Luke 18 - Prayer, Humility and Discipleship
A. A parable of persistence.
1. (1) The purpose of the parable: that we might not lose heart in prayer.
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart,
a. That men always ought to pray: Man is created with a spiritual instinct, so prayer often comes naturally. Yet obstacles come in the way of effective and constant prayer, so Jesus knew we needed to be both taught and encouraged always . . . to pray.
i. Jesus does not mean that we should always have our knees bent and eyes closed in prayer; but we must always be in the spirit of prayer. Many law enforcement officers always carry a gun with them, even when off duty. There is a sense in which they are never "off duty," but always have a weapon nearby. We are to keep our weapon of prayer always near, knowing that we are never "off duty" as Christians.
ii. If we would always pray, how much sinful conduct would that keep us from? If you want to go bar hopping one evening, what if you prayed about it first? Wouldn't that quench your sinful conduct?
b. And not lose heart: Often we stop praying because we lose heart. We become discouraged and then slack off in prayer.
i. It is easy to lose heart in prayer because prayer is hard work that we too often approach lightly. In Colossians 4:12, Paul praises a man named Epaphras because he was always laboring fervently . . . in prayers. Paul knew that prayer was hard work that required fervent labor.
ii. It is easy to lose heart in prayer because the Devil hates prayer. If prayer were powerless, it would be easy!
iii. It is easy to lose heart in prayer because we are not always convinced of the reality of the power of prayer. Too often, prayer becomes a last resort instead of a first resource.
2. (2-8) The parable of the widow and the unjust judge.
Saying: "There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, 'Get justice for me from my adversary.' And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, 'Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.'" Then the Lord said, "Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"
a. A judge who did not fear God nor regard man: The judge was ungodly, both as a man and a judge. Yet in the end he answered the woman's request. The only reason he gave in was because the woman wouldn't stop bugging him. When he complained the woman would weary me, it really means, "Stun me. A metaphor taken from boxers, who bruise each other." (Clarke)
b. Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her: The unjust judge only reluctantly answered the woman's request, but God loves to answer our prayers, and He even helps us when we pray. God is on your side when you pray!
i. The woman had to overcome the judge's reluctance to help. We often feel that we must do the same when we pray - overcome God's reluctance by our persistence. But this misses the point of the parable entirely. Jesus is not saying that men always out to pray and not lose heart because God is reluctant, but because He isn't, and that is our encouragement to prayer.
ii. Then why does it seem that we must overcome reluctance in God? The delays in prayer are not needed to change God, but to change us. Persistence in prayer brings a transforming element into our lives, building into us the character of God Himself. It is a way that God builds into us a heart that cares about things the same way He does.
iii. Both Jesus (Mark 14:39) and Paul (2 Corinthians 12:8) prayed repeatedly for the same thing. However, we must guard against a persistence of unbelief - repeating prayer with the attitude that God never heard us the first time.
c. Shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him: This parable has a unique approach. Obviously, God is not the unjust judge; but if the unjust judge will answer the persistent request, how much more will a righteous God?
i. Sometimes we think that God delays because He is unjust or because He is unfair. That isn't the case at all. He is not like the unjust judge, so we should keep praying to the God who will resolve all things righteously. "Too many prayers are like boy's runaway knocks, given, and then the giver is away before the door can be opened." (Spurgeon)
ii. Our God is a righteous, wonderful Judge:
- We come to a judge of perfect, good character.
- We come to a judge who loves to care for His children.
- We come to a judge who is kind and gracious.
- We come to a judge who knows us.
- We come to this judge with an advocate, a friend who will plead our case before the judge.
- We come to the judge with promises to encourage us.
- We come to the judge with the right of constant access, to a judge who has a personal interest in our case.
d. When the Son of Man comes: This ties Jesus' thought to His words about His coming at the end of the previous chapter. Unless we know who God is (He is not like the unjust judge) and unless we are people who pray without losing heart, we don't have the kind of faith Jesus will look for when He returns.
B. Lessons on humility.
1. (9-14) A parable to rebuke the self righteous.
Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
a. To some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: The connection between those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and those who despised others is almost inevitable. If I credit myself for my "great, spiritual walk with God," then it is an easy thing to despise you for your "low, carnal walk with God."
b. Two men went up to the temple to pray: Both men prayed, but both men did not come to God the same way. The Pharisee and his prayer were entirely self-centered; he prayed thus with himself, and in his short prayer he repeats I five times.
i. It is entirely possible to address your words to God, but actually be praying to yourself, because your focus is on yourself, not on God. Your passion is for your agenda, not God's. Your attitude is mine will be done not Thy will be done.
ii. God, I thank You that I am not like other men: How could the Pharisee have such a high opinion of himself? It isn't hard when you compare yourself to man (even as this tax collector). You can always find someone worse.
iii. I fast twice a week: In those days many Jews fasted on the second and fifth days of each week, because they believed that Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the law on the fifth day of the week, and that he came down with the law on the second day of the week.
iv. "What the Pharisee said about himself was true. His trouble was not that he was not far enough along the road, but that he was on the wrong road altogether." (Morris)
c. We wonder how anyone could be so proud before God; but we really can be - though we cover it with a spiritual veneer. One Rabbi, Rabbi Simeon, the son of Jochai, exemplified this kind of Pharisaical pride when he said: "If there were only thirty righteous persons in the world, I and my son would make two of them; but if there were but twenty, I and my son would be of the number; and if there were but ten, I and my son would be of the number; and if there were but five, I and my son would be of the five; and if there were but two, I and my son would be those two; and if there were but one, myself should be that one." (Clarke)
i. This is from an actual prayer of Rabbi Nehunia: "I give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, that Thou has set my portion with those who sit in the House of Learning, and Thou hast not set my portion with those who sit in street corners, for I rise early and they rise early, but I rise early for words of Torah and they rise early for frivolous talk; I labor and they labor, but I labor and receive a reward and they labor and do not receive a reward; I run and they run, but I run to the life of the future world and they run to the pit of destruction." (Morris)
d. The tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" The Pharisee relied on his own power and deeds before God, but the tax collector relied on the mercy and compassion of God. He recognized that he was a sinner who needed the mercy of God.
i. We can imagine the Pharisee praying with eloquent words and flowing, spiritual style; anyone who heard him pray would say that he was a spiritual man. And the tax collector would pray awkwardly, with halting phrases and fear; but his prayer pleased to God.
e. Why would the tax collector beat his breast? The idea was that you were so aware of the sin and corruption of your heart that you would hit at your own heart as a punishment. The verb tense of beat his breast describes a continual action - he kept on doing it
i. The ancient Greek word for be merciful is hilaskomai; it is actually the word for an atoning sacrifice. The fullest sense of what the tax collector is saying is, "God, be merciful to me through Your atoning sacrifice for sins, because I am a sinner." The only other place this word is used in the New Testament is in Hebrews 2:17, where it is translated propitiation.
f. This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: The justification of the tax collector was immediate. He humbly came to God on the basis of His atoning sacrifice, and was justified. He didn't earn his justification, he didn't have a probationary period; he was simply justified.
g. Jesus applies the message of the parable: everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Essentially, the Pharisee saw prayer and his spiritual life as a way to be exalted, but the tax collector approached God in humility.
i. True humbleness is simply seeing things the way they are. The Pharisee saw himself as something great when he wasn't, and the tax collector saw himself as a sinner needing God's mercy, which he was.
ii. We gain nothing by coming to God in the lie of pride. The principle God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble is so important God repeats it three times in the Scriptures (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).
2. (15-17) Jesus uses children as examples of humility.
Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."
a. The also brought infants to Him that He might touch them: Children love to come to Jesus, and it says something about our Savior that children loved Him and that He loved children. Jesus was not a mean, sour man because children don't love mean, sour people.
i. That He might touch them: Jesus knew that these infants, though they did not understand speech or Jesus' eloquent teaching, could respond to a touch. Jesus knows how to communicate to you in the way you need.
b. Let the little children come to Me: Because children love to come to Jesus, we should never block the way - or fail to provide them a way. We know more about Jesus than the women of Judea did. Is there any good reason for us to not bring our own children to Jesus?
c. For of such is the kingdom of God: Children receive the blessing of Jesus without trying to make themselves worthy of it, or pretending they don't need it. We need to receive God's blessings the same way.
C. Riches and true discipleship.
1. (18-19) A rich young ruler comes to Jesus.
Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God."
a. Good Teacher: This was a title never applied to other Rabbis in Jesus' day, because it implied sinlessness, a complete goodness. Jesus, and everyone else, recognized that this was a unique title.
i. "There is no instance in the whole Talmud of a rabbi being addressed as 'Good Master'" (Plummer, cited in Geldenhuys). The insisted only calling God "good."
b. Why do you call Me Good: This is not a denial of deity. Instead, Jesus invites the young man to reflect upon it. It is as if Jesus says, "do you really know what you are saying when you call Me Good Teacher?"
c. What shall I do to inherit eternal life: If the man really knew who Jesus was, he wouldn't ask Jesus for advice about how to get to heaven. He would be on his knees before Jesus, asking for His mercy and grace - as the tax collector did earlier in the chapter.
i. The man also didn't really know who he was. He thought that he was righteous, and didn't really know the kind of person he was. When you don't know who Jesus really is, you probably won't know who you are either. And knowing Jesus comes first.
2. (20-23) Jesus' counsel to the young man.
"You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother.'" And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth." So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.
a. You know the commandments: This man was a ruler, and educated Jew of his day, so of course he knew the commandments. In His follow-up, Jesus is careful to quote to him only those commandments that have to do what is often called the second table of the law - how we treat one another.
i. Incidentally, each one of these commandments is pure, just, and good. How great the world would be if everyone would live by just the five commandments Jesus mentions here?
b. All these things I have kept from my youth: In his reply, this ruler says of himself that he has kept all these commandments, and that he has done so since his youth. Is this possible? Yes and no; yes according to the way these commandments were commonly interpreted, but no according to the true meaning God had for these commandments.
i. In Philippians 3:6, Paul says that in the eyes of the religious Jews, he could say that for him, concerning the righteousness which is in the law, [he was] blameless.
ii. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, gave us the real meaning of the law - it goes to the heart, not just to your actions. You can have a heart filled with adultery even if you never commit it; a heat filled with murder even if you never do it; a heart that steals even if you never steal. And God looks at the heart as well as the actions.
c. You still lack one thing: Though the man had everything - riches, an outwardly righteous life, respect, prestige, Jesus could still say You still lack one thing. The man had everything but knew that he did not have eternal life - so he really had nothing.
i. In Mark's recording of this incident, he adds one aspect that Luke left out. Mark says: Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him . . . (Mark 10:21). Jesus was filled with loving compassion for this man because his life was so empty. He had climbed to the top of the ladder of success, only to find his ladder leaned against the wrong building.
d. You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me: Instead of challenging the man's fulfillment of the law (which Jesus had every right to do), Jesus points him to what is commonly called the first table of the law - the laws having to do with our relationship with God. Jesus challenged him to put God first; to fulfill the law to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).
i. So, could the man love God more than his wealth? No, he could not, even though Jesus specifically promised him treasure in heaven. The man was more interested in man's earthly treasures than in God's heavenly treasures.
ii. Essentially, this man is an idolater - riches are his God, not the true God of the Bible. He puts money first.
iii. Men will be tested by both tables of the law. It isn't enough to do good by our fellow man and be decent folk; we must do right by God, and give Him the glory and honor He deserves.
e. He became very sorrowful, for he was very rich: We notice the balance. Very sorrowful, and very rich. The man's riches were an anchor dragging down his soul, and because he was very rich, the anchor was very heavy.
i. Jesus' purpose wasn't to make the man sad; but he could only be happy by doing what Jesus told him to do.
f. Then how can we be saved? This man, like all men by nature, has an orientation towards a works-righteousness; he asked what shall I do. If we really want to do the works of God, it must begin with believing on Jesus, whom the Father has sent (John 6:29).
3. (24-27) The problem of riches.
And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." And those who heard it said, "Who then can be saved?" But He said, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God."
a. He became very sorrowful: The rich man was sorry, and now Jesus was sorry. Jesus did not want the man to walk away in his idolatry, loving his riches more than God. Yet, Jesus still let him walk away.
b. How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! Jesus makes it clear: riches are an obstacle to the kingdom of God. They are not an insurmountable obstacle, but they are an obstacle nonetheless.
i. We usually only think of poverty as a problem. Jesus reminds us that riches may present a much more serious problem. Riches are dangerous because they tend to make us satisfied with this life, instead of longing for the age to come. Also, riches often must be acquired at the expense of acquiring God.
ii. We often excuse ourselves from what Jesus says here because we don't consider ourselves rich. Yet who among us would not be considered richer than this rich young ruler was?
c. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God: With this image, Jesus illustrates the difficulty riches present to entering the kingdom of God.
