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Pray, Pray, and Pray Some More October 16, 2016

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Luke 18:1-8

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

October 16, 2016


Focus:  God answers our cries for justice by the sacrifice of His Son.

Function:  That the hearers pray for justice in the cross of Christ.

Structure:  Here is a prevailing view…but here is the proclamation of the gospel.


Pray, Pray, and Pray Some More


Had Jesus preached this parable today, it would have sounded a little more like this:

“In a certain store, there was a woman who neither feared God nor men.  And there was a child in that store, her child, who kept crying and screaming, ‘Mommy, I want it and I want it now!’  For a while, she refused, but afterward she thought to herself, ‘Though I don’t fear God and I certainly don’t need a man, yet because this child keeps bothering me, I will give him what he wants, so that my stress level doesn’t cause me to go nuclear.’  Hear what the unrighteous woman says.”

Whether you want to call it the Parable of the Persistent Widow, or the Parable of the Unjust Judge, that opening illustration is the common interpretation of the parable.  Jesus’ instructions to His disciples then, and to us now, is as simple as this: pray, pray, and pray some more.  Ask God for whatever you want, and if at first you don’t receive it, just keep asking.

But this runs into so many problems.  Just think about it, if this is how prayer works, right away, what’s the first thing you’re going to ask God for?  Almost without a doubt, our first prayers will be selfish.  They’ll be about us.  More specifically, they’ll be about stuff.  “God, I’d really love a bigger house, can you handle that?”  “Where’s that Ferrari you promised me?”  “Can I have a good looking spouse?”  “God, can you get my children to behave better?”  “I’d really like that new job”  “Can I have that promotion now?” And you haven’t gotten it yet, just keep praying, and eventually you will.

And some of these things can actually be worthwhile things to want, like the couple who prays for years for a child, the husband and wife praying for a better marriage, or prayer for a better relationship with your boss.  So, I hate to make to make it sound so trivial and childish, but I have to, because it causes a bigger problem.

The biggest issue with this interpretation of the parable is what happens when you don’t get your way.  When all that praying for more wealth doesn’t happen, first for a few days, then days become weeks, and weeks become months.  How long can you hold on to this promise of Jesus?  Maybe if you’re faith is strong enough, you can even last for years.  But how long does it take before you eventually lose hope?  Over time, your faith widdles away until it dies.

When we misunderstand the promises of Jesus, when we think He promised us something He never did, the death of our faith is a great concern.  Faith is trust in God and His promises.  If we can’t trust them anymore, we literally don’t have faith in Him anymore.

And had the parable ended at the end of verse six, with Jesus saying, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says,” had it ended there, we could easily, understandably get the wrong promise from it.

But the truth is, thankfully, Jesus never would have preached the whiny, selfish child illustration.  It doesn’t fit with what He was actually teaching His disciples.  Because He didn’t stop at verse 6.

The very key to this parable actually comes before Jesus even starts talking.  In verse 1, Luke tells us that the effect Jesus desires from this parable is that His disciples “ought always to pray and not lose heart.”  Pray continuously, never give up hope.  That’s the key.  Without it, we just think about the covetousness of our own broken hearts.

But instead, this never giving up hope shows up in the widow’s asking.  Despite the faithlessness of this judge, despite his unwillingness to even really give her a fair hearing, she keeps going to him.  She knows he has the power to give her justice, to save her from her adversary.  And that becomes the point.  Her prayer isn’t for stuff, it’s for justice, it’s for salvation.

And, as the parable concludes, ultimately, she gets it.  The judge concedes, finally listens, and gives her justice against her adversary.  We do want to be careful examining who’s who in this parable.  God is the judge, so we don’t want to read too much into the unfaithful label of the parable, because we know better.  Even though sometimes it may seem like God doesn’t care, like He’s being unfaithful to us, He is always faithful, He always loves us.

