Luke 11:9-13 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
This section is found in the context of persistent praying. The great word is ‘importunity’ of living in a spirit of praying without ceasing and constantly asking God to help you. Then Jesus underlines what he has said with the words, “So I say to you,” (v.9) as prefacing something of very great importance. “Ask and it will be given to you . . .” Why is understanding and doing these words of Christ of such importance?
THIS PROMISE IS MADE TO GOD’S OWN CHILDREN.
In this passage we have a wonderful promise, a pearl of a promise, in fact a series of very great promises building up in earnestness and affection. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (vv.9&10). But these assurances do not belong to all men indiscriminately. We cannot put such words of Jesus as these on a notice board outside our church, “ASK AND IT WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU,” for a man walking to the library or a nearby pub to consider that such a promise is for himself. “‘Ask, and I will receive’? Sounds good to me. All right, then I will ask that I’ll have that woman . . . I’ll ask for money to take a holiday in Las Vegas . . . I’ll ask that I’ll win the lottery this Saturday. I’m encouraged to believe I’ll win it because God says, ‘Ask and it will be given to you.’” No, that is utterly unacceptable; this is not a promiscuous promise. You see how carefully it is curtailed in our text; firstly we are told that one of Jesus’ disciples came to him and asked him to teach his disciples how to pray. He told these people to call God their Father. Here are people whose concern is not money or the flesh but hallowing the name of God and longing and working for his kingdom to come. These are the people who are given this problem. See the immediate context; “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him . . .” (v.13). These words are spoken only to Jesus’ disciples, not to atheists. If you today are a child of God then this is your promise. If you are a disciple of the Lord Jesus, and if you have received God’s Son as Messiah and Saviour then you have been given the right to be called a son of God. He is your Father in heaven and this promise is your very own promise. Not one word of this promise belongs to anyone else.
If you spurn the Jesus Christ and obey another Lord, and if you reject the privilege of adoption into God’s family, then this is not your promise. It is a promise for the sons of the heavenly Father. It is a promise for disciples. So there are multitudes of men and women who can take no comfort from these words. It is not at all true that if they ask God for something that he is honour bound to give it to them. So we must ask this important question, “Have we any claims whatsoever on this promise? Are we God’s children? Are we the disciples of Christ who want to be taught by him concerning how to pray properly? I say that there is a very real possibility that men pray to God and he won’t answer because they are asking amiss; they are asking for things in order to consume them on their own lusts; they are asking while having delight in sin in their own hearts; they are asking God for forgiveness and mercy while at the same time they entertain no mercy at all for those who’ve offended them. We are told that in such cases God won’t hear men, and so they’ve no right to take these great words – which everybody can quote “Ask and it will be given to you” – and believe they are some kind of assurance that our whims and fancies will be met. No! This is a great family promise for the household of faith. When God’s own children ask for those things that are pleasing to their Father then God will give them to them. So let us look at these words:
THE PROMISE IS NOT URGING UNBELIEVERS TO SEEK FOR THE LORD OR HIS SPIRIT.
I want to give every encouragement to men and women to come to the services and hear the word of God preached and never be absent, and while they attend then earnestly to seek to listen intently, and seek to understand, and seek to learn, and seek to obey what God says. If you are asking God for a closer walk with him, and seeking greater trust in him, and knocking for entry into the deepest fellowship with him then keep on doing that. Indeed I do believe that in such longings and yearnings there is saving faith and the possession of Christ’s salvation – in that actual yearning and seeking and knocking. So seek the Lord while he may be found and where he may be found, and that is where people gather together in his name and hear his word. There he is near.
Yet I don’t believe at all that this passage is saying to the men and women who are still in unbelief, “Seek Christ!” Indeed I think that the New Testament language is quite the opposite, that it doesn’t show us people seeking Christ, in fact it says quite categorically there is none seeking God. What we find in the Bible is the Lord seeking men and women. I find it saying, “God is seeking you. He is seeking you in the testimony of your friends, in the preaching of the gospel, in the offer of pardon and forgiveness through Christ, in the prayers of your parents and friends, in the Bible you read and the Christian books you’ve been given and in a host of providences that have made this world less and less satisfying and in your satisfaction at being in the presence of other Christians. In all of that God is showing evidence that he is seeking you. I am afraid that a great deal of what you refer to as your ‘seeking’ is the seeking of a better invitation than you’ve had so far. You are wanting to hear the gospel with more excitement. You are wanting to feel it more deeply. You are wanting to hear it more persuasively so that you won’t have to make that painful, lonely, personal decision all by yourself to entrust yourself to Jesus Christ for ever.
