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Dec 03, 2017

Passage: Mark 13:32-37

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Advent


In the Name of Jesus, Amen. Recently, we had a discussion and semi-debate in Bible Study about the concept of persecution. None of us here in America really have anything to complain about in comparison to Christians in the world who are overtly persecuted. We may not like the onslaughts of secular humanism which offend our faith, but none of us are being dragged off to jail for confessing Jesus Christ (though what happened in Texas a month ago is a disturbing reminder that even Christians here in America are subject to the impulses of fanaticism). But in general, do we really have anything to complain about?

“There is no overt crisis and yet [--] through Left Behind [--] apocalypticism has flourish [in America]. Stephen D. O’Leary in his important contribution to this field Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric expresses the difficulty as follows:” (my doctoral dissertation, p. 3)

If the largely middle-class group of fundamentalist Christians in the United States who today form the core of [modern apocalyptic] readership believes itself to be similarly persecuted, this is surely a rhetorically induced perception; for there is an obvious difference between being torn apart by lions in front of cheering crowds and being forced to endure media onslaughts of sex, violence, and secular humanism (1994: 11).

This is assuredly true, but there is more to consider. Those Christians who suffer the worst persecution suffer in ways that we cannot imagine; but at the same time, their persecution is recognizable. That doesn’t mean that it is in any way less horrific, but there is no missing it: the real and present danger is known. And while such horrific threats cause us to tremble and to wonder if we would be able to remain faithful under such circumstances, at least the attack is known; at least it is clear; and at least there is opportunity to respond to it. In the face of such terrible attacks, the faithful martyrs readied themselves spiritually and because they were faithful by the grace of God, they also withstood the attacks. But again, what threatened them, was often clearly seen.

Though it is never out of the question that we too could suffer this way, for the most part our situation is vastly different. For us we are spiritually lulled to sleep. A case and point is well-known, and yet we act as if “that’s just the way it is” and “what can we possibly do about it?” What do I speak of? I speak of the fact that the Lord in His providential guidance has permitted us the season of Advent to quietly prepare for the High Feast of the Nativity. These are the days of penitential preparation. Days to be in the Word of God and prayer and allow the time needed for being watchful to take place…and then after the days of Advent, we are ready to begin the 12-day celebration of Christmas.

But Christians – and again, this is no small thing – the world won’t let you. We are inundated by the culture’s insistence of the holidays enveloping us now! We are hypnotized into believing that the secularized “Christmas” music, the mountain of parties, and the allure of merchandise is all there is. “Christmas” is now defined by the world. And when this happens, what really happens? You and I suffer a form of persecution. Think of what the Word of God says about the threat of the world which is probably strongest during this time of year:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1st John 2:15-17)

So, to summarize, we are not overtly persecuted in the horrific ways that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are, but at least they can (often) see it coming. That is, they suffer terribly, but are blessed in their confrontation at the same time because at least they usually have opportunity to prepare. For us, however, just the opposite is easily the case: we cannot see what threatens us. It can be right in front of our nose, and we act as if all is well. And then when faith is lost, it is too late.

I was staring at a picture recently. It was a real-life picture and it felt like a “where’s waldo” exercise, but again, it was real-life. It was a picture of mountain goats grazing along a rocky hillside. The observer of the picture was invited to try to locate the camouflaged snow leopard. It was creeping up on one of the unknowing mountain goats. One of those goats was about to be slaughtered and they didn’t even know it. I stared at this picture for a long time and for the life of me, I could not see the snow leopard. That’s how well it blended into the rocky mountainside. Scrolling down, the picture was presented again, but this time a red circle indicated the location of the snow leopard. Even at that, the ability of the snow-leopard to hide itself was uncanny!

This my brothers and sisters in Christ is a picture illustration of what is happening to us. We are surrounded by so many things that seem innocuous, innocent, non-threatening, but the cumulative affect upon us is spiritual complacency. We get wrapped up with everything else under the sun, except for spiritual fervor, except for taking our spiritual sanctification seriously. We can become like sitting ducks in respect to the demonic “snow leopards” sneaking up on us. When what we desire in this world; and what we worry about that is passing completely fills our hearts and minds, then before you know it, we are no longer watching out for the Lord. Before you know it, we can lose our faith.

Under such circumstances, what does the Lord say? Glad you asked, because this is how we begin this 2017 Advent season, the beginning of a new Church Year and our true beginning for preparing for the real Christmas which (counting today) is still 23 days away. This is what the Lord says about this subtle (and yet very serious) form of persecution.

ESV: “32But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34It 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.”

The “man going on a journey” is a simile for the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord ascended and went “on a journey” to His heavenly throne and left His work to all of you, His blessed children and Church. But concerning His return when He will judge all people, the most important day of our lives, no one knows that precise time, not even the angels, and when the Lord spoke this – having humbled Himself according to the limitations of a man – even He did not know! The point is that no one knows.

But why would the Lord keep this a secret from us? It is such a critical day; a day of judgment, both of punishment and consolation (Tertullian, Ancient Christian Commentary, Volume II, 195), but again, why keep it hidden? Athanasius: “For who, if they knew the day of the end, would not disregard the interval? But if ignorant, would they not be more ready day by day (Ibid., 195)?” Athanasius is simply saying that on- account of our sin, if we knew the day, then we would take advantage of that information. We would be tempted to slack off spiritually while we waited and would be further tempted to only prepare when the time grew near. But thank God that the Lord knows us better than we know ourselves. In mercy, He has kept this final day hidden from us so that in our being ignorant of the Last Day, we would not put off preparation.

