Preached: October 24, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings us to pray to our heavenly Father in Jesus' name is Luke 18.
He told them a parable about how it's always necessary for them to keep praying and not grow weary: “There was a judge in a town who did not fear God or have regard for man. There was a widow in that town, and she kept coming to him saying, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' He wouldn't for a time. But after a while he said to himself, 'Even though I do not fear God and have no regard for man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that in the end she doesn't knock me out with her coming!'”
The Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. Now will not God certainly bring justice for his elect who call out to him day and night? Does he delay it for them? I tell you that he will bring justice for them quickly. But will the Son of Man find faith on the earth when he comes?”
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
Keep on praying. Don't give up. Pray persistently. Persevere in your prayers. Keep pounding at God's throne room. It's not hard for us to see the moral in Jesus' parable. The first verse of the text gives it away, doesn't it?
Maybe I could say, “Amen,” right here. Or, lest you think I was lazy this week, I could figure out a few more ways to say: Keep on praying, and then tell some inspiring stories -- true stories like Jacob wrestling all night with the Lord in prayer, as you heard in the First Lesson (Genesis 32:22-30). Church history also gives us examples, such as, Monica praying for the conversion of her son who was following the ways of the world. That son became Saint Augustine. And how many contemporary stories couldn't we find? Testimonials of people who prayed and prayed and the Lord finally answered. Or think of the fictional stories in movies like Facing the Giants or Fireproof. Persistence in prayer was an underlying theme.
But I owe you better than that today. For the platitude, “Just keep praying,” glosses over our real struggle and doesn't deeply ponder Jesus' words here.
“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” (Luke 18:7, 8 NIV). Quickly? Doesn't that word cause us to struggle? Maybe prayers are answered quickly in a two-hour movie, but in real life?
Sometimes God's answer is “Wait. Not yet.” I think then we can understand that persistence in prayer is good. It trains us to keep on trusting as we place our hope in the Lord. But what if his answer is “No”? There are certain prayers we stop praying and should not persist in.
How long do you pray for someone to fall in love with you? How long should an infertile couple pray to be able to conceive? What about prayers for better grades or a more enjoyable job or a nicer home or friendly neighbors or a winning season? What about that pain or illness that keeps getting worse? How long do we persist in asking the Lord to take it away? Or do we only ask that he give us the strength to bear up under it? Do we ask him to cure our loved one or take him home to heaven?
The platitude, “Just keep praying,” doesn't really address this struggle, does it? And even worse is the insinuated promise people often imply: “And if you're persistent enough, you'll get what you're praying for, at least if you're praying for something good.” We don't need platitudes, dear friends; we do need to think more deeply about Jesus' words here.
What was the widow's plea? “Grant me justice against my adversary” (Luke 18:3 NIV). Who is your adversary? The 6th grade bully, that uncooperative neighbor, that selfish coworker, that obnoxious employee, the hard-nosed boss? Sometimes those closest to us, our own dear family members, cause us the most adversity. Or maybe you don't think of a person as your adversary but rather the hardness of this life, the tragedies and disasters that strike, or your own struggles with unhappiness, failure, or despair. “I'm my own worst enemy!”
But this widow does not have many adversaries changing over time. Who is your adversary from the moment you were conceived until the day you die? His name is Satan. His very name means Adversary. He is the one who accuses you before God, pointing out your many, many sins. He is the one who uses the troubles of this life to work doubt in your heart. He is the one who entices you away with the promises and pleasures of this world. He is the one who attacks your faith with false teachings. He is the Adversary who rebelled against God and now fights against you, God's chosen people. All the other forces of evil: the devils and demons of the spiritual realm, the worldly forces openly hostile to Christ, the wolves in sheep's clothing who act like Christians and teach in churches but lead people to put some trust in their own efforts to be right with God, and even your inborn, sinful flesh -- all these are enemy allies working with your Adversary, Satan.
