“Stay Awake!” (Mark 13:24-37)

Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 25, 2018

“Stay Awake!” (Mark 13:24-37)

“Stay awake!” No, this is not just the plea of a preacher for his parishioners to keep their eyes open for the next fifteen minutes, while they’re still recovering from their tryptophan food coma from turkey on Thursday. Well, actually, I do want you to stay awake and listen to this sermon, not because it’s Henrickson speaking, but because it’s Christ’s servant delivering God’s word to you, as he is charged to do. Therefore you ought to listen and take God’s word to heart.

“Stay awake!” And not just for the next fifteen minutes, but really for the rest of your life. For that’s how Jesus would have us live, awake and alert and looking eagerly and expectantly for his coming. For Christ is coming again, and we need to be ready, because we don’t know when that will be. We do know that it will be. We just don’t know when. So our Lord tells us today, “Stay Awake!”

Our text is the Holy Gospel for this day, the Last Sunday of the Church Year. In November we’re in the last days of the church year, and so, appropriately enough, our readings this month have dealt with the end times before Christ’s return. That’s what we find in Mark 13, Jesus’ “eschatological discourse,” his teaching about the last things.

The first thing about the last things is whether or not we even think about the return of Christ. Do we? Are we eagerly and expectantly looking for our Lord’s return? Are we awake and alert to such things? Or are we instead sleepwalking our way through life? If so, then today Jesus is giving us a needed wake-up call. “Stay awake!”

You know, the world all around us is asleep spiritually. They’re oblivious to the thought of Christ coming again. Oh, they may be very busy, hustling and bustling to and fro, running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Lots of shopping to do: Black Friday, Cyber Monday–and Sunday as the Lord’s Day gets lost in the shuffle. The people of this world may be busy, but spiritually they are asleep, out of it, in a fool’s coma. They are not conscious or cognizant, not thinking at all about the end times and eternity, about one’s relation with God, and the fact that this world is indeed coming to an end, and after that, the judgment.

But Christ would not have his people be so sleepy and dull-minded and stuck in a stupor. Jesus would have us be awake and alert and ready for his return. And until then, Christ would have us be active and doing the work he has given us to do, before the night comes, when no man can work. That’s the point of this discourse to his disciples in Mark 13.

The return of Christ: What will it be like? Jesus tells us: “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. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 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.”

That’s what we’re waiting for. Jesus will come again in great glory. There will be cosmic disruption on a scale never before seen. The heavens will start shaking and falling apart. New heavens and a new earth are coming. Christ himself is coming, the mighty Messiah revealed in his full majesty. And he’s coming for us, for his whole church to be with him forever, sharing in his glory. For the unbelievers, for the children of this world, it will be a day of terror and dread. For us, though, it will be a great day of rejoicing and redemption.

But the thing is, it will come in an instant, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. No one is able to predict exactly when Christ will come again. Jesus says: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”

Jesus could be coming back this afternoon. Or it could be a week from now. Or a year. Or a hundred years from now. No one knows. And because no one knows, the important thing is to be ready for his return at any time. Are you ready? If Jesus does come back this afternoon, are you ready?

This raises the question: How does one become ready? How does one stay ready? How do we stay awake and keep awake, so that we’re ready at all times? Good questions. Important questions. Really the most important questions there are.

The answer is found in these words of Jesus: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” The world as we know it is not going to last. Do not put all your eggs in that basket! You’re looking in the wrong place for your security. This life, with all its wealth and pleasures and possessions–this will all pass away. You will pass away, swept away in death. What then? Nothing to hang onto.

However, there is something secure and lasting and eternal you can hold onto. It is the word of the Lord. Jesus’ words will certainly never pass away. You can count on them. You can stake your life, and your eternal life, on the words of Christ.

Because the words of Christ are built on the works of Christ. What Jesus has done for you–and what he will do for you–this is all delivered to you in his words. The gospel preached here and taught here and sacramented here–right here in this little congregation–this is God’s delivery system for bringing to your door, with your name written on it, all the gifts that Christ won for you by his death and resurrection.

What has Christ done for you? What has he won for you? What Jesus did for you is to fulfill God’s Law on your behalf. You didn’t. He did. You have broken God’s commandments, over and over again, in thought, word, and deed. But Jesus kept the Law of God perfectly, living the righteous life man is supposed to live. And then Jesus went the extra mile. He suffered the punishment we lawbreakers deserve, even though he was innocent. He suffered death and abandonment on the cross, where you should have been. By his holy blood, all your guilt is atoned for, your sins forgiven. Then Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave, showing forth the victory he will share with all who trust in him. He will live forever, and you will too.

All that Christ won for you, all that he has done for you, is delivered to you in the words of the gospel. Jesus’ words are active and effective. They do what they say. They give you what they promise. To receive these gifts, to realize what Jesus has done for you and what he has in store for you–to trust in him, rather than in yourself–this is faith. And this, then, is how you will stay awake.

You stay awake and keep awake by being nourished on Christ’s words. Christ’s words, coming to you in and through the means of grace, Word and Sacrament–by these means your faith is strengthened. You will be strong to withstand the pressures and the temptations facing the child of God in this world. And those pressures are many. You will be tempted to give up, to throw in the towel and say: “What’s the use? Look at how apathetic and unconcerned people are about church. It seems like a losing effort. Maybe I’ll join the crowd that doesn’t care.” Will you? Or will you instead keep the faith and stay awake and be strong in the Lord?

How important it is, then, to be in the Word! You won’t make it otherwise. The pressures are too great. The current will sweep you away. You need God’s Word on a regular basis. So do your friends and neighbors and family members, too. We all need God’s Word. All people need the ministry of the church, whether they realize it or not.

Stay awake! Keep awake! Be on guard against the wiles of the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh. They would subtly, gradually, pull you away from Christ and his words. Stay awake! Keep awake! Be strengthened in faith and love for the work your Master has for you, in your daily life and in our life together as church. Jesus says: “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.”

“Each with his work.” In your daily vocation–as father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, worker, retired–you are Christ’s person in that place. In our life together as church, whether pastor or people, we each have our role to play in the body of Christ. We are here for a reason. God is using us to achieve his purpose. We are his channel of blessing and love to the people around us.

Do you see your identity in life in this way? This is what it means to be awake, active and alert, eagerly and expectantly waiting for our Lord’s return, and doing the work he has given us to do until then. Dear friends, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is speaking to us today. And what he says to us he says to all: “Stay awake!”

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Published in: on November 23, 2018 at 7:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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