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You probably remember the first time you picked up a baseball glove and tried to catch a ball. The person who was throwing the ball to you probable kept repeating something very important. “Keep your eye on the ball.” You might also remember what happened if you didn’t, maybe you were a little frightened and you closed your eyes as the ball got close, or maybe you turned your head. You might remember the painful experience of having the ball hit you instead of landing in your glove. “Watch!” “Keep your eye on the ball.” That’s what Jesus was saying to Peter, Andrew, James and John. It’s what he still says today to everyone. “Watch!”
What is it that we are to be watching for? If you read all of Mark 13 you realize that Jesus is answering the disciples’ questions about the prediction he had just given regarding the destruction of Jerusalem and his coming again in glory. He makes it clear that they will need to keep watch because no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Watch! Be alert and pray, because you do not know when the time will come. As the Messiah, it wasn’t Jesus’ job to tell people when the end would come. It was his job to tell them that it would come and to make sure that they would be prepared for it.
Our other readings for this morning remind us of another time when watching was important. That time was in the days of Noah. Noah knew the flood was coming because God had told him what he was going to do, but he didn’t know the day or the hour. It was his job to warn people, to tell them it was coming, and to prepare by building the ark. The Bible calls him a preacher of righteousness. Imagine what an opportunity he had to share what God had told him, especially as he began building the ark and crowds gathered, and people began to spread the word about what that crazy, holier-than-thou Noah was saying and doing.
It seems that most people didn’t pay any attention to what Noah was saying and doing. There were even some pretty clear signs that backed up what Noah was saying, especially when animals started showing up to be loaded on the ark, and dark clouds began to build. Yet no one seems to have considered even asking if they could join him on the ark. They weren’t watching. They were distracted, complacent. They were too busy, too concerned with the activities and demands of everyday life to give Noah, or God, any attention until it was too late and the flood gates of heaven and the fountains of the deep opened up and the water covered even the highest mountains.
Jesus says that we are to watch, watch for the coming of the last day so that it doesn’t surprise us the way it did the people of Noah’s day. But how can we do that if no one knows when it will be? Watch. Watch for the signs Jesus has given that he is about to come again in glory. He reminds us that these signs are as clear and as certain as watching the trees. When the buds begin to appear, you know that spring is here, and summer is near. So, when the signs he has given appear you know that you are in the last days and his second coming is near.
What are those signs? Civil and political unrest. Lovelessness and violence. False teachers and false Christs and even things that claim to be miracles but aren’t. Earthquakes and famines. Division within families and persecution of Christians.
Are you watching? Have you been paying attention? Every sign that Jesus gave has been and is being fulfilled right before our eyes. But as in the days of Noah, most aren’t watching. They are distracted by the activities and demands of everyday life. And the result of not watching is a lot worse than getting hit by the ball instead of catching it with your glove.
Watch. Be alert. Study the Scriptures so that you know what the signs are and then, like the Wise Men, take note of them when they appear and act. Recognize that you are living in the last days and that Jesus could return in glory at any moment. Rejoice that he is patient, as he was in the days of Noah when he waited 120 years to bring the flood. But know that the only reason the last day has not come is because God is patient and wants all to be saved. It’s not because he has forgotten or changed his mind. Just like the flood, “That Day” will come.
Jesus’ brief parable about the man going on a journey helps us know how to watch. There have always been those like some of the believers in Thessalonica who foolishly think that in order to watch they need to drop everything and spend the rest of their days watching the heavens for the time when the sun turns dark and the moon turns to blood. That’s not what Jesus means when he says, “Watch.”
Jesus says that when the man left for his journey, he put his servants in charge and assigned what each one was to do. In another place Jesus says that the good and faithful servant who will be blessed is the one the master finds doing what he was assigned to do when he returns.
What is it that Jesus has assigned us to do? Paul tells us that when Jesus left for his journey, when he ascended to heaven, he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers. He gave the church people who have the gifts necessary to instruct others in the word. After all, the WORK that he has given us to do while he is away is to preach the gospel to every creature and make disciples of all nations. It is only when the gospel has been preached in all the world that the end will come. Keeping watch means examining yourself to see whether you might have the gifts necessary to serve in a way that instructs others in the word. If that’s your calling from the Lord, you are a good and faithful servant if the Lord finds you busy doing that when he comes.
If you don’t have those gifts, don’t think that you can just sit back and let others do the watching for you. Paul says that Jesus gave the church people with gifts necessary to instruct others to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.
Every Christian has a calling. Every Christian has gifts that the Holy Spirit has given them; gifts that they are to use to serve God in faith and their neighbor in love. Every Christian is to let the light of their faith shine through in everything they say and do. Every Christian is to be watching for the opportunities to do good works that God has prepared and set before them to do. It’s not real complicated. As Paul says, it simply means that whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you do it all for the glory of God. Blessed is the person that the Lord finds doing just that when he comes.
Keep watch! Yes, that’s an imperative, a command. But don’t use it for yourself or others in a legalistic way. Don’t say “you had better watch yourself and make sure that at the moment Jesus returns you are not doing anything sinful.” Realize that if that were what Jesus is saying, who could be saved? What are the chances that at the moment of Jesus’ return you won’t be saying, or even thinking something sinful? Don’t make Jesus’ parable say something it doesn’t say. Yes, Jesus says don’t let the master find you sleeping if he comes in the middle of the night. That doesn’t mean you can never go to sleep because if you are sleeping when Jesus returns you can’t be saved. No. Remember what makes you ready for whenever Jesus returns, whether during the day or the middle of the night. What makes you ready is trust in his promises. Think of Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins. The five wise were sleeping when the cry went out that the bridegroom had come, but they were prepared because they had oil in their lamps, they trusted in God’s promises. Those who know that they are sinful and can’t save themselves and who trust what Jesus promises, that all who believe in him have eternal life; they are always prepared for the coming of the Lord, even while they are asleep.
Jesus says, What I say to you, I say to everyone: Keep watch! Remind yourself every day that this day could be the last day, either your last day on earth, or the last day of the earth. Read the Scripture and be familiar with all the signs that have been given regarding the coming of the last day.
Watch. Be alert. Pray. As you see that day approaching, pray that you have the opportunity to share the gospel with others. Watch and pray that the Holy Spirit would use the word and sacrament to keep you strong so that you don’t fall into temptation. Watch, making sure that as God continues to demonstrate his patience you do not become complacent, but you devote yourself to doing everything you do to the glory of God. As you continue to trust Jesus’ promise of forgiveness and salvation through faith in him, that day is not a fearful day, but a day to which you look forward. You can say with John, even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.