The Lord Jesus here teaches you to pray at all times and not lose heart. That is really to summarize the first two Commandments. For if you fear, love, and trust in God above all things, then you will not lose heart, but you will call upon His Name at all times with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.
It is necessary that you pray, because prayer is the very voice of faith. There is really nothing more natural for a Christian than to pray in the faith of Christ Jesus. As you breathe in the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, so do you exhale with the voice of prayer and call upon your Father in heaven.
And yet, the Readings this morning might actually seem a bit discouraging. After all, Jacob has to wrestle with the Angel of the Lord all night long, before the Lord relents and finally blesses him. And perhaps you have likewise felt yourself at times to be engaged in a similar wrestling match.
Then there is the judge in the Lord’s Parable, who neither fears God nor respects people, who does not want to help the poor widow who comes to him for legal help and protection. He begrudgingly gives in, but only because she bothers him. And although Jesus declares that God will speedily give justice to His elect, does it not often seem that your prayers and petitions fall on deaf ears and a hard heart, as though the Lord your God were not listening and did not even want to help you.
In the face of such discouragements, the prayer of faith in Christ confesses and clings to the Word and promise of God, even when it seems that God Himself were denying His Word and promise. The prayer of faith echoes and insists upon what God has spoken, in spite of every contradiction. It relies upon His Word and calls upon His Name, day and night, with persistent confidence.
So, then, if you have already prayed for days on end, and still God does not seem to hear or answer — if you have already wrestled through the long dark night into the early morning hours — if you have begged, and you have pleaded, and you have wept, and you have railed against the heavens, all seemingly to no avail — even then, do not lose heart, but continue to pray in faith and hope.
Such faith depends upon the Word of God in Christ. You have no faith apart from the hearing of His Word. And you have no true prayer apart from such faith in His Word. You cannot call upon a God whom you do not know, and you cannot know Him except as He speaks to you in Christ. It is His Word that teaches you to pray and actually opens your lips and your mouth to pray, praise, and give thanks at all times and in all places, in every circumstance and situation. But do you?
Do you depend upon the Word of God? Do you believe that it is true and so rely upon it? Do you trust the Lord and what He says? Do you stake your life upon it? And do you pray accordingly? Do you call upon the Lord throughout the day? Do you pray and confess His Word when you first get up each morning and when you go to bed each night? Do you pray in confidence and peace?
Are you like Jacob? Do you wrestle through the night with the Lord and refuse to let Him go until He shall bless you, even though He wounds you in the process? Are you like that poor, persistent widow, who swallows her pride and berates the judge until he gives her the justice she needs?
When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth? That is how He puts the question to you this morning. But if it were up to you, if it depended on your resolve and willpower, on your faithfulness, persistence, and prayer, then the answer would surely be, “No.” No faith at all.
And yet, when the Son of Man comes, He does find faith on the earth, because He first of all establishes such faith in Himself, in His own Body and Life, in His own Flesh and Blood. For the Lord Jesus Christ is faithful and steadfast in all things, at all times, and in all places. He proceeds and perseveres in love for His God and Father, and in love for you and all His neighbors on earth. So does He establish in Himself the very faith that is necessary to your life and to your prayers.
His elect cry out to Him, day and night without ceasing, because He calls them to Himself by the Gospel, He enlightens them with His gifts, He sanctifies them by His Word and Holy Spirit, and He keeps them in the one true faith. Day and night. Waking, sleeping. Good times, bad times. He daily and richly forgives them all their sins, as He daily and richly forgives you all your sins.
He has come close to you, that is your hope. He has drawn near to you as the true Man, in order to “wrestle” with you. And He refuses to let you go until He shall bless you. For He is the Israel indeed who strives with God and man, who binds God and man together in Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood. And He betroths the widow to Himself; and He marries her in holy love. For He is her Husband who has died, and yet, behold, He lives! So, He takes up her cause. And He advocates for her, He pleads her case persistently in the face of all opposition and every foe. What is more, as your own Advocate and Defender, He does the same for you, as well.
It is in His flesh and blood like yours — it is in your circumstances, in your condition, bearing the weight of your sin — that He persists in prayer, and He prevails. He takes up your cause, and He brings it before the Father in heaven, and He wrestles with God on your behalf. He does it all for you, because He has become your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.
Not only has He offered Himself, once-for-all, as the Sacrifice of Atonement for all of your sins, but in His Resurrection from the dead, in His Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father, He ever lives to make intercession for you before the Throne of God. Even as He preaches and teaches the Word of God to you here, within His Church on earth, so is He always praying for you in heaven. And as He feeds you with His Body and Blood here at His Altar, so are His Body and Blood also pleading and prevailing for you, as your Anchor behind the Veil, within the heavenly Holy Place.
You do not have to redeem yourself. You do not have to pay for your own sins. You do not have to appease the wrath of God. You do not have to reconcile Him to yourself. For in Christ He has already reconciled you to Himself. In Christ Jesus, there is perfect Peace between God and man.
