When it comes to your relationship with God, needy is a good thing. What if we don’t have to be hesitant to approach God, regardless of our past? In this message, we learn from Luke 18 about how our weakness becomes our advantage because of Jesus.
Porchies, hey! How are we doing? Are we doing okay? It's really, really good to be here with you. My name is Jimmy. I'm actually a pastor right now at a church on the south side of Dallas, but we have so much love for this church and especially for The Porch and for David and the whole crew here, so thanks for having me today. You didn't have a choice, but thank you for it, nonetheless.
I'm eager to get into the Word with you in this series. If you have a Bible, get it out. We're going to be in the book of Luke, chapter 18. We have a lot of verses to cover. I'm going to read it first, we're going to pray, and then we're going to jump into things. Sound good? Yes to the four of you. Here we go. Let me read it. Luke, chapter 18, starting in verse 1:
"And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, 'In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, "Give me justice against my adversary." For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, "Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming."'
And the Lord said, 'Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And 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. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?' He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:
'Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get." But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.' Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, 'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.'" This is God's Word. Let's pray.
Father, it is always a holy thing to come to your Word. We don't come to it lightly. We come to it with an amount of sobriety, because we know what it really is. We know that it's living. We know that it's active. We know it's sharper than a sword, that it pierces us, it divides our motives, it susses us out, God. It finds us out. It exposes us, it convicts us, and it is able to provide the wisdom to us to lead us to salvation, Paul says.
We also understand that this Word is, in the words of Paul, spiritually apprehended, which means apart from the Holy Spirit doing something tonight, this is a big waste of our time. God, we're going to hear words spoken and read and preached, but if your Spirit doesn't allow us to apprehend these things, we're going to have a stubbornness in our hearts and a blindness and a hardness. We don't want that. We are appealing to you, the kind one, to give us grace as we seek to understand your Word. Would your Spirit come alongside the truth and awaken hearts? Help us to believe, we pray. In Jesus' name, amen.
When I was in middle school, I was not what you would call an athletic individual. That was not what you would call me. There were words you could call me. Rotund was a word. Non-fast, sweaty…these are all words you could call me in middle school, but athletic was not one of them, so you can imagine PE was a little bit of a trouble spot for me. One day, as I was in eighth grade, I showed up to PE, and I found out we were having a badminton tournament.
Now, I don't know if you know anything about badminton, but you should know that slow reflexes and poor eye-hand coordination are not your friends when you're playing the game. It's not going to help you in this game. So, our teacher starts pairing us up, and to add insult to injury, I was paired up last. Classic. The guy I got paired with was a guy named Paul. Now you don't know Paul, and to be fair, I was nothing to write home about, but compared to Paul, I was LeBron James.
So there we were, the two last guys being paired up, Paul and me. This was not looking very good for us. Our first game starts, and we start playing this really bizarre game, by the way. Game one finishes, and we win. Yeah, I laughed too, because I didn't think it was a thing that could happen. I thought, "Okay. It's downhill from here, I guess." We move up in the bracket. Next game happens, and we win. Semifinals. We win!
I look at Paul at some point, and we just have this moment where we're like, "We're losers, but this could happen. This thing could happen." Somehow, by God's providence, we find ourselves in the finals, and it is on. Paul is swinging left. I'm dodging right. Birdies are flying. We're like two chunky Andre Agassis going at it. Somehow, we pull it off and we sweep the whole thing. We win the whole thing. To this day, it is my crowning athletic achievement. That's it.
What happened? How was that possible? That shouldn't be how it went down. It wasn't like we were bringing something really valuable to the table. You know what I mean? We weren't great. The other teams knew it, and I think that actually played to our favor, because they let their guard down. Paul and I knew it, and that actually kind of loosened us up a bit, because we knew we had nothing to lose. We had everything to gain.
This interesting cocktail of our mutual "suckiness" worked together in order for us to actually sweep the thing. It worked to our advantage to be losers. It was amazing. The thing we thought would make us fail was the very thing that helped us win. Now, why am I telling you that story? Well, this evening we are immersing ourselves in a passage that has everything to do with prayer and, specifically, the kinds of prayer God responds to.
I don't know what comes to your mind when you think about prayer, when I say that word, how that strikes you, how that makes you feel, but I do know prayer can be a tricky thing for us. It can be hard and messy and clumsy. Maybe when you think about prayer you're just worn out, because for you, even when I say that, something comes to your mind, something you've been pleading with God for, and it's just not happening.
