In this part we will continue to look at Mr. Burch’s “difficult questions” that raise the challenge of Jesus being human and yet divine. Three of these “difficult questions pertain to the fact that Jesus prayed to the Father; thus, we will answer these three together. Indeed, if we are to look to Jesus as our example, we should understand not only the how but also the why of His prayers to the Father.
Why does Jesus constantly pray to God? Isn’t He praying to Himself?
Once again, Mr. Burch proves himself ignorant of the tenants of the doctrine of the Trinity. If God is one Being and three Persons, then one of the Person’s prayer to another Person is not praying to Himself. Trinitarians recognize the distinction among the Persons. Jesus was not “praying to Himself.” He was praying to the Father; yet, Jesus and the Father are both Persons that exhaustively share the divine Being.
Now, as to the reason Jesus prayed, there is no doubt that as the God-Man Jesus maintained a dependency upon the Father during His earthly ministry, but is this the only reason for Him to pray?
When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, Jesus said, “When ye pray, say…” (Luk 11:1-4). Clearly one purpose of Jesus prayers was for Him to be our model. Jesus also said when He washed His disciples’ feet:
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
— John 13:14-15
If Jesus can be above us, yet condescend to teach us how we ought to behave, so His prayers, being the real prayers of the perfect God-Man to the Father, serve as our model.
Interestingly, the Scriptures show that Jesus receives prayer. Jesus told His disciples that when He goes back to the Father in heaven, they would “ask any thing in my name” and He would do it.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
In an exalted position in heaven, Jesus would receive the prayers of the disciples and act upon them. Some Greek manuscripts of verse 14 even say “ask of me anything in my name,” demonstrating that the prayers would be directed to Jesus.
Other passages demonstrating prayer to Jesus:
- Stephen called on the “Lord Jesus” in heaven to receive his spirit (c.f. Ecc 12:7), knelt down and asked the same “Lord” to forgive the ones stoning him. (Act 7:59-60)
- The disciples pray to the “Lord” who “knoweth the hearts of all men” (c.f. Joh 21:17), to guide them to the apostle whom He had chosen to replace Judas. (Act 1:25-26) Jesus was the One Who chooses apostles.
- Paul prayed to the “Lord” three times to remove his infirmity, but the Lord said “My strength is made perfect in weakness,” and Paul resolved that “the power of Christ” would remain on him. (2Co 12:8-9)
Jesus instructed His disciples how to pray to the Father, because the Father is God.
Jesus is our example of the model servant of God.
Jesus received prayer from His disciples in heaven to do things only God could do.
Jesus and the Father are both God!
Another reason for the prayers of the Divine Son has to do with being the perfect Man and fulfilling the law. According to the Apostle Paul,
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
— Galatians 4:4-5
The whole mission of the Son was to redeem the subjects of the Law, because they are unable to obey the Law and are cursed. Jesus, being the God-Man, was the perfect Man who subjected Himself to the Law and followed it perfectly so that He can be our Substitute to bear the penalty of our sins. Jesus was the Lawgiver Who exercised divine prerogative by telling His disciples, “You have heard that it has been said [in the Law]…but I say unto you…” The “grace and truth” that Jesus brings is authoritatively on par with “law [that] was given by Moses.” (Joh 1:17) The command to “bear one another’s burdens” is “the law of Christ.” (Gal 6:2)
Nevertheless, this same Lawgiver submitted Himself to that Law as being subject to the Father. The Law provided for petitions to God (Exo 22:23; Deu 15:9; 24:15). Jesus Christ obeyed the Father and prayed to the Father (Php 2:8; Mat 26:29; Luk 22:42; Heb 5:7-8).
Are His prayers real, does He really need something, or because He ‘is God’ are His prayers just for show?
Yes, the prayers of Jesus were real! Once again, to deny this would be to deny the whole concept of the kenosis of the incarnation. According to the writer to the Hebrews, Jesus “in the days of His flesh” prayed sorrowfully and fervently to the Father to be delivered from death, and the Father heard Him (Heb 5:7-8). This statement is likely describing the event in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus said before His prayers, “my soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” (Mat 26:38; Mar 14:34) His high priestly prayer to the Father in John chapter 17 was very real as well. Jesus was fully God and fully man with a mission that involved His full obedience to the Father and to the Law.
When the disciples asked Jesus “teach us to pray” (Luk 11:1) and He gave them the model “Lord’s prayer,” that was not only for show either. Being God did not make Him any less man, and being man did not make Him any less God. The Hypostatic Union affirms the truth of all this. Jesus prayer to the Father for real and He obeyed the Father for real. In fact, “though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;” (Heb 5:8). If Jesus were not God (sharing the divine being with the Father), why did He “learn obedience” as a man on earth? If He were but a creature–even the most highly exalted creature–shouldn’t He have “learned obedience” long before then, such as when He was created?!
Why did He cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Can He forsake Himself?
In Christ’s unthinkable passion of bearing not only the physical impalements of the crucifixion but also the burden of the sins of the world, we cannot imagine how He possessed the strength cry out any words at all! However, the few words we have from Christ during His agony were purposeful, passionate, and prophetic. Particularly, when Jesus said the words “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” He was expressing more than an emotional oration to the Father. As Mr. Burch should likely know, He was quoting the opening words to Psalm 22–a very Messianic Psalm.
Those around Him who heard the words did not recall the Psalm He was quoting (Mat 27:47; Mar 15:35), yet they began to fulfill it without realizing! Thus began the script of Psalm 22:
- Those around Jesus despised him, laughed at Him, and shook their heads. (Psa 22:6-7 c.f. Mat 27:29,39; Mar 15:20,29)
- People mock Jesus to ask God to deliver Him (Psa 22:8 c.f. Mat 27:41-44; Mar 15:30-32; Luk 23:35)
- Many “strong bulls” and “dogs” (people in high places) would surround Jesus and conspire against Him (Psa 22:12-13 c.f. Mat 27:1)
- Jesus would be thirsty, but given vinegar to drink. (Psa 22:15; 69:21 c.f. Mat 27:34,48; Mar 15:36; Luk 23:36; Joh 19:28)
- Jesus’ hands and feet would be pierced. (Psa 22:16 c.f. Zec 12:10; Joh 20:25-27)
- The soldiers would cast lots on Jesus’ clothes. (Psa 22:18 c.f. Mat 27:35; Mar 15:24; Luk 23:34; Joh 19:23-24)
More important than merely the meaning of the words that Jesus uttered on the cross are how He managed to do so in unfathomable agony, yet in fulfillment of Messianic psalms written nearly 1000 years before this event! Who but God Himself could exhibit such control of the fabric of time and fortune while suffering more than any being could ever suffer? This is poetry in motion!
- Les Burch, It Isn’t The Way We Think It Is: Seven Common Beliefs That Aren’t in the Bible (Mustang, Okla.: Tate Publishing, 2013), 78, 109.