As a teenager, I longed to leave home and become my own man. I doubt I am alone in that! We all, to some degree, want to be self-sufficient and successful. But where does that leave us as Christians? There is a direct contradiction between what the world tells us we should pursue, and what Jesus says he will be looking for when he returns: a relationship with God.
When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?
The Tale of The Widow and The Judge
“Nobody likes needy people! Needy people call too much. They always need help, they are always asking for something, they get upset when you watch a movie without them. You see, needy people are high maintenance people. People like the Widow.
We like people who are self-sufficient; people who don’t need anyone and are fine by themselves.
Instead, we like people who are self-sufficient; people who don’t need anyone, people who are fine by themselves. People like the Judge.”
We Like Self-Sufficient People
Those are the people that we celebrate in society. That’s what we want to be like. Now we wouldn’t go as far as saying that – as the judge is described – we like people who “neither fear God or care about what people think”. No, we wouldn’t say that.
But we appreciate people who function like that.
What Is Jesus Teaching Us?
In Luke 18:1 we read “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” That is the point of this parable – that we should always pray, and not lose heart. That doesn’t sound much like self-sufficiency!
The truth is, that faithful people are dependent people. They are in relationship with God; they rely on him.
How To Be in Relationship With God
Faithful people are dependent people.
We lost our perfect dependance on God when we decided to eat the fruit in Genesis 3 and we were chucked out of the Garden. From there we became self-sufficient people.
Yet, those people who have a relationship with Jesus, depend on him. They are attached to him, they have intimacy with him. They have a child-like faith, like my daughter has with us. But even more than that, it is God’s children who have a relationship with Jesus. Because they know that he has made a way for them to have a relationship with God.
This is why when the Son of Man comes, he will be looking for those who have faith. He will be looking for those who have a relationship with Jesus.
Is Your Identity In Christ?
How do we live an authentic Christian life? This is an important question to ask ourselves.
Knowing who you are as a believer will enable you to live an authentic Christian life.
The most important thing in life is to understand who you are. When you have a good grasp of who you are, you are able to function effectively in that identity. For identity shapes practice. Knowing who you are as a believer will enable you to live an authentic Christian life and have a real relationship with God.
Text: Luke 18:1-8
Date preached: 16 August 2020
Location: St James Church, Cape Town, South Africa
Today’s Bible reading is taken from Luke 18:1-8:
“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
What Is Authentic Christianity?
Hello everybody. Welcome to St James church online. For the next two weeks we’re gonna be looking at Luke 18. And we’re gonna look at two stories, which Jesus tells. And from those stories we’re gonna learn two principles. Two things that are gonna help us answer the question, what is authentic Christianity?
And I think that is an important question to always ask ourselves. And we’ll see why that is so critical, as we go through this passage today.
I am going to pray for us, and then we will dive into it. Let’s bow our heads and pray
Father, we thank you that through your son Jesus, you have made a way for us to be in relationship with you. We thank you that, in your mercy and in your grace, you have opened up the way for us to come and commune with you – with great intimacy – to find full satisfaction in you.
We pray that today you might help us to realise how this is the most important aspect of our lives, and of our Christian walks.
We pray that those who are listening in, who are not believers, that you may speak to them. We pray that those who are believers, that you will also spur them on in their faith.
We pray for all of this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Shawshank Redemption
One of the greatest movies that I have ever watched – and I think that there is a bit of consensus that this is a great movie – is the Shawshank Redemption. The Shawshank Redemption is a movie about a guy called Andy Dufresne, who is convicted for murder; for murdering his wife and her lover. And he is sent to prison. The prison is called Shawshank.
Andy Dufresne gets to prison, and he meets a guy called Red. Now Red is depicted by Morgan Freeman, and Morgan Freeman is also the narrator of the movie. At the beginning of it, when he meets Andy Dufresne, Morgan Freeman says, “well, when I first met the guy, I didn’t think much of him. He just looked like a guy who could be blow away by the wind.”
A Guy Unlike Everyone Else
And as he met him, Morgan Freeman started to say that at the time that he started to interact with him, he started to realise that there was something different about this guy. He was not like everyone else who was in jail; he was not like the rest of the criminals.
He did not act like a prisoner; he did not act like a criminal.
You see Andy Dufresne was falsely convicted. He had not done the murder of his wife and her lover. Morgan Freeman says, “the way he carried himself, the way he walked in prison, he was just different.” He did not act like a prisoner; he did not act like a criminal.
