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Sep 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 18, 2011

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart Luke 18:1 (read vv. 1-14)

INTRO: When I was first starting out in the ministry and trying to teach others how to pray,

I would make statements, like, “Prayer does not need to be fancy,” and “You don’t have to say anything holy, just talk to God
– that statement is deceptively simple
– how do we know if we are talking to God or to the air? or to ourselves?

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus brings us back to prayer again and again
– that is because prayer is more than “praying” (saying words or “just talking”)

Prayer is a comprehensive term that includes every interaction that takes place between us and God

Prayer is the point where our relationship with God is actualized
– we could define Christian spirituality as our ongoing life of prayer — our life in God
– in it we are constantly growing, learning, deepening, discovering, developing, and so on

Chapter 17 ended with Jesus talking about the “last days” and he stressed three points:

  1. the time leading up to the end would be hard for his disciples
  2. when the end comes, it will be sudden, taking many by surprise
  3. his followers need to prepare themselves for it (and the radically changed conditions it will create)

So now, to help them prepare themselves, in two parables he gives them two more pieces of the prayer puzzle

Jesus uses the same structure to develop each parable:

  • both begin with an explanation of Jesus’ goal or purpose
  • in both, the goal or purpose has two parts
  • both resolve with the words, “I tell you,” which relate to the stated goal or purpose
  • both involve two characters – and the distinctive contrasts between them
  • both end with a final statement – in the first, it is a complication and in the second, an explanation

Verses 1-8, Jesus reveals a truth to boost our motivation

I want you to hear this as personally as possible: Jesus does not want you to ever give up praying and he does not want you to lose heart

The obvious implication is there’s a real danger that  we could lose heart
– Jesus knows that the situation he’s left us in is difficult
– so he wants to give us all the help he can
– we’ll have all we need if we can get to the essence of prayer

The whole chapter is placed in an envelope
– it ends with a real-life example of where it begins regarding losing heart
– a blind man, who cried out to Jesus was “sternly” told to be quiet
– but instead of losing heart and shutting his mouth, “he kept crying out all the more”
– and he got what he wanted

The characters in the parable:

“There was a judge” – Jesus describes his character

The Lord did not hold out much hope for justice – neither for his disciples or himself
– it was not likely they would find it locally or at higher levels of government
– this could be the result of corruption in the courtroom, misuse of the legal system, or a general persecution in which it was considered criminal to be a follower of Jesus
– Jesus did not get justice — at his trial or on the cross

“There was a widow” – Jesus describes her activity

In scripture, widows are always on the list of the weakest members of society

Helmut Thielicke, “A widow is a woman who has lost the protection of a man and therefore may often be victimized. For most people are pitiless and cold enough to be impressed only by someone who has power behind him and can defend himself. A widow is often a negligible quantity, a non-entity that can be brushed aside.”

The judge had the power to just say the word to grant this widow justice
– but because she was powerless, he could also ignore her
– there wasn’t anything she could do that would harm him

Of course, she could have given up and pined away the remainder of her life in despair, playing the victim card
– but then the word would never be spoken, the verdict would never be handed down, and she would have never escape the life in which she was unjustly trapped
– so she did the one thing she could – she resisted giving up, she persisted, she was on the courthouse steps every day that court was in session
– that’s the point of the parable — Jesus wants us to persist in our spiritual journey

Jesus is not recommending her aggressiveness
– before the judge, she was “saying, ‘Give me legal protection,'”” whereas before God, his children “cry to Him” (v. 7)
– we do not pester God with our demands until he gives in
– if that were the case, it would merely be another way for us to exert our will and attempt to exercise control
– sadly, a lot of believers try to use prayer this way and when it doesn’t work, they give up
Will-power and control are normal human habits, but we need to develop new habits of the soul

A standard rule of many institutions and corporations is that employees must always communicate through the chain of authority
– you don’t go around or over the head of your supervisor
– of course, the purpose of this rule is to keep people under control – frequently backed up by the threat of termination
– whistle blowers have sometimes violated this rule and by doing so saved lives or protected people from fraud
– but there is usually a high price to pay for going around our outside the chain of command
Jesus is telling his followers, “If you want justice, go straight to the top and rest assured that God will come through”
– if we can predict the actions of a corrupt judge under certain pressures, how much more can we count on God, who is just, good and loving?

