Advent 1b

Preached: November 30, 2008

Watch Continuously
Mark 13:32-37

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus is Mark 13

Now about that day and hour, no one knows not the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. Look out. Stay awake and pray. For you do not know when that time is. Just as a man who travels abroad after leaving his house and giving authority to his slaves, to each one giving his own work, also ordered the doorkeeper to watch. Therefore keep watching. For you do not know when the lord of the house is coming at evening or midnight or before sunrise or at dawn. So if he comes suddenly, he does not find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: Keep watching. (Mark 13:32-37)

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

The parents had left town for the weekend, leaving their three teenage children home alone. But they weren't alone for along. With their parents gone, they thought it would be great to have friends over for a party. But soon the party grew out of control. Just then Dad and Mom came back unexpectedly. Their plans had been canceled. Someone was going to be in trouble.

Although we've seen scenes like that on TV often with a humorous twist, Jesus is deadly serious when he uses a similar picture for his sudden return. “It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch” (Mark 13:34 NIV).

Jesus is coming. We don't know when. So watch continuously. That's the theme this morning. Watch continuously. Always keep your eyes on Jesus. Always be alert for works of service. Those are the two parts. May the Holy Spirit focus our watchfulness through the Word of God before us.

A. Always keep your eyes on Jesus

1) Describe the attitude that keeps its eyes on Jesus.

Jesus tells us, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert and pray! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:32, 33 NIV footnote). We always need to keep our eyes on Jesus.

But keeping our eyes on Jesus isn't like those teenagers keeping a watch out for Dad and Mom. For one thing, the motive for the teens watching would have been to try to cover up the party. And even if they had been watching, they didn't have the time to get things right.

Keeping our eyes on Jesus doesn't mean being the lookout-man. Rather it's more like little children watching for Grandpa and Grandma. Their eyes glued to the window. Their faces eager. Their hearts beating faster every time a car drives by. “Is it them?” Watching. Waiting. Expecting. Anticipating. Watch continuously.

2) Why watch for Jesus?

But why watch for Jesus? Grandpa and Grandma bring gifts and goodies, hugs and kisses. We know why children watch for them. But why watch for Jesus?

The text hints at the answer when Jesus says that not even the Son but only the Father knew the time of the the Last Day. But isn't the Son true God? Isn't he all-knowing, omniscient, equal to the Father? Yes, Jesus the Son of God is true God, all-knowing just as the Father. The Bible makes that clear. But then how can Jesus honestly say that he, the Son, did not know? This mystery hints at how far Jesus went to save us. For when God the Son came to this earth he set aside the full use of his divine power and ability. For that was the only way to save sinners like you and me by becoming one of us in every way except for sin. He set aside knowing all things, so that like one of us he too learned and grew in knowledge. For he came to take our place.

And this setting aside of his divine authority went well beyond just not knowing all things. He continued to set aside his divine authority until he lowered himself even to death on the cross in our place. What a mystery beyond our comprehension: the living God died for us! For you see, just as Jesus set aside knowing all things so that at this point in his earthly ministry he could honestly say that he, the Son of God, did not know the time of the Last Day; so also Jesus the living, true God through whom all life flows Jesus set aside his life and died, died for you, in your place.

And now as the risen Savior, who fully uses all his divine authority, knowing all things as your risen Savior, he freely brings the greatest gift of all: Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, salvation to all who believe. He brings you the peace and joy. For he has reconciled you to God by paying for your sins in your place. Through faith in him you are God's dear child, washed in his blood. So like little children eagerly watching for Grandpa and Grandma, watch for Jesus, your amazing Savior. Always keep your eyes on Jesus.

3) How do we keep our eyes on Jesus?

How do we do that? Children couldn't watch for Grandpa or Grandma if the house had no windows. So also our natural powers leave us walled in with no way to see Jesus. But the Holy Spirit has broken through that wall. He has made the window through which you see Jesus. What is that window? It is the Gospel, the word of the Good News of Jesus in Scripture and in the Sacraments.

In the verse right before our text, Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mark 13:31 NIV). That word is the window through which you see Jesus. In order to keep your eyes always on Jesus, carry his word in your heart. Gladly hear and learn his word. Remember the word, that Good News promised to you at your Baptism, that Jesus washes away your sins and you were given rebirth by the Spirit into God the Father's family. Rejoice in the word of forgiveness brought to you by Jesus' own body and blood in the Lord's Supper. That's how we keep our eyes always on Jesus. That's how we watch continuously. Keep looking through the window of his Gospel. Always keep your eyes on Jesus.

B. Always be alert for works of service

1) Why does our sinful flesh need the warning to always be alert?

Now as we keep our eyes on our Savior with child-like eager anticipation, it changes our behavior today. It changes the way we live our lives right now. It changes us to be alert for works of service. That's the second part for us to think about. As we watch continuously always be alert for works of service.

Now this alertness isn't driven by terror of punishment. It isn't like teenagers frantically watching out for Dad and Mom desperately trying to cleanup the mess before they get caught. And yet a part of us must to be clubbed by this terror. Our sinful nature, the flesh within our hearts. How tempting to indulge our desires and party on, if we knew that we could live it up for, let's say, the next ten years before we had to clean up our act and start watching. How tempting if God told us exactly when our life and this world would end! How our sinful flesh would abuse that knowledge!

So Jesus makes it clear that we need to continuously watch and always be alert for works of service, since we don't know when our end or the world's end will come. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at down. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'” (Mark 13:35-37 NIV). How our natural self needs this warning! And our new self, created in us by the Holy Spirit, uses Jesus words here to beat down our old self and keep it in check.

2) What moves our new self to be alert?

But what is it that move our new self to be alert for works of service? It isn't the club of terror; rather it's the astounding love from Jesus.

Your new self knows how we deserve for Jesus to return as an angry judge damning us all to hell. For how often haven't we taken our eyes off of Jesus? How our flesh works overtime to distract us as we near the celebration of Jesus' birth! So many other things out there demand our attention. Year-end work. Family plans. Gift buying. Card sending. Food preparations. Decorations. Yes, a lot of good family traditions, unless they take our eyes off of Jesus, unless they take us away from Jesus' word and Sacraments, for that's the only way to keep our eyes on Jesus. Our new self knows how we deserve the Lord to return in anger. For how often haven't we fallen asleep instead of watching?

But your new self knows and believes that Jesus came the first time to pay for all your sins. You know and believe that all that Jesus did on the cross counts for you. You know and believe that your risen Jesus will return to bring you, whose faith is focused on you -- to bring you safely home to heaven. All that astounding love, all that amazing grace that Jesus has shown toward you, that is what moves us to be alert for works of service that great love from Jesus which we in no way deserve.

So be alert for works of service. Be alert to the needs of those around you. Don't trample over them trying to get what you want out of life. Rather, pray for them. Share the encouragement and hope you have through the Gospel of Jesus. Help them in their need, both their physical and spiritual need. Show kindness and forgiveness. Speak well of them. For Jesus has made it clear that these works of service that we do in his name even for the least, he counts as service to him. For that is why our Lord has left us on this earth with our assigned tasks, so that we may serve him by serving others.

Watch continuously. Always keep your eyes on Jesus, eager eyes focused on his gospel. Always be alert for works of service, helping others in Jesus' name.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

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