Readings: Isaiah 51:4–6 | Jude 20–25 | Mark 13:24–37
Text: Mark 13:14-37
“Watching in between the Shadows of the Cross of the Last Day”
What do we do with this information about the end of the world? We heard our Lord say last week to be on our guard and to expect many and great signs. The world, sinful man, and the devil will all writhe as this age is brought to a close. Yet even from the depths of it, we are to trust that He will send His Holy Spirit with His Gospel whenever we are called to stand before kings and confess him before men—whether kings or even our own family. Now, while poignant moments in the battle between good and evil do happen, often they don’t. Sometimes the great cosmic battles are not on our doorstep. So, what are we to be busy doing day to day?
Well, let’s start with our foundation: “26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then 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.” Jesus has ascended into heaven and is coming again to raise the dead, gather His elect, and judge the living and the dead whose kingdom will have no end. This is what we confess in the Nicene Creed, together with the Church of each century that passes before our Lord’s glorious return. This is central to our lives as Christian people in the world: We are a people who are waiting for our Lord to return. As we walk upon this earth, we have hope that the creation will be restored to perfect beauty, our bodies will be restored to their perfect design, and that we will be with the Lord in everlasting peace [Isaiah 11:6-9, 1 Corinthians 15:42-53. 1 Thessalonians 4:17].
We are waiting for this, because we believe that our Jesus, who promised it, is faithful. To the unbeliever, we might look as foolish as Noah building a sea vessel in the middle of land [Genesis 6:11-14], but we are reminded by St. Peter,
“Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation’…8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” ~ 2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-9 ~
The signs which our Lord and Savior has taught us to look for and understand are like a calendar to let us know that His return, like summer, is near. Nobody sits in front of the calendar or a clock with anxiety over what might happen with each passing moment, because nothing would ever get done. The signs of the end are a backdrop, but what is more important is the living out of our faith. Therefore, the Lord says,
32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 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. 35 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— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
No one knows, including the Son of Man, who at that time was made lower than the angels [Ps. 8], who although He was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant [Phil. 2:6-8]. And now that He is exalted as Lord of all, we are in turn, called to be His servants.
The Lord has brought us into His household—a picture of the Church—and with that, He says, “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.”
The first thing we notice about His household is that He has been gone a long time (from our perspective). When any other person says they will return, it means they’ll be back within a lifetime. But what has His household been doing in His absence? His servants have held to His Word. In fact, they have preserved His Word for generations to come, in fulfillment of the Psalm of David, “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.” (Psalm 22:30-31) Not everyone is aware of how unique the manuscripts of the Bible are. The Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament have been preserved from the first time they were penned in the 15th century BC, and this accuracy was confirmed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the late 1940’s. The Greek New Testament has greater numbers of surviving documents, closer to the time of original writing, and with greater accuracy than any other ancient document. The point is that the efforts of faithful scribes and custodians of the sacred texts have preserved the Holy Scriptures, unadulterated for each generation.
We can also see this take place in our own midst. The 110 years of Bethlehem Lutheran Church have shown the work of His servants. While watching for Jesus’ return, they saw to it that they and their children would be instructed and nurtured in this holy household of God. Mathias and Barbara Gogl, and Pastor Flatmann each did their work. Mr. and Mrs. Hermann Jaekel opened their home for worship, until on May 11, 1911, Bethlehem Lutheran Church was chartered by 9 families who treasured the gifts the Lord had given to them and wanted that to endure.
I’d like to share a conversation I had recently about tithing. Someone was considering giving funds to other charitable causes instead of to Bethlehem. I reminded them that this congregation is able to continue doing the work of Word and Sacrament because of the contributions of her members. It’s true that we are not mandated to give a certain amount or percentage; you are saved by grace on account of Christ, not by putting something in the offering plate. We give out of gratefulness for that grace, and with a heart that wants with the Psalmist to “proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”
However, it is also true that if some do not contribute or give their leftovers, this puts a greater burden—and it would be an unfair burden—on those who do. The costs remain the same, the work is just as much, but if we say to ourselves, “I don’t need to because someone else will take care of it,” we are deluding ourselves and putting the stability of the congregation at unnecessary risk.
Today, I brought up the example of the founding of our congregation to show that this applies not just to financial contributions, but also to everything that pertains to the life of our congregation—those who show mercy; those who pray; who teach our children; who support the congregation’s song; who care for the grounds, building, and altar; those who handle the administration; those who can’t physical do but give what they can; those who see things that need to be taken care of and just do it; and who beautify this house dedicated to God and His priceless gifts of Word and Sacrament.
Our congregation is just a part of the Lord’s household, but a picture of it we can see and touch. He has brought us together in this place, and He “puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.” The pastors who serve are the doorkeepers, who continually watch for His return and keep the faithful founded on our faith in Christ’s return and His Kingdom which has no end. Each of His servants does have work in the Lord’s household. It isn’t all the same, not all of it can be seen, some might be small and some great. What makes it beautiful is that it is dedicated to the Lord, in eager watchfulness for His return.
How do we find out what the Lord’s work is for us? Remembering that it is His household, and we are His servants, we each listen to His Word and ask Him in prayer. We ought not neglect these, because this is how He directs us and keeps us away from simply following our own imagination. When we take our eyes off the Lord of the household, that’s what gives rise to the excuses, “someone else will do it,” “I’m too busy,” “why bother, nothing will change anyway,” and whatever you might tell yourself.
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tim. 1:15) The Master of the house sees that we have all been slack in one way or another, and we all must confess, “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10, NKJV)
And He continues to be gracious to us, to all who call on Him with a contrite heart! His Church, founded on the rock that He is the Christ, the Savior of sinners, has endured through the centuries, so that the Gospel may be preached to our gathering (small as we may be by human measure): Your sins are forgiven before God in heaven. Go in peace; your faith has saved you. [Luke 7:47-50]
It’s out of that joy of God’s grace that the Church serves the Lord faithfully. The Lord puts this heavenly treasure in jars of clay, and it’s through folks just like us that He hallows His Name, causes His Kingdom to come, and answers our prayer that His will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.
It’s precisely in this that the Church will endure, preserved by the grace of God and the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. May He fill us with zeal for His Word and opportunity to do His work. And finally, may the lovingkindness which God has shown us in Christ kindle in our hearts a love for Him and His Church until the Master releases us from our service. Then, we will confess with Simeon, “Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32, Nunc Dimittis LSB pp. 199-200) Amen.