This sermon can go one of two ways. One of them is to leave you like Damocles watching the sword. Damocles was a flatterer in the court of Dionysius, a 4th century BC king. Damocles always made much of how fortunate, wealthy, and luxurious the king's life was. One day Dionysius said that if Damocles thought his life so fortunate and easy, he should try living it. Dionysius ordered everything to be prepared for Damocles to experience what his life was like. He prepared a rich, sumptuous feast with servants, wine, and entertainment. Damocles was enjoying himself immensely... until he noticed a sharp sword hanging over his head suspended by only one horse hair. This, the tyrant explained to Damocles, was what life as a king was really like.
I could use this text to leave you like Damocles focused on the sword of judgment that falls when Jesus returns. If so, like Damocles, you won't be able to go on enjoying the feasts of this life. All you'll be able to think about is that sword hanging by one thin hair. Well, watch this! Not even the Son knows the day, let alone the hour of His Second Coming.
But that bothers you, doesn't it? That messes with your understanding of the Trinity, doesn't it? Does God the Son know no more than the angels of heaven? Is God the Son less omniscient than God the Father? The usual way this is dealt with is to make Jesus say what He didn't. It's to have Jesus say that not even the Son of Man knows when He will return. Jesus according to His human nature didn't know this. But if you go this way, you go with the Reformed Christians who don't believe the divine attributes of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience are shared by Jesus' human nature because the finite human nature can't share infinite, divine things.
Besides, Jesus doesn't say the Son of Man doesn't know but the Son doesn't and the Father does. Mark 13 is about the end of Jerusalem, the end of the world, and the return of Jesus. Five verses before our text Jesus says, "Then will they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds." This is a reminder that the Jesus who walked this earth voluntarily not using His divine power and privilege will come again in glory. But in our text Jesus refers only to the Son and this over against the Father, God the Son versus God the Father.
So we're back to how the all-knowing God the Son can't know what God the Father knows? Well, the all knowing God says He doesn't know our sins. He says He doesn't remember them anymore. God the Son saying He doesn't know something is like saying God forgets, remembers, changes His mind. When God speaks this way people often quickly dismiss them as anthropomorphisms speaking of God in human terms. Yes, but there's divine revelation in those human terms, and more often than not there's Gospel.
Jesus in John 5 says that everything that belongs to the Father belongs to Him; that He does only what the Father tells Him to; that the words He speaks are only the ones that the Father has given Him. The Father didn't give to Jesus the when of His Second Coming. The when is not part of Jesus' office as prophet, priest and king. The only things the Father gave to His Son are the things that belong to our salvation. The Father gave the Son our obligation to keep the Law, our debt of sin, our just judgment, our due penalty, but He didn't give Him the time of the Second Coming.
You know what that means? If the Son doesn't need to know the when of His own coming, we sure don't need to. If the Son doesn't need to know when He returns to end the world as part of His saving work, then we don't need to know as part of being saved. We can laugh at those people who predict the end. We can pity those people who live in dread that the latest earthquake, famine, pestilence, or war is God trying to tell them some special message about the when of His Son's return.
Watch this! Watch how worry about when Jesus will end the world melts away when you realize knowing that can't be important for your being saved. This Bible class Jesus held in Mark 13 on the end of the world started with the disciples'' question, "When will these things happen?" Jesus tells them twice in our text, "You do not know when," but that's only after telling them, "Hey look! Hey watch this! Not even I know when."
Knowing the Last Day doesn't belong to our salvation according to this text, but watching does. So are we back to the Sword of Damocles? You must watch for Jesus to return because He could come at anytime and when He comes don't you dare let Him find you sleeping. If you think this is how this is to be understood, you probably send your kids to bed on Christmas Eve telling them if Santa finds them asleep no toys for them! Well, watch this! Jesus says, "Watch" not "wait." You've seen those signs at shops that say, "Repairs made while you wait." You might have noticed one that says, "Repairs made while you watch." Customers are noticeably happier and more satisfied at stores that tell them they are watching rather than waiting.
