Text: Mark 13:24-37
Jesus said, “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.” These words, along with our text last week – as I said last week – are easy to get caught up in. Last week, our Lord taught about the signs of the End of the Age and the time of His return. He said that there would be wars and rumors, famines and disasters. There would be continued and increased persecution of His followers. Nevertheless, nothing will happen which is outside of His control, nor will we ever slip out of His care.
If you take last week’s text and this week’s and put them together, it’s easy to become distressed. It is true, as we say in the creed, that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead. It says in the Athanasian Creed, “those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.” It’s easy to hear these words and become afraid. But, to do so would be to miss the point. As Christians, we know that our names are already in Christ’s book of life by faith in Him. By the working of the Holy Spirit within us good works are produced in our lives, and we aren’t afraid of being locked out of heaven. Christ’s return will be a joy for us, so He encourages us today to watch and wait.
Our gracious Lord and master Jesus Christ suffered for our sins on the cross. He died and rose again for us on the third day. Forty days after the Resurrection, after proving Himself alive by many examples to many people, our Lord ascended to the right hand of God the Father. The Apostles stood beneath Him as He was carried up into the clouds, gazing into the sky. While they were watching, two angels appeared and stood next to them, saying, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” The angels reminded them of what our Lord taught them today. Though He would be parted from them for a time – according to the flesh – He would return for all His faithful followers. And, He’ll come in the same way He left, on the clouds. St. Paul adds that He will come with the voice of an archangel and with the sound of the “trumpet of God.”
Before this happens, Jesus said, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven…the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” These signs are in addition to the ones Jesus spoke about last week, but with one difference. The things Jesus spoke about last week are meant to teach us that we have been in the End Times since the Incarnation. They are general signs of the state of things. The signs Jesus speaks of here will immediately precede His return. What exactly they will be like, we don’t know. But, their purpose will be to remove all doubt as to what is happening. It will not be a mystery to us whether our Lord is returning at that moment or not. About these things, Jesus said, “When [they] begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
And so, it will be. Jesus said, “[Then, the Son of Man] will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” At the last trumpet, our Lord will descend on the clouds. He will raise us, and all the dead. He will change our perishable bodies to be like His imperishable body. He will remove from our flesh all sin and weakness, all suffering and sickness, and we will enter with Him into the joy of the new creation. St. Paul said, “and so we will always be with the Lord.” At our Lord’s return, we will be raised to new life, forever separated from all death and sin. For the faithful in Christ, His return will be a joy.
Our Lord’s return will be a joy for us, this we know; but what we don’t know is, when it will be. Therefore, Jesus said, “Be on your guard, keep awake.” Our Lord has seen fit to give us general signs of His return, so that we might recognize the times and be encouraged in our witnessing to others. Beyond that, it is not for us to know. Our God is patient and kind, not willing the death of anyone – but that they turn from their sin and live. But, someday, His divine patience with sin and unbelief will end. He will no longer restrain wind and wave as He always has. Creation itself will revert into chaos as it prepares for its undoing. Those who live in unbelief will begin to despair and become perplexed at these things, St. Luke records. We will be tempted to do the same.
Jesus said, though, that we should learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches become tender and put out leaves, it means summer is near. So, also, when all these things are happening, we know that He is near. As summer brings joy and life, so also our Lord’s return for His faithful. Jesus also said it is like a master who goes away on a journey, who leaves behind responsibilities for his servants until his return. Our Lord is the master who has given us the task to share His word with the world. In His Word we find life – the forgiveness of our sins and salvation. Jesus encourages us to keep awake, be alert, and be at work hearing and sharing His Word.
The words Jesus uses to encourage us to be on guard and keep awake are imperatives, they are commands; but our Lord never demands from us what He doesn’t also supply. Our Lord commands us to be alert and awake, and He gives us the means to be so. We call them the Means of Grace. The Means of Grace are God’s Word, the Sacraments, and the mutual conversation of Christian brothers and sisters – that is, when we encourage each other as Christians, pointing one another to Christ and His love for us. Through these things, the Lord creates and sustains faith in us. By them the Lord keeps us awake, to keep watch and expect His return. For us, His return will be a joy. He will come on the clouds, raise our bodies, change them to be like His, and bring us to His side forever.
With that, we come to the end of another Church Year. In this year the Lord has blessed us with the forgiveness of sins and with everything we need to support this body and life. Though the events before His return might seem frightening, we know that all things are in His care and keeping. Therefore, we close this year in peace and confidence, expecting with joy our Lord’s glorious return. Amen.