It has been kind of exhausting for you, and you're like, "Why isn't this getting off the ground? What more do I need to do to make this thing happen?" Maybe that's you. You just feel frustration. Maybe for you it's anxiety, like, "What are the words I say that turn the switch in God's heart? I just don't know. Do I go really regal and add some vowels in there or do I dial it back? How do I make this thing work?"
I don't know how it strikes you. Maybe, for you, you're none of those. Maybe, for you, that's kind of the last place you want to be, the last thing you want to be doing, because when you think about prayer, all you feel is that backpack of shame and guilt on you from your life, and actually coming into the presence of God just feels impossible.
You're like, "What am I going to do? I'm going to come into God's presence knowing what I did? If you knew what I did… How could I come to him?" There's just shame and guilt around that whole thing. So maybe, for you, it's like, "My job is not to pray but to get my act together so I can finally pray and talk to him." I know I've felt that a lot over my life. I don't know where you are, but wherever you are, we're all asking the same fundamental question. It's this question of…What does it take to get God to respond?
What does it take for this interaction to be meaningful? What moves the needle in my prayer life? What can give me that competitive edge, so to speak? Well, Jesus is answering that question tonight. He's about to show us that the advantage we are looking for is found in an unlikely place, that it is found in your weakness. When it comes to prayer, weakness is the way. That's actually the main point tonight. Hold on to that. Weakness is the way.
Just like with my buddy Paul and me, it's precisely the fact that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain that actually gives us that advantage in prayer that causes his ear to bend low to us and his heart to soften toward us. Weakness is the way. He's going to show us this by giving us three very unexpected role models for prayer. We're going to sort of peer through three different windows and see what comprises a person who gets the attention of and the intimacy of God. That's what we're doing here.
So, we have a lot to cover. Here's how it's going to work. We're just going to do an overview of these three scenes, peering into these three windows Luke lays out for us. Then we're going to back the camera off some, we're going to draw a few conclusions, and then we'll be done. So, that's where we're heading. Again, have that Bible out on your lap. We're in Luke 18, and we're going to start back again at the top.
Verse 1, scene 1: "And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart." Luke is being really nice to us right now, and he tells us up front what this parable means, which is a blessing to a guy like me, because sometimes I come up on Jesus in the Scriptures and I'm like, "I don't know what those words mean together."
It's nice when the author can go, "Hey, by the way, he means this." He's cutting me a break. He tells us up front what it is, and here's what it is. Did you see it? This parable was told so that we would always pray and not lose heart. You don't have to ask what the point of the parable is. There it is: so that we would always pray and not lose heart. Let's continue. Verse 2:
"He said, 'In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, "Give me justice against my adversary." For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, "Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming."'
And the Lord said, 'Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And 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. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?'"
This is the first of our three scenes, and it's a parable about prayer. We learn that God hears his people and is eager to do them good and bring justice for them, and that should drive us to our knees in prayer, because we know we have a God who cares for us. Again, that is the point of this parable. That's the lay of the land. But there's something else I don't want us to miss, because there's something happening beneath the surface here that we have to catch if we want to get the full scope of this moment.
What's beneath the surface? Well, think about this for a moment with me. Think about the casting of this parable. Who makes up the cast list right here? It's a small cast. There are two characters. You have the judge, who will be playing the role of God today. He's not doing a hot job at it, and then you have the widow. So, who are we in the story? Well, if the judge is playing God, then who's playing us? The widow. Right? It's obviously the widow. We are the widow in this story of Jesus'.
Have you ever played that game with your friends…? I'm like a cinephile. I love movies. I'm all about it. We play a game where you go, "Hey, if you could cast any character as my biopic character to play me, who would that be?" It's also called the "Find out who your real friends are" game. Have you ever played that game?
I personally like to think of myself as a slightly stronger Dwayne Johnson, but do you know… I'm not making this part up. Do you know who my friends pick for me every time we play the game? All different groups of friends. It's like they've conspired. Jack Black. Jack Black! That is not a self-esteem booster. I don't know if you know that. This is a "Jack Black" moment for his disciples. That's what this is. "Wait. You're casting me as the widow? We're the widow in this story?"
Widow doesn't have the same stigma today as it did then, but just get a sense of this. In their day, a widow was powerless. Do you hear me? She was without influence in the society. She was very susceptible to being taken advantage of. She was socially and financially vulnerable. Commentators even tell us that not even the land she would have gotten from her husband was guaranteed after he died, because that land was connected to his family of origin, not his family of marriage. That made her incredibly dependent on the kindness and generosity of others.
