How to be persistent in prayer, what humility and pride look like and why the faith of children should be imitated all are found in today’s reading. In addition we see the danger of putting possessions ahead of Jesus and the reason Jesus came – to suffer, die but rise again.
Jesus Tells the Parable of the Persistent Widow / 18:1-8
This parable, unique to Luke, illustrates the importance of prayer for believers (a theme of Luke’s, see 5:16; 6:12; 11:1-13). In the same way as the widow, believers should not give up praying to God even when facing indifference and powerful opposition.
18:1 The need for constant prayer and the injunction to never give up should be interpreted in light of the preceding chapter and its focus on the coming Kingdom. Jesus had been discussing with his listeners the aspects of the “in between” time as they lived in a sinful world and awaited the Kingdom. The problem of evil and suffering and the need for justice would plague Jesus’ followers as they experienced pain and awaited vindication. As they wrestled with these difficulties, they could know that their heavenly Father listened and understood and that the answer to their prayers for relief and justice is coming in his time.
- LIFE APPLICATION- PRAY HARD
- Jesus taught his disciples about persistent prayer. A T-shirt reads: “Life is short. Pray hard.” How does a person pray hard? Persistent prayer involves
- Faith. Unbelievers may succumb to anger, resentment, or despair when they face problems. But you believe God has a solution for you. Prayer builds faith.
- Hope. Life ends, sometimes tragically, but it always ends. God promises eternal life in his Word to those who trust him. When you pray often, you reactivate your trust in future life with God. Constant prayer generates hope.
- Love. To be concerned primarily about yourself, your needs, and your problems is normal. To care about someone other than yourself contradicts your instincts. God wants you to learn to love and to express love to others. Remember, prayer nurtures love.
When life is hard, prayer provides a way for you and God to face it together.
18:2-5 Jesus was not comparing God to this unjust and contemptuous judge, as though he would treat believers in this manner. Instead, this story shows that if even an evil man can be made to deal justly by a persistent woman, how much more would God, who loves his people, care for their requests.
The scene pictures a judge who is godless and contemptuous. He should have been championing those who needed justice, but when a widow came for help, he ignored her. Widows and orphans were among the most vulnerable of all God’s people, and both Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles insisted that these needy people be properly cared for. (See, for example, Exodus 22:22-24; Isaiah 1:17; 1 Timothy 5:3; James 1:27.) This woman had little hope of gaining the justice she sought, so she used the only weapon she had—persistence. With nothing to lose, she made herself an irritant to the judge. To get rid of her, he saw to it that she got justice.
- LIFE APPLICATION – HOW MUCH MORE
- Does prayer ever feel as though you are talking to an empty room when nobody’s listening? Do you wonder if your requests are an exercise in auto-suggestion? Is prayer a waste of time because God has more important things to do?
- Jesus used the “how much more” argument to demonstrate that God is not indifferent or inattentive. Do not attribute those qualities to him. God hears your prayers eagerly and compassionately. God acts on your behalf and for your best. God cares about you personally.
When you pray, remember God’s promise to hear your prayer.
18:6-8 If an unjust judge will respond to constant pressure, how much more will a great and loving God respond to his people? They know he loves them; they can believe he will hear their cries for help. They can trust that one day God will give a just decision in the end. As God’s people seek to be obedient in this sinful world, they can know that God will not keep putting them off. It may seem for a time that their cries go unheard. But one day, God will grant justice to them quickly. But Christ has not yet returned. Jesus had made it clear that there would be an intervening time. This would be the church age, the present time. During these years, God’s people help others find the Kingdom and are themselves strengthened in their faith. Their needs cause them to be on their knees constantly, knowing that God alone is their help. Jesus gave no indication of how long this intervening time would last or when he would return. Indeed, he said no one knows (Matthew 24:36), so believers are always to be ready. But Jesus asked, “When I, the Son of Man, return, how many will I find who have faith?” Will people have persisted in faith? Will they be ready and waiting when he comes?
