Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
The 13th chapter of Mark’s Gospel contains some of Jesus’ most extensive teaching on the Second Coming, the day when he will come again to our world. Since we are only going to read the final few verses of that chapter, let me take just a minute to summarize what Jesus has taught up to that point.
First off, Jesus makes clear here, as he makes clear in many other places, that there truly is going to be a future day in history when he will come again to judge the world and to finally and fully establish his kingdom on earth. Here in Mark 13 he warns his disciples that many things will happen before that day comes.
First, there will be many false teachers and prophets who will try to lead God’s people astray and we must not listen to them. Second, there will be many wars and natural disasters along the way and we must not let these cause us worry. Third, there will be great persecution against those who claim the name of Christ and we must endure such trials when they come.
Though all these things will happen, however, they will not hinder the ultimate return of Christ. And when he does return, he will return with great power and glory. In other words, it will not be like the first time Christ came at Christmas, when he came disguised as a baby in a manger. This time there will be no disguise. When Christ returns, we will all know it is him returning. This means that we do not need to watch for any other sign other than Christ. When we see Christ, we will know the day has arrived.
When the disciples hear all that Jesus says about this, one very important question immediately comes to mind. It’s likely the same question which comes into your mind. When? You say you are coming back, Jesus, well tell us when? When can we expect you to return?
Listen now to how he responds.
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:32-37, NRSV)
There are very few claims made in the New Testament which are more definitive and strong than the claim that a day is coming when every single one of us will stand before Christ as our judge. Matthew 25:32 says that in that day “all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” In Philippians 2 we read that on the day of Christ’s coming, “every knee will bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” In I Thessalonians, Paul writes that “the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven.” That day of the Lord, he says, will come suddenly, like “a thief in the night.”
A day is coming at the end of your life or the end of the world, whichever comes first, when you will stand before Christ, the Holy One of God, to give an account of your life.
Do you realize this? Is this something that you often think about? Are you prepared for this day? Christ will return. Jesus is coming back. And so we must be ready even today. As has been said before, every moment of life is a moment before judgment.
When I was a kid my brother and I used to get home after school when the house was still empty. My mom worked as a school teacher and in those days she arrived home about an hour after we did. That meant that for a short time every day my brother and I were alone in charge of the house. We had been given authority, although it was authority that came with some very clear boundaries.
For instance, we were allowed to help ourselves to a snack after school. But not any snack. A big bowl of chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce and whip cream was not allowed. It was available, but not allowed. A few potato chips were okay, but not an entire bag of potato chips. Eating our snack at the kitchen table was permissible. Eating our snack on the living room couch was not. Watching a bit of television after we had finished all our homework and chores was acceptable. Watching television right away before we had even started our homework or chores was not acceptable. Again, we were given charge of the house but given charge of the house along with a set of very clear guidelines.
Most of the time we were obedient. Most of the time. For I would be lying to you if I told you that there was never a time when I helped myself to a heaping bowl of chocolate ice cream with all the fixings and sat to eat that bowl of ice cream on the living room couch with my feet perched up on the coffee table watching television while my homework remained undone in my backpack and my bedroom still a disaster. It happened. Once. Maybe twice. It was a long time ago.
Of course, on those days of rebellion we had to keep watch. We knew my mom usually came home around 3:45. I say usually because some days she was able to get out early and she showed up early. Other days she was late. We could guess the time of her arrival, but we could never be certain. Thankfully, in those days our house had an especially noisy automatic garage door opener. And my brother and I knew that once we heard that garage door begin to swing open we had exactly 47.5 seconds before my mother was going to walk through the door. We always hoped that would be enough time. It never was.
As a kid I often wondered why my mother didn’t work for the FBI or the CIA. She could have been such a tremendous asset to our nation’s security. This woman could sniff out even the faintest scent of foul play. It was like we were living in our own episode of CSI. Somehow she always knew just how much ice cream had been in that container when she left that morning. If there was the smallest crumb of a potato chip on that old couch she would spy it out. Somehow by simply laying her hand on the back of that television set, she could not only tell if it had been turned on in the last hour but she also somehow knew what particular shows had been watched. To this day the sound of an automatic garage door makes my jumpy.
Jesus tells us he is coming back. “Be alert,” he says, “for nobody knows the day or the hour. It will be like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.”
It occurred to me this week that if you are that doorkeeper Jesus speaks about, the one waiting for your master to come home, there are either one of two ways you are going to watch. On the one hand, like my brother and me you can watch with fear. You don’t want the master to come home because you don’t want to live in the house the way the master wants you to live in the house. On the other hand, you could watch with hope. If you are a slave who loves and trusts your master and who therefore wants to live the way your master wants you to live, then you are eager for him to come home and you watch expectantly for the day of his arrival.
