Prayer and thanksgiving create space for us to offer ourselves in gratitude to God. We give thanks for those who have come to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Luke 9, we see a critical turning point in the life of Jesus.
Up to this point, Jesus has been seeking clarity and direction in regard to his ministry. Now, in Chapter 10, we see Jesus sending his followers out to fulfill the ministry he has been called to do.
Before we look at the prayer in verse 21, let’s look at the context of the prayer.
The Context of Jesus’ Prayer
Luke has Jesus giving instructions to 70 of his followers.
These instructions reflect the mission of the church where the early Christians must come to terms with requirements of sharing the good news with outsiders, outcasts, non-Jews, all known as Gentiles. Luke tells of the disciples being sent out, their return, and their report to Jesus. It is interesting to note that Luke does not give an account of Jesus visiting the towns and villages.
Could it be that the emphasis here is upon the “being sent” and not upon the results?
First, Jesus tells them why they are being sent.
“The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest” (Luke 10:2).
The seed has been and is being sown; the followers of Jesus reap the harvest, the results. It is important to understand that the whole body of Jesus, all of Jesus’ followers, is charged with the mission, not just full-time Christian workers. Many followers, not just the Twelve, are actively engaged in preaching, healing, and helping. All are involved in prayer and material support for the church’s mission.
Second, Jesus gives them instructions on what to take with them and the urgency of their mission. With the words, “Go! Be warned…I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals,” Luke pictures those in mission as absolutely dependent, defenseless, and vulnerable.
With the words, “Don’t greet anyone along the way,” Luke is symbolically speaking of the urgency of the mission. To not speak to strangers or fellow travelers would be outrageous. The implication is don’t waste time in idle conversation. You have work to do.
Third, Jesus gives them instructions on how to respond to those who accept them and reject them.
“Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person…Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set before you” (Luke 10:5-8).
These instructions were literally contextual. During the time of Jesus, there would have been a period of military buildup and political unrest. “May peace be on this house” would refer to the followers of Jesus who rejected the military revolt against Rome, who loved and prayed for their enemies, and refused to participate in the war.
During the time of Luke’s writing, those words would have lost their political connotation and referred to those followers of Jesus who shared the peace of God by participating in the Christian community. But even at that, the words were still connected to the life and ministry of Jesus.
Prayer and Thanksgiving
In verses 17-20, Luke refers to one of the characteristics of the Christian community. “The seventy returned with joy…” They are excited, “Lord, even the demons submit themselves to us in your name.”
It is at this moment, at the return of the 70, that Jesus prays. What does prayer have to do with it?
At that very moment, Jesus overflowed with joy from the Holy Spirit and said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you’ve hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and shown them to babies. Indeed, Father, this brings you happiness.”
It is interesting that this story is found in both Luke and Matthew (Matthew 11). I think it is interesting because in Matthew the story follows Jesus being rejected. In Luke, the story follows Jesus being accepted. It is the same story, but in one gospel it comes after failure and in another gospel, it comes after success.
The seventy disciples have returned from a successful mission. Although Jesus begins to rejoice in the Holy Spirit, he warns them, “Don’t rejoice that you have been successful. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In other words, the point is not your success but your faithfulness.
The Holy Spirit Takes Center Stage
To understand what Jesus is saying, we must remember that the Holy Spirit is important in the life, work, and ministry of Jesus. Luke uses phrases like, “led by the Spirit,” “filled with the Spirit,” “in the power of the Spirit.”
Not only in the gospel but in the Acts of the Apostles, prayer and Holy Spirit go hand in hand. Luke talks about the Holy Spirit more than all the other gospel writers combined. It is Luke who has Jesus rejoicing in the Holy Spirit.
Remember Luke’s gospel begins with the Holy Spirit creating inspired speech. Before Jesus is born, Mary his mother, Elizabeth and Zachariah, Anna and Simeon are each inspired by the Holy Spirit. There are Spirit inspired songs being sung, bursts of praise, prayers, insights, revelations, and blessings.
Holy Spirit and Thanksgiving
In this scripture, thanksgiving is an expression of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives thanks, not for the many acts his followers have performed but, for the many persons who have come to faith in God.
In Luke, Matthew, and Paul, the Holy Spirit brings faith. In Matthew, the words, “You are the Christ. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you,” are words that express, “You did not come to this conclusion by your own observation.”
Paul, in I Corinthians 12, wrote, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” For Paul, being wise and having intelligence is not equal to having faith or being a Jesus follower.
In Luke, the words, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth” is an expression of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Jesus and in the mission of the 70. The words, “you’ve hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and shown them to babies,” is a common expression for those whose faith depends upon God.
Saying that these things are hidden from the wise and intelligent does not discourage education or serious reflection. But it does offer rejection of our claims that we can attain knowledge of God and God’s ways by our own achievement.
For Luke, we know God because God has graciously revealed Godself to us, first through Israel, then through Christ, and then to and through the church. Our faith is not based upon our own calculations. Our best efforts and best thinking is simply responding to God’s invitation to love. Afterall, it is planted there by God in the first place. We do not arrive at faith because we have worked out our proofs. The proofs might support where we arrive, but proofs are not the way of faith.
What does prayer have to do with it?
It is in prayer that Jesus gives thanks to God for the faith given to his followers. You and I give God thanks for our faith in and through prayer. It is through prayer we thank God for the opportunity to put our faith into action by loving and serving in the name of Jesus.
As with Jesus, we will be tempted to think we can love and serve on our own. But through prayer, we will keep our focus. Through prayer, we will offer God the praise and give thanks for what God is doing in us and through us.
In this prayer, Jesus is giving thanks for those who have come to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. Who are what are you giving thanks for today? Perhaps you’ll give God thanks in prayer today.