Be alert!

Scriptures: Mark 13:1-8, 24-37

I want to preface the study of this passage with a little bit of general history and knowledge. I have asked you to remember, as you look at this passage, which is called by a lot of scholars the “little apocalypse” (Revelation is the “big” apocalypse, so this is the “little” apocalypse), that apocalyptic writing, and prophetic writing in general, served two purposes.

Primarily, it was not to tell the future. I like to say that part of the reason that prophets got in so much trouble is that prophesy in general is actually forth-telling the word of God, not foretelling the future.

So what they had a tendency to do was uncover that which was hidden, or put their finger right on the sore spot of the people that they were addressing, in an attempt to call them back to God. And the people didn’t appreciate it. So the prophets usually came to a bad end. But they were addressing a particular situation.

The passage in Mark was written in AD 70, roughly, and the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed in 68. So the word that Jesus spoke, that Mark is remembering here, had truly come to pass.

The temple of Herod the Great rivaled Solomon’s in its glory, which was his goal. It had gilded walls. It had gold everything, all these things to God that were there. Huge marble stones.

When the Romans came in 68, it was in response to an insurrection. The Romans did what they do best, in history (besides build roads), and that is to stomp with heavy combat boots. They tore Jerusalem apart. They destroyed the temple. They fired the stones to melt the gold off of the stones and collect it.

They took out all the Holy of Holies stuff, the candelabra, and things like that, that were dedicated to God. They even salted the fields, so that people would have no better than subsistence living for a generation to come.

There was this huge hole in the hearts of the Jews, and the Christians as well, at Jerusalem. Because the temple had been the center of worship. Even for the Christians, that’s where they went to talk about Christ. That’s where they went, because they were Jews, a lot of them.

Most of them in Jerusalem in particular were Jews as well. They started out Jewish, they became Christian, but they didn’t stop going to the temple. They would go to the temple on Saturday, and have a service on Sunday, when they had a witness to the resurrection.

So the temple played a large role in their lives. And it was gone. Mark is addressing that hole, and the need to stay faithful in a time of epic destruction and desolation, where you wonder, “Where is God?”

As the liturgist noted, Jesus, in his description, promises a culmination that is yet to come. That is the hope they were to hold onto. That is the reason for them to stay faithful.

He gives them some vague descriptions. They’re intentionally vague. They’re signs, and people have used these signs throughout the centuries to try to say, “It’s the time of the apocalypse.” 1843. 1844. 1899. Every time we’ve had a turn of the century, people think it’s going to be the end of the world.

Camping, in 1984, I think it was, or 1988, had believers that were actually selling off property and giving it away, because they wanted to be unencumbered by worldly goods when Jesus came again. They used these signs.

The Left Behind theology – they’re a good series of books, they’re a good read, but they have a particular view of apocalyptic Scripture and prophesy. I don’t happen to agree with it, being Reformed. But it’s there and present throughout much of the church.

But Jesus was not as precise as they’d like us to be. In fact, in the end, he says, “Nobody knows the time. Not the prophets, not even the Son” (himself, while he was there on earth), “but only the Father.”

It’s kind of like what I like to say about Revelation, that I won’t preach on Revelation or teach Revelation until I’ve been in the ministry twenty years, so I have some idea of actually what’s going on.

People that read Revelation and they talk about some of the events of Revelation, that are alluded to here in Mark as well, with the rapture, and ask you pre-trib rapture, are you post-trib rapture, are you mid-trib rapture?

And the heavenly kingdom, is that going to be set up, is that pre-millennial that it’s going to occur, is it after the thousand years, post millennial, or is it during the thousand-year reign of Christ? I always tell people I’m not pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trip. I’m not premillennial, amillennial, postmillennial. I’m null-millennial, because I don’t care.

Because Jesus said we’re not going to know. But we have to be ready. We have to be alert. And we have to be about the work of the church, the calling that Christ has given us.

