Two of my favorite moments in pastoral ministry often occur just moments apart. The greater of the two happens second: It is the moment when I am privileged to get to announce God’s forgiveness through Jesus directly and specifically to an individual. There is just nothing like exercising the Key to loose sins in Jesus’ name, with His authority, and to know God is keeping His word, sins are truly forgiven, and this one, His child, lives in a restored relationship with our Heavenly Father.
One of my other favorite moments in pastoral ministry often happens just seconds before this. It is the part of the conversation when someone is burdened enough by their sin that they want to confess. They trust me enough that they are willing to confess to me, and then they finally come to their big reveal. They drop their bombshell of a sin and expect me to gasp, fall out of my chair, or at the very least avoid eye contact with them from this time forth and forevermore. They expect any reasonable person, especially a man of the cloth, would cringe or swoon at the unexpected revelation that the person sitting in the same room as them is... wait for it... a real sinner! This is the moment when my lack of surprise genuinely surprises them.
The Spirit did its work to convict their conscience. This is a mercy of God. But on top of that, the Devil did his accusing work to make them feel isolated and unique in their brokenness. The Devil does not need to work all too hard to get us to sin. We are naturals. Rather, the Devil works to make us feel alone in our sin. He tries to convince us our sin is well beyond the scope of what others (including God) could stomach, let alone pardon. And when the fog of deception lifts and my parishioner sees the lie for what it was, when my lack of surprise genuinely surprises them, that is a moment I love. Forgiveness means something more when it is offered with all the facts on the table.
The Devil does not need to work all too hard to get us to sin. We are naturals. Rather, the Devil works to make us feel alone in our sin.
In Luke 11:1-13, Jesus fully acknowledges our sinful condition with His eyes wide open and freely offers costly grace.
Jesus fully acknowledges our sinful condition. We are invited to ask our Father to forgive our sins, even as we find ourselves in an ongoing state of living as a sinner among sinners (11:4). He then provides two illustrations to show us our relationship with God. Our corresponding character in each scene is flawed.
In the first illustration (11:5-8), we are like an impudent friend who comes shouting through his neighbor’s window at midnight to borrow some bread because he has none of his own to serve his guest. This poor guy’s embarrassments abound.
In the second illustration (11:11-13), Jesus talks about how we give good gifts to our own kids. This starts positively enough, but then He drops in the casual, “If you, then, who are evil...” For Jesus, it is simply a matter of fact that we are evil! We are not just flawed, or broken, or in need of a little grace here and there. No, left to ourselves we are opposed to God’s goodness. The word He chooses is evil.
This could be quite the depressing diagnosis apart from the context. Go back to my parishioner confessing their secret wickedness. They know the depth of their problem, at least as far down as they can see. What they may not know is that someone else knows how bad it is and still cares for them. This is what Jesus gives us here.
God does not just love us. He knows us and still loves us. Jesus fully acknowledges our sinful condition with His eyes wide open and freely offers costly grace. This is not just a pericope about hereditary sin and actual sins, nor is it providing a pattern for prayer. It is fundamentally about God our gracious Father and His promise to hear us, answer us, and provide for us. And where we might be tempted to doubt this promise because of our intimate awareness of our own sinfulness (as if that disqualifies us), it turns out God is fully aware and still makes His promises anyway!
Jesus fully acknowledges our sinful condition with His eyes wide open and freely offers costly grace.
He freely offers costly grace. Grace is free to us, but costly to God. Our forgiveness came at the price of Christ’s shed blood in our place. God does not merely say, “That’s okay,” to our sins, or “No problem.” Sin is a problem. It is not okay. God does not condone or ignore sin. Rather, He forgives it. He forgives our sin and our sinfulness at the cost of His Son’s life.
In preaching, this can be delicate. Even as I write these words, I feel the delicacy. The previous paragraph could come across as more law: “Look how bad you are, and look what God suffered because of you.” But it also has the potential to be shared and received as beautiful Gospel: “God loves you so much that he chose to bear this price for you.” As the words about Jesus in Hebrews 12:2 indicate: “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.” There was nothing joyful about the cross. The joy was in having us forgiven of our sins, freed from our guilt, and welcomed home into the Father’s loving embrace.
We might feel guilty about confessing our guilt, as if we were inconveniencing God once again with our neediness. So, Jesus tells us of a man who willingly chooses to give good gifts even to his needy and inconvenient neighbor. We might doubt whether or not God would actually give the gifts He promises (especially given how aware we are of our sinfulness). So, Jesus tells us of an earthly father who knows his kids’ needs (and certainly their faults!) and still provides.
It is with this eyes-wide-open understanding, and in spite of however feeble our Spirit-given faith might feel, we pray. Despite knowing the depths of our sin, we trust God’s Word of promise. Because God, knowing full-well the depths of our sin, makes and keeps His promises in Jesus. And through Jesus, God invites us to call Him, and to call on Him, as Father.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 11:1-13.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 11:1-13.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 11:1-13.
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