Topical Scripture: Luke 18:1–8
Temple University was founded in 1888 by Dr. Russell Conwell. He raised $7 million by traveling all over America and telling the following story more than 6,000 times. It is a true story he called “Acres of Diamonds.”
There was once an African farmer who heard tales of settlers making millions by discovering diamond mines. He became so excited that he sold his farm and spent the rest of his life wandering over the vast African continent, searching unsuccessfully for diamonds. Finally, in a fit of despair, broke and desperate, he threw himself into a river and drowned.
Meanwhile, the man who had bought his farm found a large and unusual stone in one of its streams. The stone turned out to be a diamond of enormous value. He soon discovered other diamonds on the farm. It became one of the world’s richest diamond mines.
You and I are standing in acres of diamonds this week. Each of us has available to us the most awesome power in the universe—the omnipotence of the Creator God. The power which spoke all that is into being; the power that creates the miracle of life itself; the power which rules over all that exists. How is this power available to us? In prayer.
The CDC said this week that COVID-19 cases in the US could be ten times higher than reported. This would mean there are as many as twenty-three million people with the disease. Texas, California, and Florida all set records for the number of new cases in one day.
This while the recession continues and racial protests span the country. If there has been a more stressful time in my lifetime, I don’t remember it.
Today, we’ll focus on another of Jesus’ misunderstood parables. And we’ll learn that the harder it is to trust God, the more we need to trust God. Name your challenge, fear, or burden. Now let’s take it to the Judge of the universe who is also your Father and friend.
Be as persistent as the widow
This week’s parable is found only in Luke. Let’s walk through his story, phrase by phrase.
Luke begins with the clear point of the parable: “to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (v. 1). “To the effect that” means “for the purpose that.” “Not lose heart” means not to become weary or give in to evil.
Paul used the phrase for the same purpose when he testified, “Having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). He added: “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (v. 16).
In Jesus’ story, we find a “judge.” This man was clearly not a Jewish magistrate. Ordinary disputes in the Jewish culture were taken before the elders, not the public courts. If matters required arbitration, three judges were appointed—one chosen by the defendant, one by the plaintiff, and one selected independently.
By contrast, this judge was one of the paid magistrates employed either by Herod or by the Romans. These men were notorious. Rome had no requirement except that they protect the interests of the Empire. Unless a plaintiff had money and influence enough to buy a verdict, justice would never be done. The people typically called them “robber judges,” and for good reason.
Jesus is simply describing things as they are: “a judge who neither feared God nor respected man” (v. 2). He had no accountability, no higher court. He was the law unto himself.
Into his court came “a widow in that city” (v. 3a). In Jesus’ day, a widow had no social standing whatever. When she married, she left her father’s protection; when her husband died, she lost his.
As a result, if the judge simply ignored her, he had nothing to fear from anyone who mattered. She had no constituency. And without employment, she had no means of bribing the judge to be heard. If he were to treat her justly, it would be only out of his own character. And Jesus makes it clear that he has none.
Nonetheless, she “kept coming to him” (v. 3b). The Greek can be translated, “she came to him over and over again.” Her situation must have been dire indeed for her to continue such fruitless effort. She pleads that he “give me justice,” literally “take up my case.” She is asking that he give her legal redress or satisfaction. Right is clearly on her side, as she asks only for justice. She is confident that if the judge will simply hear the merits of the case, she will receive his help.
We don’t know the specific nature of her claim. Perhaps a man owes her money she needs to survive but won’t pay his bill. He could have stolen money she desperately needs, but the officials will not intervene. It could be that her husband has recently died, and she is now evicted from their home and possessions.
Making matters worse, she has an “adversary” (v. 3c). The word means an opponent in court. Given that this person is willing to stand before the judge, it seems likely that the opponent is a person of wealth or standing, someone who is confident of winning the verdict at hand. It is politically expedient for the judge to refuse the widow.
This unjust judge not only has no good reason to hear her—he has good reasons not to, it seems. She has no chance at all. We are not surprised that “for a while he refused” (v. 4a), translated literally, “he continued to refuse.”
Then comes the twist in the story. “He said to himself . . .” (v. 4b), talking with himself as characters in Luke’s parables are prone to do. He admitted, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man” (v. 4c); the syntax makes clear that the matter is indifferent to him. His manner belittles both heaven and earth, God and men.
Now comes the key word: “yet because this widow keeps bothering me . . .” (v. 5a, emphasis mine). “Yet” is a particle of emphasis, to be translated with force. We sense frustration, even anger in his voice and spirit. She “keeps bothering” him, literally “is continually the cause of trouble” for the judge.
If he doesn’t do something, she will “beat me down by her continual coming” (v. 5b). “Beat me down” translates a phrase meaning to give a black eye, to beat someone black and blue. Here it could be translated, “annoy to pain.” Eventually the judge will suffer disgrace before his society if he cannot deal with this woman. And the Roman Empire will not long countenance a judge who cannot handle a single troublesome widow.
