Chapter 10: The Prayers of the Lord in Luke's Gospel
by David E. West, England
Luke, the beloved physician, writing his "former treatise" under Divine inspiration, presents the Lord Jesus as the Son of man; indeed he portrays Him as the perfect Man. David exhorts his readers to "mark the perfect man, and behold the upright" Ps.37.37, and this is what Luke does throughout his gospel. Yet, even here the Holy Spirit is careful to guard the Deity of the Lord Jesus, thus the word of the angel Gabriel to Mary was this, "therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" Lk.1.35. Even the demons are recorded as saying to Him, "Thou art [the] Christ the Son of God" Lk.4.41. The members of the Sanhedrin say collectively to Him, "Art Thou then the Son of God?" and the Lord answered in the affirmative, "Ye say that I am" Lk.22.70. We bow in worship as we take upon our lips the words of the hymn writer,
"Verily God, yet become truly human"
(Henry d'Arcy Champney)
The perfect Man of this Gospel was a dependent Man; this was a feature of His perfection. Luke's Gospel has been spoken of as the priestly Gospel; it commences with reference to a priest, Zacharias, executing "the priest's office before God in the order of his course" Lk.1.8; it ends with the Lord Jesus in His priestly character, as He is about to be carried up into heaven, and we are told that "He lifted up His hands and blessed them" Lk.24.50. Although the Lord Jesus did not officially become priest until He took His place at the Father's right hand where "He ever liveth to make intercession" Heb.7.25, nevertheless there were priestly features about Him when He was here upon earth.
Thus, of the Gospel writers, it is Luke who draws attention to the prayer life of this dependent Man. There are eleven references to Him praying, nine of which are peculiar to this gospel. In six of these instances we are simply told he prayed or was praying, Lk.3.21,22; 5.16; 6.12; 9.18; 9.28,29; 11.1,2. We listen to His words of thanksgiving to the Father as He rejoiced in spirit, Lk.10.21,22. He tells Peter that He has prayed for him, Lk.22.31,32. He prayed on the mount of Olives prior to going on to Calvary; on this occasion we hear the substance of His prayer, Lk.22.41-45. Then finally the words are recorded which He spoke from the cross, again addressed to the Father, firstly asking for forgiveness for those who were crucifying Him, Lk.23.34, and then commending His spirit into the hands of the Father, Lk.23.46.
PRAYING IN THE RIVER JORDAN
"Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art My beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased" Lk.3.21,22.
This is the first recorded instance in Luke's Gospel of the Lord Jesus praying. For the people, it was a baptism unto repentance; John the Baptist says to them, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance" Matt.3.11; the people confessed their sins, "they ... were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins" Mk.1.5. The Lord had no sins to confess; there was no call to repentance as far as He was concerned. His baptism in Jordan with the people (note the word 'also') was a foreshadowing of His baptism of suffering at Calvary for the people; thus He later says, "I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened [pained] till it be accomplished!" Lk.12.50.
"Jesus also being baptized, and praying" - this deeply interesting touch is peculiar to Luke in his record. His praying here demonstrates a spirit of submission and dependence upon God right at the commencement of His public ministry. Heaven was a witness to all that was taking place. Indeed, the response from heaven shows that the Father heard the prayer of His Son; whenever He prayed, He was heard, "Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me. And I knew that Thou hearest Me always" Jn.11.41,42. Suddenly we find ourselves in the presence of Divine Persons, with the Lord Himself having been baptised, "the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him" and the voice of the Father was heard from heaven. Here, as in Mark's account, the word is addressed to the Son Himself, "Thou art My beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased". Thus we have the Son speaking in prayer to the Father and the Father speaking in delight to His Son.
PRAYING IN THE WILDERNESS
"And He withdrew Himself into the wilderness, and prayed" Lk.5.16.
Luke, in his Gospel, presents his material not necessarily in a chronological order, but in a spiritual or moral order, "It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus" Lk.1.3. So here, in chapter 5, the Lord's withdrawal into the wilderness to pray follows the report of His cleansing of the man who was "full of leprosy". Then we read, "But so much the more went there a fame abroad of Him: and great multitudes came to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities" v.15.
It was then that "He withdrew [retired quietly] into the wilderness, and prayed". The word "prayed" is in that tense which expresses continued or repeated action. Communion between the Father and the Son was continuous, but it is clear that at times He specifically resorted to praying to the Father. The Lord Jesus thus detached Himself from the crowds in a time of popularity and sought the solitude of the desert place.
There are lessons here for us to learn. We need a secret place, to be alone with God; there is the principle of shutting "thy door" and praying "to thy Father which is in secret" Matt.6.6. The more we find ourselves in the public eye, the more we need to resort to the private place before God.
