Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 29:10-14; Luke 11:5-13 (text)
January 18, 2015 â€¢ Download this sermon (PDF)
Congregation of Christ: Today, we continue with our series on the Parables of Jesus. Last week, we studied the Parable of the Two Judges and a Widow or the Persistent Widow. This is about persevering in prayer until our Lord Jesus Christ returns from heaven. Today, we will look at a parable about a neighbor who was persistent in asking a â€œfriendâ€ to provide for his needs. In both parables, Jesus is teaching about persisting and faithfulness in prayer: the first one as we wait for the Second Coming; the second one as we live our daily lives in this world of sufferings.
Imagine you were traveling from Tuguegarao to Cainta by bus. You were scheduled to arrive in Cubao by 5 pm, and in your friend’s house in Cainta by 6 pm. But your bus was late leaving. Then it had a flat tire. There was also much road repair along the route. By 5 pm, you were still in Nueva Ecija, so you thought you should call your friend to say you will be very late. But you try to pull out your cell phone from your pocket, but no cell phone. You search your backpack, and no cell phone! Too bad, but your friend will understand. By the time you get to your friend’s house, you were exhausted and starving to death. Worse, it was midnight and your friend’s house was all quiet and dark and locked up for the night.
Such was the situation of our traveler in this parable, although the traveler has a very minor role in the parable. Not much is said about him, except that he â€œhas arrived on a journeyâ€ in verse 6. Maybe because it was customary for travelers in those days to travel at night, especially during the summer, because of the heat.
Upon arrival at his host’s house, this traveler found out that the host did not prepare food for him. Nothing. So his host goes to the house of his neighborâ€”whom he calls â€œfriendâ€â€” knocks on the door, and asks for three pieces of bread, explaining his dilemma. Of course, the friend’s house is all dark, quiet and locked up, so he refuses to give him bread. But the host neighbor was persistent, repeatedly pleading to his friend. Finally, his friend gives in to his neighbor, and gives him bread to feed his hungry traveler friend.
We know that this parable is about the importance of prayer. Right before this parable, in verses 1-4, Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray what we call the Lord’s Prayer. And at the end of the parable, Jesus encourages his disciples to ask, seek and knock on the heavenly Father’s throne for their daily needs. So there is a connection between the petition in the Lord’s Prayer for â€œdaily bread,â€ the petition of the neighbor for â€œthree loavesâ€ of bread, and the heavenly Father giving â€œgood giftsâ€ to his children (verse 13).
Our text this afternoon is about two friends, not one, and a neighbor who was persistent in his pleas. So our theme this afternoon is â€œTwo Friends and a Neighbor,â€ under three headings: (1) The Reluctant Friend; (2) The Persistent Neighbor; and (3) The Generous Friend.
The Reluctant Friend
This parable has two main characters: a â€œfriendâ€ and his neighbor. In the parable, the host calls the one who has leftover bread as â€œfriend.â€ We will call the host as â€œthe persistent neighbor,â€ and the one who has leftover bread as â€œthe reluctant friend.â€
The description of the reluctant friend is not like the unjust judge from our previous parable. He is merely described as reluctant in giving his bread. In fact, he gives his persistent neighbor not only three pieces of bread, but â€œwhatever he needs.â€ In those days, bread is eaten with olives, grape-molasses, and cheese. The only negative description is that he gave bread to his persistent neighbor because of his neighbor’s â€œimpudence,â€ not because he cared about his neighbor’s need. The Greek word used for â€œimpudenceâ€ is difficult to translate because it is found only once in the NT. But in ancient Greek literature, it means â€œlack of sensitivity to what is proper,â€ or â€œwithout respect.â€ So Jesus is saying that this host, in waking up his â€œfriendâ€ in the middle of the night to ask for bread, is too bold, even shameless.
Also, in those days, to refuse a neighbor’s request for bread when he desperately needs it would be the talk of the village the next morning. He will hear about his unkind refusal from other neighbors. So he gives in not because he cared for his neighbor, but because he cared about his own reputation.
Such was the â€œreluctant friend.â€ What about the persistent neighbor?
The Persistent Neighbor
The persistent neighbor had a dilemma. It was also rude and unkind if he did not show hospitality to his exhausted and hungry friend by giving him food and shelter for the night. But since his traveling friend was very late arriving, he did not prepare enough food for him; only enough for his own family. What is he to do? He gathers all his boldness and â€œimpudenceâ€â€”even if he is notâ€”and walks over to the reluctant friend’s house.
The persistent neighbor knew the difficulty and shame of what he was going to do. In the first-century Palestine, houses were small. There was one all-purpose room for sitting, dining and sleeping. It had one door which was kept open during the day. At night, the man of the house would lock the door with a heavy wooden bar across it. Then, sleeping mats were spread on the floor side by side. The lamp was turned off, and the whole family, with the children, would sleep on the floor mats.
The persistent neighbor knew what a great bother he would be. To ask for bread would be asking his reluctant friend to get up at midnight, walk very quietly to the door without stepping on the others, listen to his request, turn on the lamp, and walk back to the dining area to pick up the leftover bread. All of these would surely wake up everyone else! Perhaps the reluctant friend was really his â€œfriend,â€ but he calls him â€œFriendâ€ possibly to avoid his wrath for his impudence in the middle of the night.
