Humble, Tenacious Faith
TENACIOUS, HUMBLE FAITH
Last week, we looked at the topic of Jesus’ return. If you recall, there are three things we talked about that Jesus’ return will be:
- Unpredictable – People will be going about their ordinary lives, everything will seem just as normal as can be. It’s not even like we’ll all be living in bunkers and trying to stay out of sight. There will be weddings, planting, selling, buying, building… Everyone living as if life will continue on into the future as it always has.
- Sudden – Like lightning flashing across the sky, it’ll happen that fast. So we have to do our preparation BEFORE it happens. You can’t add more salt or baking soda once the cookies are baked. You can’t take your chances and wait until Jesus returns to get things right with him.
- Universal – every person on the planet will see it and experience it. Wherever there is rejection of Jesus, there will be judgment; wherever there is someone willing to lose life on their own terms to gain life on God’s terms, there will be salvation.
And while his return is unpredictable, Jesus also told his disciples that the days will come when they just wish that he would return already. Get this show on the road, you know? Lord, please come back. There’s enough suffering. Enough war. Enough sadness. Lord, we just want to be with you. And as verse 22 points out, it won’t happen when you want it to.
But I actually wonder how many of us are just eager for Jesus’ return. I mean seriously. How many of us actually prayed that the Lord would return today? How many of us would be able to honestly say we are longing – not just that we like the idea of his return, but longing for Christ to return? Or have we all just sort of resigned ourselves to the fact that it’s been a while, it’s probably going to be a while more. We’ll all be dead before that happens.
That’s why we say things like, “at the rate we’re going, we’ll be here till Jesus returns.” What do we mean when we say that? We mean, we’re going to be here forever. Maybe we say that without much thought, but that’s a marker that we’ve sort of given up, isn’t it? It’s a bit of a marker that we’ve sort of lost any notion that he could return before I’m done with this sermon.
Jesus anticipates this. He knows how humans function. He knows our hearts, because he made them. He knows how we think, because he made the human mind – AND – he became one.
So in this text today, Jesus tells two short stories to encourage us to not give up looking for his return. Sometimes his stories are fairly cryptic, and it’s hard to figure out what they mean. But it’s really nice when Jesus gives us some clarity on the parables he’s telling.
Look at verse 1 of chapter 18:  Now he told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not give up.
It’d be like sitting in a movie theater, when the lights go down, the concession stand advertisement is done, then the movie starts. The opening credits say: In 1921, the Titanic was the world's largest ocean liner, and was designed to be unsinkable. In this movie, that ship hits an iceberg and sinks. Enjoy the film.
But if that were the case, you’d watch the whole movie looking for the iceberg, right? You know it’s coming at some point, so where is it?! It’s the same way with Jesus’ story here. We should read the following story knowing what to look for. We’re looking for where you will see the “iceberg” – praying always, and never giving up. So let’s take a look.
 "There was a judge in a certain town who didn't fear God or respect people.  And a widow in that town kept coming to him, saying, 'Give me justice against my adversary.'  "For a while he was unwilling, but later he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or respect people,  yet because this widow keeps pestering me, I will give her justice, so that she doesn't wear me out by her persistent coming.'"
We know what we’re looking for in this story because it was in the opening credits. We’re looking for “Pray always” and “don’t give up,” and in this story it’s pretty easy to find.
“She keeps pestering me; she’s wearing me out with her persistent coming.” And there it is: Pray always. Never give up. Then Jesus explains the parable in verse 6: Now look at what the unjust judge says. The judge admits he has no reason to help this woman, but her persistence has worn him down to where, though he cares nothing for her and is not motivated by a love for God, decides he’s going to give her what she wants anyway.
This is one of those parables called an “if/then,” or a “how much more” parable. If this or that is true, then how much more is this true? If it’s true that a judge with no regard for justice, doesn’t care about his reputation, doesn’t care if everyone hates him, will eventually cave to persistence, HOW MUCH MORE will your Heavenly Father who loves justice and mercy, who loves his own children, who loves to see his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven…eagerly not begrudgingly, give his children what they need?
Sometimes when Jesus tells parables, we know that his character of the Master or a King often points to the Heavenly Father, and the role of a servant or a son often points to humans. But in this case, the judge does not represent the Father because Jesus immediately describes him in verse 6 as unjust. He’s already said “He doesn’t fear God or care about people.” So, Jesus does not want us to view the judge as the God figure.
That is such good news, right? Because this judge isn’t God, it also means that we should never think that God views our prayers as pestering. God doesn’t view your persistent prayers as “wearing him out.” Prayer is not where we try to annoy God into answering us. That’s not how Jesus told the story.
