Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds.
Looking at the context of these verses, we learn that Jesus had just performed the miracle of feeding 5,000 men, plus women and children. The satisfied crowd reclined, pondering this amazing feast.
John’s account states the Jews were mulling the thought of the coming Messiah. Was this Jesus the one Moses had referred to in Deuteronomy 18:15: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you”?
Could this man, Jesus, be the prophet? Had He not fed this massive crowd with five loaves of bread and two fish? Were the similarities too great between Moses and this Man feeding thousands with a new kind of manna?
The dots connected and the crowd reached their own conclusion. They’d waited for a king to deliver them from the Romans. Now Jesus fit their resume, and they intended to make Him king by force.
Knowing their ill-contrived motives, Jesus immediately dismissed the crowds and compelled the disciples to leave via a boat. And Jesus? “He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23). This seemingly simple action provides us with a glimpse into Jesus’ prayer life.
When faced with temptation, Jesus retreated to the Father.
Jesus knew the Jews were intending to coerce Him to reign as their earthly king and in turn conquer the Romans. They were correct in identifying Jesus as the Messiah, but misdirected when identifying His mission. His mission was spiritual—to die on the cross for the salvation of the world so we could have eternal life.
The crowd got what they wanted—a meal—and they wanted Him to take the less costly route around the cross. But Jesus perceived the temptation and went straight to the Father to resist this run-around.
Jesus went alone to pray.
He never neglected this one-on-one relationship with His Father. Yes, He was a people person and relationships mattered, but the vertical relationship took precedence. When the horizontal relationships distracted Him from His mission, Jesus withdrew to His Father.
These times of retreat are recorded in the Bible during the dark times—both the physically dark times and crucial events in His life (Mark 1:34-35, 14:32-36). Jesus intentionally retreated to keep the focus on His mission and draw strength from the Father.
Prayer is work.
Matthew says, “He went up on the mountainside by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone.” Jesus had to climb a mountain to get alone with God. Doesn’t it seem like we have mountains of stuff to do when we sit down to pray? Calls, text messages, to-do items, ideas, distractions, people—they all consume our thoughts as we struggle to spend time with God.
Yet Jesus dismissed the 5000-plus demands of the crowd and withdrew up a mountain. He stayed in this aloneness with the Father until He was able to move forward with His mission. He remained until the temptation to avoid the cross abated. He lingered in this one-on-one time with His Father until the temptation to please man shifted to pleasing God.
This wasn’t the first or last time Jesus struggled to linger or leave the temptation to avoid the cross. We too will fall into temptation, certainly not anything near the gravity of dying on a cross, but enough so it should compel us to our knees. When it comes, will we linger or leave?
The great hymn, “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” penned by William Walford, reminds us to run to the Father when a test comes and to dismiss the demands of the world:
Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!
- What area of temptation are you dealing with now? Have you chosen to linger or to leave? If you’re lingering, what can you learn from Jesus’ prayer life?
- Do you agree or disagree that prayer is work? Why or why not?
- Why is it so important that we carve out time to be alone with our Father?
- What demands of the world do you need to dismiss each day so you can spend time in prayer?