Jesus tells his disciples that the temple is going to be destroyed, in response to their awe and bragging about the temple. Then he goes on, because they’re concerned about that, to tell these signs, and he goes through the fig tree, and things like that.

Then he finishes with a parable, verses 32-37, and that’s where I’d like to focus today. Jesus tells his disciples, and us, as he says, “It is like…” Which means the Second Coming is like a man going on a journey, and that man puts his servants in charge of the house, and tells each one to do their duty.

Those who care for the house are supposed to be vigilant in their duties. And he commands the doorkeeper to keep watch day and night, so that the door may be open for the master when he returns.

The master of the household in this story called all of his servants together first and gave them specific responsibilities. Perhaps one was over the garden. Maybe one took care of the livestock. There was possibly one who took care of the grounds. There may have been one designated to care for the house.

Each one had a job. Maybe they were different jobs, but they were all working for the same man. They were all working together to achieve the main goal, which was to please their master.

Let me suggest to you that that is the way it is to be with the church as well. We’re all different. We have different talents and callings, but we should all be working together to please our Master. 1 Corinthians 12:14-20 says:

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall says, “Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, “Because I am not the eye, I am of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, every one of them, in the body, as it pleased Him.  If they were all one member, where would be the body? But now they are many members, but one body.

We are all different, but we serve a greater purpose as we witness to the Lordship of Christ and to the grace and forgiveness we have achieved through his death and resurrection. As we support one another and lift one another up in our faith, and hold each other accountable.

Remember that you aren’t called by mortal man to do this. You aren’t called even by this church. You were called by God. And you are accountable to the Master. He has given you a task to accomplish. And you need to ask yourself, are you sitting idle?

The Master has warned you that He may return at any moment, and you can rest assured that there will be consequences. Some of you who have been called to serve are doing so with faithfulness and devotion, and there is a great peace that comes in knowing you are being obedient to the direction of the Lord.

I like to tell people, as part of my call to ministry, my walk to ministry, that when I finally gave in to the call of God, to the pastorate, while I was working at Johnson & Johnson, I discovered something critical that day. Surrender is not the same thing as defeat.

When I surrendered my will to the will of God, I knew a peace and joy that I had not known prior to that, despite my successes in the field that I was in, and the family I had. There is a peace that comes, knowing you are being obedient to the direction of the Lord.

At the end, he gives this warning: “Watch, therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, at evening or at midnight or at cockcrow or in the morning, lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.” Sleep is used as a symbolic word in the Scriptures many times, for a state of unpreparedness. It means one is indifferent, or unconcerned.

This parable was preached to the disciples before Jesus ascended into heaven, as a warning of his return, and a description of the work of the church while they await his coming. So that speaks to the foretelling, that Jesus was going to come again, and what we are to be about, and encouragement even in a time of disaster, to continue to be faithful.

But there’s also the moment that Jesus spoke the prophetic word. There is a pastor whose sermons I like to read, named Tim Zingale. (I’ve never met him, I only read them online.) He had a wonderful interpretation, rooted in a book by Thomas Long.

The book is called Shepherds and Bathrobes, and shows how these words that he gave are a foreshadowing of the events of the passion of Christ – they were very applicable right then and there. On page 13 it says:

The master could come “in the evening,” and in the very next chapter, Mark tells us that “when it was evening” Jesus ate his last meal with the disciples, and tells them, “one of you will betray me.” Or the master could come “at midnight,” and Mark records that, later that night, the disciples went with Jesus to Gethsemane.

While Jesus prayed his cry of anguish, the disciples, no doubt weary of waiting, slept. “Could you not watch one hour?” Jesus said to them. Perhaps the master will come “at cockcrow,” and Peter turned to the accusing maid with a curse and a denial, “I do not know this man.” The cock crowed.

So we have a betrayal, a falling asleep, and a denial of who Christ was.