His Cross and Resurrection are your Redemption and your Righteousness in the presence of God. And as He has returned to the Father in His Body of flesh and blood, by way of His Sacrifice upon the Cross and in His Resurrection and Ascension, so does He bring you to His God and Father in and with Himself, as a beloved and well-pleasing child of God, by virtue of your Holy Baptism. Which is to say that He is not only your merciful and great High Priest, but He is your Prayer, the One who arises as sweet-smelling Incense on your behalf, that you should be acceptable to God. The Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead is God the Father’s answer to your every prayer.
You know that Jesus is the Word of God who has become Flesh, that He is the One by whom the Father speaks to you. And because He is your own High Priest, He is likewise the One by whom you speak to God the Father in heaven. You are drawn into His prayer and intercession, as you are drawn into Christ Jesus Himself, by His persistent Ministry of the Gospel, by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.
As surely as Jacob prevailed because the Lord prevailed with Him and for Him, so do you persist and prevail in faith and prayer because the Lord Jesus persists and prevails for you by His Word.
Prayer begins with the Word of Christ, just as faith begins with the Word of Christ. Faith comes by hearing, and so also prayer begins with hearing what God the Lord speaks to you by His Son. So, for example, in the Catechism, you are taught to pray before meals by first of all hearing and confessing the Word and promise of the Lord from the Psalms: “The eyes of all wait upon Thee, O Lord, and Thou givest them their meat in due season; Thou openest Thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.” His Word and promise thus become your prayer back to Him.
And so it is that you persist and prevail in prayer because the Lord Jesus persists and prevails in His preaching of the Gospel and the giving of His good gifts. He persists in drawing near to you, in the flesh, in His means of grace. He continues to come as the true Man who strives and wrestles with you, that you might lay hold of Him, and strive and wrestle with Him, by faith in His Word.
It is by the means of grace, which the Lord Jesus places into your ears, and into your mouth, and into your body, that you are able to pray at all times and not lose heart, but rather to persevere in the faith and hope and confidence of Christ Jesus Himself, crucified and risen from the dead.
Have you not wondered why it is that the Lord puts Jacob’s hip out of joint as He wrestles with him? And the Scriptures make such a point of it, which does seem kind of strange, does it not?
The Lord is very deliberate and precise in what He does. The hip or thigh, the very place where He touches Jacob, is the place where oaths are sworn, as when Abraham made his servant swear that he would find a wife for Isaac from among his own people. It is also near the loins, and from the loins of Jacob would come the Christ, the promised Seed. As the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, it is already in the loins of Abraham that Isaac and Jacob and the Christ sojourn in the Land.
And in the fulness of time, when the dear Lord Jesus Christ was cruelly nailed to the Cross, not a bone of Him was broken, to be sure, but His bones were put out of socket and out of joint. You cannot nail a man’s feet to a piece of wood without doing serious harm to his joints and sockets. It is rather like the violence of a hip replacement or knee replacement surgery, as some of you have gone through (and Herta this past week). A body does not easily conform to the wood of a cross.
The Lord puts Jacob’s hip out of joint, and it becomes a remembrance and a sign for the people of Israel, because the Seed of Jacob, the Seed of Israel, the true Israel, would in due season have His hip put out of joint in His sacrifice upon the Cross. And as He has done and suffered that for you and for all, so do His prayer and His preaching avail for you on earth as it is in heaven. As surely as Christ has died and Christ is risen, so surely are your prayers heard and answered in His Name.
The heart and center of it all — of the High Priesthood of Christ and His Prayer and Intercession for you, which are yours by His grace and received in faith and with thanksgiving — the heart and center of it all is not to be found on some high distant mountain where you must travel. It is not at the end of the rainbow, and it is not discovered or achieved by the labors of your own hands. It is indeed right here, on this Altar, in the Body and Blood of the Son of God, Christ Jesus.
Here, more intimately and more surely than anywhere else, the one Man who prevailed with both God and man prevails for you. And the same Body and the same Blood that have been offered to God once for all, as a Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the world, that same Body and Blood are given to you, into your body, so that you are bound together and knit with God in and by and with Christ Jesus. And the same Blood that now appeals for you before God in heaven, the Blood of the New Covenant, the Blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is now also poured out for you here.
That is what it means when He says, “This Cup is the New Testament, or the New Covenant, in My Blood.” It is the sacred Contract that He has signed and sealed with His own Lifeblood, by which you and God are bound together for good. His Blood is both His prayer and His preaching. It is how He lays hold of God and wrestles with Him and refuses to let go until you are blessed; and it is the means by which He lays hold of you and refuses to let go until you are blessed.
It is especially in this way, by this means, that the Lord your God does not forget His promises; He does not forget His people, and He does not forget you, no matter how forgotten you may feel. No, the Lord remembers His Covenant, and He remembers His Israel; He remembers His Christ, and in Christ Jesus He remembers you. And, remembering, He acts. He forgives. And He gives life. That is His “Yes” and “Amen” to your prayers. And that is His Life and Salvation for you.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.