So she has to plead to the judge. She has to beg to him. He is her only hope for justice. Do you see that? Do you feel that? Jesus is saying, "Yeah. Be like that." Do you feel that a little bit more? Does that strike you now? Are you starting to see the point? Listen. Apart from being tethered to the God of the universe, we have nothing, we are nothing, we bring nothing to the table, so if we want justice as God's people, we can't muster it ourselves. We're powerless until we look to him in prayer. Do you see that?
Jesus is saying something profound. This is what he's saying: If you want your needs met, you have to see yourself as needy. If you want your needs met, then you have to concede, "I'm needy." Man, that's a sideways pill to swallow, isn't it? That's just hard. It's easy to talk about what we want, but it's hard to say, "And I'm needy, and I'm desperate, and you're my only hope." Weakness is the way.
Anyone bummed yet? He's not done. Second parable coming at you. Verse 9: "He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt…" Again, thank you, Luke. Jesus told us this parable to rebuke self-righteous people who looked down on others. Let's continue. Verse 10:
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
Again, we're looking at a case of someone who is helped by God as they acknowledge their weakness and their need. Are you starting to see a theme develop here over this passage? Now who is our cast this time? Again, a small ensemble. We have two characters again. You have the Pharisee and the tax collector. Let's talk about them. Let's deal with the Pharisee first.
Now this is a tricky bit, because I understand that when I'm bringing up the word Pharisee to a group of modern, evangelical Christians… When I say that word Pharisee, do you generally have a positive feeling or a negative feeling? Negative. It strikes you as negative. Right? Which means we're totally disconnected from how this would have struck his listeners, because it would not have struck them this way.
A Pharisee was not a slur back then. This was their pastor. Do you feel me? These were their heroes. These were the men you would aspire to be if you lived back then and were a Jew. They were godly. They were obedient. They obeyed the Torah. They strived to keep the law. That's how they were perceived in their culture. It doesn't hit us that way, but it hits them that way. This was the hero in the story. He was the hero when they were hearing this for the first time.
So, that's the first character: the Pharisee. Second one: the tax collector. Again, we have a lot of distance here. Tax collector doesn't hit us, but in Palestine, in these days, a tax collector would have been despised. Why? They were Jewish citizens who were employed by that insurgent Roman government to take money from their own people and give it to the people who all their people hated. It's a little awkward when you do that.
They didn't just do that. That would have been bad enough, but what's worse is they were notorious for then taking more from their people than they needed and not giving everything to Caesar and keeping some for themselves and lining their pockets with it. So these guys were hated by the Jews. They were seen as traitors and thieves and sellouts and completely morally bankrupt. Are you getting that picture?
That's who these guys were, and Jesus finishes his parable and says, "This is the guy he justifies. This is the guy God sent home righteous. This guy." What would that have felt like to hear? Again, the stinger is missing a little bit in 2019. I don't want to get audited, but I don't want to plan the murder of the guy who's doing my tax audit, but in this context, there was so much animosity there.
We need to feel the stigma or we need to feel the uncomfortableness more. Let me try one out on you really quickly and see if this fits. In 1992, a man by the name of Jeffrey Dahmer is given 15 life sentences for the brutal murder of 15 men and teenage boys, most of whom he raped and ate. In prison, the cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer was handed some Christian literature, a pamphlet, a gospel tract, and he starts reading this in his cell.
As he's reading, the Holy Spirit explodes his heart with conviction over his sin. He starts to realize the monster that he is, and in prison, in his cell, Jeffrey Dahmer bows the knee to Jesus Christ, and the cannibal becomes a Christian, redeemed, justified. Now how does that feel to hear that, to know that if you're in Christ, when you die you will be kicking it in heaven with a cannibal? It feels a little uncomfortable, doesn't it?
God doesn't respond like that to cannibals. Right? Maybe overeating food, but not humans. He doesn't act like that toward cannibals. Right? He doesn't bend his ear toward them. Do you see now? That's the point of the passage. God does do that for cannibals. He does do that for tax collectors and liars and people who look at pornography and addicts and drunkards and every other vice you can imagine. That's what he does. The point of this is when we come needy, he responds, no matter who we are. That's the point. Do you see that?
The problem is most of us, if we're being real, don't see ourselves that way. We can kind of get down with the abstract idea of God being a merciful God like that, but we don't see ourselves as being needy. We tend to be a lot more like the Pharisee in this story, looking at our own record to justify us. That's what's happening here, but Jesus shows us that what we need is not to act like we have it all together but, rather, to admit we are morally bankrupt, to finally own it. That's what he's inviting us to.
