The Prayers of Easter
What is the subject of your most fervent prayer lately? When did you last pray? How many times did you pray about it? How did you feel after you prayed?
The lessons of Easter are lessons on prayer. From the cursing of the Fig tree after Jesus first arrived in Jerusalem to the last four prayers Jesus prayed hanging on the cross; one observes that Jesus’ life on earth was all about prayer.
The last night Jesus spent with His disciples contained the most poignant prayers Jesus ever let us see. Jesus taught them about prayer by praying in front of them. It wasn’t an object lesson, there were no parables told. Isn’t that how you learn about prayer—by praying?
In the Upper Room the disciples prayed several prayers from their traditional Jewish Passover Celebration. Jesus also prayed His heartfelt prayer to the Father about how the world would change from this point forward. That night He prayed for Himself that His life and death would glorify God and called on God to make His work come to fruition. He prayed for His disciples, the friends who shared His ministry, and He prayed for you and me, all future followers to make an impact on this world. Found in John 17, it is Jesus’ longest recorded prayer.
After singing some hymns from Psalms, the disciples left and walked the short distance to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed, rather than slept. He called James, John and Peter to come away and pray with Him.
It is this prayer that utterly demonstrates what prayer can do for a soul. Jesus went to this time of prayer, greatly distressed in His soul. It even showed on the outside as it is reported that He sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:44). Though the three who should be praying for themselves that they would not give into temptation were sleeping, Jesus was praying. He was calling out to His Father in prayer. He prayed once and came to the others to find them sleeping. They had not learned His lesson of the importance of prayer; it didn’t discourage Him. He went back to pray some more. A second time He left His focus on prayer to check on His friends and warned them that they too needed to be praying, then He returned to His prayer. Jesus shows us through these breaks in prayer how to keep on praying until we get the answer we need. Jesus didn’t stop praying until He was ready, fully equipped to go to the cross. At the end of His last session of prayer, He came and woke up His disciples and told them it was time to go and be arrested (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:40-46).
Four of the seven sayings from the cross are prayers from the lips of Jesus to the ears of His loving Father. Jesus’ strength to leave His friends, go to the cross and endure its torture came through prayer. He first prayed that God would forgive us for doing this heinous act of crucifying our Savior (Luke 23:34). The most mysterious of all His prayers from the cross was His prayer of anguish when He prayed, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34) He cried out triumphantly in prayer, “It is finished” (John 19:30). And His final breath was a prayer, “Father, into Your hands I commit my Spirit” (Luke 23:46). Have you learned the lesson of prayer? There are answers that come to us only as the fruit of persevering prayer. Jesus told us that and Jesus demonstrated that.
Bonus Tea Time for Your Soul Lenten Section:
Jesus Knows, Do You?
Tuesday, March 4
We might think we know ourselves, but Jesus really knows what is going on inside of us. We may wonder why we can't stop doing that one thing we promised we would stop. Whether that one thing is eating the wrong food, yelling at our husband, getting mad while driving, we have good intentions that don't work out. Jesus knows why.
You would think on the eve of Jesus’ big night—the night before He will do what has never been done: pay for the sins of the world—that Jesus would be thinking of His need for prayer support. That was not on Jesus’ mind at all. Rather, He was helping others know what to pray about. He had covered Himself with prayer—and it worked. At the same time, He was trying to get the others to know what to do.
I found it interesting to look at the way Luke’s gospel records what happened to the disciples during that prayer time in Gethsemane. We know what happened to Jesus. He entered that garden in a sorrow so encompassing knowing that it could lead to His death. Luke’s gospel tells us that He sweat drops of blood as He prayed. After prayer He got up ready to face the suffering that was His destiny.
What amazes me is that in the midst of His personal crisis He is concerned for His disciples. He wants them to be prepared through prayer. He knows what is going on in their lives and He knows that prayer is the answer to their problems.
Luke 22:45-46 says, “When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. Why are you sleeping? He asked them. Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Prayer accomplished what it is designed to accomplish in Jesus. Jesus took His anxiety to God in prayer and was ministered to through His effort. He encouraged His disciples to pray for themselves and receive this same spiritual support that they were going to need. But they weren't praying.
