Sunday, September 14, 2008

Jesus Prays (so should we)

The miraculous story of Christ supernaturally feeding the thousands with only five loaves and two fish abruptly ends with a word familiar to Mark's Gospel – “straightway”. We read in verse 45:

And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go unto the other side before [him] unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people.

We’ve hardly had time to catch our breath from what has just transpired under the setting Galilean sun when Christ dismisses the massive multitude and orders the apostles to grab a boat and set sail. One cannot help but wonder why Christ now decided to send the crowd away. Initially the apostles were the ones saying, “Send them away”, but now it is Christ who wants the throng of people to disperse. Why now?

The Apostle John provides insight into Christ’s rationale in his record of this event. The beloved disciple wrote in John 6:14:

Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.

This is a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-22 where God told Moses:

I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

This seems like a good thing. The people of Israel had finally realized that Jesus was their Messiah. This should be a time of rejoicing, but John adds this in v. 15:

When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.

Jesus sent the people away, even though they properly identified Him as the Prophet of whom Moses had written. He did this because the people only desired a Messiah who would meet their physical needs; they were not concerned with their spiritual need for repentance (Mark 1:15). Later, when the crowd caught up to Jesus, He said to them, “You are seeking me because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.” They desired an earthly rather than eternal redemption. They wanted a Messiah who would heal their hurts and fill their bellies but make no demands of them.

Jesus is not that Messiah.

He would perfectly fulfill the Father’s will according to the Father’s timetable which had been determined from eternity past. It was not time for the kingdom to be established on earth, but rather in the hearts of men and women who would humble themselves before the Lord, repent of their sins, and follow Him. Instead of falling down before Him as sinners in need of mercy, the crowd would “take him by force to make him a king.” Jesus would have nothing to do with that. He would not be made to do anything, much less be forced by unrepentant people with selfish motives to be their king. Thus, “He sent away the people.”

Jesus did not and does not want shallow commitments or minimal devotion.
John MacArthur writes:

Jesus does not acquiesce to whims or fancies. He comes to no man on that man’s terms. People cannot manipulate Him for their own selfish ends. Some modern evangelists, in an attempt to be “seeker-friendly”, present Jesus to unbelievers as a quick fix for felt needs like health, wealth, and self-esteem, superficially marketing Him as everything unbelievers want. But this turns the Gospel message upside down. People do not come to Christ on their terms, so that He can heal their broken relationships, make them successful in life, and help them feel good about themselves. Instead, they must come to Him on His terms. Jesus graciously loves believers and grants then a rich legacy of joy, peace, and comfort. But at the same time, he calls sinners to mourn over their sin, repent, and acknowledge Him as sovereign Lord, to whom they owe complete obedience. He withdraws from them who seek Him for their own self-serving ends, just as He did from the crowd that sought to make Him king on their own terms.

But why did Jesus send away the disciples? For two reasons, and the first flows from the above. Most likely the Twelve were thrilled with the idea of Jesus being made king. Their understanding of the kingdom was immature; too nationally and politically focused. No doubt they were thinking, “Yes! Finally, after two years the people see that Jesus is the Messiah!” I’m sure that they were confused, and maybe even a little disheartened by Jesus’ dispersing the people at this point.

The second reason Jesus sent the disciples away was to teach them a lesson on faith. For much of the last two years they have been with Jesus night and day, through thick and thin. Just recently He had sent them forth two by two so that they might proclaim the Gospel. Soon Jesus would be physically removed from them, and they needed to be prepared for the work that lay ahead of them once He had departed.

The Twelve were not keen on leaving Jesus. They wanted to be where He was, and that is the desire of every true disciple; to be with Jesus. They did not want to be separated, and they must have put up an argument for Mark says that Jesus “constrained his disciples to get into the ship.” This was not the course of action that they wanted to take, but it’s what Christ commanded. It’s what He called them to do; so, they obeyed.

While His infant church set sail on the Sea of Galilee, headed for Capernaum by way of Bethsaida, we read that Jesus: “When he had sent them away, departed into a mountain to pray.” Yet again Christ sets the example for His followers in the area of prayer. Throughout this book and within this particular story Jesus is seen “coming apart” for prayer. It was the reason for the planned retreat in v. 31. In v. 41 He asked the blessing on the food He miraculously served to the thousands. Here He is privately communing with the Father following a long day of ministry and temptation. Make no mistake, the crowd's enthusiastic desire to make Him king was a repeat of the wilderness temptation of gaining the Crown without enduring the Cross. Jesus was one with the Father; still He modeled Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing.” In times of crisis He took to the mountain or the garden, and to His knees.

I cannot feed thousands from a sack lunch like Jesus did. I cannot walk on water, command nature with a word, or heal the sick. I cannot speak with the same inherent authority with which Jesus spoke. My preaching authority comes from Him, it is not my own. I am able, however, to pray as Jesus prayed. I am able to regularly spend time down on my knees in prayer.

We need to make time for private prayer. We must pray before the work, during the work, and after the work; indeed, prayer is the work. Do not just admire and talk about Christ’s pattern of private prayer. Imitate Him. Follow that pattern. Encourage and enable others to follow that pattern. For instance, not all mothers can send their little disciples away in order to have time alone with God. Not all husbands realize that their wives need such times, as they do themselves. We must plan for and enjoy seasons of private communion with the Father, and do what we can to help others do the same.

On a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee Jesus Christ knelt alone in prayer. Down below, on the water, His infant church was beginning to struggle. We may be sure that Jesus included His young church in His prayers that evening. That is an image which we should etch upon our hearts and minds because it brilliantly portrays a marvelous spiritual truth: Jesus prays for His people. He prays for us!
1 Timothy 2:5 – “For [there is] one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”

Romans 8:34 – “Who [is] he that condemneth? [It is] Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”

Hebrews 7:25 – “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

Luke 22:31-32 – “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.”

John 17:20 – “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word”
One of the most blessed and assuring truths of sacred Scripture is that the Lord Jesus Christ is in glory praying for His storm-tossed churches and people. At times it may seem that He is far removed from us and unaware of our pressing needs and concerns, but that is never the case!

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