Follow or Retreat
By Pat Knight
Flanked by His disciples during His three-year ministry on earth, Jesus traveled incalculable miles by foot and by boat. Wherever they went, curious crowds followed. Some people were sincerely interested in the Messiah’s message, but others were enamored with His miracles and wanted to see more. News of Jesus’ next destination spread quickly; multitudes were often waiting at a future site to meet Him. Though admirers and detractors alike surrounded Jesus, there were two places where throngs did not follow Him. For one, they were disinterested in pursuing Jesus to a secluded spot to pray.
Christ had just fed five thousand listeners by miraculously multiplying one boy’s small lunch. As soon as the meal was finished, Jesus instructed His disciples to go on ahead of Him by boat to the other side of the lake while He dismissed the crowd (Matthew 14:22-23). Jesus then walked up a mountainside to pray alone throughout the evening. Communicating with His heavenly Father, He gained refreshment and renewal of body and soul for the challenging days ahead. Though we are provided no direct insight into the dialogue, we know from His instructions to His disciples, the prominence Jesus assigned to prayer.
Perhaps the crowds instinctively left Jesus by Himself during His quiet time because for them personal prayer was a foreign concept. Priests in the temple interceded for the people, but few individuals engaged in private prayer. God created and called the nation of Israel; the Lord’s messages were delivered through prophets. Laws were designated for the entire nation and the population was often punished collectively for disobedience. There was little personal communication between individuals and God. By His death and resurrection, Jesus opened the way for intimate contact between believers and God the Father, the same fellowship the Son of God enjoyed.
Calvary was the other area of Jesus’ experience where people didn’t follow. Only the Son of God could die a redemptive death on the cross for our sins. Jesus suffered loneliness and agony mankind will never comprehend. It was even necessary for His heavenly Father to forsake His Son for a period as Christ hung on the cross. Only a few of Jesus’ close friends and His mother witnessed His crucifixion. All of His disciples but John abandoned their Master, fearing retribution by association.
Prior to His arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus agonized in prayer. “He began to be deeply distressed and troubled, saying, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:33b-34). Prayer to His Father was His only available source of peace and strength. The soldiers would soon arrive to arrest Him by force. It was not death Jesus feared, but the hour of crucifixion when the weight of the sins of the world—past, present, and future—would transfer to His soul. Jesus bore the unparalleled burden alone.
Crucifixion was a heinous, brutal, ruthless form of torture, reserved for slaves and the worst Roman criminals. Jesus, the Son of God, the only perfect man to walk this planet, was crucified as a common criminal. Though His enemies intended crucifixion as the ultimate means of persecution to silence Jesus forever, the cross of Calvary became a symbol of Jesus’ ability to save mankind and the believer’s commitment to follow only Christ, who willingly sacrificed His holy life for the forgiveness of our sins.
Jesus has redeemed us; believers now live for Him, infused with His characteristics and identified exclusively with Him. The cross of Calvary was the vehicle that created access to prayer. Jesus’ death and resurrection purchased eternity in heaven for every believer.
“The cross is a place where one dies to self,
enjoys no rights, and grovels in humility.
How odd for our Lord to invite us
to be crucified with Him;
but God knows the cross is a place of grace,
and the nearer one draws to Calvary,
the more abundant the peace and power” (Joni Eareckson Tada).
Imagine the colossal amount of sovereign power essential for the resurrection and ascension of our Savior. The same dynamic power is promised to believers. “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:19-20, NLT).
Jesus’ pattern throughout his demanding ministry emphasized solitary time with His heavenly Father. Quality time spent with God provided Jesus with a boost of power and joy, reinforcing Jesus’ priorities and purposes on earth. God responded by empowering His Son with love, leadership, and strength. If Jesus required frequent replenishing of God’s gifts, how much more often we must request our hearts be invigorated with the gifts God promises. Christ, the perfect Son of God, could not operate independently on earth as a man without perpetual refills of God’s gifts. Why then, do we arrogantly claim self-sufficiency apart from our heavenly Father? Absolute sufficiency of God reveals the total insufficiency of mankind. “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16b).
Let us evaluate our position in prayer and our trek to the cross, where there is power in the victory our Savior attained for us. Jesus assures us of blessings aplenty, including life with Him eternally. If we occasionally withdraw from Jesus, as His disciples were so quick to do at the cross, let us then emulate their future commitment displayed at Pentecost: they prayed for courage to endure, power to carry on their Master’s work, and boldness to speak for their Lord.
“I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central…Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, The Msg.).
It is no longer necessary to be jostled by crowds to ensure an audience with Jesus. He is listening this moment, waiting patiently to hear from you. Follow His directions for silent, sincere, steadfast, submissive supplication (Matthew 6:5-8).
Jesus encourages us to leave our sins at the cross for forgiveness and to cast our cares at Him in prayer.
Let us not retreat from the two important journeys Jesus traveled on earth, but boldly seek His presence in prayer and the power of salvation He victoriously secured for us on the cross of Calvary.