Sermon title:  PERSIST IN HUMBLE PRAYER

Luke 18:1-14  

 Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, June 9, 2019

 

 

 

 

Psalm 65:2 calls our God the “hearer of prayer” or

“the one who hears prayer.”

 

He encourages us to come to him in prayer,

and he has filled the Bible

with examples of how to pray.

 

We think first of the Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father.

 

At Luke 11:1 the disciples asked,

“Lord, teach us to pray”

and Jesus responded by giving them the Lord’s Prayer,

which reads like this

in the King James Version at Matthew 6:9,

 

Our Father which art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

 

10 Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

 

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

 

12 And forgive us our debts,

as we forgive our debtors.

 

13 And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil:

 

For thine is the kingdom, and the power,

and the glory, for ever. Amen.

 

The Lord also gave us many other examples

of prayers people said

throughout the Old and New Testaments.

 

God heard the prayers

of men and women

who prayed out loud, or prayed silently—

who bowed down, or looked up to the heavens.

 

But he also gave us examples of how not to pray.

 

Under King Ahab and Queen Jezebel,

the people of Israel worshiped and prayed to

the false god Baal.

 

1 Kings 18:28 tells us that the prophets of Baal

shouted their prayers and

cut themselves with knives and swords

until the blood gushed out.”

 

That reminds us of how the Shiite Muslims of modern Iraq

on their annual Ashura holiday

use knives or swords

to cut their foreheads

until the blood flows

onto their white shirts

during public religious processions.

 

That’s certainly not how God wants us to get his attention.

 

And he certainly doesn’t want us

to pray to false gods.

 

So, the Bible gives us lessons

on how to pray, and how not to pray.

 

And some of those lessons are found

in Jesus’ parables.

 

When our Lord Jesus

illustrates a point through a parable

it’s usually a story

to show us what something or someone is like.

 

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.”

(Matthew 13:31)

 

"The kingdom of heaven

is like treasure hidden in a field.” (Matthew 13:44)

 

Our heavenly Father

is like a shepherd with a lost sheep

who leavesninety-nine on the hills

and go[es] to look for the one that wandered off.”

  (Matthew 18:12)

 

So, then,

why does Jesus use the Parable of the Unjust Judge,

beginning at Luke 18:1,

to tell us what God is like?

 

Jesus certainly isn’t telling us

that our heavenly Father is “unjust,” is he?

 

Let’s look at the parable

to see why Christ would use an unjust judge

to illustrate what God is like.

 

Luke begins by telling us

the purpose of Jesus’ illustrative story:

 

1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable

to show them

that they should always pray

and not give up.

 

So, Luke tells us, right up front,

before relating the parable itself,

what the lesson of the parable will be.

 

That’s unusual, too,

because, with most of the illustrative stories Jesus told,

he concludes by telling us

the lesson we should learn from the story,

or the disciples ask him afterwards

what the point was,

or we’re left to figure it out for ourselves.

 

But here Luke tells us, right up front,

that Jesus told the disciples this story

 

“to show them

that they should always pray

and not give up.”

 

So, as we read it,

we’ll be looking for that lesson.

 

Our Lord starts the parable

by introducing the judge.

 

2 He said: "In a certain town there was a judge

who neither feared God nor cared about men.

 

So, this judge was not a nice guy.

 

Somehow, though,

Jesus is going to use this nasty judge

to teach us something about God.

 

But the story is also called “the Parable of the Persistent Widow.”

 

She’s introduced in the next verse:

 

3 And there was a widow in that town

who kept coming to him with the plea,

 

'Grant me justice against my adversary.'

 

So, we have this nasty, unjust judge

who couldn’t care less

about anybody,

and we have this widow

who keeps coming to him

asking for justice in her legal case.

 

It’s almost like an irresistible force

coming up against an immovable object.

 

Who is going to give up—the widow, or the judge?

 

Jesus tells us it is the judge:

 

4 "For some time he refused.

 

But finally he said to himself,

 

'Even though I don't fear God or care about men,

5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me,

I will see that she gets justice,

so that she won't eventually wear me out

with her coming!'"

 

The unjust judge caves in

and finally grants the persistent widow her request.

 

Jesus tells us that,

if even an uncaring judge like that

would grant a request

due to the petitioner’s persistence,

how much more will our loving God

answer our persistent prayers!

 

6 And the Lord said,

 

"Listen to what the unjust judge says.

 

7 And will not God bring about justice

for his chosen ones,

who cry out to him day and night?

 

Will he keep putting them off?

 

8 I tell you,

he will see that they get justice,

and quickly.

 

If even an unjust, uncaring judge

would finally grant a request due to persistence,

how much more will our loving heavenly Father

who invites us to come to him in prayer!

 

So, the lesson for us

is that we should “always pray

and not give up.”

 

God will grant

our earnest and persistent requests,

because he loves us

and always wants the best for us.

 

We should

always pray

and not give up.”

 

Such persistent prayer demonstrates

our trust in God

and our faith that he cares for us.

 

But, then, Jesus went on to say,

 

“However, when the Son of Man comes,

will he find faith on the earth?"

 

When Christ comes again,

how many will he find

still praying, “Thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven?”

 

How many will still be looking to Christ for salvation?

 

How many will have turned away

to self-help programs?

 

To Hindu-Buddhist Yoga and New Age meditation?

 

To the belief that aliens from outer space

will come down in flying saucers to save us?

 

To mind-dulling drugs and alcohol?

 

How many will still be looking to the God of the Bible?

 

How many will still be praying in Jesus’ name

and trusting in him for salvation?

 

How many Bible-teaching churches will remain?

 

Our Lord doesn’t tell us.

