Was This Helpful?
Was this helpful? That's the question Microsoft asks you after a help section and Amazon.com after a product review. That's the question I'm asking after you've heard Jesus say these words about His return: Was this helpful?
Well, was it? Doesn't is sound as if Jesus is trying to scare you into staying awake. "Be on guard! Be alert! Keep watch! Watch! You have no idea when the Master of the house is going to return. It could be this evening; it could be at midnight; it could when the rooster crows; or at dawn. He could come suddenly; don't you dare let Him find you sleeping."
Was this helpful? Let me ask another question. Would you do this to your children? Would you try to scare them into staying awake? Tell them that if they fall asleep the boogeyman might come suddenly from under the bed? Tell them they had no idea whatsoever when he might come so they had better never, ever fall asleep.
A devotion book for kids Little Visits with God had that sort of effect on me and that's why I wrote my own devotion book for my kids. Little Visits with God was in my dentist's office. I remember reading a devotion about a boy hit by a car, and his father or maybe even a pastor, telling him if he was ready when Jesus came for him that night he could go to heaven. The boy was worried that he wouldn't be able to tell Jesus that, so the adult propped his bandaged arm up against a pillow to show Jesus he was ready. That devotion haunted me because what if no one was there to prop my hand up?
Does scaring someone in order to keep them awake even work? Doesn't it seem the more you try to keep yourself awake the more you want to sleep? In fact, if you're having trouble sleeping, one suggestion given is to purposely keep your eyes open. They grow heavier as you try to force them to stay open.
So I don't think Jesus is trying to scare us awake. It doesn't work, and I sure wouldn't do that to my child, so I hardly think the Lord does it to His. However, there is no denying that Jesus wants us awake. There's no denying that the world lulls us to sleep like the Wicked Witch of the Wizard of Oz does Dorothy and friends. "Sleep my pretties," she coos as she sprinkles them with poppies she calls "attractive to the eye and soothing to the smell." We are sprinkled with the poppy dust of a peaceful, easy feeling; of what's the hurry? Where's the fire? Surely there's plenty of time to care about spiritual things; plenty of time to take seriously God's Word; besides, I can't stay awake always; I'll just close my eyes for a minute maybe two.
That's the other ditch to avoid. The ditch on one side is scaring people awake; the ditch on the other side is what's the harm of a little sleep? So what if I'm not awake when the Master returns, the Bridegroom comes, the Marriage Supper begins? So what if the door is shut, and I'm left outside? Jesus doesn't want us in this ditch either. So He tells us to watch.
Have you seen those signs "Repairs Made While You Wait?" Studies have shown that those are not helpful. When they're replaced with, "Repairs Made While You Watch," people think their wait time is less and passes more quickly. Waiting is tedious, tiresome, passive and it leads to dozing. Watching is active, engaging, and can be exciting.
Kids love "Where's Waldo?" Even as an adult it's very engaging to turn a page and see the myriad of pictures. Then you start searching, your eyes watching for wherever Waldo might be hiding. There are different levels of that book, and as kids progress they get better and better at finding Waldo. You tell a child sit here and wait and that feels like a punishment; you tell them to sit here and watch for Waldo, well that's a whole different thing.
We usually take Jesus' opening words as meaning we have absolutely no idea when He might be returning. He does say that even He, the Son, doesn't know the day or the hour, and as for us we don't even know the season. He doesn't say we don't know "that time" as the insert has but "the season." Season is longer than day and certainly than hour. But saying it this way can also say there's no hour, day, or season the Son is NOT coming in. A title of the Messiah from the Old Testament on is the Coming One.
Don't you think the disciples could have seen Jesus coming in the Passion Week events that began unfolding 2 days from our text on Maundy Thursday? Jesus came for Judas that evening in the upper room. Jesus came for Peter, James, and John as they slept in Gethsemane's garden while He prayed 3 times. Jesus came for Peter when the rooster crowed. And as John is running toward the empty tomb at dawn on Easter morning, he is running toward the Coming One.
