Harmony of the Gospels

 Samaria, Galilee
(31) Parables of Persistent Widow, Pharisee and Publican
Luke 18:1-14

(Luke 18:1)  And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.

Jesus has just finished speaking to His disciples on the subject of the last days and telling them that He would return, and that His return would come suddenly, without any warning.  He said the last days, that is, the days before the Son of man returns, would be like the days of Noah that they would be difficult days—days that would not be conducive to faith.  So now He talks to them about a life of faith in a world that is lacking faith.  That is the reason His words are so essential to us now.  We are living at a time, as He indicated, when men’s hearts are failing them due to fear.  What we have in this parable is a vital passage on prayer in the times we live in.  Notice that He says He spoke a parable to them for this purpose that men should always pray and not faint.

He gives two alternatives to any man who is living in difficult times.  You and I will have to do one or the other.  You will have to make up your mind which you are going to do.  Men in difficult times will either faint or they will pray.  Either there will be days of fear or days of faith. 

During World War II, when the bombing was so intense on the city of London, a sign appeared in front of one of the churches in London that read, “If your knees knock together, kneel on them!”  That is almost the same thing Jesus said, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” 

It is the same thought that Paul put a little differently in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”  This doesn’t mean that you are going to an all-day or an all-night prayer meeting.  Prayer is an attitude of the life we live.  It is more of an attitude of life than an action of the lips.  Remember, Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “…the Spirit Itself makes intersession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).  That is, they cannot be put into our words.  And many times, we do not have the words to pray, but we are praying nonetheless.  And it is the entire life that is behind the words that are spoken that makes the prayer effective.
(Luke 18:2-3)  Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.

This judge was anti-God and anti-people.  He did whatever he pleased, never asking himself, “What does God want me to do?” or “What do people in general approve or disapprove?”  He was nothing but a hateful egotist.  He is a judge without any love for justice.  And as for sympathy and satisfaction for the oppressed, because in his capacity as judge, he might be able to help them, he didn’t know what symphony was.  Tender feelings were completely foreign to him. This dishonest judge represented corrupted power, for he neither feared God nor sought justice for the people. The widow represented complete helplessness, for she had no money to bribe him with and no one powerful enough to intervene on her behalf.

The Scripture teaches with respect to widows, how God protects them, how He urges people to be kind to them, blessing those who bless them and punishing those who hurt them. Widows were often among the most vulnerable people in Jewish society, and apparently this one had no other family member to help plead her case. The wicked, arrogant, unjust judge was probably a Gentile official.

The judge and widow are living in the same city.  This lead to a confrontation.  This woman had been unjustly treated.  Someone may have deprived her of the little she had, or may have prevented her from obtaining what she was rightfully entitled to.  So she went to the judge hoping that he would give her back whatever she was deprived of.  And she may have wanted punishment for her opponent, but the emphasis is on the urgent request of the destitute widow to get whatever she had been deprived of.

(Luke 18:4-5)  And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.

He despised the woman and her cause and clearly considered her a nuisance.  Evidentially the judge knew that the widow’s claim was just.  But she probably was not able to bribe him and had little or no influence in the city.  However, her persistence is what finally toppled him.  So he said to himself, “I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”  Was he afraid, perhaps, that the widow would become so furious that she would take a swing at him and give him a black eye.  Well probably not.  But at any rate, the widow’s request was finally granted and she received whatever was due her.

(Luke 18:6-7)  And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?

Many Bible teachers say that this parable teaches the value of persistent prayer.  Although I don’t like to disagree with men who are greater than I, that isn’t so.  This is not a parable on the persistence of prayer—as though God will hear you if you hold on long enough.

This is a parable by contrast, not by comparison.

Parables were stories given by our Lord to illustrate truths.  The word parable comes from two Greek words.  Para means “beside’ and ballo is the verb meaning “to throw”—(we get the word ball from it.).  A parable means something that is thrown beside something else to tell you something about it.  For instance, a yard stick placed beside a table is a parable to the table—it tells you how high it is.  A parable is a story our Lord told to illustrate divine truth.  There are two ways He did this.  One is by comparison, but the other is by contrast.

