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A Sermon on Prayer – Luke 18:31-43 (Quinquagesima)

by Pastor Beisel ~ January 28th, 2008

Sermon for Quinquagesima
Text: St. Luke 18:31-43
Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Dearly beloved in Christ:

When we were children, nothing was impossible. Nothing was too hard for our parents or God to do for us. We asked them for the most outlandish things, fully expecting them to get them for us or do it for us. Now as adults we look back on those childish requests and laugh. We’ve wised up. We know that some things are impossible. Some things are too difficult, even for God. So we don’t even bother asking Him. Instead of asking God to completely remove our cancer, we say, “God, I will be content if only you will just relieve my suffering a bit,” as if it is too difficult for God to do anything more. Even if we were bold enough to ask God for something impossible, we would expect something less.

This really shows how little faith we have in God, how little we believe that He is favorably disposed toward us and loves us. If only we could be like little children all the time, asking God for the most outlandish things, and fully expecting to receive them! That was how this poor blind man was in the Gospel today. He did not suffer from the typical grown-up disease of unbelief. When Jesus asked him what he wanted Him to do for him, he did not say, “Oh, Jesus, I know that it is too much to ask to have my eyesight fully restored, but if you could just be so gracious as to improve it a bit.” Instead, he said: “Lord, let me recover my sight.” Is this not a first-rate example of faith?

This is exactly the kind of faith that Luther describes in the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer: “God tenderly invites us to believe that we are His true children and that He is our true Father, so that with all boldness and confidence we might ask him as dear children ask their dear father.” The Second Commandment also teaches us and instructs us in this kind of child like faith when it says: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” What is it to misuse His name but to refuse to call upon it for help, or to think that God does not want to help us in our need, or worse yet, to think God incapable of doing anything more than we ourselves could do.

Is not God the creator of heaven and earth? Did he not call all things into existence by a word? If he can do such mighty and powerful things simply by a word, why then would he be unwilling to come to your aid and assistance when you call upon him? He who healed lepers, restored sight to the blind, and even raised people from the dead, does he not have both the power and the desire to answer your requests no matter how childish they may seem? Of course, it may not always be in the way you expected, but then God our heavenly Father knows what is best for you. In fact, he knows better than we what is in our best interests.

In the beginning of the chapter in which today’s Gospel is found in Luke, Jesus tells us the parable of a persistent widow. In this parable a widow kept asking a judge to give her justice against her adversary. The judge granted her request only because the widow kept bothering him. Jesus then says: “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” And then, as if to show that he didn’t have his fingers crossed behind his back, he answers the blind man’s request.

These things are meant to stir up faith in our hearts toward God and His Son the Christ so that we do not hesitate to call upon His name in the day of trouble. One is reminded of how often prayers and pleas like this were uttered in the Old Testament. Just read a few psalms and you will quickly see that God’s Old Testament saints were never without a prayer on their lips. How often did King David cry out to God in pleas and laments, saying like the blind man: “Have mercy on me!” And lest we think that God will not hear our pleas because of our many sins, we should remember that David had stolen the wife of Uriah from him and had Uriah sent to the front lines of battle to die. And yet, God heard his prayers. He did not withhold mercy from him.

To be sure, there were consequences to David’s actions. He lost his firstborn son right after birth. But he found favor with God. His sins were forgiven by God, even as ours are through Christ. If David, who had a checkered past, can find favor in the eyes of God and receive mercy from him, surely we need not doubt His love and favor toward us in Christ, who suffered for our sins. We should never hesitate to lay our requests upon Christ, who loves us, even if they seem childish or outlandish to us as adults. We should never fear that God will not hear our prayers, for we are His true children and He is our true Father. We are baptized into His name and family. We are not dogs who lick up the scraps from the table, but royal sons who sit with the crown Prince at the family table. We are all sons and daughters of the King, heirs to His heavenly riches.

Holy Scripture teaches that we ought to “pray without ceasing.” If we took a few moments to think about how much trouble lies constantly around us, and around our friends, family, and neighbors, we would not find enough hours in the day to pray and make our requests to God. For ourselves, we have the devil constantly around us, who never ceases to attack our faith and to lead us into sin and shame. We have our bodies that grow weak and frail with age. We have our jobs which frequently cause us grief and misery. And then we think of all the people who are entrusted to us: our wives, husbands, parents, children, relatives, brothers and sisters, pastors, employers, government leaders, teachers, and all kinds of other people who are constantly in need of our prayers. So, with boldness and confidence, lay your requests before God, no matter how childish they may seem to you. And you will see that God is not like the judge who answers your prayers only after much persistence on your part. Like a loving father who sees his child in danger, he is quick to the rescue, and knows what you need even before you ask.

The other part of this Gospel today includes a passion prediction from Jesus. He tells his disciples that they are going up to Jerusalem, and that everything written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. “For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” His disciples did not understand any of this until after his resurrection. They probably thought that Jesus was crazy to be speaking like that. If he was really the Messiah, if He was really the one sent by God to redeem Israel, none of this could possibly happen. But Jesus shows us here how the foolishness of God is wiser than the greatest wisdom of men. Israel’s redemption, and that of the whole world, would be accomplished by the suffering and death of God’s Son. And this, Jesus says, was written before by the Prophets.

Here we are reminded of Isaiah’s Servant Song, where with remarkable language he describes the lowly and despised Messiah, by whose stripes “we are healed.” Here we are reminded also of the innocent lambs in the Old Testament, slain on Jewish altars for the forgiveness of sins. Here we are reminded of Isaac, the beloved son of Abraham, who willingly and without protest allowed himself to be placed on wood as a sacrifice according to God’s command. We are reminded of Joseph who was thought to be dead, but then reveals himself to his brothers and is glorified by them. We are reminded of the prophets themselves, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who were mistreated and beaten and some of them even killed by the very people to whom they were sent by God. We are reminded of the words of David in Psalm 22, quoted by Jesus on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” “Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” The beating, the mocking, the whipping, the spitting, the nailing, and the dying, all happened to fulfill Scripture and to pay the price of our sins.

As Lent comes upon us, we take our place with the blind man and say: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” We sacrifice our free time so that we can be in God’s house hearing His Word and calling upon Him in our need. We devote ourselves to His Word, meditating on His passion and death, and giving thanks to Him for paying the price for our sins with His own life. We rejoice that our faith, like that of the blind man, has made us well, that is, that we are accepted by God, and that our sins are not counted against us. Amen.

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