PRAYERS OF CHRIST
1. The Lord's Prayer
2. Christ's Doctrine of Prayer: Sacredness, Importunity, Conditions
3. Prayers Offered by Christ
(1) The High-priestly Prayer
(2) The Prayer in Gethsemane
(3) The Prayers on the Cross
(4) Prayer after the Resurrection
(5) General Conclusions
In the history and doctrine of prayer, nothing is more important than the light shed upon the subject by the prayers of Jesus. These are to be studied in connection with His teaching concerning prayer found in the model of the Lord's Prayer, and general statements and hints to His disciples.
1. The Lord's Prayer:
This model of prayer is given in two forms (Mt 6:9-13; Lk 11:2-4). The differences of form show that exactness of similarity in words is not essential. The prayer includes adoration, supplication for the Kingdom, for personal needs, for forgiveness, for deliverance from temptation and the ascription of glory. It is at once individual and universal; it sets the recognition of divine things first, and yet clearly asserts the ethical and social relations of life.
See LORD'S PRAYER, THE.
2. Christ's Doctrine of Prayer: Sacredness, Importunity, Conditions:
That men should pray is taken for granted (Mt 6:5). Its sacredness is involved in the command for privacy (Mt 6:6); its importunity (Lk 11:5-9; 18:1-8); its necessary conditions of humility, absence of self righteousness (Lk 18:9-14), of display and repetition (Mt 6:7); necessity of faith and a forgiving spirit (Mk 11:24-26); of agreement in social prayer (Mt 18:19); submission to the will of Christ, "in my name" (Jn 14:13).
3. Prayers Offered by Christ:
In Mt 11:25,26 the King James Version, Christ thanks God: "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." This language shows the essence of prayer to be not the mere expression of need and request for what is required, but resort to God. The prayer gives us insight into the deeper experience of the Son with the Father, and His perfect submission to the Father's will, with thanksgiving even for what might seem inexplicable. It thus illustrates the truth that the highest form of prayer is found in the serenity of the soul.
Mt 14:23 narrates the retirement of the Lord to a "mountain apart to pray." No word of what the prayer was is given, but the record is suggestive. Following a day of severe toil and probably excitement, Jesus betakes Himself to prayer. The reality, the true humanity of the Christ, are here revealed. The former prayer may almost be regarded as that of the Son of God addressed to the Father in the sublime communion of the Godhead. This passage emphatically is a prayer-scene of the Son of Man. The association of this incident of prayer in Christ's life with the miracle of walking on the sea (an example of miracle in the person of the Lord Himself, and not performed on another) opens up an interesting question of the relation of the supernatural and the natural. Here perhaps lies an explanation of the true significance of the miraculous. The communion of the Lord with a supreme Father had filled the physical nature of Jesus with spiritual forces which extended the power of the spirit over the material world beyond the limits by which man is bound in his normal and sinful condition (see Lange, Commentary on Mt; Mt 15:36; compare 14:19). Christ's recognition of God as the Giver of food, in thanks at the meal, or "asking a blessing," should be noted as an example which in modern times is largely ignored or followed as a mere formality. But it is significant; it expresses that intense and all-compelling sense of the divine which ever dwelt in Him; of which prayer is an expression, and which is evoked so naturally and becomingly at a social meal. In Mt 17:21, our Lord's reference to prayer as a necessary condition of miraculous power, in the light of Mk 7:34, where "looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him (the deaf man), Ephphatha," may imply His own prayer in connection with the exercise of miraculous energy. This is apparently indicated in Jn 11:41,42, although, as above, it is the expression of the intimate relation between Christ and the Father, which is the essence of prayer, and in which relation He ever exercised the fullest power of God Himself. Mt 19:13 records that little children were brought to Him that He should put His hands on them and pray. That He prayed is not related, but 19:15 relates that He laid His hands on them and, presumably, with the imposition, prayed. The scene is most suggestive, in the light of our Lord's words. In Mt 19:14 and in 26:26 Our Lord blesses the bread or gives thanks at the institution of the Supper, and has set the mode of celebration universally adopted, even giving the term Eucharist ("giving of thanks") to the service.
(1) The High-priestly Prayer.
This prayer (Jn 17) is the special prayer of the Lord, and may be regarded as the sole example furnished by the evangelists of our Lord's method of prayer. The thanksgiving in Mt 11:25 is the only other instance of any extent in the report of the prayers of Jesus, but even that is brief compared to what is here furnished. The fullness of this prayer clearly shows that it was uttered in the hearing of the disciples. Their relation to it is remarkable. Auditors, they yet could not share in it. At the same time, it was a profound revelation to them both of the relation of the Master to God, and the character of the work which He had come to perform, and the part which they were to take in it. John gives us no hint as to the place in which it was spoken; 14:31 indicates a departure from the upper room. But apparently the prayer was offered where the discourses of John 15 and 16 were delivered. It has been suggested by Westcott that some spot in the temple courts was the scene of John 15; 16 and 17. It has been generally supposed that the ornament of the Golden Vine would naturally suggest the figure of the Vine and Branches which our Lord employs. Jn 18:1 shows that the prayer was offered before the Lord and His disciples had passed over the brook Kidron. The determination of the exact spot is certainly impossible, except the probability that the words were spoken in the vicinity of the temple.