The child watches for Waldo on every page because he is told that Waldo is there. Jesus tells us He is always coming at every hour, on every day, in every season, so we might watch for Him there. Think about it: the commands Jesus gives and the promises He makes are predicated on Him always being there. "Ask, seek, knock, and I will answer; you'll find, and it will be opened." "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it." "Come unto Me and I will give you rest." "Behold I am with you always." "Baptize all nations into the Triune God." "Whosever sins you forgive in My name are forgiven." "Do this often in remembrance of Me."
We teach our kids to make the sign of the cross morning and evening as a reminder to watch their Baptism where Jesus comes to drown the Old Adam and rebirth the New Man. We teach them to pray the Lord's Prayer every day because they need daily bread and forgiveness. They are to watch as Jesus comes with His absolving and gifting Word. We teach them that in every Lord's Supper they watch Jesus come in His Body and Blood.
It's not helpful to think Jesus wants us scared awake. It is helpful to hear that Jesus continually comes to His people and they are to watch for Him on every turn of the page of their life. And it is helpful to know who we are watching for. Watchfulness comes from looking forward to the one who is coming. Watchfulness doesn't come from knowing when. Think about that. If you really know when something is coming, you don't watch for it. It's not going to be here before that time. That's why Jesus takes the when of His coming off the table. That's why the Father never put it on His table to begin with. It would be like telling a child that Waldo isn't on any page other than page 12.
When I was a boy, my father would be away at school for weeks. We would know the day he was coming home but not the hour. I would watch for him from the window, out in the sandbox, in the yard. It wasn't a chore; it wasn't tedious because I was watching for my father not a stranger, and certainly not a judge or a terror.
Who are you watching for? Are you watching for One who has been here before? Are you watching for One who came the first time for your salvation? Are you watching for the Good Shepherd who came first as the Lamb of God carrying away the sins of the world? Are you watching for someone you meet daily in Baptism and Absolution and weekly in Communion? Are you watching for someone who will rub your nose in your sins or one who has already carried them away from you?
If you've already met Jesus as Judge in the preaching of the Law, if your sins have already been revealed to you, if the Law has made your sins and sinfulness reprehensible to you, if the Law has shown you, you can't withstand the just judgment of your sins and you want to be freed from them, done with them, not a slave to your sins any longer, then have you met Jesus as Savior: in the audible Gospel of preaching, in the tangible Gospel of Baptism, in the perceptible Gospel of Absolution, or in the visible Gospel of Communion?
It makes a tremendous difference who you're waiting for: One who has forgiven your sins so completely that He can't remember even one of them or One who has been keeping a tally of all your sins on a chalkboard. One who will reward you according to His grace or according to your sins. One whose mercy endures forever or whose wrath does. I'm trying to be helpful here. I'm trying to help you not to wait as Apraksin did.
Apraksin was a Russian general during the life of Catherine the Great. He was accused of serious crimes against the state. He waited for a year for the sentence to be handed down. For an entire year he waited to be judged guilty; for an entire year, day and night, he watched to be sentenced to torture and death. Standing in the courtroom he heard the judge say, "And there now remains no course but - ." Apraksin never heard the end of the judge's sentence. Expecting the words torture and death' he fell dead on the floor. The judge's last words were to have been: "And there now remains no course but to set him free" (Catherine the Great, Massie, 202).
Baptized into Christ, and therefore reborn out of your sins; absolved by Christ from the sins that convict you; your body and blood in communion with His Body and Blood and therefore in communion with His forgiveness, life, salvation, what do you think you're waiting for? What are you to be watching for on every page of your life? Jesus coming, but Jesus coming to do what? To judge those who hold on to their sins, who excuse their sins, who defend their sins. That's not you. You're not watching for a sentence of torture and eternal death. You're waiting for the One who purchased and won you from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. You're watching for the One who will set you free.
You're watching for the One who has freed you from your sins by covering you with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. You're watching for the Savior, Redeemer, and Friend you've seen coming every hour in your Baptism, every day in Absolution, and every season in Communion. Was this helpful? Well, it was certainly hopeful. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Last Sunday in the Church Year (20121125); Mark 13: 32-37