The Story Weak 5: Deliverance

The Story Week 3: From Slave to Deputy Pharaoh

It’s one of the most powerful stories in the bible and like few others puts on clear display how God works through evil to do good.  Its the story of a young arrogant boy name Joseph who becomes the second most powerful man on earth but it’s still God’s story:

The Story Week 2: God Builds a Nation

It is not always “Yes, no, or maybe.”

My friend put together a pretty good article on prayer.  It’s not the answer you usually think about thank you Bob Vincent:

A CONTRADICTION ABOUT GOD AND PRAYER?

 If you’re like me, you have sometimes wondered at what appears to be a contradiction about God and prayer.

 GOD AS LOVING FATHER

On the one hand, the Bible presents God as a loving Father who is eager to give us what we ask for unless what we ask for is something that would not be in our best interests, i.e. not for our good and the good of others and not for his glory.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

How could Jesus be any clearer than that? God is both like us and unlike us.

Unlike us, God is never influenced by sin or by a fallen nature. God is not evil or sinful. God never sins. We, on the other hand, are influenced by sin. Indeed, we are never completely free from our own selfishness, even when we set about to do nothing but good. Our sinful natures contaminate our best deeds: “If you then, WHO ARE EVIL” (Matthew 7:11). Jesus left none of us out in that statement.

As with all parents who love their children, God desires to give us good things. Influenced by sin, though I am, I want to do good things for my children and grandchildren, and providing good things for them has given me great pleasure. Whenever they have asked me for good things, I have done my best to provide for them: “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?” (Matthew 7:9-10)

I have never made my children grovel or beg for what they needed; it was my delight to give it to them, if I had it. I never liked for them to nag me about it. In fact, I would say, “You have asked me, and I understand what you want. You don’t have to ask me again. I will think about it and pray about it, and I will let you know.”

As I think about God as my Father, surely he is like that, too. Isn’t he?

 A SLEEPING, RELUCTANT NEIGHBOR AND A CROOKED JUDGE

However, Jesus clearly paints another picture about prayer and God, and he paints even here in Matthew 7:7, expanding the translation: “Keep on asking for something to be given and it shall be given to you. Keep on seeking, and you shall find. Keep on reverently knocking, and it shall be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7, Kenneth Wuest, _The New Testament: An Expanded Translation_)

In Luke 11, Jesus illustrates how we have to be bold and persistent in prayer until we obtain an answer:

“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, ‘DO NOT BOTHERE ME; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet BECAUSE OF HIS IMPUDENCE he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 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. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:5-10)

The word translated “impudence” in verse 8 is the Greek word, anaideia ἀναίδεια. It means: “lack of sensitivity to what is proper, carelessness about the good opinion of others, shamelessness, impertinence, impudence, ignoring of convention” (Frederick William Danker (2000). _A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature_. Third edition BDAG (Chicago/London: Chicago University Press), p. 63).

We should take note of what Jesus is saying: if we want to see our prayers answered, we have to pray with a shameless persistence, as someone knocking on the door of a sleeping neighbor’s house, until he finally gets up and gives us what we are begging for — not unlike a poor widow without political influence constantly dogging a crooked judge for help:

‘And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, SO THAT SHE WILL NOT BEAT ME DOWN by her CONTINUAL coming.'”‘ (Luke 18:1-5)

So . . . is the God to whom we pray like a crooked judge who only dispenses justice because a poor widow is stalking him wherever he goes?

“Your honor, that widow is out there waiting for you once again.”

“Tell her I am not here. But wait five minutes while I slip out the back door.”

Is God like a sleeping neighbor who has to be harassed until he gets up only after the whole household has been awakened by a rude person who won’t take “no” for an answer?

 ONE EXPLANATION FOR UNANSWERED PRAYERS

On the eve of the end of the Babylonian Captivity in 539, an angelic visitor appears to Daniel with a revelation from God:

“Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia.” (Daniel 10:12-13)

It is likely that Daniel’s angelic messenger is the archangel Gabriel, the same angel who appeared to him earlier (Daniel 8:16; 9:21). Several other things are certain in these two verses.

First, Daniel is told that God had answered his prayer on the first day that he began to pray: “FROM THE FIRST DAY that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, YOUR WORDS HAVE BEEN HEARD, AND I HAVE COME because of your words” (Daniel 10:12).

But, secondly, God’s answer had been delayed three weeks because of spiritual opposition: “The prince of the kingdom of Persia WITHSTOOD ME TWENTY-ONE DAYS” (Daniel 10:13).

Then, thirdly, he is told that had this angelic messenger not received reinforcements from the archangel Michael, Daniel would still not have God’s answer to his prayer: “but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I WAS LEFT THERE with the kings of Persia” (Daniel 10:13).

This adversary who was able to thwart the mission of an archangel of God is called “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” and his helpers are called “the kings of Persia.”

Inasmuch as angels are repeatedly shown in Scripture to be more powerful than human beings (2 Samuel 24:6; 2 Kings 19:35), this “prince of the kingdom of Persia” who restrains an angel of God cannot be human; he must be one of those “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” about whom Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

At the time of this angelic revelation to Daniel, the Jewish people were under the authority of the Persians. But Daniel is told that the Persian ascendancy would not last and that there would arise another spirit, the spirit of Hellenism. Daniel’s messenger warns him: “But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the prince of Greece will come” (Daniel 10:20).

Fourthly and finally, Daniel’s messenger tells him that he will continue to need angelic reinforcements to deal with this other demonic prince: “there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince” (Daniel 10:21).

 WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Can one reason why our prayers are not answered be that, under the overarching sovereignty of God, there is supernatural opposition to that answer being received by us?

“We endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, again and again — but SATAN HINDERED US” (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18).

Is it not true that God is our loving heavenly Father who delights to give us good things — the things that we need for our good?

Does Jesus ever tells us that God is like a sleeping neighbor who has to be harassed in order to give us what we ask for or that he is like a crooked judge who has to be stalked into responding to our pleas?

If we carefully examine what Jesus actually says, the answer is “no.”

But Jesus does tell us that if we don’t pray with the same brazen persistence as desperate people, we will not get what we need. And I submit that supernatural opposition is a major reason why this is so.

The world in which we live is far more complex than any human can comprehend.

“My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose” (J. B. S. Haldane (1932) _Possible Worlds: And Other Essays_ (London: Chatto and Windus), p.286).

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (William Shakespeare, _Hamlet_, Act 1, Scene V)

And nowhere do we encounter that complexity in a greater way than when we pray.

“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;

Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

“Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;

Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.

“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,

One little Word shall fell him.

“That Word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;

The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,

His kingdom is forever.”

(Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress Is our God”)

Pray and never quit praying. Wherever you live, whatever your place of worship is called, pray with brazen persistence that your leader may boldly and clearly proclaim the good news and that demonic opposition would be bound and defeated.

Bob/Robert Benn Vincent, Sr.

The Story: Creation

Faces at the Cross: James

Part of a series of sermons that are in the first person.

Easter Sunday: The Impossible Message (aka the Sermon about the Sermon)

Took a little bit of an exegetical risk this year and talked about the sermon itself.  Still think it was faithful.

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