Jesus: Man of Prayer
As we read our way through the gospels there are so many things about Jesus for us to learn. We've been focusing in recent weeks on his ministries of preaching and healing – how he went about doing good and how he sent out his apostles to do exactly as he did. Now as we move on I want us to take note of something else concerning our Lord. He was a man of prayer.
To Luke it appears so natural that Jesus was a man of prayer that he doesn't make a big issue it here. In fact Luke mentions the fact of Jesus praying almost as an aside as he sets the scene for the discussions that Jesus will initiate with his followers. And yet it is important that we realise just how important a feature prayer was in Jesus' life. So to begin with this morning I want to remind you of some of what the NT has to tell us about Jesus and prayer.
Let's try to put it all together in some sort of logical order.
Firstly there are some general statements that summarise his life or which describe habitual practice in his life:
Heb 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.
Lu 5:16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
Thereafter we find references to Jesus at prayer emerging again and again and in particular we find references to him at prayer clustered around certain significant events.
At the outset of his ministry Jesus rose early in the day in order to pray. Then as his ministry developed he continued to turn to his Heavenly Father in prayer.
He prayed all night before choosing the 12 men who would accompany him as his special followers.
He prayed before feeding the crowds – both the one of 5000 men and the other of 4000. This prayer involved thanksgiving and blessing. Then when the feast was over and he sent away the crowds we learn that he again took himself off alone to pray.
We'll shortly be coming to Luke's record of the Transfiguration – and what a remarkable occasion that was when, for just a brief moment, Jesus' glory was revealed to his closest disciples as Jesus himself conversed with Moses and Elijah. The reason Jesus was together with Peter, James and John was that Jesus wanted to pray and it was while he was praying that his transfiguration took place.
Prayer was not irksome to Jesus but something in which he rejoiced and something for which he made space in a busy life of demanding ministry. Specifically we are told by both Matthew and Luke that he rejoiced in the absolute sovereignty of God:
Mt 11:25-26 At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
It would seem that while Jesus did at times seek solitude in order to pray that on others he was quite happy to allow his disciples to observe him at prayer. This cumulative experience obviously inspired his followers because eventually some were led to ask him to teach them just how they might pray:
Lk 11:1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."
And how glad we should be that they did ask because the answer Jesus gave was what we now call "The Lord's Prayer"!
Before raising Lazarus from the dead Jesus prayed.
The Last Supper is instituted in the context of prayer and prayer figures prominently in the events that were to follow.
When Jesus warned Peter that the latter's faith would be sorely tried Jesus immediately went on to assure Peter that he had prayed for him and that this prayer would be answered:
Lu 22:32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."
Then of course there is a tremendous emphasis put upon the praying of Jesus in his High Priestly prayer and in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed for God's glory, for himself and for his followers.
Jn.17:1; 9 (Jesus) lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you... I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.
Mt 26:36; 39 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray."... And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."
Nor was that the end of Jesus' prayer life – we find him praying in the most painful and trying of circumstances, from the cross to which he had been nailed. Jesus hung on the cross for some 6 hours during which time he spoke on several occasions. The gospel writers record "seven words" or seven things that he said as he was dying – three of these take the form of prayer:
Lu 23:34 And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments.
Mt 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Lu 23:46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last.
So this remarkable man prayed – he prayed often and his prayers were wide ranging. We notice too that his prayers were most often related to important significant matters.
Surely if such a man prayed, a man who was always in fellowship with his Heavenly Father and never once out of step with him, surely if such a one prayed then we who are so prone to doing things wrong and messing up should make space for prayer in our lives too!
He continues to pray and intercede for us now he his heaven at the Father's right hand.
Prayer the Prelude to an Important DIscussion
It was in just such a prayerful context that Jesus talked to his disciples about his own identity. So we must not imagine for one moment that it was a question put out of idle curiosity – Jesus wanted to know whether his followers were beginning to understand yet who he really was.
We considered these questions a couple of weeks ago when we thought about Herod's struggles to understand just who Jesus was. Because of that we won't stay long here except to re-emphasis the importance of the second question that Jesus put to his followers:
v.18 "But who do you say that I am?
Peter answered the question on behalf of the 12. Hearing the teaching of the Master, seeing and experiencing the power of the Master and spending time with him had convinced him that Jesus was the most important man he had ever met. Peter recognised Jesus to be the Christ of God! That is, Peter believed that Jesus was the long-promised Messiah.
Have you come to a similar conclusion about Jesus?
Peter and the others still needed to see things a whole lot more clearly than they did but nevertheless they were following Jesus. Your understanding may be far from complete but have you become a follower of Jesus as God's answer to our sin problem?
