He Is Coming!

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
November 30, 2014
Advent I

Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

From the Prophet Isaiah:
O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down that the mountains might quake at thy presence-

From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:
Even as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And from the Gospel of St. Mark:
And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 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.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

The alarm clock went off just like any other morning, but instead of turning it off; Mary and Tom leaped out of bed and rushed to the bathroom. Tom quickly shaved and Mary hastily put on her make-up. Their movements were quick, intentional, and efficient. Their usually sluggish morning routine had turned into an Indy style pit stop. They were awake and alert because they were on a mission. It was the day after Thanksgiving otherwise known as Black Friday and they were headed to the mall to participate in the annual shopping spree to inaugurate the holiday season. How many of you can relate to this?

Shoppers across America woke up early on Friday morning in hopes of finding bargains by the cart-full. Many stores even opened on Thanksgiving Day in New Hampshire this year. Even in my family, a couple of the younger generation took off to the malls in New Hampshire as soon as they finished eating their dinner.

Computers and other electronic gadgetry were in big demand and marketing executives made sure that their store had plenty of enticing lures throughout the departments. This required some shoppers to develop intricate strategies to maximize their shopping time. Mary and Tom had it all planned out. Tom was assigned the purchase of a 50” flat screen TV and Mary’s job was to acquire the home computer system.

I wonder if Mary and Tom sprang out of bed this Sunday morning with the same enthusiasm and intentionality that propelled them to the mall on Black Friday. I wonder if they waited all night at the front door of their church, to reserve a seat up front, close to the pulpit. Ironically, when we have the proper motivation, we will do extraordinary things. Our bodies pump adrenalin through our muscles driving out even the faint touches of dreariness. We will rush from store to store after having gotten only a few hours sleep but on most Sunday mornings after a good night’s sleep, some people barely have enough staying power to keep awake through the Prayer of Confession and Scripture Lesson.

If a pastor doesn’t schedule a hymn from time to time in the service, and require people to stand up and stretch their legs, people may not make it through the sermon. We say our spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, but I wonder if the temptation for physical sleep is not an indication of another state of weariness.

The writer of Mark inserts this morning’s Scripture passage at the end of a rather lengthy teaching session. A disciple comments about the beauty of the Temple and Jesus uses the remark to remind his band of followers of the coming judgment of God against that house of worship. Stunned by his words, the disciples want to know more information. They want dates and places. They want a time line. Tim Lahaye and his Left Behind readers are not the first believers to be interested in the conclusion of history.

Jesus provides his disciples with a rather vivid and detailed description of those events. He speaks about the coming siege and the destruction of Jerusalem. He is telling them of the pending terror so that when they notice the first signs of the pending doom they will respond immediately. A crisis is coming and they must be ready.

He also warns his disciples that they will be persecuted for their faith. Jesus never attempts to sugar-coat the life of discipleship. They chose the hard way. They will not be able to later say that they had not been warned.

Jesus then reminds his followers that his message will be misinterpreted by many. They will attempt to lead people astray. They will offer creative ways of understanding his message. Their teaching will be attractive. It will fill in the gaps that seem to be missing. It will provide easy answers to difficult questions, but the disciples are not to be fooled by these so called teachers.

St. Paul encountered this at Corinth. Corinth was a very proud and philosophical city, with many itinerant teachers promoting their speculations. Unfortunately, this philosophical approach was applied to the Gospel by some members of the church, and this fostered division.
The congregation was made up of different “schools of thought” instead of being united behind the Gospel message. Of course, when you have proud people, depending on human wisdom, adopting the lifestyle of the world, you are going to have problems.

Jesus concludes his instructions to His disciples by drawing on imagery used in the Old Testament to describe the coming Day of the Lord. The event will be preceded by the increase of wars, earthquakes and famines.

All creation will be shaken but in the midst of all this social, political, and ecological turmoil, they are to “be on guard,” “be alert” and “keep watch.” If we use a literal translation of the Greek text, his words appear very strange. The Greek term directly relates to the physical act of staying awake by not falling asleep. Literally, he seems to be saying, “When the heavens experience a cataclysmic upheaval; when the whole world is collapsing all around you, do not worry or panic and especially do not fall asleep.”

