The Real Palm Sunday

Original Date: 
Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mark 13 The Real Palm Sunday

A Triumphal Entry
Palm Sunday. In many ways, it is one of the most joyous days on the Christian calendar. As we remember the events of Jesus’ life, Palm Sunday is the day we remember as a day of celebration. Jesus on a donkey, surrounded by His closest friends and a crowd of pilgrims, with people waving Palm branches and throwing their cloaks down before Him, all the while shouting Psalms of praise: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

On Palm Sunday, it seemed that Jesus was receiving the recognition He was due. He was the promised descendant of the great King David. He was the one True Ruler of Israel.
And yet, it was less than a week later that the same crowds were calling for Jesus’ death.

It turned out that His Kingdom did not look like the Kingdom they wanted. They were hoping for a military commander who would conquer their enemies. They were expecting triumph.
But when Jesus allowed himself to be arrested and put on trial--when He meekly turned the other cheek--it was exactly the opposite of what they thought should happen Instead of a triumphant parade, Jesus walked the way of suffering. And so they turned on Him.

Instead of the high point in Jesus’ life, Palm Sunday becomes an ironic twist. The crowds were right in their recognition of Jesus as King, but they were wrong about what that would look like.

We are in the midst of a sermon series through the book of Mark. We started in January, and the plan is to end next week, with the story of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. It has also been our goal to read every word of Mark during our worship services.

But that means that we read the story of Palm Sunday several weeks ago. Since Mark puts so much emphasis on the final week of Jesus’ life, there was no reasonable way for us to read Mark 11 today, and still get all the way through the gospel.

And so it is that Terry just read Mark 13where Jesus talks about His Second Coming. And yet, I think it is a uniquely appropriate passage for us to consider on Palm Sunday, because the triumphant king the crowds thought they were hailing on the Sunday before the Cross, is the King all will see when He returns in glory. That’s why I am calling this message: The Real Palm Sunday.

A Controversial Topic
No doctrine in the Christian Faith seems to stir quite as much interest as the doctrine of Christ's return: nor, it seems, does any other doctrine create quite as much disagreement. For those interested in the "End Times" there is no shortage of sources or opinions regarding when and how they will occur. From supermarket tabloids to internet chat groups to Hollywood movies to TV preachers everyone seems to have ideas regarding what Christ's return will be like.

And nearly everyone has a slightly different interpretation of Scripture and paints a slightly different picture of what the Second Coming will be like.

In the face of so much information and so many differing opinions, we begin to wonder if there is even any point in talking about Christ's return at all. Many choose simply to be agnostic about the Second Coming. No one can agree on what it will be like, they figure, and so there's no sense in thinking about it.

And yet, the Bible does talk about Christ’s return. The passage in front of us today is one of the longest discourses of Jesus in the gospel of Mark. It’s known as the Olivet discourse because verse 3 says Jesus was “sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple” when four of his disciples asked him a question about the temple and its destruction. Along with parallel passages in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 it gives us some of the most detailed information on what Jesus’ return will be like. It is also, of course, one of the most debated sections of scripture in the entire Bible.

We don’t have the time to go through every verse in the chapter, and I don’t think this is the time or place to dig into all the controversies, but there are three themes that stand out to me in this passage about which most Christians agree.

Let’s take them one at a time:

Beginning of Birth Pains
So, first: There will be trouble. Jesus tells us to expect difficulties, opposition, even persecution for our belief in Him. For example, verse 9:

9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.

Jesus is talking here with His closest disciples, and He is upfront with them: they are going to have hardship because of their faith in Him. Church tradition says that of the 11 disciples who remained after Judas, 10 of them ended up being put to death for their faith in Jesus. Only the Apostle John is believed to have died of natural causes, and even that happened while he was a prisoner on a Roman penal colony.

And what Jesus is warning His closest followers of He is warning all His other followers of as well. The earliest readers of the gospel of Mark all lived in a Roman Empire that was not friendly toward Christianity. The wicked emperor Nero made scapegoats of Christians after a fire—probably started by him—destroyed a good part of Rome. Other officials and leaders made a regular practice of persecuting Christians.

Moreover, the gospel of Mark was written at about the same time that the city of Jerusalem was being destroyed in response to a Jewish revolt in AD 70. That seems to be what Jesus is predicting in some of the more alarming verses of this chapter, such as verses 14-17:

14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!

The siege of Jerusalem was terrible and destructive, and ended with Roman soldiers defiling the temple and burning it to the ground, which is probably what the phrase “the abomination that causes desolation” refers to. Remember, it was a discussion of the temple that prompted Jesus to begin this discourse, and He correctly predicted that it would be destroyed.

But as a sign of His return, He seems to be saying that the temple’s destruction fits with the general pattern of trial and trouble that will continue to be a part of the reality of this world. Verses 7 and 8:

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

Some Christians like to comb the headlines trying to determine if this conflict or that one is a signal that the end times have become. Maybe what is going on in Syria is a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Or maybe the formation of the European Union is a reconstituting of the Roman Empire that signals the end is near.

But Jesus seems to be saying that we should read these events not so much as immediate precursors to the end; as reminders that the world we live in is broken and still in need of repair. Jesus’ point, to me anyway, is that every generation should be prepared to encounter trouble and persecution.

