It is easier to call down fire from heaven on notorious sinners than love them enough to plead with the Lord for their salvation.
James and John knew what they wanted for the Samaritans who would not welcome Jesus: ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’
You know what Jesus made of that? He rebuked them sternly and reminded them that ‘the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them’ (Luke 9:54-56).
When God revealed to Abraham his purpose to destroy Sodom, Abraham’s response was not to say, ‘They’ve got it coming’, but to turn to prayer. First, he asked God, ‘Would you also destroy the righteous with the wicked?’ (Genesis 18:23).
Abraham’s point is not that ‘the righteous’ are innocent, but that they are saved people, believers who trust the Lord for their salvation. Would God destroy his own people just to mete out punishment to his enemies?
Then he argues the Lord down from a minimum of 50 believers to just ten, that is, the equivalent of what would in the future be one basic synagogue among the Jews.
Would God not spare Sodom for the sake of one tiny congregation of believers? ‘Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?’ The Lord agrees and goes on his way (vv. 24-33).
This surely challenges us to pray for lost people — for even the most outwardly wicked lost people. If we have a love for souls, as did Abraham, then we will surely desire to see people saved by the free grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the vital test of our own love for Jesus Christ, because saving grace for the notoriously wicked cuts against the grain of human nature and the natural desires we have for justice, and even sheer vengeance. Anyone can love his friends!
It also reminds us of the vital role of Christians in relation to whatever temporal blessings a community or nation may be enjoying. God no doubt spares many a ‘Sodom’ in our world for the sake of even handfuls of believers.
Why is there so much evidence of the goodness of God all over the globe, even in countries that are largely godless? The answer is that the Lord has many people across this world (Acts 18:10). It is for their sake that many of the Lord’s most determined enemies enjoy his common, temporal, conserving grace.
The irony is that the world that hates Christ and his church is routinely spared divine judgement, because of the church and its mission. From eternity, God planned to save sinners. He therefore spares sinners long enough to accomplish his goals for them.
This is our window of opportunity to pray that millions who languish in spiritual blindness and rebellion against ‘the Lord and his anointed’ might be brought by faith to ‘kiss the Son’, so that they will not ‘perish in his wrath’ (Psalm 2:2, 12).
The lost need to be loved by those who, by God’s amazing grace (to paraphrase John Newton), once were lost and now are found, were blind but now can see.
Let us then pray without ceasing for our world, that the Lord would bring glory to his name, even as he brings grace to the hearts of those who presently most vigorously reject him.