PRAYING IN THE MOUNTAIN (1)
"And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God" Lk.6.12.
We should take note of the phrase "in those days". In the context we are told that, "on another sabbath ... He entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and Pharisees watched Him, whether He would heal on the sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against Him" vv.6,7. Controversy can be very wearying; these hypocritical religious leaders in Israel were ever spying upon the Lord and setting themselves in opposition to Him. So He left the scene of controversy and "went out into the mountain to pray" (J.N.D.), the use of the definite article suggesting a familiar place. The mountain is a place from which everything can be seen in its correct perspective.
This is the one occasion where we read of the Lord Jesus spending the whole night in prayer. Again, Luke is the only evangelist who mentions this night of prayer. The object of this communion was also evidently connected with the choice that He was about to make, "when it was day" Lk.6.13. He would choose from among His disciples those men who were to be specially set apart, whom He would name apostles. Was the Lord praying for guidance as to whom He should choose? Surely, since He knew all things, He was praying for those whom He would choose.
If He, as the Son of God, prior to making great decisions such as the choice of His apostles, would give Himself to earnest intercession, how much more do we need to do the same?
"And it came to pass, as He was alone praying, His disciples were with Him: and He asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am?" Lk.9.18.
The Lord had just miraculously fed "about five thousand men" v.14, as Luke puts it, with the apparently meagre supply of "five loaves and two fishes" v.16. Now from the multitude, He resorts to a place of solitude, "He was alone praying", though "His disciples were with Him". The disciples were evidently near at hand, but He was engaged in private prayer to His Father; indeed, the word "alone" may be rendered "in private".
It is not recorded that the Lord Jesus ever prayed with His disciples. He prayed for them, He prayed in their presence and He taught them to pray, but His own prayer life was distinct. It should be noted that when He taught His disciples to "say, Our Father ..." Matt.6.9, He was not including Himself in the possessive pronoun "Our".
Again, we are not told what He prayed, but that He prayed. Nevertheless, now He is about to disclose to His disciples the fact that He was to be slain, "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day" Lk 9.22. Did He pray for these disciples who were to publicly testify for Him?
However, having spent time alone in prayer, He then asks His disciples, "Whom say the people that I am?" It ought to be carefully noted that when the Lord asks questions, it is not because He does not know the answers, for He Himself is omniscient. His purpose in posing such questions was invariably to draw out from His hearers their own thoughts and feelings. This is evident here, for the Lord Jesus then asks the disciples themselves, "But whom say ye that I am?" Lk.9.20. Peter confidently confesses Him to be "the Christ of God", the Anointed, the promised Messiah. We ourselves assuredly affirm, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" Matt.16.16.
PRAYING IN THE MOUNTAIN (2)
"And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering" Lk.9.28,29.
The purpose for His ascending the mountain was that He might pray. On this occasion He took with Him those three favoured disciples, Peter, James and John. These disciples had already witnessed His raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Lk.8.51-56; later, He was to take "with him Peter and James and John" further into the garden of Gethsemane, having left the eight, when He "began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy" Mk.14.33.
Once again we are not told the substance of the prayer of the Lord Jesus upon the mountain; however, bearing in mind that "there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias" and that they "spake of His decease [or His exodus] which He should accomplish at Jerusalem" Lk.9.30,31, there can be little doubt that He was speaking to His Father about His pending sufferings at Calvary.
It was "as He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering." His face is mentioned first and then His raiment. As Moses came down from mount Sinai, having talked with the Lord, we are told that "when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone" Ex. 34.30. However, we must distinguish the reflected glory of God's presence in Moses' face from the personal, effulgent glory of the Lord Jesus Himself. We should bear in mind that the glory that was displayed on the mount of transfiguration was the manifestation not only of what He shall be, but also of what He intrinsically is. This radiant glory shone through His very garments; they became "white and glistering [dazzling, R.V.]". Peter, recalling this event, writes, we "were eyewitnesses of His majesty" 2Pet.1.16; whilst John, looking back, says, "we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father" Jn.1.14.
It was as Christ prayed that "the fashion of His countenance was altered [lit. became other]". And what of ourselves? Paul writes, "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" 2Cor.3.18.
THANKING THE FATHER
"In that hour Jesus rejoiced in Spirit, and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight. All things are delivered to Me of My Father: and no man knoweth Who the Son is, but the Father; and Who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him" Lk.10.21,22.
