07 March 2018

Pray at All Times, and Do Not Lose Heart

The Lord has made clear what He would have you learn from His Parable of the persistent widow, and what He would have you do.  He is teaching you to pray at all times, and not to lose heart.  For God the Father would have you pray to Him, not as a slave, but as a son, a beloved child in Christ; that you would come to Him and ask Him for what you need, like a little child with his or her Dad.

The Lord would have you pray, not in fear or in desperation, but rather in eager confidence and joyful faith, and in a hope that refuses to be disappointed, even as you wait upon your God and Father for Him to fulfill His Word and promises.  As indeed He has and does in Christ Jesus.

But you do not know how to pray as you should.  You do not know how to pray as you should, because your heart and your mind are clouded by your sins.  And you do not know how to pray as you should, because, in your sin, either you do not recognize your need for God, and so you do not pray to Him, or you are painfully aware of your unworthiness, and so you are afraid to pray to Him.

That which you need the most is the forgiveness of your sins.  And yet, how should you dare to ask even for that?  And if not that, then how shall you ask for anything else?  For you are worthy of none of those things for which you ought to pray, nor have you deserved any of them.

It all depends upon the grace of God.  But precisely in your sin, you do not know how to grasp His grace, you do not know how to trust His mercy.  So you do not know how to pray as you should.

But the grace of God is found already in this, that the Holy Spirit helps you in your weakness.  He prays for you, first of all.  He intercedes on your behalf with groanings deeper than your words could ever express.  And this He does faithfully and constantly.  But the Spirit also teaches you how to pray.  He teaches you the Words of Christ.  He places them into your ears, and thereby upon your lips.  He opens your mouth to show forth God’s praise, to hallow His Name and use it rightly.  And that means, especially, that you call upon the Lord in prayer and give thanks to Him in Christ.

The Holy Spirit prays for you, and He teaches you to pray.  And then He joins your prayer to His prayer in Christ Jesus.  For it is by the Cross of Christ that the Holy Spirit teaches you to pray.

What is more, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Prayer.  Christ is the Prayer which the Holy Spirit offers to God the Father on your behalf.  And Christ is the Prayer that you are likewise taught to pray.  Christ is the Word that is placed upon your lips as you call upon your Father in heaven.

When you pray in the Name of Jesus, your prayer rises like incense before the Father in heaven, and it smells good to Him, because it comes to Him in the flesh and blood of His beloved Son.  Your prayer is lifted up to God in and with the sacrifice of Christ Himself upon the Cross and in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension.  So it is that your prayer is heard, and it is answered in the mercies of God, in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.

Christ the Lord, the Son of God, has come and taken His stand here with you in the flesh.  He has pitched His tent in the midst of the battle, where you contend with the devil, the world, and your own sinful heart.  He is with you and for you.  He is yours, and you are His.  And He sustains you.

The Spirit lays Christ upon your heart through the Gospel, that you may pray with confidence.  And the Spirit joins you to Christ Jesus, so that you are lifted up to the Father in and with Him.

So, then, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?  The answer is, Yes, because He has established Himself as your Advocate, your Redeemer, and your Savior, here on this earth.

In your own flesh and blood, Christ has become a merciful and great High Priest.  He shares your flesh.  He shares your blood.  He has taken your sin.  He has died your death.  All of this, that you may share His life and live within His Body by faith in His Word, in the Ministry of His Gospel.

See here, in Him you have the true and better Jacob, the promised Son of Abraham and of Isaac, who sees to it that His women and children, His dear Body and Bride, the Church, and all His members, are kept safe and secure within His Kingdom.  He sends them with all that He has across the River, so that He may contend, that He may stand fast, that He may be faithful on your behalf.

He has become Jacob, that you may become Israel.  He has striven with God, that God may strive with you in peace, and with every blessing, and with every good gift, more than you can imagine.

The Lord Jesus Christ has also become the persistent Widow, so to speak, that you might be the beloved and fruitful Bride of God.  He has persisted in prayer long after you would have lost heart, and given up hope, and stopped praying altogether.  Even then, He has not ceased to pray for you.

He has prayed for the justice of God.  But not according to your sins, nor for the punishment that you deserve according to the letter of the Law.  Rather, He has prayed for and established justice and righteousness for you by fulfilling the Law in His own Body of flesh and blood, in faith and love, and by suffering the righteous wrath of God and the judgment of the Law against your sins.

The very justice for which He has prayed, He has accomplished and provides for you and for all.  Righteousness for the guilty.  Innocence for you who deserve nothing but eternal condemnation.

So it is that God the Father delights to act quickly, to help you.  And it is most certainly true that He provides all that you need for this body and life, and for the life everlasting.  He forgives you all your sins, and He protects you from your enemies on all sides, even as He spares you from the punishment that His own Law would level against you.  Because His desire, from the beginning, unto all eternity, is that you would be His child, and that you would live under His protection.

