A Jesus Who is Worth Pursuing
Pastor Duane Smets
March 25th, 2018
I. Prayer (v. 1)
II. Persistence (v. 2-8)
III. Peace (v. 9-14)
Good morning! Happy Palm Sunday! It’s called Palm Sunday because of the day Jesus arrived in Jerusalem about a week before He was crucified and when He arrived they welcomed Him as they would a king, with Palm branches and a red carpet roll out of praises and rejoicing.
So we remember and celebrate that day where we recognize and acknowledge Jesus as the true king. He came in His first coming with humility and grace and He will come again in His second coming with power and glory!
If you’re new or happen to be visiting with us today, we’re so glad you’ve come. We hope you enjoy yourself today and have a great time worshipping God with us. My name is Duane and I’m the preaching pastor.
I want to personally invite you all to come and experience the full Easter weekend this coming week.
The Good Friday service is unlike anything we experience in church all year. Through it we really take in and feel the weight of what happened and what Jesus did in going to the cross for us.
Then on Easter we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It is such a fun, exciting and wonderful service. We’ve got a bunch of special stuff planned, the highlight in my opinion being baptisms. Which if you’ve never been baptized, get baptized on Easter! Baptism is something Jesus says to do as a sign that you believe in Him and belong to Him. It’s a picture of His death and resurrection! Being cleansed by Him and rising up out of the water to new life! So come on Easter and bring someone with you. What we’re saying is, “Every one bring one!” Let’s all say it together, “Every one bring one.”
Alright, today we’re moving into the eighteenth chapter of Luke in a sermon I’ve titled, “A Jesus Who is Worth Pursuing.” Worth Pursuing. Pursuing. Pursuit.
Have you guys seen “The Greatest Showman” yet? It just came out on online this week. My family saw it in the theatre and my kids are obsessed with the show and the songs. I’ve seriously got “…this is the greatest show” song stuck in my head because it’s been playing in our house non-stop!
If you haven’t heard about it, it’s the story of P.T. Barnum who started the Barnum and Bailey circus in the mid 1800’s. Phineas Taylor Barnum was a young poor kid from Connecticut and then New York, who from the time he was eight or nine had a vision of making others happy through a show full of lights, color, music, singing, dancing, with extraordinary feats and people.
He encountered a lot of struggles in pursuit of that dream. He worked all kinds of jobs trying to scrape together money. He took out enormous risky loans. Faced all kinds of criticism both personally and publicly. His wife’s father in law, from the upper crust of society rejected him. The newspapers mocked and derided him. But he held on. He kept pursuing what he felt like God had put Him on the earth to do.
He says it took about 25 years before his dream came true, forming the first ever circus, packing out shows where people would come, see and hear the sights and sounds and walk away with a smile on their face.
In the passage we’re looking at today, we’re going to look at what Jesus says about pursuit, about pursuing God, what that looks like, what it takes and how we can truly end up happy in life with His peace. So with that, let’s go ahead and stand and read our text for today.
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 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!’ 14 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.”
• Pastoral Declaration: This is the Word of the Lord.
• Congregational Response: Thanks Be To God.
Alright, I’ve got three things for us to walk through today from this passage: Prayer, Persistence, and Peace and my one liner for what the theme of this text is all about is simply, “God blesses those who pursue Him.”
I. Prayer (v. 1)
Let’s jump into this first point and begin by talking about prayer. Jesus says outright that what this whole teaching and the stories He’s telling are all about prayer. He says, “We ought always to pray and not lose heart.”
Now, the context here is Jesus talking about His second coming, what we looked at last week, how Jesus will come again and when He does His second coming will not be like His first. When He comes again, He’ll come with on a cloud with all the angels of heaven blasting a trumpet sound of His arrival. He’ll be riding a white horse, carrying a sword, wearing royal armor, face blazing like the sun and a tattoo showing on His thigh that says, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
God works in and through time and history and what Jesus lets us in on here is that the way God experiences time is different than the way we do. 2 Peter 3:8 says one day to God is like a thousand years to us. Jesus didn’t come into the world until somewhere around five thousand years after it was first promised.
So according to God math, it’s been about two days that Jesus has been gone. What Jesus hinting at here then it will seem to us like it’s taking a long time, but not to lose heart and to keep praying and following God and praying as He taught, “May your kingdom come!”