When I was young, in my immaturity I lived under the illusion that it was my parents’ job to keep me from what was best in life. As a kid the best in life did not include homework and chores but, instead, unlimited amounts of ice cream and television. My parent’s rules, therefore, were a frustrating barrier to what I considered to be the best in life. Therefore, the only reason I had to obey my parents was fear, fear that the punishment for disobedience would be worse than the pleasure of disobedience.
Slowly as I matured I came to realize that my parent’s job was not to keep me from what was best in life but was instead to actually lead me to what was best in life. They knew that overindulgence in junk food and television and under-indulgence in homework and chores was not what was best for me. Like many kids, it took me a long time to realize this. In some ways it wasn’t until I became a parent myself that I realized what my parents were trying to do. Oddly enough, now many of those same rules I used to think were ridiculous are rules I’ve established for my own children. Except, of course, that eating on the couch rule. That was and will always be a stupid, stupid rule. I’m sorry, but ice cream was made to be enjoyed on the couch.
Now, please do not miss my point in all this. This is not a message about obeying your parents. This is a message about watching for Jesus to return. For once again, Jesus is going to return. You and I will meet him face to face one day. It may be many years from now, but it may also be tomorrow. It may be in the end times when he comes again, but it also may be the day you die and face him ahead of those of us left behind. Since none of us knows when, all of us must be ready now. Three times in this short passage Jesus urges us to keep watch.
Once again, there are two ways you can watch. First, you can watch with fear. Many people do. Even people who are seeking to obey Christ, even some of them still wait for him with fear. Some of you, I’m sure, think about that future day with fear. Certainly, if you have spent your whole life denying Christ, the last thing you want is to meet him someday face to face. If that is you, fear of that day is appropriate. But even if you believe in Jesus, if you believe in him but do not truly know him, if you have never really come to know his love and to love him in return, you also may fear that day. If you think Jesus demands your obedience before he will give you his acceptance, you will fear the day of his coming, always anxiously wondering if you have done enough yet to merit his favor. And you should. For there are none among us who can ever obey God well enough to earn His favor.
The thing is, I do not believe Christ wants us to watch and wait in fear. I believe instead that Christ wants us to wait and watch with hope. You see, if you are somebody who has truly come to know Christ, then you are somebody who knows that his love for you is deep and that his grace towards you is wide. You will never reach the bottom of his love and you will never find the boundaries of his grace. If you are a person of faith who believes the testimony of scripture regarding Christ, then you are a person who longs for the day of his coming because you know that though he comes as judge, he comes with grace to judge his followers and comes to find them righteous, and pure and holy in God’s sight. He comes to bring life, more abundant and eternal than we have ever known or imagined in this world.
Consider this. What would have been different about today if you had woken up this morning truly anticipating that Christ might possibly return today? Would you have behaved differently today? Probably so. But would your obedience have been out of fear or would it have been out of hope? Would you have dreaded or longed for the sound of the garage door opening?
Years ago a friend of mine gave me an old book of Puritan prayers. I was reading through it this week and came across a prayer for Christ to come. It’s the sort of prayer I imagine Jesus wants us to pray, one prayed not out of fear but out of hope. Let me read you a few lines.
O My Lord,
May I arrive [at that day] where means of grace cease
And I need no more to fast, pray, weep, watch
be tempted, attend preaching and sacrament;
where nothing defiles,
where is no grief, sorrow, sin, death, separation, tears,
pale face, languid body, aching joints, feeble infancy,
decrepit age, [vulgar] humor, pining sickness,
griping fears, consuming cares;
where is personal completeness;
where the more perfect the sight the more beautiful the object,
the more perfect the appetite the sweeter the food,
the more musical the ear the more pleasant the melody,
the more complete the soul the more happy its joys,
where is full knowledge of thee.
If you truly believe that this is the life Christ comes to bring those who wait in faith for him, will you wait in fear or will you wait in hope? If this is truly all that God, in Christ, has done and is going to do on our behalf, as you wait for his return do you live your life in obedience because you are afraid of the consequences or because you are grateful for the gift?
At the end of his teaching here, Jesus closes with these words, “What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!” In other words, he is saying all this to us. What he said to his disciples in those days he is saying to his disciples in our day. Do not go to sleep! Keep awake! Be alert! Be ready!
Are you? Are you ready for Christ to come? Are you watching for Christ to come? Most importantly, are you hoping for Christ to come? If you know him, truly know him, you hope for nothing more.