But why three loaves of bread? In those days, a loaf is the size of a stone in one hand. Like a pandesal in one hand. So, in Matthew 7:9, Jesus gives another illustration to his disciples, â€œOr which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?â€ Three pieces of bread, with the oil, molasses and cheese, would make a meal. Every morning, households would bake enough for the family for the whole day. It just so happens that the reluctant friend had leftover bread.
This persistent neighbor went out of his way to be hospitable to his own visitor. He risked his friendship with his neighbor by his boldness. He risked being refused and therefore shamed. But somehow, he had confidence that his request will be granted if he persisted.
The Generous Friend
As in the Parable of the Persistent Widow, Jesus again uses the literary device of comparing a â€œlesserâ€ to a â€œgreater.â€ In this parable, he says at the conclusion of his parable, â€œIf you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!â€ (verse 13) If the reluctant friend, who is evil, can grant the needs of the persistent neighbor, how much more will the holy and merciful heavenly Father be generous towards his â€œchildrenâ€ who are in desperate need? Notice also that Jesus describes all people as â€œevil,â€ even as they provide for their families, another confirmation of the state of universal sinfulness of man.
Jesus uses two illustrations about the generosity of the heavenly Father. The first is, â€œWhat father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?â€ (verse 11) The second is, â€œor if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? (verse 13) Serpents and scorpions are certainly very harmful, even deadly, to children playing outside the house. Earthly fathers, even while sinful, will never give their children these dangerous creatures.
But the heavenly Father answers our prayers for physical needs. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, â€œBut seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to youâ€ (Matt 6:33). In the previous verses, we know that â€œthese thingsâ€ are food, drink and clothes to wear.
But the Father also provides for our spiritual needs. Again, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his disciples to ask, seek and knock (Matt 7:7). Then in verse 11, he says,
â€œIf you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!â€
What are these â€œgood things?â€ The parallel verse in our text in Luke 11 has the answer:
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!â€
The â€œgood thingsâ€ or â€œgood giftsâ€ are not only material things, but also include the Holy Spirit himself! Therefore, God provides for the needs of both body and soul. When we ask for â€œdaily bread,â€ he is â€œpleased to provide for all our bodily needâ€ (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 125). When we say, â€œI believe in God, the Father Almighty,â€ we are praying that we â€œso trust [in him] as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soulâ€ (HC Q&A 26).
The persistent neighbor’s friend gave food with much reluctance. But our heavenly Father is our most generous Friend.
Dear Friends in Christ: As sinners, we were enemies of God. But through his work on the cross, Jesus has reconciled us to his Father in heaven, â€œFor if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his lifeâ€ (Rom 5:10). Through Christ, God has become our Friend.
Jesus is also not our enemy anymore, but our pre-eminent Friend. He tells his disciples and us, â€œNo longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to youâ€ (John 15:15). Not only is he our Friend, but we are his friends! As our Friend, he has made known to us all that we need to know about his Father, and all that we need to know about how we are saved from being evil.
Since we are his friends, we can now come to his throne of grace in our time of need with boldness and confidence. Not with shame and fear of being rejected. Dear friends, do we come to him often enough in prayer? Or do we come to him only in our time of need?
We have been a church for more than six years. It is time for us to meet regularly as a congregation for prayer. Praying corporately only on Sundays is not enough. Praying without ceasing is a must. Prayer meetings and prayer groups are most important in the life of a church. We must meet regularly for prayer. There are so many things to pray for, personal and as a church: the sick, the needy, the unemployed, the lonely, the grieving, the widow; broken relationships; church activities; disunity in the church; the country; the unsaved; the persecuted, suffering brothers and sisters in distant lands.
Some caution though as we think about prayer meetings. Prayer meetings are intimate and very personal. Therefore, things that are prayed about are to be kept in confidentiality, within the group, within the church. They are not for public consumption, to be talked about with other friends or family. They are not to be posted in Facebook. Things that we pray for as a church must not leave the church. They are not to be shared with those outside the church without the knowledge of those concerned.
Prayer meetings are important, because we have confidence that the heavenly Father will grant our requests for body and soul, and for our church. This is because the power behind our prayers is the Holy Spirit. He helps us when we are weak, when we do not know what to pray for, â€œbecause the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of Godâ€ (Rom 8:26-27).
Through the Spirit, God fulfills his promise to answer our prayers. When Jeremiah, together with the Israelites, were exiled in Babylon, the Lord promised that after 70 years, â€œI will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this placeâ€ (Jer 29:10). How did he fulfill his promise? Just as God will â€œstir up the spiritâ€ of Cyrus king of Persia, God will â€œstir up the spiritâ€ of the Israelites to â€œcall upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORDâ€¦â€ (Jer 29:10, 12-14). Those who seek the LORD will find him.
You whom God has not stirred up to seek God, call upon him and pray to him to give you his Spirit:
â€œSeek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardonâ€ (Isa 55:6-7).
The opportunity to call upon God will not be forever. Time will come, whether by death or by the end of the world, when no one will be able to repent. Come boldly into his throne of grace, for the heavenly Father is a merciful and generous Father.