Pentecost 3c -- God's Names
Preached: June 13, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Last week we heard how God Almighty, El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדַּי), confirmed his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17. He would be the father of many nations from which the Savior for the world would come. For his wife Sarah would have a son. Nothing is impossible for El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדַּי). Shortly after that, three visitors came to Abraham's tent. They looked like common travelers, but one was the Lord, Yahweh (יהוה), and the other two were angels. Abraham invited them for a meal. The Lord again promised that Sarah would certainly have a son. Now as the three begin to leave, we pick up the text.
The men got up from there and looked over toward Sodom. Abraham was going with them to send them [on their way]. The Lord said, “Shall I keep hidden from Abraham what I am doing? Abraham will certainly become a great and mighty nation. All the nations of the earth will be blessed in him. For I have chosen him in order that he may command his sons and daughters after him that they keep the way of the Lord acting righteously and justly, so that the Lord may bring on Abraham what he has promised him.”
The Lord said, “How great the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah! How exceedingly heavy their sin! I will go down and see whether all that they're doing matches this outcry that has come to me. If not, I will know.”
Then the men turned away from there and went to Sodom. Abraham was still standing before the Lord. He drew near and said, “Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous in the city. Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing as this, killing the righteous with the wicked so that the righteous are treated the same as the wicked. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth act justly?”
The Lord said, “If in Sodom I find fifty righteous people in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sakes.”
Abraham replied, “Behold now, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord (אדני), but I am dust and ashes. Perhaps the fifty righteous lack five people. Will you destroy the whole city for a lack of five?”
“I will not destroy it, if there are forty-five there.”
Yet again he spoke to him, “Perhaps forty are found there.”
“I will not destroy it for the sake of forty.”
“May the Lord (אדני) not be angry but let me speak. Perhaps thirty are found there.”
“I will not do it, if I find thirty there.”
“Behold now, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord (אדני). Perhaps, twenty are found there.”
“I will not destroy it for the sake of twenty.”
“May the Lord (אדני) not be angry but let me speak yet once more. Perhaps ten are found there.”
“I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.”
Then Lord went away when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. (Genesis 18:16-33)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
The job market has been bad for many months. Unemployment has hovered around ten percent. One bit of advice experts give to job hunters is: Be persistent. We've told our twenty year old daughter the same. Be persistent. Keep on applying for jobs. After my wife's brother was laid off, it took him over eight hundred job applications before he was hired again. Persistence -- and not only persistence in filling out applications, but also in following up. Let them know you're eager to work for them. Keep asking whether the position's been filled. Keep at it. Persist.
Abraham persisted as he pleaded with the Lord in prayer. What does Abraham's example teach us? How are we to call on the One who is the Lord, Adonai, (אֲדֹנָי)?
Let's begin understanding this name, Adonai (אֲדֹנָי), meaning Lord, by going back to the Middle Ages. Picture a medieval manor. Peasants worked the surrounding fields. Craftsmen lived in the village. The manor house, maybe with a moat and watchtower, dominated the landscape. There the lord of the manor lived. He ruled over the surrounding land and people. They were his subjects, his vassals. He was to keep them safe, guarding and protecting them, administrating justice, keeping the peace. They brought their petitions to him.
But a medieval lord ruled only a limited territory. Other lords were his equal. Often he was subject to a king. How much greater the Lord, Adonai (אֲדֹנָי), with whom Abraham pleaded! Abraham addresses him as “the Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25 NIV). He rules over all in heaven above and on earth below. Nothing is beyond his jurisdiction. Everything is under his justice. No one is his equal. No king is above him. For he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Adonai (אֲדֹנָי)!
He even rules over the wicked and rebellious. He had every right and authority to go down to Sodom and Gomorrah and mete out his justice. For all belongs to him. He is Adonai (אֲדֹנָי), the Lord of all.
What was Abraham in comparison to Him? “I am nothing but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27 NIV), he confesses. His body grows old and returns to dust. Even a man's greatest accomplishments are scattered like specks of dust on the winds of time. Abraham knew that even his best deeds could not endure the holy fire of God's justice. They were but worthless ashes.
