The Christian in Prayer
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are many things in our society, in the world, including our very own lives that can cause us to become discouraged.
In our society and world, we are living under the threat of wars and rumors of wars, while political unrest seems to be at an all time high. In our lives we live with illness and disease, and even death. We go to the Doctor who prescribes medication to fight cancer, but it makes us feel lousy most of the time. Then loved ones don’t remember their own children or grandchildren, and are in need constant care. And, of course, no matter how hard we try to avoid it, the enemy of death comes knocking.
Our prayer lists are long, and the names and situations within are like a continual flood that never seems to go away. Situations don’t seem to get any better, and its no wonder that we become discouraged, and maybe even give up.
Our Lord Jesus, however, urges us to always pray and not give up! And this isn’t the first time Scripture exhorts us to “pray without ceasing” 1 Thess 5:17. The Law and Gospel that we hear in today’s readings assure us that,
RATHER THAN BEING DISCOURAGED,
WE CAN PRAY PERSISTENTLY, CONFIDENTLY, WHILE CLINGING TO THE PROMISE.
Anxiety concerning current events and the end can lead to discouragement (vv 1–3).
This parable addresses a specific question and a specific concern about the end of time.
The question, posed by some Pharisees: “When will the kingdom of God come?” (Luke 17:20).
The concern Jesus shares with his disciples is that “you will long to see one of hte days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.” Luke 17:22
Jesus said He is coming again, and His kingdom will finally be revealed, but it has not happened yet; and life here only seems to be getting worse, despite our prayers. This is one cause of temptation to “lose heart”, or become “discouraged.”
“Signs” of the coming end continue: “wars and rumors of wars,” nation rising against nation, “famines and earthquakes and hurricanes” (Mt 24:6–7).
We know about plenty of each of those! The invasion of Russia into Ukraine continues. The threat of a nuclear war is being bantered around. Raging fires out-west and hurricanes in the south-east occur with regularity.
In such traumas we continue to pray as we’ve been taught, “Thy kingdom come”—yet, apparently, to no avail.
Injustices in our world and society, crime on the rise, and the justice system seems to be more and more dysfunctional as we continue to wait for Christ to come, to usher in the new heaven and new earth; all this can further tempt us to become discouraged so that we stop praying.
The widow cries “Give me justice!” (Luke 18:3), as do we. We are Christians and I live a decent moral life, yet bad things continue to happen. Our adversary, the devil, is constantly prowling around looking for those whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; cancer and covid. And of course the ultimate injustice is death. These things hang around us continually, and we constantly pray for mercy. Yet, it seems long in coming. Psalm 77:8-9
Psalm 77:8–9 (ESV)
Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
Non-Christian may even mock us at what appear to be our ineffectual prayers; "Prayer doesn’t solve anything.”
Mockery may even give way to persecution.
Nevertheless, our Lord Jesus urges us to pray persistently without ceasing, and not lose heart. Luke 18:1. Not only are we to pray persistently, we can also pray confidently because of God’s promise to answer with justice.
The widow in Jesus’ parable understood this well.
She knows injustice—she experienced it even from the very person whose vocation is to dispense justice.
A conscienceless judge
In an Israelite court, the judge was to represent God.
But this judge does not fear God or care about people (v 2).
And he resents being bothered continually by the widow (v 4).
Yet she kept coming to the judge (Luke 18:4-5). She “keeps bothering” him until he feels beaten down by her “continual coming.”
In traditional society in the Middle East women are generally powerless in a man’s world. Interestingly enough, however, they are at the same time respected and honored. Men can be mistreated in public, but not women. Women can scream at a public figure and nothing will happen to them.
The widow knew the judge would ultimately give her justice; how much more will God, whose reputation is one of mercy and compassion, vindicate his elect. Therefore, we can pray confidently:
Illustration: Charles Spurgeon said of Luther, “Luther’s faith abounded in prayer. Those who heard him pray tell of his tears and wrestlings. He would go into his closet, remain there for an hour or two, and then come out singing, ‘I have conquered. I have conquered.’ One day he said, ‘I have so much to do today that I cannot get through it with less than three hours of prayer.’ This is the faith that lays hold of God and prevails with him in private supplications. ‘The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective’ (James 5:16).”
