If even corrupt judges sometimes administer justice for those who plead for it, how much more will the Judge of all creation vindicate His people who cry out to Him? In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition of Luke’s gospel to examine a parable that encourages us to persist in prayer.
This morning we will continue our study of the Gospel According to Saint Luke. We are beginning a new chapter, and I will be reading from Luke 18:1–8. Some Bibles call this text “The Parable of the Unjust Judge” and others call it “The Parable of the Persistent Widow.” Either title is acceptable and correct. I would ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God:
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”
Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
You have just heard a parable from the lips of our Lord. This is God incarnate speaking the veritable truth of His Father, the truth that cannot err nor fail. Please receive it as such this morning and be seated. Let us pray.
Our Father and our God, we ask that You give us ears to hear Your Word, hearts to love it, and wills to live by it. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Do Not Lose Heart
We notice that this parable starts chapter 18, and it begins with somewhat of a strange introduction. This is a rare occasion when Jesus, before He uttered the parable, told us the point of the parable in advance. Luke says, “He spoke a parable to them, that men ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Other translations say, “and not faint.” Jesus introduced this parable by explaining that its purpose is to encourage us to pray in a certain manner and not lose heart.
In its immediate context, Jesus’ parable follows the last verse of Luke 17, which concluded His warning of an impending judgment. Jesus spoke of God’s wrath and doom surrounding His return. He talked about days of darkness and calamity ahead. If Jesus was referring to the first-century catastrophic calamity of the destruction of Jerusalem, you may understand why He would follow this message and announcement by saying: “When these things happen, don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. You may be in affliction, you may be surrounded with suffering and death, but keep praying, and do not faint.”
The Definition of Justice
To illustrate His point, Jesus told the story of two characters: a widow, helpless and virtually hopeless in that society, going up against an unidentified adversary, and a character described as an unjust judge. Jesus said, “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man.”
What is the purpose of a judge in any city and any generation? It is the job description and vocation of one who sits on the bench to administer justice. It is his job. It is his calling.
Mortimer Adler wrote a book about several words commonly used in daily human conversation that expressed concepts very few people could adequately define. One of the words in that list was justice.
I once put Adler’s theory to the test during a class in which I was teaching doctoral students. At the beginning of the class, I gave them a pop quiz. I asked them to take out a piece of paper and their pens, and said, “Please write for me a precise and cogent definition of the word justice.” They did not blink. They picked up their pens, and you could just watch a pall fall across the room. It was like I had asked them to interpret hieroglyphics without the benefit of the Rosetta Stone. They were struggling. They were groaning. They were moaning, and they were failing miserably.
How would you define justice? This was one of the tasks the ancient philosopher Aristotle undertook, and his definition of justice was simple. He said that justice is giving to a person what is their due, what is owed them, what is fair for them, what is true in the matter. If you sell your car with a blown-up engine, the buyer is due the information of that problem with your car. This definition of justice defines all kinds of matters that have to do with interactions between human beings.
If you were to ask the judge in the parable what justice is, he would say: “I don’t know, and I don’t care. What difference does it make? I’m here to make judgments, and whether they’re based upon some abstract theory of justice is beyond the point. Don’t define justice to me in terms of a theological concept, because I have no regard for God. Don’t define justice for me in terms of human relationships, because I don’t care about people. I have no regard for God and no regard for human beings.”
At first blush, you would think this rascal of a judge was an exceedingly rare kind, the exception to the rule that we can basically trust those appointed to the bench to give just and righteous verdicts, and that only the most corrupt form of a judge would behave in this manner. Oh, how I wish that were the truth. We have judges throughout America today who have no regard for God and even less for human life. Pick up the paper and you will see examples. Think of the judges who have risen in the system of justice to the highest level of the court, to those wearing the robes of Supreme Court Justices.
In America’s national history, in the year 1857, the highest judges in the land reached a verdict in the Dred Scott decision that said slaves were not persons under the Constitution and were to be treated as mere personal property of their owners. We look back into the nineteenth century at the Dred Scott decision and are embarrassed by it and ashamed of it, thinking it almost impossible that the highest court of this land would make such an infamous decision. If you think Dred Scott was bad, what do you think of Roe v. Wade, where again the Supreme Court gave no account towards God and even less to the sanctity of human life? These are the highest justices and judges of our land.
