It is not too often when the narrative tells you the meaning of the parable before the parable is told. But this is the case in Luke 18. Jesus tells a parable that his disciples will pray and not lose heart. Jesus is concerned that his disciples will give up. He is concerned that they will become discouraged. Jesus fears that his disciples will stop praying because they have lost heart. Now there is a particular context that Jesus is concerned about that will cause his disciples to stop praying and give up. So let’s not overlook the parable but read the parable with a discerning eye, looking for what circumstance about which Jesus is concerned for his disciples.
The Parable (18:2-5)
Jesus tells a parable about a judge who fears no one. He is not going to be told what to do. He does not care about God nor does he care about the opinions of people. This judge has no regard to the cares of anyone. He will not be moved by what people have to say. Ideally, judges should defend the poor and widows (Exodus 22:22-24; Deuteronomy 24:17-18). The point is that this judge was not the kind of person to be moved out of compassion. There is no compassion in this parable. Neither God’s laws nor public opinion nor pity will move this judge to action.
The second character in the parable is a widow. Please notice her complaint because it is important to the meaning of the parable. “Give me justice against my adversary.” She keeps coming to this judge asking for justice against her adversary. We are not told what injustice she is experiencing. All that we know is that she has an adversary. The reason is not relevant to the story. What is relevant is that she is a helpless widow and she is experiencing repeated injustices. This helpless woman appeals over and over to the judge with the authority and power to give her justice.
Finally the judge acts in her favor after a long duration of time. He does not act because he himself is just or righteous. He does not act because of God’s laws. He does not act out of pity for the widow. He acts because she is wearing him out. She is beating him down by his constant coming and requesting justice. Her tenacity has brought about the verdict she has been diligently seeking.
The Parable’s Meaning (18:6-8)
Now we must be careful at this moment not to misunderstand the point of the parable. The point is not that God does not care about his people and so we need to pester him enough to get him to act on our behalf. Neither is the point that God does care about his people so we need to pester him enough so that he will act on our behalf. These statements are not at all the point of the parable nor reflect the loving character of God. The unrighteous judge does not represent God. God cares about his laws. God cares about his people. Here is the point: the widow did not give up in seeking justice even though she was dealing with an unrighteous, uncompassionate judge. Will Jesus’ disciples continue to call out and seek justice from the righteous, good, holy, and compassionate God all the while experiencing injustices for a long duration of time? That is the question at hand upon which Jesus is concerned about his disciples having tenacious faith. Notice verse 7. God is not like this unrighteous judge. God will give justice to his chosen people. He will not delay long over them. But, will his disciples still have faith in God, after being mistreated and experiencing suffering and injustice, when God’s justice comes?
This parable fits the context of chapter 17 and should not be separated from it. In chapter 17 Jesus gave an early warning for the coming destruction of Jerusalem. The disciples were going to experience great suffering and great injustice for the cause of Christ in the first century. Jesus is concerned that his disciples will not have the fortitude and steadfastness to trust him when those difficult times arrived.
First Century Context
Listen to some of the scriptures about what the Christians were enduring and what God was promising for them.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (Revelation 6:9–11 ESV) These are chilling words about the suffering those disciples in the first century were experiencing. They are being killed for the word of God and their testimony for Jesus. They are crying out with the intensity of the widow in this parable. How long before you judge and avenge our blood. They are crying out for justice. Toward the end of the book of Revelation we read that justice arrive on behalf of God’s chosen people.
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” (Revelation 19:1–2 ESV)
But this is not a lost parable on us. Jesus was not simply concerned with the suffering and injustices that the Christians would feel in the first century. The call for perseverance was continued by the apostles throughout the scriptures. The preaching of the gospel included the call for Jesus’ disciples to maintain tenacious faith in the face of repeated injustices. Listen to a few of those exhortations:
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:5–12 ESV)
Paul says that God will repay those that afflict you. But it just won’t be right now. While we live and serve the Lord there is going to afflictions and suffering from others. But he wanted them to be filled resolve for every good work so that Jesus may be glorified. Listen to how Peter gave the same admonition:
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:1–10 ESV)
Peter also says that they are dealing with the scoffers, but their judgment is coming. The apostle Paul gave the same encouragement to the Christians in Rome:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19–21 ESV)
Here is the point: Jesus wants us to know the certainty of God’s justice and call us to resolute faithfulness in anticipation of that certainty. Jesus is giving assurance that those who pray to God for final vindication will be answered. But the question of verse 8 is important: Will we be faithful to God in the face of this world’s injustice, eagerly awaiting God’s vindication?
Tools For Faithfulness
As we conclude, I want to spend a moment talking about the ways that we can maintain our faithfulness through difficult times as we wait for the Lord to bring his justice to the earth and put all things to right.
- Prayer is the ballast in hard times. The first verse told us that we are to keep praying and keeping praying. Prayer is the tool for us in our difficult times. Do not stop praying just because you are enduring repeated suffering. Prayer is the life preserver to keep us afloat during times when we experience injustices. Our God is more willing to hear our prayer than we are often willing to pray it! God is not the unrighteous judge, as verse 7 points toward. God will give justice to his chosen. When Peter and John were arrested and released, what did they do along with the Christians? They prayed for boldness (Acts 4:29). When Peter was imprisoned, what is the house of Mary doing with many other Christians. They are gathered praying (Acts 12:12). When Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi, what are they doing? They are praying and singing hymns to God (Acts 16:25).
- Pray God’s Word. I have personally found having an active, living prayer life to be difficult. I cannot put my finger on exactly the problem, but I think it has to do with not knowing exactly what to say or what to pray for. I believe some of my most intense times in prayer have been when I simply can say to God, “I don’t know, but you do. Please do something.” I have tried acronyms, which I am glad have been successful for so many. But I have found something that has ignited my prayer life that I want you to use to help you remain faithful and have strength through times of injustice and suffering. Pray God’s word. In Acts 4 when Peter and John along with the Christians lift their voices in prayer, you will notice that they pray the scriptures (Acts 4:25-26). They read a section from Psalm 2 and then revolve their prayer around those words. I have found this to be so helpful. When you read the word of God, use what you have read as the catalyst for your prayer life. I pray what I read which particular application to my current condition and situation. For example, we studied John 3:17-21 in last week’s lesson. Pray to God about understanding that we are the condemned. Pray in thanks to God for sending his Son so that we do not have to perish in our sins. Pray to help to expose our works. Pray my sins to God. Pray for strength to walk in the light. Pray that God’s glory is seen in my works. Let’s use Scott’s lesson from Sunday night which was from Philippians 1. Pray to God that my love will abound more and more. Pray for purity. Pray that my life will be filled with the fruit of righteousness. The word of God makes it easy for us to direct our minds and hearts toward what we need.
- Don’t stop praying. Prayer is your life line to God. Prayer is your connection to God. Jesus feared that his disciples would stop praying because the world would be harsh on his followers. There are a number of reasons why we fail to pray. (1) We allow our physical weakness to interfere (we are tired or lazy). (2) We lack discipline to stay with prayer. (3) We have a false sense of independence. We think we have this life under control. (4) We lack faith. We do not believe that God will act on our behalf. (5) We are in complete rebellion. We do not prayer because we do not care. We have no heart or love for God. (6) We have lost our hope in God. God has not answered our prayers the way we think he should have.
God is begging you to jump start your prayer life. God has guaranteed that he will make things right. Do not give up on God. Will Jesus find faith when he comes again? Will we show that we have put our full trust in him, as revealed by an active, living prayer life? Do not give up. Dig in to Jesus and let him carry you through. He will make all things right if we will have the faith to trust him.