Although Luke is the Gospel of the "Man of sorrows", yet it is a Gospel of joy and praise. In the circumstances of Jesus of Nazareth there were sorrows, however, in His spirit there was exultation. So here we read, "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit"; timing is all-important in Luke's narrative of the movements of Christ. He had pronounced "Woe" upon those cities that had rejected Him. However, the Lord had appointed seventy disciples and He had "sent them ... before His face into every city and place, whither He Himself would come" Lk.10.1. The seventy had now "returned with joy"; they had experienced the power of the Lord's name, "Lord, even the devils [demons] are subject unto us through Thy name" Lk.10.17. The Lord rejoices with them.
In this prayer of thanksgiving, He addresses the Father in an intimate way, but He also gives to Him the highest title of power and majesty in the universe, "Lord of heaven and earth". He gives thanks to the Father for those whose eyes had been opened to the values of the things which He taught. From the worldly-wise these things were hidden, "Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent [intelligent]". But to "babes", those who in simplicity were willing to listen and to learn, His mysteries were unfolded, "and hast revealed them unto babes". The reason for this lay in the Father's sovereign will, "even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight".
The rejoicing and thanksgiving to the Father continue in the following verse. The whole scope of the Divine purposes and plans has been committed into the hands of the Son, "All things are delivered to Me of My Father". Only the Father knows the Son, "no man knoweth Who the Son is, but the Father"; there are certain things concerning the Son that are inscrutable as far as we are concerned. It is wonderful to appreciate that out of the knowledge that the Son has of the Father, He is willing to reveal it to whomsoever He wills, "and Who the Father is, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him".
PRAYING IN A CERTAIN PLACE
"And it came to pass, that, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught His disciples" Lk.11.1.
The Lord Jesus "was praying in a certain place"; we are not told the specific location, but the words seem to imply that "Jesus ofttimes resorted thither" Jn.18.2. On this occasion, the content of His prayer is not recorded. "When He ceased"; this phrase suggests that the disciples waited until He had concluded His prayer. Who would interrupt such communion of the Son with the Father?
The Lord Jesus is the supreme example of a Man of prayer, as He is of every virtue and grace. His praying prompted others to pray. The disciples felt their need to pray; they were also stirred to it by the fact that "John also taught his disciples" to pray. We have no other record of John the Baptist having taught his disciples to pray, but the evidence given here is all that is needed. John himself was evidently a man of prayer and his followers learned from his example.
"His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray"; they thus acknowledged His Lordship and at this time the disciples felt their need of prayer. They did not say, "Teach us how to pray"; the emphasis is not upon some method, nor upon a subject for prayer, nor, indeed, upon a form of words to be used, but rather upon the act of praying. It is possible to understand what the Scriptures teach concerning prayer and thus to know how to pray and yet not to be a praying man or woman.
Although here, as has been acknowledged, the disciples said, "teach us to pray", nevertheless, the request, no doubt, included both the fact of praying and also the method. For the Lord graciously acceded to their request and gave them a pattern for prayer. As James M. Flanigan writes, "Generally there were certain features which should mark their prayers. There should be brevity with beauty, simplicity with sincerity, intimacy with dignity, intelligence with reverence, and all in a spirit of dependence with intentions of obedience".
PRAYING FOR SIMON
"And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" Lk.22.31,32.
It is "the Lord" Who gives the warning, "Simon, Simon, behold [arresting his attention], Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat". The significant double use of his earlier, natural name is to be noted. Although the Lord addressed Simon, the word "you" is plural, suggesting that Satan's desires were after all the apostles at this time. The word "desired" is an intensified form of the verb "to ask" and may be rendered "demanded". There would shortly be a Satanic attack, so severe that the Lord describes it as a sifting. All of these disciples, failing though they were, were not chaff (Judas Iscariot was not present); they were Christ's genuine wheat. It should be understood that such sifting by Satan himself is an experience few believers will have encountered.
It is a great comfort to know that Christ Himself is aware of such an attack before it takes place. He had already been interceding for Simon, "But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not [i.e. fail not utterly, or finally]". The prayer of the Lord Jesus was a perfect plea before His Father that was answered. Simon did face Satan; he did not escape the trial. His courage failed, but not his faith.
"Peter" (what he was according to the Divine calling), as he is addressed in v.34, was restored to fellowship with his Lord: as a disciple he was "converted" and through his oral teaching and written ministry, he was able to "strengthen" his brethren.
We should greatly value the high priestly ministry of Christ, the One Who "ever liveth to make intercession for" us. Even when we are unaware of dangers that lie ahead, He foresees the need and makes provision in advance for our defence.
PRAYING IN THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
"And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless, not My will, but Thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" Lk.22.41-44.
