Walk Away from the World to Pray
We’re straining to make “Holy Tuesday” special, aren’t we? On Palm Sunday we hail our King, on Maundy Thursday we relish in the obedience of Jesus, on Friday we commemorate his death, and on Sunday we celebrate new life and victory and the death of death.
But Tuesday? If we sit in this Tuesday for a moment, long enough for our ears to stop ringing from the celebration of Palm Sunday, Tuesday may grab us by the collar and give us something unexpected — something only Holy Tuesday can give.
Jesus is teaching theology in Jerusalem each day this week, and Tuesday is “Eschatology Day.” The temple will be destroyed (Luke 21:5–9), there will be many terrible apocalyptic events (Luke 21:10–24), Jerusalem will fall, the people will suffer twisted violence, families will be ripped apart. “There will be . . . people fainting with fear” (Luke 21:25–26).
Jesus breaks the fourth wall, reaches out of the pages of Scripture, grabs our jaw, and forces us to look at him: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life” (Luke 21:34).
Tuesday’s Odd Gift
And then. Tuesday gives us its peculiar gift,
Every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him. (Luke 21:37–38)
Jesus and the disciples were walking straight toward the jagged cleft of tragedy. They were running into trauma, into chaos, into sadness, into the hungry jaws of their cruel weekend. Certainly Jesus would be consumed with the busyness of his final week of life. But oddly, he chooses to commute to a place that is later said by Luke to be “a Sabbath day’s journey away” (Acts 1:12). Jesus didn’t get an apartment in the city. He didn’t room at the conference center. Even though he taught “early in the morning,” he chose to commute to do his common work from an inconvenient and an uncommon place. Why?
Jesus spent his Tuesday night on Olivet. Actually, Jesus went to Olivet every night. But it is in telling us about his Tuesday that Luke tells us his sleeping arrangements “at night.” Jesus elected this commute — even though it’s long enough, and even though he teaches early, and even though he faces certain death in a matter of days.
That Tuesday gives us three reels of lost footage on the life of Jesus.
Tuesday’s Pictured Hope
Imagine travelling back in time to June 5, 1944 — the day before the Invasion of Normandy Beach — and standing on the beach. Feel the sand in your toes. Look out over the Atlantic Ocean, at the sunset. Turn and look at the German armaments and weaponry behind you. Tomorrow, this is where it will happen. This is where history will turn, at the cost of thousands of lives. Today, it is just a protected beach. But tomorrow, it will change the course of history.
Olivet is the eschatological Normandy: “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east. . . . Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him” (Zechariah 14:4–5). This is where Jesus chooses to overnight. You can envision Jesus, teary-eyed, looking into the stars. This is all worth it. One day, I’ll come from there, and I’ll have my beloved with me. Ah yes, my sheep, my holy ones, my bride.
It is remarkable what quietly happens here at Olivet. The “last thing” that Jesus did on his last day of earthly eschatology teaching (Tuesday) is fall asleep on the very mount to which one day he will return. And Luke, for reasons we can imagine, finds that important to include — Jesus camps on what will be God’s own epic conflict with Satan. He returns, night after night: “but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet” (Luke 21:37).
Tuesday’s Practiced Peace
Jesus must have drawn strength from Olivet. Luke later appeals to Jesus’s commute as the habit that spins him into prayer in Gethsemane,
He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed. (Luke 22:39–41)
Olivet was the place to which Jesus retired to find hope in God. It was the place where it was all going to end.
“As was his custom” — perhaps commute to Olivet was Jesus’s way of practicing his own teaching: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life” (Luke 21:34). What does that look like for sinless Jesus? Retreating from Jerusalem, which caused him to weep (Luke 19:41), Jesus refused to be a hypocrite: “But at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet” (Luke 21:37).
Tuesday’s Prepared Betrayal
Jesus’s custom also served a painful purpose: “Each night Jesus sleeps on the Mount of Olives (21:37), from which only days before he has descended. . . . [He] prepares for his imminent arrest in this very place” (John Carroll, Luke, 422). But there is something more personal that connects his habit with his ending: “The mention of his nightly sojourns on the Mount of Olives prepares for his arrest and explains how Judas would know where to lead the posse to arrest him (see John 18:2)” (David Garland, Luke, 789).
Jesus is threading the needle. He is leading the spider to spin the web, into which he will walk for the salvation of mankind. Jesus knew on that Tuesday that he was not only teaching about the end of the world, but setting up the dominoes for his own demise. He knew that rabid men would desecrate the place in which he found rest “at night.” But he kept returning there, all the same: “but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet.”
Merge Jesus’s Commute with Your Own
Find yourself on commute with Jesus this week. Find yourself needing the space between Jerusalem and Olivet — work and home, the gym and the apartment, class and dorm — that can be a “Sabbath’s day journey” (Acts 1:12). David Mathis rightly notes, “Getting away, quiet and alone, is no special grace on its own” (Habits of Grace, 139). Jesus didn’t retreat to Olivet because it was the nearest hotel with an ocean view conducive to meditation. He went there because it was meaningful.
Find a text of Scripture — maybe even a single verse — to guide you through the week. Carry it with you. Find a meaningful space in which you connect with Jesus through his word. Experience Jesus in the commute he makes, on the edge of danger and death, carrying out his daily responsibilities, needing the Father as much as we do.
Tuesday is halfway between the entrance into Jerusalem and the crucifixion. If we consider Jesus’s journey from kingship (Palm Sunday) to the cross (Good Friday) as a chiasm, Tuesday night emerges prominently at its center. It’s the day Jesus hits his stride. It’s the day Jesus gets his hooks in the final end to all the pain and despair and confusion the church will face for thousands of years — the topic of his Tuesday teaching.
Tuesday’s contribution to Holy Week is that it aligns Jesus’s end-of-the-world purpose with his end-of-the-day practice. What’s the lesson for us this Tuesday? “Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life” (Luke 21:34). Walk with him to a quiet, familiar place, and find strength and hope for what you face today.
For Holy Week 2016, we are publishing a series of fresh meditations, one each for Palm Sunday and Easter and two each on the other six days. Also, our new devotional book, Your Sorrow Will Turn to Joy, provides morning and evening readings for Holy Week and is available for download, free of charge.