Luke, the physician turned evangelist, may not have had the privilege of walking with Jesus as two of the other Gospel writers did, but somehow his Gospel captures an essential element of Jesus' ministry more clearly than the other evangelists. And he carries his emphasis on this essential element for success over into the book of Acts to show what an important part it played in the victories of the early church.
Jesus' baptism marked the commencement of His ministry, and all of the Gospel writers record the event (Matt. 3:16, 17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21, 22; John 1:32, 33). Except for the fourth Gospel, which presents the baptism of Jesus as a testimony of John the Baptist, each Gospel presents the baptism account in a narrative form. We see some similarities among the four accounts: the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove; the opening of heaven; the voice from heaven testifying to Jesus' divine sonship. However, among the four, only Luke mentions that Jesus was praying at the time of His baptism.
Another account preserved by the first three evangelists is Jesus' call of the twelve disciples (Matt. 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12, 13). Of the three accounts, only Luke presents the preparation Jesus made prior to the selection of associates. Jesus "went out to the mountain to pray; and all night he continued in prayer to God" (chap. 6:12).* Luke mentions prior prayer again when he recounts how Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer to His disciples (Luke 11:1-4; cf. Matt. 6:9-13). Before Jesus taught His disciples to pray, "He was praying in a certain place" (Luke 11:1). The same pattern recurs in the story of the transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James, and John. Jesus was praying when He was transfigured (chap. 9:28, 29; cf. Matt. 17:1, 2; Mark 9:2, 3). Clearly, Luke sees prayer as an essential factor in the ministry of Jesus.
Throughout the third Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as a man of prayer. "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear" (Heb. 5:7). Prayer was not simply an optional matter in Jesus' life. It was an integral factor in His ministry.
At the height of His struggle in the ministry Jesus was praying at Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). Again Luke stands out among the three accounts in portraying clearly the fervency of Jesus' activity of prayer. "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground" (verse 44).
Luke presents Jesus not only as a master but also as a teacher of prayer. " 'But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you' " (chap. 6:27, 28). The parable of the persistent widow and the judge is His instruction on persevering in prayer (chap. 18:2-8; note verse 1). Jesus explicitly voiced the need for vigilance when He said, " 'But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man' " (chap. 21:36).
Luke uses proseuchomai, the Greek word for the English verb "to pray," thirty-five times: nineteen times in his Gospel and sixteen times in Acts. In the Gospel eleven of the occurrences depict Jesus Himself praying. In Acts the Greek verb portrays the early Christian believers at prayer.
Luke's juxtaposition of prayer and ministry gives us a promising picture of what the church and the work of the ministry can become through prayer. Revival will come when we learn to pray as Jesus did. It happened among the early Christian believers. Luke records that prior to the expansion program of the early Christians, "all these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14). Were Luke to preach in our pulpits today, he would certainly counsel us, "Pray! Pray! Pray! Prayer opens the way to dynamic ministry!"
In this age of crowded schedules, pastors are constantly tempted to minister without prayer. But such a ministry will not be much different from the work of a baby-sitter lulling the church to sleep. When Jesus bade His disciples, " 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations' " (Matt. 28:19), He had in mind a powerful, prayerful ministry. This call to prayer and ministry is addressed to every professed follower of Jesus Christ in every age.
Jesus will not commission the Christian church to perform impossible tasks. He has provided ways and means for us to finish His work. And prayer is the key that will make it possible for us to know and to implement His will.
" Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father'" (John 14:12). Ellen G. White wrote, "We must look to Christ; we must resist as He resisted; we must pray as He prayed; we must agonize as He agonized, if we would conquer as He conquered." —Review and Herald, Nov. 8, 1887.
Scripture quotations in this article are from the Revised Standard Version.