Sunday Devotional: Luke 21:37-38
37 During the day, he [Jesus] was in the temple, teaching, but at night he went out to the mountain called Olivet to spend the night. 38 And all the people came to him early in the morning to hear him in the temple.
Last week’s devotional was a challenging one, for me and, I gather, for others too. This morning’s passage is another one that challenges me.
This little paragraph in Luke’s Gospel comes at a transition point between Jesus’ teaching on the end times, and the preparations of the Last Supper. We are close to the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and Luke decided that this was a good point to give us this snapshot of Jesus’ activity in Jerusalem. Luke mentions Olivet a little later as the place to which Jesus and his disciples withdraw after supper, “according to custom” (Greek: kata to ethos)–presumably Jesus’ custom, as we see in our passage. So here Luke is establishing the custom to which he will later refer. Luke is also making it clear that Jesus didn’t hide himself away in Jerusalem. He taught openly and to anyone that would listen. This underscores his testimony to the high priest in John 18:19-21.
According to Luke, Jesus’ routine was to spend his days teaching in the temple, and then withdraw during the night to Olivet, or the Mount of Olives. Perhaps we are to understand from Luke 22:39 that Jesus didn’t just go to Olivet to sleep, but that he also spent time in prayer. The picture this paints in my mind is one of a day of ministry fueled by a night of prayer. Is this how we pursue ministry? Or do we tend to do the work on our own steam, without taking time to be with the Lord in prayer and meditation? In the Gospels, we often read of Jesus withdrawing to pray, or taking a moment to pray before doing something significant (off the top of my head I can think of the calling of the disciples, the feeding of the five thousand, and the raising of Lazarus as examples of this). But it’s clear that he also withdrew to pray as a part of his normal routine. And so should we. If we try to do the things the Lord has called us to do without bathing our efforts in prayer, we become unfocused, and unduly stressed. We can easily forget why we do what we do, and forget to lean on His sustaining strength and power.
Verse 38 tells us that the people would rise up early in the morning to go hear Jesus teaching in the temple. There’s a sense of enthusiasm and urgency in these words. People couldn’t get enough of the things Jesus said. Notice, Luke doesn’t say anything about miracles or any supernatural phenomenon drawing the people; they came to hear him teach. “Well,” you might say, “of course they did! Wouldn’t you want to go hear Jesus teach in person?”
But isn’t that what we have in Scripture? If we believe the Bible is the word of God, inspired, or “God-breathed,” then whenever we read Scripture (and not just the red letter parts), are we not hearing the Lord teach us? Do we treat Scripture this way, or is Scripture reading a chore to us–something we do out of obligation, not because we’re anxious to hear the Lord speak to us in His word? Luke says the people went out early in the morning to hear Jesus. I wouldn’t use this to say “therefore we should get up early to read the Bible,” but I would say this indicates to us how important listening to Jesus was to these people, and how important it should be to us.
Indeed, let me take this a step further. When God’s word is correctly taught and preached, it is as if Christ himself is teaching. The preacher’s job when he ascends the pulpit is to take God’s word and apply it to His people. If he is doing his job, utilizing good exegesis of the text, and sticking to what the passage says, then he is effectively speaking God’s word to you. Do we approach church with a sense that we’re going to hear the Lord speak to us through the preaching of His word? I think we should. And our enthusiasm for church should, therefore, be like those people who rose early and hurried to the temple to hear Jesus teach.
I hope these thoughts challenge and encourage you as much as they do me. Have a great week!