During His often tumultuous ministry, Jesus was sustained at every turn by His Father. It is an experience in which we may also share.
t has often been said that while Jesus was on earth His relationship with His Father was the source of His spiritual power. The Gospel of Luke provides surprisingly compelling and specific evidence that this was the case.
Luke, the only Gentile contributor to the New Testament, was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ life. “I myself have carefully investigated everything,” he explained to fellow Greek Theophilus. “It seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you” (Luke 1:3). In the course of his carefully crafted account, Luke gives particular attention to Jesus’ devotional life, referring to it nearly a dozen times. It’s telling that new initiatives in Jesus’ unfolding ministry often directly follow time spent alone with His Father.
A Brief Encounter, Then Years of Silence
Of all the Gospel writers, only Luke mentions Jesus’ childhood. “He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him,” Luke reports (2:40). Though Luke does not specifically mention Jesus’ devotional life as a child, Ellen White observed: “The early morning often found Him in some secluded place, meditating, searching the Scriptures, or in prayer” (The Desire of Ages, p. 90). The 12-year-old Jesus gave evidence of this connection when, wise beyond His years, He respectfully matched wits with rabbis at the Temple in Jerusalem. “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers,” Luke reports (2:47).
And then there is silence. Jesus disappears for nearly 20 years, working quietly as a carpenter in Nazareth.
No Desert Solitaire
The next glimpse Luke provides is of Jesus in the desert. He has been led to this spot by the Spirit, but He quickly encounters the devil himself. “For forty days he was tempted by the devil,” Luke says (4:2). It must have been a dark struggle, but it was no desert solitaire. At the climax of Satan’s siege, it becomes clear that Jesus has maintained His connection with His Father throughout the ordeal.
The devil’s final strategy is to convince Jesus to doubt His own divinity: “If you are the Son of God,” Satan sneers, “tell this stone to become bread” (verse 3). Jesus replies without hesitation: “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone’” (verse 4; Matthew adds: “‘but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” [Matt. 4:4]).
Failing in that attempt, Satan assumes a role of superiority—a position supported by all the obvious evidence. “I will give you . . . authority and splendor, for it has been given to me,” Satan claims (Luke 4:6). Jesus again dismisses the devil with Scripture: “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (verse 8). Scripture must have been Jesus’ focus throughout the long desert ordeal, for it springs readily to mind in each moment of extremity.
In his final parry, Satan copies Jesus’ strategy, producing his own it-is-written moment. Satan quotes Moses in hopes of tricking Jesus into a self-serving display of power, but Jesus silences him with a devastating comeback: “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (verse 12).
How Did Jesus Know?
So how did Jesus know He was the Lord God of Scripture? His mother surely told Him about the divine visitation—how the angel had come, and how she had become pregnant without intercourse. But how did Jesus continue unshaken in that belief, year after year, when the evidence suggested He was nothing but a poor boy from Nazareth? As we follow Luke’s story, it becomes increasingly obvious how Jesus persevered.
Shortly after the wilderness encounter, Jesus enters the synagogue in Nazareth on Sabbath morning. When it comes time for the reading from the prophets, someone hands Him a scroll containing the book of Isaiah. He reads:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
ecause he has anointed me
o preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
nd recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
o proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (4:18, 19).
He hands the scroll back and sits down.
It was typical at this point in the synagogue service for a respected person to deliver an extended commentary on the Scripture reading. On this particular Sabbath, however, Jesus speaks only one sentence: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (verse 21). That He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy may well have been confirmed by the Father during Jesus’ fast in the wilderness.
A few verses later we read, “At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place” (verse 42). As Jesus has now begun to perform miracles, the pressure of the crowds is building. A group comes looking for Him while He is still in His hideaway. They urge Him to continue His ministry with them, but Jesus has received a fresh plan from His Father: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also,” He insists (verse 43). And with that He is off to Galilee.
In the following chapters Luke reminds us that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (5:16). Then in the next story Jesus’ ministry takes a new turn. It is the first time He directly offers to forgive a man’s sins. The Pharisees are scandalized. “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy?” they demand. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Taking up the challenge, Jesus counters: “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” (see verses 21-23). The paralytic leaps to his feet, and the critics are silenced, at least for the moment.
It is a pattern repeated too often to be coincidental: Jesus spends time alone in prayer; then His ministry takes on a new dimension.
“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles” (6:12, 13). This leadership decision, following a night in prayer, would have enormous impact in the years to follow.
Next we see Jesus’ ministry taking on an even greater sense of seriousness; He begins to include the twelve in His fellowship with His Father.
“Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’” (9:18). Then more pointedly He asked: “Who do you say I am?” (verse 20).
It is not idle conversation. The questions are leading somewhere. He now shares a growing burden, one impressed on Him during communion with His Father: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (verse 22).
Notice once again, each time Luke shows Jesus spending time with His Father, an important development in His ministry follows.
Eight days later Jesus takes Peter, John, and James “up onto a mountain to pray.” What follows is Jesus’ transfiguration and the confirmation in an audible voice direct from the Father to the disciples: “‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him’” (see verses 28-36).
Luke next gives us a glimpse of Jesus we find nowhere else in the Gospels. His intimacy with heaven has created a state of Spirit-induced ecstasy. Luke reports: “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children’” (10:21). Then Jesus shares with His disciples the cause of His newfound joy: “‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ . . . ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it’” (verses 22-24).
Teach Us to Pray
Again, in the next chapter, Jesus is praying as His disciples observe. “When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray,’” and Jesus led the disciples into a deeper understanding of intimacy with the Father (see 11:1-13).
Then, curiously, a stretch of 10 chapters ensues without a single reference to Jesus’ personal prayer life. The pace of His ministry quickens. He instructs in sermons and parables; He performs miracles; He debates with Pharisees; He both succeeds and fails at gaining new followers; He upends the tables of Temple money changers. One wonders if He has become too busy to pray.
Then Luke reports: “Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives” (21:37). Ellen White described Jesus’ busy life as taking place “between the mountain and the multitude” (Steps to Christ, p. 101).
It is during one of Jesus’ nightly visits to the Mount of Olives that the Jewish elders, led by Judas, come to arrest Him (22:39-53). Judas knows where to find Him. This is the place where Jesus is always to be found at night, gaining wisdom from His Father for another day’s work, but on this night it has been different. Jesus has agonized with His Father until sweat-drops “like drops of blood” break out on His forehead. He has pled for another way forward—any way at all. But there is none. Now He knows beyond all doubt what is to come.
Through the trials and sufferings that follow, Jesus remains serene, a serenity flowing from the strength gained in the garden of prayer, most recently the Garden of Gethsemane.
Praying on the Cross
There are no new ministry initiatives following the last glimpses we see of Jesus in prayer—no more work to be done. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” He prays as the soldiers cast lots for His clothes (23:34) and darkness sweeps the landscape for three hours. Then Jesus summons His final breath. “Father,” He calls out, “into your hands I commit my spirit” (verse 46). Finally it’s over.
It is unimaginable that Jesus could have sustained His ministry apart from His relationship with His Father. The possibility is even more remote that we can maintain spiritual life apart from a continuous connection with heaven. None of us is burdened with the load of ministry Jesus carried, but each Christian is called, nevertheless, to serve. Ellen White has written: “The Lord will teach us our duty just as willingly as He will teach somebody else. If we come to Him in faith, He will speak His mysteries to us personally” (The Desire of Ages, p. 668). Our lives will be fruitful in His service to the extent that we, like Jesus, seek time alone with our Father.