Peter's level of understanding was sufficient for Jesus to take a further step towards the completion of his God-determined ministry. He explained what inevitably and unavoidably lay ahead for him as he fulfilled his calling to be the Christ of God.
The explanation that Jesus gave that day was certainly an unwelcome one for Peter and the others to hear – Jesus solemnly told them that the future for him would involve:
The fact that this information was shared after Jesus had been praying should make us take it very seriously indeed. These are no casual remarks uttered in a moment of sad reflection these are carefully planned and thought out. From now on as his disciples begin to realise just who he is, Jesus must begin to clear away the misconceptions they had concerning the role of the Messiah and just how he would fulfil this ministry.
This is tremendously important stuff.
You see it simply will not do for the disciples to believe the wrong things about the Messiah. Contemporary Jewish thinking concerning the Messiah was that he would come as an all-conquering super-hero kind of figure who would deliver them from their earthly and political enemies making them top-dog all over again. This kind of triumphalistic thinking did not die out in the first century and still surfaces in the 21 st century. Indeed you may well be buying into a version of it too by refusing to follow the agenda Jesus established.
Jesus focused not on his teaching nor on his miracles – not on his success in human terms at all. No, Jesus focused on his apparent failure!
For that is how the disciples would have understood all this negative talk about suffering, rejection and death. How could the Messiah suffer if he was God's Messiah? It was unthinkable! And if death was unthinkable then resurrection was meaningless!
It remains unthinkable for millions still today who fail to understand just why Jesus' path through life had to involve such things.
Yet, if Jesus was to fulfil his ministry and be the Christ of God that God intended suffering had to be reckoned with, rejection had to be endured and death had to be experienced in all its horror. Indeed in Jesus' case it would be the worst death because he would die not because he was a sinner himself but because he was carrying the weight and burden of the world's sin.
The Messiah had come in the fullness of time to execute a deliverance far deeper and more far ranging in scope than any mere political deliverance. He had come to deliver or to save his people from their sins and the only way he could do that would be by laying down his life on their behalf.
But until God shines light into your heart you won't like to hear such things. Until God shines into your heart you prefer to imagine that you can please God by your own efforts, that you're not so bad and that your situation is not so desperate that you need such a Saviour. And in fact until God shines in your heart you'll reject Jesus just as the vast majority of the Jews did in the first century.
Jesus would be made to suffer. The religious leaders instead of heeding the challenge of such a spotless life, of listening to such teaching or of being influenced by such demonstrations of wonder-working power preferred to reject him, preferring their own way to his. And how far would they go in rejecting this upstart from Nazareth? They would go as far as they could: they would try to trap a man they knew to be innocent, they would use bribery and corruption in order to secure their ends; they would try to manipulate the powers that ruled all in their utter hatred of this man who went about doing good and preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God. They would not rest until they had seen him condemned to death and executed.
But they were wrong, wrong, wrong!
This would not stop Jesus from accomplishing his mission – this would not free them from his influence! This would be the very way whereby Jesus would carry out the divine plan of salvation!
And death would not be the end, not a bit of it! Resurrection would follow as proof that the last enemy death was defeated, as proof that the sacrifice was acceptable to God and indeed that it had been so accepted!
And so Jesus broke the news to his disciples. Doubtless they were excited – can you imagine the buzz there must have been as the words were expressed: "You are the Christ of God"? The developing thoughts were now openly expressed perhaps for the very first time – with what anticipation did they await Jesus' next words...
And he crushes their expectations by teaching them things that they really didn't want to be true.
This was the first time that Jesus clearly foretold his coming sufferings and death – it would not be the last. From now on the orientation of his ministry turns to focus ever more sharply upon such things. This is the Saviour of the World. If you would be a Christian you must know this – the Lord Jesus didn't come to live a nice pleasant life and teach a few interesting parables, he came to die. The death he came to die was yours. That is the verdict that God pronounces over your life – you deserve to die and to be forever shut out of God's Kingdom. But the wonder of Jesus coming to be the Christ is that because he died you need never experience this death, this separation from God yourself!
The disciples would slowly come to understand – and understanding did not come easily to them. To Judas it never came because in becoming the betrayer of Christ he forfeited his own soul. He never repented, he never confessed his sin to God, and he was lost.
May it not be so with you who are gathered here this morning.
Jesus' suffering and death and subsequent resurrection are the essential fundamental truths upon which God's plan of salvation is founded. No suffering, no death, no resurrection equates to no salvation for you and me. Praise God that the message we have to proclaim is Christ crucified!