I remember it was… I think it was 10 years ago now. I was at a gas station with my wife. We were filling up the car, and the card wouldn't work. Our Wells Fargo debit card wouldn't work. No gas for Jimmy. I was like, "Okay." So we do the app thing. Like, did we run low or something? And my Wells Fargo account tells me that I have negative $2 million. I was like, "Kelly, what did you buy?" It was ridiculous.
There was a glitch in the system, and it accidentally debited, so they gave me back my $2 million. Thank you. I hate when they take my $2 million from me. But what's the point? What did I feel in that moment? When I saw that number, what did I feel? Immediate despair. "This is it, man. We had a good run. I'll see you later." Need. "Oh no." Those feelings crept up in me fast. That's exactly what God is saying is the posture of someone who he responds to and justifies. Feel that. That's the posture.
Some of you guys are bankrupt spiritually, but you are acting like a millionaire, as if sort of putting on airs will impress God. Listen. It doesn't impress him. Need does, though. Repent of that. Come to him desperate for forgiveness and watch him give it, because he loves to. Are we starting to see the theme? God's ear is bent toward the needy widow, and his heart is forgiving to the sinful tax collector. As if to drive his point home one more time, Luke gives us one more story. We're going to look at it together. Verse 15:
"Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, 'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.'"
Again, I just want you to feel this. This is another one of those moments where there's a disconnect here. In ancient Jewish culture, children were not little bitty bundles of chunky joy. You didn't bounce them on your lap and pass them around. That's not what you did with a child. They weren't little bundles of joy. They were inconveniences then. Not because they were hated by people but because in Jewish culture, there was a high value placed on contribution. What can you contribute to the family's good? If you can't contribute to the family's good yet, then you're of low value to us until you can.
So, when they saw children back then, that was the sense they got. It wasn't an endearing thing. For somebody of Jesus' stature and notoriety to come around and bless these infants was beneath a teacher of his stature. Do you see that? It would have been a really surprising and even offensive sight for his disciples to see this. That's why they rebuked those kids and those parents. Yet here he is, Jesus, holding and blessing infants, non-contributors, the vulnerable.
One more time, we're faced with that question…How do we see ourselves? That's what his disciples were faced with in this moment. That's what Jesus is doing in this moment. Be honest. When you think about you, do you see yourself as strong, self-sustaining, important, substantial, or is the first thought you have when you think about you needy, dependent, trusting, vulnerable, without help?
"Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." Let that sober you tonight. Are you feeling challenged? These are our three scenes. These are our three role models. This leaves us with some questions to answer, like, "What do a vulnerable widow, a moral degenerate, and a societal nuisance teach us about prayer?" Because that's what this passage is. What do they teach us about prayer? Three ending observations. What does this mean for us?
1._ Your self-reliance will kill you_. There is a lot of encouragement to be had in this passage, but this passage is also a warning tonight. At the very center of Christianity is a concession that I lack what I need to be right with God. That's at the heart of this thing. I lack the power to change things in me. I lack the power to change things around me. So, to act like you're strong or able or righteous or put together in and of yourself is not only anti-prayerful; it is anti-Christian.
The Pharisee was a better man than the tax collector. Do you hear me? No one would have disagreed with this. He wasn't stealing from anybody. He was keeping the Torah as he knew how. He wasn't committing adultery or cheating or doing these types of things. He wasn't thieving. He was being good, and he went to hell. We don't say that in 2019, though. Right? We don't talk like that in 2019, because it's better left unsaid.
But do you see that's the point? The good guy loses in that story, and the bad guy, the degenerate, the one who owned his need and could come to God with all of his bankruptcy…he's the one God justified. The cannibal. You having it all figured out before you come to God, guys and girls, is working against you. Your efforts to be put together and morally pristine so God will accept you… Those things are working against you tonight. It's not good for you.
Some of you tonight are hearing this, and what you need to do is lay down your trust in you and cast yourself on the mercy of Jesus tonight. That's what you need to do, warts and all, the whole package. You will not gain access to him or find answers to your prayers in your prideful self-reliance. Our self-reliance will kill us.
2._ Weakness shows off God's strength._ I said earlier that God is attracted to those who have nothing to contribute. Why? Why is that? Why is he inclined to those people over the people who think they have something to contribute? Here's why: because when I contribute nothing to God except my need, then God must contribute everything else, and when God contributes everything else, who is the one who in the end I get to brag on as having done something good?
