Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 18:1-17 to teach believers that the secret to prayer is persistence, humility, and simplicity.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about the secret to prayer.
Key Verse: Luke 18:14
Pray and Read: Luke 18:1-17
Throughout his Gospel, Luke emphasizes the importance of walking in faith and avoiding unbelief. He has made it clear that every individual who meets Jesus Christ must make a decision about Him. Christ must be received or rejected. His claims must be believed or denied. When the Gospel shifts gears at Luke 9:51, Luke urges us to prioritize faith over unbelief (Luke 9:57-11:36) and warning us to trust the Lord rather than ourselves (Luke 11:37-12:59).
Christ then calls us to a Kingdom marked by grace (Luke 13:1-21), repentance (Luke 13:22-35), provision (Luke 14), redemption of the lost (Luke 15), and warns us to prepare for the next world by responding to God’s Word with repentance (Luke 16) and to guard against sin with faithful obedience to forgiveness resulting in thankfulness (Luke 17:1-19), and to wait for His Return with a steadfast commitment to serve (Luke 17:20-37).
In the chapter before us today, Luke teaches that what enables this kind of faith is that God does respond to those who appeal to Him in prayer (Luke 18:1-8). He res responds to sinners in mercy (Luke 18:9-14), as any adult responds to a helpless child (Luke 18:15-17). The story of the persistent widow illustrates the perseverance and patience in prayer (Luke 18:1-8). The story of the tax collector and the Pharisee teaches that only those who acknowledge they are sinners will rely on God’s mercy and find forgiveness (Luke 18:9-14). Jesus’ interaction with children emphasizes that necessary attitude of complete reliance on God (Luke 18:15-17).
1. The secret to prayer is persistence and patience (Luke 18:1-8).
2. The secret to prayer is humility and forgiveness (Luke 18:9-14).
3. The secret to prayer is simplicity and dependence (Luke 18:15-17).
Exposition: Note well,
1. THE SECRET TO PRAYER IS PERSISTENCE AND PATIENCE (Luke 18:1-8)
a. Jesus’ discussion of the end times and the coming judgment (Luke 17:20-37) raises the question of enduring through trials. How does one do that, exactly? How does one make it through tough times? Luke clearly tells us that we should always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1). Jesus tells the parable of a widow who by perseverance finally receives justice from an uncaring and unjust judge. Jesus is using the “lesser to greater” (qal wahomer) teaching style of the rabbis. If this woman’s persistence with an evil judge resulted in justice, then how much more will our persistent prayers be answered by our loving Father.
b. Luke 18:2 – Judge who neither feared God: Judges in Israel were supposed to be God’s representatives, interpreting His Law, administering justice to those in need. King Jehoshaphat had long before commanded the judges he appointed, “Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for man but for the LORD . . . for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery (2 Chron 19:6-7). Since Jewish judges tried cases in a tribunal, Jesus must be referring to a local municipal magistrate.
c. Luke 18:3 – widow: Widows in ancient times and in Scripture are the most vulnerable and helpless members of society. God has special concern for them (Exod 22:22-24; Deut 10:18; 24:17; 27:19; Job 22:9; 24:3; Psalm 146:9; Isaiah 1:17, 23; Jer 7:6-7; 22:3; Ezek 22:7). The OT warns that God will avenge those who withhold justice from the widow and the fatherless. This widow in Jesus’ story may be under pressure from a creditor trying to take her land or property (cf. 2 Kings 4:1). The law evidently is on her side since she only asks for justice.
d. Luke 18:5 – wear me out with her coming: or literally, she “strikes the eye,” or gives him a black eye, figuratively wearing him down with her persistence like a boxer.
e. Luke 18:6-8 – The godless judge granted the widow justice only to rid himself of her constant appeals. The Sovereign Judge and loving Father rewards persistence, not out of weariness, but rather due to His faithfulness!
f. APPLICATION: “Prayer is our best defense against every form of opposition and trial. Prayer is our best weapon in our warfare of work for God and men. The church needs to learn afresh the power of united prayer and prayer as a real business that takes hold of God and expects Him to do real things for us.” The Psalms are filled with cries to God from suffering believers (e.g., Psalm 35:17; 74:10). Often when we face difficult times, we pray desperately, and yet heaven seems shut up and God indifferent, perhaps even uncaring, we wonder. This story teaches that while human beings may be indifferent to others suffering, we cannot charge God with the same thing. God does care about His chosen ones. We can keep on praying with confidence during that time of waiting, and we can be sure that God will see to it that we “get justice and quickly.” Why does Jesus say that we are to “cry out to Him day and night” (Luke 18:7)? Because there is a sense of urgency that drives us to Him with our requests. When your sense of need is so overwhelming that you are driven to God day and night, you can be assured He will answer, and quickly. Yes, it seems long in coming at the time. Time passes for us at a different pace for certain things. We are stunned at how quickly our children grow up. On the other hand, we are frustrated at how slowly time moves until vacation – or even until 5 o’clock! God knows that when something painful or greatly needed is going on, that it often hurts to wait. This story encourages us to realize that deliverance is closer than it seems. In fact, God is already acting, and quickly, to bring us to the place and blessing He desires for us to be and know
g. ILLUSTRATION: We see the truth and the promise of God acting quickly after a delay in Acts 12:7 - 7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands.; Acts 22:18 - 18 and saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.’ Rom 16:20 - 20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. 1 Tim 3:4; Rev 1:1 - The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John,; Rev 22:6 - 6 Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place.).