This principle really applies to the whole way we relate to God. If we ask, “what is prayer?” Prayer is simply the way we communicate with God or one of the primary means through which we have relationship with Him. It can be audible words we speak outloud, or it thoughts in our minds we direct toward God, or it can simply be experiencing the presence of God, physically in our bodies and spiritually in our hearts either while in church, or out in His creation or in real fellowship with other people.
Sometimes I think we’re too narrow on what we think prayer is. We hear Jesus saying, “we ought to always pray” or like Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:2, to “pray without ceasing” and we think “how are we supposed to do that? I gotta work and I got things to do! The Bible’s definition of prayer is much broader. It’s simply being in communion with God or living life for God and His glory. I think we could even say in the context of this teaching of Jesus that it’s “holding onto God.”
What happens so often with people is they become interested in God for a time, pursue Him for awhile, maybe even saying they’ve become a Christian but it doesn’t last. They lose heart. And if we’re honest, it’s easy to lose heart isn’t it?
Have you ever tried to pursue God, maybe even set aside some specific time to really pray and seek Him but then you just feel like, “Is God really there?” Does He even hear me? Maybe you’ve prayed and prayed and prayed for something, like a spouse, or children, or to be healed of some sickness, or for money, or a job or for a friend to become a Christian and nothing happens.
It doesn’t seem like God is hearing or answering and you start to think praying is a waste of time. It’s not doing anything. What’s the point? You lose heart and give up.
Anyone ever felt like that? I have. And I’m a pastor. I’m supposed be good at praying!
One of the things we’re passionate about here is helping families learn how to make God the center of their home and one the chief ways is through prayer…teaching our kids to pray and praying with them.
Recently a father said during their family worship time before bed they were going around and each person was saying what they wanted to pray about. His son wanted to pray for his friend Johnny, that he would be better at school because he was so bad. The next week when they were having their family worship time again, this dad asked his son if he wanted to pray for his friend Johnny again and his son replied, “Nah. I prayed for Joe last week and he is still bad.”
What I love here about what Jesus says is that He knows us and gets us. He understands. He knows it’s easy for us to lose heart. So He says some things to help us and encourage us on our journey.
It’s easy to lose heart. God answers our prayers and will answer them according to what is best in His time but prayer often isn’t so much about God answering our prayers but simply experiencing God through prayer. It’s about the pursuit of God. The blessing is in the pursuit and God blesses those who pursue Him. Prayer is worth it.
Well, let’s move on to our next point and talk about “Persistence”, how pursuing God with persistence is an essential ingredient to the Christian life.
II. Persistence (v. 2-8)
In this story Jesus tells about the widow and her persistence Jesus makes clear is about what it takes to make it as a Christian, the goal is not just coming to faith but keeping the faith. So let’s look at this story about a widow and this crooked judge.
First off, we’ve got a widow seeking justice. She’s a widow, which means her husband has died, so she has no one to defend her or provide for her and apparently someone is taking advantage of her.
Judges are supposed to be objective and be for justice and for the people but this one is crooked, he doesn’t fear God, admits she deserves justice but doesn’t want to give it to her. Likely because judges in that day would take bribes or give ruling that gained them influence or favor in the city. This widow is poor, doesn’t have any money or anything to offer the judge in terms of political favor among the people.
But she’s tenacious. She doesn’t give up. She keeps going back to the judge and going back to the judge and going back to the judge until he gets so frustrated he says she’s not only bothering him but is “beating (him) down.” Which is funny because that phrase in the Greek, is literally “giving (him) a black eye.”
I have this picture in my mind of an old lady just swinging her purse at the dude over and over again until he just says, “okay, okay, okay!”
It’s a great story and here’s what Jesus says about it. This guys an unrighteous judge but because this woman was relentless he gives in and gives justice to her. The He uses a “how much more” argument saying, God is the righteous judge, so how much more will God respond to those who relentlessly pursue Him!
He says in verse 7, “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?” The answer being, of course He will!
What Jesus taps into is so fitting for us in our day and age. It seems to me that in large we live in this culture of easy, where we change our minds all the time and rarely follow through on anything. If it doesn’t bring our desired results in the time frame we want then we peace out.
I hear this story over and over again. I’ve probably heard it at least 40-50 times since I’ve been pastoring this church. People come to San Diego, love the city, love the church but they don’t move up fast enough in their job, aren’t making enough money, want to be able to buy a house, so they make the decision to move. They are blindsided by the short term issues or problems rather than seeing the long term vision and benefits to loving our city and staying here.
