Jesus’ disciples once asked him why he spoke in parables and the answer he gave was quite astonishing. The stories he told were very simple; anyone who heard them would easily remember them. However, they were not designed to make the real message easy to understand—just the opposite. Our Lord spoke in parables in order to make his hearers think. Many who listened were full of their own importance and could not discern the true meaning, because they scorned the simplicity of the story. Some however were teachable and prepared to think carefully about the profound lesson that Jesus intended.

“And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables” (Mark 4:11).

The parables Jesus told were everyday stories with a hidden meaning that could only be unlocked by thinking. The figures Jesus uses in his parables are generally linked to Old Testament passages concerning the Messiah. Unless we see this we will fail to understand what was in the mind of Jesus. To make them merely stories for moral truths robs them of their vital purpose.

The purpose of this parable[1] in Luke 18:1–8 is to show how faithful prayer helps us to overcome the difficulties of life. It shows the power of patient, persistent prayer. It emphasises that we should not faint under trials but should “pray always”.

In Luke 21:36 the Lord says we must “watch and pray always”, so that we are not overcome by the cares of the world and fail to be ready when he comes. The lesson is that we need God’s help through prayer. In his epistles, Paul emphasises this lesson: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17); “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Col 4:20).

Unless we continue in earnest prayer to God we are in danger of growing weary and giving up from weakness. In fact, if we give up praying we will certainly lose heart. God in fact wants us to “give Him no rest”, but pray day and night! “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Isa 62:6–7).

The Parable of the Unjust Judge Luke 18:2–8

This judge was a harsh man, who feared no one, let alone God. Yet the first qualification of a judge is that he must fear God: “Thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them… and let them judge the people at all seasons” (Exod 18:21–22). He was supposed to represent God to the people, showing justice and mercy. But this man in Luke 18 was not fit to be a judge because he did not respect God or care about the feelings of others. He showed none of the characteristics of mercy, compassion and love that our God shows. “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:8).

The widow was a woman who needed help; she was alone in the world, poor and without protection and often ill-treated. It was the duty of the judge to help her.

  • God made provision for special care of widows in Exodus 22:22–24
  • God provided their needs in the “forgotten sheaf” and the “tithe” in Deuteronomy 24:19–22
  • He has promised to bless those who help and honour the widow in Jeremiah 7:6–7
  • He warns He will punish those who take advantage of widows
  • The early ecclesia made arrangements to help them when they were in need (Acts 6:1–6).

This widow woman was desperate—she was suffering hardship and was seeking his protection, for she had no other helper. Though her need was great, this judge was indifferent to her troubles and turned a deaf ear. Still she kept asking and asking with monotonous regularity—there was nothing else she could do—until eventually her persistence made him give in and do what she asked. It was not to please her that he gave in, but to make life easier for himself.

What a contrast between the unjust judge and the God we worship. Our God is “a just God and a Saviour” (Isa 45:21). Though He is a mighty God, He especially takes care of the widows and the fatherless. He listens to their cry and will never forsake them.

We are like this widow—the world is our enemy, for there has always been enmity between those who follow Christ and those who do not know the truth. We cry to God every day for His help. God wants to help us, He wants to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32), and is pleased when we pray, because it shows we trust Him. He wants His “elect” (v7), those whom He has called to know the truth and to be baptised, to be persistent in prayer, really believing that He can and will answer.

Jesus says, “God will avenge them speedily” (v8), but this does not mean God will immediately give us what we ask for. We may have to wait a long time for the answer to our prayer, but when God’s answer comes it is swift and decisive.

In verse 8 we have the key to the parable. Shall the Lord find this kind of faith on the earth when he comes? When Christ returns, all the prayers of the faithful will be answered. The person who is mature in faith keeps praying, not being disappointed if there is no clear answer now, but believing that God hears and will deliver us from all our enemies at the coming of “the Son of man”. If we have that kind of faith, our prayers will sustain us in times of persecution or opposition. May that faith be found in us!

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector v9–14

This parable adds to the first and reveals more details about prayer.

The Pharisee believed he was righteous; he even fasted twice in the week although God did not require it. Everything he did was done for all to see. He believed he was better than other men and not guilty of the sins that they committed. He despised the tax collector and stood apart from him as he prayed.

