The idea that you might pray as Jesus prayed might seem ridiculous. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who felt that they prayed as much as they should, or could. It’s as if I said you should play piano as Beethoven did, or paint like da Vinci did. And when we see Jesus praying here all night you might well think he’s setting an impossible example.
So we’ll ask a few questions about this little passage of Luke’s gospel, and realise that you and I can certainly learn to pray a bit more like Jesus did. And if you pray like Jesus, don’t you think God himself will delight to answer?
So we have three questions about the passage, and then we can see what it means to you and me.
Q1: Why did Jesus pray all night?
Elsewhere in his teaching Jesus actually tells you not to go on and on in prayers, babbling like pagans! So why is he praying here all night?
The gospel writers often refer to Jesus praying. Sometimes in public, often on his own in private. But this is the only time we read of him praying all night. Why?
It shouldn’t surprise you that Jesus prayed regularly.
- A Jehovah’s Witness will say it disproves Jesus’ deity, because “why should God pray to God?”
- But they assume that there is only One who is God. God is One, of course, and there are Three who is/are God: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- When Jesus, Son of God, prayed, he was enjoying that timeless time with God he has enjoyed beyond Creation.
- Because, first and foremost, prayer is time with God. Time with God is the gift you were created to enjoy, and while the Son humbled himself in time and space he would enjoy time with the Father in prayer.
- In this, Jesus modelled prayer for you. Time with God.
Even so, there was something especially earnest that night. Throughout Luke and Acts (both written by Luke), extraordinary points in the life of Jesus and his church are linked with prayer. Read Luke 6:12-13.
It’s quite a moment. These men will start the worldwide church. He chose twelve. It’s hardly a random number.
- It becomes obvious in Acts 1 and again in Revelation that we are seeing the New Testament (New Covenant) equivalent of the 12 tribes of Israel.
- From now on, Israel (the people of God) are defined only in relation to Jesus – followers of Jesus Christ, Messiah.
- Here’s the new wine in new wineskins. Don’t look back.
He called them “apostles”
- In Luke’s gospel, the term “apostles” is the same as “the Twelve”.
- Later, in Acts and Paul’s letters, it would be extended to those who were sent out by Jesus as witnesses of his resurrection.
But just here, we’re seeing the foundation of the worldwide church in just these 12 apostles.
- And as Jesus is the apostle (representative and missionary) of God the Father (Hebrews 3:1),
- so too these 12 were to be apostles (representatives and missionaries) of Jesus. So this is why he prayed all night.
- Because that’s what his church is; who you are.
Q2: What did Jesus pray all night?
Most of us can’t imagine actually praying for an hour. What would he be saying, all night?
He probably wasn’t asking for wisdom about who to choose. Remember we’re in a little section of Luke about Jesus calling people, and the first he called was Simon Peter. No, in all likelihood, he had already settled on who the Twelve would be – though they didn’t know it yet.
That’s confirmed by what he did that morning: “He called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles.”
- No-one volunteered. Jesus chose them.
- None of them was rich, powerful, or educated. But they were called to change the world. Prayer was needed.
Jesus’ prayers weren’t recorded for us. But you can be pretty sure he prayed for at least some of these things:
- That God’s enormous grace and love would be displayed to the world, as he works through ordinary working-class people to do extraordinary things. Glory to God!
- That the Holy Spirit would strengthen the apostles with power, and open their eyes to see Jesus for who he is.
- For practical matters too: Provisions for the company; energy for the road; protections from Satan, sin, and attack; an effective and powerful launch of this embryonic church
A model of dependence
But in all this, here’s the big thing: Jesus is modelling for you his dependence on the one who sent him.
- The Father has sent Jesus into the world, his apostle, to save his people and gather them to himself.
- To do this, he will gather twelve apostles, and ask for the help of the one who has sent him.
- If God gives you a task, he will help you accomplish it. Pray to him for strength to do his will.
The 12 apostles learnt exactly this. When they appointed a replacement for Judas in Acts 1, they prayed. When they appointed the first deacons in Acts 6, they prayed. And then when Paul and Barnabas were sent off to become missionaries, the church prayed.
What was so important that Jesus stayed up all night to pray about it? The church, and its leaders in particular. What did Jesus pray all night about? That the one who sent him would help him accomplish the task he’d been sent to do, by strengthening and equipping these 12 men.
Why? So that you would here about Jesus here today.
But before we apply this to ourselves, there’s a third and obvious question:
Q3: Why did Jesus choose Judas Iscariot?
It’s clear in the gospels that Jesus knew Judas would betray him. That must surely have been in the agony of Jesus’ prayers that night. So why choose him?
Partly, it was to fulfil Scripture. The Old Testament said that the Messiah would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver. It just had to be.
