Why did Jesus need to pray? Prayer is, after all, a uniquely human endeavor, and Jesus is God. In the Old Testament we see the three Persons of the Trinity consult without using prayer—at creation, where God says, “Let us make man in our image...;” at the tower of Babel, where God says, “Let us confuse their speech...;” and elsewhere. So why would Jesus need to pray? The answer is simple: Jesus prayed because Jesus was also human. Jesus came into the world in flesh, as a man, and it was as a man that He carried out His earthly ministry. He used His divine powers only to help others; He never used His divine nature to make His work of salvation easier for Himself.
So yes, Jesus prayed. But just as important as knowing that He brought supplications to the heavenly Father in prayer is to know what it was our Lord prayed for. He folded His hands in prayer because, as a man, He faced temptation in every aspect of His life and work. Sometimes we allow ourselves to believe that Jesus only faced temptation when He went into the wilderness after His baptism. But Scripture reminds us that Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” And Scripture tells us that, after Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, “he departed from Him until an opportune time.” There were more temptations to come. And just like us, Jesus needed strength to meet temptation every day of His life. We see in the Garden of Gethsemane that, with His hands folded in prayer in the midst of agony, in the midst of the great temptation to avoid the cup of suffering, the Son of God received strength to endure, to submit to the will of the Father, to complete His journey to the cross and grave.
Jesus prayed because He knew the Father would sustain Him. Every kingdom of the earth already belonged to Jesus; how easy it would have been for Him to manifest His glory and claim what was already His. He could easily have turned stones to bread, just as He provided water from the rock for the children of Israel. He could have leapt from the pinnacle of the Temple and come down unharmed. He could have come down from the cross effortlessly, with legions of angels to drive off the Romans.
Human nature lives by desires and cares rather than the will of the Father. We know those desires all too well: the temptations of overindulging in fine foods and potent drinks; the temptations of the flesh, especially when pornographic images are so easy to access by means of the Internet; the temptations of wealth and power; the temptation to live contrary to the will of God. Satan knows us very well. He knows what will make our blood boil, our skin tingle, our reason and strength fail. It is in these temptations that our Lord shows Himself to be our greatest ally, for He has faced all our temptations, yet without giving in. In facing His temptations, He called upon His Father. And knowing that we cannot by our own reason or strength resist, our Lord has overcome them, and He has given us His name to call upon, to help us resist and to forgive us what we cannot resist.
Before He went to face His arrest in Gethsemane, His trial, and His crucifixion, our Lord prayers what the Church calls the high priestly prayer. He prayed that the disciples would be united and that they would be able to overcome temptation. To pray for others is an act of unselfish faith. Jesus also prayed for His enemies even as He hung upon the cross. And we are included among those who have been listed as His enemies, for we were His enemies, lost in sin, unable to do the will of the Father. And so He prays, “Father, forgive them.” By grace, through our Lord’s cross and Passion, we are no longer enemies of God. God and sinners have been reconciled. We have been forgiven; our Savior’s prayer has been answered by His work. Now, with our own hands folded in prayer, we praise God for His mercy and love for us, and we pray that we, too, may demonstrate the love of God in our lives, praying for our neighbor as Christ prayed for us. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.
Sermon Topics: Hands of Jesus Lent series