Jesus Tells the Parable of Two Men Who Prayed / 18:9-14
After encouraging the disciples to be persistent in prayer (18:1-8), Jesus taught them, with a parable, how to pray. This parable sharply contrasts the prayer of a Pharisee with that of a tax collector.
18:9-10 Prayer is important (18:1-8), but the attitude of prayer is vitally important. The people who had great self-confidence and scorned everyone were the Pharisees and other religious leaders who saw themselves as the only ones righteous enough to be acceptable to God. To these people, Jesus told a story about two men who went to the Temple to pray. These two men were as different as could be: the one was a law-keeping and religious Pharisee, and the other was a dishonest tax collector.
18:11-12 This Pharisee’s actions and his prayer provide a picture of his life and occupation—he was a separatist, but his separatism and desire to remain clean before God had hardened into a lifestyle of self-righteousness. He stood by himself and prayed.
The words of this prayer, however, while probably true, were not prayed in the correct attitude of humility before God. He thanked God that he was not a sinner like everyone else. While the Pharisee was probably not like everyone else in a lot of ways, he erred in thinking that he was “not a sinner.” This Pharisee knew that he was far better than the tax collector he saw praying across the way. Tax collectors were not noted for their honesty, so this Pharisee compared himself favorably, telling God that he himself had never cheated or sinned or committed adultery. And, by the way, he also fasted twice a week and tithed from his income.
This Pharisee was confident of himself and his righteousness, while at the same time despising this other man, even though he too was in the Temple praying to the same God. The Pharisee did not welcome the tax collector who may have been seeking God; instead, the Pharisee gloated that he was so much more righteous.
- LIFE APPLICATION – LOOK AT ME! I’M PRAYING!
- The Pharisee went to the temple to use prayer as an announcement about how good he was. We all know that God was not impressed. Neither are we.
- Prayer that recites our accomplishments is nothing more than pious conceit. When you pray, recite God’s accomplishments instead—all that God has done for you and others. That kind of prayer directs praise to the right mailbox.
18:13-14 The focus shifts to the tax collector who had come to the Temple and seems to have known full well the extent of his sin. He felt so low that he did not think he could even lift his eyes to heaven into God’s face; instead he beat his chest (a sign of sorrow), praying for God to be merciful to him. He recognized himself as a sinner. He had been convicted of his sin and had come to the one place where he could find forgiveness. He had come to God, humbly recognizing that he did not deserve mercy.
Surprisingly enough, only the tax collector returned home justified before God. The word “justified” means God’s act of declaring people “not guilty” of sin. Only the tax collector recognized his sin; therefore, he was the only one God justified. The self-righteous Pharisee had said that he had no sin; therefore, there was nothing for God to justify for him. He returned home no different than when he had entered.
The principle is that no one has anything of value to bring to God in order to deserve salvation, mercy, justification, or even a second glance from God. The proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored. Acceptance before God cannot be achieved by good deeds, piety, or any amount of self-proclaimed righteousness.
- LIFE APPLICATION – HUMILITY
- Today, guilt is unpopular; feeling “good about myself” is much more in fashion. Anyone found beating his breast in guilt is sent for counseling until such negative behavior is corrected. Humbling oneself is likewise not in vogue. The papers are full of advice that self-asserting behavior and affirming oneself are the means to success. But God’s grace cannot be found without humility. It is essential to receiving mercy. That’s the point of Jesus’ parable in 18:13-14. Do you want to be free of guilt? First confess your sins before God with remorse and repentance. Then accept God’s gift to you—the forgiveness that Jesus Christ offers.
Jesus Blesses the Children / 18:15-17
Jesus used a child’s humility as a striking picture of the appropriate attitude with which to approach God. That type of humility was demonstrated by the tax collector in the previous parable (18:9-14).
