Monday, January 25, 2016

Luke 11:1-13: The Place of Prayer in the Liturgy

One commentator on this passage says that "it is not directly related to what precedes or follows."  I could not disagree more.  Luke 11:1-13 is part of a larger stratum in Luke's Gospel dealing with Jesus' authority.  Douglas McComiskey has shown that starting with Luke 4:14, there are 12 strata that are repeated four times in order until the end of Luke's Gospel.[1]  We are presently in the stratum that deals especially with Jesus' authority.

Beginning in Luke 10, Jesus' authority is seen in his sending out of the 72 and his healing ministry through them as Satan is defeated.  In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus' authority is seen in his authoritative interpretation of the law as he confounds a so-called expert in the law.  In this parable Jesus answers the essential question of life, namely, how can fallen man return to the Lord and dwell in fellowship with God once more?  His answer is that this can only happen through the grace and mercy he has come to bring us at great cost to himself.  Then in the Martha and Mary story, our Lord gives us his authoritative word about worship.  True worship is his ministry to us before it is our ministry to him.  Just as Jesus served and saved us through his redemptive work at the cross, so he continues to give us the fruit of his work by meeting with his people weekly in Word and meal. 

And now in this passage on prayer, Jesus gives us his authoritative word about the way to receive his ministry to us, which is through believing prayer.  We have a gracious Father through Christ who longs to give his children the gifts his Son has earned for them.

Thus, in a remarkable way, Luke gives us in narrative form what he spells out later in Acts 2:42 about the means of grace in worship that form the basis of the Christian liturgy: "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."  Jesus ministers to his people through his Word (the apostles' teaching) and his meal (the breaking of bread), and these gifts are received by prayer (the prayers), which is the hand of faith that accepts Christ's gifts.  And all of this takes place in the fellowship of the church Jesus is building.

The means of grace are the Word and sacraments through which Jesus gives us his forgiveness and life.  The direction of the means of grace is downward from heaven to earth.  But how do we receive these gifts Jesus desires to give us?  The answer is believing prayer, which is why prayer is often seen as a means of grace along with the Word and the sacraments.  But prayer is probably better seen as the way we receive the Father's grace through his Son.  Prayer is the open hands that receive the gifts Jesus gives us.

What we see in Luke 11:1-13 is that we ought to be assured that the Father and the Son long to give us these gifts.  We should come each Lord's Day in expectant faith to meet with Jesus, for the Father is not reluctant to give us grace, life, and power through his Son.  The Father and the Son are most glorified in giving.  Let God be God.  Let the Father be our Father through his gifts to his children.  Let Jesus be Lord through his ministry to his people.  Let us come to be served before we serve, for true worship is a receptive and believing heart that receives the gifts Jesus has earned for his people through prayer.

[1] Douglas McComiskey, Lukan Theology in the Light of the Gospel's Literary Structure.  See especially p. 204-263.

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