One of the things that happens in the movie, is that Andy Dufresne realises that there is a bit of a weak library in the prison, and so he starts to look for a way to get more money, from the city, to be able to support the building of a better library.
And he writes letter, after letter, to the Mayor.
Some Bird’s Aren’t Meant To Be Caged
After 12 years of persistent asking, he gets the money. Andy Dufresne does taxes for the prison guards, and even for the prison warden himself. He becomes the right-hand-man to the guy. He is different.
Now Andy Dufresne eventually manages to escape from prison. And Red, as he is narrating the story, says that “Well, I guess some birds are just not meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright.”
You see Andy Dufresne was different to the rest of the guys in prison, because he was not a criminal. And he understood that about himself. He did not operate like them, he did not function like them – and that shaped everything that he did during the time that he was in prison.
Identity Shapes Practice
You see the most important thing in life, is to understand who you are. When you have a good grasp of who you are, you are able to function effectively in that identity of yours. Because identity shapes practice.
When you have a good grasp of who you are, you are able to function effectively.
Now this is so important, especially as we look at this passage together. It’s important for us to realise that who you are – your self-understanding – is the most important thing of you want to live the authentic Christian life.
Will He Find Faith On Earth?
Now, the most important verses… the verses that help us to understand this passage, are the first and the last verse. The first verse (Luke 18:1) we read “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” And the last verse (Luke 18:8) – particularly the second half: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
It’s particularly those last words that are critical. In those words we see Jesus elevating the seriousness of the issue that he is talking about. It’s almost as if Jesus is doubting, that when he comes back he will find faith. Because Jesus is the Son of Man, by the way.
But he’s not doubting. Jesus is using that question to rhetorical effect. He is ramping up the problem, he is elevating the seriousness of the matter, and he is shocking those who are hearing into action.
Waiting For Judgement Day
You see for the ordinary Jew, when they heard the words: “When the Son of Man comes back,” they stopped to listen. Because the day when the Son of Man comes back – the day of Judgement – was the most important day for their lives. It was the day that they all expected; It was the day when God would restore Israel to be what it used to be. And they were waiting for that day.
Jesus is talking about the day when he will judge everyone; when he will separate the sheep from the goats.
You know sometimes, when we read a passage like this, we tend to sort of feel numb towards it. Because we often hear these stories as Christians, isn’t it? We grew up listening to these stories – these passages at our finger tips – and it’s so easy to become familiar with them.
And those words particularly at the end of this passage: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Those words, are probably some of the most important words that Jesus ever said.
Because Jesus is talking about the day when he will judge everyone; when he will separate the sheep from the goats. It is the day when he will take those who are his, and he will enter into eternity with them. And those who are not? He will consign them to a life of hell for eternity; forever.
What Is Jesus Getting At?
You see when we hear those words, we have to stop and listen to the story and ask ourselves, “What is Jesus really getting at here?”
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
What Is Faith?
So here is a good question to ask: What is faith? Because faith is what the Son will look for when he comes back. So what is faith?
So the writer, Luke helps us to interpret the passage. His first words – which I’ve already read – are the most important words, for our understanding. He says we ought always to pray.
So what is the link between prayer and faith? Well this parable is gonna help us to understand that.
The Link Between Prayer and Faith
So we have two characters in the parable, the widow and the judge. And those two characters are gonna help us furnish a lot more of what Jesus is saying.
Learning From The Widow
So first, the widow. Now, in Jewish society, widows were very vulnerable people. Widows didn’t inherit their husbands’ estates. Our world has come a long way in getting people like widows to be looked after. In those days it wasn’t really the case. They tended to struggle when their husbands passed away, because they were kind of in no-man’s land.
A Vulnerable Person
Because the thing about women in Jewish society, was that they were attached to the household they belonged to: that was their home, that was there they got their functionality from, that was where they got their identity from.
And so when the husband died, the widow was left in kind of no-man’s land. No one to fight for their rights, no one to protect them. No home to belong to.
But you see this widow had a particular problem: someone was taking advantage of her. You see she already has a state in society which is kind of desperate. But there’s someone taking advantage of that.
A Needy Person
You see this woman was the ultimate definition of a needy person. And neediness is one of those things that we abhor, we hate, as a society. We don’t like needy people.