Rather than follow Jesus’ instructions to pray, the disciples fell asleep. I've got to think that the disciples weren't trying to do the opposite of what Jesus asked them. He was their leader, He was the Messiah, and they had left everything to follow Him. I think they were just as bewildered by their own lack of prayer as Jesus. In fact, Scripture says that Jesus could clearly see why they weren't praying. He knew that they were exhausted from sorrow. He understood what was going on in their lives better than they.
This is why He asked them, “Why are you sleeping?” You've been told to pray and yet you are sleeping. I know what is going on inside of you, do you? Perhaps Jesus asked them this question so they would ask themselves. He doesn't seem to need the answer, but He needs them to know the answer. They needed to understand why they weren't praying in order to free themselves to start praying.
Scripture doesn't tell us if they ever prayed that night. The next action we witness is running away. At some point they finally prayed and their prayers turned them into men of valor who obeyed Jesus’ command and carried the gospel to the uttermost parts of the world, even under threat of their own lives.
Jesus knows what is going on in your life. He knows what is blocking you from following Him the way you want. Take the time to pray and listen to Him; He will show you too.
The Great BUT
Wednesday, March 5
Jesus never promised that following Him would mean protection from all suffering. In fact, He clearly stated that if we follow Him, we must pick up our cross (Mark 8:34). By saying this, Jesus was making it clear that we are to follow Him even when we face hard times.
Life has suffering. Some of our suffering is brought on because of our own poor choices. Some of our suffering is because Satan wants to use his evil reign he brought into the world through sin to damage us. This was the case for Peter. The night before Jesus was crucified and died, Jesus told Peter that Satan had focused his evil energies on destroying him.
Jesus warned Peter that Satan had asked to sift him as wheat. Now, I have no idea what it means to be sifted like wheat. The idea of being sifted like wheat cannot be good. In Peter's case the sifting was a soul sifting, not a body sifting. His confident loyalty was going to be tested. His determination never to leave Jesus would be tested and he would fail miserably. This experience would totally transform the way he saw himself.
This is where the BUT comes in! Right after Jesus told Peter this, He said, “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). This is a huge BUT. This is the but that trumps Satan's plans. The but is prayer! We face suffering yes, but we don't have to face it alone. We have prayer. Prayer is the great un-sifter of life.
Jesus was confident that even though Peter would be taken down by Satan's schemes he would turn back and then strengthen his brothers. The sifting by Satan did much to advance the kingdom. The experience of defeat brought Peter closer to the place of seeing that he was unable to love and serve Jesus the way he longed to.
Never underestimate the power of prayer over the suffering in your life! Never forget the One who is praying for you. Jesus told Peter, “But I have prayed for you.” Jesus doesn't just pray for Peter, but He prays for you too! Romans 8:34: “Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died---more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
As you face the suffering that enters your life, never forget the great BUT that will get you through.
Are You in Error?
Thursday, March 6
During the last week of Jesus’ life He was questioned about the resurrection by the Sadducees. Jesus began His response to them with these words; “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” It is exciting to think that millions of people have seen The Passion of the Christ movie by Mel Gibson. It is important that we do not let a movie or the traditions of man replace our knowledge of the Scriptures. We don't want to be in error because we do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. In fact, personally knowing the Scriptures is the power of God in your life.
It is clear to me that Mel Gibson and his co-author were diligent students of the Scriptures when they wrote this screenplay. As I've looked up passages to learn the truth about different scenes from the movie, it has become apparent that they knew their subject. In fact, I had never taken notice that Judas hung himself after Jesus had been condemned. The movie portrays the actions of Judas in this regard in chronological order, and helped provide a detail I had missed through my many years of reading over this event.
I enjoy reading a meditation of the Stations of the Cross by Henri Nouwen during Lent. When I first started reading this meditation, I often took things for granted. For example, in the Stations of the Cross, three of the stations are of Jesus falling beneath the weight of the cross. I knew that the station of the Veil of Veronica was from a Christian tradition and not in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but I thought it was written somewhere between these four gospels that Jesus fell three different times. Yet, when I went back to find Scriptures to enrich my meditation of these three falls, I realized that it doesn't even say that Jesus fell under the weight of the cross once. The Stations of the Cross meditation is the efforts of man to enrich our understanding of the events of those last six hours of Jesus’ life. They inspired me to read about the events from Scripture. It was Mel Gibson’s personal meditations of the Stations of the Cross that inspired the movie The Passion of the Christ.
