cause for their destruction? Just 9 more people could have spared them all.
There comes a point where that logic has to stop. If Lot had lived in Sodom all that time and had not won another person into the kingdom of God, then it was obvious there was no soil fit to receive the seed. It there had been 10, it would show signs of growth, and the possibility of that 10 becoming 20, or many more. Where God can see the seed planted and growing there is always hope. But where there is no growth it makes more sense to take the righteous out and destroy the wicked, and that is what God did.
This reveals the importance of growth. If Christians can just touch a few lives, it holds back the judgment of God. God will patiently wait as long as He sees any progress. That is why intercession is not enough. It is not God's will that all be like Abraham. There has to be people like Barnabas who befriended people and Andrew who won people, and Timothy who trained people in order to have total success. But the Abrahams are vital to the whole plan of God. May God help us all to improve in the area of the ministry of intercession.
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