Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pentecost 21 Sermon -- Luke 18:1-8 (LSB Proper 24C)

October 17, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“And the Lord said: ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?’”

“Will [the Son of Man] find faith on earth?” Now there’s a pointed question! When Jesus returns, will there be people believing in Him? Jesus’ question is an exhortation to faith, a call for renewal of allegiances, a rekindling of hearts and souls. Why is such a question given? Because it has everything to with salvation. Belief, hope, and trust in Jesus’ identity and His words and works brings that salvation for human beings. Those who have such faith will be delivered to everlasting life on the Last Day. The opposite awaits those who lack it.

So Jesus asks the question: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” But before that question is asked, Jesus illustrates what faith looks like. That is seen in the Parable of the Unjust Judge and the Persistent Widow. The Evangelist introduces that parable: “Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Prayer and perseverance are symptomatic of faith. Those who fear, love, and trust in God above all things will indeed call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. Those who have been called by the Gospel, enlightened with the Spirit’s gifts, sanctified and kept in the one true faith will persevere to the blessed end of living with their Lord in His everlasting Kingdom.

The Persistent Widow in the parable demonstrates the prayer and perseverance that Jesus desires to find in His people. In Jesus’ story, the city where the widow lived was governed by an Unjust Judge. Remember how he is described: “[He] neither feared God nor respected man.” This judge had no scruples, nothing virtuous about him. And yet, what does the widow do? “There was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary!” Though the judge refused to answer her plea for justice, the widow kept coming. She did not give up. She kept offering the same demand for what was right.

So what does the Unjust Judge do? “For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” Though the widow was refused time after time, she kept coming to the Unjust Judge because she knew that only he had the power and authority to give what she needed to receive. Finally, the Unjust Judge answers the widow’s plea for justice. He does so to get rid of the nuisance. He is only concerned about himself, but that self-interest leads him to act on behalf of another. But in the end, the Persistent Widow gets what she needs from that Unjust Judge.

Jesus uses that story to show what He is like. Like the Unjust Judge, Jesus is the only source of what mankind needs: justice against their adversaries of sin, death, and Satan. Only Jesus can deliver mankind from such opposition. Only Jesus can speak to the cosmic forces of evil, saying: “Leave My people alone! To eternal fire and judgment with you!” But unlike the Unjust Judge, Jesus neither lacks scruples nor has anything unvirtuous about Him. He is not driven by self-interest, but compassion instead. He actually desires to answer the cries of His people, as you heard in today’s collect: “You have commanded us to pray and have promised to hear us.” So Jesus testifies in His statement: “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.”

As Jesus’ followers, you are to see the trustworthiness of the Lord in this parable. His desire is to have you constantly coming to Him with your pleas for help. He wants to always hear the words from your lips: “Lord, have mercy on us!” Think how often you speak that petition in the Divine Service. It comes from the Church’s mouth because all who belong to it need that assistance from Him. Such a request is offered in belief that it will be answered. It will be the prayer of Christ’s people from the present until the Last Day.

That is why Jesus concludes His teaching with the question: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” The question is not rhetorical. It is meant to elicit a response. His inquiry deals with real topics: the perseverance of the saints during their earthly lives, the endurance of the Church, the effects of persecution and affliction, patience to await the Lord’s actions. All of these face Christ’s followers in the present day, just as they did when He first spoke those words.

Remember what Jesus promised His people: “And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.” The promise is great: divine action for God’s people, action that will come quickly. But where have you seen that? When have you seen direct action from heaven for you, the chosen and elect people of God? You can look around yourselves, and it sure seems that there isn’t much justice out there. See how poorly Christians are treated, from the disdain that the teachings of Jesus receive in western society to the physical assault and murder of His followers in parts of Africa and Asia. These people cry out: “Lord, have mercy on us!” And yet, they seem to get the cold shoulder like the Unjust Judge gave the widow.

But the lack of divine action doesn’t always have to descend to such gruesome depths. No, it is what faces individual Christians in other ways. The life-long believer is stricken with a terminal disease. Husbands and wives who pledged their love in Christ and seek to bring new life into the world endure the death of their unborn children. Lighting strikes a church and burns it to the ground. Even faithful ministers suffer false accusations about their teaching or conduct. The list could go on and on. But in each of these situations the questions come: “Where is that justice promised for me, one of God’s elect who cried to God day and night? How long must I wait? Just where is God?” As all of Jesus’ disciples face such afflictions, it is hard to answer Jesus’ question affirmatively: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” Despair and despondence seem much more likely than faith!

But that is what Jesus knows. His apostle Paul saw it. It’s why he wrote to Timothy: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” The apostle isn’t only describing people sampling the religious marketplace of his own day. No, he speaks of people, even now, who hear Jesus’ teachings but do not believe. They may hear the promises made by Jesus. But when they do not see them come to fruition as they expect, they wander off after other teachings, chasing other promises.

Not only Timothy had to deal with such situations. Paul had to respond to it in the Corinthian and Thessalonian churches. Peter encountered the same phenomenon among his scattered flocks: “[Scoffers] will say, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’. . . 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. 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.” The threat of just packing it in and abandoning the faith is not new. It has existed since the Lord first spoke to humanity and the question arose: “Did God really say?” For faith is not reliance in what is concrete and empirical; rather, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

So Jesus asks: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” Yes, He will find faith on earth. But it won’t be a majority who believe. And those who do believe will not do so because of human effort. No, it will be found in those who are worked in by the Holy Spirit, who are called by the Gospel and kept in the faith. It is the result of hearing the Word of God, “the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” These are not dead letters on a page: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” So the solemn charge is given: “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

In the face of all opposition, the promises of God are spoken to you. But there is more than just the repetition of sayings; there is the recalling of what has been done. You have God’s track record to look at. Jacob received the blessing, as the Lord fulfilled His promises and allowed Jacob to struggle with Him and prevail. You also have the works of Jesus to remember. The Lord made good on His Covenant because of His faithfulness, not because of pestering or out of self-interest. Jesus’ works are sacrificial, graciously done for your benefit: He dies so that you may be freed of the curse of death; He rises to life again so that you may live eternally.

So you have those works of Jesus—what He did to your adversaries of sin, death, and Satan—put in front of you. His words bring justice against your adversaries, forgiving your sins, bringing you life, and freeing you from Satan. Those words of action and promise are attached to real things for you to receive: people, water, bread and wine. The Word of Christ is spoken from the mouths of those who follow Him. It is no ordinary word, but it carries the Holy Spirit who kindles and sustains faith in you, even in the midst of afflictions. Only by participating in these things, can you answer Jesus’ question affirmatively: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” But answering affirmatively you will, for you are His persistent elect and the Lord does much better than any Unjust Judge.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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