 Will not God grant justice to his elect who cry out to him day and night? Will he delay helping them?  I tell you that he will swiftly grant them justice.
Look at verse 7: God is eager to help his children. Eager to bring people to salvation. Eager for wrongs to be made right. And if a judge who hates God and hates people and has no other reason for helping the widow than his own selfish comfort, HOW MUCH MORE will God hear our prayers for marriages to be restored; the lost to be saved; for healing and wisdom and forgiveness for sin; how much more will God hear our prayers for wrongs to be made right? But even more importantly: How much more does our Heavenly Father want to bring the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven?
God doesn’t shut the door until we’ve prayed 157 times and finally annoyed him into answering us – the door is unlocked by the suffering and death of Jesus! You don’t need a priest to pray for you. Sorry, not sorry, to our Catholic friends, but you don’t need Mary to pray for you. You don’t need me to pray for you. If you have met the risen Jesus and been brought from death to life, you have been purchased out of the kingdom of darkness by his blood, and you have been transferred into the kingdom of God. And Hebrews 4 says you now have access to the throne of grace, and you can confidently turn the knob on that door any time, night or day, and walk straight up to the throne and ask for help in your time of need.
And don’t give up just because it seems like God doesn’t answer (Green, 638). Don’t stop coming to the throne just because God’s definition of swift isn’t your definition of swift. Don’t give up just because your definition of slow isn’t the same as God’s definition of slow. One day soon, God will swiftly, in the blink of an eye, like a flash of lightning, reveal the kingdom in full and all those who have longed for his return will be gathered up to be with him; all tears will be wiped away, sin and sorrow and crying and pain will be done forever.
And then Jesus drops the bomb. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" Jesus is fully confident in his Father’s character to answer persistent prayers prayed in faith by his children. Where Jesus seems to be a little less confident is in his people to actually pray those prayers of persistent faith. He seems a lot less confident that we will keep praying and not give up when there is injustice or persecution, or it seems like the Lord just isn’t going to return any time soon.
One commentator puts it like this: “The problem is not with God…The problem is with us. When Christ returns, will there be anyone here who calls out in faith day and night? Will we become so lackadaisical in our faith that we allow…persistent prayer to become extinct? Will the second coming of Jesus find us [praying] that his kingdom will come? Or will it find us trapped on the housetop trying desperately to get back into the house to find the possessions that we rely on more than we do on God?” (Butler, 297).
I have a good friend who is a pastor in Illinois, and he’ll text me every 2-3 months and say their church is praying for River City this Sunday – do you have any requests we can pray for. And more often than not, I’ll text him back – pray that we don’t give up. Pray that we don’t stagnate. Pray that we stay the course, when things are tough and when things are good.
River City – Don’t get bored with prayer. It is one of the primary ways we stay watchful and ready for the Lord’s return.
 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: I doubt many of you just sat up straight and said, hang on, this one's for me. Shhh, Shh, I need to listen here.
 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: 'God, I thank you that I'm not like other people-greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.'
Now, on one hand this Pharisee’s prayer isn’t terrible. “Thank you that I haven’t lived a life of corruption.” That’s something to be thankful for. Some of you have a past you aren’t proud of – something Jesus saved you out of. Others of you don’t have a story like that because Jesus chose to save you from that life instead of out of it. But in either case, you needed the same intervention of grace from Jesus. That’s where this guy’s prayer goes off the rails. He is thanking God, but never talks about anything God has done! (Green, 647).
He first thanks God that he’s not like other sinners. This guy develops a hierarchy of sin, and of course he has everyone else’s sin higher on the list than his own. Greedy people – ugh. Unrighteous. Adulterers? I would never. I fast forward the bad parts of movies, I would never stoop so low as to look at porn or sleep with someone I’m not married to.
The people reading this in the first century would have thought Jesus was going to highlight this guy as the standard of how to pray correctly. They would have already been taking notes, and assuming that Jesus is going to berate the tax collector for being a traitor to the Jewish people, for padding his own pockets, and say yeah, that’s right, you just stay over there.
He’s convinced that he is righteous, that he is acceptable to God because of what he does, not because of what God has done. I fast more than I’m required to. I give way more than I’m required to. I don’t just tithe on my income – I tithe everything. And here’s where we have to be very careful. We have been trained, and for good reason, that when you see a Pharisee in scriptures, we know they are hypocrites. Jesus has called them out enough that we sort of assume that.