Well are you watching or waiting? Watching is exciting; waiting is boring. Watching is expecting something to happen; waiting is, well, waiting to see if anything does happen. Thanks be to God that your Lord Jesus tells you to watch not wait. "Be on guard! Be alert" don't be bored out of your gourd as if you're waiting for something that may or may not happen. Keep watch because what you're waiting for is happening even now.
Isn't that the truth? Isn't a title of Jesus "the Coming One," i.e. "the One who is always Coming." Don't we speak of 3 comings at the beginning of the Church Year? His first coming to redeem us; He Second Coming to reclaim His kingdom; and His coming today in His Word and Sacraments? Watch the Coming One who came, comes, and will come, but watch in the right places.
Watch outside versus inside. If you watch inside yourself, you'll see only your sinfulness, your fallenness, your bleakness and blackness. You'll be depressed when you see how little all the comings of Jesus have changed you. Don't watch inside; watch outside. Watch what Jesus did in His life. Watch how He lived it perfectly under your obligations, circumstances, and challenges. Watch outside of you how Jesus was the perfect person, mother, father, sister, brother, church member, employee and friend. Watch outside of you how Jesus paid off your debt of sin, satisfied God's wrath against you, and freed you from being enslaved by your sins. Watch Jesus coming to you from the outside in Water, Words, Bread and Wine to free you from all that is inside of you.
Watch the right place. You can watch your decaying old man or your constantly renewed new man. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4, "Outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." You can watch as you grow old, get sick, wither, and die. You can watch as your old man who believes in nothing but this life, in what it can see and touch, fights and struggles in vain for something more, better, or different than what it has. Or you can watch your new man as it is renewed day by day. The water of Baptism that gave it birth rebirths it every time you remember you've been baptized. The Words of Absolution burrow into the ears of the new man and make him forget his forgiven sins. And the Body and Blood of Jesus strengthen the new man for the journey to everlasting life.
What are you watching? If you're watching inside of you, you're seeing a decaying person who is dying day by day struggling to live and pretending it can. If you're looking inside, you're watching what Jesus drowned in Baptism, crucified on the cross, and is on the way to only dust and ashes. If you're watching inside, you're watching your old man, and you will loose heart; you will stop watching because you won't be able to take the hideousness for long. But what does Paul say in 2 Corinthians 4? "We do not lose heart because we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen." Paul uses an even stronger word than watch'. He says we mark,' scrutinize,' observe,' not the dying and decaying old man but the living, growing, blossoming new man our Lord promises He has created in us.
Not only what you're watching is important but where you're watching from is. Are you watching from outside the house the Lord is returning to or from inside the house? If you're watching from the outside, you're not a part of His household. You're not His slave but the world's slave. You're in that place of contradictions described as outer darkness but with flames that can't be quenched. You're watching for a Lord returning in anger to punish you for all that you have ever said, thought, or did. If you're watching from outside, your watching for One who will return to drop the Sword of Damocles on you.
Stop watching from there. Come in here. You're Baptism brought you into the house. This is the house where the Sword of Damocles has already fallen, but it fell on Jesus pinning Him to the cross to pay for your sins and spilling His blood to cover them. Watch from inside of the Church where your sins are sent away from you not joined to you and where you are given the Body and Blood of the returning Lord as the seal, token, mark that He returns for you in grace, mercy, and peace not in judgment, punishment, and wrath.
Watch don't wait. Watch as even now the Lord Jesus in every sickness, through every trial, by every hardship, with every pain of body and soul is working on the new man He gave birth to and still nourishes by His Body and Blood. Watch as through the afflictions, joys, struggles, and triumphs He forges not a Sword of Damocles to hang above your head but a victor's crown to put on it. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Advent (20111127); Mark 13: 32-37