Pastor James Martin, one of the other pastors here at our church always encourages people to look at their life in 10-20 year increments and then make decisions based on that.
Eugene Peterson, who wrote the paraphrase version of the Bible called “The Message” wrote another pretty good book called, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” He writes this,
“Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian disciples is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier Christians called holiness.
Religion in our time has been captured by the tourist mindset. Religion is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure. For some it is a weekly jaunt to church; for other, occasional visits to special services.
‘The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is … that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.’ It is this ‘long obedience in the same direction; which the mood of the world does so much to discourage.”
I was talking to a young man just last week who is a member of our church and he’s been in and out the last few months and he came to me and said he realized he really needed to just get back in church and to really be part of God’s people. So we were talking and I was encouraging him in that and I told him that most things in life that are really worth it require a persistent committed dedication. I told him that one of the things that has helped me most in life is having turtle philosophy.
Turtle philosophy is the story of the tortoise and the hare. You know the story right? A tortoise, a turtle and a hare, a rabbit have a race. The rabbit knows he is fast and that the turtle is slow, so he thinks I got this no problem. The shot rings out and the race starts and they are off and the rabbit goes speeding ahead while the turtle just slowly starts moving forward.
The rabbit figures he has all the time in the world, so he takes a few breaks wandering off the race track to get some food, stops by a friends house, takes a nap…just taking his time. Meanwhile, the turtle just keeps moving forward one step at a time and before you know it the turtle crosses the finish line and the rabbit doesn’t even make it because he got so distracted with this that and the other thing.
Turtle philosophy. Just putting one foot in front of the other. That’s how life with God is meant to work. Just following God, seeking Him, pursuing Him, one day at a time and not giving up.
This is what it means to have real faith. Real faith, biblical faith is a faithful faith. It keeps going. Like the persistent widow who doesn’t give up, we just keep going to God over and over again.
Why? Because we know He blesses His people. That’s what that little line about the “elect” is all about in verse 7 when Jesus says, “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?”
The elect is a term for the people of God, the people Jesus will gather to Himself when He returns. The elect are the people God chose to set His love upon since before the foundation of the world.
Ephesians 1:3-4 says it this way,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”
Knowing and believing that God has loved us and has committed to love us long before we were ever born gives us great confidence when we pray. We’re His children and God loves His children and will answer their cries.
When Jesus says God hears their cries day and night it’s most likely a reference to when God’s people were in slavery in Egypt for four-hundred years and it says they cried out to Him and cried out to Him and God answered. Four-hundred years, but they held on to hope and held on to God.
Sometimes I think the greatest feat in the Christian life is to just keep going. To do the hard thing. To keep pursuing God even when you don’t feel like you have anything left in you to do so.
How are you guys doing in your pursuit of God?
If you’re doing great than good work, keep it up. Keep following Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
If you’re having a hard time, don’t give up. Hold on. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Know that God loves you and is for you. He hears the cries of your heart. He is with and will answer you.
God blesses those who pursue Him. Well, we have one final point for today, “Peace."
III. Peace (v. 9-14)
In this last point we’re looking at the second story Jesus tells about prayer. In it we’ve got two people praying, praying two very different types of prayers, which end up having two very different results.
So Jesus says there’s a Pharisee and tax collector. Which right away is kind of funny because this is still this time where Jesus had sat down with his group of disciples and a group of Pharisees who asked him some questions which began back in the middle of the last chapter. So Jesus there’s Pharisees right there in front of Jesus while He’s talking and Matthew is right there by Jesus side, who used to be a tax collector before becoming one of His disciples.
Now when Jesus said “Pharisee” and “tax collector” right away that said a lot of things back then. Pharisee was like saying pastor, someone who was seen in society as a holy or righteous man. Tax collector was like saying thief, someone who was known to be super sketchy, involved in criminal activity who associated with the crowd of people who were into strippers, drugs and gangs.
First off we’ve got the Pharisee doing what you what expect a holy man like that to be doing, he’s praying at the temple, basically at church. So imagine a pastor praying prayer at church and then listen to what he prays. Someone told me a long time ago that you find out a lot about what a person believes by listening to what and how they pray.
In his short two sentence prayer, this pastor dude mentions himself five different times and never actually asks God for anything. Instead he gives himself props for his supposed spiritual accomplishments and then in his prayer derides this other dude he sees at church.
