Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Mark 13:24-37
Dear people keeping watch for Christ’s return: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Be on guard and keep watch because you don’t know when Jesus will return. Jesus gives us some signs which indicate that His second coming is near, but He says we cannot know the day or the hour. In fact, Jesus says that even He does not know the day or the hour; only God the Father knows.
However, it’s not just the signs of the end times for which we are to keep watch. If we’re just keeping watch for the signs of the end times we will be inclined to fear. In last week’s Gospel lesson Jesus spoke of wars and rumours of wars as a sign of the end times. Nation rising against nation; kingdom against kingdom. Earthquakes. Famines. Today we heard that the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, and stars will be falling from heaven. Scary stuff.
Nevertheless, keeping watch for signs of the end times has become a pursuit for many. There are those who try and fit biblical prophecies with events going on in the world. They look for prophecies concerning Israel, not understanding that very often when the Bible speaks of Israel, it is speaking of the spiritual Israel – the Church – not the nation of Israel (cf. John 8:39; Rom. 2:28; 9:6-8; 11:25-27; Gal. 3:7). Some even dare to make predictions on the date of the end of the world even though Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour.
But the point isn’t that we keep watch for signs of the end times, but that we keep watch for Jesus and His return. Ever since Jesus ascended into heaven, the Church has been waiting for Him to return. Wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, and famines have been taking place for two thousand years. Trying to calculate meanings of every war and earthquake and famine will not only drive you crazy, but will also drive you to fear. And in the end, Jesus says you can’t figure it out anyway. So don’t watch for all the awful events unfolding in the world in fear. Rather keep watch for Jesus.
We don’t know when Jesus will return. That’s why we are always keeping watch. He may return for us tonight if we die in our sleep, so we must always be ready. The signs of the end times are constant recurring reminders to believers that the world is dying and assures us that Jesus is coming soon. Keep watch. Be alert and ready at all times.
To fall asleep means to not be keeping watch and thus to be unprepared for the return of Jesus. This can happen through following false teachers and false prophets, concerning whom Jesus gives many warnings. Such false teachers and false prophets may even seem like pious and humble servants but they don’t point you to Jesus and Him crucified for your sins. They may often even quote Scripture but their purpose is to twist it. Jesus says that false teachers will even perform signs and wonders and that they will lead many people astray (Mark 13:22).
Falling asleep can also be through being lulled into complacency and indifference or being preoccupied with the things of this world. When the cares and worries of this life take over and spiritual matters become secondary, there is great danger of falling asleep. When God’s Word is not valued and studied and the Sacraments are despised, there is great danger of falling asleep.
Finally, falling asleep can also take place through sin. Those who have fallen into temptation and have not turned away from sin have fallen asleep. Those who do not repent of their sin but rather remain in their sin in spite of what God’s Word says about such sin have fallen asleep. Hebrews chapter 10 warns us, “If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (vv. 26-27) Those who go on sinning deliberately need to fear the wrath of God. They need to fear the return of Jesus.
But there is no fear for us as we keep watch for the return of Jesus. For us there is nothing scary or fearful about Jesus’ return. Since we are in Christ, there is no fear of punishment, no fear of hell, no fear of judgment. So keep watch.
Keep watch for Jesus who has purchased and won you for Himself with His precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. Keep watch for Jesus, whose promises to you will not pass away even though heaven and earth will pass away. This is not keeping watch in fear for someone who is coming to do you harm or hurt you. It is keeping watch for Jesus who has done every good imaginable for you.
When He returns, Jesus is coming to give you the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8) because He wore the crown of thorns for you. He is coming to give you eternal life because He gave His life for yours. Jesus isn’t returning to punish you, but to give you your reward, which He has earned for you. Thus our watching is not so much for the end of this world, but rather the beginning of the new one. We have the promise of a new heavens and a new earth (Rev. 21:1).
Our keeping watch is not to do with fear but with comfort. The Jesus who will return is the same Jesus into who’s death you were baptized (Rom. 6:3). The Jesus who will return is the same Jesus who absolves you of all your sin (John 20:23). The Jesus who will return is the same Jesus whose body and blood you eat for the forgiveness of all your sins (Matt. 26:26-28).
So keep watch. Not with fear, but with joyful expectation. Keep watch. Not by following false teachers who point you away from Christ crucified but by keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus and His promises to you. Keep watch. Not by being lulled into complacency and indifference but by clinging to God’s Word and Sacraments which keep you in the faith. Keep watch. Not by falling into sin and deliberately remaining in it but by daily contrition and repentance drowning the Old Adam along with all sins and evil desires.
We do not know when Jesus will return so we keep watch at all times. We don’t need to fear when we see and hear signs of the end times, because Jesus has told us that these things will take place. The more we hear of wars and rumours of wars and of earthquakes and famines, the closer we know the day of Jesus’ return is. And we have nothing to fear of His return, since He is coming with His promised salvation. He is coming to take us to be with Him in the eternal joys of the new heavens and the new earth. So Amen, come Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.