The Pharisee concentrated only on outward show; he was only interested in what men thought of him and “prayed with himself”. Notice in verses 11–12 how many times he says “I”, showing how pleased he was with himself. His prayer was, in fact, a boast to God about how righteous he thought he was. He “trusted in himself.” Jesus called such men “hypocrites” or play actors. His external show of righteousness was all a “façade”—a false exterior. He did not reveal a spiritual mind, for God was not even in his thoughts.

Not far away stood a tax collector. Men employed by the Roman government to collect taxes were often very corrupt, and so they were despised by the people. But this man was different. He was very conscious that he was like all men, a sinner unworthy of God’s attention. With eyes looking downwards he smote his breast, for he was genuinely sorry for his sins. He cried to God in heaven, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (v13).

This man understood that in God’s eyes he was a sinner in need of forgiveness, and knew that God is merciful to those who honour Him.

Both these men came to the Temple to pray. Only one of them understood that God is righteous and that all men are sinners in need of forgiveness (Romans 3:23). The Pharisee’s mind was full of himself. He prayed to himself! Like Israel of old his heart was far from God, even though he appeared to be worshipping Him (see Mark 7:6; Isa 29:13).

The first essential of acceptable worship is to recognise our need for God. There are things we must do to please God. It is important to read the Bible regularly. We need to come together to remember the sacrifice of Christ as well as to study the Bible to improve our understanding. However, it is possible for us to do all these things without them making our thoughts and motives pure.

Remember—the man who exalted himself was not esteemed by God. God accepted the humble man who confessed his sins and his needs.

Other examples of right and wrong behaviour follow in this chapter.

The Rich Young Ruler v18–23

This man addressed Jesus as “Good Master”. It is true that his character was good, but men are not born “good”. Jesus was born with the same nature as all other men, and that nature, inherited from Adam, is not good. God alone is good, as Jesus said in verse 19.

In verse 21, the young man believed he had, in fact, done all that God required. Jesus, however, knew that he was very rich. If he wanted God to give him eternal life, he must give up the things he trusted in now. This answer did not make him happy, for he was very rich and in verse 23, he walked sadly away.

We must be prepared to give up everything to gain eternal life. This is the attitude God wants to see in us, and the apostle Paul sets us a wonderful example. He says in Philippians 3:7–8: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.

Jesus knew how hard it is for rich people to make that decision. In fact, without faith they can never decide to give up everything for the kingdom of God. So he emphasised the point by describing something impossible—a camel going through the eye of a needle (v24–25)! The things, however, which are impossible with men are possible with God (v27). We must believe that.

The Blind Man Near Jericho v35–43

When Jesus explained to his disciples in verses 31–34 that he was going to die a cruel death in Jerusalem, they did not understand. They were like blind men, who could not see.

As soon as he had finished telling them these things they met a blind man begging by the side of the road. He knew he was blind and his one great need was to be healed.

Crowds of people were gathering and when he learned it was Jesus, he knew that here was his opportunity. From everything that he had heard, he believed that this man Jesus was a man of great mercy and kindness. He knew from the Scriptures that king David had been merciful and kind and that the prophets had spoken of the Messiah as the “son of David”. So he cried out for Jesus to show him mercy. Nothing could stop him from crying out again and again to the one who he believed could heal him. People told him to be quiet, but he kept on calling out to Jesus.

Like the widow woman at the beginning of the chapter, this man really believed that he could be helped, and he was persistent in his requests. His faith in the Messiah now changed his life and he followed Jesus, praising God.

Today we meet to remember that same man who gave sight to the blind man and taught the power of persistent prayer. In his time of greatest need, Jesus himself persisted in prayer to his Father. He understood that God does not always give us an answer that makes life easy for us, but God always answers, and we can be sure that He will give us far more than we can ever hope to have. So Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed three times to his Father and God sent His angel to strengthen him for that last trial of his faith (Luke 22:42-44).

Our Lord was totally obedient to his Father. He kept in mind at all times, even in these last moments, the joy of being raised from the dead and going to sit beside his Father in immortal glory in heaven. Paul writes that “for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).

We eat bread and drink wine to remember that he gave his life for us. He is God’s gift to us (John 4:10). We need his sacrifice. We need redemption from death and God alone has provided our needs in the sacrifice of His beloved Son. Let us remember him and be thankful and continually keep in our minds the joy set before us too, if we remain faithful until he comes.

[1] Based on Luke chapter 18, this exhortation was originally prepared for the use of brethren and sisters in China