So, what should we do? Jesus is telling us that there will be trouble, but He is urging us to be faithful. Jesus is calling us to endure. Verse 13:

13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Jesus’ great charge to His followers in the midst of the world’s opposition is to “stand firm.” The Greek word literally means “to remain under;” that is to bear up, to hang on. Instead of fleeing in fear He calls us to hold steady without giving up or giving in. It means continuing to trust in Him and hold on to Him even when the circumstances of our lives are less than ideal.

Jesus is very realistic about the cost of following Him. Remember, in the 8th chapter of Mark He said that we would all have to pick up our own crosses. To love God and love people often means sacrifice and suffering. A world broken by sin and obsessed with power is often cruel to those who choose to love their neighbors as themselves. So Jesus regularly tells us that in this world we will have trouble.

And yet, He urges us to hang in there. The path of selfless service is a path He Himself walked, and He calls His followers to follow Him.

Coming in Clouds
Second, Jesus is coming back. There will be a visible, bodily return of Jesus which will result in the final judgment of unbelievers and the final reward of believers. This is verses 24-27:

24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

There is a great deal of dispute with regard to all the events that will be involved, but most Christians agree that Jesus is definitely coming again. Verse 26 is a reference to Daniel 7 that we have mentioned earlier in Mark, the source of Jesus’ favorite title for Himself as the “Son of Man.” It is a prediction of the Messiah coming on the clouds with majesty and splendor.

In Acts 1, after the ascension, as the disciples are staring at the sky into which Jesus had just disappeared, angels come and tell them that Jesus will come back in the same way He left.

This is what I am referring to as the Real Palm Sunday. This is what Philippians 2 is referring to when it says that “every knee will bow and every tongue confess” that Jesus is Lord. There is a day coming when Jesus will return to earth and every eye will see Him and it will be obvious to all that He really is the King. Everyone will shout Hosanna, and there will be no irony this time. With His victory over death already won, Jesus will assume His rightful place as the Ruler of the world.

And the result, as verse 27 says, will be a great gathering of His chosen people from all the corners of the earth. There will be a great judgment at which non-Christians will be consigned to eternal punishment while Christians are brought to their heavenly reward.

So what should be our attitude toward this? I believe we should be hopeful. If a day is coming when Jesus will return to be recognized as the One True King, and all of the pain and suffering and brokenness of this world will be put right, then that is something that those of us who love Jesus should be looking forward to.

There isn’t a verse in Mark 13 that says that, so much, but we can look at a passage like Titus 2:13 to see what a Christian’s attitude toward Jesus’ return should be like:

13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,

The Bible calls the Second Coming of Jesus “the blessed hope.” For Christians it should be our greatest prayer.

I know it is common to think about Jesus’ return with fear. Some of the things we read in Mark 13 are disturbing and frightening. The book of Revelation is filled with scary images.

But it is good to remember that those are descriptions of this world. When Jesus comes again, all the things that are wrong will be set right. Those who belong to Him will be gathered to His side. For a Christian, Jesus’ return is not something to be frightened of, but something to look forward to.

No One Knows
Then, the third thing that we can take from this passage: No one knows when Jesus will return. It is not our place to know God’s schedule.

Most commentators say that the main point Jesus seems to be making throughout Mark 13 is that it is impossible to know when the end will come. He says as much in verse 32:

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Throughout history there have been people who have gained quite a bit of notoriety by claiming to know the date of Christ’s return. There have even been knew churches and denominations formed by people convinced that they knew when it would happen. Even today, some religious leader will make the national news by predicting that Jesus will return on such and such a date.

One of the latest such predictions was by a man named Harold Camping who erected billboards around the U.S. predicting that Jesus was going to return on May 21, 2011. I remember that one, because that’s my birthday.

But, of course, to date, every prediction of Jesus’ return has been proved wrong.

Clearly, Jesus doesn’t want us making guesses about precise times and locations. And whenever we hear such predictions, we should be exceedingly cautious. Too often, the people making such predictions have less than pure motives, and many people have been hurt by being convinced that they knew the day and hour of Jesus’ return.

Instead, what Jesus urges from us is watchfulness. Verses 33-37:

33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

To Jesus, not knowing when the end will be is reason to be alert at all times. If you are put in charge of watching the door, and told that your boss will come back sometime during the night, but not exactly when, and when he comes he will expect you to be awake, what will you do? You are going to do everything you can to stay awake and watchful, because you don’t want to be found sleeping on the job.

In the same way, Jesus wants us to live every day with an awareness that He could come back at any time. It should be our goal to be found doing what He has called us to do.

The first Palm Sunday led directly to the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. Instead of crowning Jesus King, the people ended up calling for the cross.

But the second Palm Sunday, the one yet to come, will lead to everyone recognizing Jesus as Lord. The suffering of this world will end, broken things will be repaired, and Jesus will reign without dispute.

And so we look forward to Christ’s return. It should be our greatest prayer.

At the end of the every service, after I give the blessing, I use a word that people often ask me about. It’s the word “maranatha.” It’s an Aramaic word, it comes from 1 Corinthians 16, and it means: “O Lord, Come!”

I use that word every week to end our service because we should all live in anticipation of Christ’s return. We should endure until He gets here, we should live with hope, and we should remain watchful.