I encourage you not to be in error like the Sadducees because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. A movie, a meditation, a weekly devotional are not enough for you to know the Scriptures personally, not to mention, the power of God. You need to be in the Word yourself. My tradition during Lent is to read the four gospels and all the material that contain the last week of Jesus’ life beginning at dinner in Bethany until His ascension into heaven after His resurrection. I love meditating on Jesus’ last week of life during Lent as it opens the doors to deeper appreciation and celebration of Easter. I encourage you not to be in error. Know the Scriptures and the Power of God. I hope you will review the Scriptures and create your own movie in your mind honoring your Savior Who gave Himself for you.
Jesus is Truth
Friday, March 7
Some of the most striking scenes of the events of Jesus' trials and crucifixion are the conversations between Jesus and Pilate. If you recall, Jesus was purposefully silent during His mock trials. It's not that Jesus didn't have a lot to say. It is that He spoke only when His words would have meaning. His silences are just as important as His words. When He was sent to King Herod, He didn't speak at all.
Jesus did speak to Pilate. Pilate is only remembered to this day because he was the one who crucified Jesus. You and I would probably would not know who he was if He had not been the ruler who sent Jesus to His death. Pilate asked Jesus many questions, but there is one that reveals how close Pilate was to understanding Jesus.
Recall this portion of Jesus' conversation with Pilate:
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” Pilate asked.
With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 18:37-38).
Pilate asked the question “What is truth?” when Truth was sitting right in front of Him. He was so close and yet so far. You see, if we do not recognize that Jesus is truth, we do not see Him. Pilate could see that Jesus was innocent and wrongly accused. He tried unsuccessfully to persuade the leaders not to ask him to send an innocent man to death, but he still missed ultimate Truth. So close, and yet so far.
Jesus is Truth. Knowing this is essential to knowing Jesus. When you know Jesus is Truth, it softens the cruel injustices that we live with every day. There will be many times in life that you cannot understand the exact workings of God's plan, yet you can trust the Truth.
There is much evidence of misunderstanding in the events of the first Easter. The Pharisees didn't understand that Jesus was the Son of God. The disciples didn't understand that Jesus came here to die on a cross during Passover and rise again. The women, who were the first witnesses to Jesus' resurrection, didn't understand that Jesus had risen from the dead, they thought His body had been stolen. And, Pilate didn't understand the answer to His question “What is truth?”
In your own life, you have faced many situations that you don't fully understand. You can find hope when you find Jesus to be Truth. You can have at least that much understanding in your trial. You know that Jesus is Truth, and there will come a day when it all makes sense.
That Jesus is Truth disrupts the truth I want to make of my life. Because Jesus is Truth, I must face the lies that I try to create in my life that I am a good person and I try to do the right things. Jesus' truth blows that out of the water. Pilate asked What is truth? Unless I accept Jesus as Truth, I too will be lost and ashamed, never able to wash the blood of guilt from my hands.
Jesus Christ — Your Bridegroom
Saturday, March 8
This is a name of Jesus that is more natural for women to relate to than men. From the time we were little girls, we have been dreaming about our weddings. My sisters, cousins, friends and I would have very serious deliberations about the man we would marry. Each of us picked out certain physical characteristics he had to have. At the time of these conversations most of us weren't even talking to the boys our age, but deep inside each of us wanted to belong with our own special man. We understood little of what love and marriage was all about, but we knew that we wanted it.
That intrinsic need to belong with a strong protective male figure is brought to life in our relationship with Jesus. He is our bridegroom. As Revelation 19:7 proclaims, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” When you see Jesus as your bridegroom, do you realize that He is busy getting the wedding feast ready for you? Do you understand that He takes care of everything? He provides the wedding dress—His robes of righteousness. Your only responsibility as the bride is to make yourself ready.
Jesus told us in one of His last parables on earth how our waiting for Him to come for us is like the story of 10 virgins waiting for a bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13). Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The wise virgins were the ones who were ready when the bridegroom came.