Our Lord is saying, “When you come to the Lord in prayer, do you think that God is an unjust judge.”  When you come to Him in prayer do you think He is a cheap politician?  Do you think God is doing things just for political reasons?”  If that is the way you think, you are wrong.  God is not an unjust judge.

If this unjust judge would hear a poor widow because she kept coming continually, then why do you get discouraged going to God who is not an unjust judge, but who actually wants to hear and answer prayer?  Why are God’s people today so discouraged in their prayer life?  Don’t you know He is not an unjust judge?  You don’t have to hang on His coattail and beg Him and plead with him.  God wants to act in your behalf!  If we had that attitude, it would change our prayer life—to come into his presence knowing He wants to hear.  We act as if He is an unjust judge, and we have to hold onto Him or He will not hear us at all.  God is not an unjust judge.

(Luke 18:8)  I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

Jesus said, regarding God’s children, that he will avenge them speedily. The idea is this. If this poor woman with no hope received help from a wicked unscrupulous judge, how much sooner and greater will be the help a loving heavenly Father gives to His own dear children.

The question may be asked, “Doesn’t the word quickly clash with the fact that the Lord has not  returned yet?  The answer must be as stated in 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in fulfilling His promise, as some understand slowness, but is patient[or longsuffering] with you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should be converted.” 

Once the proper time has arrived, the Lord will move quickly.  It’s interesting to note how swiftly the various events will occur at His return.  Believers who have not yet died will be changed “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (I cor. 15:51-52.  The entire company of the saved will be caught-up [or snatched away]…in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17).  Earth and sky flee from His presence” (Rev. 20:11).  Certainly this verse, Luke 18:8 is in harmony with all this.

If the question is asked, “Why will the Lord see that justice is done for His own quickly?” the answer must be that He loves so deeply those who, by God’s grace, have placed their trust in him.  The contrast between him and the unjust judge in the parable is indescribably sharp.  And doesn’t the depth of that love guarantee that in the lives of all those children of God, who through out the centuries before the Son of Man’s return, suffered persecution that all those precious promises described in God’s word, will be fulfilled. 

There can be no question that there will still be believers on earth when the Son of Man returns, but will there be that faith, the faith that keeps at it, as did the faith of this widow.  The question is not asked for the purpose of speculation, but for self-examination.  Let’s each answer for ourselves.  The bottom line is, a person should pray and not give up.  Also, he should pray with the right attitude of mind and heart.  He should pray with confidence.  After all, if an unjust judge helps a poor widow, how much more will a loving Father meet the needs of His children? We have open access into His treasury and can claim His gracious promises, so we ought to pray with faith and confidence.

(Luke 18:9-10)  And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

There is no reason to doubt that Jesus addressed this parable to a group of Pharisees.  Exactly when it was spoken, whether immediately after the parable of the Woman Who Persevered, or another time, has not been revealed and is not important.  What is clear is that the two parables belong together.

Jesus addressed this story-illustration to those who trusted in themselves and were of the opinion that everyone else amounted to nothing.  That this description was not an exaggeration but a true picture of what was wrong with the Pharisees of that day cannot be denied.  Jesus will use this parable to illustrate the difference between false worship and true repentance. 

The Temple was used not only for public religious transactions, for the bringing of sacrifices, and for teaching, but also for private devotions.  It is not strange, therefore, that we see a Pharisee entering the Temple for that purpose.  Whether or not this took place at one of the regular hours for prayer, as seems probable, or at some other time, is not certain.  At any rate, those belonging to this sect were—at least looked upon as being and also considered themselves to be—very pious.  Praying at places where they could be seen was one of their habits. 

What is striking, however, is that a tax collector also enters, and for the same purpose, namely to pray.

(Luke 18:11)  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

Boldly the Pharisee takes his stand.  It was not uncommon for Pharisees to pray while standing with their hands and eyes uplifted.

Who is the Pharisee speaking to?  He is praying to God outwardly, for he says, “O God.”  But inwardly and actually the man is talking to himself about himself.  And having mentioned God once, he never mentions Him again.  Throughout his prayer the Pharisee is congratulating himself.  No where in his prayer does he confess his sins, and he doesn’t ask for forgiveness. 

He begins by comparing himself to other people.  But he doesn’t make a comparison to truly godly men, such as Simeon or Samuel.  Instead he compares himself to those with a bad reputation.  He says he is not a robber—even though at that very moment he is robbing God of the honor due to Him.  He says he is not a cheat or dishonest person—even though he is cheating himself out of a blessing.  And he is not an adulterer.  Well, he probably wasn’t one literally, but wasn’t he departing from the true God and therefore making himself guilty of the worst adultery of all? 

Suddenly a tax-collector gets the Pharisee’s attention.  He is pounding his chest and crying out for mercy.  So he also includes this Publican in his prayer, by adding, “Or even like this Tax-collector.”   Little did he realize that the man he despised was on his way to heaven, a place the Pharisee would never see unless a change would take place in his heart?

What the Pharisee has done is to pray an arrogant prayer. True prayer should humble us and make us love others more. We should be like children coming to a Father and not like attorneys bringing an charge against a defendant. If prayer doesn’t bless the one praying, it isn’t likely to help anybody else.

(Luke 18:12)  I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

He believes he is doing even more than the Law requires.  “I fast twice a week,” he says.  This man does not only fast twice a year as Leviticus 16:29 suggests, or only in certain months; no he fasts twice a week (probably on Monday and Thursday).  And when it comes to tithing, he once again goes all out, way beyond the Laws requirements (see Deut. 14:22-23).  He tithes even garden herbs (see Luke 7:42).  Do you remember the nursery rhyme ending with, “…and he said, ‘What a good boy am I.’”

This old Pharisee is out there talking to himself—he thinks he is talking to God, but his prayer never got higher than the ceiling.  All he did was to have a pep talk; he patted himself on the back and went out proud as a peacock.  God never heard his prayer.

(Luke 18:13)  And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

“God be merciful to me a sinner,” does not adequately express it.  Let me give it to you in the language I think he may have used.  He would not so much as lift up his eyes to heaven, but he beat on his chest, and said, “O God, I am a poor publican.  I have no access to that mercy seat over yonder in the Holy of Holies.  Oh, if only you could make a mercy seat for me.  I want to come.”

Out Lord said that man was heard.  Do you know why he was heard?  Because Jesus Christ right there and then was on His way to the cross to make a mercy seat for him.  John wrote, “And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).  Propitiation means “mercy seat.”  Christ is the mercy seat for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

The Publican’s prayer has been answered.  Actually, today you don’t have to ask God to be merciful.  He is merciful.  Many people say, “We have to beg Him to be merciful.”  Friends, what do you want Him to do?  He gave His Son for you.  He says to the worst sinner you know, “You can come.  There is a mercy seat for you.”  I have to admit to you that I had to come to that mercy seat.  And if you are God’s child, you have come to that mercy seat, where He died for your sins and my sins.  The penalty has been paid.  The Holy God is able to hold His arms outstretched.  You don’t have to beg Him; you don’t have to promise Him anything because He knows your weakness; you do not have to join something; you do not even have to be somebody.  You can be like a poor publican.  You can come and trust Him, and He will save you.  God is merciful.

(Luke 18:14)  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

The tax collector went home justified.  God Himself has announced that this publican is justified.  He is righteous in the eyes of God and his sins have been forgiven; blotted out.  His transgressions have been removed “as far as the east is from the west.”  They have been cast into the depths of the sea.  And this forgiven sinner has been adopted into the family of God.


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