Do we realize how great an adversary he is? Does the emphasis of your prayer life reflect this truth? So often we know something in our heads but don't put it into practice. Never give up praying against Satan and his evil allies. He is not just an adversary. He is your adversary, dear Christian, out to get you. The encouragement, “Keep praying,” is not an empty platitude here, but vital. And here you have God's promise that he will answer. “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:8 NIV).
Satan hates those prayers. He'd much prefer for us to ignore and forget about him. For you see, if we focus our prayers on our earthly happiness alone, he can sneak in with his lies. For we don't always enjoy the happiness we want, do we? Don't get me wrong: God does want you to cast all your cares on him, the great and the small, the spiritual and the earthly. But, dear friends, don't let the earthly blind you toward your real adversary, Satan. “The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight; on earth is not his equal” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” 200:1). Keep praying for justice against your adversary, Satan.
In Ephesians 6 the Apostle Paul draws our attention against Satan as well: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground. . . . Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:12, 13, 17, 18 NIV). Keep praying for justice against your adversary, Satan.
But when will this justice come? Before and after this parable Jesus talks about his coming. On the Last Day, when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead, Satan will have no escape. Final justice will be carried out against him and all who followed him, even some whom we may have felt close to in this life. Satan and all who have not believed in Jesus trusting him alone as their divine Savior from sin will justly and rightly suffer endlessly in hell. God will not be mocked. Keep praying for justice against your Adversary. Jesus will answer.
And for you and me, Jesus may well answer long before the Last Day. Yes, our entire earthly life as a Christian is a struggle against Satan as you heard in Ephesians 6. But Jesus delivers you personally from your Adversary and gives you justice when he takes you home to heaven, dear Christian.
This is not the justice that's based on your works demanded by the law. You receive the justice that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. For the verdict God pronounced when he raised Jesus from the dead is your verdict through faith in him. In Jesus you are acquitted for he has paid for your crimes. Satan cannot accuse you, for Jesus is your Advocate. He pleads your case, saying, “My righteousness counts for him, for her. My blood covers all her sins, all his sins.” Justice declares you not guilty for Jesus' sake, no matter what your Adversary accuses you of. Say with Paul, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died -- more than that, who was raised to life -- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:33, 34 NIV). He is your Advocate.
That deliverance through death answers all our other worries and prayers as well, doesn't it? Do you live each day ready for the Lord to answer your prayers by taking you out of this world? Maybe we aren't so persistent in this prayer because we're not ready for that answer. For you see when death draws near, Satan will attack you the worst. It is his last chance at you. Are you preparing for that hour of dire battle, putting on the full armor of God every day and praying persistently for justice against your Adversary?
That pray you learned at such a young age at least kept us aware that death was coming: “And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” And with the cross of Christ before your eyes, trusting in his forgiveness alone, despairing of your own works, Satan's final, fiercest attack cannot and will not snatch you out of your Shepherd's hands.
So keep praying for justice against your adversary Satan, even as you keep praying in the Lord's prayer, “But deliver us from evil.” Pray with the confidence that knows God answers that pray for you once and for all when he grants you a blessed end and takes you from the world of sorrow, this vale of tears, to himself in heaven. He will answer quickly at just the right time, For “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).
Keep praying for justice against the Adversary. How slow we are to pray that prayer fully ready for his answer! So let's wrap it up today by taking to heart the encouragement Jesus gives you when he says, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones?” (Luke 18:7 NIV). Of course he will. For he is not an unjust judge, but the opposite. He is the One who is “just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26 NIV). For God presented Jesus “as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25 NIV). So you “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). What encouragement!
And what's more, you are not an insignificant widow. You are his chosen ones, his elect. From all eternity he chose you according to his gracious, good will. He sent his Son to redeem you through his blood. He brought you to faith through the water and word of Baptism to make known to you his purpose in Christ. He lavishes you with the richness of his grace in Word and Sacrament to keep you in that faith. For you are his chosen, his elect, his reborn sons and daughters. What encouragement! So keep praying for justice against your Adversary. Your heavenly Father will answer quickly. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.