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.
The mission of Jesus was bestowed upon Him by the will of the Father (John 6:40). He was the one “whom the Father has sent”–a description entitled to Jesus some 39 times in the gospel of John. Jesus said that He did nothing on His own but rather only what He sees the Father doing (John 5:19), for He came in His Father’s name (John 5:43). He speaks only of what He has seen with His Father (John 8:38). In sum, Jesus’ mission is clearly understood in the context of His relationship with His Father in heaven.
Therefore, it makes sense to see Jesus constantly in prayer. Think of it. If ever there was a person not in need of prayer who would have ever justifiable reason not to pray, it would be the Son of God. Yet throughout His life, and especially in crucial moments in the mission, we find Jesus absorbed in prayer. Beginning with His baptism, Luke records:
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).
The Father’s delight in His Son at the inauguration of His earthly mission came at a time when Jesus had been baptized and was praying (notice the present, continuous nature – “praying”). As Jesus began ministering, preaching, and healing, Mark adds:
35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons (Mark 1:35-39).
The relationship between verse 35 and 38 cannot be overlooked. Here we find the direct relationship between Jesus in prayer and Jesus on mission. The missional engagement was initialized by the priority of prayer. Jesus received His marching orders from the Father (see John’s account above), and thus prayer served not only a means of intimacy but also orientation and alignment around the Father’s will. The town He visited and the message He preached was derivative of what He received from the Father in prayer. Jesus example reveals that our participation in the mission of God is directly related to our participation in prayer.
Jesus’ earthly mission was eventually going to be entrusted to the men He chose to follow Him. Those whom He called was no small matter. Consider Luke’s account of His decision-making process:
12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor (Luke 6:12-16).
It was common practice for Jesus to depart and pray to the Father (see Matt. 14:23; Luke 5:16; 9:18; 9:28; 11:1). However, on this occasion, he spent the entire night in continuous prayer because He was about to make one of the most important decisions regarding the mission–the selection of those who would ultimately be entrusted with the gospel message. To what degree is the importance of the mission God has called us? Personal and persevering prayer does not leave you in the closet. It thrusts you out with passion for the mission.
Similar to the occasion of Jesus’ baptism, the Father on the mount of transfiguration told Peter, James and John, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35). The Father’s disclosure and declaration came at a time when “and as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29). The exchange of Jesus in prayer with the Father became an open manifestation of His eternal glory. The Father was listening to His Son, and in turn tell Jesus’ disciples to listen to Him!
Apparently the disciples did listen to Him, not only in His preaching and teaching, but also His praying, for Luke tells us that 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” (Luke 11:1). Not teach us to baptize, to preach, to perform miracles, but to pray. He taught them to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This was the mission of Jesus–the will of the Father and the advent of the kingdom of God on earth. Prayer delivers us from our agenda and sets us on God’s agenda, moving us from seeking our will and ruling our lives (kingdoms) to living in light of God’s will and rule.
That is what the Mount of Olives was all about. In the gospel of Luke we read:
39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:39-46).
It was Jesus’ custom to go to the Mount of Olives to pray. He had his “place” of prayer a stone’s throw away. His short prayer summed up His commitment to the mission of God. Not my will, but yours, be done. He knew He was about to be beaten, whipped, spat upon, crucified, condemned, and cursed. The fulfillment of the mission is at hand, and the temptation was to look for a way out. Yet prayer confirmed the mission of God. Have you ever thought about what temptation Jesus was warning the disciples about? Was it not to do their own will and not God’s? To abort the mission? To deny Jesus? To have a post-confession moment like Peter when Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt. 16:23)? They were sleeping and sinking into an “abort the mission” mentality which left Jesus alone at the cross.
The great news is that Jesus is still praying for the mission. He is our Great High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for His people (Heb. 7:25). He has promised to build His church. Even when Satan sought to sift Peter like wheat, Jesus told him, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32).
I have prayed for you.
That’s Jesus. No one is more committed to the mission than Jesus. No one is more committed to prayer than Jesus. In His “high priestly prayer,” Jesus said to the Father, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9). In that same prayer where He prays for us, Jesus brings the mission to bear on our lives the same what the Father brought the mission to bear on His life. Jesus prayed, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). It is impossible not to see the missional prayer life of the one whom the Father has sent. Jesus was sent, praying, and praying, He was sending.
His earthly ministry began with praying after His baptism, continued with all night in prayer with the calling of His disciples, then on to Gethsemane where His sweat became like drops of blood and ultimately to the cross where His prayers were soaked with blood as He prayed, “Father, forgive them.”
Even now, Jesus is praying for His people, building His church, and advancing the mission. May we join Him in the front line work of the mission that advanced on our knees.