Based on a series of sermons preached in PCC Prayer Meetings in 2021
“And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.”Mark 1:35
It may be surprising to some of us, but the event in our text probably occurred in the second year of the Lord Jesus’ public ministry.
After the Lord Jesus was baptised, He gathered some of His disciples before going up to Galilee to begin His preaching ministry (Mk 1:14). After that, He brought His disciples to Jerusalem, where they observed their first Passover together. Then when He heard that John the Baptist had been arrested, He brought them back to Galilee. There, He had a hectic schedule of preaching and healing. Great multitudes gathered around Him. In verse 34, we read: “And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils.”
What did the Lord do after such a busy day? Well, He retired for the night. But did He sleep in the next day? Or did He wake up early to resume the work of preaching and healing? Neither!
We read in verse 35, “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.”
This statement is pregnant with meaning and has much to teach us.
a. In the first place, let us observe that though the Lord Jesus is the perfectly holy Son of God, He found it necessary to spend time with His Father in secret prayer before He began His day. Though this verse does not indicate that it was His daily practice to do so, I think we can assume that whenever it is possible, He would do so. Psalm 5:3 is undoubtedly not just a testimony of king David but of Jesus, the greater David: “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up” (Ps 5:3).
If this is the practice of our Lord, how much more imperative is it for us to maintain this practice?
b. Secondly, notice how the Lord Jesus rose a great while before day. Luke tells us in his parallel account that it was “when it was day” that the Lord “departed and went into [the] desert place” (Lk 4:42). Reconciling the two passages, we see that the Lord Jesus woke up before sunrise (while there was still much darkness of night), and departed for the solitary place as soon as there was enough light of dawn for Him to do so. Remember that there were no street lamps in those days.
A few years ago, I was in Malawi, and as there was a lovely river near our accommodations, so I made it a practice to have my daily communion with the Lord by it. But I remember having to wait for sufficient brightness before I set off for the river. Otherwise, the trip could be quite treacherous!
The point is the Lord Jesus made it His practice to seek His Father in secret prayer before the day began. This should be our practice too. For, once the busyness of the day begins to impose itself upon us, we will have few opportunities to seek the Lord without distraction.
Does this mean that we must wake up before dawn? Well, I think it is it is a good idea not to waste precious daylight hours, sleeping them away. Nevertheless, we must not insist legalistically that one must wake up before dawn if he would be an imitator of Christ. Instead, the point we should imitate is that we should begin the day with some protected time of communion with God. Some of us may just need to get up before dawn if we want to make sure we have such an undisturbed repose at all. Of course, if you sleep late every night, that may not be possible unless you change your habit.
c. The third thing we should learn from the Lord Jesus is to seek a solitary place, free of distraction, even from loved ones. Notice how the Lord even stepped away from His disciples for the purpose. We may not all have the luxury of going to a solitary place or even a closet where we can lock ourselves away for a time. But when you are minded to imitate the Lord, I am sure you can find an equivalent situation. It may not involve a special place, but it may involve a special time and special restraint—such as not checking your phone! Whatever it is, the point is that if we would have communion with the Lord, the moment must be sacrosanct and free of distraction. We must not allow even urgent and pressing matters to encroach into the moment. Notice how the disciples of the Lord sought out the Lord and told Him that all men were seeking for Him. Did the Lord know that people were seeking for Him? Surely He knew! Perhaps that is why He sought out a solitary place to commune with His Father where He would not be disturbed, at least for some time.
Here then, are the three things we may learn from the Lord. First, we learn that we should have a protected time of communion with the Father before the busyness of the day overwhelms us. Secondly, we learn that this may require getting up before dawn. Thirdly, we learn that we need to do what we can to carve out a moment wherein no one and nothing is likely to distract us.
Our text is elementary and familiar. I suspect some of us probably think that this is so rudimentary that it is a bit of an embarrassment to have to read an exposition on it. But let us pause for a moment to consider whether we have indeed been imitators of Christ in this simple example that He has given us. Let us remember that He came not only to redeem us, but also to set us an example to follow in His steps. He, of all men, should be our perfect example in life and death. We, of all people, should not despise His example, or think that we can do better than Him.
Some of us were, no doubt, taught from childhood or from the time we first confessed Christ that we should have a daily quiet time. But we came to the Reformed Faith, and we begin to think that that insistence is too unsophisticated and simplistic. Having a quiet time each day is too mechanical. It is what fundamentalists do. Or so we think. Or so the devil will insinuate to keep you from a healthy Christian life.
But now, let me ask you: You have done away with quiet time, personal devotion or daily communion, or whatever you may call it. But do you have a personal time of worship with the Lord? Or have you been haphazard and superficial in your time of prayer and fellowship with the Lord? Perhaps now is the time of repentance for you. Now is the time to repent of your pride and return to the simple practice of having an appointment with your heavenly Father.
Your Father loves to hear from you as He loved to hear from His only begotten son. Have you gone to Him? Have you sat with our elder brother in His presence today? If not, will you not begin to do so, beginning from tomorrow morning?
May the Lord be magnified as His adopted siblings follow His example to glorify and enjoy His Father with Him. Amen.