Advent 1a

Preached: November 28, 2010

Watch Continuously, Ready for Jesus
Matthew 24:37-44

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit prepares our hearts to watch for Jesus is Matthew 24.

Just as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as there was in those days before the flood eating and drinking, marrying and giving away in marriage, up to that day when Noah entered the ark and no one recognized it until the flood came and took them all away -- so also will be the coming of the Son of Man. At that time two will be in the field. One is taken and one is left. Two will be grinding in the mill. One is taken and one is left. Therefore, keep watching, because you do not know at what hour your Lord is coming. But you do recognize this: If the homeowner had known at what time the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore, you also be ready, because the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not suppose. (Matthew 24:37-44)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“Keep your eye on the ball. Look it into your hands.” That's the advice coaches give receivers in football. How many would-be touchdowns end up as dropped passes because he takes his eye off the ball?

Through God's Word today the Holy Spirit works to keep our eyes on Jesus. And I'm not talking about these eyes, but the eyes of our heart. Where is your heart focused? What effort are you making to keep your eyes on Jesus? Yes, dear friend, this calls for your own self-examination. Watch continuously, ready for Jesus.

A. Beware of the distractions of everyday life

1. What's so dangerous about being distracted by the good things in this life?

“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37 NIV), Jesus says. Notice how he describes those days before the flood. He doesn't emphasize their wicked behavior. He doesn't say they were gorging themselves and getting drunk, giving themselves into orgies and wild partying. Rather Jesus describes the normal behaviors of life: “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matthew 24:38 NIV). What's so bad about that?

They did those things without recognizing the Lord and listening to him. It's not that God kept his plans a secret from them. For 120 years they could see Noah building that big boat on dry land. They could hear Noah telling them again and again of God's impending judgment He was going to destroy the world with a flood because “every inclination of the thoughts of [man's] heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5 NIV).

But did pay attention? Did they take these words to heart and diligently esteem them? Did they turn to the Lord who had graciously promised a Savior to be born of woman to crush Satan's head for them? No, they chose to be ignorant. They choose to live their life as they always did -- eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage -- until it was too late.

What a warning for you and me, dear friends! Don't think that you're safe because you stay away from those bad things of this world: drunkenness, addictions, pornography, criminal activity, and the like. Don't think your safe because you focus on the wholesome things of life: family, community, friendship, a good day's work, the beauty of nature and art. How many weren't doing those same things, eating and drinking, marrying and giving marriage, gathering with family and friends, but were all swept away by the waters of the flood? They were not watching. Are you watching continuously, ready for Jesus?

Outwardly there may be little difference between those who are ready and watching and those who are not. Notice how Jesus describes people going about their every-day work: two men out in the fields, two women grinding grain. We could even add: two people sitting in church. One will be taken; the other left. Which will you be? When Jesus visibly returns in his glory on the Last Day, will you be watching and ready, so that you are taken to your inheritance in heaven, the kingdom prepared for you from since the creation of the world? Or will you be caught unawares, spiritually sleeping, so that you're left as fire destroys this world, left to the unending torture of hell like those swept away in the flood? Are you watching continuously, ready for Jesus?

B. Keep focusing on Jesus, no matter how well you know him

1. What does it mean to watch continuously, ready for Jesus?

Where are the eyes of your heart focused? That, dear friends, is the real difference. And don't be fooled into thinking that your heart is focused rightly simply because you know about Jesus. When I was confirmed I figured I knew a lot. I realized that there were parts of the Bible I didn't know much about. But at least I knew the life of Jesus. After eight years of Christian Day school, even more years of Sunday school, and several year of Catechism class, I could tell you most any Bible story from Jesus' life by heart. Why focus on those things I already knew?

Yes, I knew the facts, but I had a very shallow understanding of the truths. To watch continuously, ready for Jesus, doesn't mean simply knowing the facts about him and the lessons they teach. Rather, it means to keep on thinking about what Jesus has done for you, dear friend, even though you already know it. It means to keep on saying in your heart: “He came from the Father for me. He lived and died even for a sinner like me. He rose to bring eternal life to all who believe, yes even to me.” It means to keep on contemplating and meditating on this Good News of forgiveness you know so well. It means to keep on applying his truth to your life and to keep up the struggle of putting his words into action, of wrestling and grappling with how to live your faith each and every day. Such a life is indeed watching continuously, ready for Jesus.