The Lord Jesus Christ today is not an object that you have to search for as if he were somehow lost or hidden away in some mysterious place, in a cave in the Himalayas that required a trip to Nepal, or on a distant island in the south seas, or off in some lonely cell behind granite walls in Scotland, or some such inaccessible and forbidding spot. It is not true for a single moment that the Saviour or the Holy Spirit is so far from you that you’ve got to seek him because in this preaching of the Bible he is near you, in the word of faith which we preach, that word is touching you and moving you right now. Your task and your obligation and your privilege is not to be seeking him, and shaking your head sadly week after week that it is so difficult to find Jesus Christ. I say, ‘No!’ He is the one seeking, and he is so near that as you read these words he is seeking you now. You don’t need to go away from where you are right now, saying you will seek for him somewhere else, in your bedroom or in the garden or on some mountainside. There is no need to leave this spot without him. He is not to be sought for; he is the one seeking you at this moment. His words to unbelievers are not, “Seek!” He is not saying, “Go and look in and in and in and in, in the depths of your own experience and emotions.” He is not saying, “Give up your job and find a cabin in the woods and there meditate and read the Bible for days seeking the Lord. Just do that!” No! Do not do that. Do not give up your job to ‘seek.’ He says, “I am here, right before you, and so you come to me now.” He is here for this specific reason, he is seeking for you. He is not seeking your seeking at all, or more intense seeking or deeply emotional seeking, weepy seeking or sighing seeking. He is watching to see if you are receiving him as your prophet, priest and king. He is saying to us, “Come to me, just as you are, without one plea.” He wants you to come,
“Just as I am and waiting not
To cleanse my soul from one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot
O Lamb of God I come.”
Do not wait. Stop your seeking. If you tarry till you’re better you will never come at all. Enter the kingdom of God by the door. The door is Christ, and he sets it ajar before you. It is not locked. There is no key to enter it that you do not possess. Push the door as you come to him and it will open. Enter! He is not urging you to keep seeking for the door. No, he is saying, “Here is the door, right before you. I am that door and you must enter through it.”
GOD’S CHILDREN SHOULD ASK HIM TO FULFIL HIS PROMISES.
What should we as Christians ask? What should we plead? For what should we knock on the gates of heaven? I am saying this, that we should ask God to fulfil all his promises. We should ask ourselves as we start to pray whether we have a promise. I don’t mean at all whether I have one emotionally, one that grips me, zaps me, makes we weep, takes all my strength from me and touches me very deeply. There are such consequences to reading and especially to hearing the word of God preached with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, thank God for that, but they are not my concern now. In this great inspired Word that comes from another better place, which in its jots and tittles is inspired by God, of which the Saviour said, “Your word is truth,” is there in this book a promise? And that promise, is it mine simply on the basis that I am a child of God? Yes there is such a promise, indeed there are many exceeding great and precious promises and they are all yes and Amen in Christ Jesus. These promises are mine, and when I worship God I can pray with the confidence that God will fulfil what he has promised to me and to every Christian.
Are there in this chapter promises built into our Lord’s teaching on prayer? Indeed there are; “Hallowed be your name.” What a promise is there. “I will hallow my name through you.” So ask that you may hallow the mighty name of Father Son and Holy Spirit. “Your kingdom come;” another promise is in those words. God will build his kingdom through us, and so we are to ask God that he will bring in his glorious kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost through us.
