In yesterday’s reading, we looked at how to pray, in terms of content, and today, Jesus shows us how to pray with regard to heart attitude. Should we be meek and lowly, begging God for a meagre response to our unworthy prayers? Quite the contrary! Jesus tells the story of someone who asks his friend for three loaves of bread in the middle of the night. The friend is settled in bed with his family, on a platform above the animals, in his one room house where to get up would mean disturbing the whole household! Yet, the friend gives the man what he needs because of his “impudence”. In other translations, this word is rendered as “shameless persistence” and ‘HELPS Word-Studies’ suggests “unembarrassed boldness”, which I love! The friend didn’t respond out of loyalty but because he recognised the urgency and the passion of the man’s plea. God wants us to pray in the same way – with heartfelt prayers, earnestly and without fear.
Jesus stresses the need for persistence in prayer when He says “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (v9). The verbs ‘ask’, ‘seek’ and ‘knock’ are present continuous verbs so we are to continue to ask, seek and knock. He gives us an assurance that when we do so, our prayers will be answered. “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (v10). Our persistence is not for God’s benefit, but for ours. It helps develop character and keeps us close to God.
In addition to boldness and persistence, Jesus shows that we should be confident in God’s desire to bless us. He contrasts human fathers, who know how to give good gifts, with the Almighty Father, who delights in bestowing His most precious gift – the Holy Spirit! We just have to ask!
The next passage in today’s reading is all about Jesus challenging naysayers and fence-sitters! The people ‘marvelled’ at Him casting out a demon that caused muteness because the Jewish exorcists of the day believed they had to have the demon reveal its name in order to cast it out. Despite their marvelling, though, they reacted in one of two ways. The first group accused Jesus of casting out the demons by Beelzebul, i.e. denying His divine power, and the second asked for further signs. Doesn’t this sound like friends and family we all have? Some deny outright the existence of Jesus and others want further evidence! So what does Jesus say? He reasons with them that if He were from Satan, He would be warring against Satan’s own kingdom by casting out demons! He illustrates that while Satan is strong in guarding his own house, Jesus is stronger still. Jesus was leading the Jews to confront the question ‘If I am stronger than Satan, whose side will you be on?’
The key scripture “Whoever is not with me is against me”(v23) starkly addresses the fence-sitters. “In the conflict against the powers of darkness there is no room for neutrality” (Geldenhuys); “To be undecided is to be decided” (David Guzik). If we do not follow Jesus we are against Him and leave ourselves open to misuse by the enemy. The story of the unclean spirit is the story of someone who tries to remain neutral. That person has an experience of the power of God, being cleansed of an evil spirit, but chooses not to fill the void with Jesus. He is subsequently re-inhabited by the original spirit and all its friends! The enemy doesn’t compromise and leave people alone if they don’t trouble him too much. His aim is to make everyone as bitter and twisted as he is. The great news for believers, though, is that “The one who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Inviting the Lord to dwell within us is the sure way to remain free from demon possession and the more we focus on Jesus and the word of God, the less opportunity the enemy has to influence our lives. As Jesus tells us in v28b “Blessed … are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
In response to requests for signs, Jesus rebukes the Jews for being an evil generation and says the only sign they will get is the sign of Jonah (who like Jesus gave his life to appease the wrath of God coming upon others. Death didn’t hold him and after three days in the belly of a whale, Jonah went on to fulfil his mission). Jesus warns that even Gentiles, in the form of the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba, had responded to signs of God’s greatness, but here was He, the Son of Man, the greatest sign of all and yet the Jews would still not believe.
We long to see our loved ones living in the freedom for which Jesus died. If you have a heart to pray for family and friends who don’t yet know Jesus, do please come and join us for a dedicated prayer meeting on Sunday April 29th 6pm – 7pm at the church offices, 99c High Street, King’s Lynn.