In the last essay we studied 10:38-11:4. It was a continuation of a larger section in Luke on “Living as a Disciple.” In this essay we are studying Luke 11:5-13, which will complete Luke’s section on “Living as a Disciple.” We already have seen that we are to be a neighbor to those in need (10:25-37); we are to set proper priorities (10:38-42); and we are to pray for our material, spiritual, and moral needs, as they are defined by Jesus (11:1-4). Now in 11:5-8 we see Jesus give a parable on prayer. This one is a story about a persistent friend.
As you can see, the story has several elements. First, it is midnight. In that culture there were no twenty-four hour convenience stores. All stores would have been closed. Second, a visitor has surprised the person seeking the bread by arriving unannounced and late. Again they had no telephones to use to call ahead. Third, in that culture there was a powerful obligation to provide hospitality to traveling friends. The man seeking the bread and his family would feel shame if they could not set a meal before the guest. Unfortunately, fourth, for an unexplained reason, the man had no food in his house with which to provide the hospitality. So fifth, he did what he had to do. He went to the house of a neighbor, who also was a friend, and sought three loaves of bread that would meet his need.
Of course the neighbor and his family already were in bed, and he did not want to get out of bed and disturb his whole family in the process in order to help the man who was seeking the bread. In other words, the issue for the man who was in bed wasn’t a lack of bread, or a reluctance to give it. Rather it was a matter of inconvenience. It appeared to him to be terribly inconvenient to have to shake off the rest of his sleepiness, rise from his warm bed, and further disturb his family just to get his neighbor and friend some bread.
Now let’s discuss this situation without yet concerning ourselves with what Jesus says in verse eight. What would you do if a neighbor, who was a friend of yours, called you at midnight after you had gone to bed with a request like this? What if he wanted you to bring it to him? That would involve much more inconvenience. You would have to get dressed, go out of the house, and deliver it. That makes it a little tougher, doesn’t it? Let me ask you one last question. What if the friend had done this to you before?
Of course these last couple of scenarios were not part of the story. Let’s come back to the story as Jesus told it and re-read verse eight. Jesus’ version ends with the man in bed refusing to get his friend who is pounding on his door the bread. Then Jesus said, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”
Before we discuss this verse, let me remind you of the context. In 11:1 the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer was his initial response, and this parable is the second part of his response. So Jesus still was talking about prayer. Therefore what is the point of the parable?
The point is to be persistent in prayer until an answer is given. Jesus clearly understood that we often pray and nothing apparent happens. But according to this parable, we are not to give up for that reason.
I believe the key to understanding this whole matter is this. We have no way of knowing what is going on in the spirit realm unless God chooses to reveal it to us. You may remember that Daniel, in chapter ten of the book by his name, experienced a situation similar to this and was given an explanation. He had been praying and fasting for three weeks about the situation in Babylon (10:2) when an angel appeared to him.
The angel revealed to Daniel that his prayer had been heard and answered the first day of his three-week time of prayer (10:12). But an evil “prince of the kingdom of Persia” had opposed the angel for 21 days. The angel finally was able to bring Daniel the message after the angel Michael came to his aid in the conflict with the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” (10:13-14). The point is that there is a relationship between events that take place in the spiritual realm, and those that take place in this physical realm where we live.
We also learn from that passage in Daniel that there is an ongoing conflict in the spiritual realm between good and evil beings. In response to Daniel’s prayer, God sent the angel to him with a message. But “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” attempted to stop him, and did hold him up for 21 days. Only the intervention of the archangel Michael enabled the angel to continue his journey.
We also learn in Daniel ten that evil spiritual beings seek to influence what is happening in our realm. The “prince of the kingdom of Persia” is not a reference to the earthly king, Cyrus. It is a reference to a spiritual being associated with Persia who was opposed to God’s will in relation to Daniel’s situation.
But for our purposes, probably the most important thing we learn from the passage in Daniel is the fact that what happens in the spiritual realm can affect our prayers. The answer to Daniel’s prayer was held up for 21 days. Moreover we learn on the positive side that prayer uttered here can affect what is happening there. Daniel’s prayer on earth caused a whole series of events in the spirit realm: the messenger was dispatched to Daniel; “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” sought to intervene; and Michael moved to counter that action. Therefore prayer is extremely important in more ways than we usually acknowledge.
Verses 11:9-13 are paralleled in the Gospel of Matthew, but in that Gospel we find the verses in a different context. In Matthew they are located in chapter seven, verses 7-11, among a series of diverse teachings in the latter part of the Sermon on the Mount, whereas here in Luke, the verses are located immediately after the parable of the persistent friend and provide some explanation for it.
As you can see, verses 9-10 tie into the parable fairly directly. We are to ask in prayer, as the man in the parable was asking his friend and neighbor. We are to seek God to fulfill our need, as he was seeking his friend to fulfill his. And we are to knock as persistently on God’s door, as that man was knocking on his neighbor’s door. And notice the assurance that Jesus gives. If you ask you will receive; if you seek, you will find; and if you knock, the door will be opened to you. Does this mean that we are guaranteed to receive whatever we ask God for? We all know it is not that simple. We not only must ask, we must ask according to the will of God rather than our own. Therefore much of our prayer must be prayer for discernment of God’s will.
Finally, verses 11-13 show us that God really wants to answer our prayers. Jesus reminds us that even evil humans like us give good gifts to our children. So it stands to reason that God will give “good things,” according to Matthew’s version (Mt. 7:11), to those who ask him. In Luke’s version, Jesus puts his emphasis on the spiritual rather than the material by saying that God wants to give us his best gift, the Holy Spirit (v, 13).