Mark 13:24-37 After we finished our Thanksgiving dinner Jacob’s eyes began to droop and his head began to nod and he pushed himself back from the table and said, “Now it’s time for a nap.” Taking a nap after a satisfying meal or laying our head on the pillow after a productive day of work are some of the great blessings of life. Our bodies need that rest.
But drowsiness and sleepiness when it comes to our spiritual life can be deadly. During the last Sundays of the church year we heard about those sleepy virgins who were unprepared for the Bridegroom’s return and missed the celebration.
And in today’s lesson we hear that same warning from Jesus about the necessity of being spiritually awake and aware of the signs of his coming so that we can be ready to meet him when he comes again. Jesus says that:
“In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
Throughout the thirteenth chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel Jesus lists various signs of his second coming in glory: signs among the nations such as wars and rumors of wars; signs in the family such as parents and children fighting against one another; signs in the church such as false prophets and the persecution of Christians; and signs in the natural world like those mentioned here.
When we look out at the world around us and see the never-ending conflicts among the nations of the world and the destruction of marriage and family and the crumbling edifice of the church, Jesus wants us to understand these events for what they are: sure signs of his return in glory to judge the living and the dead.
From the moment that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed (an event prophesied by Jesus exactly as it took place forty years before it happened) signs in nature and in the church and in the family and in the nations of the world have clearly revealed that Jesus will come again and that we need to be ready.
The events that Jesus describes here in these verses will occur immediately before his return as the heavenly bodies he set into place at creation—heavenly bodies that men have regarded as eternally constant as the course of the stars and the rising and setting of the sun and the waxing and waning of the moon-- will be no more as this world and all that is in it is destroyed to make way for a new heaven and a new earth.
In that moment, when the world is literally crashing down around us, Jesus says that: They will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
Occasionally you will hear Christians worry that they will not know Jesus when he comes again in the same way that so many of his own people who did not know him or acknowledge him during his earthly ministry. But that is nothing for us to worry about!
When Jesus comes again it will not be as a tiny baby or a humble carpenter. He will come again as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He will not arrive in a crib or carry a cross.
Instead, as the heavenly bodies fall to the earth, he will come in the clouds with the power and glory of God himself and everyone will look upon him, even those who pierced him and every knee will bow before him and every tongue confess that he alone is Lord.
That will be a moment of abject terror for all who have rejected him in this life but for all who have trusted in him, for all who have followed him, for all who have confessed him as Lord and Savior it will be the greatest, most joyous day in the history of the world for he will come to gather his people to himself. Jesus says that:
He will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
In that glorious moment of his return, everything that God has purposed and planned for our salvation from eternity will be accomplished for the elect.
God chose you in Christ from before the earth’s foundations to be his own in time and eternity. He worked throughout salvation history so that his plan to save the world would be made known. He sent his Son Jesus Christ to live and die for you. His Holy Spirit caused ou to be born again in the waters of Holy Baptism, strengthened and sustained your faith and ordered your life in such a way that you would endure to the end in the faith.
And on the day of his return, the everlasting love of God for you in Jesus Christ will reach its divine, saving purpose as he raises the dead and gathers you with all the other faithful and brings you safely to the heavenly home he has prepared for you.
The second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ will be the greatest, most glorious day the world has ever known and we are to be watchful for its coming. Jesus says that:
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.
The signs of our Lord’s return in glory are not any more difficult to understand or interpret than a fruit tree putting out buds in the spring.
The temple in Jerusalem lies in ruins to this day, not even one stone left upon another. All over the world earthquakes shake the foundations of the earth and tsunamis sweep thousands to their death. Nations war again nations in never ending violence and hatred. The fundamental building blocks of society in the marriage and family are under attack. And the church is persecuted by her enemies and destroyed from within by false friends.
When we see these things taking place, we are not to say to ourselves: “Well, that’s just the way it is. It’s always been that way—it will always be that way.” No! Instead, we are to see these events for what they are—signs of the Lord’s return. Jesus says:
When you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
There’s always been some question about what Jesus meant when he said that this generation would not pass away until they saw these things happening. The simplest way to explain it is that those people who see the signs of his coming and hear his word will not pass away until he comes again. And so it has been from then till now.
There were those listening to Jesus that day who saw the destruction of Jerusalem. They saw family members turn against them on account of Christ. They saw the apostles go to a martyr’s death. And the words of Jesus promising to return for his people rang in their ears.
So it has been in every generation and still is today as we listen to the voice of our Lord and see the same signs all around us. The comfort for us is the same as it has always been for God’s people: the enduring power of God’s Word.
It is his mighty word, spoken to us in Holy Baptism, that has caused us to be born again. It is his word preached in this pulpit and read in our homes that convicts us of our sins and comforts us with Jesus’ forgiveness. It is his word that will endure and stand and save us even when heaven and earth comes crashing down around us. It is word that will prepare us to meet him when he comes again. Jesus said that:
“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.
From almost the moment these words were spoken by Jesus there have been those who turned aside from them in an attempt to predict the day of the Lord’s return. It happened in the ancient world and the medieval world and the modern world.
History is littered with false prophets who would not yield themselves to the plain words of Jesus—false prophets who thought themselves better informed than Jesus himself who did not know that day when he spoke these words.
No one knows the day of the Lord’s return except for our heavenly Father and so we should immediately reject as false prophets those who claim they do and instead listen to our heavenly Father and believe him when says that there will be a day when this world comes to an end and the dead are raised and all are judged and the elect are saved.
God has not revealed that date to us or anyone else because he wants us to be spiritually awake and aware throughout our lives so that no matter when Jesus comes we will be ready to meet him. Until that day, Jesus says that our life as his people is like this:
It 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. Therefore 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— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
During the last Sundays of the church year we heard Jesus tell us the Parable of the Talents—a story that illustrates the great trust that Jesus has in us that he would give us gifts to use for his glory and the good of others until he returns.
Occasionally you will hear about some doomsday cult that has sold all their possessions and gone out into the desert to wait for the supposed return of the Lord only to be disappointed. But that is not what Jesus wants us to do as we wait for him.
As God’s people, this time between our Lord’s ascension and his return in glory is not a napping time. It is a time to be active and involved with the work that Jesus has given each of us to do—work that serves others and brings glory to him. It is a time to use the gifts he has given us to extend his kingdom. And it is a time to be aware of the signs of his return so that we will be ready to meet him when he comes to judge the world. Amen.