Persistent Prayer

Persistence. That’s the key idea in today’s Gospel. Persistent prayer. Think of how easily we get discouraged. We quit when things don’t go our way. We leave when things get uncomfortable. When the going gets rough, we check out. We pray, and when God doesn’t deliver on our terms, we hang up and stop talking. We have a case of spiritual ADD, I’m afraid. Our attention wanders, our prayers falter, we are easily discouraged.

Jesus told a parable about persistence in prayer. It comes immediately after Jesus’ teaching His disciples about the suddenness and speediness of His coming, and how there will be no time to get things in order, and how for the remainder of this life they should be like a bunch of buzzards and live off His death, for “where the body is, there the vultures will gather.”

The end times, the times in which we live, and have been living in ever since Jesus sat down to reign over all things at the right hand of the Father almost 2000 years asgo, is a time that calls for persistent prayer. And it is easy to lose heart and become discouraged, especially as we believers see things going from bad to worse to downright evil, as we see the very fabric of culture and society being torn to shreds, as even the Church, the bulwark of truth, seems to be riddled with error, deception, complacency, and downright weirdness. I’m willing to guess that there isn’t one person in this room who hasn’t thought at one time or another, “What’s the point of prayer?” If God does what He wants anyway, if He never seems to answer my prayers, why even bother?

To our end-times anxiety, Jesus tells this parable. In a certain city, there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. A rogue judge, probably on the take, in it only for himself. Jesus seems to have a penchant for having disagreeable characters as the central figures of his parables as he heads to Jerusalem. First the faithless steward who was fired, now the crooked judge. All to underscore that grace is governing here, not merits, works, or even general likeablility. We may not like the judge, but we have to deal with him.

There was a widow in the city who kept coming to him seeking justice against her adversary. Over and over she kept coming to this judge, who had no regard for her or for justice, but she persisted because he was the only way that she could be vindicated over her adversary. She would not take no for an answer, and even though the judge kept postponing her case, she just kept coming to court. Finally, the judge says to himself, “Even though I could not care less about God, justice, or this woman, I will vindicate her, judge in her favor, or she’s going to grind me to the dust with her constant appeals.” Her persistent petitions are rewarded; the judge, crooked and lazy though he is, grants her justice.

“Listen to what the unrighteous judge is saying,” Jesus tell us. Pay attention. This is an example from lesser to greater. God is not some crooked judge on the take. He is righteous and holy and infinitely wise as well as just. But if this is how it goes with a judge who couldn’t care less, how much more will it be for God who delights in forgiving sins and justifying the ungodly? “Will not God vindicate (that is, do justice) for His elect ones who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will do justice for them quickly.” As quickly as it takes to get Jesus to Jerusalem to die, that’s how quickly. And Jesus is on the expressway, the straight path to the cross with eyes fixed on Jerusalem like a runner sighting the finish line.

God didn’t send His Son to hang dead on a cross to save you so that He could ignore you in your time of need. He didn’t command you to pray so that He could turn a deaf ear to your prayers. You are His Child, His chosen and elect one. You are baptized, joined to Jesus in Baptism to His death and life. You have the privilege of calling upon God as your Father. “As dear children come to their dear Father in heaven.”

Every prayer uttered by a baptized believer will be vindicated by God. That’s the promise of this parable. Even if every one of your prayers has been met with nothing but stony silence, they will be vindicated in your justification before God and your resurrection from the dead. Every petition for health, for wholeness, for peace, for life has its answer in the death and resurrection of Jesus and will be granted you in your resurrection. And speedily. As speedily as the coming of Jesus at the end when He comes to judge the living and the dead and give to His elect ones, His baptized believers, eternal life.

I think we too often take an atomistic view of prayer rather than a wholistic view. By “atomistic” I mean looking at prayer in terms of favors asked and granted. You ask for this and God gives you what you ask for. And then you keep score, at least in the back of your mind, to see what your percentage is. Kind of like a batting average. The higher, the better. But the Scripture does not describe prayer in this way. God never promises to give you what you ask for. Rather He promises that your prayers will be answered by His giving you the Holy Spirit, a peace that surpasses your understanding, and His doing justice for you, namely His justifying you and forgiving you.

So it’s not as though one prayer is answered yes, another no, another not now. But all your prayers and petitions that you’ve ever uttered are all bundled together as one and answered “yes” in Jesus. God will do justice to your crying out to Him night and day, and He will do it quite quickly. “Call upon me in the day trouble,” He says, “And I will deliver you.” You see? It doesn’t mean you’ll get bailed out of every scrape by some divine hand reaching down from heaven and plucking you out of danger. But you will be delivered, ultimately and finally and completely, in your deliverance from death in your resurrection. And you have already been delivered in the resurrection of Jesus in your trust in Him.

Prayer is a “trust fund,” in which we dump all our cares and concerns, acting in trust (ie faith) that our Father in heaven hears us for Jesus’ sake and will act on our prayers according to His good and gracious will to save. And that trust (ie faith) is ultimately vindicated when you rise to eternal life. Then you will see how your prayers have been woven into a glorious tapestry of God’s goodness, and you’ll be amazed at how God has been attentive to your every need usually without your even noticing it.

Our OT reading gives a great image for persistent prayer – Jacob wrestling with God. Jacob was on his way to meet his brother Esau, with whom he had not spoken for years since tricking his father into blessing him as the firstborn. As he encamped in the wilderness, he was “mugged” by a guy who turned out to be God (Christ?) who wrestled with him until the sun came up. And Jacob manages to pin God down demanding a blessing. That’s how faith prays. It wrestles with God and pins Him down, holding Him to His promises.

Notice that jacob didn’t come away unscathed. With a touch, God threw his hip out of joint to remind Jacob with whom he was wrestling. The one he pinned down was considerably stronger. The One we wrestle with and pin down in prayer is considerably mightier and wiser than we are. It’s kind of like when you were little and wrestled with your Dad on the ground and he let you win. In prayer, God lets us wrestle with Him a bit, and lets us pin Him down, so we learn petition by petition to trust Him with everything.

Jacob got a new name that day in the wilderness. Israel. One who “wrestles with God.” That’s what Israel as a nation was – a unique and peculiar people who singularly wrestled with God for the sake of the world’s salvation. That’s what Jesus came in our flesh to do – to wrestle with God on our behalf, to be willing to be pinned down by the Law so that we would be blessed as children of God. That’s who you are in your Baptism, one who is called to wrestle with God and be blessed by Him, even if it means that you walk with a limp for a while because God’s put your hip out of joint.

In the end, every one of your prayers, ever petition, every sigh and groaning of yours will be vindicated. God will do justice to your prayers in justifying you. “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation and every other blessing.”

“Nevertheless,” Jesus asks, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” That’s the end-times question posed to us. Will we trust the verdict rendered on Calvary’s cross and spoken to us in our Baptism? Will we trust that God justifies the ungodly in Jesus and that we, chief of sinners though we are, are covered by the righteousness of Christ? Will we trust that Baptism now saves us and rest in that salvation won for us by Jesus?

That’s Jesus’ concern for the end-times. That’s why He has a church and ministers who preach HIs good news and administer His Body and Blood. That’s why He poured out His Spirit and breathed out the Scriptures, to make us “wise to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is as focused today on your faith in Him as He was focused on the cross to win your salvation. Don’t say, “I can’t believe” because faith is God’s work. And that trust will be vindicated, as will every word of prayer spoken in trust, on the day of His appearing, the day of your resurrection.

Will He find faith on the earth? Yes, He will. He will find you, dear baptized believer. And He will justify you speedily.

In the Name of Jesus,
Amen

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