Who is the one at the end I can point at and celebrate and say, "That's praiseworthy"? I'm not allowed to point at me anymore. If he made the contribution, I can only point at him. This is Christianity. If you're wondering what this whole thing was… Maybe you're here for one of the first times, and you're just trying to sort out what this Christian thing is. This is it. This is the gospel.
You and I rebelled against God. Our first parents did it, and we learned a good lesson from them. We keep on doing it. We stiff-arm him at every turn, and God, in his mercy, instead of leaving us, pursued us. He condescended to come get us in the person of Jesus. Jesus lived the perfect life you and I could never do in our place. He made the contribution. He hung up on a Roman cross and bled out for six hours in our place. His contribution, not ours.
He rose from the grave, defeated death, conquered all of our enemies in our place. His contribution. In the end, no Christian will never be able to point at themselves. If you're truly in Christ, the best we can do, the greatest thing we can do is only point at the one who made the contribution, and that's Jesus every time.
That is the gospel. We're needy; he is the need-meeter. Do you see that? Praise God for that. If that's true, if he's the strong one when I'm weak, if he's the powerful one when I'm not powerful, if he's the contributor when my basket is empty and I have nothing to give to him… If that's true, then this last point is true.
3._ When things feel the most hopeless, that's when there's the most hope. If what we've just seen from Luke is true, your optimism in your prayer life should be exploding if you feel like you're not bringing much to the table. It should be exploding and bursting out, because you _can't, but you serve the God who can. That's who we serve, and that gives us such confidence. When things are the most hopeless, that's when there's the most hope.
Are you crippled by your sin tonight? You came in, and you're just wrecked. This week, maybe the Holy Spirit has actually been poking at your conscience, and maybe it's for the first time, and you're like, "I'm a mess. What am I even doing in this room?" Addiction has you by the throat. You can't get out of it. You keep on stumbling. "Is there any hope for me?" Yes! Pray. Pray to the one who loves bringing triumph out of failure. That's what we do when we feel bankrupt morally. We come to him and we pray.
Do you feel like, when you look around, that our culture is just falling apart? Like, "Where am I living anymore? What a tragedy." Is your heart breaking as you're hearing reports of 3,000 babies a day being murdered legally in our country? Does that break your heart and you want to see change? Or just the ridiculous amounts of racial tension still in 2019, the almost total absence of diversity in the church in America.
Does that break your heart? Do you want to see change? Pray! Plead to the God who just told us, "I give justice to my elect. I make these things happen." Are you a person who's trying to hustle and make it happen yourself? You have all of these plans, but you're not hitting your knees. You're not doing what the text says. The text says come to him. The text says plead with the Judge, and he'll bring that justice. He loves doing that. Pray to him.
Do you have broken relationships in your life and you're wanting to see healing there? Pray to him. Are you desperate to see your friends saved, your parents saved, your siblings saved, the folks at your work come to know Jesus, the literally billions of people who have never heard the name of Jesus at one time in the whole world? Do you want to see them come to know Jesus? The first thing you need to do is fall on your knees and plead to God.
If this is telling us anything, it's that when it feels so insurmountable, when it feels like, "How could we ever move the needle?" that's the best time to plead with him, because it's going to make God look great when he starts answering those prayers. When he comes through, he looks great, and he wants to look great on your behalf. Pray and plead with him. Come weak, come lowly, but come. Tonight, come. Pray. This is an opportunity for you.
You're not here on accident. You're here to hear this word and respond by crying out to God who's eager to show off his strength for you. Jeremiah says, "I am the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for me?" No. It is for you; it's not for him. Plead with him. We do what that song says. "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling." Nothing. That's what you need tonight. Will you come with that? Because that's all you have to come with. Come with nothing. Let's pray to him now.
I'll just give you a minute for the Lord to work these truths into your heart. Maybe just ask him if you have some walls going up in you. Just ask him, "God, would you be kind to me? Tear down these walls. Help me be soft tonight and receive these things." If your heart has been hard and you're struggling in sin and failure and you've kind of realized it tonight and you're like, "Man, I need change, but I can't. I've just never been able to, and I still can't," praise God for Jesus tonight. Literally, praise him. Thank him. Ask him to send his Spirit to work in you and help you, free you. Cast yourself on Christ tonight.
God, we have nothing and are nothing without you, but we look to you, the strong one. Will you show off tonight in human hearts so that your fame and your renown would be made much of tonight and forever? In Jesus' good name, amen.