The Wednesday before Good Friday looked relatively normally to most of the people around Jesus. The gospels tell us that he was staying on the Mount of Olives and heading into Jerusalem to the temple (roughly a 30 minute commute by foot) in the mornings to teach people. This was a typical day for Jesus. Yet, behind the scenes of this typical day, the most evil human plan in history was beginning to unfold. As the religious leaders continued to conspire on how they were going to deal with this Jesus guy, an ordinary looking fellow named Judas approached them and asked them a question, “What will you give me, if I give you Jesus?” At this point the puzzled looks on the religious leaders faces would have turned to sly smirks. We got him, is what they thought. Wednesday marked the beginning of the end for Jesus.
As Jesus woke up Wednesday morning it is tempting to think that he was unaware of the secret plot that was unfolding but that could not be further from the truth. Scripture not only tells us that Jesus knew who was going to betray him (John 13:11) but that this moment had been predicted long ago. In Psalm 41:3 it says, “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.” So, long before Jesus reclined at the table for the last time with Judas and the other disciples, before he humbly washed his dirty feet, calmed the sea in his midst, fed him among the 5000 and graciously called him to follow him, Jesus knew, with perfect clarity, that this man would trade him in for thirty silver coins. If you spend any time reflecting on the events of Holy Week, like we just did, you meet a God who is meticulously sovereign.
As we continue to look at the various prayers of the apostle Paul I wanted to turn our attention to two of his prayers recorded in the book of Ephesians (1:15-23 and 3:14-21). But as I began to think through these prayers, it became evident that we needed to do something else first. In order for us to understand these prayers we need to know how Paul viewed God. The things that Paul is praying for and about are deeply influenced by who he thinks he is praying to. He describes the God he is praying to as one who is “working all things out by the counsel of his will” and as one who has chosen the believers in Ephesus “before the creation of the world” (Eph. 1:4 and 11). In other words, he is praying to a God like the one we meet as we reflect on holy week, one who is sovereign and his prayers depend on this truth.
J.I. Packer in his book Evangelism and The Sovereignty of God says, “The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgement of helpless dependence…” (4). Praying to a God who is sovereign changes the way we pray. Yet, we can often forget that God is sovereign and the nature and content of our prayers have a way of revealing what we truly believe about the God we are praying to. What does your prayer life tell you about who you think God is?
As you reflect on Holy Week in these next few days, I hope you can appreciate how in control of the whole thing God was. Even as people plotted against, betrayed, accused, beat and denied our Lord, they never once departed from God’s divine script that was written in eternity’s past. As we will see in the coming weeks, praying to a God like that informed how Paul prayed, it should change the way we pray too.
J.I. Packer, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1991).