And “as soon as it was morning,” it says in the Scriptures, the coming of the master will be “in the morning,” and Jesus was bound and led away to his trial and to his death.

It could be he was giving them a warning about something that was not so far in the future, but was occurring right now in their lives. A warning of their own shortcomings and failures, and of the things that were going to occur that would bring about his crucifixion.

Maybe Jesus was warning the disciples His coming was not so far in the future, but it would be in the next days. His coming as the Messiah would be revealed for all to see, and as is typical in Mark, they flat-out missed it.

Remember the focus of Mark: who is this man? Nobody seemed to get it, but we who are the readers. So do we get it?

What about us? Is our vision better than those of the disciples? How do we see and read scripture concerning His return? The message of His return is found throughout the New Testament as it says : In Acts 1:11, “This same Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven shall return in like manner.”

Or in John 14: 3, where Jesus himself says: “I go to prepare a place for you, and when I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and take you to myself that where I am you may be also.”

He is coming again, and that we can be sure of, but when remains a mystery for in Matthew 24:44 He says: “Always be ready because I am coming at an hour you do not expect.” Here in Mark, of course, he said, once again, “no one knows the time or the hour of the day, not the prophets, not even the Son, but only the Father.”

We are called to be ready at any moment. I always like to say, if people don’t expect Jesus in the apocalypse itself, the day of the Lord, they’ll experience Him in their own personal day of the Lord when they die, and they see Jesus face to face. The point of being ready can be seen in the following.

There is a story about a tourist who was traveling along the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy. When he reached the castle, a friendly old gardener opened the gate and showed him the ground which the old man kept in perfect order. The tourist asked when the owner of the castle had last been there.

“12 years ago” , the old man answered.

“Does he ever write to you?”

“No.”

“From who do you get your instructions?”

“From his agent in Milan.”

“Does he come? ”

“Never!!”

“Who then, comes here? ”

“I am almost always along! Only once in awhile a tourist comes.”

“But you must keep this garden in such fine condition just as though you expected your master to come tomorrow.”

The old gardener promptly replied, “Today, sir, today!!!”

Jesus is coming again, and we need to ask, what about our vision? Are we waiting for His coming only at the end of time or at the end of our time?

Or – and this is the interesting thing I read in this sermon – do we sense He comes now, in many surprising ways?

He comes now as a Babe born in a manger again this year as we relive the experience of Christmas.

He comes now as gifts the wise men brought at Epiphany as He comes now when we give gifts of kindness, love and compassion.

He comes now on a cross as we during Lent relive His passion.

He comes now in an empty tomb as we relive His resurrection during Easter.

He comes now as we see tongues as of fire on the head of the disciples during Pentecost.

He comes now in bread and cup as He prepares a table for us, and we celebrate Communion together once a month.

He comes now in His word as we throughout this church year hear his word from Mark and the other Gospels and books in the Bible.

He comes now through His church, through us as we become “little Christs” to one another, as we reach out in that love and grace and show mercy and care to each other, lifting one another up in our walks of faith.

He comes now in many mysterious and wondrous ways, as He comes and comes and keeps coming.

He comes now, and what about your vision? Do you see Him? Are you ready for Him to come now into your life? Are you ready to serve the Master, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength?

Are you ready to be what He has called you to be, so that when he does come on the last day, you greet Him with joy and open arms, saying “Hallelujah, come Lord Jesus”? Are you ready to take on the power and the joy that the Spirit can give you, when you dedicate yourself to serving God?

The master of the household in this story gives us an idea of what we are to be doing. The challenge is in carrying it out. But if we depend on the Holy Spirit, if we spend our time in prayer for guidance and strength, if we reach out to others in our community and family of faith, then I believe that when Jesus comes, He will see us about His work, and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Regardless of what season it is, regardless of what signs there may be out there, you’re continuing to work for the glory of God, and experience the joy of salvation in your own life, and then share it with others.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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