“Stay Awake, for You Do Not Know When” (Mark 13:24-37)

Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 21, 2021

“Stay Awake, for You Do Not Know When” (Mark 13:24-37)

On this Last Sunday of the Church Year, our service emphasizes, appropriately enough, the end times and the return of Christ. As the church year comes to an end, we look forward to the return of our Lord. We need to be ready for his coming at all times, because we don’t know when he will come. Jesus himself says that in our text from Mark 13: “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” And he goes on to say, “Therefore stay awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come.” Thus our theme today: “Stay Awake, for You Do Not Know When.”

Notice, Jesus says that twice: “Keep awake, stay awake, for you do not know when.” When what? “When the time will come.” “When the master of the house will come.” Jesus is talking about his own coming at the end of time. We do not know when that will be. Jesus flat out states, “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows.”

However, that has not stopped a number of men who thought they did know. For example, one of these date-setters was a man named William Miller. A self-proclaimed Baptist preacher, Miller had as many as 100,000 followers in New York and Massachusetts in the early 1840s. Basing his calculations on certain prophecies in the Bible, Miller predicted that Christ would return sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. When that didn’t happen, he changed the date to October 22 of 1844. On that day thousands of Millerites gathered on a hilltop to await the return of Christ. The day came and went, Christ did not return, and the Millerites were terribly dismayed. In fact, that day came to be known as the “Great Disappointment.” Many followers left, but enough stayed on to form what became known as the Seventh-Day Adventists.

“Miller time” turned out to be wrong. Since then, many other date-setters have come and gone, along with their predictions. A man named Charles Taze Russell of what become the Watch Tower Society and then the Jehovah’s Witnesses–Russell predicted the rapture first for 1878, then 1881, and later, he revised the millennium to begin in 1914. In recent decades, men like Hal Lindsey of “The Late Great Planet Earth” and Tim LaHaye of the “Left Behind” series have gained their own followers. Ten years ago, a radio preacher named Harold Camping predicted the return of Christ for a date in May of that year; and when it didn’t happen, he recalculated and revised it to a day in October. These guys have to do more recalculating than your GPS when you’re lost! All they do is prove what Jesus said: No one knows the day or hour. We do not know when.

But if the date-setters and the pre-millennial rapture crowd have got it wrong, maybe we have an opposite problem: We don’t think much at all about Christ’s second coming! We’re not actively, eagerly looking forward to Christ’s return. And that’s not good either. Why are we not eagerly anticipating Christ’s return? Could it be that we’ve grown a little too comfortable in this world? We’ve become so accustomed and accommodated to the ways of this world that we’re not actively looking for the life of the world to come.

Is that how it is with you? Have you grown accustomed to this place? The world is heading toward destruction, and yet for so many of us, all we can think about is Christmas shopping, football or hockey, or our favorite TV programs. We get all caught up in the things of this world, and we lose sight of our true hope, which is the return of Christ our Lord. Jesus tells us to watch, so that he does not come suddenly and find us sleeping. But many of us continue to sleepwalk our way through life, instead of being awake and watchful.

To sleepwalkers like us, Christ comes and forgives our sin of being conformed to the ways of the world. He renews our mind, readjusts our thinking. He clears our vision, so that we can see. See with the eyes of faith, to fix our eyes on Christ, our risen and returning Savior. Christ wakes us from our sleep, even as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. He raised us up in the waters of baptism, that we might walk in newness of life. And he will raise these mortal bodies of ours on the day when he returns.

Renewed and refreshed, now we are awake and we watch. We watch and wait for Christ’s return. Even though we don’t know when, we do know that he will return. And because we don’t know when, we wait for it as though it could happen at any time. And it could. It could happen today. It could happen next week. Or next year. Or a hundred years from now. Whenever the day that Christ returns, we want to be ready for it.

We look forward to that day, because it is our great hope. Not the Great Disappointment. Rather, the Great Hope! The Great Hope that animates and enlivens our lives in this dreary world. Christ is coming again to take us home! Jesus himself says so: “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.” This will be the great ingathering at the end of time. Jesus will gather his church to himself to be with him forever. This is our Great Hope!

Even though we do not know when, we do know who, and we do know what. And this gives us hope. We know that our Lord Jesus Christ “will come to judge the living and the dead.” And what gives us hope for that day is who he is for us. Because the one who will judge us is the same one who has saved us. The judge is also our Savior.

We do know who. We know who Jesus is! He is the Son of God come in the flesh to be our brother. In his ministry, he came preaching and teaching, healing and making whole. We know who he is! Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He went to the cross for you, to be the perfect sacrifice for your sins. We know who he is! He is the Lord of life, risen from the dead, in triumph over sin and the grave. He is our ascended Lord, our great high priest interceding for us in heaven. He is the bestower of the Holy Spirit, empowering his church for her mission. And this same Jesus is our coming King, who will take us home to live with him forever. Yes, we know who he is!

Knowing who Jesus is, knowing what he is coming to do, we wait and watch for his return. Jesus gives you everything you need to stay awake and waiting until the end. He gives you the promises of his word. He gives you the Holy Spirit, bestowed in baptism to keep you in the true faith. Jesus gives you his very body and blood, for the forgiveness of sins, to strengthen you in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another.

We don’t know when Christ will return, but we do know who and we do know what. And what’s more, we know what we are to do while we wait for his coming. We don’t gather on hilltops like the Millerites did, leaving life behind. Rather, our waiting is a busy, active thing. As Jesus says in our text: “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work.” And so you and I go about our work, the various tasks we have in life, not getting so caught up in them that we lose sight of our Lord’s return, but rather doing our work faithfully and well, even as we watch for his coming. Whatever our particular vocations in life–whether pastor or layman, citizen or official, father, mother, child, worker, employer, teacher, or student–whatever our calling, we do it all to the glory of God. This transforms our daily living. The hope we have for the future invigorates our life in the here and now. Watching, waiting, and working–that’s what we do as we look for Christ to come again.

We don’t know when. But we do know who, we do know what, and we do know what to do in the meantime. We know who Jesus is: He is our returning Savior. We know what he is coming to do: He’s coming to gather us to himself. And we know what to do while we’re waiting: Keep awake, watchful, with the clear eye of Christian hope. Keep doing the tasks God has assigned us to do, our daily lives renewed and transformed by the sure hope that God has given us.

Finally, we also know where, where to find the help we need to stay awake, to remain watchful. We know where to find forgiveness for our sleepiness and sloppiness of living. The forgiveness, the faith and hope and love we need, we find in his Word and Sacraments: the Good News that is preached to you, the Sacraments that are given to you, here in God’s house. Here is where you find the spiritual “No-Doz” you need to remain awake and alert, so that you not drift off into the slumberland of the world.

Brothers and sisters, you have the Great Hope of Christ’s return to look forward to! Keep awake, stay awake, for you do not know when. But you do know him, and that’s what you need to know in order to be ready, whenever he comes.

Published in: on November 20, 2021 at 4:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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