18:15 In the first century, Jewish households were patriarchal—men came first, followed by women and children. Adult men were the key members of society, women quite secondary, and children were to be seen but not heard. It was customary, however, for parents to bring their children (the Greek word for “children” is paidia, meaning children ranging in age from babies to pre-teens) to an elder or a scribe so he could touch (or lay hands on) and bless them. The disciples apparently viewed this as an intrusion and a drain of time and energy. So they told the parents not to bother Jesus.
- LIFE APPLICATION – CHILDREN
- It was customary for a mother to bring her children to an elder or scribe for a blessing, and that is why these mothers gathered around Jesus. The disciples, however, thought the children were unworthy of the Master’s time—less important than whatever else he was doing. But Jesus welcomed them because little children have the kind of faith and trust needed to enter God’s kingdom. Does your church give slight attention and resources to the children’s or youth ministries? Be sure you give generously so these ministries are priorities. It is important to approach Jesus with childlike attitudes of acceptance, faith, and trust, and to introduce children to Jesus so that they can do so as well.
18:16-17 Instead of being too busy for children, Jesus called for them and wanted them to come to him. No one should be stopped from coming to Jesus, no matter how young or old. Jesus explained that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these, not meaning that heaven is only for children but that people need childlike attitudes of trust in God. The receptiveness of little children was a great contrast to the stubbornness of the religious leaders who let their education and sophistication stand in the way of a simple faith. Anyone who doesn’t have their kind of faith will never get into the Kingdom of God. Childlike faith means trusting God no matter what, always knowing that he has your best in mind. You love him because he loves you. You trust completely because the One you trust is completely trustworthy.
- LIFE APPLICATION – THEIR KIND OF FAITH
- How does someone have a child’s kind of faith, as emphasized by Jesus? It means having the simple, trusting attitude that children show to adults on whom they depend. Jesus wants his people to
- enjoy prayer by delighting in his company.
- find ways in a busy day to read the Bible enthusiastically.
- seek God’s help in any problem and rely on him for guidance.
- above all, trust explicitly in his promises.
- Children do all that with adults who love them. How much more should believers have that attitude toward Jesus, who loves them.
Jesus Speaks to the Rich Young Man / 18:18-30
This episode with the rich young man differs greatly with Jesus’ blessing of children in the previous section. The children are an example of innocent faith and trust. The rich young man thought he could gain eternal life by what he did, only to find that he could not have it.
18:18-19 This religious leader addressed Jesus as good teacher (not the more common “rabbi”) and eagerly asked a question about what he should do to get eternal life. He viewed eternal life as something that a person could achieve or earn through certain works or good deeds, and he wanted to make sure that he did everything necessary.
Instead of answering the man’s question, Jesus first took issue with the way the man addressed him. This may have been no more than a flippant attempt at flattery, but Jesus forced the man to think about it. Because only God is truly good, the man had made a statement about Jesus that he probably did not even realize. By asking this question, Jesus was saying, “Do you really know the one to whom you are talking?” The man was correct in calling Jesus good for he was good and also God.
18:20-21 Regarding the man’s question, Jesus at first pointed him back to the commandments (meaning the Ten Commandments). Jesus listed only five of them—those dealing with human relationships. He did not list any of the first four commandments that deal with a person’s relationship to God. All of the ones listed could be easily identified—the man probably could honestly say that he had not committed adultery or murder, had not stolen or lied, and had honored his parents. To keep the letter of these laws would be relatively easy for a wealthy young Jewish man. Yet he still felt strongly that something was lacking in his life. So he asked if there were more he should do. The point is that even if a person could keep all these commandments perfectly, which this man claimed to have done, there would still be a lack of assurance of salvation.
18:22-23 The man saying that he had kept all the commandments led Jesus to focus on the man’s relationship to his material possessions (alluding to the last commandment not to covet) and on his relationship to God (the first four commandments that Jesus had not mentioned). Jesus perceived an area of weakness—his wealth—and so said that it was the money itself that was standing in the way of his reaching eternal life. So Jesus told him to sell everything he owned, give away his money to the poor, and then follow him. This challenge exposed the barrier that would keep this man out of the Kingdom: his love of money. Ironically, his attitude made him unable to keep the first commandment: “Do not worship any other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:3). The young man did not love God with his whole heart as he had presumed. In reality, his many possessions were his god.
