Justice and Judgement

Luke 18:1-8

21 October 2007

St John's, Shottesbrooke

Morning Prayer

[Note: this is a very short sermon on Luke 18:1-8 preached from the Authorised Version (KJV). I've also done a longer version from the NIV.]


On the face of it, this passage in Luke 18 is straightforward. We are told in verse one what the point is, and the story is simple enough. Jesus places a widow on the one hand and a judge on the other. The widow is powerless and poor: someone has wronged her and she needs justice. The judge is corrupt and ungodly, and the widow has no money to bribe him.

Nevertheless, because of the widow's persistence in bothering the judge, he eventually does the right thing and the widow gains the justice she desires. Jesus uses this story to encourage us to be persistent in our prayers.

Now, it would be easy to gain the wrong message from this. It would be easy to conclude that this story is about "pester-power". Should we go home with the message that if we bother God long enough he will give us whatever we want? Should we conclude that if we keep on and on asking God for the Ferrari, or success for our children, or simply for healing from our sickness, that God will eventually come round and give in to us? Some would say so, but is that really what Jesus is teaching here?

Well, I think that a closer look shows that Jesus had quite a different lesson in mind.

Jesus says in verse 1 that we ought always to pray and not to faintref. I want to ask two questions of this. I want to ask first, "what should we be praying for?" and second, "what encourages us not to give up?"

Answering these questions gives me two headings: Pray for Justice and Judgement is Coming.

Pray for Justice

So, first "what should we be praying for?" . The answer Jesus gives is that we should be praying for justice.

In Jesus' story, what the widow is demanding of the judge is to be avenged of her adversary. Widows were notoriously disadvantaged in New Testament times. You'd think that she might be asking for food on the table, or clothes for her children, or even a husband to look after her. But the desire of this widow's heart is to be avenged against her enemy, which end she pursues relentlessly.

What's this got to do with Jesus' disciples? In what way are they like this poor widow, crying out for justice? In verse 7 Jesus makes it clear that there is a link. He describes God's people as those which cry day and night unto him.ref What are they crying out for? What does God promise to deliver? verse 7 and verse 8: justice! He will avenge them!

The Greek word for "avenge" that Luke uses here is relatively uncommon in the New Testament. It is used fewer than a dozen times. One occurrence is in the book of Romans, where the Apostle Paul quotes Deuteronomy, saying Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.ref

The point is that Jesus knows that his disciples are going to suffer unjustly, just as he did. They will be persecuted, but they are not to retaliate. Unjustly treated Christians are not to take matters into their own hands.

I recently got talking to one of my colleagues at work about the persecuted church worldwide. One of the things he said was "Something I've noticed about your lot [by which he meant Christians] is that you never fight back" . I explained to him that it is because we follow a Saviour who did not fight back, and then I was able to tell him a little about Jesus' death for us.

So that's the answer to what we should pray for. In an unjust world — where God's people are victims of injustice — we must pray for justice, not taking matters into our own hands, but praying for God himself to avenge. Let us never neglect to pray for our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church worldwide. And when we face injustice ourselves because of our faith, let us above all pray about it. Pray for justice.

Judgement is coming

Returning to verse 1, Jesus urges us always to pray, and not to faintref. The second question from verse 1 is "what encourages us not to faint, not to give up?"

The answer is: we are convinced that judgement is coming.

The Lord's promise is that justice will be done. Even the unjust judge eventually pronounced judgement in favour of the widow. How much more willing is our God and Father to bring judgement in favour of his people.

And the promise is that one day he will. Verse 7, And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto himref, and verse 8, I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.ref.

Verse 8 also tells us when the judgement will occur. It will be when Jesus returns, when the Son of Man comethref. He is coming to judge, to mete out justice on behalf of his people.

Our Lord's judgement is delayed, not because he is unjust like the judge in the story, and not because he is overlooking the injustice in the world. His judgement will come as swiftly as is consistent with his desire to save his people.

This world will not go on for ever. The stain of evil on our world is not permanent. Injustice will not mark our world indefinitely. One day the Lord will come, and he will come to judge.

So keep on praying, Jesus urges us. We pray without fainting because the end is in sight! We know that we can make it; we know that it is worthwhile. We keep on praying for justice to be done because we are confident that the Judge himself is coming.


In conclusion, we should notice that the question Jesus poses us in this passage is not, "will God answer our prayer?" , but the question of verse 8 is shall he find faithref when he comes?.

That's a question you and I need to consider. When Jesus returns, will he find you and me faithful, pressing on in prayer and trust of God, or will we have given up? Let us make sure we persist in prayer for justice to be done, confident that the Lord is coming to judge.