Sermon: Mark 13:32-37
Advent 1 - December 3, 2107 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Charles Russell, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, prophesied that Jesus would make his visible appearance in this world and set up his kingdom in 1917. Then Jesus would proceed to destroy all Christian churches which Russell considered to be false and corrupt. Charles Russell was wrong about 1917, and he’s been wrong for 100 years.
This is just one example of probably hundreds if not thousands of prophecies of the day and time of Jesus’ second coming. None of them have been fulfilled. It’s rather ironic that people try to predict Jesus’ return when Jesus so clearly teaches that no one other than God himself knows when the last day will be.
This is the 1st Sunday of Advent, a season in which we prepare our hearts and minds for the celebration of Jesus’ birth and, more important, for Jesus’ second coming to this world. And in our text today Jesus makes it real clear that he’s more concerned that we be prepared for his return than that we know when it’s going to be.
The simple truth is that, in respect to the time of Jesus’ second coming,
WE JUST DON’T KNOW
The words of Jesus in our text come at the end of a rather long talk that Jesus had with his disciples about the end times. But before he concludes he makes these comments about when the Son of Man will appear in glory: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
What’s really interesting about Jesus’ words is who doesn’t know. “No one knows,” Jesus says. In other words no human being knows. The disciples didn’t know. None of the prophets of the Old Testament knew even though many of them wrote about the last judgment. Not even the Apostle Paul knew. The Lord Jesus revealed many things to Paul, including some of the events of the last day, but he didn’t reveal to him when it would be.
“Not even the angels in heaven [know],” Jesus said. Wouldn’t it make sense, though, that the angels would know when the end of the world will be? The angels are special creations of God. The angels exist in the heavenly realms with God. They’re spirit beings who can take on a physical form, even a human form. They can suddenly appear on earth and suddenly disappear. Wouldn’t it make sense that they would be omniscient like God? Wouldn’t they know everything? Well, they don’t.
The Apostle Peter in his 1st letter makes an interesting comment about the angels. He says that the prophets of the Old Testament searched intently in their own inspired writings to try to find out the time and circumstances of the first coming of the Savior, his suffering, and the glory that would follow. And Peter notes that not only the prophets were curious to know these things, so were the angels. He wrote, “Even the angels long to look into these things.” Like us, there’s much that God has not revealed even to the angels, including the day of Jesus’ second coming to the world.
But as Jesus spoke these words to his disciples there was someone else who didn’t know the day of his return. “Nor the Son.” Jesus himself didn’t know when the last day would be. How could that be? We learned as far back as our confirmation instruction that Jesus is God, and God is omniscient, he knows all things. So how could Jesus tell his disciples that he didn’t know the day of his return?
It’s difficult for us to understand, but we need to remember that when Jesus was in this world he was in a state of humiliation. He didn’t fully make use of all his divine powers as God. And at this time he clearly didn’t make full use of his omniscience, his all-knowing ability. For whatever reason God the Father kept that knowledge from Jesus at this time. When Jesus rose again from the dead and God the Father exalted him, Jesus once again made full use of all his divine power including his all-knowing power, his omniscience. Today God the Son knows when his return to this world will be.
Why do you think God the Father hasn’t revealed to the prophets and the apostles and us when the end will be? You could argue that an exact date might make us more serious about our preparation for the end. The exact date might make the last judgment more real to us rather than just some event out there sometime in the future.
But the truth is that God knows sinful human nature. Even if God had revealed the exact date and time of Jesus’ return most people wouldn’t believe it like most people don’t believe the rest of God’s word. And if people did believe that date revealed by God about Jesus’ return, their sluggish and sinful natures, their spiritual procrastination, would put off that preparation until the night before.
God wants us to always be prepared to appear before Jesus’ throne whenever he comes. Preparation and watchfulness for Jesus’ return is exactly what Jesus is emphasizing in his words. It’s not important that we know the date and time. It’s important that we’re watching and prepared.
Jesus uses a simple parable to illustrate his point. A man leaves his house and puts his workers in charge until he returns. They don’t know when their boss is going to return, but they better be faithful in their responsibilities and watching carefully for his return.
So are you watching? Are you prepared? Are you ready if Jesus were to return today, in the next few minutes? We better be. Jesus says, “If [the Son of Man, Jesus] comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” Grammatically Jesus’ word “watch” is what we call a present imperfect. We are to be watching for Jesus’ return now in the present and continually on into the future until we see him coming on the clouds of heaven with all the angels.
What are you doing to always be watching, to always be prepared? Have you ever literally watched, looking up into the sky, to see if maybe that’s the very moment when Jesus would appear? I have to admit I have. And it’s not that foolish. After all, Jesus has said he will come visibly on the clouds of heaven for all to see. And in this very text he tells us to watch.
But we can’t spend our time each day looking up into the sky. Jesus’ admonition to watch is broader and more figurative than just literally looking up into the sky. So what do you do to watch? What do you do to be prepared?
I would imagine that most of you would say that you believe. You’re prepared with faith in Jesus. And that of course is right and absolutely crucial. We’re saved by faith alone. We believe that Jesus is our Savior. We believe that he died on a cross to atone for our sins. We believe that he rose again from the dead to prove that our sins are forgiven. The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
But that faith that saves is faith that needs to be nurtured and increased. Again the Apostle Paul says, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Faith is nurtured and increases by the power of the gospel in the word and in the sacrament of Holy Communion. And where is Holy Communion celebrated, and where is the greatest concentration of the preaching and teaching of the word of God? In Sunday morning worship.
Public worship of God, praising God with fellow believers, hearing God’s word read and preached and taught has been a part of God’s people going all the way back to Genesis before the flood where Moses wrote, “At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.” Public worship was so much a part of God’s Old Testament people Israel that God made weekly, Sabbath, worship one of the Ten Commandments. The New Testament Christian church has followed that pattern with weekly, Sunday worship.
Last Sunday in our Adult Bible Class we discussed the comment that some people make: “I don’t have to go to church to be saved.” How do you respond to a person who makes that claim? I hope you don’t agree with that person. I hope you don’t lend any credibility to what that person says.
To the person who says, “I don’t have to go to church to be saved” I would say, “Really?! When did God give you permission to say that? Why would you say that? Why would you say that not worshiping God is a legitimate possibility or option for Christians? Would you say that if you were standing before God? Why would you risk your eternal salvation on such a flimsy remark?” And then I’d tell that person, “You’re not watching. You’re not prepared.”
There’s no better way to watch, there’s no better way to be prepared, for Jesus’ return than to have faith in him as your Savior and to regularly worship him, hear his word, and receive his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
And then remember. Sunday is just one day. You can watch and prepare with your own Bible reading, prayer, and devotional life each day.
You can watch and prepare by how you live your life. When Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy directs and influences your life then your faith will be living and active. You will be like the servants in Jesus’ parable who are taking care of their responsibilities until their boss returns. You will live like a Christian. You will love God. You will love your neighbor.
And every once in a while you’ll look upward to watch, to see, if this is the moment Jesus returns. And one day it will be. We just don’t know when. Amen.