The Lord in love and mercy, therefore, teaches us how to live as His people in view of not knowing when the Last Day will come. He teaches us how we live by His grace!

At verse 33, there are two imperatives: 1) Be on guard; and 2) Keep awake. Our ESV uses a more elaborative translation for the original first imperative: it says, “Be on guard.” That’s good, but the verb is more basic: it is simply “Watch!” And this word is the main word in this section of God’s Word. The first command to God’s children from God -- now that the Lord has gone to heaven -- is “Watch!” This watching has been described as to “take heed, look out, beware, stop and think (Buls, Exegetical Notes: Gospel Texts, Series B Mark-John Festival Season Sundays. Pg. 2).” Furthermore, “It’s like a red traffic light that makes us stop and think (Ibid., Pg. 2).” That’s the kind of “watching” we are talking about.

Something gets your attention, you get some adrenaline shot through your body, you sit up, you know you need to be watchful, because if you’re not, you could get hurt or miss something you don’t want to miss. You shake your head, you rub your eyes, you might even slap yourself on the face or throw cold water on yourself. And this idea is complemented by the second imperative: “keep awake,” and the sense is “keep awake at all times.”

This is one of those commands that messes with us. How can we keep awake and alert at all-times? First-of all, the Lord is not saying that you should avoid physical rest. He’s not saying you can’t have your 6-8 hours of sleep every night. That’s not what He is talking about. The constant staying awake is a perpetual and daily spiritual alertness. No day goes by without it being – in our hearts and minds by faith – a true holy day; the most important for us (as far as we are concerned), the only real day that in a way matters, because it’s the only day we currently have. The Christian understands that they cannot rest on their laurels. If a righteous person decides to rebel against God, then they can easily end their lives not in faith, but in spiritual hardness. The Christian sees this and therefore strives to make each new day a new beginning in faith, a renewal of faith, a reformation of faith. The Christian knows what the Psalmist means, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).” This day is the Day of the Lord as far as the Christian concerned, and if you ready today, then you are ready period. And then tomorrow becomes “today,” and then the next day, becomes your next “today,” etc.

To live each day like this is to follow each night the same way. The Christian prays before going to sleep and while we all have our special times to be in the Word, it is good for all Christians to put at least a little portion of the Word in their mind and heart before laying down. And in this way, you never sleep (spiritually) even as you sleep (physically).

With such preparedness: always watching and always awake, then you do the rest as put forth at verse 34: you have the work given to you by God in holy vocation. Do it now. Do it constantly. Do it well. Do it with joy! Do what God has designed you to do using your gifts and skills and abilities to be a blessing to other people, but know that Jesus also describes you as being a doorman. The doorman is not referring to an elite group, but you are all “doormen;” all of you stand watch for the Lord, and you do it as you live in faith, hope, and love; you do it as you do the work that the Lord has given you to do; and you do it while constantly being fed by Christ’s Word and Sacraments.

The Lord continues His teaching:

ESV: “35Therefore stay awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning – 36lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

This of course is a great emphasis of what we have just covered. The Lord is not saying that He’s coming when it is night – it might be – but the point is He uses examples of unexpected times. In the Roman reckoning Jesus referred to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th watches of the night. These went from 6-9 pm; 9-midnight; midnight to 3 am; and finally, 3 am to 6 am. The Lord is stressing that it is not about us trying to peer into the future to try to know the Last Day, but it is infinitely more important to live carefully each-and-every day, even through those times of each day that seem less likely as the time He would come.

There are some things that we just shouldn’t worry about: don’t worry about your salvation. That is covered by the blood of the Lamb, by His completed sacrifice of Himself to the Father for you (that is finished; that is done; you are saved!). And, don’t worry about the Last Day. The Lord has taken that off your plate. Let Him take care of the Last Day. He’s got it covered. There is only one last call for you: do care about today. How you live. Live in Christ’s law and gospel. Do what He commands. Be a faithful husband, or wife; son or daughter; worker, student, athlete, musician, disciple! Live these out as you love and serve others! And then as you see how you fall short, confess your sin and know that the Lord in Jesus Christ forgives you. And you are forgiven. Your sin is covered. God doesn’t see it anymore! In this way, the Lord makes you watchful. In this way, the Lord makes you awake. Your body may sleep at night, but your spirit is alive dear Christian, because you have been born again by water and the Spirit. The Lord has made you His new creation. You belong to Him and as His child – held in His hands – you are watchful and awake. You are ready for the Last Day, because you are – quite simply – ready for today by living in faith; by living in love…and then when falling short, you run back to Jesus and He receives you in grace all over again and by His gracious commitment to you, He keeps you ready! Because at the end of the day, hear this Christian: Jesus is always watchful for you and He is always awake for you; He is always keeping you in His love and mercy! In this way, we know how to live, and it is summed-up in one word: “Watch!” Watch! He comes to you in this proclamation that you are His and He is yours! Watch! He comes in His true body and blood to wash away your sin! Watch! He is coming again, and you are ready, because He has made you ready – again – today! Watch! It is His gift to you to be able to do so! So, we say it gladly, “Watch!”