This is not the only time Jesus warns his disciples about succumbing to the temptation of sleep. On the night of his betrayal and arrest he uses the same term to encourage them to resist the feelings of weariness. In the darkness of the Garden, the use of the term appears more natural and appropriate. The disciples had endured a long week. They had walked many miles to come to the Holy City of Jerusalem. They had spent many long tension filled hours listening to Jesus answer the challenges and questions of the Pharisees. They were tired. They had just completed a Passover meal and their bodies wanted rest to digest the meal. They wanted to sleep, but Jesus asks them to keep watch, to stay awake.

The use of the term “to stay awake” on the night of his arrest fits the setting but using it right after he tells his disciples about the coming destruction of civilization as they knew it, appears out of place. How could a person even think about sleeping with the world in such a state of chaos? How could a person quietly lay there, with their head on a pillow and gently close their eyes with such a threatening catastrophe looming?

His warning is more easily understood if we consider that even in the Garden, Jesus used the term “to stay awake” more for its figurative meaning than its literal. To understand the significance of this interpretation, we need to consider these questions: Why warn the disciples to stay awake if he was only using it in a literal sense? What difference does it make if they are awake when the soldiers come? He does not want the disciples to fight the soldiers. He does not want his followers to organize an escape plan. Jesus knows that the soldiers are to arrest him. So what does he mean by the term “to stay awake?”

By his admonition, Jesus indicates that he wants his disciples to be more than just mentally and physically awake. He wants them to be spiritually awake so that they understand the reality that is exploding around. He knows that they cannot control it. They do not have any influence upon it but he wants them to understand the theological meaning of the events that are about to transpire.

On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, the disciples were physically, mentally and spiritually asleep. They did not understand anything that was happening even though Jesus had explained it to them many times. They may have been awakened from their physical sleep by the sounds of marching soldiers, but they were still slumbering in a spiritual sleep. Unable to comprehend the events; their faith collapsed into a sea of fear and they deserted Jesus.

The words of Jesus do not warn us to keep a physical vigilance but a spiritual one. His message warns us to resist the weariness of the world around us. We are not to become so enmeshed in the cultural values and lifestyles of our neighbors, friends and even family that we fall asleep to the spiritual reality that is unfolding before us. His message should compel us to discover the complex truth of living in the world but not being of it.

God’s coming will not be preceded by economic prosperity. God’s coming will not inaugurate a period of peace and the cessation of wars. God’s coming will not be marked by the eradication of hunger and disease. C.S. Lewis once wrote:

God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks onto the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right; but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left?

Why must we stay alert? It is because nobody knows when Jesus Christ will return. When He was on earth in His humiliation, Jesus did not know the day or hour of His coming again. Even the angels do not know. The unsaved world scoffs at us because we continue to cling to this “blessed hope,” but He will return as He promised (2 Peter 3). Our task is to be faithful and to be busy, not to speculate or debate about the hidden details of prophecy.

Watchfulness has nothing to do with going to heaven. It is purely a matter of pleasing Him, hearing His loving commendation, and receiving His reward (Matt. 25:14-30). There is no suggestion here that, when He returns, Jesus will take only the faithful to heaven and leave the others on earth to suffer the Tribulation. His family is one, and He is now preparing a home for all of them, even the least worthy (John 14:1-6). We go to heaven because of His grace, not because of our faithfulness or good works (Eph. 2:8-10).

The Christians who read Mark’s Gospel eventually had to face intense persecution from Rome (1 Peter 4:12ff), and this particular message must have brought comfort and strength to them. After all, if God is able to help His people witness during the Great Tribulation, the worst persecution of all, then surely He could strengthen the saints in the Roman Empire as they faced their fiery trial.

While Christians today will not experience the terrible sufferings described in this chapter of Mark, we will have our share of persecution and tribulation in this world before the Lord returns (John 16:33; Acts 14:22). But the warnings of this message in Mark 13 may be applied to our own lives: “Take heed that you are not deceived” (Mark 13:5, 23); “Take heed that you do not become discouraged and quit” (Mark 13:9); “Take heed, watch and pray” (Mark 13:33).

“And what I say unto you, I say unto all, ‘Watch’” (Mark 13:37).

Let us pray:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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