November 8, 2009—Mark Robinson, "Can you hear me now?" pt. 1
Sermon text: Luke 11:5-13
Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'
"Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Our executive pastor Mark Robinson preached today. Earlier this week, he blogged on this week's sermon topic: prayer.
Mark began by directing our attention to the context: this teaching moment follows what we call "The Lord's prayer." Some of Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. He does so, and then immediately follows by telling them the parable and giving them the illustration of a father with his children. Jesus not only told his disciples what to do, he helped them understand what that would mean for their lives.
There were two points in the sermon, and I applaud Mark for letting the text define the structure of his sermon rather than the other way around!
1. Ask, seek, and knock (vv. 5-10):
Mark first asked, quite pertinently, if Jesus is in fact comparing God to the begrudging neighbor. The passage certainly seems to read that way. The answer? —absolutely yes, but in an entirely favorable way. The conclusion of the passage points out that if even a begrudging neighbor will help, how much more will God, who delights to give good gifts?
If we doubt that, it's because our daily experience does not always seem to line up. We often feel that God is not hearing us or is not willing to come to the door with bread. This passage is a rock for us in times like that, though, because Jesus doesn't offer up a "maybe," here. He firmly promises that, no matter what our experiences, God does hear and answer us.
We might also feel that God will not hear and answer our prayers because we misunderstand the doctrine of God's immutability: if God doesn't change and is truly sovereign, the reasoning goes, then our prayers cannot change anything. Of course, this runs directly contrary to Scripture: time and again God answers prayers. Some prominent examples include Moses, Hezekiah, and Jonah. The apostle James bluntly informs us that we do not have because we do not ask. Clearly, God both is unchanging and answers our prayers.
Mark concluded the first section of the sermon with one very straightforward and important question: what would you pray for today if you knew God would hear and respond? No request is too small, no prayer has been prayed too many times, and no situation is unchangeable.
2. Believe God gives good gifts (vv. 11-13):
Mark pointed out that the choices Jesus presents in this passage are not as strange as they seem to our minds. There are snakes that look like fish, and white scorpions that, when curled up, might look like an egg. No father but the very most cruel would use either as an opportunity to play a mean trick on his child, though. Of course, Jesus points out that even "good" fathers are actually evil—so how much more will a good God give good gifts?
Yet the passage goes even farther than that. It doesn't merely say that God, like men, will give what we ask for. It says that he will give us his Holy Spirit. He will give us himself. That was a stunning promise when it was spoken: they lived in a day before the full coming of the Spirit, when the greatest blessing imaginable was for the Holy Spirit to come and rest on a person. That he would freely come to all believers was jaw-dropping. Of course, it still is, because it means that God will give of himself freely. We can make light of that because it's familiar to us, but it is incredible.
This brings home Jesus' point with a hammer blow: if God will give us his own Spirit, what would he hold back? Of course, we feel like we get scorpions instead of eggs sometimes: children we pray for die, marriages we pray for fall apart, and so on. First, we must remember that God knows what is truly good for us, even when we do not. Second, God works for what is best for us, not what we think is best for us—and he often does so through painful circumstances.
In the end, we must trust God—and when we do, we have the joyous liberty to ask Him, knowing that He will give us good things, and that He will not give us bad things. He is good, and that is our rock. It is, in fact, the point that the entire passage turns on: even evil men give good gifts... how much more so God, who is good?