But Luke’s introduction in verse 9 opens the door for this to apply to any of us to have a condescending and superior attitude. Spiritual pride highlights the sins of others, but never your own. Spiritual pride shakes your head at what others do, and says “well, I’m not perfect, but I would never do that.” Spiritual pride is just as much a sin as having an affair - physical or virtual. It’s just as much a sin as everything the Pharisee mentions. But he is blind to it.
By contrast,  “… the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner!'  I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
The Pharisee’s prayer is basically, “thank you God that I don’t need forgiveness! Of all the ways my life could have gone (a life of greed, immorality, sexual baggage), I have chosen the better path, the high road, and you can tell by my self-sacrifice and generosity that I’m what Jesus is looking for when he returns. That’s the kind of faith he is looking for. Will he find faith on earth? Yep. Right here.”
By contrast, the tax collector who recognized his need for mercy didn’t say much more than exactly that. He stood way off to the side, hung his head, pounding his chest and praying, God have mercy on me, a sinner! Ah, I did it again. I will never live up to the standard of that Pharisee in there. I can’t even look people in the eye, much less look up to heaven. When you return, the only hope I have is that you are merciful to me.
And Jesus says, “THAT’S the kind of faith I’m looking for.” That’s the prayer that gets answered. The person who recognizes their need for mercy is the person who receives it. It’s not that one person is righteous and the other is a sinner – they are both sinners. One confessed it and the other didn’t.
Jesus calls it what it is: “The sinful tax collector was justified before God. He was [declared] righteous. He was [declared] clean. He was prepared for temple worship. His sins were forgiven. The Pharisee left the temple confident he had fulfilled his religious duty but still [carrying] his own guilt and sins. He had not prayed, because he never addressed [anything God had done]. He was not forgiven, since he never confessed his sins. He was not clean and qualified for worship, because he remained separated from God by his unconfessed sin” (Butler, 298).
At this same time,  People were bringing infants to [Jesus] so he might touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.  Jesus, however, invited them: "Let the little children come to me, and don't stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
Here’s how we can sum this all up. The kingdom belongs to those who come in humble dependence on Christ, no matter how old they are. No matter what your past was like. No matter what was done to you when you were a child. No matter how righteous you’ve been or not been. Jesus isn’t saying “one way to enter the kingdom of God is like a child.” He’s saying that’s the only way. Lay down your pretense, put aside your need to dominate and control, put aside your need to be approved or to have power or to be recognized, and put aside your credentials. “God wants children whom he can make into disciples, not power brokers whom he has to steer away from [other obligations]” (Butler, 298-99).
The door to the kingdom of heaven is open to anyone who is willing to recognize they can’t do this life on their own and they need a Savior. It’s really no more complicated than that. That’s actually part of what makes the news about Jesus so good. There really aren’t many hoops to jump through. All that’s required is a simple confident trust in our heavenly Father, recognizing that we are sinners and that our Father is good on his word that when we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us, and wash us clean from all of our previous attempts to be righteous on our own.
The reason he can say that he forgives us of our sins is because grace wasn’t cheap. It was costly. Jesus himself, the person telling this story, willingly left heaven to come to earth and be treated unfairly. When God, the righteous and just judge, saw human sin, it had to be dealt with. It couldn’t be swept under the rug or shrugged off. Either we carry the sentence of death ourselves because of our sin, or someone else steps in and takes it for us. Jesus stepped in and took our life sentence so that we could go free. He rose to life again to prove the cross worked, and after his ascension, anyone who puts their faith and trust in him alone also receives the gift of the Holy Spirit – which is our Helper and Friend as we live the Christian life. The Holy Spirit reminds us of God’s word, convicts us of sin, leads us to repentance daily, encourages us to not give up, strengthens us against the enemy, and even prays for us when we don’t know how to pray.
But the road that leads to that door is narrow. There are a lot of people who go on in self-righteous pride and never see it. If you are seeing it for the first time today, I encourage you to walk by faith. There are a lot of unanswered questions I’m sure, but in confidence and humility, admit your sin and step into faith in Christ.
I want to leave you with the opportunity to respond in prayer again… so as the band plays some music, take a minute or two to just spend with the Lord and allow him to speak to you:
- Search my heart, Holy Spirit. Call out any sin you find. Repent of it. Confidently bring it to the cross, and call it what it is.
- Pray for the Lord’s return. Ask for his help to stay the course and never give up.
Our Father in heaven, your name is holy. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Meet our daily needs Father, so that we can be part of your kingdom coming. Forgive us of our sins, Father, and help us to forgive the ones who have sinned against us. We ask for your protection against evil and temptation every day, so that we will be ready for your return. Yours is the kingdom the power and the glory forever.
Trent C. Butler, Luke, vol. 3, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000)
- C. Sproul, A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1999)
Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)