 

But he asks this question

to challenge us

to faith and action:

 

“when the Son of Man comes,

will he find faith on the earth?"

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Now, the 2nd parable in this morning’s Responsive Reading,

beginning at Luke 18:9,

teaches us another lesson.

 

And, again, the Gospel writer Luke

begins by giving us a hint

of what that lesson will be.

 

He says,

 

9 To some

who were confident of their own righteousness

and looked down on everybody else,

Jesus told this parable:

 

10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray,

one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

 

If anyone was ever

confident of their own righteousness

and looked down on everybody else,”

it was the Pharisees.

 

They were the strictest sect of the Jews.

 

They made up their own interpretations of God’s laws—

actually man-made laws of their own—

and looked down on others

who did not follow their teachings.

 

They would especially look down on a tax collector,

who collected taxes for the Roman Empire,

the foreign power that occupied

the land of Israel at that time.

 

11 The Pharisee stood up

and prayed about himself:

 

'God, I thank you

that I am not like other men—

 

robbers, evildoers, adulterers—

or even like this tax collector.

 

12 I fast twice a week

and give a tenth of all I get.'

 

He had a pretty high opinion of himself—

seeing himself as better than other men,

and especially better

than the tax collector

who had also come to the Temple to pray.

 

13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance.

 

He would not even look up to heaven,

but beat his breast and said,

 

'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

 

Quite a contrast from the arrogant and boastful Pharisee!

 

Jesus then commented,

 

14 "I tell you

that this man,

rather than the other,

went home justified before God.

 

For everyone who exalts himself

will be humbled,

and he who humbles himself

will be exalted."

 

When each of us received the Gospel message

and recognized ourselves as sinners

in need of salvation,

we were like that tax collector.

 

We humbly asked God to forgive our sins—

not on the basis of our own record of good works,

but because Christ died for us on the cross.

 

We humbly recognized

that we would never be good enough

to save ourselves through our own goodness,

but, rather, we depend on Christ to pay for our sins.

 

So, we come to God like that tax collector in the parable.

 

We say, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

---------------------------------------

 

And we also ask Jesus to be our Lord—

not just our Savior,

but also our Lord and Master.

 

We commit ourselves to follow Christ,

and to obey him.

 

He then uses the power of the Holy Spirit

to turn our lives around—

to turn us away from a life of sin

and to teach us to walk each day in his ways.

In fact,

if someone tells us

that they said the Sinner’s Prayer and got saved,

but they’re still living a life of sin

we have to question

whether they really got saved at all.

 

In Romans, Chapter 10, beginning with Verse 9,

Paul writes,

9 If you declare with your mouth,  

“Jesus is Lord,”

and believe in your heart

that God raised him from the dead,

you will be saved.

 

10 For it is with your heart

that you believe and are justified,

and it is with your mouth

that you profess your faith and are saved.

 

11 As Scripture says,

“Anyone who believes in him

will never be put to shame.”

 

So, it is not just a matter of repeating

the words of the Sinner’s Prayer.

 

I know of cases

where people repeated those words

without really meaning it at all,

and without believing in their hearts.

 

They really made no commitment

to follow Jesus as their Lord and Master,

and their lives never changed.

 

When we really do

come to a saving knowledge

of our Lord Jesus,

our lives begin to show

the fruits of God’s Spirit.

 

In the 5th Chapter of his letter to the Galatians,

the Apostle Paul discussed this evidence

of a real conversion.

 

Beginning at Galatians 5:9,

he listed, first, the acts of the flesh

that mark people of this world

and then contrasted them

with the fruit of God’s Spirit

that identifies real Christians.

 

He said,

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious:

 

sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery;

20 idolatry and sorcery;

hatred, discord, jealousy, and rage;

rivalries, divisions, factions, 21 and envy;

drunkenness, carousing, and the like.

 

I warn you, as I did before,

that those who practice such things

will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 

22 But the fruit of the Spirit

is love, joy, peace,

patience, kindness, goodness,

faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.

 

Against such things there is no law.

 

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus

have crucified the flesh

with its passions and desires.

 

25 Since we live by the Spirit,

let us walk in step with the Spirit.

 

26 Let us not become conceited,

provoking and envying one another.

 

So, Paul concludes by saying,

 

26 Let us not become conceited,

provoking and envying one another.

 

When we become real Christians

and begin to look more and more like Jesus

in the way that we speak and act,

we should not let this make us conceited.

 

We don’t want to become arrogant and boastful,

like that Pharisee

who even boasted in prayer, saying,

 

'God, I thank you

that I am not like other men—

robbers, evildoers, adulterers—

or even like this tax collector.”

 

He went on to list his good works,

and to boast of those, too.

 

We should be glad

that God has cleaned up our lives,

but we should give the credit to God—

not take the credit ourselves.

 

It’s his Holy Spirit,

working in us,

that empowers us to break free

from enslavement to sin.

 

And it’s his Holy Spirit,

working in us,

that enables us to do powerful works in Jesus’ name.

 

The Pharisees no longer exist today,

but there are Christian sects

that become much like the Pharisees,

with man-made rules

and with a superior attitude.

 

Some of these groups

like to stand out as different

with their white shirts and neckties,

their women wearing long ankle-length skirts & dresses,

and a superior attitude—

looking down on other people,

who don’t follow their self-imposed rules.

 

And those groups, too, just like the Pharisees

are rebuked by Jesus’ parable.

-----------------------------

 

So, our Lord Jesus gave us plenty of instruction on prayer:

examples,

parables,

and specific instructions.

 

And, now, it’s up to us

to be humble

and to “always pray and not give up.” (Luke 18:1)