And yet, you might ask, why did it have to be?
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
- We’re all sinners. And death comes to all because of sin.
- The Son of God left his eternal splendour to become human. He would live a morally perfect, sinless life.
- The plan was simple: The one who did not deserve death would die, taking the punishment of those who do deserve it.
- Then, the price of sin paid, everyone who comes for forgiveness can be forgiven – and God be just too.
There’s a snag though: How could he die?
No-one could bring charges against him because he was innocent of all crime.
- He would need to be betrayed and killed unjustly.
- There would need to be a betrayer, Judas.
- And even then, Judas would be no kind of witness for the prosecution because even after 3 years of close quarters he’d never seen Jesus do anything wrong – only ever good
Jesus had to be betrayed, and it had to be by someone who knew Jesus intimately and even knew Jesus’ innocence.
And so, at the heart of the Twelve men who would change the world, was a betrayer.
- Church leadership is no guarantee of a changed heart, or of good character. There are many cheats and charlatans who have claimed a good reputation they didn’t deserve.
- Judas is an example to us all not to idolise anyone simply because of the role they have in a church or missionary organisation.
In v17-19, Jesus and the 12 apostles return to the crowds.
With all twelve in place, Jesus’ teaching to his disciples began in earnest. We’ll come to that next time.
There are some helpful things for us all here.
First and foremost, don’t be a Judas.
By that, I don’t mean don’t be a betrayer (though that too!).
Rather, don’t spend time with Jesus but remain untouched by him.
- Even at the end of his life, Judas could have gone back to Jesus and begged forgiveness (as Peter did).
- But he didn’t. He knew remorse, but not repentance.
- He never went back to Jesus.
You don’t have to do that.
- Jesus came to earth to save sinners. And you’re one.
- You might say, “I’ve never prayed. I don’t know how. It would be weird.”
- I remember that feeling clearly. Then I prayed.
- It still felt weird. Was anyone listening? I wasn’t sure.
- But you pray. Then pray again. And keep on praying.
- You learn to realise that he heard you from the beginning, knows you better than you know yourself, and answers.
Everyone needs to develop prayer habits.
Our son Dan is an amazing pianist.
- When he and I talk about music, he dumbs down his conversation so that I can understand.
- But he started at Grade 1. Three Blind Mice. A B C.
- Great Christians are always, always built on strong prayer lives.
- Strong prayer lives are always, always built on daily prayer habits.
- But start at Grade 1. A B C. Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing how to pray all night.
What prayer habits work well?
- Having a set time that works for you.
- First thing in the morning? Lunchtime? Bedtime?
- On the commute to work?
- Not necessarily the same time each day.
- If you can, tie it with a bit of Scripture.
- Maybe a daily reading; maybe ‘verse of the day’.
- Let God speak first, and respond on that.
- Prayer is, after all, time with God.
- Use notes, either to remember things you wish to pray for or to write prayers down.
- Writing prayers is a bit like writing a note to God; you are careful with your words, and focussed.
- You could easily read a written prayer at a PM too.
No-one finds a lifetime of prayer to be easy.
There are always dry spells, often periods where it feels like work.
Jesus modelled that effort for you too.
- He prayed all night because he had such an important thing to do. There are seasons in prayer.
- Then he did that thing, followed by a load of work the following day.
- He was 100% human, and would have been exhausted.
- He might have cut his prayer time short to give him energy for the task, but he did the opposite: He worked at prayer.
Although not part of this text, it’s worth pointing out something really important at this point.
- If you ever talk to someone who has backslidden in their faith, or fallen into sin, or led some kind of secret life unworthy of Christ, you will almost always hear them say that they don’t pray anymore.
- The first step towards loss of faith, towards sin, is almost always a step away from prayer.
- “Too busy today… Maybe tomorrow… At least others are praying for me…”
- Keep Jesus in sight. Develop prayer habits.
Never lose sight of the blessing of prayer anywhere!
Jesus was up a mountain. You can pray anywhere.
- When you, a Christian, pray, you are in the presence of God – like the centre of God’s Temple in Jerusalem – in your kitchen, your car, or up a mountain.
- When you pray, Jesus is your advocate, interceding for you in heaven.
- And while you pray on earth, the Holy Spirit intercedes for you in your heart – actually praying for and with you, in words you can barely express.
- With support like that, even you can pray.
What should you pray?
You’d do well to prioritise what Jesus did:
- That Jesus will enable you to fulfil the tasks he has given you: To love others, to witness about Jesus, to forgive.
- That his church would have strong and godly leaders, able to equip the whole church to works of love and service.
- And that God would be glorified in the Son, that the world would hear of his salvation and praise his name!