Looking out a window your eyes can focus on the screen or look right past the screen to what's outside. It's somewhat amazing how we in an instant can switch focus so as to make the screen disappear. So, here we are on the Last Sunday of the Church Year, the Church's New Year's Eve, where the end of the world is put before us, and the question I have for you today is where is your focus?
Many people are fixated on when the end of the world will be. This is the question the disciples began with 28 verses earlier. “Tell us when,” they asked Jesus? “When” is a question that can easily lure us in and trap us. All sorts of groups, some Christian some not, have drawn crowds by telling people when the world would end. The fixation with “when” is not easily driven from the mind. These same disciples who asked Jesus “when” here, in only 46 more days would ask it again. On Ascension Day they ask Jesus, “Lord is it at this time you'll restore the kingdom to Israel.” Years later in the Book of 2 Thessalonians people were so sure they knew the “when” of the Lord's return that they quit working.
Predictions of when the end of the world will be have always been around. They do entice and tempt us,, but it's funny they do because Jesus rather bluntly tells us that we don't know when the end of the world will be. Literally Jesus says that we not only don't know the day or the hour, we don't even know the season. And to make sure we get this fact through our rather thick skulls Jesus says it twice!
But even that isn't sufficient for Jesus. He further drives home the point that we don't know when by saying that not even He knows the when of the Last Day. This tells us two things. First, we'll never, ever be able to know the when of our Lord's return by calculating dates, measuring how bad things are, or by looking for signs. If the Son of God Himself doesn't know the when of the Last Day, you can be sure that there is no way we can.
Second, the fact that Jesus doesn't know when the end of the world will be, tells we don't need to know the when. Now isn't that a joy? You can listen to other Christians become agitated over when the Lord is going to return. You can see them measure, weigh, calculate and debate. You can see them wondering if they've missed something, being unsure how to take this or that sign. And you can rejoice in the fact that you sure don't need to know what Jesus Himself says He doesn't know. If Jesus doesn't know it, it must not be important for you to know. So you don't need to feel silly or stupid that you can't say this or that indicates when Jesus is to come.
Ah, but here we come to a paradox. Jesus says because we don't and can't know when He will return, we are to keep watch. Twice the Lord makes a causal connection between being alert and not knowing when. The insert only translates one, but Jesus says it twice. “Take heed, keep watch; because you do not know when the season is.” And again, “Therefore keep watch; because you do not know when the Lord of the house comes.”
Okay then. I am relieved from the responsibility of knowing when the Lord returns, but this places on me the responsibility of always being on guard. How in the world can I always be on guard? Doesn't this bring to mind a constant state of nervousness? It does if your focus is on you. But I want you to see beyond yourself, beyond the screen that is so close to you, to what, or more properly to Whom, is outside. And in doing so, I want you to focus not on what Jesus says He doesn't know, but on what Jesus says He does know.
Scripture says Jesus doesn't need anyone to tell Him what is in man because He Himself knows what is in us. Your hypocrisy can fool me. You can fool me with smiles. You can fool me with being in Service every Sunday and at the communion rail too, but Jesus knows all about you. He knows where you come from to get here; He know where you go when you leave here, and He knows what your thoughts are when you are here. Focus on that for a while. Focus on the fact that when Jesus returns He will make known to all what He has known all along. The gossip, the greed, the lust, the pride, the corruption you can keep from me; you cannot keep from Him.
Yes, Scripture says Jesus knows all things. He knows your sins intimately. He knows if they weigh on you or not. He knows if you are bothered by their grimy filthiness or not. He knows if they secretly blush your face or not. He knows if you think you can deal with them by your excuses or by trying to do better. He knows if you really want to be rid of your sins or just want to be able to make peace with your sinfulness.
Watch, look, focus on the Jesus who knows right where you are with your sins and your sinfulness and know what Jesus knows. Jesus knows that the Father willed from all eternity to place the sins of the world upon Him. In Gethsemane we find this memorable passage, “Jesus therefore knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” Yes, the Lamb of God went uncomplaining forth, went right up to His butchers and said, “Here I am.”