That makes us the widow.  The one crying out.  And as we’ve established, it’s not for stuff, or relationships, or whatever might be on our hearts, as faithful and good as many of those things may be.  Instead, we cry out for justice.  We pray to God to grant us justice against our adversaries.  We ask God to judge between us and sin, death, and the devil.

And as we keep reading the text, we see that’s exactly what God does.  God gives justice to His elect, to those who call out to Him for salvation.  This is the power of the cross.  That Christ’s death on the cross grants justice, peace, deliverance for all of God’s people from our enemies.  And this doesn’t mean earthly peace, earthly justice, or earthly deliverance.  There are any number of wrongdoings in this nation, right here at home.  But those people committing those wrongdoings are no different than us.  Broken sinners, in need of crying out for justice.

God didn’t delay.  Christ shares this parable of justice with His disciples as He’s on His journey to Jerusalem and to the cross.  It’s just a matter of soon.  And that’s the same today.  The last part of the text used to be left off.  We didn’t read the last sentence: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

I don’t know if they thought it was too depressing or negative or what they were doing leaving it out.  But in the 2006 revision of the lectionary when our Synod moved to its new hymnal, we added that sentence to this reading.  It was already there in Scripture, we just used to skip it, and now we don’t.

And I’m glad.  This is another key element of this parable.  Jesus just finished telling the disciples in chapter seventeen that He would return, He would come soon, and here we see it again in our text, “I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.”  Justice in response to our prayer is coming soon!

But verse eight poses a challenge to the disciples, and a challenge to us.  When Christ returns, will He find faith on earth?  It’s not a trick question.  It’s one of the strangest things about the teaching of evolution, that our lives and our world just keep getting better.  A simple look at history, a simple look around us tells us exactly the opposite.  Everything is in a constant state of decay.  You and I are moving constantly toward our death.  Only a return of Christ can prevent that.


Will you persist in your faith?  Will you not be discouraged by the decay of the world?  It’s not just the challenge of the text, it’s also the whole reason for the parable.  This is the response, this is how we persist in faith.  We pray.  God calls us His own children in baptism, forgiving our sins there and in the Lord’s Supper.  The faithful response is one of prayer.  That we cry out to God for justice against our adversary, and trust in Him that He will answer speedily.

So everything around the disciples was coming unhinged.  Within a few decades, the Roman emperor Nero would have nearly perfected persecuting the church.  The disciples were murdered on account of their faith, and the temple in Jerusalem was ripped apart brick by brick.

But the disciples did it.  To the point of death.  They certainly were both saint and sinner, but they persisted, they trusted in the Lord alone for their salvation.  And we are called upon by this final question to do the same.  To press on despite the pressures of our government, to persist despite what our nation calls the decline of the church, to not lose heart even when our culture seems without hope, and to not give up even if it means our death.

This is what the parable of the persistent widow or the unfaithful judge is all about.  Her prayers had nothing to do with the things of this world.  Rather, she called out for justice against her adversary, and she received salvation.  And so we too ought to pray to the Lord for justice in the face of our enemies, trusting in Him alone for our salvation in the face of sin, death, and the devil himself, that when the Lord returns, He will find faith on the earth.


Up, Up, and Away! May 5, 2016

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Acts 1:1-11

Ascension Thursday

May 5, 2016


Focus:  God is expanding His kingdom.

Function:  That the hearers serve their neighbors in love while awaiting Christ’s Second Coming.

Structure:  Walkthrough the text.


Up, Up, and Away


For the last month or so now, we’ve really dug into the Scripture texts during the sermon.  It’s fun, it’s a good way to pour through God’s Word.  And as summer approaches, it’s just nice to have this chance for extra Bible study, to continue to drum up your interest in God’s Word.  It’s not an all the time preaching style, but it’s helpful.

So we continue that way tonight, as we celebrate the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven.  If you’d like to follow along either in the Bible or in your bulletin, we’ll be walking straight through our reading from Acts chapter one.