It’d be like this. Imagine I got up here and started off my sermon saying, “God I’m so thankful that I get to stand here today. I’m so glad I’ve worked so hard at serving you. All these people are here today but I was here five days last week working for you. Half these people only come once or twice a month but I’m here every week. I gave you a bunch of money this month. None of these other people really care about you. They’re all a bunch of sinners, hardly give any of their money if ever and hardly ever even pray. Amen.”
Now let’s look at the tax collector’s prayer. It’s super short and sweet. It’s a big deal that he even came to church. Maybe you feel like that today, it was hard just to get here. He feels so unworthy. He’s filled with fear about God, shame about who he is and his past, he’s racked with guilt. He can’t even lift up His head, so he bows down, beats his breast and prays the true sinners prayer, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Everyone sitting around hearing Jesus tell this story would have been shocked. And then Jesus breaks down the meaning of it in verse 14 saying, “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.”
Jesus just dropped a bomb in saying this. The part about humility is something he already said earlier in Luke in Luke 14:11, a direct quote actually, which when someone says something twice you know it’s important.
One Bible commentator named Darrell Bock says,
“We live in a society that loves to brag about uniqueness and merit. But the danger of pride is it blinds us to our condition before God. Humility takes a sober look at ourselves.“
The Pharisee is so caught up in doing all the right things and being seen as having it all together that he is blinded to how self-focused and not God focused he had become.
It’s good not to be greedy, sexually immoral, to give money to church, to fast and to pray but not when the heart motive is trying to earn God’s favor, to earn his righteousness, all that results then is spiritual pride. The Pharisee can’t see himself or even acknowledge that he’s a sinner who needs God’s mercy.
What Jesus does in pointing out the way the tax collector’s prayed is that this ought to be the prayer of every one of us. Before God, none of us can stand. None of us are good enough.
If we take an honest, sober look at ourselves, at our hearts and our life, not only do our bad deeds far outweigh our good deeds but even our motives have been all messed up…usually we’re just seeking our own benefit and glory and really don’t even care about God’s. We’re all sinners. None of us can stand we’re all crushed under the weight of God’s justice.
So our only hope is to pray for mercy. Mercy is simply not getting what we deserve.
Which is where all of this comes together. Jesus says, “the man went down to his house justified.” That word “justified” is a very important word. It means the appeasement of wrath, or the fulfilling of a just sentence.
Jesus says the man was justified by God but He doesn’t say how. The people sitting around hearing this story would have wondered that. If they asked Jesus He would have said something like, “Well, that’s what I came to do. I came to take appease the just wrath of God toward sinners on the cross, so that they could receive God’s mercy."
You see, there’s really only two ways you can pursue God, pursuing in religious pride or pursuing in a plea for mercy. Deep down the deepest need of our souls is for peace. Peace with God and then peace with others. We cannot obtain that peace for ourselves. But God gives it in mercy to all who grab hold of His son.
God blesses those who pursue Him. Those who pursue Him and ask for His mercy, He gives it to them in full through His Son Jesus.
Jesus is a Jesus who is worth pursing. Pursuing in prayer, with persistence, and receiving peace.
So here’s the thing. If you walk out of here today thinking, “Alright Duane! I’m going to do. I’m going to pray and I’m going to pursue God with persistence. I’m going to plead for His mercy and peace.” If you try to do these things, the truth is you’re going to fail. And this is where the good news of Jesus comes in, the Gospel.
The wonderful thing about Jesus in all of this is that in Him we have a savior who prays for us, even when we don’t have it in us to pray. In Him we have a savior who never gave up, went all the way to the cross and who never gives up on us, even when at times we give up on ourselves. And in Him we have a savior who never sinned. He never needed mercy and because of that can give us His perfect righteousness.
I started out the sermon today telling the story of P.T. Barnum. He was a man who had a vision of making others happy through putting on a show. We end today once again hearing the story of Jesus, a God man who had a vision of making others happy, not just through putting on a show but by putting Himself on a cross. Jesus is the true and better P.T. Barnum.
We have a lot of options in life, of things to pursue, of things clamoring for our attention…but none is more worth it than pursuing Jesus. What we get and receive in Him far outweighs the worth of any time we put into any other thing.
So friends, let’s be a people, who together pursue Jesus.