“Awake until the Coming of Our Lord” (Mark 13:24-37)

First Week of Advent
Wednesday, November 30, 2011

“Awake until the Coming of Our Lord” (Mark 13:24-37)

It is customary for midweek services in Advent or Lent for the preacher to come up with a theme, some connecting thread that ties together the services and sermons for that season. Last year, for instance, our Advent series, for both the Sundays and Wednesdays, was on the seven “O Antiphons” of the hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” It made for a nifty, handy-dandy series theme. But this year for Advent, I wasn’t sure what to do with these midweek services, what sort of a theme to come up with. Then I looked over the lessons for this whole season of Advent, and, what with our Sunday Bible class on the Book of Revelation, the thing that jumped out at me was that several of the readings had to do with being ready for Christ’s Second Coming at the end of this age. And so I’ve taken those readings and gathered them together as a three-part series, in this order, “Awake until, Waiting for, and Blameless at the Coming of Our Lord.”

Our message today, then: “Awake until the Coming of Our Lord.” And it’s based on the alternate Gospel reading from this past Sunday, Mark 13:24-37.

Mark 13 is the chapter in Mark’s gospel that has what is often called Jesus’ “Eschatological Discourse.” “Eschatological Discourse”: That’s a big fancy term that means the section where Jesus is talking about the end times, the last things. The last things that Jesus covers include the judgment that’s coming on Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70, as well as the judgment that’s coming on this whole unbelieving world, which will happen on the day when Christ returns.

Judgment on Jerusalem, judgment on the world: Jesus deals with them both in this chapter, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell which one he’s talking about at any given point. That’s because the judgment that would come on unbelieving Jerusalem serves as a miniature, a microcosm, of the judgment that will come at the end of world. The destruction of Jerusalem serves as a perpetual warning throughout history of the judgment to come on the Last Day–judgment on the whole sinful, unbelieving world that has rebelled against her Creator and rejected God’s appointed Savior, Jesus Christ.

But it’s not just judgment that we find in Jesus’ words in Mark 13, there is also plenty of salvation, enough for you and me. It’s all there, both judgment and salvation, judgment and salvation at the coming of our Lord. For example, Jesus speaks of the coming judgment when he says: “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” In other words, there will be cosmic, cataclysmic chaos, the likes of which we have not seen yet, immediately before the return of Christ. The natural order of the universe will become unraveled. The world as we know it will be coming to an end.

What will happen next? Jesus tells us: “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” This will be the visible return of Christ when he comes to judge the living and the dead. Every eye shall see him. For those who have rejected and dismissed Christ, thinking they don’t need a Savior, this will be a sight of dread and terror.

But for us who do know our need, who do believe in the Savior God has given us, the visible return of Christ will be the most beautiful sight we could see. Our Lord is coming to deliver us from the chaos and destruction! He’s coming to take us home! That’s what will happen for us. Don’t miss the note of hope here in our text when Jesus says: “And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” This will be the gathering of God’s people from all around the globe, the giant homecoming of all the believers, the church of all ages and in all places. What a gathering that will be! So you see, it is not just judgment that is coming at the Last Day, it is also salvation, salvation for all who trust in Christ.

Are you ready for that day? What will make you ready? In a word, faith. Not just “faith” in any old thing. Not faith in yourself, certainly. You won’t find anything meriting salvation in you. No, there you will find only sin and shame and things worthy of God’s judgment: shameful thoughts, hurtful words, deeds that fall short of how God would have his human creatures live. If your faith is in your own goodness, you will have a shocking jolt when you have to face the Day of Judgment. You will not pass.

How will you be ready for that day? Will it be by having faith in some sort of a generic “God,” a higher power of your own imagination? No, that won’t cut it either. The god you suppose, the creation of your own opinions–this is not the true God, the one and only God who reveals himself in Scripture and who has made himself known in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. If it is not this God you are trusting in, you do not have God, you do not know God, and you will not be ready.

For it is only in knowing Jesus Christ by faith that you have forgiveness for your sins. Only the death of Christ on the cross is enough to wipe away the unfavorable record that you have in the courtroom of heaven. Jesus took all of your sins and died for them, the very Son of God in the flesh shedding his holy blood on your behalf, taking the judgment you deserve upon himself and wiping the record clean. More than that, his righteousness, his right standing with the Father, gets applied to you. God therefore pronounces you not guilty. Charges dismissed. You are free.

Free and forgiven for Christ’s sake, now you await Christ’s return, not with fear or dread, but rather with hope and expectation. We Christians look forward to what is to come as a result of what Christ has done for us. This is the faith that God has created in our hearts, to trust in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is what it is to be ready.

And so the key thought that Jesus delivers to his disciples here in Mark 13 is always to be ready, whenever he may return. We don’t know when that will be, the day of Christ’s return. It could come at any time. Contrary to the date-setters, we cannot predict that day. “Concerning that day or that hour,” Jesus says in our text, “no one knows.” “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”

To emphasize the point, Jesus tells a little story: “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning–lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

“Stay awake”: That’s the bottom line. Keep the lamp of faith burning bright. Keep ever watchful, as you wait for your Master’s return. Awake and alert and active. Awake with the watchful eye of faith. And active, doing the work our Master has given us to do while we await his return.

Awake with faith. What will keep you awake, what will keep your faith going with eyes wide open? Well, what is it that creates and nurtures Christian faith? Answer: Only the gospel, the good news of our Savior that comes to us in Word and Sacrament. These are the means that the Holy Spirit uses to keep us awake and watchful and ready. Dear Christian, you need to be receiving the Word and Sacrament constantly, regularly, week in and week out, in order to be and to remain ever watchful, spiritually awake and clear-eyed. Otherwise, cut off from these gospel means, you will become spiritually drowsy, and, God forbid, you might even get hypnotized by the world’s spell and fall asleep, which is to be spiritually dead, to lose your faith. You don’t want that. So stay awake. Stay with the means that God uses to keep you awake and alert, responding in repentance and faith to the Word of God as it is preached and sacramented to you.

And as we stay awake, we will have work to do. The servants who are waiting for their Master’s return are not just standing around with nothing to do. No, we have lots to do! There is the work God has entrusted to his church, to spread the gospel in the places where we live and to take that good news to the ends of the earth. We do this both individually and collectively. Individually, we share our hope in Christ with our friends and family and neighbors here in our community. We invite them to come and join us in God’s house, where they can hear more of the good news God has for them. And we do this work collectively as well, as we support the ministry of our congregation with our time, talents, and treasures, and as we extend our outreach around the globe through the work of our church body. Awake and waiting means that we have work to do, important, meaningful work that the Master has entrusted to his servants. So let’s do it.

“Awake until the Coming of Our Lord.” Advent is a wake-up call, my friends. This is a time to be alert. Our Master is coming back–we don’t know when, but he is coming back–and we want to be ready: clear-eyed and active and looking forward in faith and hope to the salvation that Christ is bringing with him on the day when he returns.

Published in: on November 30, 2011 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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