Introduction: We continue with our study of the Gospel of Luke. We’re going to look today at the first part of Chapter 18. If you’ll notice, you’ll see that, for now, we’re skipping the last part of chapter 17. This material concerns some prophecies that Jesus made about the future, concerning the fall of Jerusalem and His second coming. With your permission, I’m going to cover this material later on, when Jesus again addresses this subject in Chapter 21. However, please keep in mind that what we’re going to see in Chapter 18 occurs in the context of a discussion on Jesus’ second coming. That will be made even more clear as we look at Jesus’ teachings here.
Today we look at two parables on prayer, two prayerables, if you will.
I. The Parable of the Unrighteous Judge
Just as He did in Chapter 16 with the story of the unrighteous steward,
Jesus uses a bad person to teach us some good lessons. Let’s read:
Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 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!’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 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? 8 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?”
Note that Luke tells us the point of this parable right up front. It’s about persisting in prayer. The Greek word that Luke uses for "not give up" literally means to not be overcome by evil, to not faint, to not grow weary. Don’t let yourself get worn down.
Many times I’ve read this parable, focusing on the widow, thinking to myself, "Jesus is giving us the example of asking and asking and asking until God gives us what we want." But you know, as I read this, I don’t think that’s what He’s saying at all. If you’ll notice, the focus of this parable is on the judge, not on the widow. When Jesus goes to make His point, He says "Listen to what the unjust judge says..." He doesn’t say, "Look at the widow." The focus is on the unjust judge.
The judge is set up as a contrast to our heavenly Father. The judge cares for no one, has no sense of right or wrong. The widow would be the most defenseless person in town, for widows back then typically had few rights and little help from others. Anyone would have been moved to compassion by her plight. But this judge wasn’t. Yet he granted her wish, because she wore him down (the Greek says that the judge decided to give her her wish before she hit him under the eye! However, this is probably figurative; I don’t think that Jesus is saying that the judge was afraid the widow would beat him up).
Is this how God works? Do we have to wear Him down with our prayers? No! Jesus says God will bring about justice for His chosen ones QUICKLY. If an uncaring, unrighteous judge can be moved to do what is right, how much more our heavenly Father who loves us! He will not make us beg; He will answer our prayers.
But remember, the context of this is Jesus’ return. It is similar to the image in Revelation 6 of the saints crying out, "How long, O Lord, until you avenge us?" That’s why Jesus talks about finding faith when He returns. This parable is a challenge to be faithful to the end. It is a challenge to keep praying for the culmination of God’s kingdom, the growth and extension of its borders. It is a challenge to focus our eyes on the coming Lord. It is not a parable about how to wear God out and get that new car you always wanted. It is about eternal justice from the eternal Judge.
So what do we learn from this parable?
(1) We need to focus our prayers on the kingdom. Isn’t this what Jesus taught in Matthew 6? "Thy kingdom come..." Jesus modeled that we should pray for the kingdom before praying for our own daily bread.
(2) We need to "pray without ceasing." God’s times are not our times. He is coming soon, even if "soon" means thousands of years. A thousand years is like a day in the eyes of the Lord. Let us never cease to pray for His coming.
II. The Parable of the Two Men Praying
Luke tells us the intended audience at the start. This is directed at those who are confident in their own righteousness and who look down on others.
Luke 18:9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
"Lord, I thank you that I am not like the Pharisee..." That’s a tempting prayer, isn’t it? Yet, don’t we fall into the same trap? "Look at me! I’m at church on Sunday morning when I could be home sleeping like everybody else. And I go to the right church with the right doctrine, with the right name on the sign. Not like those poor, misguided people who don’t understand the Bible!"
May God protect us from such an attitude and forgive us when we have it.
In the first prayerable, Jesus contrasted the unrighteous judge and God. Here He contrasts two men, two men that represent the extremes of Jewish religiosity. On one hand we have the Pharisee, the separated one, the one who spent his life studying God’s word and trying to live it. He dedicated himself to setting himself apart from other men, apart from the unwashed masses, and especially apart from people like this tax collector. We have found in Jewish writings something like the following: "Lord, I thank You that You have made me neither a woman nor a slave nor a Gentile..." On the other hand, we have the tax collector. He probably stood in the door of the temple, since traditions of the day wouldn’t have allowed him to participate fully. He was an outcast, one who spent his days working for the Romans, dealing with unholy men and trafficking in unholy money. He was, undoubtedly, in the eyes of all, a sinner.
The Pharisee prayed about himself or with himself or to himself, depending on how you translate the preposition. But the idea is the same: the Pharisee was there to praise himself, not God. He came to remind God how grateful God should be to have someone like him. He stood and crowed and boasted, probably speaking just loud enough for others to hear. He was aware of the tax collector and proud to be better than he.
The tax collector stood apart. He had no boasting to do before God. He too was probably aware of the Pharisee. He says, "God, have mercy on me THE sinner" (there is a definite article in the Greek). He saw the Pharisee as holy and himself as a sinner. (And the Pharisee would have said, "Amen!")
The lesson of this parable is plain. Even if it weren’t, Jesus plainly states it: For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
And what does it have to say to us?
(1) We must not trust our own righteousness. We are saved by the grace of God, not our own righteousness. There is no boasting before God; the Bible makes that very clear. We depend on Him, not ourselves.
(2) We must not consider ourselves to be better than others. There are two kinds of people in this world: sinners and forgiven sinners. The story is told of an English minister who was out walking with a friend when they came upon a drunken man lying in the gutter. The minister’s friend was surprised to hear the minister say, "There but for the grace of God go I." Such needs to be our attitude. When we go out into the community, they need to see that we consider them as equals. When we look at the drunks and the drug addicts and the adulterers and all of the "sinners," we need to remember that the big difference between us and them is God. Not us. God.
(3) We need to go to God humbly. We have confidence, but only because of the blood of Jesus.
So, we see from this passage that we need to be constant in prayer, that our prayers need to focus on God’s kingdom, and that we must be humble before God for Him to hear us.
If you need any help with your prayers to God, if we can do anything to help you get your relationship right with God, we encourage you to come now.