You know before I got married, my friends and I, we used to like to hang out and talk about the type of girls we would like to get married to – you know how single people are! And you know it was a common thing. I remember, one of the things that stood out as the thing that most guys wanted to avoid in marriage, was a needy wife.
We Don’t Like Needy People!
Nobody likes needy people! Needy people call too much. They always need help, they are always asking for something, they get upset when you watch a movie without them. You see needy people are high maintenance people.
We like people who are self-sufficient; people who don’t need anyone
The thing about needy people – and this is the biggest problem – is actually a problem that forces us to ask ourselves, “Can we meet their needs? Do we have the capability to go and do what they want?” That’s the major issue, that’s why we don’t like needy people; because they make us feel inadequate.
But the other thing about them is that it’s just plain inconvenient. Sometimes we just don’t want – or we just don’t have the time – to help these people. You see we like people who are self-sufficient; people who don’t need anyone; people who are fine by themselves. People like the Judge.
We Like Self-Sufficient People
Those are the people that we celebrate in society. That’s what we want to be like. Now we wouldn’t go as far as saying that – as the judge is described – that we like people who neither fear God or care about what people think. No, we wouldn’t say that. But we appreciate people who function like that.
The Judge is the prototype of a self-sufficient person
Because those people don’t get in our way. Those people don’t need us to do things for them. You see the Judge is the prototype of a self-sufficient person. He is the height of self-sufficiency. He is fine by himself. He doesn’t need any help. He has enough influence and power in society to be able to function on his own. Doesn’t bother anyone.
You see the Judge is what you get when people become fully self-sufficient. When they don’t fear God or care about what people think.
You see when you are self-sufficient you don’t sympathise with other peoples’ needs. You become arrogant, because naturally, you believe you got to the top by yourself – no-one got you there – you worked hard to get there.
You see as bad as this judge is, as callous at heart as he is, he could not resist the persistence of the widow. He decided to give her justice, because he did not want to be worn down by her.
How Did The Widow Wear Him Down?
You know as I was looking at this passage, these last few days, I asked myself, “What is it about this widow, that made her capable of wearing down a person like the Judge? What is it about her?”
Well it’s because of who she was in society. It’s because of her self-understanding. She had no other option. You see people who have options, tend to be flimsy. People who have options, can touch this and if they are not happy with it, can easily leave it and move onto the next.
But people who don’t have options, knuckle down and get things done.
Push Hard and Keep Going
When I first moved to South Africa, one of the most difficult things about moving country is sorting out your paper work. If you are a foreigner, you will know that hassle. And I remember I was at the Home Affairs one day, and I needed something sorted, and I wasn’t getting any joy. The guys just weren’t giving me time.
I remember calling a friend of mine, who also is from Zimbabwe, and chatting to him about my struggle. I was at Home Affairs on that day, and he gave me a big speech.
He said “Listen, the day you crossed that border, you had to realise that you were no longer on equal footing with everyone else. This is not your country. You are a foreigner. You are five steps behind. That means you have to fight harder, for you to get the things that you need to get done. You have to push hard, and you have to keep going. Because no one is going to give to you on a silver platter.”
I remember that day, as I was sitting in the Home Affairs – it was about 11am – and I had been there from 5am and I was getting no joy. And I decided I wanted to see the manager. And no one would allow me to see him. Eventually I pushed and pushed, and the guys let me see him. And the guy told me that what I was asking was impossible – and he’s not gonna do it. And I sat in front of his office for the rest of the day.
Each time he came out I asked him, “Please help me.”
Just before 5pm as he was about to knock off, he gave me what I needed. You see I had no other option. There’s nothing else I cold do except get that going.
A Person With No Options Doesn’t Stop
You see a person with no options, will not stop. This was it for her – there was no other place to get recourse. She could only get it from the callous Judge; the Judge who doesn’t care about people, the Judge famous for being self-sufficient. She had to get it from him.
You see it’s within her identity to persist in this way. It is because of who she is. It is because of her understanding of who she is in society, that allowed her to act in this way.
You see you ought to understand who you are, in order to drive your life in the right direction.
You see you ought to understand who you are, in order to drive your life in the right direction. And that takes a lot of hard work. It is not a simple thing to have a good understanding of yourself. But is is the most important thing – because identity shapes practice.
The Widow was persistent because she had nowhere else to turn to. It was her own self-understanding that led her to do that. And the arrogant, self-sufficient Judge, budged. He was defeated.
