Last Sunday of the Church Year, November 25, 2018
Allures, Alerts, Assures
Text: Mark 13:24–37
How much do you like waiting? How long are you able to wait? I am not good at waiting. I’m not. You can ask Erica, I usually won’t wait thirty minutes for a table at a restaurant. I would rather drive 40 minutes to someplace we don’t have to wait than wait for thirty where I am. It’s true. I hate waiting at the doctor’s office. I get there on time, and they move you into that room 15 minutes after the appointment is supposed to be, and then you usually have to wait another half an hour, right? Ugh. From the time I was legally an adult to the time I got married was 16 years. That was a long 16 years. (Worth it.)
Today, on this the Last Sunday of the Church Year, we are reminded that Judgment Day is approaching, when we will see Jesus coming in the clouds with great power and glory. It’s been two thousand years since Jesus promised to return. That makes it seem highly unlikely to people today, including some churchgoing Christians, that He is coming back. (4000 years wait the first time) But our text gives a clear picture. Jesus promises to return in visible glory and with great power. When He returns, all will know that Jesus of Nazareth, the one who lived two thousand years ago, died on the cross, was buried, rose again, is our Savior. That’s our focus on this Last Sunday of the Church Year. The Promise of Jesus’ Second Coming Allures Us, Alerts Us and Assures Us.
In our text, Jesus puts it all into perspective. The created world is temporary. Its days, our days, are numbered. Everywhere we look, we get reminders that this world is temporary. Gray hairs, weak knees, muscle pulls, bones creaking. Machines break. Toys fall apart. The computer locks up. Sometimes we wonder if we’ll ever make it through the day.
When we look at the text, Jesus and His disciples were in Jerusalem for what would be our Lord’s last Passover. In the verses before our text, as they left the temple, the disciples looked around admiring its grandeur. The temple was an amazing architectural achievement. The Jews took great pride in it. It stood as the central place of worship for Jews to bring their sacrifices and offer prayers to God.
Jesus took this opportunity to teach His disciples. In Mark 13, Jesus gives three different prophecies, although a lot of people get confused and think the whole chapter is about His return. He prophesied about the near future. He made the disturbing comment that in the not-too-distant future, not one of those buildings would be intact and not one of the giant stones would be on top of another. This actually did happen in the year 70 A.D. Jesus also looked ahead to when the disciples, the Church would be persecuted by the Jews and by the Romans. Then Jesus told them about the times that would precede the Last Day.
A lot of people are fascinated by this topic. This is alluring. People love the idea of a big, climatic, ending in the struggle between good and evil. Think of the many books and movies that have made a fortune with this idea, from Left Behind to The Lord of the Rings. To believers, Judgment Day and the end of the world are the fulfillment of the promises of God-centered in Jesus, the joyful end when we finally meet our Savior.
There are some things about Judgment Day we know. All people will be gathered before Jesus, including those who have died, their bodies raised to rejoin their souls. He will separate those who believe in Him from those who do not. Believers will go to heaven. Unbelievers will go to hell. No one in the second group will get a second chance. But there are some things about Judgment Day we don’t know, especially when it will occur.
The disciples responded to Jesus in a very understandable way. They wanted to know when: When is all this going to take place? Throughout history, there have been a whole lot of folks who have predicted when the end of the world would take place. But the fact is that these folks have been totally and terribly wrong in their predictions. (Nibiru) What does Jesus say? He tells us, “Don’t believe them.” The way He puts it is: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven” (v 32). We don’t know when the Last Day will come.We do know we must always be on the alert for Jesus’ return, for he continues, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 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” (vv 33–34). Jesus wants us to be alert, on guard, to keep watching for Him to come at any time. Jesus is the “man,” the Church is the “house,” and we believers are the “servants.” The point Jesus makes with this picture is that we in the Church are to “be on guard,” as He says—for His return at any moment.
The first-century Christians believed Jesus would return in their lifetime. They lived in that hope and expectation. They kept waiting and watching and longing for His appearing. That didn’t happen.
The message to us today in this twenty-first century is the same as it was to those in the first century: you don’t know when He will return, so always be ready. Jesus says in Lk 21:34: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”
I know there are those who think this won’t happen because it hasn’t happened. Don’t be one of those folks. Don’t wait until it is too late. There is a story where the Devil called all the demons of hell together. He asked for suggestions as to how to get the souls of men. After many suggestions, one demon said, “I’ll tell you what we should do. Let’s tell men there is a Bible; that the Bible is God’s Word. Let’s tell men that there is a real Hell and a real Heaven; that people who die without the Savior go to Hell; and that those who believe in Jesus Christ when they die, go to Heaven. Let’s tell men that God loves them and has provided a way for them to be saved. Let’s tell men they ought to be saved, but let’s tell them they don’t need to be saved now. Let’s tell them they can wait.”
Are we on the alert? Are we paying attention to the signs of the last days? (And just so we are clear, the last days started when Jesus ascended…) Are we going along with everyone else out there, or fighting the good fight of faith? In the Epistle this morning, Jude tells us to be built up in our most holy faith, keeping ourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.
Jesus Christ is coming! And when He does, you will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. For “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
For those of us who have faith, we who trust in Jesus Christ alone, all this is not terrifying but instead it is assuring. We can wait for His coming with joy—for, He assures us, He comes with life, with forgiveness and hope, and He comes to put sin and death in their eternal places, once and for all. Until that happens, your Lord Jesus is going to give you stuff every day: daily comfort, daily promises, daily gifts and blessings to pour into your life as He takes cares of you with His Word and Sacraments.
The one who is coming has also already come so that we might live. The babe of Bethlehem became the Good Friday Savior and the Easter hope for the whole world. As Christians, we live in Him now by faith, and on that Last Day. we will be with Him forever! That’s good news for us and for all who believe. With faith in Jesus Christ, there is forgiveness for all of our sins. There is hope when things seem hopeless. There is life after death. There is forgiveness. That’s why Jesus lived, died, and rose for you. So, do not just be allured—stay alert, be assured. Jesus is coming! (To take you home.)
In Jesus’ Name.
Adapted from Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 28, Part 4.