Did you ever pray before a big test in school? I used to pray before basketball games in high school. I prayed I’d score points or at least not be embarrassed by a bad play! As I grew older I found other things to pray about. What job would I have? Should I go to college or join the military? Who should I marry? Choices, it seemed, were always before me.
Jesus learned about prayer at home and in the Hebrew school of His youth. He grew up with many of the same challenges we face, even though the times were vastly different.
I’m pretty sure He behaved well in school, but who did He sit with at lunchtime? How did He influence His friends or handle bullies? Judging from His later life, I suspect prayer was a part of His life.
As Jesus grew older, the circumstances of His birth and God’s plan for Him began to take shape more clearly. Choices were before Him also.
40 DAYS AND NIGHTS
As a young man Jesus went to see John the Baptist at the Jordan River. There He would stand up publicly to accept God’s plan for His life. After that day, the first thing He did was to go into the wilderness to pray and fast.
This wasn’t just a quick prayer time, a quiet sunset reflection and then back to His home. The Bible tells us Jesus stayed there for 40 days and nights, praying and dealing with temptations! The New Testament gives plenty of examples of Jesus praying, but perhaps His most famous personal prayer was in that garden, the night before He was going to be crucified.
Jesus knew about Roman crosses. His hometown of Nazareth was not far from a city named Sepphoris. When Jesus was a young boy, there was a Jewish revolt against Roman rule in that city.
Rome knew how to deal with revolution. They lined the roadsides in and out of Sepphoris with two thousand crosses, each one bearing a rebel. The empty crosses remained there for years as reminders of what happened to those who challenged Roman rule. You can be sure that story was well known among boys who grew up in Nazareth, a short walk away.
A DESPERATE PRAYER
Jesus’ desperate prayer that night in the garden was about His torture and death. Jesus once told the same disciples He now found asleep, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Our bodies are linked inseparably to this earth—it is the stuff we are made of. So, one part of Jesus’ struggle in the garden was about His humanity—His desire to avoid torture and death in His physical body. But also, Jesus’ course was set! The plan to bring salvation was never in danger in the garden. That choice had been decided in eternity past; indeed it was the very reason Jesus left Heaven and came to Earth. He was not there to avoid the cross, terrible as it was; it was His destination.
I believe Jesus’ hardest struggle was the sin that would be laid upon Him on the cross. Jesus had never known sin or its guilt. Now on the cross all the sin of man and the death sentence for sin would be placed upon Jesus as He suffered.
His sleepy disciples had fled after His arrest in the garden. Peter would deny even knowing Him, cursing around a crowded campfire. And now He would be nailed to a cross, taking on our sin and experiencing the isolation and desperation that comes with that.
RUN OR FIGHT?
I find that in my worst times of struggle, I also seem to feel alone; sometimes feeling like I am trapped in situations or circumstances that I can’t control. I often turn last to prayer, after my own struggles have left me buried in whatever difficulty I could not resolve. I think I’m slow to pray because in my past I have been guilty before God. I am so thankful that Jesus promised He would never leave us alone. He clearly said that the Holy Spirit would take His place as our Counselor and Guide. He would be within us because of our faith in Him.
Still, had I been in Jesus’ situation, about to be arrested and put to a torturous, pain-filled death, I certainly would have tried to run.
Or perhaps lacking the option to flee, I would have chosen to fight. After all, it hadn’t even been a week since the triumphant ride into Jerusalem, when the crowd shouted His name and proclaimed Him King and Messiah. Surely He could have called for a revolt, gathered His support and tried to fight.
Even if I had known about Sepphoris, I might still have tried. That would be me, in the flesh, trying to solve my own problem and save my own life.
THY WILL BE DONE
It remains tempting and puzzling to this day that as followers of Christ we still try to find our own solutions by ignoring God. Until finally, we come struggling in prayer with God, asking Him to work miracles or change people and situations.
The temptation our Enemy still uses is to tell us over again that what God says is not really true. The apple isn’t poisoned, and we know best what is right for us. He will try to convince us that we are alone. Over the years, temptation may be better disguised or complex, but it still entices us to be disobedient to God by choosing our own way.
Jesus set the example in surrendering His life, fulfilling His own words to His disciples: “Greater love has no one, than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, NIV).
It is a proper reversal of roles that we, as followers, are called to lay down our own solutions, choices, and decisions to surrender to a Heavenly Father who knows and loves us better than anyone else. It’s up to us to surrender what we know to be the perfect will and purpose of God in our lives.
HE IS RISEN!
You’re likely to see flowers in a garden, but did you ever consider the two flowers that Jesus referred to Himself as? “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys”(Songs 2:1, NIV).
THE ROSE OF SHARON
The “rose of Sharon” is a complimentary term intended to express a certain beauty that the people of Solomon’s day would have recognized. Our living Savior is the pinnacle of beauty and splendor. As Peter said, “We saw His majestic splendor with our own eyes” (2 Peter 1:16). The majesty of God cannot be surpassed or comprehended.
“Sharon” means a level place or plain. The Sharon Valley was a wild and fertile plain that grew a host of beautiful flowers. However, the rose as we know it would not have been common there. Many scholars believe this rose is the cistus or rock-rose that bloomed in parts of Palestine. It was well known for its soothing aroma and pain-relieving qualities. Our Living Lord, the Great Physician, has been compared to such a rose as this, as He came to heal the physically ill, bind the broken-hearted, and restore the spiritually sick.
LILY OF THE VALLEYS
The beautiful white lily is a symbol of purity. Though Jesus was “truly and properly God and truly and properly man” (Doctrine 4), He never sinned. The lily’s drooping head that never thrusts itself forward reminds us of the humility of Jesus. Yet growing over a meter tall, the lily speaks to the height and reverence of Christ coming to save us from our sin.
I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.
I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
I’d rather be true to His holy name.
He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.
(Oscar Bernadotte, 1888)
Major Charles Kelly | Pastoral Care Officer | Territorial Headquarters | Eastern Territory