The Point Jesus Is Making
Now these two extreme cases, these two extreme cases that Jesus presents, he is using them to rhetorical effect. He is trying to help us to see the extent to which his point is a reality. And the point is in verse 7:
“will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”
Just notice the comparison there.
If the callous, unjust judge, was able to respond with justice to the widow – the two extremes of the societal structures were able to come together, and the Judge came to her to help her, because he was worn down by her, – what about God towards his elect?
Our Relationship With God
You see God is not like the Judge. God is just. God cares about people. God loves people.
What about his people who come to him and ask for things to him? How is he going to respond?
Praying to God is an indication of your self-understanding… You understand yourself as a child of God
Well he will respond quickly, he will give them what they need. You see praying to God is an indication of your self-understanding. When you understand yourself as a child of God; when that is your identity, you will pray to him. Because you belong to him, you depend on him.
You see faith is about relationship with God. It is about understanding ourselves as his. We belong to him. I am God’s child, and there is nothing that is going to separate me from his love. There is nothing that is going to separate me from being his. And because of that, I will cry to him, day and night – whenever I have need.
The Role of Prayer
You see prayer is not just about requesting things from God. Prayer is about intimacy with God. Prayer is about being in his presence. Prayer is about hearing from God.
Calling God Father
I mean when you begin praying, let’s say for example you say “Father,” you begin by saying “Father,” as Jesus begins in his own prayer “Our Father.” You stop, and you reflect on those words and ask yourself: “What does it mean when I say Father to God?”
Prayer is about deep intimacy with God
From there you can reflect on that, and God can speak to you, from your engagement with his word – even from the Holy Spirit speaking, and helping you remember some things that are written in his word.
In that, you experience deep intimacy with God. One of the people that is most intimate with God in the Bible is David. And you see David writing his prayers. And as you read the psalms you can see how David is so much self-reflective in his prayers.
When we have a mechanical view of prayer, where we are just asking for things from God, we miss the point of it.
He is reflecting on God, he is reflecting on the world. Prayer is much more to him than just asking God for things. You see prayer is about deep intimacy with God. It’s about experiencing him; its about knowing him.
When we have a mechanical view of prayer, where we are just asking for things from God, we miss the point of it. We miss that we are speaking to our Father, who cares for us, who loves us.
Calling God Lord
If you begin your prayer by saying “Lord,” you can stop and reflect on that and ask yourself, “What do I mean when I say Lord? Does it really mean what it means when I say ‘Lord’ for me? Because I’m not living my life the way he wants me to live – so how is he Lord? If he is Lord I need to change my ways, I need to repent of my sinfulness. Because the Lord does not accept what I am doing.”
When you communicate with God, you can actually asses where your heart is.
When you communicate with God, you can actually asses where your heart is. You can look at the things that you constantly ask for and see what it is that consumes your life, your desires, the things that you want. And ask yourself, “Are these the right things to want? To desire?”
How Are You Engaging With God?
You see prayer is a time to know God. And so when the writer says when the Son of Man comes back he is going to be looking for those who are prayerful, he is not just saying, those people that set a time in the morning every day to pray.
Now that is a good discipline, that helps us, but you see the most important thing is what you do in those prayers. How are you engaging with God? Are you seeking his face? Are you taking time to just hear from him? Do you read his word in order for you to be able to speak to him in a way that pleases him? To thank him, to honour him?
What We Miss About Faith
Prayer is a time to know God, to love him. And I think that is one of the things that we often miss about faith. Faith is about relationship with God.
‘I did things to be able to make it to heaven’ – that’s self-sufficiency. That is the great sin of our world
In Matthew 7 Jesus says that when he comes back there are people that will say, “Teacher, Lord, didn’t we do this and that for you?” (Matthew 7:21-23) Guess what that question has within it? That’s a self-sufficiency. I did things to be able to make it to heaven – that’s self-sufficiency. That is the great sin of our world; that is the great sin of humankind.
To seek to be able, to be capable, on our own.
But Jesus says, I’m not going to accept those. I’m going to tell them: “I did not know you.” (Matthew 7:23)
My Relationship With Our Daughter
You know our daughter is about 15 months old, and one of the things that has blown my mind about her, is her ability to trust us. And I’ve reflected a bit on that as I’ve been preparing this.
She’s know us from the time she’s been able to even have a little bit of cognisance. She’s only known us. We feed her, we bath her, we sleep in the same bed as her. Everything about her is in relation to us.