You do not have to twist God’s arm to get what you need.  Nor should you be afraid to ask Him for justice, because the justice with which He serves you is the righteousness of Christ, which is yours by His grace, through faith in His Gospel, apart from any works of the Law on your part.

Indeed, because the Son of Man has come in the flesh, and by His Cross and in His Resurrection He has obtained for you the gracious adoption of sons, you are invited and taught to pray to God as your dear Father.  For you truly are His own dearly beloved child in Christ Jesus.  The Lord your God has bound Himself to you in the fellowship of His Baptism, His Body, and His Blood.

It is also by His Cross and in His Resurrection that He has brought you to repentance and to faith.  No longer are you the liar and deceiver that Jacob was, but now by the Spirit you confess the truth.

You remember how it was before, when the story first unfolded.  When Isaac asked him, “What is your name?” he lied and said, “I am Esau.”  But now, with the Angel of the Lord, there is no longer that charade and pretense of his youth.  Instead, there is the confession of truth: “What is your name?”  “I am Jacob,” that is, the supplanter or deceiver.  And yet, for all of that, he is also the one who has received the promise and blessing of God, both from his father and from the Lord.

It is much the same for you, also.  Who are you?  You are a sinner, that is true.  But that is not all.  You are also God’s own child.  So has the Lord Himself sworn to you, as He once swore to Jacob.

The Word and promises of God, that is all that Jacob had to hold on to.  And similar promises, even better promises, have been given to you in Christ Jesus, in His Gospel–Word and Sacraments.

How is it that Jacob prevails over the Lord?  It is not because he is mightier.  It is not because he, of himself, is more righteous.  He clings to the Lord and refuses to let go, because he clings to the promises of God.  The Lord has promised to Jacob that he will be blessed, and his Seed after him.  The Lord has promised that He will bring Jacob home in safety and give him this good land.  So Jacob hangs on to that, and he refuses to let go.  He will be blessed, though it comes by the Cross.

How is it that Jacob wrestles with the Angel, and the Angel is overcome?  It is because the Lord has given Jacob the very means by which to overcome Him, that is, by His own Word of promise.

And again, the Lord your God has given you better promises, or rather, the fulfillment of those promises He once gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.  He has accomplished your Salvation by the Cross and in the Resurrection of the promised Seed, Christ Jesus.  And He has named you with His own divine and holy Name through your Holy Baptism into that crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

Now, to be sure, the Cross by which He works in you, and from which He blesses you, often looks and feels more like the devil himself.  So you may be tempted to ask Him, “What is your name?  Are you actually my Lord or my enemy?”  But do not doubt His faithfulness and love for you, nor the victory that He has won over sin, death, the devil, and hell, on your behalf.

Though the Cross is a means of discipline and repentance, it is not a sign of the Lord’s anger against you, but of His great and steadfast love for you and for all the sons and daughters of man.  By the Cross He teaches you to live no longer by deception or in terrible fear, but to come home to your God and Father in repentance and faith, in humility, yes, but also with confidence in Him.

Bear in mind that Christ the Lord has borne the Cross first of all, in order to redeem you and save you for life with Himself.  Though He was and is the Son of God from all eternity, the Lord Jesus Christ learned the faith and obedience of Sonship in His own human body and life, as true Man, by way of His Cross and Passion on your behalf.  So, too, when your Father in heaven disciplines you by and with the Cross of His Son, it is an act of His mercy and love, that you might be rescued from your sinful unbelief and brought to repentance.  Not only that, but in laying the Cross upon you — as He has signed you with the Cross in your Holy Baptism — He is counting you worthy, by His grace, to share in the divine Glory of Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son.  But whereas Christ has borne the punishment of your sins by His Cross, it is for you His great blessing.

It is for you that Christ Jesus strives and wrestles through the heat of the day and the depths of the night, whose body and limbs have been put out of joint in that fight, that He might obtain for you the blessing of His God and Father, the gift of His Name and the outpouring of His Holy Spirit.

And as the Lord has given you His Name, you may call upon that Name in prayer, with confidence in His mercy.  He would have you persevere in that sure and certain hope, by faith in His Word.  Therefore, do not take “No” for an answer, even when that is all you seem to be hearing.  Do not lose heart, not in the face of the Law and its accusation of your many and great sins, nor when you are under attack by all who set themselves to sin against you in this fallen and perishing world.  For here is the truth of the Gospel, that your prayer is always before your Father in Christ Jesus.  And in Him it is already answered.  For His bodily Resurrection from the dead is the guarantee that your prayer is answered with this resounding “Yes” and “Amen,” which is Christ Himself for you.

Your Father in heaven loves you.  He welcomes you, not as a slave, but as a son.  He rejoices to hear your prayer, and He rejoices to answer it.  As He has answered Christ, as He has answered Jacob, so does He say “Yes” to you, and so does He bless you at all times with His Holy Name.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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