As Christians, we, too, understand this principle. Jesus asks rhetorically, “Will not God give justice to his elect? . . . Will he delay long?” (Luke 18:7). And he gives his own clear answer: “I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily” Luke 18:8.
Indeed, we are taught to pray that we ask for precisely that which our Lord has already promised to deliver.
Example: The Small Catechism explanations of the Lord’s Prayer petitions: “The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer. . . . The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer.”
Example: “Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure” (“Introduction” to Lutheran Worship).
Example: Luther’s bold description of prayer as rubbing into God’s ears his promises. We can pray with confidence in God’s promised justice.
Clinging to The Promise!
Clinging to The Promise!
A precise answer to when the Lord will bring justice is not given—but the sure promise that he will leaves no room for doubt or despair.
Think of it like this: The woman kept coming to an unrighteous judge without a promise to cling to.
How much more, then, can we be confident in bringing our prayers to the righteous Judge who has promised to answer!
That is, when we understand that God’s promise of justice is the promise to justify us sinners.
God’s sure promise is “he will give justice”—Luke 18:8.
Thus, the widow’s petition is indeed our petition: “Give me justice”—Luke 18:3. The “justice of God” is that by which he justifies us sinners—deems us just, righteous, on account of the person and work of Christ.
To pray the widow’s prayer, then, is to pray “Give me righteousness. Give me not what I deserve, nor what I’ve earned, but that which Christ obedient unto death has earned in my stead and for my sake. Give me what you, O Lord, have promised in and on account of Christ.”
The temptation to become discourage with prayer, or to lose heart and stop praying in these last days is the temptation to believe the legal maxim that “justice delayed is justice denied.” But in God’s case, in view of God’s justice, this is a deadly lie. Though the appearance of God’s kingdom and his justice may seem delayed, “he will give justice.” Indeed, he already has.
The question of WHEN is less important than “how will God’s people be found when he comes?” “Will he find [the] faith on earth?” Jesus does not ask about “faith” in general, but “the faith,” that is, the kind of faith exemplified by the widow.
His justice, his righteousness, has already been imputed to you in Holy Baptism, and in the hearing of His Word. And in this his kingdom come:
“When our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit” (SC, Second Petition).
Here, this morning, his kingdom also comes to you as you participate in the feast of his kingdom, a foretaste of the feast to come. Do not lose heart, dear saints. Your prayer are being answered. The Righteous Judge has fulfilled, and will continue to fulfill, his promise. He will make all things new again!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As the season of Pentecost continues to wane, the Church’s attention remains directed to “the end.” The parable recorded by Luke as our Gospel is told as Jesus makes his way to the end—the fulfillment—of his earthly ministry; he will enter Jerusalem in the following chapter. The preceding chapter likewise sets the context of the parable in a broader discussion of the end times.
Not surprisingly, then, the Propers illuminate the Church’s proper attitude and activity anticipating the end. The Epistle encourages Timothy to continue in that which he has learned and firmly believes, even while enduring suffering. Further encouragement in the face of suffering is in the Psalm’s reminder that our help comes from the one who made heaven and earth, who never slumbers, who will keep us from all evil. Finally, in the Old Testament Reading, Jacob’s wrestling with God provides an example of faithful persistence to rival even that of the widow in the Gospel: “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen 32:26).
The persistent widow is situated in the context provided by the previous chapter, which concludes with a discussion of the coming of the Kingdom (17:20–37). The Pharisees initiated the conversation by asking Jesus when the Kingdom would come. Addressing his disciples, Jesus notes that days approach in which they “will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man,” but will not see it (Luke 17:22). He foretells his own imminent suffering and also alludes to the suffering to be experienced by the faithful: “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” (Luke 17:33). On this note, the parable of Luke 18:1–8 shifts the focus from the question of when the Kingdom will come to this: since it will certainly come and is among us now—though unseen—how do the faithful comport themselves in light of its approach?