The relationship for her is such that when I am driving out, when I am leaving, she always cries! Because she is starting to recognise, “This most important person in my life is leaving me! Why are they leaving me?”
When our daughter come to us, when she cries, we always want to respond to her.
That is why she cries. When she is on the bed and she is trying to get off the bed, she just put’s her hand up and it’s not even a problem for her – she knows I am going to stretch out and help her to get down. When she wants to come up, all she does is raise her hands and I will bring her up. For her that’s not even a question.
It is because of the relationship that I have with her. It is the relationship that my wife has with her.
We exist in her world as the most important people. And you! You cannot just come and pick her up. Cause she doesn’t know you; she doesn’t trust you. But for us, she trusts us. And whenever she wants something she just cries for it, and she gets it.
Sometimes we have to control what she wants, because she wants dangerous things sometimes. But when she does come to us, when she cries, we always want to respond to her.
Our Relationship With God
We lost that aspect of our dependance on God, on our relationship with God. We lost that key aspect of our lives, when we decided to eat the fruit in Genesis 3 and we were chucked out of the Garden. From there we became self-sufficient people.
We became people who sought to make it on our own in our lives. And the best kind of people, the people who make it in this world, are those people who are capable of looking after themselves without anyone helping them.
We Long For Independence
You know when I was growing up, as a teenager, one of the things that I really desired was to just get out of home and to be my own person; to be my own man. That was my biggest desire. And that has been a driving force for everything that I’ve done ever since.
To be my own man. That was my biggest desire
And I don’t think I will be wrong to say that most of us have that desire. To be our own people. It’s like a pervasive sort of attitude in our world. That is the sin of pride. It’s the sin of being able to be by ourselves and be do ourselves, and not depend on anyone.
The Sin of Pride
And pride is the mother of all sins by the way. Everything flows out from that. That we don’t rely on God, and we don’t depend on him.
But you see when the Son of Man comes, he will be looking for those who have faith. He will be looking for those who have a relationship with Jesus.
Those people who have a relationship with Jesus, depend on him.
And those people who have a relationship with Jesus, depend on him, they are attached to him, they have intimacy with him. They have a child-like faith, like my daughter has with us. But even more than that, it is God’s children who have a relationship with Jesus. Because they know that he has made a way for them to have a relationship with God: Those who understand themselves to be his.
We Need A Child-Like Faith
A little later on in this passage, some people are bringing children to Jesus. And Jesus says to them “listen.” You know the disciples are trying to push the people away and saying, “Listen, don’t bring the kids to the Lord. This is the Lord! Why would you bring the kids?”
The kingdom of God belongs to such as these
And Jesus says “Listen to me!”
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17)
You see, you have to see yourself as a child of God. You have to see yourself as belonging to him
Turn Away From This World
When Peter is asked in Acts 2, after he has preached his first sermon, the people asked him, “What are we to do for us to receive this life that you guys have?” Peter responds by saying turn away from this world, from the pride and sinful ways of this world, and be baptised in the name of Jesus. Look at yourselves, not as people of the world, but look at yourselves as people of Jesus. (Acts 2:38-39)
Wear his identity. Put on what he is, and belong to him. Then you will receive the spirit of God, and it will enable you to live well.
Weak, Needy People Like Us: God’s Children
Now you may be sitting there and you may be asking yourself, “I’m actually not good enough to be God’s child. You don’t know where I’ve been. You have no idea, the things that I’ve done.”
But you see, it is important for you to realise that it is not the Judge, who is self-sufficient, who comes to God – or who has faith in God, it is the Widow. The one who is needy.
Next week we will see how it is that weak, needy people like us – sinful people, people who have no good in us – how it is that we can call ourselves children of God.
So join us next week, as we look at the second story in this chapter. So we can be able to see how it is that we can actually call ourselves children of God, even though we are broken and messed up.
Let’s bow our heads and pray.
Father, thank you so much that we can listen to your word and we can be encouraged to understand what it means to be an authentic Christian – to have the centre of our lives moulded and shaped by the reality that we have a relationship with you.
And please Lord, help us, to daily seek you: to set aside all pursuits and to pursue you and to pursue relationship with you. Please help us Lord, and have your Spirit work in us, so that we can live lives that are honouring to you. So that we can live lives that reflect that we belong to you.
We pray for all of this in Jesus’ name. Amen.