If your sins are breaking your heart and your back, if they're too much for you to excuse, or make up, if they're so disgusting and filthy to you that you not only blush but wretch at the thought of them, here's the answer you're looking for, watching for, been waiting for all your life. Here is what you are to be focusing on the rest of your days. The Lamb going uncomplaining forth bearing your sins knowing full well what's in store for Him.
What do you think it would take to pay for your sins? How much do you think you would need to suffer to pay for the people you've betrayed, hurt, or let down? How much shame to you think you would have to bear to pay for your sexual sins of thought, words and deeds? Do you think being stripped naked for all to see would be enough? How about standing there while all the vile details of your life were read out loud? None of this would be enough. God the Father knew this, and so did the Son. Your sins could not be paid for by a lifetime of suffering and shame; no not even an eternity would've been enough. If your sins were ever to be paid for, there was only one way for that to happen: Your sins would have to be placed on a Man who is also God, so that the suffering and shame, the torture and pain, the guilt and grief would be that of God and not just of a man.
Focus on what Jesus knows not on what He says He doesn't. Jesus knows the Father willed to punish Him not you. Jesus knows that His payment for your sins was enough because the Father did raise Him on Easter. Jesus knows that all He won on the cross for mankind, forgiveness, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation is delivered to points of time by Baptism. Jesus knows that Baptism has the power to reborn filthy, hypocritical sinners as new men and women cleansed by the flood of grace it brings in the name of the Triune God.
Jesus knows that even reborn sinners sin, so He has left a power on earth to forgive sins before God in heaven. He has left a Word of forgiveness in the mouth of His Church that can do downright, out and out, bonafide miracles. This Word of forgiveness can lift the weight of years of sinning off the back of a sinner; this Word can make faces blushed crimson red snow white; this Word can forgive what everyone else and even yourself considers unforgivable. Focus on the Jesus who has sent forth this Word for you.
And focus on the Jesus who knows that Holy Communion has the power to bring the Body He gave over to death for us and the Blood He shed for the forgiveness of our sins to our space and time. Focus on the Jesus who tells you, “This is My Body; This is My Blood,” right here and now on this altar, in the pastor's hands, in your mouth, body and soul. Focus on the fact that when Jesus knew He was going to die in less than 24 hours and was making His last will and testament, He didn't leave us wealth, health, success or fame though He could have left us all of these. Instead what He left us was His Body and Blood in Bread and Wine to eat and drink for forgiveness, for life, for salvation.
When I was learning to drive, my dad repeatedly said, “Whatever your eyes focus on that is what you will steer the car towards without even thinking.” It's true and it's a great help when your driving down narrow roads. If you focus on the ditch you will be skimming in. If you focus on the other lane, you'll be skirting it. So what does Jesus put before His Church in this text to focus on? Not the when of the coming but Who is coming. He bids us focus on the returning Owner of the house, but remember what this Owner did for His household before He went away from us? He lived the perfect life we were required to live but could not, and He died the miserable death that our many sins called for. Focus on Him and you'll steer toward Him.
But just where is He to focus on? Jesus Himself says that in the end times people will come saying He is here; He is there and we are not to go running where they point. So today when people say Jesus is in Middle East working out the things necessary for His return; we are not to focus there. When people say Jesus is where people are feeling good about each other, we are not to focus there. When people say Jesus is in their heart, in their feelings, in their love, we are not to focus there.
Jesus might be in a lot of different places, but we are to focus where Jesus has promised He would meet us: In our Baptisms, in the preaching of His Word, and in the celebrating of His Sacraments. We focus on these looking past the screens of our puny thoughts and feelings, looking past the screens of our sins, and focused on Jesus we are steered toward Jesus. Therefore, we are ready for the when of His return, whenever. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Last Sunday in the Church Year (11-23-03), Mark 13:32-37