i. "Attempts have been made to explain Jesus' words about the camel and the eye of a needle in terms of a camel shuffling through a small postern gate, or by reading kamilon 'cable' for kamelon 'camel'. Such 'explanations' are misguided. They miss the point that Jesus is using a humourous illustration." (Morris)
d. Who then can be saved? We are like the disciples; it is hard for us to see how riches would hinder us from the kingdom of God. We think that riches can only bring blessing and good.
i. The words of Jesus amaze the disciples because they assume that riches are always a sign of God's blessing and favor. After all, if the rich aren't saved, then who is?
ii. Remember what Paul said to Timothy: But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
e. The things which are impossible with men are possible with God: However, God's grace is sufficient to save the rich man. We know of many rich men in the Bible who were saved, including Zaccheus, Joseph of Armithea, and Barnabas.
4. (28-30) Our reward and the solution to the problem of riches.
Then Peter said, "See, we have left all and followed You." So He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life."
a. See, we have left all and followed You: In contrast to the rich young ruler, the disciples have left all to follow Jesus, so what will be their reward? Why does this question seem so typical of Peter?
i. Of course, there is a special honor for these disciples. They have a special place in judgment, probably in the sense of administration in the millennial Kingdom. As well, the apostles had the honor of helping to provide a singular foundation for the church (Ephesians 2:20), and have a special tribute in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 20:14).
b. Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left: The twelve may have their unique reward, but there will be universal honor for all who sacrifice for Jesus' sake. Whatever has been given up for Him will be returned to us a many times over - in addition to everlasting life.
i. Many times over is obviously not meant in a material sense, Jesus is promising a hundred mothers and a hundred wives. Many times over is literal, but spiritual in its fulfillment.
c. Having and keeping the heart of a giver will keep you from being corrupted by riches. We all want to do what Psalm 62:10 says: If riches increase, do not set your heart on them, and giving is key.
5. (31-34) Jesus again announces His coming fate in Jerusalem.
Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again." But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.
a. He took the twelve aside and said to them: The disciples were probably thinking pretty highly of themselves at this point; after all, they had given up everything to follow Jesus. But Jesus lets them know that they really haven't, and will never, give up anything comparable to what He gives up.
b. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon: Significantly, Jesus mentions the shame of His suffering. Jesus was put to the most terrible emotional humiliation in His death, and it was done out of love for us.
i. This reminds us of Jesus' remarkable "long term courage." He didn't "have" to go to Jerusalem, but He did with full knowledge of His fate. Jesus was by no means a blind victim of circumstances.
c. Sadly, the disciples understood none of these things. They heard the words right from the mouth of Jesus, and saw the expression on His face, and still did not understand. We can never see God's truth unless He opens our eyes.
i. Why didn't God open their eyes to this truth? Probably because they couldn't handle it yet. If they really knew what would happen to Jesus, and how different it would be than their own conceptions of riding the coattails of the Messiah to glory, they might have given up right then and there.
ii. "Only at a somewhat later time . . . do the Jewish rabbis appear to have taught that there would be a suffering Messiah ('Messiah ben Joseph') as well as a triumphant Messiah ('Messiah ben Judah')." (Geldenhuys)
6. (35-43) Jesus heals a blind man.
Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, "What do you want Me to do for you?" He said, "Lord, that I may receive my sight." Then Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well." And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
a. He cried out all the more: The blind man is desperate for Jesus; he won't be embarrassed, and he won't be shut up. He knows who Jesus is (Son of David, a Messianic title) and he wants Jesus!
b. Have mercy on me: The blind man knows what he needs from Jesus: mercy. He doesn't come thinking that God owes him; all he wants from Jesus is mercy.
c. Why did Jesus ask What do you want Me to do for you? Wasn't it obvious? Yet, there was real power in the man asking, and in Jesus answering. God may ask you the same question, and we should be able to articulate an answer that glorifies Him!
d. Lord, that I may receive my sight: The blind man knew how to submit to Jesus; he calls Him Lord.
e. Receive your sight; your faith has made you well: How did the faith of the blind man save him?
- Because it was faith that wanted Jesus.
- Because it was faith that knew who He was.
- Because it was faith that knew what he deserved from Jesus.
- Because it was faith that could tell Jesus what it wanted.
- Because it was faith that could call Jesus Lord.
That is saving faith!
f. He received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God: The blind man, now healed and saved, began to follow Jesus. The way of Jesus became his way - and this is especially significant when we consider that Jesus was on His way towards Jerusalem to die.