Persistency - Luke 18:1-8

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the morning service on 24th February 2008.

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One of the big lessons God was teaching me when I was speaking at the Nottingham CU mission week was that you never realise the full impact of what you are doing at the time.

It was a very exciting week. Many non-Christians  heard the gospel explained and had their questions answered. The CU were encouraged to share the good news of Jesus with their friends. About 35 volunteers lived on campus for a week. We saw lots inquisitive agnostics, a number of people signed up for Christianity Explored and folk became Christians during the week.

However, one of the big lessons God was teaching me through all this and so one of the big lessons I was trying to teach and model to the CU was that you never realise the full impact of what you are doing at the time.

Illustrated to me when someone told me of a student who had become a Christian since last year’s mission at Nottingham. Not on the week. Some time afterwards he was in the library and saw a student with a hoodie on it. It had a website printed on it. This student copied it down and found it on his computer. He listened to the sermons and as a result he become a committed follower of Jesus. He never spoke to a Christian or read the Bible.

How do I know this happened? He came to one of our lunchtime events, sat next to a Christian and started to tell his story.

Brilliant example of what I think is a life-changing principle. You never realise the full impact of what you are doing at the time.

May not even be in five years, ten years, fifty years. God may graciously show us some fruit for our labours but ultimately only eternity will reveal the full impact of our life for God.

What we do need to be confident of is that what we are doing has significance. We won’t see the full impact until later but right now we must be assured that what we are doing is significant in God’s plans.

We need to believe this in so many areas of our lives, don’t we?

•    The job we do.
•    The Christian life we present to others.
•    The prayers we pray.

So easy to give up praying. Many reasons. One of the big reasons is that what we say to God is completely insignificant and ineffectual.

That’s why I love what Jesus says in Luke 18. He assures us that our prayers are not mindless words spoken to an invisible heaven but they are significant words which do have an impact on the future.

I think Luke 18 is wrongly used to teach persistence in prayer. You might think that’s a bit of an odd thing to say given that the sermon is called ‘Persistency’, the heading at the top of chapter 18 says ‘The parable of the persistent widow’ and in verse 1 we read “Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”

Surely it’s obvious? Here is a simple story to teach Christians to keep on speaking to God when the temptation is to stay silent.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I do believe this is a simple story. I do believe it is a simple story designed to teach Christian to keep on praying when they feel like giving up. But rather than teaching us to keep on praying about anything I think Jesus is much more concerned about getting us to keep on praying for something which Christians are always in danger of forgetting. He wants us to persistently pray for his return to this earth.

Let me show you what I mean. Turn back a page with me in your bibles to Luke 17. Have a look at what we are told in verse 20.

Read and explain Luke 17:20-37.

And then look at what we are told in 18:1. “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”

This story is not a general illustration to motivate us to keep on praying for whatever is on our prayer list at home. I dare say that God does not want us to keep on praying for everything.

God always promises to hear our prayers but he does not always to answer with a yes. Sometimes he will say yes, sometimes he will say not yet and sometimes he will say no. And sometimes he will keep on saying no even if we keep on asking. Not because he is a reluctant deity but because he is a loving Father who wants us to thrive and become more godly.

I’m convinced this story cannot be used to justify repeated prayers whatever their content. It is a story to motivate us to keep on praying for the return of Jesus and to convince us that our prayers for this do have significance even though we will not see their full impact until eternity.

I think this is justified not simply from what we read in Luke 17 but also from the actual content of the story.

So look at what we are told in verse 2. Here’s the actual story. “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 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!’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’”

What’s the big theme of the parable? It’s all about justice. Jesus uses the story to encourage Christians to keep on praying for God’s vindication of their current persecution at the hands of a world that hates them. Because this will only take place when Jesus returns again, this story is a powerful motivation for Christians to keep on praying for Jesus to come back and put this world to rights.

To work out why God is very keen to do this we need to understand the parable very carefully.

An easy way to misunderstand this story is to say that God is like the dodgy judge and Christians are like the poor widow who had no one to fight her corner.

This story works by the way of contrast and not by the way of comparison.

So God is not like the unjust judge whose arm must be twisted into uncomfortable positions before he gives his people the justice they desire. His character is monumentally different from the judge describe din Jesus’ parable.

Could you imagine a worse person to be in charge of sentencing in a court of law? How would he get on if there was a programme called Judge Idol? He is described as someone who neither feared God and cared nothing about other people. And the only reason he finally granted the widow’s request was to get her off his back.

At first he categorically refused to have any dealings with her. She was not even a feature on his personal radar. No doubt her first letter would have been shredded immediately. But then the phone calls came, and the emails and the text message. He could not walk to the court house without bumping into her with her big placard demanding her personal justice. And now she stood outside his living room window so as he reclined on his leather corner sofa he stared straight into her tearful eyes.