The task of selling every possession would not, of itself, give the man eternal life. But such radical obedience would be the first step. The emphasis was not so much on “selling” as on “following.” Jesus’ words to this rich young man were a test of his faith and his willingness to obey. The man thought he needed to do more; Jesus explained that there was plenty more he could do but not in order to obtain eternal life. Instead, he needed an attitude adjustment toward his wealth; only then could he submit humbly to the lordship of Christ. By putting his treasure in heaven and following Jesus along the road of selflessness and service to others, the man could be assured of his eternal destiny. But the young man became sad when he heard this.
Jesus does not ask all believers to sell everything they have. He does ask each person, however, to get rid of anything that has become more important than God. If your basis for security has shifted from God to what you own, you may need to get rid of those possessions.
- LIFE APPLICATION – NOT WHAT YOU OWN BUT WHAT OWNS YOU
- Sometimes people come to Jesus for life insurance—they would rather not lose everything at death. But Jesus’ call is one step deeper, beyond possessions to the real self. Are you God’s child, whatever you own? Are you Jesus’ disciple, whatever the cost? Becoming a Christian means happily surrendering the best of earth for the brightest of heaven. Have you placed your possessions and wealth fully under God’s control?
18:24-25 Offered discipleship, the man chose to return to his possessions. Jesus sadly pointed out to his disciples that it is hard for rich people to get into the Kingdom of God. This was contrary to conventional wisdom. Most Jews believed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing on people. Here Jesus explained that riches can often prove to be a stumbling block. Rich people often don’t feel the deep spiritual hunger needed to seek out and find God. They can use their money to buy possessions, trips, and helpers so that they don’t perceive any needs in their lives. With all their advantages and influence, the rich often find it difficult to have the attitude of humility, submission, and service required by Jesus. Because money represents power and success, the rich often miss out on the fact that power and success on earth cannot provide eternal salvation. Even if they use their money to help good causes, they can still miss out on God’s Kingdom.
Jesus used a well-known Jewish proverb to describe the difficulty faced by the rich; he said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” The Greek word refers to a sewing needle. Jesus’ image was for hyperbolic effect. The camel, the largest animal in Palestine, could get through the eye of a sewing needle easier than a rich person could get into God’s Kingdom. These are indeed sobering words for those whose money and possessions are extremely important to them.
- LIFE APPLICATION – UNTIL JESUS IS ALL
- For true disciples, wealth can be dangerous. Money and possessions can make people
- care more about money than about their role in God’s kingdom.
- worry more about comfort than about their neighbor’s needs.
- shop more for possessions to make them happy; search less for answers to life’s big questions.
- anchor happiness in their accomplishments, not in God’s Word.
- cling more to the tangibly immediate, less to the promised future.
18:26-27 Because the Jewish people saw riches as a sign of God’s special blessing, they were astounded when Jesus said that riches actually worked against people finding God. So they asked, “Then who in the world can be saved?”
Jesus answered that what is impossible from a human perspective is possible with God. People cannot save themselves, no matter how much power, authority, or influence they buy. Salvation comes from God alone. Both rich and poor can be saved, and human impossibilities are divine possibilities. The rich need to hold their riches loosely, remembering that every penny comes from God. And they should willingly use what God has given to advance his Kingdom. This does not come easily for anyone, rich or poor. Money can be a major stumbling block, but God can change anyone.
- LIFE APPLICATION-RICHES
- Jesus taught that it was nearly impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Because money represents power, authority, and success, often it is difficult for wealthy people to realize their need and their powerlessness to save themselves. The rich in talent or intelligence suffer the same difficulty. Unless God reaches into their lives, they will not come to him. It is difficult for a self-sufficient person to realize his or her need and come to Jesus, but what is impossible with people is possible with God.
