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The following sermon, preached on October 16th, 2016, asks a very difficult question. Do you have persistent faith? Please click the play button on the audio widget below to listen to the sermon.
(Note concerning the audio: we apologize for poor audio quality! Thank you for your understanding.)
The text follows below.
(Note concerning the sermon text: the sermon text reflects the actual manuscript and was written to be spoken colloquially, not academically. It may contain grammatical errors such as run-on sentences, or special notation, etc. Thank you for your understanding.)
Luke 18:1-8 says:
“1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3And 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 what people think, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ”
6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I 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?”
This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
OK, here we are, in a passage popularly known as the Parable of the Persistent Widow, but, perhaps the section is remembered best as a lesson concerning faith’s persistence. In this passage we see Jesus telling a parable picturing this confrontation between a dishonorable judge, and a widow. The widow, who is earnestly and rightly seeking justice, simply will not take no for an answer—so this is instructive for us, too. But, there is more to the parable than just this. This parable is also a tale concerning the imperative, in the life of any believer, for persistent prayer. Prayer is powerful. So we’ll talk more about prayer in the coming moments. Finally, when we get towards the end of this Scripture, Jesus starts talking about God, and Jesus is saying, that, yes, God is absolutely responsive to the plight of the faithful and their prayers, but also that our life—the lives of you and I, this morning, today—before Jesus, the Son of Man, returns, this will indeed pose a huge, huge challenge to our faith, requiring this persistence that the parable is getting at. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith”? —So this is what we are talking about this morning—that, in the parable, just like in our lives, we must be vigilant, we must not give up, because things are going to be tough, but look what Jesus says: this judge is unjust; and if even an unjust judge can carry out justice, just imagine what God, the loving and righteous God who invented justice, so to speak, is going to do. Good stuff. So let’s get into this parable.
Well when we begin to talk about the great justice of the loving God, I believe we often hit a snag here: one of the hardest things to wrap our minds around as Christians is that there is actually injustice, wickedness, or evil, in the world. This is extremely upsetting, especially when you are personally experiencing it. Well we have to look no further than right here in our own passage for such injustice. We find in verse 2, “a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.” Well, some things never change, right? We find here—just like we find today, sometimes—a judge who cares nothing about justice, about God, or about people.**The parable starts out grimly, like Jesus wants us to start thinking critically about God’s great justice and love, in a world of evil, where even those who carry out justice, are themselves corrupt.
Well, with these questions in mind, the parable moves forward: a widow, of all people—perhaps the most powerless member of society in Jesus’ day, and maybe even in our own day—**the widow displays the most power, because she persistently never gives up, verse 3; and in the words of the judge, verse 5, “she keeps bothering me.” In other words, She has great faith… she never stops. Already we begin to get the picture that somehow our faithful persistence is the answer, in fact, to the question of injustice, to the question of evil, and of how can God be just and loving in a world full of evil: the answer is intertwined with our persistent faith in God, God, who is infinitely loving and just.
Well—Verse 1 tells us that this really is the case. “Jesus told his disciples [this] parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up,” v. 1. This is the way we too must be in our lives today, because, persistence in faith, is, in fact, the answer to injustice, because God. Jesus is saying that, though the odds are incredibly stacked against us in this world where there will be corruption, we too should always pray and not give up like the widow, because God is God. Because God is the just One, and God actually does bring justice for His children who cry out to Him day and night, verse 7, so therefore we must not, never ever, give up. This parable is not about our own power to keep going, or even about the widow’s persistence, prominent though it is—**this parable is actually about God, and God’s acting. God is the one who works in us and through when we go to Him in prayer—it’s not as if our prayer, or our power, is what changes things, it is God’s power, the Spirit, God himself, who changes things when we pray, and when we act. Really, this is all about God’s power, with the characters and the parable itself simply being tools used to speak the truth about God by Jesus. Because God is infinitely loving and just, we are always supposed to pray and never give up because, even if we die in this life, God will bring justice and His love will cover the whole Earth, even as the waters cover the sea, and Christ’s resurrection, and the Spirit living in us, is the real-life revelation of this promise, even right now, today, and it is what the world will look like in the future: God’s victory. The answer is that because God wins at the cross, and at death, we should never give up and always pray. Amen.
Let me tell you a story at this point, and it has to do with our widow in the parable facing this injustice, this corrupt judge—facing evil in her life. There was once a man named David Hume, and Hume was and is an extremely important skeptic philosopher of the 18th century, from Scotland. His writings were and continue be very influential. He often tackled theological problems, as is a favorite pastime of many philosophers. Hume wrote, “Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent […He is not all powerful]. Is he able [to prevent evil], but not willing? then he is malevolent[, evil]. [Or,] Is [God] both able and willing [to prevent evil]? [If He is, From where,] then, [does] evil [come from]?” In other words, Hume is asking—and I am sure the widow may have been thinking the same thing—that if God is able and willing to prevent evil, if God is all powerful, if God is all knowing, and if God is all good, then why in the world, is there evil? This, is the question I am sure that the widow is asking, even as she fights for her justice despite the odds.
