Summary: God answers prayers so that we might express and encourage our faith.
Jesus teaches us today by parable, “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” Our English word derives from the Greek, para-bolae,, which itself consists of two words, para- meaning “beside” and -ballo meaning “throw or cast.” A parable is, literally, a story thrown or cast beside real life to explain it.
C. H. Dodd (Oxford Professor), The Parables of the Kingdom, 1935: “At its simplest the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.”
I believe Professor Dodd is correct — Jesus is not giving a simplistic answer for our bumper stickers. He is teasing out deeper reflection on prayer and perseverance.
I would make one further preliminary observation before reading our text. Sometimes people wonder about the propriety of illustrations and stories in sermons. There may be the feeling that a “mature” congregation should want preaching and teaching which is detailed and doctrinal, more like an academic lecture than an appeal to the heart. There is even a clever slogan to illustrate the danger of illustrating sermons — they are called, “skyscraper sermons,” one story on top of another.
There is, definitely, the danger of telling stories instead of teaching the Bible. But, I believe it is imperative to illustrate in order to preach biblically, to preach as Jesus did. Madeleine L’Engle once observed: “Jesus was not a theologian; he was God who told stories.”
Three Proverbs confirm to me the wisdom of carefully illustrating my teaching.
Proverbs 16.21: “…sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.”
Proverbs 16.23: “The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.”
Proverbs 25.15: “…a soft tongue will break a bone.”
Once upon a time, Truth went about the streets as naked as the day he was born. As a result, no one would let him in their homes. When people saw him, they fled.
One day as Truth wandered sadly about town, he came upon Parable, dressed in splendid clothes of beautiful colors.
Parable, seeing Truth, said, “Tell me, neighbor, what makes you look so sad?” Truth replied bitterly, “Ah, brother, things are bad. I am old and so no one wants to know me.”
Parable responded, “People don’t run away from you because you are old. I, too, am old. Very old. But the older I get, the better I am liked. I’ll tell you a secret: everyone likes things disguised and prettied up a bit. Let me lend you some of my clothes, and the very people who pushed you aside will invite you into their homes and be glad of your company.”
Truth dressed in clothing borrowed from Parable. And from that time on, Truth and Parable have gone hand in hand together and everyone loves them.” (From Yiddish Folktales, edited by Beatrice Silverinan Weinreich.)
Jesus’ parables and wise use of sermon illustrations do not discount the necessity of the Holy Spirit as the principle cause of a sinner believing truth. Instead, just as God uses truth to convict and convert, so he is pleased to use a soft tongue, sweetness of speech and judicious words to clothe truth with persuasiveness. May he give me grace to do so for your sake, and the sake of the Gospel. [Read Luke 18.1-8. Pray.]
What prevents losing heart? What holds us steadfast in a world of sin where sorrow would wash us away in a flood of pain and suffering? Last week, disappointment, discouragement and fear debilitated Jesus’ disciples. After the murder of their Master, they hide behind locked doors. Then Christ appears, resurrected, and the disciples are astonished. Jesus next spends forty days educating them on the work of his Kingdom and his plan for establishing the church and discipling the world.
But suddenly, he disappears, ascends into heaven. They stand, stunned, staring at the sky. Two angels must revive them with this word, “Men, why do you stand looking into heaven? He will come back.” This rebuke is a “kick in the complacency,” and the disciples are changed by new confidence in Jesus’ coming back. The remainder of Acts (then) chronicles the effect of this faith. When we truly believe Jesus will return and reward, we behave differently.
So one answer to remaining faithful to the end is confident hope in his appearing. Do you believe?
But, apparently, not all who “believe” persevere — Jesus is concerned that we will “lose heart.” We are in danger of forgetting that he will come back. How do we stir up faith and remember that Jesus will return and reward so that we will endure to the end?
It turns out that two pressures tempt us to forget and fall away: satisfaction and suffering. Jesus addresses both in this parable. To see the first, please notice the context. Beginning in Luke 17.26, Jesus warns his disciples of a spiritual disease which will spread before he returns. Luke 17.26-33: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot — they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all — so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”