God’s promises made to us are the limits of God’s obligations. What he has promised he will give, but no more than that. For example, he has not promised that I will get A grades in my exams or even that I will pass every one of my exams, or even pass my driving test. He has not promised that I will be cured of every ailment and disease I contract. He has not promised me riches or marriage or children or a long life. He has not promised us a mighty religious awakening in our own lifetimes. Where there are no promises then God has not bound himself to us. But every promise that he has made he will fulfil, such as these, that he will work all things together for my good, that he will supply all my needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus, that nothing shall ever separate me from his love in Christ, that I will be able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me, that I will learn in whatsoever state I’m in to be content, that the good work he has begun in me he will complete in the day of Christ. What he has said in such promises as those he will perform infallibly, and that is what we are to pray for. All our certainty and assurance must be based on such promises. Our heavenly Father is saying to every one of his children, “You may ask me for the fulfillment of any promise. You may plead for its fulfillment now. You knock on the door of these promises and that door will be opened to you.”
What I am saying to you is that for every expectation and all your confidence you must have a promise, and you can begin to doubt your God and question his faithfulness when you discover him breaking his promises. It is not when he fails my expectations or does not grant my whims that I am justified in being angry with him, but it is when his solemn promises begin to fail then, at that point, I may doubt him.
So see that here is a promise about the Holy Spirit. There are other such promises, for example, through the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28&29). This promise was made to all God’s people, to old men and young men, even to male and female servants. The Lord says, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, that is, the days of fulfillment when the Christ, the Anointed one, comes. So you can go to God and ask him to pour out his Spirit upon you, and you can say to him, “You have promised you will do this. I read your word in Joel 2, verses twenty eight and twenty nine and I am holding you to your word to fulfil that for me. I am dead and I need the Spirit’s life. I am blind and I need the Spirit’s illumination. I am ignorant and I need the Spirit’s understanding. Please give it to me as you have promised.”
That is the background of this promise about the Holy Spirit found in our text. We find the Lord Jesus saying these words, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (vv. 11-13). You see the Saviour’s argument; he spells it out in a fascinating way to encourage us to address our heavenly Father about giving us the Spirit. “Your little boy is hungry. ‘Daddy, give me some fish,’ he cries. ‘I’ll give you something,’ you snarl at him, and you throw at him a viper. Or he asks you for a hard-boiled egg, and you drop into his hands a scorpion with its stinging tail. ‘Never,’ you protest. ‘We wouldn’t treat our children in that way. We would give them bread and eggs. We would give them good gifts not evil.’ You are evil men by nature. You are the sons of Adam and you have gone astray from the womb telling lies. You drink iniquity like water; in your flesh there’s absolutely no good thing to be found. Yet you know how to give good gifts to your children. How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” That is what the Lord is saying. He is giving a promise to us, that whoever asks for the Spirit will receive him.
What does our Lord say? Agonize for him? Be totally yielded for him? Make full surrender to have him? Be completely dedicated to get him? Renunciate all sin? Lay all on the altar for him? Body, soul and spirit must be yielded? A perfect consecration of our entire beings to him? Struggle for him? Ask in intensive and persevering prayer and then maybe you might have the Spirit? I say, “No!” None of those things. “Ask for him!” says Jesus, as you naturally ask your parents for something basic to eat. You do not become histrionic and scream and roll on the floor to get a piece of bread! So Jesus says that the Father gives the Holy Ghost. The Spirit does not have to be wrested out of the Father’s reluctant hands. The Spirit is given, and a gift is not earned or won by price or merit. We know the difference. When I paid out the miners of Cynheidre colliery on a Friday morning when I worked for the National Coal Board they did not grovel at the pay desk and thank me with tears in their eyes for their pay packets. They picked them up without a word because they had worked hard for them. I was giving them nothing; they had earned their pay. But God does not make us strive and plead to have the Holy Spirit. He is a gracious God-sent gift who is received by faith alone. At the beginning of Acts chapter two, the history of the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, we are not told that the church was agonizing, that it was hoping that it had met all the conditions and had fully paid the price of Pentecost and thus it was that the Spirit came from heaven. There was just one divine request, that they did not leave Jerusalem. All we are told about them was that they were in one accord and in one place, and then the Spirit came just as the Lord had promised. He came to Peter not by works of righteousness which Peter had done. He came to the 120 not because of their own holiness and merit, not as a reward for their fasting and praying but as a free gift of Christ’s infinite grace just as had been promised through the prophet Joel. The Spirit who came into them and upon them came without money and without price as they waited for his coming and as they appropriated him and received him as their own. He came to the 3,000 on the day of Pentecost as they believed the word Peter preached to them. Let us ask God to fulfil his promise and give us his Spirit.