So note this well, dear friends: In no way was Abraham's persistence based on any so-called self-worth. He didn't figure, “I should keep asking because I deserve an answer.” There's no room for pride when we plead with Adonai (אֲדֹנָי). We come as humble servants, unworthy servants -- nothing but dust and ashes.
But why then? Why bother? Why did Abraham persist if he was so unworthy? He persisted because the Lord, Adonai (אֲדֹנָי), is just. Abraham trusted the Lord to do the right thing. So he kept on pleading. He pleaded with humble persistence, for the Lord, Adonai (אֲדֹנָי), rules over all with justice. “Will you really sweep [Sodom] away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 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?” (Genesis 18:24, 25 NIV).
Dear friends, reflect on your prayers. Do they sound like Abraham's, pleading for the Lord to do what is right for others? Rather than vibrating with our own selfish wants, do we pray in tune with what the Lord wants? Do our desires reverberate in sync with his? Humble your will under his, so that what you want matches his will. Fill your heart with his Word, so that your thoughts echo his. His Word brings us into tune with his will
All this leads to god-pleasing persistence in our prayers. We persist,for we are convinced that his way is right and true. We trust that he rules over all with justice, and his Word has filled us with love for that justice. So keep on pleading, dear friends. Plead with the Lord, Adonai, (אֲדֹנָי). Plead with humble persistence.
However, maybe this talk of the Lord's justice causes your heart to tremble. How dare I even come into his presence, much less plead persistently? I'm nothing but dust and ashes. Even the best I do doesn't meet his righteous standards. His justice will condemn me. His justice will send me to the fire and brimstone of hell. How could there have been fifty righteous people in Sodom, or even ten? There's not even ten righteous on the face of the whole earth. In fact, no one is righteous -- certainly not me. Isn't that what the Scriptures say? “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12 NIV). Dust and ashes -- all of us!
How true! But there is One who was righteous, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Picture again the medieval manor we talked about earlier. No doubt many lords of the manor were more concerned about their own comfort and safety rather than about their people. But a good lord would defend his people. He would fight for them against marauders, raiders, bandits. He might even bleed and die for them on the battle field.
How much more so the Lord Jesus Christ! Through the Apostle John the Holy Spirit teaches us: “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1, 2 NIV).
Abraham knew that his own personal righteousness could not stand up before the Lord. He was but dust and ashes, just like you and me. But he believed that the Savior's righteousness was freely credited to him. He believed that the Savior would pay for his sins. Only believers in Jesus are righteous, for the righteousness of Jesus counts for them.
That is your faith as well, dear friend. The Lord Jesus Christ sacrificed himself on the battle field of the cross for you. He paid for the sins of the whole world, John tells us. That must include you, since it's the whole world. He credits you with his righteousness, for he is the Righteous One. Keep believing this promise. For this promise brings us the boldness to plead persistently, not boldness built on our worth, but a boldness built on Jesus' righteousness.
Now that Hebrew word Adonai, (אֲדֹנָי), not only can be translated Lord, but it can also mean my Lord. How wonderfully that ties in with what we are saying here!
Although Jesus is truly Lord over all, only his believers can rightly call him, “My Lord.” In the end all unbelievers and demons to their unending horror will be forced to acknowledge Jesus' lordship, as they all lie in hell shattered by his iron scepter. But that forced acknowledgement is not faith calling out “My Lord.”
But you, dear friend, you cry out to Jesus, calling him, “My Lord.” Why? Because you belong to him. You are his blood-bought people. He has ransomed you to be his very own. That's why Martin Luther taught us to confess in the explanation to the Second Article, “I believe that Jesus Christ . . . is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.” Jesus is your Lord, Adonai, (אֲדֹנָי).
Abraham pleaded with the Lord with humble persistence. In faith he knew God as his Lord, who would surely save him through the blood and righteousness of the Savior to come. With that same faith in the Savior who has come and redeemed you, you call out Adonai, (אֲדֹנָי), my Lord! Pray with that same humble persistence as Abraham did. For you know your Lord who has bleed and died for you. Pray with humble persistence, for he is risen and rules over all with justice. Pray with humble persistence, for he has redeemed you, as his own people. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.