"What is impossible among man [or humankind] is possible with God." –Luke 18:27.
It was a late night when I went to the corner store for a snack. I don't know how it came up, but the clerk brought up faith. He said something along the lines of, "If you like that, then you'd like this." He pointed to a stand of cakes, pies and other sweets. "Look at the top of the pie wrapper and tell me what you see," he said.
"It has a verse. Luke 18:27."
I left the store with my goods. I stopped at Pritchett Field on my way home. I remember feeling broody. I read the short Bible chapter as I walked around the track.
In Ephesians; Paul mentions the breastplates of righteousness as an item of the Armor of God. When we think about the breastplates, we might begin thinking about the chest and the heart that is hidden underneath it. What makes this breastplate, or heart, righteous or justified?
There are about six parables in Luke 18, but we'll only cover three today. The prevailing message of Luke 18 is that one ought to seek and show faith: "Always pray and [do] not give up" (Luke 18:1). Prayer is the outpour of a person's mind and heart. It is the utterance of the soul. For someone to have a righteous heart, they have to honestly seek Christ, as well as be humble, and be vulnerable in prayer.
1. Praying All The Day Long
In the Parable of the Persistent Widow, Christ wants to see one's faith. He tells his disciples to pray all the day long and to never give up.
He then tells a story of a widow seeking justice from an unjust judge: "Grant me justice against my adversary" (Luke 18:3). The judge finally gets to the point where he wants to give in to the widow's request, but for the wrong reasons; he wants her to stop pestering him. He doesn't really care. The parable is supposed to offer a counter to worldly justice, and how sometimes it is not gained.
In just the mention of a corrupt judge and God, the ultimate judge between life and death, there is a foil being set up. God cares about what one's prayers, especially if it is anxiety-inducing to the point that one can't stop asking for help and praying about their concern to be answered day after day after day. The act of casting one's worry and concern onto the Lord is an act of vulnerability, transparency, and honesty. Crying out to God in prayer is the breastplates of righteousness.
Comparatives to the worldly judge, God will give justice. Christ says, "I tell you, He [God] will see that they [the suffering] get justice, and quickly" (Luke 8). Don't you love how the verse says God will come to you QUICKLY. Not tomorrow, not 6 months from now, but immediately. That's not to say He will answer your prayer right on the spot, but it is to say that He will never forsake you.
The parable ends with Christ wondering if anyone will have faith when he returns. Will you have faith that God will be quick to your side to listen and to act in your favor?
2. Humility in Prayer
The second parable is my favorite because it shows how salvation is impossible without God. Here's how it goes: A Pharisee, (high-status believer) and a tax collector (considered a low station in life) both pray at the temple. The parable reveals what sort of spirit one ought to strive to have while praying: humility, honesty, and vulnerability.
Who do you think prays more "righteously?"
The Pharisee comes to the altar with a proud heart. He might thank God, but he forgets that he needs God in his life: "God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evil-doers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector (Luke 18: 11)." The Pharisee even lists off all the amazing things he has done: "I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." It seems the Pharisee doesn't even need God. He has it all worked out. He does religious acts that are kind, such as tithes, but where is his heart?
It might be looking good for the sake of reputation and feeling good.
Meanwhile, there's the lowly tax collector, who, when he prayed, "would not even look up to heaven, but [he] beat his breast and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." The tax collector was humble enough to admit he wasn't perfect, and that he could never fulfill the law. He could admit that he needed God to make up for what he lacked.
The reason the parable of the tax collector is one of my favorites is that God favored someone society would never favor. And why? Because the tax collector bared his heart to God in honest, vulnerable prayer. This is an example of how prayer can be one's breastplates of righteousness.
Christ ends this parable by mentioning that the tax collector, not the Pharisee, "went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" (Luke 18:14).
3. Don't Sell Out
Our key verse comes from the Prodigal Son's parable. In this story, Christ mentions a young man who seeks the Good Teacher's advice on how to gain eternal life. The response is not straightforward. Christ, almost seems to brush the young man off by reminding him of the cookie cutter answer to ask oneself: Have you kept the law?
In the Old Testament, you either kept the law or you were a sinner. The catch is, the law is impossible to keep because no one is perfect. This means the question is a test to see how the young man will respond. Will the young man be like the perfect and proud Pharisee or the humble tax collector in the last parable?
The young man's response is this: "All these [laws] I have kept since I was a boy." (Luke 18:21).
Pharisee it is.
He reads the man's heart and finds that greed is ruling it: "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me (Luke 18: 22)."
The young man was sad because he was wealthy.
The young man's earnest conversation with Christ shows how one can sincerely seek God, only to find that they have to walk away from their old ways (not all at once) and that they still have work to do on themselves before having a heart that is more deeply invested in God.
In the young man's case, it's suggestive that the young man's heart was a slave to greed (the old life) rather than a servant to Christ (the new life). He's an example of how the breastplates of righteousness/praying/talking to Christ can protect oneself.
Once the young man is able to walk away from his old ways, he will be rewarded for it. Christ explains that no one who has sacrificed something for the kingdom of God will fail to reap rewards in the kingdom of heaven (Luke 18: 29). The young man's loss would be a gain.
Overall, the breastplates of righteousness are a metaphor for seeking God, maintaining faith, and protecting one's heart through prayer. As one prays, they might give the concerns they have to God, to find that He is quickly by their side and ready to show favor and to offer justice to them. When one prays with humility, they ought to be humble like the tax collector.
And, even when one is proud and in denial about not being perfect like the prodigal son, Christ will guide them, so that they might be closer to Him. When we pray with a humble, transparent heart, we are called justified by God. We are offered a new life. While redemption may seem impossible, it is, with God. All it takes is a sincere heart.
Thank you for reading the last segment of the Armor of God Series.