The last line of verse 7 is somewhat awkward in the Greek, as you can tell by comparing translations
– I am going to adopt the translation of the New Jerusalem Bible this time through:

Now, will not God see justice done to his elect if they keep calling to him day and night even though he still delays to help them?

– that “delay” is precisely what kills us, what causes us to lose heart
– the delay is the in-between-time that we wait for Jesus’ return

So in spite of the promise of God’s quick help, Jesus tacks a question on the end of the parable
– “the faith” is specifically the faith of the widow who did not give up

Another similar, real-life case was that o a Canaanite woman who came to Jesus
– at first the disciples tried to prevent her from coming to Jesus, but when she got through their barricade, Jesus ignored her, then refused to help her
– but she persisted and worked her way through his resistance

Jesus can be won over! – that is what he desires us to do
“O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” (Mt. 15:28)

Verses 9-14, Jesus reveals a truth to shape our attitude

In the folk culture of Jesus’ world, Pharisees were the good guys and tax collectors were the bad guys
– so what this Pharisee did that was wrong might not have been immediately obvious to Jesus’ audience

What if the Pharisee had been allowed to object and to defend himself? What could he say on his own behalf?

“I have good reason for everything I avoid and everything I do, and all of it comes straight from the Scriptures. My fasting is biblical (only I fast more often than what is required), my tithing is biblical (only I tithe on more than what is required), and the same with everything else. Doesn’t this count for anything? What about my sacrifices? My piety? My faithfulness to detail?”

Jesus does not criticize the Pharisee for any of these things
– he doesn’t find the fatal flaw in any of the items he listed in his prayer

We have to return to introduction to see where he went off the tracks
– the parable was for “. . . some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous”
– it’s not that he did these things, but that he put his trust in doing them
– he trusted in himself and that made him unrighteous before God, who counts faith as righteousness (Ro. 4)
– it’s also what made him look down on others and hold them in contempt
– so even though he stands in the temple and gives thanks, it is not thanks for what God has done, but for his own achievements

Christianity goes wrong when it builds barriers rather than bridges
– when it divides the world into “us” and “them”
For the Pharisee, people were either as devout as he was or else he lumped them all into one big category that included swindlers, the unjust, adulterers, thieves, and so on

The Pharisee represents exactly the kind of Christian that the world likes to catch in sin
– the Christian for whom everything is black and white, who constantly judges others, who wants to force their religion on everyone else
– and when the sin of this sort of Christian is made public, the world cries, “They’re all phonies! They think they’re better than everyone else, but look at them. They’re as bad as the rest of us”
– people of the world love it when self-righteous believers mess up, because then it is their turn to take the high ground
– they say, “At least I’m not a hypocrite!”
– and the moment they make that statement, they become the Pharisee

The tax collector found the right road that leads to the heart of God
– both men presented themselves to God as they perceived themselves
– the tax collector is the very picture of humility and surrender

But notice, the tax collector did not get justice . . . he got justified
– he did not ask for justice and did not want justice – he asked for mercy, and that’s what he got

CONC: A few weeks ago I introduced you to a Russian pastor and his family who spent several days with Barb and I

During one of our conversations, he mentioned that he knew God had made him an evangelist
– he said, “I see all people the same, only they’re saved or not. Do you see them that way?”

I told him, “I think it’s right for you to see people that way, because you look at them through the eyes of one who is to lead them to God. But, no, I don’t see people that way. How can I really tell who God is saving and who he is not?”

Here is how I see us: We are all broken people in need of mercy

The wonder of prayer is that in it anyone at any time can instantly find mercy

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