The first part of the prayer (Jn 17:1-5) is an expression of profound communion between the Son and the Father, and the prayer that the Father should glorify the Son, but with the supreme end of the Father's own glory. The absolutely unique character of Christ's relation to God is the calm assertion of Jn 17:4. Its consciousness of completeness in the work which He had received from God, impossible for the children of men, marks the supreme nature of the Son of God.
In the second part of the prayer (Jn 17:6-19), our Lord prays for His disciples, to whom He has revealed Himself and His relation to God (Jn 17:7,8). He prays that they may be kept by the Father, and for their unity. Their separation from the world is declared (Jn 17:14), and our Lord prays that they may be kept from the evil that is in the world, which is alien from them as it is from Him.
In the third portion of the prayer Christ's relation to His ultimate followers is referred to. Their unity is sought, not an external unity, but the deep, spiritual unity found by the indwelling of Christ in them and God in Christ. The prayer closes by the declaration that Christ's knowledge of the Father is revealed to His people, and the end and crown of all is to be the indwelling of God's love in man by the dwelling of Christ in him.
This prayer is unique, not merely among the prayers of our Lord, but also among the prayers of humanity. While it is distinctly a petition, it is at the same time a communion. In one or two places our Lord expresses His will, thus setting Himself upon a level with God. The fact of this prayer of triumph in which every petition is virtually a declaration of the absolute certainty of its realization, immediately preceding the prayer of Gethsemane, is both difficult and suggestive. The anomaly is a powerful argument for the historic reality. The explanation of these contrasted moods is to be found in the depth of our Lord's nature, and especially in the complete consistency of His dual nature with the spheres to which each nature belongs. He is most divine; He is most human. In the fullness of the reach of the prayer and its calm confidence, the believer may find a ceaseless and inexhaustible source of comfort and encouragement. Attention might be called to the remarkable forecast of the history and experience of the church which the prayer furnishes.
(2) The Prayer in Gethsemane.
This is recorded by the three Synoptics (Mt 26:36-44; Mk 14:22-40; Lk 22:39-46), and is probably referred to in Heb 5:7. Brief though the prayer is, it exhibits most clearly recognition of God's infinite power, a clear object sought by the prayer, and perfect submission to God's will. All the elements of prayer, as it can be offered by man, are here except the prayer for forgiveness. It is to be noted that the prayer was three times repeated. This is not to be regarded as inconsistent with our Lord's prohibition of repetition. It was vain repetition which was forbidden. The intensity of the prayer is expressed by its threefold utterance (compare Paul's prayer in regard to the thorn in 2 Cor 12:8).
(3) The Prayers on the Cross.
In Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34, Christ uses the prayer of Ps 22:1. In the moment of complete desolation, the Sufferer claimed His unbroken relationship with God. This is the victory of the atoning sacrifice. Lk 23:34 records the prayer of intercession for those who crucified Him; in 23:46 is the calm committal of His spirit to the Father. Prayer here again assumes its highest form in the expression of recognition and trust. Thus the three prayers on the cross not only reveal the intimate relation of our Lord to the Father, but they also illustrate prayer such as man may offer. They represent supplication, intercession, communion. Prayer thus expresses our relation to God, to others, to ourselves; our trust, our love, our need. In all things He was made like unto His brethren, except without sin (see POINTS). His prayers on the cross illustrate His high-priestly office. It rises at that intense crisis to its supreme manifestation and activity.
(4) Prayer after the Resurrection.
It is to be observed that after His resurrection there is no record of any prayer, offered by Christ. In the supper at Emmaus He "blessed" the bread (Lk 24:30); and the ascension took place in the midst of blessing (Lk 24:51), suggestive of the course of the church as ever beneath the benediction of the Lord, to be ended only at the final consummation. The act of eating the fish and honeycomb (Lk 24:43) seems to have been unaccompanied by any act of specifically religious form. Mark, with characteristic regard to details, records Christ's "looking up to heaven" (Mk 6:41; 7:34); Jn 11:41 refers to a similar act, and adds the Lord's words of thanksgiving that God had heard Him (see also Jn 17:1). The gesture was usual in association with Christ's prayers; it is appropriate and suggestive. Luke narrates that Christ prayed at His baptism (Lk 3:21); that He spent a night in prayer before choosing the Twelve (Lk 6:12,13); that the transfiguration was preceded by prayer (Lk 9:29); and records the prayer in the garden (Lk 22:41-45). The third evangelist thus in addition to the notes of our Lord's prayers in retirement, which the other evangelists record, adds these instances of the special relation of prayer to events of critical importance.
(5) General Conclusions.
The following conclusions as to prayer may be drawn from the records of Christ' prayers: (1) Prayer is the highest exercise of man's spiritual nature. (2) It is natural to the soul even in perfect accord with God. (3) It is not only the expression of need, the supply of which is sought of God, but by the example of Christ it is the highest expression of trust, submission and union with God. (4) It is to be used both in solitude and in society; it is personal and intercessory. (5) It may be accompanied by the plea of Christ's name, and for Christ's sake. These are the laws which should direct it; that is to say, it should be based upon the merit and the intercession of Christ, and should be addressed to God under the limitations of the Kingdom of the Lord and His purposes for good, both for the interest of the suppliant and others, under the conditions of the interest of the whole Kingdom.
L. D. Bevan