2. What keeps our focus on Jesus?

Where does such an inner life of watchfulness and readiness come from? It comes from knowing the facts about Jesus and the truths they teach as revealed in the Bible, but it doesn't stop there. Do you understand that? So we do emphasize reading and studying the Bible and coming to church and receiving the sacraments. It's not that those outward actions, mechanically performed, make you watchful and ready. Yet how can your heart be focused on Jesus if you are not regularly taking in his word and inwardly digesting it?

His word is God's gift to us. That's why he has given us the Bible. That's why he has connected his word to water in Baptism and to bread and wine and Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper. Through his word the Holy Spirit focuses our hearts so that we can watch continuously, ready for Jesus. Our Bible classes delve into his Word. Our Sunday worship brings us that word in the Scriptures and the Sacraments. Our worship has developed over the centuries tested and proved by Christian experience across the years and around the world to focus our hearts on Jesus. Don't dismiss the liturgy lightly. Rather contemplate how it brings you Jesus week after week.

3. What can you do so that God's Word keeps you focused on Jesus?

God's Word. That's what focuses our hearts so that we watch continuously, ready for Jesus. In a way, you might say, God's Word is like my glasses. Without my glasses, I couldn't even begin to catch a football. I wouldn't see it coming. But even with my glasses on, I still need to watch for the ball, concentrate, and stay focused. If I worry about that 250 pound linebacker or dream about a touchdown, I'm not ready. I'll drop the pass.

Likewise, you have God's Word, dear Christian. You're wearing the glasses. Now stay focused on Jesus. Contemplate his word throughout each day, especially when your mind doesn't need to be occupied with the task at hand. For example, while standing in line, while doing a repetitive chore, while waiting at the doctor's office or for a deer to go by or a fish to bite, while relaxing at home or in those moments before you fall asleep in bed, think about Jesus and his word. Turn off the distractions that bombard you through the radio, TV, cell phones, ipods, and computers. Set aside your planning or worrying. Reflect on what you read for your daily devotion you. Recall a favorite Bible passage. Sing in your heart or even out loud a Christian hymn. Meditate on the message from the sermon and Bible readings that week. Contemplate the discussion from Bible class or the lesson from Sunday school you learned or taught. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16 NIV).

For as his word dwells in you richly, then as you carry out your daily life, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, gathering with family, working in the fields, grinding grain, taking care of your children, going to school. and whatever other roles and responsibilities our Lord gives you -- then, with the word of Christ dwelling in you richly, you are watching continuously, ready for Jesus.

C. Guard against spiritually falling asleep

1. How does the Holy Spirit keep us spiritually awake and watchful?

Don't put this off for some future time. We don't know when Jesus will return. Unlike the receiver who knows he only needs to focus for a few seconds each play, we need to continuously keep watching, ready for Jesus. He may return at any time. “[K]eep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42 NIV), Jesus says.

At times we might grow tired. At times we might think we can put it off for a while. But don't deceive yourself! Don't be like that homeowner who went to sleep because he didn't know when the thief was coming, so why bother watching? You do not want your spiritual riches and faith stolen away from you because you failed to keep watch, do you? “So you also must be ready, [Jesus says,] because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44 NIV).

Watch continuously, ready for Jesus. Satan so much wants to lull us to sleep, so that we dream that we're still ready even though we wouldn't be, because we were spiritually asleep. He wants to distract our minds away from God's Word with all the busyness of this life, even with the wholesome things of this life, family, work, and friends. He wants us to think we have plenty of time, so we can focus on Jesus after we take care of the more pressing needs at hand.

Don't let Satan sing you too sleep. His words can sound like a sweet lullaby, but don't be fooled. Rather, dear friend, listen again as the Holy Spirit calls to you from the Scriptures and Sacraments. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Listen as the Holy Spirit uses your fellow Christians to sound the Scripture's wake up call: “Wake, awake, for night is flying.” Yes, dear Christian, Jesus is coming. He is coming soon. He came the first time to ransom you with his blood. He is coming again to take his faithful people home with him. Therefore, watch continuously, ready for Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313