Luke tells us that "He ... went, as He was wont, to the mount of Olives: and His disciples also followed Him" Lk.22.39; he does not mention, as do Matthew and Mark, "a place called [named] Gethsemane". Here we find ourselves on holy ground and we reverently tread with unshod feet. "He was withdrawn from them" [His disciples] or, more literally, "He was drawn away from them" and that by the intensity of His sorrow. It is only Luke who tells us that the distance to which He withdrew was "about a stone's cast". Then we read that He "kneeled down, and prayed"; Matthew records, "He ... fell on His face, and prayed" Matt.26.39, whilst Mark says, "He ... fell on the ground, and prayed" Mk.14.35.
The Holy Spirit, through Luke, does not give us the detail of the three prayers of the Lord Jesus, as we find in Matthew's account, but rather a summary of all in one. "Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me" - these words reveal the sensitivity of His perfect heart shrinking from that which lay ahead. Yet, in facing the cross and all that that would entail, He would have no will of His own, "nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done". The writer to the Hebrews tells of this experience, as follows, "Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from [out of] death, and was heard in that He feared ..." Heb.5.7.
Luke tells us of angelic ministration, "there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him", which presumably refers to a physical strengthening. The same writer records that He agonised in prayer, "And being in an agony"; the thought being that of intense emotion, severe strain and anguish. Perspiring as He prayed, His sweat, as heavy as blood drops, fell down to the ground from His brow. What can be said about the fact that "He prayed more earnestly"? His prayers were always earnest; there was no relaxing in effort, no slacking in commitment. What fervency there was in the prayer life of the Lord Jesus!
We could never enter into the extremities through which the Lord Himself passed. However, Paul says to the Colossian saints, "For I would that ye knew what great conflict [Gk. agon] I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh" Col.2.1. Then he makes the appeal to "all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints" Rom.1.7, "Now I beseech you, brethren ... that ye strive together with me [Gk. sunagonizomai] in your prayers to God for me" Rom.15.30.
PRAYING ON THE CROSS (1)
"Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" Lk.23.34.
This, the first of the seven sayings of the Lord Jesus from the cross, began with the same word of address, as did the last, "Father" Lk.23.46; this blessed Man could speak to God as His Father. The correct use of Divine names and titles is important; here the title "Father" is one of communion. The words "My God, my God" were used by Him when He was sustaining judgment in respect of sin.
"Then said Jesus", at the time when man's sin in rejecting Him and crucifying Him had reached its highest; the verb "said" is in the imperfect tense, which indicates that He kept on saying these words while the soldiers were nailing Him to the cross. The Greek word rendered "forgive" has the meaning "let be", or "hold back"; He was asking the Father to hold back the wrath that His tormentors deserved. Cursing, retaliation and the desire for revenge are natural responses to sufferings wrongfully inflicted by others. However, without a trace of bitterness or the slightest recrimination, the Lord prayed for His executioners; consistent with His own command, "pray for them which despitefully use you" Matt.5.44, the Lord sought for forgiveness for those who were crucifying Him. The "them" and "they" of our verse seem to refer to the soldiers; He presents human ignorance as a consideration in forgiveness, "for they know not what they do". Christ thus fulfilled the prophetic word penned by Isaiah centuries before, "He ... made intercession for the transgressors" Isa.53.12.
PRAYING ON THE CROSS (2)
"And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit: and having said thus, He gave up the ghost" Lk.23.46.
Luke records that the Lord Jesus uttered a loud cry before He commended His spirit to the Father. He concluded His words from the cross just as He had begun, by speaking to His Father. The Lord's last words before He died were taken from Ps.31.5, "Into Thine hand I commit my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth", in which David expressed his unshaken trust in God. Yet the Saviour prefaced the quotation with a form of address which no psalmist would ever have presumed to use in speaking to God, "Father".
The Lord's words were most appropriate. The quotation comprised part of the Jewish evening prayer and it appears to have been the time of evening prayer when the Saviour uttered these very words (cf. Acts 3.1). He calmly concluded His life on earth with the same words with which men concluded their day. Death for Him was entirely voluntary, "I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself" Jn.10.17,18. The One Who had been "delivered into the hands of sinful men" Lk.24.7, now entrusted Himself into the "hands" of the Father.
This word of calm trust has provided many with much comfort in the hour of death. A modification of these words was upon the lips of Stephen as he was being stoned to death, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" Acts 7.59.
We have seen that Luke in his Gospel presents the Lord Jesus as the Son of man, indeed he portrays Him as the perfect Man. But the perfect Man of this Gospel was a dependent Man and Luke draws attention to His prayer life and we have noted that there are more references to the Lord praying in this Gospel than in any of the others.
If the Lord Jesus needed to pray, then surely we need to pray, and the New Testament epistles constantly enjoin us so to do. Thus, we read, "continuing instant in prayer" Rom.12.12; "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" Eph.6.18; "… in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" Phil.4.6; "Continue in prayer" Col.4.2; "Pray without ceasing" 1Thess.5.17. May we respond to these exhortations!