h. Luke 18:8 – Will he find faith on earth? The time just before the coming of the messianic age as one of lawlessness and apostasy, or falling away from the faith. Jesus here connects this story with the end times theme of Luke 17:20-37, which points to what was on His mind in telling it – perhaps that in light of the postponement of the Kingdom. He had taught the disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come,” (Matt 6:10), yet the Kingdom had not yet come and would not fully come in their day. Still they were to persevere (Luke 21:8-19, 34-36; 22:31-32, 40, 46) in prayer. The Kingdom would come one day (2 Peter 3:8-9; Psalm 90:4; Rom 2:4-6). This story therefore gives us an idea of the kind of persistent and patient prayer needed now as we move toward the end-time. When the Bridegroom comes for the Bride, then all the wrongs will be righted. That gives us hope “as we look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:12).
i. ILLUSTRATION: What is it that gets a person to roll out of bed before dawn on a Saturday morning, drive miles out of town, sit for hours in a little boat on a chilly lake, holding a fishing pole, eating warm bologna sandwiches, and watching for a cork to twitch? Persistence. That’s what. What makes someone stay up all night after Thanksgiving, brave crazy traffic and take one’s life into her hands in a multitude of parking lots, flip through envelopes full of coupons, walk aisles and aisles of merchandise, just to find the perfect item? Perseverance. Are you a persevering fisherman in your prayers? Or do you give up after a few casts and go watch Bill Dance? Are you learning to be as persistent in prayer as a Black Friday shopper, to pray till you drop, or do you give up and go for a cappuccino?
j. APPLICATION: Why do we not receive more frequent and valuable answers to our prayers? The Lord Himself gives the reason in verse 8. It is the lack of faith. It is the lack of trust. It is the spirit of unbelief. Prayer is not a hundred yard dash. It is a marathon of slow and steady pacing. He wants us to “bother” Him with our requests, to ask and keep on asking, to keep seeking, to keep knocking (Matt 7:7), to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). Persistence in prayer demonstrates faith, not unbelief. Faith is not something we generate by screwing up our eyes and concentrating really hard on “believing.” That might work for the people on the Polar Express, but it is not Biblical faith. Biblical faith is simply our response to God as He reveals Himself to us. Stop running to everyone else and bothering other people with your complaining and start “bothering” the Lord with your concerns. He can get your heart straight and the situation, too. We are not to stop until we receive our petition. We are not to stop because of the extreme conditions of our case, but we are to “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb 4:16) and always keep on praying (Eph 6:18).
2. THE SECRET TO PRAYER IS HUMILITY AND FORGIVENESS (Luke 18:9-14)
a. Two men enter the Temple to pray (Luke 18:9). One is a Pharisee. The other a tax collector. The Pharisee’s prayer is arrogant and self-centered (Luke 18:11-12). The public official’s prayer is humble and asking for mercy (Luke 18:13). God receives and exalts the publican, but He rejects and excludes the Pharisee (Luke 18:14).
b. This parable emphasizes the need for a humble and contrite heart before God. Forgiveness comes not to the proud and self-righteous Pharisee, who thinks his good deeds have earned him a right standing before God, but to the tax collector, who recognizes his own sinfulness and prays for mercy. The parable probably shocks Jesus’ listeners. They considered Pharisees upright and pious but the tax collectors wicked sinners.
c. Luke 18:10 – A Pharisee: The Pharisees were one of the groups of religious leaders within Judaism. They were the conservatives in Biblical interpretation, more middle-class businessmen and merchants involved in the synagogues. (The Sadducees were more theologically liberal, more upper class, & dominated the ruling council, the Sanhedrin). Pharisees were admired by the common people for their devotion to Moses’ Law.
d. Luke 18:10 – tax collector: The tax collectors were Jews who took up taxes for the Roman rulers. They were among the most hated in the Jewish community. They not only were serving the oppressors but were lining their own pockets by exploiting the Jews. The Romans sold leases to individuals for the right to collect taxes, who then added a surcharge for their own expenses. With no controls, the system had great abuse and corruption. Tax collectors were so hated, that if one entered a house, everything in that house became unclean, which explains why their presence at the Temple was considered an act of defilement of the Temple.