  1. In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach


What other book of the New Testament was written to Theophilus?  The book of Luke, the gospel according to Luke.  For our purposes, it really doesn’t matter who Theophilus is.  Many simply think it’s the patron of Luke’s writing, the man perhaps funding Luke to do this research and compose these works.  Others, however, have simply thought it was a play on words in Greek, as the name means “lover of God.”  So Luke might be writing this to all people who love God.  I lean toward it being an actual person, but really it’s just something neat to think about.

Either way, this is a sequel.  Officially titled, “Acts of the Apostles,” this is Luke 2.  Or 2 Luke, or whatever you want to call it.  It’s a continuation.  Luke is about the ministry of Christ for the church.  Acts is about the Holy Spirit at work through the church.  And they fit right together.  It’s like when you watch your favorite TV show, it ends on cliffhanger, and then the next week’s episode starts by recapping last week.

Luke ends with the ascension.  Acts begins with the ascension.  Unfortunately, our English publishers like to put John in between.  Luke and Acts, take them together.

  1. until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.


So again, Luke was about all Christ did, and that included the instructions for what the disciples were to keep doing after Christ left them.  And so that’s where we’re picking up, going back to those instructions.

  1. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.


Sometimes we get the idea that faith is just separate from reality.  Like we can compartmentalize it.  It’s spiritual, we can’t really know, so you just gotta have faith.  I can’t answer your questions, but just believe in Jesus.  The New Testament doesn’t really talk that way.  Here we have concrete proof to the disciples.  Christ rose from the dead, appeared to them, did miracles before them, and continued to teach them.  This matters.  And it’s the same way the disciples will turn around and share the gospel.  They will give proofs of the resurrection as they witness to others about Christ.

And while we can’t say we are eyewitnesses of the risen Christ, well, we actually kind of can in the Lord’s Supper, but that’s not as convincing to a non-believer.  We do still have evidence, and some pretty good ones at that.  We can prove Jesus lived.  We can prove that the things the New Testament records are actually what He said.  We can’t prove correct, that’s where faith will come in, but there’s a lot of good, and helpful, stuff available.  That’s what Sunday Bible class downstairs has talked about, and if you ever want to know more, just ask.

Jesus appears to them over 40 days and continues to teach.

  1. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.


We can only imagine what the disciples might have been thinking when Jesus started to say this.  But, why is this odd?  Why would Jesus have to tell the disciples not to leave Jerusalem?  Well, they had just crucified Jesus.  They had just killed the Christ.  The disciples are now locking themselves away in a house hiding for fear that the Jews will kill them, too.  We can only imagine that they were thinking, plotting how they might escape, where they might go next.  Where on earth might be safe for them.

But Jesus tells them to stay.  Remain here.  Remain in Jerusalem in the very midst of the people who seek to take your life.  This is another spot where we misinterpret our New Testament.  Much of American Christianity today is about happiness and comfort.  We think of God’s blessings to us as material things, that if we just are faithful enough, if we just give enough, God will pour out material blessings on us.  And bad things won’t happen to you.

We live in a culture that’s about being comfortable, enjoying life.  And I’ve had to warn the confirmation students about this.  If you’re comfortable in life, if there’s nothing causing you trouble in any way, you’re probably not doing what God has called you to do.  Because the New Testament promises that “all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12).

That’s what Jesus is calling the disciples to do, to give up their concern about themselves and this worldly life, to forsake this life for the sake of the kingdom.  Remain in Jerusalem, remain here until the Father gives you the gift you’ve been promised.

  1. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”


This is the gift, the Holy Spirit being poured out from heaven onto these disciples.  It’s the day we call Pentecost, it’s the day the Church on earth is truly born.  And we’ll talk more about that in a week and a half when we celebrate Pentecost.