Expediency, Not Conscience
Christians need to be aware of the growing hostility towards Christ and His people. Recently, a major company notified Ligonier that, after eight years, they were dropping us from their website. The Ligonier app could no longer be on their program because the lectures found there, in their judgment, were inflammatory.
The company cited three lectures, including one of my lectures on the history of philosophy, in which I gave a critical analysis of the history of humanism. I went back to the pre-Socratic philosopher Protagoras, whose motto was homo mensura, man is the measure of all things. I feel comfortable saying that lecture on the history of humanism would have been acceptable in virtually any secular university in America today. The second lecture was on Spencer’s social Darwinism of the nineteenth century, a historical analysis of the impact of Darwinian theory on social philosophy. I am convinced that lecture would create no ripples in a secular university. The third lecture they cited was a biblical exposition about homosexual behavior, and I imagine that was the one that really caused the problem. In any case, they dropped Ligonier.
Chris Larson, our president, called all the other major ministries in America like ours to alert them to what was happening. He also recently went to Washington and spoke with the people at the Heritage Foundation about the situation.
An appeal was made, and the company responded by saying, “No, we’re not putting you back on, and the decision is final.” After Christians were mobilized and the Heritage Foundation was notified, we got a call back from the same man, who said, “We’ve changed our mind, and we’re going to put your app back on the web.”
I wonder what made them change their mind. Did they finally have an attack of conscience and say, “This is not a just thing we have done”? Or did they make the decision based on expediency?
The unjust judge in the parable had no regard for God and no regard for man. When Jesus told parables, we need not assume in every case that Jesus spoke of a real-life situation with which He was familiar. I am sure there were times that He created stories for the purposes of illustration, which is a legitimate thing to do.
The irony of this text is that, not long after Jesus gave this parable, He would stand before a judge who had no regard for God and men who, in his judgment, declared to the screaming multitudes, “I find no fault in this man,” only a few moments later to say, “Go ahead and crucify Him.” Pilate was an unjust judge who gave his verdicts based on expediency. That is the kind of man who appears in this parable.
The Widow’s Persistence
The poor woman in the parable had no power or authority in ancient culture. First, she was a woman; second, she was a widow. There is a reason the New Testament singles out the church’s care of widows and orphans to be a priority, because society would not reach out to help them.
The woman went to the judge: “Your Honor, please hear my case. Avenge me, vindicate me against my adversary.” The judge rejected her plea: “Go away, lady. You’re bothering me. I’ve got other things to do.”
The next day: “Knock, knock.” “Mr. Judge, it’s me again, the lady you wouldn’t listen to yesterday. Please, I’m begging you. I have no help apart from you; you are the only person in the world who can help me receive justice. Please.” The judge said: “I told you to go away. I’m not going to hear your case. Quit bothering me.”
The next day after that: “Knock, knock.” “Your Honor, it’s me again. I was here yesterday and the day before, and all I’m asking is for you to do what you’re paid to do. All I’m asking is that you hear my plea, that you listen to my case. I can’t afford an attorney, but you’re a judge, aren’t you? Isn’t this what you’re supposed to do, under God?” The judge said: “You don’t seem to understand, lady. I don’t believe in God.” The widow pleaded: “But certainly, you must believe in people. I’m a person, and I’m helpless.” The judge responded: “I don’t care about people. Go away and stay away.”
The following day, once again: “Knock, knock.” “Your Honor, please! You’re my only hope; hear my case.”
Jesus told us what happened. The judge said to himself after a while: “Although I do not fear God and do not regard man, this woman is driving me crazy. She’s troubling me so much, I’ll vindicate her, lest I be guilty of perpetuating an injustice?” No. “Lest I offend the Holy God?” No. “Lest I be regarded as being inhumane?” No. He said: “I will vindicate her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. I’ll hear her case because now it’s in my best interest. She’s troubling me too much.”