e. Luke 18:11 – ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men’: The Pharisee knows how to make his prayer have an external air of humility by thanking God. Notice something else. To whom did the Pharisee pray? To himself. Darby says, “He thanks God for what he is, not for what God is.” Simpson says this “self-conscious Pharisee stands with a heart [self] inflated, talking to himself about himself and his excellencies and calling it prayer. [His so-called prayer is] a sort of self-homage and contemplation of his own virtues, a god to himself.” I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get: Fasting (Isaiah 58:1-12; Matt 6:16-18; 9:14-17) and tithing (Lev 27:30-33; Num 18:21-26) were signs of devotion to God. The Law only required fasting one day a year (Lev 16:29-31; 23:27, 29, 32; Num 29:7), but pious Jews fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. The problem was not his accomplishments, but his self-righteous attitude of superiority (Isaiah 65:5; Ezek 33:13).
f. APPLICATION: When we compare ourselves with others, we can always find someone who we think is worse than ourselves. But we are to compare ourselves to Christ. In view of His perfection, we all fall short and we all stand in desperate need of mercy. It is time to stop trying to impress other people with our piety and spirituality and start asking God for mercy.
g. Luke 8:13 – Beat his breast: A sign of mourning and repentance. God have mercy on me, a sinner: (Psalm 51:1, 3; Dan 9:19; Ezra 9:6) APPLICATION – The one qualification for salvation is to be a sinner – and know it. The person who thinks of himself as righteous never gets in line at the gate of mercy, but that person often needs mercy the most.
3. THE SECRET TO PRAYER IS SIMPLICITY AND DEPENDENCE (Luke 18:15-17).
a. The previous story about the humble being exalted bridges right into a passage on children. Some parents come to Jesus to have Him bless their children. The disciples chide the parents for bothering such an important figure as Jesus (Luke 18:15). Jesus instead invites them into His presence and blesses them (Luke 18:16-17).
b. Luke 18:15-16 – bringing babies: (brephos) usually means infant but can refer to a child old enough to understand Scripture (cf. 2 Tim 3:15). In verse 16, children (paidia) confirms that various ages are present. They want Jesus to touch them and bless them. “He rebuked them”: Children had no social status or importance in the ancient world, so the disciples consider the children an intrusion on Jesus’ valuable time. Jesus’ response? Jesus became angry. When have we seen Him angry before? When He saw leaders perverting worship making the Temple a market and keeping people of all nations from praying (John 2:13-16). Remember He said, “This shall be a house of prayer for all nations?” Jesus loved the children and was responding to the faith of the parents who brought them to Him. He was indignant with his disciples. He demanded that the children be permitted to come to Him. They were not to be refused, because “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt 19:14). If Christ turned away these who believed in Him, there would be no assurance that He would accept others who tried to enter His kingdom by faith. Jesus tenderly took the children in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.
c. APPLICATION: To place one’s child in the arms of another shows complete trust and acceptance of that one. For those parents who brought their children to Jesus, they were demonstrating trust in Him. When we have a ministry of the church, like Upward or the children’s ministry or Vacation Bible School or the youth ministry or any format where parents bring their children, it is as if they are bringing them to Jesus. The last thing we want is for the Lord to be angry with us because of how we treat every child and young person the Lord brings to us. We must be careful to make sure that we do not turn away these who believe in Him. We must stop thinking of children as being in the way and start thinking of them as models of how we should look toward God. Receiving the Kingdom takes childlike faith and dependence on God. Only an attitude of total dependence on God enables us to experience His present kingdom.
F.F. Bruce, gen. ed. The International Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1217-1218.
Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), .
Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1993), 238-239.
David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Luke,” G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, gen. eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 349-350.
Dwight J. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 350-354, 358-359.
Alfred Plummer, International Critical Commentary on Luke, 5th ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902), 28:411-422.
Lawrence O. Richards, The Victor Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Wheaton: Victor, 1994), 195, 198-201.
Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Reader’s Companion (Wheaton: Victor, 1991), 669.
A.B. Simpson, The Christ in the Bible Commentary. Vol. 4 (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1993), 4:311-312, 330-331.
David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996), 136-137.
Mark Strauss. “Luke.” Clinton E. Arnold, gen. ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 1:457-459.
Charles R. Swindoll and Bryce Klabunde, The Declaration of Something Mysterious: A Study of Luke 10:38-16:18 (Anaheim, CA: Insight for Living, 1995), 29-36.
Harold L. Wilmington, The Outline Bible (Nashville: Tyndale House, 1999), 547.
 Edersheim quoted in Pentecost, 351; Plummer, 411.
 A. B. Simpson, 330.
 J. N. Darby, 152, found in Bruce, IBC, 1218.
 Simpson, 311.