Palm Sunday begins what is traditionally known as the most holy week of the Christian calendar leading up to Easter. In this last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he delivers a sermon to his disciples that should have a tremendous impact on how we practically live out our lives, but most of us won’t hear much about it this Easter season.
Ready for What’s to Come
On Tuesday of Holy Week, only days after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus goes into the temple to teach. After a contentious exchange with the Pharisees, Jesus and his disciples leave to go to Bethany where they are staying with their friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. As they walk through the temple grounds, Jesus overhears one of the disciples commenting on the majesty and glory of the temple.
Jesus’ response must have surprised and shocked the disciples:
“Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matt. 24:2).
The temple was the center of Jewish worship, so its destruction was unthinkable to the disciples. Being troubled by this exchange, they come to Jesus privately, while resting on the Mount of Olives, and ask him two questions:
“Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3).
Jesus’ response has become known as the Olivet Discourse and can be found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Jesus answers the disciples’ questions while teaching about both a future period of tribulation (including the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in 70, A.D.) and his second coming at the end of this current age. But he also teaches his disciples how they are to live while they wait for his return.
Watching, Ready, Working
His practical instructions on how the disciples were to conduct their lives after the Master departs are illustrated with a series of parables showing that there will be a delay before his return. Jesus’ illustration also explains how Christians should live and work during that delay—the time period we are in right now. These three well-known parables are:
- The parable of the wise and faithful servant (Matt. 24:45-51), which teaches us to always be watching for the return of the master, living our lives like we expect his imminent return, yet also being willing to wait for him for another thousand years.
- The parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13) teaches us to always be ready for the return of our master—not to put off what we know God is calling us to do because we never know what tomorrow will bring.
- The parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) teaches us that the master expects us to be working while we await his return. The master has an expectation that we use the resources and opportunities we have been given, and work in such a way as to produce a return on the master’s investment in us.
Rightly understood, these three parables can give us a great sense of peace, purpose, and urgency in our day-to-day lives.
We can take great solace in the knowledge that the Master will return. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Christ has begun a process of restoration that will not only transform us but, when his work is completed, it will restore the world around us. He is truly making all things new, a process that was started during his earthly ministry and will be finalized when he returns. And it is through the power of that work that we are empowered to do the work he has called us to do.
This message is affirmed in the lyrics of the Keith Getty/Stuart Townend song, In Christ Alone:
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.
These parables also speak to our purpose in this life—to be engaged with the work around us, fulfilling God’s call to fill the earth with his redeemed images and subdue it, making creation a place where human beings can flourish. The true meaning of salvation is much more than a bus ticket to heaven. He has much work for each of us to do before he returns or calls us home.
Finally, these parables should fill us with a great sense of urgency. Every minute of every day counts for eternity. We need to live lives that are “caught up”—that leave nothing undone at the end of the day, as much as is humanly possible.
T. M. Moore, writing for the Justice Fellowship website and quoted in my book How Then Should We Work, writes of the greater purpose of our calling made possible by the grace of the gospel:
So no matter what your job, or whatever your work might be, God intends that you should devote your labors to something greater than personal interest, economic prosperity, or social good, alone. God intends your work to contribute to the restoration of the creation, and the people in it, to raising life on this blue planet to higher states of beauty, goodness, and truth, reflecting the glory of God in our midst.
All this is possible because of what Jesus did for us on this most important week over 2,000 years ago.
Let us celebrate it by living out lives that fulfill his design and desire for us while we await the return of the Master.
Editor’s Note: God’s story doesn’t end with the resurrection – what we do while we wait for his return matters. Learn more in All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel.
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