Engagement periods can be long or short. Many times couples are separated because of jobs, school or other reasons during an engagement. When you responded to Jesus' offer of salvation, you entered into your time of engagement to Him. He wants so much more for you than what you have here on earth. He wants to totally free you from all possibilities of sin. He doesn't want you to live eternally on this earth in its present condition. He has made a promise to you that when the time is right, He will come for you. He has left you for a time because He is preparing a place for you to be with Him in complete delight. He is busy getting ready for the wedding feast of the Lamb and making an eternal home for you. What are you busy doing? He longs for you to be busy inviting others to become His bride too. He wants you to be waking up every day wondering if this will be the day that your bridegroom comes for you.
When you think of the name of Jesus as your Bridegroom, you remember the promises that are made and you realize that your response to Him should be as one betrothed, only waiting for the day to take place. Write a letter to Him today. How would you write to Him while you wait for your Wedding Feast? You might start out expressing similar thoughts to these:
My Loving, Wonderful, Perfect Bridegroom:
How amazing it is to be betrothed to you. When you chose me it was the most amazing experience of my life. You have invited me to come and live with you in a perfect heaven! I know our life together for eternity will be more happy, content, satisfying than I could ever imagine. I literally cannot wait for the day You come back for me and we experience together the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. I am so in awe of you!
I have so much to tell you about what is going on down here. I have been busy getting ready for You. I have been.....
What would you have to tell your bridegroom about the ways you have been getting ready for His return? Think about it this week.
The Women of Easter
Sunday, March 9
Everything about the Cross of Christ is extraordinary. The Gospel of Mark gives us one unique insight into the way Jesus prayed to His Father during the events of the Cross that should enliven our own prayer lives. It was a daring and intimate prayer. It was the prayer that changed the world. It was an example for you and me to follow.
The prayer took place in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was after Jesus rocked the disciples’ world by beginning a very traditional dinner in an unconventional way. Before the first glass of wine was sipped, he put on an apron and washed their feet. Imagine how long it takes to wash at least twenty-four feet, one by one. But He did it. He took the time to wash each toe. Only Peter spoke up in opposition to this action. I imagine everyone else sat in awkward silence as Jesus gently took each foot in hand and cleansed it from the dust and the dirt of the world that clung there. The rest of the meal was served in the usual fashion of the Passover, although there were disturbing conversations such as one of them would betray Him, and that He was going somewhere that they could not follow. For the most part the traditions of the evening brought them comfort in the midst of their confusion. Jesus ended the meal with a new sacrament about the bread and the wine which they seemed to accept in stride. They sang the hymns, filled their stomachs, celebrated God's mighty work of deliverance of the Israelites from the nation of Egypt and set out on their way that night.
Tradition wasn't broken at all as they followed Jesus into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. It was His custom to lead the disciples to quiet places for prayer. It felt natural. It didn't seem out of place. When Jesus asked the disciples to pray for themselves, they fell asleep. He checked on them three times and each time found them overcome with weariness.
The lesson of prayer from the garden doesn't come from the disciples. They show us what not to do. The lesson of prayer comes from Jesus. Mark's gospel is the only one that quotes Jesus as praying, “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36) when Jesus addresses His Father in this world-changing prayer. Some believe that the author of Mark, known as John Mark, could have been the boy who ran naked from the garden that night when the guards got a hold of his linen cloth (also only noted in Mark 14:51-52). Perhaps he overheard this prayer firsthand as he may have followed Jesus to the garden, a young curious boy. Whether he witnessed the prayer or not, the Holy Spirit did inspire Him to reveal to us the way Jesus talked to God as Father. Jesus didn't just call Him “Father,” He called Him “Daddy.” In the garden we see Jesus conversing with God in the most intimate of all ways. He seems to run to Him as a frightened boy would run to his daddy's arms for guidance and protection. Jesus places Himself before God in a vulnerable, trusting release. He asks His Daddy if there is any other way for the sins of man to be redeemed. He knows that His Daddy is Mighty and that He might have some other plan to show Him. When Jesus knows that this is the only way, He goes back into the world a different man. He entered this time of prayer so greatly troubled in Spirit that He thought He was near death and Luke's gospel tells us He was sweating blood. He left that time of prayer confident in His Daddy-God’s protection over Him. He got up, woke the disciples and went forward into the events of the cross.
Don't miss out on the importance of the Prayer of Gethsemane. It was the prayer in Gethsemane that set the foundation for Jesus’ obedience on the Cross. You need to learn to pray like Jesus, learn to trust God like a child trusts a daddy so that you will be able to go out into the world ready to serve God in the way He planned for you.