Now, on a personal level, we too might think—many of us have probably thought this, and it is not a bad thing to think this way, by the way—that if God were truly good, and if God were truly just, these bad things even in my very own life—like, how I was cheated, or, how I was hurt, or how I was unfairly convicted of wrongdoing—these things that should have never happened to me: “Why didn’t God do something to stop this evil thing from happening to me to begin with?”
Well, to begin to answer, to set a foundation for our answer, in our passage Jesus promises that justice will be granted, and justice will be done. If even an unjust judge grants justice, then won’t God, “see that [His children] get justice, and [get it] quickly.” Jesus asks, “Will He [God] keep putting them off?” verse 7. Well, Absolutely not, God will not keep putting us off like the judge does in this parable, God is always acting, and God even sent His own Son to die for us, and pay the ultimate price, which is God’s ultimate action for us, and in our behalf, and even now today, we have the Spirit living in us. But to get back to the question, why did God not stop this evil thing to begin with, let’s press on, now that we have the clue and foundation that justice will be done answering what ever evil did in fact transpire.
Notice in our passage this morning, that there is an important assumption being made evil. In verse 7, when Jesus asks, “will not God bring about justice [. . . to those who] cry out?”…the assumption is, that evil is already happening, to everyone, which is why God’s children are crying out to begin with. So, where does this assumption of evil come from? Why does the widow have a plight to begin with? This is like the same question—“Why did God let evil happen to begin with to me.” Well, God’s Word gives us the answer. Evil exists in the world, like the corrupt judge in our parable, because of the wickedness of human beings. In other words, evil is not from God, but from sinful human beings. In Romans 5:12, Paul says, “ sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” … Sin is the evil in the world— As Paul says, “sin entered the world through one man,” Romans 5:12, and importantly not, “sin entered the world through God.”
So why did evil happen to me, or this widow, to begin with? Well evil happened to begin with because humans beings chose it, over God, and they sinned. It’s the same reason bad things happened to you and to me, to the widow in the parable. We human beings, creatures created by God with the capacity to and for true love, and therefore, the choice not to love, because true love cannot be forced—or else it is not truly be love—we chose not to love, we sinned, and we hurt each other. We disobeyed God, and we messed up. And ever since we messed up, day by day, and nanosecond by nanosecond, God has been working to call us back to Him, at every moment, second by second, even sending His own Son to die on the cross for us—why? Because God will never, force us, force us, to come back to Him—This is why we have the Bible, why we have the Old Testament, why we have the story of Israel, the Gospel, and Jesus Christ, who fills the Old Scriptures with meaning, and even this parable, and what it’s getting at, because God will not force anyone to love Him, because then it is not true love. This is why we must have faith, Believe in the Son, and that faith must be persistent faith, true faith, because what is faith if not a true love for God? In verse 8, this is why Jesus asks, “when the Son of Man comes—even though, God does so much for us, giving us every good thing we’ve ever had, even dying for us, in a brutal death—will he find faith on the earth?” when the Son of Man comes, Luke 18:8, will he find faith on the earth?”
This is what Jesus is saying: Will you be persistent in your faith, through the power of God, even though this world is evil and full of sin, and these bad things have happened to you? Will you stand firm until the end in His Power, even having been robbed, having been cheated, and having been hurt, or hurting others yourself? Will you continue to believe in God, and love Him, and pray to Him, and do good, do justice to others, be missional, even when justice has not been done to you, or when an accident, or when a natural disaster, hurts or you, or your loved ones? The question is, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find that you were faithful here on the Earth?” Verse 8. God will deliver justice, definitely, because God has the final word on death, as the resurrection of Christ, and His Spirit in us, proves. But will you believe in it? That is the question. **
As we come to a close this morning, the point of all this is that God is not sitting quietly, in the meanwhile, while you are getting unjustly treated—The Son of Man, Jesus Christ Himself, is coming back to Earth. Right now, we live in time, when things are the way they are, because God has given us these last days, as an act of love and mercy and opportunity—the reason why we are all alive right now—is to repent and find God, and lead others to God, in order to the live the life, that is truly life, that God desires: the greatest good for us. God has given all human beings, on the Earth right now, a last, final chance, for our aching hearts to hear the Spirit calling, and turn to Jesus Christ. That is why we live right now, in a time, where bad and evil things happen, where accidents happen, and where confusion abounds. But, the Son of Man is coming back. And sin and evil and death will be gotten rid of, and it will be more than just gotten rid of, by the way, everything will be entirely made new, so that we can’t even imagine what God has in store for those who love Him—it will be so good compared to the corrupt justice we’re used to, it will just blow us all away. In Revelation 21:5 “he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
The question in the last verse of our Scripture today contains this promise: All things will be made right, every injustice fixed, and everything created good, so that God is all in all, when the Son of Man comes, but….but…Jesus asks, When he comes, will he find that you, yes, even me, was I, were you, faithful to Him, and his death, and his promise of returning, were you faithful and persistent and prayerful, and missional, to the very end, despite evil? When Jesus comes back onto the Earth, will he find faith on the earth? Do you have persistent faith? That is the question I want to leave us all with this morning.