18:28-30 Peter and the other disciples had paid a high price—leaving their homes and jobs—to follow Jesus. They had done what the rich man had been unwilling to do. They had abandoned their former lives.
Jesus reminded Peter that following him has its benefits as well as its sacrifices. Any believer who has had to give up something to follow Christ will be repaid in this life as well as in the next. For example, if you must give up a secure job, you will find that God offers a secure relationship with himself now and forever. If you must give up your family’s approval, you will gain the love of the family of God. For each person the sacrifice may be different, though no less difficult. No matter how much or how little you have, no matter how difficult the sacrifice may be are you willing to do whatever it takes to have eternal life?
- LIFE APPLICATION – NO LOSS SO GREAT
- Jesus promised much to his followers. Nothing you lose threatens the love, joy, and peace God promises to all his children.
- Not your home. Tornadoes may flatten it.
- Not your job. Stingy bosses may cancel it.
- Not your spouse. Cancer may snatch him or her away.
- Not your friends. They may shun “religious types.”
- Your life’s losses will add up as years go by, but God’s presence in you and promise to you is all the greater a share of your heart’s real treasure. No loss is so great that God does not fill the void.
Jesus Predicts His Death the Third Time / 18:31-34
For the third time, Jesus predicted his death; this time, he graphically described his rejection by the religious leaders and even predicted his own resurrection. Luke placed these predictions within his long section that recounts Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. He placed the first two predictions at the beginning of the journey (9:22, 43-45) and this third prediction toward the end, showing that Jesus was heading to Jerusalem to fulfill these predictions (see 12:50; 13:32-33; 17:25).
18:31 As a warning to his disciples, he gathered them around himself and explained that when they arrived in Jerusalem all the predictions of the ancient prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. Some of those predictions about what would happen to Jesus are in Psalm 41:9 (betrayal); Psalm 22:16-18 and Isaiah 53:4-7 (crucifixion); Psalm 16:10 (resurrection). Jesus explained that the plans had already been in place for thousands of years and soon would be fulfilled.
18:32-34 The first time Jesus told of his impending death, he focused on his rejection by Israel’s leaders (9:21-27); the second time, he added the element of betrayal (9:44-45). Here Jesus mentioned the foretelling of these events by the prophets and the involvement of the Romans. While the Jewish leaders would reject Jesus (as reported in 9:21-27), they had to submit to Rome’s authority in cases of capital punishment. They could punish lesser crimes, but only Rome could call for and enact an execution.
So sad were these words that it seems the disciples didn’t even hear the last sentence—on the third day, he would rise again. Their ignorance and blindness were simply because they could not grasp the scope of God’s plan in Jesus. The disciples didn’t understand Jesus, apparently because they were focusing on what he said about his death. Even though Jesus spoke plainly, they would not grasp the significance of his words until they had seen the risen Christ face-to-face (see 24:13-35).
Jesus Heals a Blind Beggar / 18:35-43
The healing of the blind man is the last miracle before the Passion Week. On his approach to Jerusalem, Jesus went through Jericho. Here a blind man, a person considered insignificant by others, cried out for mercy and expressed his faith in Jesus as the Messiah who could save him. His bold faith was rewarded.
18:35-36 Continuing on their journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus and the disciples approached Jericho. The Old Testament city of Jericho had been destroyed by the Israelites (Joshua 6:20), but during his rule over Palestine, Herod the Great had rebuilt the city (about a mile south of the original city) as a site for his winter palace. Jericho was a popular and wealthy resort city, not far from the Jordan River, about eighteen miles northeast of Jerusalem.
They came upon a blind beggar who was sitting beside the road. The blind, the lame and others who could not engage in the traditional occupations of the day could secure their living only by begging, normally on a busy roadside. Jewish people considered helping them a righteous deed. Jericho was a prosperous town with a good climate, and this blind man (Timaeus’s son—Mark 10:46) no doubt received ample support there, especially when pilgrims were passing by en route to the festival in Jerusalem.