Jesus said: “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?” Jesus was making a contrast, but much more than a contrast. He was not just saying, “There is a difference between God as Judge and the unjust judge.” It was not a mere contrast, but rather the formula Jesus used frequently in His parables: “How much more.”
Jesus was saying, “If this crooked, corrupt, miserable human being who holds the office of judge, who has no regard for God and no regard for people, will sometimes administer justice because he’s tired of people pleading for it, how much more will the Judge of heaven and earth vindicate His people who cry unto Him day and night?”
The Judge of All the Earth Shall Do Right
Do you remember the question Abraham raised when God announced His judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah? Abraham said to the Lord, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” (Gen. 18:25).
I have always said to my students that there is no such thing as a stupid question, but our dear, beloved patriarch Abraham asked God a stupid question: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” What kind of a question is that?
The Judge of all the earth does not know how to do anything but what is right. He has never made an unjust verdict in His eternal existence. No person has ever suffered unjustly at the hand of God. Yet most of us, if not all of us, at some time or another have shaken our fist in the face of God like Job, saying: “How can you do this to me? How can you let this happen to me?”
There is nobody who has not committed an injustice against another person. None of us have lived without receiving injustices at the hands of another. That is on a horizontal plane. If I treat you unjustly or you treat me unjustly on this plane, is it unjust of God to allow that to happen to me or to you? I can cry to Him: “God, vindicate me in this case; my adversaries come against me unjustly, unfairly, and falsely. Please vindicate me, but in the meantime, what do You have in mind? I know that I am not suffering unjustly at Your hand. No one ever has.”
Even God’s Son suffered justly after our sins were placed upon Him. In and of Himself, He was perfectly innocent, but once He received the imputation of sin, He was the most wicked thing ever seen in the sight of God. God does not do things unjustly.
Jesus followed the rhetorical question of Abraham, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” Jesus was saying, “Will not God vindicate His elect who cry unto Him day and night?”
Persistent, Mature Prayer
The focus of this parable is persistent prayer. Are there things or people that you pray for urgently and persistently? In my own experience, if I could see a parallel between prayer and answers to prayer, the most dramatic answers I have seen have been to the prayers most urgent and persistent.
Most of our prayers have not gone much beyond the infantile level we had when we were three years old. We knelt by our beds with our mother and said, “God bless mommy and daddy and Uncle Frank and Aunt Ginny and make me a better boy or girl.” I hope our prayers have gone way beyond that. I hope we pray with our hearts pouring with passion and our souls groaning by the Holy Spirit before the throne of grace.
Every day, I pray that God will bring an awakening to this church, that unconverted people who come week after week will be born anew by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and come under conviction of their sin. I do not pray that they would be punished, but that they would be free from punishment; that they would know the glory of full forgiveness of their sins from God.
Have you ever wrestled with God for your own soul? I cannot answer that for you, but that is my prayer every single day: “God, bring an awakening to this church such that the power and presence of Your Spirit takes hold of people’s lives, that people will delight in the Word of God, that they will love Your Word, oh Lord, and will give their lives, body and soul, to Your kingdom.”
Will Jesus Find Faith in You?
Jesus ended His parable with a strange question. He said, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” What? We might think: “Jesus, are You thinking that when You come back, no one will be here to welcome You? That Your church will be empty or apostate? Without faith? Without spiritual lives?” No, Jesus is the Son of God; He certainly would know better than that.
We distinguish between the two natures, the divine and the human. We cannot separate them, but we must distinguish that when Jesus slept, that was not the divined nature manifesting itself. When Jesus bled, God did not bleed; it was the human nature bleeding.
When Jesus said there was something He did not know, that was not a manifestation of His divine omniscience, it was a manifestation of the limitations of His human knowledge. This passage was the human nature speaking. Touching His divine nature, He knew very well whether there would be faith on the earth when He came, and He knew who would have it and who would not. Touching His human nature, He wondered.
Will any of you persevere? If Jesus came tonight, would He find faith in your house? Would He find it in your heart? Would He find it in your life? I cannot answer that question. I just pray that if He comes to my house tonight, He will find faith, and find it in abundance. May that be true for you.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.