Now Jesus commands us, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says” (v. 6). “Listen” is in the imperative and is intended to be understood as his order. We are required to listen to the judge, and to learn from him.
What will be the outcome of this legal stalemate? “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (v. 7). “Give justice” means to vindicate, a technical term for giving administrative justice. To “cry to him” means to cry aloud, to call for help; it is in the continual tense, thus “day and night.”
Jesus is certain: “I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily” (v. 8a). The widow models the kind of persistent prayer we are called to offer God, to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Now, why are we to pray in this way?
Pray to your loving Father
God’s word exhorts us not to become discouraged in the faith: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9); “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13). But why are we to pray with such persistence? At this point, it is easy to miss the intent of Jesus’ story and replace it with an unbiblical picture of the One to whom we pray.
As we noted last week, Jewish teachers were fond of a technique known as “the lesser to the greater.” Jesus made much use of it as well. In essence, the technique described meritorious behavior on the part of an inferior person, then drew the conclusion that a person of superior character would obviously do such a good thing and even more. Jesus applied the technique to his Father in heaven.
Jesus does not compare his Father to an unjust judge—he contrasts the two. He paints the most discouraging scene imaginable, then shows how persistence wins the day. If this be true against such odds, how much more powerful will persistent prayer be with our loving Lord.
If persistence enables me to borrow money from an enemy, how much more should it enable me to borrow from my best friend. If persistence impresses the sternest football coach, how much more will it impress my grandfather. If I can make an A from a teacher who never gives them, I can make an A from the teacher who wants to give them.
The judge does not want to hear her case; our Father earnestly desires to hear us when we pray. This judge never grants grace; our Father is love (1 John 4:8).
A small boy, not quite three years old, skipped down the imposing corridors. Armed servicemen, the best of the best, took no notice of the child as he ran past them. The boy passed several staff members who likewise did nothing to stop him. He ran past a secretary, then another armed sentry. He opened the door and went inside.
With a grin, the small boy ran across the carpet of the Oval Office and climbed into the lap of the most powerful man in the world. Influential cabinet members had to wait to continue their discussion as President John F. Kennedy and his son exchanged good-morning hugs. This is the access the God of the universe offers his children, in prayer.
I read this week about the supergiant star Antares. Scientists thought it was seven hundred times larger than our sun. It turns out, it is much larger. It is so large, in fact, that Saturn’s orbit would fit inside the star. Not just Saturn—its entire orbit.
Think of it: our God made that star. And every one of the 1 billion trillion other stars in the known universe (that’s a one followed by twenty-seven zeros). And he measures all of that with the palm of his hand (Isaiah 40:12), the same hand that is holding you right now (John 10:29).
This is the God who listens to your prayers and meets your needs today.
Are you tempted to quit? Have your prayers seemingly gone unheard or unanswered? Does God seem impervious to your cries?
I have often counseled church members to believe that one of four things will happen whenever we pray. One: God will give us what we ask, when we ask it. Two: he will give us what we ask, but at a better time than when we want it. Three: he will give us something better than what we ask, when we ask it. Four: he will give us something better than what we ask, at a better time than when we want it. You may be sure that your loving Father will always give you what you ask or what you need, whichever is best. Love can do no less.
When was the last time you prayed with your Father? What was your experience like? Was it a brief rote prayer over a meal? A routine, ritualized kind of spiritual chore? A hurried plea for help with a problem? Can you remember the last time you felt you really connected with God? That you literally knelt in his presence, and spoke to the God of the universe on his throne? That you felt yourself with him, and he with you?
How long since you lingered long in your Father’s presence, and felt your spirit and his Spirit become one? How long since you persisted in prayer with your Lord?
R. A. Torrey told the story of a Civil War father and mother in Columbus, Ohio. Their only son enlisted in the army, writing home regularly with letters full of cheer and enthusiasm. But then the day came with no letter. Weeks passed. One day the dreaded thing happened—a letter from the government explaining that there had been a great battle and their son had been killed.
The light went out of that home. Months and years passed. The war came to its end. One morning the two were sitting at the breakfast table when the maid came in and said, “There is a poor, ragged fellow out at the door and he wants to speak to you. But I knew you did not wish to speak to a man like him, and he handed me this note and asked me to give it to you.” She put in the father’s hands a soiled and crumpled piece of paper.
The father opened it and recognized instantly the handwriting of his son. The note said:
“Dear Father and Mother:
“I have been shot and have only a short time to live, and I am writing you this last farewell note. As I write there is kneeling beside me my most intimate friend in the company, and when the war is over he will bring you this note, and when he does be kind to him for Charlie’s sake. Your son Charles.”
Of course, there was nothing in that house that was too good for that boy, “for Charlie’s sake.” And there is nothing in heaven or on earth too good for us, “for Jesus’ sake.”
We’re standing in acres of diamonds, right now. But to pick one up, we must kneel.