GOD’S CHILDREN SHOULD ASK FOR THE SPIRIT IN ORDER TO LIVE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
You see the context of these words. They are found at the close of a sermon of our Lord on the most difficult thing any Christian will ever be asked to do, namely to pray. Jesus begins by teaching them the Lord’s prayer, and then he gives them a simple parable to make prayer come alive, and then he makes these great promises that God hears us when we ask, and sees us when we are seeking, and opens to us when we’re knocking. We are kind to our children, how much kinder is our heavenly Father to those who ask him for his Spirit. The road is exceedingly long and it’s hard-going. Disciples have to love God with all their hearts and love their neighbours as themselves and never stop. They have to present their bodies as living sacrifices to God every day. They have to be filled with the Spirit. They must take up their own crosses and deny themselves and follow the Lord.
The Christian life is one of great ethical stringency; it is one of severe, demanding, relentless and arduous labour. The burden we bear is heavy and in addition we who are strong have to bear the burdens of the weak. The Lord Jesus lays down principle upon principle, precept upon precept, church life, family life, living before the watching world, life in the presence of our enemies, and he tells them this is the road to heaven; it is the only road, and they were starting to think “Who then can be saved?” How can any man live like this? That is why he ends his sermon with our text, “Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and it will be opened to you.” He is saying, “Seek the grace to pray as I have taught you, to obey this principle and attend to these standards.”
Surely, so often, we forget that the energy to live this Christian life is one that comes to us by the Holy Spirit. We look at the Christian ethic and the whole issue of holiness of life and we’re often overwhelmed by our failures. “Lord I cannot be that kind of Christian. I cannot be a preacher. I cannot be a husband. I cannot be a church member. I cannot be a witness, Lord.” We are told that the Saviour knew what men were thinking and with his teaching on the life of prayer he is encouraging them with this great promise. He could read their thoughts . . . “the things he demands from us are impossible!” Of course they are, and so Jesus says to them, “Ask . . . seek . . . knock and you’ll get what you want. Ask for the Spirit of God to assist you. The Christian life is not an impossibly unattainable life. It is the road stretching out before each one of us who are children of God. It is the only road to glory, and if we’re not walking it we won’t reach glory. When the Lord teaches us about praying it’s not in order that we should admire the meditative life but that we get to heaven and be saved.
We are being challenged as to what is our chief commitment and primary concern. Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? Do you assert that for you to live is Christ? How committed are you? Do you say, “This one thing I do?” If not, why not? What is more important than glorifying God and enjoying him? Do you say,
Take my life and let it be
Consecrated Lord to Thee?
Then ask for grace to live like that. Be that kind of man or woman. Be a proper Christian boy or girl. Do not be half a Christian and half a follower of the world. This promise of getting the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with tongues speaking or being the most eloquent preacher in the land. Jesus is not telling you here that you are going to be healed of your illness. Such promises are not about problems with your health, or getting a job, or getting some recognition. This is a promise about sustained energy to walk the holy road that leads to God.
THE FATHER PROMISES THE SPIRIT WILL BE GIVEN TO THOSE WHO ASK HIM.
We can sit for years moping that the church is in decline, and that we are living in a day of small things. We can have our meetings and confer together discussing all the depressing pressures being brought to bear upon the church, and we forget the one great remedy, God the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Godhead. Is that central to our thinking? That’s what Christ is reminding his disciples here, that “what you men need now is the Spirit of God. Ask God to send God to you.” What we Christians need, and need more of, and always need more of, is the Spirit. We need his comfort, his courage, his morale-boosting ministry, his energizing – that is what we must have, his fruitfulness, his leading, and his perseverance. We need that. It is not enough to know that there are problems and that we have wise friends and special inspirational speakers to help us. We have the great remedy for all our ills and infirmities in God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. That is the reason there is the threefold repetition here, Ask . . . Seek . . . Knock. It is not the repetition of increasing intensity, of going from one degree of concern to a higher level and a yet higher level still. No, it is the repetition of importance, that we must appreciate that we have to have the provision of God, the ministry of God to us, in order to live effective lives. You are failing because you are not bringing God to bear on your needs day by day. You are going on too much surviving on your own gifts and insights and energy and personality and not expressing your sheer impotence and crying for the Holy Spirit saying, “Without Jesus I can do nothing.”