All these activities did not move his heart of stone. He was not emotionally engaged in any way by her persistent requests for justice. However, he was now sick of the sight of her. Everywhere he went the woman appeared. Every time he picked up the phone he was dreading the familiar voice at the other end. Every time he hit the send and receive button he knew what would appear on his screen.
So eventually for sanity of mind he gave her what he wanted. He granted her the justice she was seeking so desperately.

The Bible is not saying God is like this. He is not a reluctant judge who cares nothing for the wellbeing of his personal followers.

This story is about contrast not about comparison.

Look at what Jesus says in verse 6. “And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 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? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

He is saying that if the widow got justice eventually from the world’s worst judge then how much more should the children of God expect their heavenly Father to bring them vindication in the end!

We should pray for this type of justice because God is a perfect judge.

Secondly, we should also pray for this type of justice because God is our loving heavenly Father.

The temptation is to say that Christians are like this widow. Live in this world as minority, oppressed on every side and there is no one looking out for us.
In some sense this is true. Being a Christian is never going to be the majority decision and Jesus warned his followers very clearly that life would be difficult.

Walking against the flow is never an easy thing to do.

However, it would be completely wrong to conclude that we have no one looking out for us.

Look again at what Jesus says in verse 7, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?”

Christians are special. We have been chosen by God. He has intervened in our lives to rescue us from the consequences of our stupidity. He sent his only Son to die for us and then sent his Holy Spirit to draw us to believe in Jesus.

So unlike the widow who was completely on her own we, as Christians, have a loving heavenly Father who has chosen us to spend eternity with him – so how much more will be make sure his children receive justice when he deems the time is right.

Preachers always have to be careful when preaching on topics like prayer. It’s so easy to make everyone else feel guilty.

I have been personally challenged as I’ve prepared to preach today. Not just about how often I pray and how persistently I pray but how often I pray for justice to be done in God’s world. I don’t mean general justice. I do want that. We all do when confronted by wicked acts.

I’m talking about the more particular justice required by the persecuted people of God when they suffer for no other reason than because they are the people of God.

Jesus speaks about justice being given to the chosen ones who cry out for it day and night? I read that and think this is not a very accurate description of my prayer life.

Why is this? I don’t really know what is happening to my brothers and sisters throughout the world.

I know what’s happening in the world a lot more than previous generations. I have daily newspapers, 24-hour news and broadband Internet access. They all tell me what is happening in the world.

It’s all selected. An editor has chosen what I will hear about. We can’t hear everything so there must be a filter on the information coming through.

Of course keep informed but my challenge is to also keep informed about what is happening to out brothers and sisters around the world.

Open Doors is a great organisation. Go across and get the magazine or log onto their website.

I think it is when we hear what our brothers and sisters are going through that our hearts will be moved and what we will seek is not simply a new job or a new relationship or a new opportunity to serve the Lord (as good as these things are) but we will cry out for God to bring justice to his persecuted people!

When will this be? Jesus makes it very clear that complete justice will only be carried out when he returns again.

Great lesson for us and teaches us to be patient. Get our expectations right. In this world we will see injustice of various kinds. The wicked do not always get their comeuppance in the end. They often thrive and enjoy life very nicely. Whereas many of God’s faithful people suffer terribly at the hands of others.

How are we to make sense of this? By getting our expectations right. God will bring justice. He will right the wrongs we experience but only when Jesus returns again.

What has all this to do with prayer?

We are being taught that our prayers effect when Jesus comes back. I don’t know all the details and I don’t know how God weaves all our desires for justice into his perfect plan but what I do know is that our prayers for the return of Jesus are not futile.

We won’t see their full impact until later but right now can be assured that our prayers for justice, our prayers for the return of Christ are significant.

Do you want Jesus to return quickly?

If you are not yet a follower of Jesus then I hope your answer would be no. If yes then you haven’t really understood what will happen when you see Jesus face to face.

In verse 8 he calls himself the Son of Man. A reference to a figure in the book of Daniel who has been given the authority to set up a Kingdom and judge those who refuse to surrender to his loving rule.

Do you want Jesus to return quickly? Good news is that God has still delayed his returned and you have the opportunity to turn to him for forgiveness.

This won’t always be the case. You can harden your heart. You may go to meet Jesus or he may come and meet you.

This is the time to surrender and stop being an enemy of Jesus.

As a Christian, do you want Jesus to return quickly?

A knee jerk reaction is to say yes, come Lord Jesus.

I thought about it and wondered if my answer was actually no. Life is going well. I’m getting married in just over three months. I’ve just bought a new house and…

How can I long for the return of Jesus without pretending that these other good things are not precious and important?

Trust God’s timing. He knows what he is doing. Enjoy the present gifts of God.

Yearn for a growing concern for the glory of God and the welfare of his people. We need to be shaken in the West from our present comfort. Yes enjoy the blessings of God but also yearn for the day when we will enjoy those blessings with all of God’s people in a purpose built universe.

And in the meantime let me encourage you to pray persistently for God’s kingdom to come.

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