Justice for God's Elect
Luke 18:1-8 (ESV) Jesus 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?”
This parable certainly teaches that we should be persistent in prayer, but Jesus is not saying that we can nag God into granting our every wish. The comparison between the unrighteous judge and God is “from the lesser to the greater”: if an unrighteous, sinful judge will give justice to a widow woman who keeps asking him, then how much more will the righteous and holy God give justice to His elect, baptized children who cry out to Him day and night. The point of the parable is that God is much more merciful and accessible than the unrighteous judge; God wants to be bothered with our requests, and He promises justice for His beloved ones.
Notice what Jesus tells believers to pray for: justice. In this passage Jesus doesn’t tell us to pray for a miracle cure, or better job, or happier marriage; He tells us to pray for justice. Usually our prayers revolve around ourselves—our personal or family wants, or basic needs like enough money to live, freedom from illness, etc. But Jesus says we should be praying for justice. Maybe one of our great weaknesses when it comes to prayer is that we haven’t listened to Jesus about what we should be praying for. He says we should be crying out for justice, begging for it; and Jesus also says that God will grant justice speedily, without delay.
What is this justice we are to cry out for? Are we to seek earthly justice for the poor, disabled, widowed, and oppressed? Sure, it is important for us to pray for justice for those who are treated unjustly in this life, but the problem is that experience proves that God hasn’t always acted speedily to remedy those specific problems. Jesus even said that the poor would always be with us. Sometimes criminals walk. Sometimes those who cheat us out of money get away with it. Sometimes those who harm our bodies don’t get caught. Injustices in this world abound.
So while we should pray for earthly justice to be done, and strive for it when it we have the ability to effect it, according to God’s will, at the same time we can’t be certain in these common instances of human injustice that God will act speedily, without delay, or even at all. Sometimes our prayers for earthly justice are met by God’s “No!”
If that is the case, then what kind of justice are we to pray for? What kind of justice will God give us speedily? We are praying for a heavenly justice from God, and the answer to our prayer for justice is, as always, in the cross of Jesus Christ.
But why seek justice on the cross? How? Could there be anything more unjust than that event? The blameless Man Jesus never hurt a fly but only helped others; He never uttered a spiteful word but only spoke the Word of God; He never took from others but freely gave; He was sinless yet was delivered into the hands of sinful men and put to death on trumped up charges. Where is the justice in all of that?
It is the nature of God to work in paradoxes; in opposites; in contradictions; to hide His power under the appearance of weakness. Nowhere is this truer than on the cross, where God has revealed His justice, His righteousness. When Jesus said that God would speedily provide justice to His elect, He was only weeks away from His arrest, prosecution, and death on the cross. That’s what He was referring to in this parable.
Now any observer could tell that the death of Jesus was unjust from a human perspective. His accusers knew their accusations against Him were false. Pontius Pilate, the judge, knew Jesus was righteous and tried to wash His hands of the whole unrighteous affair. Yet on that cross God revealed His justice. He said, “According to My own justice, my own laws, all sinners should be sentenced to eternal death. Their prayers should not be heard. Their rebellion against Me deserves eternal punishment. But I am going to place My Son on death row and let the criminals go free. Through this miscarriage of justice I will answer for the sins of all mankind. I will raise Jesus from the dead and declare that justice has been served; all sins have been atoned for.”
The cross and resurrection show God’s justice—His verdict of guilty upon all humanity, which He transfers to His Son; His verdict of not guilty upon His Son, which He transfers to all sinners. Strange justice, isn’t it? But this is God’s wonderful, inexplicable love He has shown to us loveless sinners, rebels against His Law.
God has speedily answered your prayer for justice. He has taken the justice earned by Jesus and applied it to you in Holy Baptism; there He has forgiven your sins and declared you righteous. Though you have been a repeat offender by sinning each day, He has pronounced Holy Absolution over you; this morning you have repented and He has forgiven you. He has placed the Lord’s Prayer on your lips in which you ask for justice – “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And He renders a verdict of “not guilty” upon you as you eat the sacrificed flesh and blood of His Son in the Lord’s Supper.
God has given you forgiveness, righteousness, justice, and holiness in the blood of Jesus. And He has invited you to cry out to Him confidently as a forgiven sinner, to always pray and not to lose heart; because He loves you.
But this message can only be received by faith, not by sight or experience, and many people reject the Gospel as an unsatisfactory form of justice. The last words of Jesus are haunting: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Here is what Dr. Luther says about this passage:
“Awe-inspiring indeed are the words of Christ when He says (Luke 18:8): “Do you think that the Son of Man will find faith when He comes?” And in Matt. 24:37 He compares the last times with the times of Noah. These are terrifying statements. But the smug and ungrateful world, the despiser of all the promises and threats of God, abounds with every kind of iniquity and daily becomes more and more corrupt. Now that the rule of the popes, who have ruled the world solely through the fear of punishment, is over, men, through their contempt of the sound doctrine, all but degenerate into brutes and beasts. The number of holy and godly preachers is on the decline. All men yield to their desires. But what will happen is that the Last Day will come upon the world like a thief (1 Thess. 5:2) and will overtake men who in their smugness give free reign to their ambitious desire, tyranny, lusts, greed, and all sorts of vices.
“Furthermore, Christ Himself has foretold these developments, and so it is impossible for us to believe that He has lied. But if the first world, which had so large a number of most excellent patriarchs, became so pitiably depraved [before the Flood], how much more should we fear when the feebleness of our nature is so great? Therefore may the Lord grant that in faith and in the confession of His Son Jesus Christ we may as quickly as possible be gathered to those fathers and die within twenty years, so that we may not see those terrible woes and afflictions, both spiritual and physical, of the last time.”
Even better would be Jesus returning to judge the living and the dead. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!
Prayer (LSB 509):
1. Christ is surely coming
Bringing His reward,
Alpha and Omega,
First and Last and Lord:
Root and Stem of David,
Brilliant Morning Star;
Meet your Judge and Savior,
Nations near and far!
2. See the holy city!
There they enter in,
All by Christ made holy,
Washed from ev’ry sin:
Thirsty ones, desiring
All He loves to give,
Come for living water,
Freely drink, and live!
3. Grace be with God’s people!
Praise His holy name!
Father, Son and Spirit,
Evermore the same;
Hear the certain promise
From the eternal home:
“Surely I come quickly!
Come, Lord Jesus, come!” Amen.