The teaching is not at all that for the small things we can manage, we can get by ourselves, but for the great awakenings we need Holy Spirit-sent revival. No. We need the Holy Spirit for everything we do as Christians and we are asking God, “Help me prepare this meal, and spend my house-keeping money well, and decide what to do in the garden, and call the children who are away in college, and heal the kids of their head-lice, and help me with their questions about going to the movies . . .” We need the Holy Spirit for every decision, and so we have to ask God for everything. Without the Holy Spirit we can do nothing. We will get nowhere in our Christian lives by our own wits and energy.
So often our praying is a protest against the very nature of the Christian life as one that involves many disappointments and heartaches. We forget that our usefulness in Christ’s service and our profitableness in the work of the church depends upon our going through these trials – trials from which our flesh shrinks. I am saying that often our prayers can be a protest against our providence, and we have to keep going to our Father with our requests. God is your Father, a God who pities his children. You hear your little children and they are worried. They do not want to go to school, having some mysterious struggle with a teacher perhaps, or with some other children. We don’t know; the children won’t tell us, and they cry or they tell us they are ill or they ask us to home-school them, and we pity them because they are so weak and vulnerable. In the end they are going to do what we decide and we pity them in their helplessness. Like as a father pitieth his children so our Father pities us, and he sends for our survival his grace and his Spirit. He knows what you need, what is absolutely indispensable.
How marvelous is God’s love; how willing he is to give grace to us, and with him there are no mistakes. We are all aware of the spoilt child syndrome, the little boy who’s been spoiled by getting all he clamours for and has turned into an utter brat. Nor is God cold, distant and indifferent, a Father who creates children who feel unloved. God makes no mistakes like that. With him there are no moods; it is never inconvenient for God to get involved in our lives. If we are in the depths and cry to him from deep, deep down here then he hears and comes to our assistance. He commands the Spirit to go forth into the darkest, dirtiest, hottest, most unfriendly, most hostile, most remote places in the world to help us, where we send sewerage workers or riot police or morticians or crematorium workers – all necessary and noble jobs but not ones we might choose – but the Holy Spirit operates in the darkest places on earth
I will close with this, returning to my two fundamental principles. Firstly to those of you who are Christians you have to follow the Lord Jesus Christ as his disciples each day. To live this life you need the Holy Spirit and his graces. You have to go to him and seek the grace to live the life of a follower of the Lamb of God, and God promises that if you seek him then you will find him.
Then to those of you who are not yet Christians, or maybe I can say still not Christians. Now you yourselves know better than I do who are and who aren’t believers in Jesus Christ. I am saying to you that you have nothing to do with this promise. Then you protest and you ask me, “Is there nothing for me?” There is a great deal for you. The living God is seeking you. You would not be reading these words if he had not worked his providential will in orchestrating everything so that you are thinking of his claims over your life. God is seeking for you, and isn’t that marvelous? At times you have almost given up on yourself and maybe your closest family and friends have been tempted to give up on you, but God hasn’t given up. You were a lost sheep but he abandoned all the safe sheep and he set out searching for you and he kept seeking until he found you, and this is where he has found you today. I am saying to you, “Take him, in all the glory of his person and in the perfection of all he has done for sinners as he offers himself to you in the gospel.” I am saying to you, “Enter in at the narrow gate. It is open for you now.”
So there are two kinds of people and my sermon closes on two different directions. To those of you who are saved I say, “Seek! Seek the help and strength of the Holy Spirit.” To those of you who are not saved I say, “Take! Take Jesus Christ as prophet, priest and king, as he is freely offered to you in the gospel. Take him now.” However paradoxical it may seem that is the biblical order. The Lord’s people are to be asking God for the Holy Spirit to help them day by day, and those who are not Christians are to take his free salvation.
6th June 2010 GEOFF THOMAS