18:37-39 When the blind man heard that Jesus of Nazareth was going by, he shamelessly cried out for Jesus’ attention. He called “Son of David,” a title for the Messiah (Isaiah 11:1-3). This means that the blind man understood Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah. The crowds tried to hush the man, perhaps trying to keep Jesus from being harassed by beggars. But that only made the blind man more persistent.
- LIFE APPLICATION- AGAINST THE CROWD
- When did you last reject the pressure to conform and just did it your own way? The crowd here wanted even-tempered decorum, but Bartimaeus wanted Jesus’ attention. He broke a lot of social rules to get it. What normal social patterns would you have to break to find Jesus? What if your office likes Sunday morning golf, but you want to worship? What if your colleagues’ language is crisp with profanity, and you respect Jesus’ name? What if joking about sexual exploits is common at work, but you believe sex is too special for such calloused treatment? Add to the list, and bring it to a small group for discussion. Together pray for strength to break through this week, getting closer to Jesus and conforming less to “normal” expectations.
18:40-41 Any normal human being, heading toward certain death, would be extremely preoccupied and probably not necessarily in the mood to help others. But Jesus did not reject the man as the crowd had done. He ordered that the man be brought to him, then asked him to voice his request. The man replied unhesitatingly, “I want to see!” How many times in his life had he voiced that desire? Probably thousands. But here he stood before the one person in the universe who could actually make his desire a reality. And he would not have asked if he had not believed that it could be so.
- LIFE APPLICATION – I WANT…
- Jesus asked the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” What do you want Jesus to do for you? Make a list of six responses you might make to Jesus’ question. Avoid clichés and “safe” items (such as “make me a better Christian”). Get personal and specific. Often the healing that Jesus brings begins with identifying our spiritual needs and having the desire to change. Don’t hesitate to ask for what others label as impossible. Like Bartimaeus, you need Jesus’ help today. Ask for it.
18:42-43 Jesus recognized the man’s faith. As a result of such faith, Jesus healed him. All Jesus did was speak the words and instantly the man could see. He immediately joined the crowd of followers, staying with Jesus, and praising God. This was also the response of the people in the crowd. There were no healings of the blind recorded in the Old Testament, so the Jews believed that such a miracle would be a sign that the messianic age had begun (Isaiah 29:18; 35:5). Jesus healed other blind people as well, so these people knew something special was happening. A poor and blind beggar could see that Jesus was the Messiah, and the crowds understood that God was to be praised for such miracles. But the religious leaders who saw his miracles were blinded to his identity and refused to recognize him as the Messiah.
Great symbolic value is here in Luke’s account. The man was a beggar sitting by the side of the road, waiting for something to happen. He was blind and could do nothing to improve his condition. The Messiah came through his town (as He had walked through many towns). Immediately the blind man recognized Him as the Messiah, the One who could save him from his blindness. Spiritual outcasts, unable to help themselves, far more readily recognized the Messiah and asked for His help than did the Jewish religious leaders.
*What are we to learn from the blind sight, the marvelous spiritual vision, of the blind beggar?
*First, we must see our need. The man knew he was blind, and he articulated it. Are you blind? — to your sin, your need of Christ? Or perhaps you are a believer but your sin has cauterized your eyes to what Christ is asking of you. Whatever, you need to ask the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of your heart.
*Second, once you see your need, you need to see who Jesus is. He is “the Son of Man,” the awesome, glorious sovereign whom all peoples and all nations will worship and whose kingdom and dominion will never end. He is “the Son of David,” the deliverer who will fulfill everything King David foreshadowed. He is the Savior, Christ the King.
*Third, you need to cry out, “Jesus, have mercy on me.” Seeing your need, seeing who Jesus really is, now cry out in faith, “Have mercy on me!”
*Do you see yourself? Do you see Jesus? Have you called out to him, “Jesus, have mercy on me”?
Until tomorrow, Darrell
Sources: Bible Background Commentary, Bible Knowledge Commentary, Life Application Bible Commentary, Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary ,Preaching the Word
For more about how to make a decision for Christ see: