As I walked into the coffee shop, I thought I had wandered into a painting. Vibrant blues, and greens, and yellows, and oranges were displayed all over the store. Tie-dye shirts on every employee, banners strewn overhead. Why the celebration? Before I had time to ask, I saw the back of one of the rainbow-colored shirts: “PRIDE.”
The rainbow, the sign of God’s covenant to Noah, promising never again to drown the world of sinful men with a flood, the drawn bow pointed up at the heavens, now used as a mascot for sexual deviance. Though our nation champions Sodom’s sins, we have not learned from Sodom’s censure (2 Peter 2:6). We receive advertisements for sins that bar millions from the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9–10), as we order our morning coffee.
Of course, homosexual sin is just one of the many abominations to which our nation lends colorful support. Heterosexual sins of fornication, adultery, and pornography saturate our television shows, movies, and the magazines lining our checkout lines. Half-naked women whisper from billboards driving to work. Shower scenes come unbidden in commercials and pop-up ads. The indoctrination of transgenderism confuses and abuses many children.
While our societies are flooded with proud corruption, Christians sometimes wonder what can be done.
We need to confront the darkness surrounding us, but along with cultural engagement — above cultural engagement even — stands the need for us to define and cultivate the purity of the church. In this we can learn a hidden secret from the intercession of Abraham for Sodom and Gomorrah: Fire fell on Sodom not only because of the thousands of brazenly wicked people, but because there were not even ten righteous among them.
When God Counts to Ten
The story is well-known in the church. God discloses his decision to destroy the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to Abraham because God plans to make him into a mighty nation that would bless other nations. He would command his household and the next generation to walk in righteousness and justice — a righteousness these two wicked cities had not known (Genesis 18:18–19).
After hearing of the judgment that would fall upon Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham asks the Lord,
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? (Genesis 18:23–24)
God agrees not to destroy the cities if there were fifty.
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? (Genesis 18:27–28)
“Revival of a nation, should God be pleased to grant it, begins in the church.”
God agrees not to destroy the cities if there were 45.
With reverence, Abraham moves from 45 to 40 to 30 to 20 to just 10. God receives the mediation: “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (Genesis 18:32). He was willing to spare an entire, unholy city from destruction for the sake of just ten people.
Spared for the Sake of One
But ten were not found.
And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace. (Genesis 19:27–28)
Abraham climbs the mount expectantly. Had God spared the city? He looked and saw it ablaze.
Indeed, we know of only one definitively: Lot, the nephew for whom Abraham had pled. Had Lot perished in the fire of the wicked? Had Abraham’s intercession been for nothing?
No, Genesis tells us in great detail how God saved Lot. Angels went to the city and commanded him to flee with those of his house. And even when he lingered, they physically grabbed him and his family by the hand and “brought him out” for “the compassion of the Lord was upon him” (Genesis 19:16 NASB). His story is a lasting example, reminding us that even while unholy cities go down in flames and sin, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Peter 2:9).
For Lot’s sake, a small town was also spared. Zoar (i.e. “little”) is the place where Lot is permitted to flee for refuge from God’s wrath. Abraham’s intercession had not failed; the righteous was not swept away with the wicked, as the text makes clear:
So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. (Genesis 19:29)
Cities fell for lack of ten who followed the Lord, but the righteous man was spared, along with his little town, because of the intercession of a faithful mediator.
Where God Begins
Revival of a nation, should God be pleased to grant it, begins in the church.
As we take thoughts captive to obey Christ, we must not forget to obey him ourselves. How easy it becomes to hate other men’s sins more than our own; a nation’s drift more than the church’s. For the past two thousand years, it has been the “time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). And if God sees fit to begin at the household of God, so should we. Is this not the focus of all our New Testament letters?
Our gaze should turn first within, on the vitality of Christ’s church, and this can and will be a blessing for a nation. Our God has, in history, spared nations — or at least Zoars — for the sake of his righteous few.
What Might God Do Now?
Isn’t it amazing that God orchestrates his world, including the rise and fall of nations, with such a consideration for his people?
The Christian church, even when abused or ignored, is the backbone of any land. God rules the world in consideration of their good (even when their “good” includes refining fires of persecution, 1 Peter 1:6–7). His curses and blessings, his ways and his mysterious acts of providence, all serve his own glory and the eternal benefit of his people — neither impeding the other.
“What might a praying, loving, waiting, expecting church do in a nation like ours?”
Yet we can feel so small, so insignificant, so powerless. Perhaps we believe ourselves a dutiful afterthought of a God busily lording the world. We can look at the celebrities, the wealthy, the elite, and think that they hold all the influence.
But while great men in expensive suits make great speeches about important decisions, the Monarch of mankind bends his ear to little children. He who holds the hearts of kings in his hand (Proverbs 21:1) considers how all decisions will affect them.
Should we not rightfully believe that the command center of this world, the place where real influence is wrought, is in the secret place of faithful Christian living? Even evil Queen Mary knew this when she confessed, “I fear John Knox’s prayers more than all the assembled armies of Europe.”
If God spared the lives of many for a few, if the heroic efforts of individual men, through faith, “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:33–34) — what might a praying, loving, waiting, expecting church do in a nation like ours?