  1. So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”


As pastors, we teach.  And Jesus’ patience with His disciples is truly incredible.  I run out of patience every week in confirmation.  But not here.  I need to learn from this.  For three years, Jesus has been teaching the disciples about the kingdom of God, and they still don’t get it.  They just don’t.  They still think He’s the conquering king, that He’s going to overthrow Rome and give power back to the Jews.  This after Good Friday and Easter.  They still don’t understand.

  1. He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.


And so the resurrected Lord continues to teach.  This is still the same Christ who said even He doesn’t know the day or the hour, but only the Father in heaven.  The Second Coming of Christ is coming, but that’s not for you to worry over.  I have something for you to do.

  1. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”


Again, Pentecost here.  You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.  And they do, and then they witness.  They go out, they leave the locked house and they share the good news of Christ with the world around them.

And while not everything Jesus says to His disciples applies directly to us, this one doesn’t, this is one we can still learn from.  Jesus isn’t commanding you to go to Jerusalem and Samaria.  That was their task, but we could still see it as formula in a sense.  Think about it.  Jerusalem is their immediate location.  That’s where they are.  For you, discipleship starts with your immediate location, your immediate family, it starts at home.  Train up your children in the way they should go.  As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.

What’s next?  Judea?  What’s Judea in relation to Jerusalem?  Jerusalem is the capital, Judea is the surrounding country.  Those closest to you.  Look at your vocations, think of your neighbors, your friends, your subdivision.  And after Judea, Samaria.  What’s Samaria?  It’s the capital city of the old rivaling nation.  This is why Jews hate Samaritans.  It’s a further distance traveled for certain, so your whole community perhaps.  Your enemies, maybe?  And then to the ends of the earth.  The good news is for all people.

  1. After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.


There really isn’t much about the ascension.  It just happens.  Jesus is teaching, and then He just lifts up to heaven.  He’s going up, up, and away.  He’s gone, He’s left, and you can see the reaction:

  1. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.



You can imagine that.  You’re just talking with someone, having a good conversation, and they just start floating off to heaven.  Strange stuff.  They were staring.  Jaws might have been hanging open.

And who are the men dressed in white here?  We have a couple of angels that appear and speak to the disciples.

  1. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”


He’s gone, but He’s coming back.  It’s almost like the angels just came down to tell the disciples to snap out of it.  It’s reassurance, certainly, comfort.  Don’t worry.  He’s with you.  He’s promised.  That’s great stuff.

The whole of the ascension is great stuff.  Jesus doesn’t float off to nowhere.  Don’t get the image of Jesus drifting around in space on an inflatable pool toy.  That’s not what this is.  He’s made promises to us.  First, that He would return to His Father in heaven.  This is His reign.  This is the 1,000 years of Revelation stuff as Christ reigns as King over His kingdom, over the whole earth.  He’s doing that as He’s sitting in His throne at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  In the midst of political chaos, that’s comforting.  He’s King, He’s in charge.  Everything is going to be alright.

Then He also promised that if He left, He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to us.  This is the same Spirit who comes on the disciples at Pentecost.  This is the pouring out of the same Spirit in the waters of baptism that proclaims you to be a forgiven child of God, heir of the everlasting Kingdom of Christ.  Christ left so He could send the Spirit who would then work faith in you.

And then He also promised that He was preparing a place for us.  We talked about that a couple weekends ago.  A new heaven, a new earth.  Our final home, whatever it may look like.  Jesus ascended to prepare that home for you.  And it is finished.  And you’re going to love it.  Because you’ll be in Paradise with God forever.

This is a great text.  There’s teaching here, Jesus gave His disciples things to do.  But there’s also sweet gospel, as the ascension of Christ into heaven fulfills God’s plan.  Christ is King of creation as originally intended.  He is caring for us.  He sent His Spirit into our midst to create and sustain faith in us.  And as the angels promised, He’s coming again to reclaim what is His.  And that includes the children of God.  That includes us.  And so we await the Second Coming of Christ.  Praying indeed, “Amen, Come Lord Jesus.”